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Attaining goals will not bring about a culture of success.

But creating a successful culture will guarantee your ascent to and achievement of your targeted goals.

I’m just back from New Orleans, my most recent event, with a company that gets it.

My time  with Checkpoint Systems – an expanding global company specializing in Loss Prevention and Retail Security – was one of the most satisfying experiences in my 20 years in the business.

From the first conversation I had with my client the experience was a delight.

As always, I arrived on site early and began doing my anthropological “snooping”, learning what I could in order to deliver the best presentation possible. My first discovery: Checkpoint is “all about the customer”, it’s that simple. This was evidenced not only in the way the people talk about focus on customers but also by the kinds of retail customers they support and what “they” say about Checkpoint.

 

Learning the Culture

This was a New Orleans jazz event, a typical mixer with everyone engaged and entertained. But I noticed a difference from similar events I had attended. I was never left alone but shepherded from place to place, treated as a special guest, constantly being introduced to new people. Everywhere I went, everyone raved about their colleagues, the company and its leadership. Most remarkable of all: they appeared to be absolutely genuine. Totally sincere.

It quickly became apparent that these people were in a special culture, one that lives and breathes what I call The Experience Adventure. The quest, the ultimate ascent that never stops…

And because of the Checkpoint ‘cultural environment’, when it came time for me to talk, I knew a unique stage had been set for me to stand and deliver.

What can I say? Quite possibly, this may have been the best audience I have experienced. They laughed at my attempts at humor and interacted easily, breaking into spontaneous applause several times during the presentation.

At the end, this group once again demonstrated how Checkpoint ‘cultural environment’ was special—they did not rise but leaped to their feet in an enthusiastic standing ovation.  And they kept clapping.

All I could do was stand in the spotlight. And clap back.  I was compelled to applaud their open, adventurous attitude.

 

 

The Checkpoint Systems relationship reinforced my belief that an impacting presentation is not a speech, it is an experience designed to set the stage for an energetic conversation between speaker and listeners. The experience’s success has as much to with the quality of the audience as it does with the presentation. If I was good that day it was because they were terrific.

Who are these guys?

It was time for my second discovery. I decided to attend the awards banquet to continue my snooping. I was surprised to learn how many folks in the room had defected from the other major competitors and joined this company.  When I asked ‘why’ the answer was always the same: “The culture here is people-oriented” and “The culture here is innovation focused.”

It was all about the culture. Clearly, the Checkpoint cultural environment has created and leveraged the two most important assets within an organization:  Intellectual Capital and Human Capital. And their history of success in the global marketplace reflects this solid foundation.

This brings me to the final discovery—the leadership.  The leadership team at Checkpoint has found just the right mix, the simple solution: Pay attention to the culture. In this case, innovation, relationships and a light touch.  Define and create the cultural environment and the right people will come…. and the business performance will follow. This cultural formula works for an international organization like Checkpoint but it also can work its magic for organizations of any size – from workgroups within a department to a home business with only an employee or two.

Lessons Learned:

Make numbers your ultimate goal and you may win the spreadsheet and hit the mark but you may very well lose your people

— and the game.

Pay attention to people and process…. and the numbers will follow.

Create a vital culture and the mountain top is guaranteed!


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The saints are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else.

– THOMAS MERTON

 

Thanks heavens the holidays are here. For four months I’ve been on the road every week somewhere different in the world.  Yes, I’m pleased to say that I have been gifted with one of the busiest, most successful seasons in my career as a presenter of life/work practices and tales of derring-do.

But the greatest ‘gift’ has been the interactions with wonderful people all over the globe.

Though my ‘adventures’ have been largely confined to hotels, airports and convention centers, it’s been exhilarating traveling the planet, being inspired at every turn by the people I’ve met.

Unlikely Angels are Everywhere

It was not yet light as we headed toward the San Diego airport. I was keynoting at an event at the World Bank in Washington, DC. Mustapha, my young driver, was as thin of frame as the skinny tie that hung between the lapels of his oversized black jacket. He was from Morocco and drove the night shift for a car service while studying computer technology at the local community college. When I discovered he was an observant Moslem, I asked him about his experience practicing Islam in Southern California.

