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Now…. direct from IMEX and the Venetian Showroom in Las Vegas….


What is the future of corporate meetings and incentive travel?  How do we address the challenges facing event planners in the new millenium?  

These are the questions facing attendees of the 2nd annual IMEX event being held now in Las Vegas. Ten thousand professionals have gathered at what is the largest event of its kind ever held in America. I was asked by MPI to provide the educational keynote on the first full day of the conference. Honored and a bit intimidated by the venue – I was preceded by the ever flamboyant, martini-toting Las Vegas  ex-mayor Oscar Goodman and his ‘showgirls’. Dean Martin tunes welcomed me to the stage. I felt more than a bit out of place.

Were these really my people… my fellow professionals?

I must give the audience credit. It became immediately obvious they were there for more than fluff and feather boas. For the next forty-five minutes I explained the essential role that meetings and meeting planners play in today’s world. We have lived as hunters and gatherers for ninety nine times longer than we have as civilized, citified folk. I related that telling stories and learning around the campfire is in our DNA and that today’s meeting professionals are the fire-starters of our modern times, setting the stage for the tales that must be told, person to person. There are tales and truths that cannot be conveyed effectively by contemporary social media. When it comes to the transmission of real wisdom, humans need the kind of spontaneity, multi-sense and omni-dimensionality that only up-close and personal experiences can provide.

But most important was the need for meeting planners – in this era of unprecedented change – to take the ‘spirit of adventure’ into their jobs. To ‘leap before they look’ and be willing to take the kind of risks that bring a meeting to life … and life to a meeting. I urged them to ‘aim high’ and keep the highest goals for both attendees and society. I reminded them to ‘keep on their bearings’, insisting always on the primacy of relationships. And finally to ‘enjoy the view’ – embracing life’s fleeting nature and to fill every day with celebration and appreciation.

For over twenty years I have made the meetings industry my people and the work my adventure. If we do our jobs right we make a difference… not just a living. Feather headdresses and martinis at 9:00 in the morning are entertaining but there are deeper, more important issues to address. And it is our obligation to tackle the hard questions, insist on using the might of the meeting to accelerate social change. ‘People on mountaintops are not heroes, they don’t change the world’ I concluded ‘But those of us who insist on creating change every day through our lives and work might just make this planet the place it needs to be.’

My injunction to my peers: tell a better story. I must have made an impression, for I was rewarded with a standing ovation – almost unheard of from that audience. But more than that, I felt like I had come home. Not to Las Vegas… but to my tribe. Feathers… martinis… and all.

My All-Time Favorite Quote (Click to Enlarge!)

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Returning 35 years later, Lake Titicaca is unchanged.
The world around it is barely recognizable.

 

 Our family likes to joke we are as Jewish as the Olive Garden is Italian.  Call it ‘Jewish Lite’. So in lieu of a ceremony, my son Jack and I donned backpacks – instead of prayer shawls – and headed for the Andes mountains (we called it a Brrrrr Mitzvah.)

For nearly three weeks traveled the Andes by foot, boat and bus. On Lake Titicaca we crossed the blue waters to traverse the Island of the Sun. In Bolivia, we hiked for days through canyons, came upon dinosaur footprints in the ancient rock and slept one night in the center of giant volcanic crater. In Peru we descended from the ruins of Ollantaytambo in the dark and consumed strong indigenous home brew (me) and purple potatoes (Jack) with the locals down a back alley in the Inca capital of Cuzco.

Jack Salz, Andean Explorer Extraordinaire

 

In shunning the ‘gringo trail’, we accomplished something more. We met the native people and landscape on their own terms. We stepped out of our own comfort zone. And into theirs.

Why we were doing all this was a question neither Jack nor I had to ask. We were doing this for the shared adventure, the excitement, the learning… the fun. There was a hidden agenda on my part, however.  We live in the dawning of the Era of Globalization. At a time when it is obvious to even the most casual observer that ‘global competence’ is the essential skill set of our time, the perspective of young Americans is frighteningly provincial.