“It pains me how misunderstood my religion is. Like the word jihad,” said Mustapha, earnestly glancing at me in the rear view mirror. “Do you know what jihad really means? It is a battle, but not how people here talk about it. Jihad is a battle against the infidel… but the infidel within us. It is the battle against the unholy, the coarse and ignorant within each of us The Koran teaches us to be generous and kind, especially to those who are strangers.  My dream is that someday I might help the world know true Islam is a religion of peace.”

The next morning I stood before my audience and shared the thoughts of my driver. Afterwards many came to the front of the room to thank me for my words. I caught my flight back to San Diego without incident. Mustapha awaited curbside, skinny tie and all. I told him how I had shared this thoughts, his frustrations with the large influential audience at the World Bank.

“Thank you so much for sharing my message,” said Mustapha, visibly moved. “Allah Akbar.” God is great.


 

Family Reunions Can Happen Every Day – Funny You Don’t Look Jewish

I grabbed a cab at the Tampa airport and sat in the back seat, tired from travel and expecting nothing. Ali and I could not have been more dissimilar. His skin was coal-dark, his name Arabic. The cab was a mess and smelled of old cigarette smoke. Out of courtesy I ventured to ask a question or two. Next thing I knew I was engulfed in a life story worthy of Hollywood. He described the emotions of being in the middle of a battle when as university student in Ethiopia he had fought Russian and Cuban troops in an attempt to overthrow a corrupt government.  Fleeing to Sudan, he was recruited as an undercover agent for the American embassy – which is how he managed to escape to the United States when things fell apart in Khartoum. In St. Louis Missouri he got a masters degree in finance and managed a Bank of America branch before he fell in love with a gal from Tampa and decided to semi-retire, move in with his lady love and drive a cab.

“It was love at first sight. I could not resist her. She was sweet, gorgeous… and Jewish.”

“Jewish?” I asked, surprised

“Oh yeah! My mom and dad were both Jewish.”  Ali pulled a Jewish star on a chain from under his shirt. “They were so happy, I ‘d come to a foriegn land half way around the world and managed fo find a nice Jewish girl.”

“Well, you know, I’m Jewish too.” I said.

“You?” Ali could not resist. “Funny, you don’t look Jewish!”.

Our parting at the hotel caused wide eyes from the bell staff. Fair-skinned, Tommy Bahama-clad hotel guest with the dark-skinned cabdriver in ragged tee shirt and shorts hugging and grinning like they had just discovered they were long lost brothers.

We had.

 

A Final Holiday Hint

It’s easy to get swept up in our own small worlds after all: shopping manically, meeting year-end deadlines. All the while the world waits patiently with gifts the moment we pause and open ourselves to enjoy them. Remember this is the season to be jolly. So be jolly enough to reach out to seeming strangers and discover no one is as strange as they initially appear.

Enjoy an Adventurous Holiday and don’t forget – take no moment, no encounter for granted.

Life’s real presents are ours whenever we chose to be ‘real present’ in life.


“Emerging at the other end, we will not be the same as we were: we will have become more humble,

more connected to the natural world, fitter, leaner, more skilled and, ultimately, wiser.”

Rob Hopkins,

author of The Transition Handbook

Lisa Jaffe and Jeff Salz toast “To Your Health” prior to doing something about theirs

“First hug yourself. Now cross your arms the other way and hug yourself again. Great. Now work your way around the circle. We here at Optimum Health believe it takes thirty-eight hugs a day to stay for optimum health.”

“I’ve got to get out of here,” I whisper to Jaffe. “This place is somewhere between a minimum security prison and a new-age sanitarium for nut jobs.”

Just then a hulky guy in a tank top and red shorts wraps his arms around me and lifts me part way off the ground. “Healthy, healthy,” he says. “My name is Tim.”

Twenty-seven of us from all races, nations and walks-of-life have converged here on this campus just south of San Diego for what turns out to be a wide variety of reasons. There is a young mother and an older man with cancer, a couple with chronic fatigue.  My reasons are lightweight in comparison: change a few bad habits into good ones to take on the road as the busiest time of the speaking season commences. And Jaffe? One of the fittest, most conscientious people I know when it comes to health, she is pretty much along just to support me.