Among the findings of a recent Roper poll:

– Nine in ten (88%) cannot find Afghanistan on a map of Asia.
– Sizeable percentages do not know that Sudan and Rwanda are in Africa (54% and 40% answer incorrectly, respectively). In fact, 20% place Sudan in Asia and 10% put it in Europe.

Moreover, their lack of knowledge does not seem particularly alarming to many young Americans. Half think it is “important but not absolutely necessary” either to know where countries in the news are located (50%) or to be able to speak a foreign language (47%).  Indeed, young adults are far more likely to say speaking a foreign language is “not too important” (38%) than to say it is “absolutely necessary” (14%).

The study concludes:

Young people in the United States—the most recent graduates of our educational system—are unprepared for an increasingly global future. Far too many lack even the most basic skills for navigating the international economy or understanding the relationships among people and places that provide critical context for world events.

 

 

Jack and I spent a lot of time in ruins this last month. Ruins are reminders that civilizations collapse. Why do civilizations collapse? As an anthropologist I can state with some authority that triumph or extinction depends on how competently a society anticipates and reacts to change. In an era where our greatest challenge comes from globalization, success belongs to the ‘globally competent’.

 

What is Global Competence?

             Global competence refers to the acquisition of in-depth knowledge and  understanding of international issues, an appreciation of and ability to  learn and work with people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, proficiency in a foreign language, and skills to function productively in an interdependent world community.

Dennis Van Roeke, President NEA

Back in 1990 – when Way of Adventure first began – our initial three-color brochure bore the title – Across Worlds.  Even then it was my dream to combine my dual passions for adventure and cultural anthropology into programs that would assist individuals in exploring the powerful lessons and gain the essential skills for harnessing the creative magic of multi-culturalism.

Now, twenty-two years later the idea has resurfaced with a wonderful vengence, thanks to my partnership with a most amazing man.

Alepho Deng came to Thanksgiving dinner at our home. He walked straight into our hearts and has never left.

 

Done with Walking…. Alepho Deng of Sudan has magnificent tales to tell

 

Alepho  is the co-author of the book They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys of Sudan. In 1989, when he was seven years old, his village in Southern Sudan was attacked by government troops. To avoid capture he ran into the night with many other young boys. Without food, water, shoes or parents, he crossed 1000 miles of lion and crocodile infested territory. After five years of fleeing war, starvation and wild animals, he reached Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and began his education. In 2001, the government of the United States welcomed Alepho as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

After a nine month stint as at Ralphʼs grocery store in San Diego, was cast in the  Russell Crowe movie Master and Commander. In a sudden and unusual juxtaposition, this young African man spent six months on the set in Rosarito, Mexico where he learned to sail a tall ship, fire a cannon and swordfight. Alepho has spoken to over 100 schools, universities, clubs and organizations about his extraordinary story of survival in Africa, adapting to his life in the United States and his hope for peace in the world.

Alepho Transfixes Audiences with Unassailable Credibility

 

Alepho says:

My story is not one of sorrow, pity or feeling bad. In fact, it is a celebration of the spirit of mankind, of the goodness in the world, and of fortitude, faith and caring. As my journey has taught me, you cannot change what has happened but you can create your own future.

 

The Big News (saved if for last):

Alepho Deng and I are proud to announce Small World/Big Hearts – Way of Adventure’s unique lecture/theater event and our first program designed specifically for today’s cross-cultural leadership teams. Available as both keynote and half-day workshop – Small World/Big Hearts is a multi-media production that will leave you and your organization cheering, moved to action and equipped with the necessary skills to be ‘culturally competent’ in this exciting, new global economy.

Essentially, as different as the veneer of culture may paint us, we are far more similar than dissimilar in the things that truly matter. These are the elements of our shared humanity that arise independently in virtually every culture around the globe. Organized around the theme of the Highest Common Denominator™  we call them The Four Keys to Cross Cultural Connection:

  •   Daring Disclosure
  •   Courageous Conversation
  •   Suspension of Judgment
  •   Attaining Common Ground

The idea of a combined performance arrived slowly as we realized that, as seemingly different as two humans on the planet could be, we had forged a remarkable friendship bound by strong bonds of agreement and affection. We decided that, by deconstructing the foundation of our friendship and adding to it the wisdom of our individual experiences we could create an event of both inspiration and concrete value.

Small World/Big Hearts chronicles our respective ‘life’s adventures’. Mine was quite my choice. Alepho’s was compulsory and not of his choosing. Juxtaposed together there are both delightful contrasts and powerful common lessons – profound and inspiring human truths that will remain with you long after the event is over.

 

 

It’s All About the Children

Every child has a right to a joyful beginning full of hope, affection and possibility. Alepho has lived through the harsh reality of war – loss of home, family and friends. Most tragic of all is the sudden end of innocence and opportunity brought about by violence beyond the control and understanding of any child. The commitment of Small World/Big Hearts is to reach out to these children and to make a difference.

A significant portion of all proceeds from all performances of the program will go directly into a fund that – when our goal is attained – will be used entirely for the establishment of a center for children orphaned by the ongoing conflict it South Sudan. This center will provide food, shelter and education to allow these children access to the lives they deserve. Lives more like the life of opportunity, travel and learning my son Jack is gifted with.

As Alepho – who has made the journey himself – reminds us: It is all about the children.

        

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We are well into 2012, a big adventure year – especially for apocalypse enthusiasts. On December 21, – we are told – the sun will move into direct alignment with the center of the Milky Way. Predictions include deadly magnetic pole shifts and paralyzing solar flares. All hell will break lose. Or, perhaps the planet will be bathed in cosmic rays elevating our consciousness and it will be heaven, instead.

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The issue I take with all these prognostications is that in each of them ‘something is about to happen to us’. I believe something is already happening. Not ‘to’, but ‘because of’ us.

Stick with me here.

After co-leading the History Channel’s expedition to Apocalypse Island, I was suddenly seen as a global expert on the 2012 and the Mayan Prophesy. Better brush up on the research. Turns out that there is no evidence that the Mayans themselves saw 2012 through any kind of catastrophic lens. While there is a particular calendar that appears to come to an end, other Maya Long Count texts refer to dates still way out in the future. An inscription commissioned in the 7th century A.D. by King Pacal – the final lord of Palenque – predicts that an anniversary of his accession would be commemorated on October 15, 4772.

Mayan time – like that of Hindu and most indigenous traditions – is cyclic, it flows from one ‘world cycle’ into another.  We use a similar language when we speak of the ‘end of the year’ never debating whether or not there will be a new one coming along once midnight has passed and the last page from our Dilbert calendar is ripped off the wall.

The danger being a 2012 devotee is that – whether we are apocalyptic or optimistic – it is possible to just sit in our chairs, lulled into a sense of misguided fatalism, waiting to see what is going to happen to us next.  Instead, we must leap to our feet and actively embrace the Buddhist notion of kharma: the understanding that our destiny is no more or less than as the choices we make.  No matter what tradition you embrace – be it spirit or science – 2012 presents an essential opportunity for concentrated efforts to create new pathways in every aspect of life.

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Usurers have usurped the temples. Millions starve while a handful live in palaces, our rivers are polluted and today’s kids are no good.  In short: the sky is falling… yet again. As it has throughout history. Yet he we are still.

No, the world is not ending. It just feels that way. Nothing is about to happen to us. What’s happening is that we now discover ourselves at the end of an era where nearly every old dictum is now up for grabs.

What’s happening is the demise of the outmoded way of thinking. What’s happening is that human society, finding itself at the edge of an enormous abyss is about to turn tail and take steps in an entirely new direction. Why? Not because we are infinitely wise and illimitably good (though I happen to believe this, too) but because we are survivors. And we love a good adventure. It’s in our DNA.

Signs of rebirth are everywhere…. Arab Spring, the emergence of thousands of grassroots organizations from Manhattan to Moscow, individuals transcending antiquated and outdated  political and economic systems turning to family, friends, and community – both local and global to find health, support and sanity.