Trust me, I need her.

The first meal is something of a shock: some lettuce, sprouts and a kind of tasteless paste of soaked sunflower seeds. That’s it. No dessert and the rules frown on anyone having even a glass of water with a meal – bad food combining.  I forgo a glass of water with dinner for fear it might provoke a lynching party.

More frightening yet is the initial orientation meeting. We are humorously encouraged to enjoy the ‘food’ now because it is about to stop. Mid-week will consist of two and a half days of nothing but green juice. Every day, however, we are expected to down two shots of wheat grass juice – a nauseating green substance that looks, smells and tastes exactly like liquefied lawn clippings.

“What is this?” asks a brave soul reaching into her goody-bag and pulling up a plastic bucket, a roll of surgical tubing and a jumbo tube of lubricant.

The instructor explains matter-of-factly that is for our ‘enemas and implants.’ Not only are we expected to have at least two ‘colonics’ during the week, but every day we need to give ourselves enemas followed by two twenty minute wheat grass ‘implants’ – a euphemism for squirting the noxious stuff inside you and hanging on for dear life while you clench muscles you never new you had and commence to ride the bucking emerald bronco.

“Have you noticed  that the weirdness factor is growing moment by moment” I ask Jaffe.  Everything                  inside me is screaming ‘RUN… Run for your life!’

But Jaffe is calm. She takes my hand and says the only thing that could possibly calm me down. The only        thing in the world. “Babe, think of all this as… an adventure!”

She’s right. This definitely qualifies.

As the ‘adventure guy’ I am inevitably handed the question “So what is your next great adventure?”  And, while I search my mental calendar to come up with an answer involving international travel and a chunk of dramatic topography, what I’m really thinking is far less National Geographical.  I am increasingly aware that the really tough challenges are the ones we face on the inside.  In fact the deeper inside the more likely they are to have major external implications. Climb a mountain, descend a river or sail a sea and what has really changed? Overcome an addiction, alter an old pattern, take a courageous leap in an intimate relationship and your entire world is fresh and new. This is the kind of quest I am undertaking here at the Optimal Health Institute. A journey from the inside out.  And it feels  as scary as any mountain climb I have ever undertaken.

No sugar. No fat. No alcohol. No caffeine. No television. No dairy. No bread. No meat. No nuts. No soy. Instead          there   are unique exercise classes: “Now hang your arms in front of you and swing them like an elephant trunk.     Good. Now it’s walk like a duck.” Informational classes: “Elimination – let’s all take a tripthrough our colon!” And a whole lot of  ‘enforced fellowship’: “Each of us will take turns in the chair while others in the group tell  us positive things about us. Who is first?”

I’ve lived weeks in snow caves, crossed Himalayan sands on a camel, descended perilous whitewater but this…              how will I possibly survive?

There are some tough moments. Like the day a happy little tune draws me to the street where I watch the ice cream truck pass by, my face pressed between the bars of the iron fence like a five your old in prison.  After a couple of days of nothing but juice and wheat grass, the sprouts, greens and pumpkin seeds taste delicious. I no longer seem to need coffee in the morning nor sugar, meat, bread to get through the rest of the day. There is a sudden lightness in my step.

Jaffe and I gradually become close with people we never would have otherwise met. Tim, the hulking fellow with the red shorts, and I discover we have friends in common. ‘Tim’ turns out to be Tim Dismang, a remarkable singer/songwriter who blows us all away with his performance at the Friday night ‘talent show’.  Jaffe and I invite him and his wife Connie to join us for a weekend in Idyllwild. Feels like we have made new friends for life.

When Sunday comes, Jaffe and I are virtually the last ones to go. It’s kind of like having to leave summer camp and heading back to school. I let Jaffe know I’m toying with the idea of staying a second week.

“Why?” she asks, amazed.

“If I feel this good, this transformed after one week, imagine how incredible I’d feel after two,” I tell her.

But there are calls and emails and preparations for the next few weeks on the road. With a strange nostalgia we pack up our plastic buckets and surgical tubing promising ourselves we’ll be back.

“Whatya say, babe,” I ask Jaffe. “One more shot of wheat grass for the road?”

“Why not?” she replies.

When we are no longer able to change

a situation, we are challenged

to change ourselves.”

–  Viktor Frankl

According to the Living and Raw Living and Raw Foods website (www.living-foods.com)  “Once you embrace an all-raw and living food diet, you are more living, have more energy, better health, think more clearly, and become more in tune with your body! This type of diet even gives you a “competitive edge” over people that eat life-less food.”

Who am I to argue? I do know we heard a many miraculous tales of recoveries from chronic, life-threatening illness from individuals who attributed it all to the raw foods regimen.

We live in crazy, uncertain times. Of each one of us is asked the same thing: to be the best we have ever been. To be flexible. Embrace the new and abandon that which no longer serves us. Our current reality demands it.

I’ve long preached that ‘adventure is an inside job’. After a week if ingesting quarts of wheat grass juice through a number of orifices…gurgle gurgle… that phrase has taken on a whole new meaning.

How long I will last on this crazy raw food diet? I don’t know. But days later here I am still hooked on feeling good. I’ve come this far. Why quit now?

Learn more about the restorative rituals of the Optimum Health Institute at: http://www.optimumhealth.org

Recently friends in the grocery store, at the pharmacy, while pumping gas, have been stopping me. Even strangers stare and then walk up to me. “Hey, I think I saw you on TV last night!” they exclaim.

What this means is that the network is once again airing Apocalypse Island. (If you’ve not seen it – it was for a while the most watched History Channel event of the year – it’s worth a glance, though arguably not the entire two hour run time.) This reaction is also inevitably followed by the question: “Now that you are such an expert, what IS going to happen in 2012?”

So History buffs, here is my personal 2012 Prophesy:

First of all, contrary to current urban legend, there is no evidence that the Mayans themselves saw 2012 through any kind of catastrophic lens.

Some Maya Long Count texts refer to dates still way out in the future. For instance, an inscription commissioned in the 7th century A.D. by King Pacal of Palenque predicts that an anniversary of his accession would be commemorated on October 15, 4772.

Original Art by Mark Watts

Like other indigenous native peoples, Mayans  – millennia ago and today – have never been really big on linear story lines, tales of destruction. They are into cycles and tales of rebirth. They saw seasons turning, worlds spinning, and whole solar systems revolving. The ancient ones were aware that everything is moving, alive, ever changing. Humanity is an infinitesimally miniscule part of an unimaginably huge universe by whose laws it inexorably bound.  What comes around goes around.

I confess. I read news services and essays on the World Wide Web when I should be tending to more productive work. But the lure of watching the passion play of global economics and politics unfold is more temptation than I can resist: the oil spill in the gulf, global warming, depletion and increasing competition for non-renewable of resources.

As I try and make sense of it all, one simple underlying truth keeps leaping out at me. Continuous economic growth on a finite planet is impossible. We are self-destructing due to our infinite desire for more. And more. The answer is clear: we need to establish ‘steady state’ thinking – in our societal and personal lives – as our new modus operandi.

What does all this mean?

Original Art by Yeshe Salz

A friend of mine, Warren Johnson wrote a book back in the 70’ called Muddling Toward Frugality. His perspective was prescient. Almost forty years ago Warren forecast today’s diminishing resources and economic trauma. He also foresaw the solution. Big government and grand heroics would not save us, he wrote.  It would be small acts of individual courage and common sense that would return us – individually and societally –  to health and balance.

Okay… My Prediction:

Gradually, clumsily we are finding our way back to center. Breaking free from the over-consumptive, materialistic and existentially hollow story we spun till it held our souls captive.  There is talk in the air of double-dip inflation and it may be that our economic house of cards has a bit more deconstructing to do before we learn our lessons. But I am not overly concerned.

Why?

I see it every morning when I climb – in the deepening green of summer and the renewed call of the canyon wren high in the granite. I feel it in the returning purposefulness of my stride and strength in my legs. As the ancient Maya knew, life is naught but circles and cycles. Flying through this sky on this regal piece of rock we will find our way as past generations have found theirs. Back to harmony.

Life begets life and we are one clever, adaptable and tenacious species.

We will figure this one out. What goes around comes around.

I think, finally, we are starting to come around.