Heady stuff. Exciting times.

It is the end of the world as we know it.  And I feel fine.

2012 is underway. The adventure has begun.

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Wealth and success without losing your soul!…

Possible?

That was the topic of our expedition of inquiry to the jungles and rivers of Costa Rica this season. Armed with little more than helmets, canoe paddles, yoga mats and insect repellant thirteen fearless adventure/inventurers zipped through high cloud forest canopies, descended tumbling tropical cataracts surrounded by waterfalls and toucans, explored their innermost territories, wrapped themselves in unusual positions and celebrated worlds of new perspectives.

The journey was instigated and led by Lisa Jaffe and myself along with Pura Vida Spa co-founder and president of FreshMinds™ Bruce Benner. The process was entirely experimental. One evening in Encinitas over wine we had wondered: what if we combined our skills as facilitators in our respective disciplines to create a wholly unique and exciting kind of learning expedition?

And so we did.

Bruce brought his FreshMinds™ approach to discussions of life, career and creativity. What exactly is the FreshMinds™ approach? According to Bruce:

A FreshMind is one that is deeply present, intuitive and aware. It is not loaded with the pain of the past or the fear of the future. It is less concerned with how we have done things and more concerned with continuously asking the questions: “What is it we want to do?” and “How can we do it?”

 A FreshMind embraces possibilities with a wisdom that knows the reality of risk. 

A FreshMind is not asleep. It is not stale or in a rut. It is not rigid. A FreshMind is awake, receptive, flexible, productive, creative, and peaceful.

Lisa Jaffe guided us expertly via her unique specialty of combining spiritual discipline with a refreshing irreverence. Outlaw Yoga: “There are no rules – no experience needed. The only prerequisite is breathing. If you breathe you are eligible to participate in Outlaw Yoga.”  And her signature event Meditation and Martinis– Where Spirit meets Spirits:  “Gentle exercizes, guided imagery, breathing techniques… and a whole lot of sheer enjoyment. Play and laughter make us healthier, happier and even more productive. That is where the exotic fruit, all natural strawberry and passion fruit Costa Rican martinis come in!”

Our desire for external adventuring was fulfilled with hikes to volcanic fumaroles, close encounters with streams of leaf-cutter ants, crocodiles and butterflies, white water, catwalks and high velocity high-wire acts through the diversity-rich virgin cloud forest. Inner journeying involved body-work supplied by Pura Vida spa staff, drumming and chanting, yoga, group meetings and seminars. Late night hot tubs and early morning strolls through the magnificent gardens lush with hanging with fruit and bursting with flowers offered solitude. And there was the phenomenal food – exquisite, organic and a lot of it.

Were we successful? Did we answer the question? What is the secret of wealth and success without losing your soul?

There is no single answer but by the end of our journey for most of us the way was clear: While money and power are the external trappings, real wealth and success has more to do with connecting – to friends, to nature, to our bodies and to a sense of adventure not only for the wild and wooly but also to the internal realms of spirit and imagination. These are available to us 24/7 whether we find ourselves at work, at home or even on the train or roadway in between.

Wrote one participant:

“Much of what we will keep with us was the feeling of the trip … the unfolding of our understanding of each other, our reflections on our notions of service, the manifold moments of beauty and quiet and laughter, the ambiance of the surroundings, the fun of the dining room, and the bubbling up of our shared wisdom and heart.”

And another:

It was an amazing week.  Rain seemed to be a key theme – a cleansing thing I think.  It poured every day.  Nice and thunderboomy.  Lots of messages from the universe, to be interpreted at my will or whim.  Transformation, creation, destruction, water, earth, air, fire, metal, and butterfly wings.  Nothing being permanent and yet in every moment an endless, precious universe.

To sum it up let me just say this – whenever Jeff calls me to go on an adventure, I will go gladly, with a sense of wonder and excitement at what I might discover with him.  And I am never, ever disappointed.   I have realized anyone lucky enough to join in is a kindred spirit and are likely to earn my endless admiration and love.