Defending Kumbaya

These are definitely not guys you can put in a circle and have talk about their feelings.”

Presenting a half-day Adventure Advantage™ event last week with the top-tier leadership team at a Fortune 50 company, Chess Edwards and I were warned repeatedly not to expect much. “Just suggest anything even hinting at ‘kumbaya’ and you can kiss your entire event goodbye,” we had been cautioned.  “These folks will stonewall you.  They will cross their arms, roll their eyes and you will be effectively marginalized for the rest of the day.”

Chess and I had no choice but to risk it.  After all, if we didn’t choose the unusual, the daring, the bold, we were not being congruent with our own core message.  But I must admit – as at the start of any expedition with an uncertain outcome – we were nervous.

I did the keynote, unfolding stories of life and death… the search for meaning and personal significance. Chess followed up with an interactive coaching session, helping folks find their own workplace adventurer. Animated, revelatory conversations filled the room.

By the time we got to the outdoor experience people were into it.

They chose wooden ‘totems’ to represent their beliefs, painted them with bright colors and began sharing personal values. People held up crazy-colored ducks, palm trees, sailboats. They worked together to gracefully complete a series of tasks that seemed initially to be impossible. Then they cheered.

In a final debrief people committed to specific actions.  A different feel was now in the air. There were heart-felt smiles. Laughter. By all accounts, in three hours and forty-five minutes (four hours minus a ‘nature’ break) something remarkable had transpired.

But how?

Firstly, we had the support of a visionary and charismatic team-leader who lent us the credibility necessary to enlist the full participation of the attendees. That was essential.

Chess and I then invoked the metaphor of adventure – the challenge of creating a truly ‘connected’ team. We dove deep. We climbed high. We did not relent. Participants rose to the occasion and the view was exhilarating  – the ‘inward’ equivalent of the ‘outward bound’ experience. The entire leadership team shared a mountaintop moment that would serve them in real life situations for some time to come.

What did Chess and I learn?

Never believe the judgments and limitations we tend to place on others… and ourselves.  When given the opportunity most of us will strive heroically to communicate authentically.  In the most beaten-down of corporate hearts there remains a soul craving for an invitation to come out, show itself… and play. It just takes skill, finesse and courageous leadership to make the summons stick.

After lunch, our job done, Chess and I grabbed a cab for the airport.  We last glimpsed the team tackling ‘nuts and bolts’ issues outdoors under the resort gazebo. It appeared they were having a good time and addressing serious issues handily… in a circle.

It looked pretty ‘kumbaya’ to me


The Adventure Advantage belongs to individuals and organizations that recognize the primacy of process over outcome, experience over acquisition.

There are those of us who dedicate their lives to ‘acquiring’. Their goal is to accumulate possessions, security, power and recognition. They determine their success by measures of comparison. Their bumper sticker reads: “Whoever dies with the most toys wins”.

Then there are others who set about their lives ‘experiencing’. These folks see life like a novel… not a catalog. A dance… not a destination. Their goal is a life lived fully, broadly and well. Their bumper sticker reads: “Whoever dies with the most toys… is still dead”.

The difference is the Adventure Advantage. While the first group is held captive by changes of fortune, health and circumstance, the second group experiences adversity and says “Bring in on! What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”. They know that living in fear of losing brings stress and disease. They recognize that our greatest gifts accrue in times of monstrous uncertainty – even loss – giving us a vibrancy and reliance that is unstoppable. The Adventure Advantage belongs to individuals and organizations that recognize the primacy of process over outcome, experience over acquisition.

An Attitude of Gratitude

I have recently had the opportunity to return to the life I used to live. In a matter of days I spoke on both coasts, north to south from Seattle to Orlando with a bunch of states in between. Once again I was met by guys with narrow ties and signs, transported to five star hotels. Snug in my room with Heavenly Bed, flat screen TV and mini-bar, tweaking my PowerPoint for the next day’s event I was happy as a king. Something had changed. While it felt like paradise, this was the traveling life I remembered bitterly complaining about just over a year ago!