We hope to see you for our 2012 Costa Rican Expedition. 

Jeff...Jeff...Jeff of the Jungle...Watch Out for the Treeeeee.....

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I live in the house of sparkling hearts, painted rocks that glitter scattered about. my sweetheart paints them. Most times I do not notice. My mind harried and my senses dulled, I am swept up in the daily rush to complete all the exigencies on my ‘to do’ list.

Then something happens. A friend sends a video clip of the earth as a pale blue dot from somewhere in the neighborhood of Saturn. Another, in a matter of minutes, traces the history of humankind traces from the dawn of time. Awed, I stop in my tracks. My existence seems so unimaginably miniscule. Delusions of self importance drain away and I find myself content once more to wonder at the smallest of miracles, miracles I overlook when hurried: the sudden cold touch of my dog’s nose against my leg and the boundless warmth in those dark eyes staring up at me, the perpetual motion and variation of the song issued so fearlessly and unrelenting by the mockingbird just out my door.

 

And the heart rocks. Which lead me back to the heart of the amazing woman who paints them. An amazing heart, full of dreams and hope and love as unrelenting as the mockingbird’s song.

Energized by gratitude, I push back from my desk and breathe. Suddenly my life has been up-leveled. Heart open now, the inspiration I have sought is mine.

The secret? When we contemplate the immensity of life, we reawaken to the magnificence of its smallest instances. When we glimpse the infinite, we appreciate the priceless nature of the moment. The entryway to the creativity and imagination we need to thrive in these challenging time is ours when we invoke the power of the Highest Common Denominator.

For the last two decades while creating and presenting events world-wide for some of today’s largest, most innovative (yes, I’m bragging here just a bit!) organizations, I have had the opportunity to observe the key differentiator between those continuing to gain market share and those in decline. It is startlingly simple: ascendant organizations have High Common Denominator (HCD) cultures – while those in decline have low.

An HCD culture is a high energy/low entropy environment where creativity and communication flourish and flow easily. Friction and apathy vanish and are replaced by authentic camaraderie and engagement. At the core of HCD practice is the ‘story’. Individuals have them. So do organizations. Success comes from having a good one…. and telling it well. In a time of massive and abrupt globalization nothing matches the transcendent power of the authentic human story, truthfully told, to unify partnership, team or organization – regardless of politics, geography, faith or culture.

 

The story is to work what poetry is to prose. It conveys meaning beyond words.

It provides truth beyond fact. It carries the human spirit in the palm of its hand, gently. Explicit or implicit, it is what we live for and what we die for. Our story is what ignites or extinguishes our passion.

Unusual times call for business ‘unusual’. They call for lives lived large. Lives less myopic and more mytho-poetic.  It is no longer enough to simply contemplate the work before us. We must now also contemplate the distant stars and glimpse ourselves afresh from that vantage point.  Increasingly, success comes not come to those who do see the work in front of them, but to those who experience the world around. To them go the gifts of creativity, sustainability and passion.

They have harnessed the power of the Highest Common Denominator.

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Jaffe and I have been following the story since we tuned in to the initial 60 minutes segment. 
I must admit, I tried to get through the book when it first came out and could not.  It was too formulaic. I wish I could say I smelled a rat, but I did not.  But I couldn’t smell the tea either.

Embellishment is no crime.
Or most of us speakers would be doing time.
Though it is the tagline for my most requested speech,
Loco Rivera – my gaucho friend – never did say: “There is nowhere to go. And nothing to do. But to be of service”
But he would have. Could have. Lived his life that way.
And I needed a tagline.

A speaker needs to be able to tell the truth even truer than it happened.
Like a painter painting the flower even brighter than it is, to display the flower’s beauty
He makes the truth … ‘truthier’.
And makes the world a better place.
Which is his goal.

Embellishment is no crime.

Embezzlement is.

That is where the questions must be posed.
Did Mortenson use the suffering of the children of the Himalayas
to line his own pockets? That’s what we have yet to ascertain.

If he did, that would be criminal.

Zanskar Girls – Photo Credit: Jeff Salz

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The lowest common denominator is defined as the most basic, least

sophisticated level of taste, sensibility, or opinion among a group of people.

Its direct opposite is the Highest Common Denominator:

our most elevated aspirations, our most evolved awareness,

our highest selves.

Dr. Jeff Salz

As an anthropologist with a thirst for adventure, I have often found myself in some pretty wild places. Often places where no outsider has ever before strayed.  I am not a collector of birds, not bugs or minerals. I prospect for wisdom. I have spent four decades mining the ‘wisdom lore’ of traditional peoples as far afield as Patagonia, Tibet, Peru and remotest Mexico to bring back home.  My most remarkable discovery so far?

With some variation – all the areas just mentioned share a similar wheel-shaped, a circular template of what it takes to be a successful human.

In most places the wheel is divided into quadrants. These are the principle pillars of wisdom and the key to living a good life. I share them with you here along with some hints of how they may offer insights into to running an organization or a family, leading and living in our current climate of unprecedented social, geo-political and economic change. I have named these pillars and universal perspective it inspires the way of the Highest Common Denominator – or HCD. Rooted in the four cardinal directions, they are the basis of my new series of keynotes and trainings.

Take time to ask yourself the following four questions and discover how your life may be altered forever in profoundly positive ways.

East: Vision

What is your DREAM?

People want to work for a vision that inspires the soul. A vision acts as a magnet for passion. It articulates the higher purpose of an organization; it describes how we serve. Businesses have more opportunity to influence the future than any other institution in the world. HCD leaders choose to make business an instrument for positive change and enlist active participation around a mission.

South: Vitality

What gives you greatest inspiration and vigor?

Employees are looking for more than a paycheck. They seek exuberance, meaning and fulfillment from their work, an environment in which “work” and “life” are not just “balanced,” but blended into an integrated, seamless whole. Accessing the HCD results in a sense of enthusiasm and engagement that nourishes and expresses our souls. In turn we move an organization forward. The leader’s mission is to enable each follower to find, grow and excel in her or his own personal quest.

West: Courage:

What do you believe in?

The word courage derives from the Latin ‘cor’, meaning heart. In times of diminished access to resources, reward systems become increasingly intrinsic: job satisfaction and retention are based around such themes as purpose, contribution and recognition and personal congruence. When individuals are connected to the power of their convictions the result is resilience and an indomitable spirit.

Creating an HCD culture means devoting even greater attention to meeting the needs of employees than for customers! This goes beyond the usual incentive and reward systems —to practices that awaken passion and satisfy the soul. The result is a dramatic improvement in profitability.

North: Wisdom

What will be your legacy?

The poet Kahlil Gibran wrote: Our work is our love made visible. An HCD leader is unafraid to ask the big questions, to frame ordinary events with an extraordinary perspective. Today’s most successful organizations have created a culture that prioritizes, seeking always to pay attention to what really matters. Human relations, integrity, attention to detail, contribution, a sense of mission are paramount. HCD organizations understand: pay attention to process and the profits will follow.

What the Wheel of Life – or any other wheel or circle – cautions us to remember is we are really just spinning in place. Going nowhere.  Our greatest chance for happiness begins the moment we realize that progress is an illusion.  The good news is that as soon as we open our hearts and our minds success is ours.

We have arrived.


As a cultural anthropologist, professional expedition leader and advisor to C-suite executives at cutting-edge corporations such as Google, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, eBay, Hewlett Packard, and the Walt Disney Company, Dr. Jeff Salz understands why – when faced by adversity  – some teams, organizations  and individuals flourish…while others fail.

Now, drawing from 30 years of remarkable adventures and a lifetime of investigation and study of ancient wisdom, cultures, and mythic traditions  – Jeff provides a practical models for optimal professional effectiveness and personal effectiveness.  His newest keynote and training event is titled  THE HIGHEST COMMON DENOMINATOR.

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