What had occurred? 2009… a dreadful time. The worst year in speaking history. Like many others in my chosen profession, financially I was measurably worse off than a scant twelve months earlier. Yet in things that mattered I was immeasurably better. Unbeknownst to myself, I had grown jaded and spoiled, blind to the priceless gift that was my life and my vocation. Suddenly my eyes and heart were open again. To do this work, to make a living roving this world, meeting kindred souls, sharing stories, opening eyes and hearts… this is heaven. The whining was gone forever. Appreciation filled me.

It was a hotel room epiphany. Not just about my livelihood, but about my life. I would not have gotten to gratitude without the experience of adversity.

Like the Taoist sages tell us: you can have everything and have nothing. You can have nothing and have everything. The Adventure Advantage reminds us that there is no such thing as losing. It is only a matter of deepening our perspective and seeing that as the world changes so must we. That what may appear to be loss is simply the winnowing away of superficiality and distraction. How much we lose by easily winning! How much may be gained from what initially appears as loss!

If there are two kinds of people: those who define success by what they have and those who define it by who they are becoming, I am learning how essential it is – especially in these times – to belong to the second group.

As Meister Eckhart said:  “If the only prayer you said in your life was ‘thank you’, that would be enough.”



Extravagant Simplicity

Extravagant Simplicity

by Jeff Salz

Cold turkey. It’s not just for after-the-holiday breakfast anymore.

I imagined that this must be the way a recovering heroin addict felt when the drip, drip, drip was finally cut off.  My mind raced, my skin crawled, I paced and fretted, filled with a nameless, irrational fear. It felt like the edge of death.

It was day one of my ‘cash-only’ diet.

Challenging is a generous term to describe the economics of 2009 in the world of speaking and training.  A small minnow of unpaid credit card balance in a corner fish tank had grown slowly, insidiously into a killer whale that now threatened to consume the entire household. I had no choice. It was cash only for me, from here on out.

Who would have thought that such a seemingly minor shift would occasion such major discomfort?  The inner agony was my first indicator. Unwittingly I had allowed myself to become an addict.  I had gotten hooked by a sense of false omnipotence, the experience of strolling into any store and seeing everything on the shelves as potentially mine.  Of cruising the myriad delights of Amazon.com and, with the tap of fingertips, have anything I desired – from books to DVDs to small household appliances – arrive magically at my door within a matter of days.

Aladdin had to have a lamp. All I needed was a keyboard. And a credit card.

But suddenly the kid in the candy store discovered that somewhere along the way he had developed diabetes.  My habit was killing me. My desire for immediate gratification was having some seriously deleterious long-term consequences. My sense of entitlement had blinded me to the truth: I had been mortgaging my future to indulge my short-termed whims.  Looking at me my credit balances in shock the reality came barreling through: the future has arrived.

No more ‘master of the universe’, this holiday season is now about finding ways to give presents that demonstrate my affection without emptying my wallet. Celebrating is suddenly not about elaborate gifts and extravagant restaurant outings but about sharing time, expressing warmth and caring. It’s my friend, the architect and visionary David Lilieholm, calls ‘extravagant simplicity’.

Here’s the surprise ending. Or maybe it is not such a surprise… After the initial discomfort, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this of living-within-your-means  business.  Like a diet of vegetables and whole grains versus fast food, the rush is slowly replaced by a sense of vitality and longevity that comes from making healthier choices.

What keeps occurring to me is that I’m not alone. Most of us have grown accustomed to trading long-term well-being for immediate blast of moment to moment gratification. We have been conditioned to do so by a society that is itself a kind of addict willing to sacrifice sustainability for short-term success. This is all well and good until the note comes due.

Resolution time draws near as the New Year arrives. Excited by the adventure at hand, I begin my cash-only diet. Like any major undertaking that ultimately promises fresh vistas and vigor, the beginning is not going to be easy.

My hope? That as a people on this planet we see the error in our headlong rush to sell off the earth beneath our feet for some fleeting, illusory experience of consumer- heaven. Real luxury, it turns out is not a new Lexus filling the last place in the three car garage. It is breathing deep into our lungs the crisp air of a blue-sky winter’s day. It is hot cocoa and a fire-place with our arms around those we love.

What’s inexpensive yet durable? Infinitely satisfying, sustaining… and sustainable?

Extravagant simplicity – my New Years resolution.

My holiday wish for you.

And the world.