10 Tips to Shape an Excellent, Authentic Life

Photo by Swapnil Dwivedi. Unsplash.

In his foreword for Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude, best-selling author and business advisor Jim Collins writes, “If leadership begins not with what you do but who you are, then when and how do you escape the noise [of our times] to find your purpose and summon the strength to pursue it?”

In today’s tech-fueled culture, this question is perhaps more poignant than ever. Each day digital distractions, 60-plus-hour work weeks (many of those in front of screens), and a barrage of daily news subtly warp our own point of view. It can be profoundly challenging to hear ourselves think, let alone carve out our own distinct identity. Self-knowledge can give you the courage to forge ahead with your most impactful work, the confidence to persist, the discipline to master your self and the skills to shape your days with intention. 

The hardest part of this work seems to be finding the time to get to know your self. Yet to excel at our work and to foster an excellent life, we must develop and learn to listen to – to trust – our own voice of authority. 

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Introducing Season 3 of the Tracking Wonder Podcast: The Beauty of an Excellent Life

What drives us to excel – to wake up wanting to get just a little better at our work, at our art, at the way we shape our daily as fluidly as an artist shaping clay?

Almost all of us want to get better at something, whether it is being a better business owner or painter, prototyper or parent. Inherent in this desire to improve ourselves is the drive to excel. Too often, we think excellence requires nothing more than nose to the grindstone, grueling work and we wind up missing the beautiful moments in front of us. 

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How Brands Build Trust Through Transparency and Cynical Optimism

Between recent corporate scandals, media fragmentation, and massive data breaches, it comes as no surprise that Americans have little faith in our institutions. According to this 2018 Gallup poll, only 40% of the population has confidence in the US government. That’s less than our degree of trust in Amazon. The figure is even lower when it comes to faith in religion (36%), banks (30%), and media (23%). 

I put these four – government, religion, finance, and media – together because these are the cultural institutions that have the most influence on how people make meaning of their everyday lives. The increased cynicism of recent years tempts us to detach: to disengage further from a society we don’t believe operates in our best interest. But with our trust in institutions at an all-time low, businesses have an opportunity not only to increase earnings, but to create genuine purpose as well. In fact, there are interesting trends in whom Americans invest their trust these days that should get your attention – if not your conscience – as a brand.

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Unlocking Impactful Creative Ideas Through Radical Openness

The act of making an idea into an impactful endeavor lights up every “cylinder” in us.  As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (who coined the term “flow”) said in his 2008 TED talk, “When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” You seek this sense of fullness through imagination, artistic expression, and even subconsciously through the quirky ideas pop into your head unbidden every once in a while. Yet you don’t pursue them, or you complete your project only to stow it away in the attic of your mind thinking “maybe someday.” You hide what could be your most potent ideas, not only from yourself, but from others that could benefit from them. Why?

When we surveyed our global community of readers on this topic, we were surprised by the answer. I had thought that lack of time or resources or support might have topped the list. Instead, what held back these accomplished professionals, published authors, smart consultants and coaches and knowledge workers and leaders was this:

Fear. Fear of judgment, rejection, backlash, failure. 

The fear of revealing our unique ideas to the world holds us back from growth and discovery. Many of us have potentially brilliant ideas. Many of us have the potential to make a rippling difference in this world with our endeavors. Yet what separates the people whose ideas ripple from others is this: they work with their fear and reveal the innermost workings of their minds. They practice radical openness.

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How to Lead with Integrity

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about the importance of belief-driven business in this information age. People today hunger for brands that express a compelling, genuine point of view and a strong sense of purpose. But before your business or brand can take a stand, you have to discover what drives you.

You see, great leaders do two things. One, they tell a Story that captivates people and inspires them to work collectively toward a common goal. This narrative is constructed from their lived experience, both personal and professional, and the core principles derived from those experiences. Two, they live that Story. They make decisions and take actions consistent with their beliefs, and this is where the real challenge lies.

It can be scary to lead – to step into the spotlight, bear your soul, and stand in the authority of your ideas, especially when doing so means going against the majority or status quo. But research shows that you lead your best when you know who you are and what you value, then lead from that strength. In the field of psychology, this stance is often called authentic leadership.  (more…)

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Brand Authenticity: What We Get Wrong & How to Get it Right

In a world awash with targeted advertising, influencer marketing, and fake news, we are starved for sincerity. We are disillusioned with the pervasive blur of fantasy and reality, spin and honest solutions, and as a result, consumers are increasingly distrustful of brands and businesses. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, only 48% of consumers today trust companies (down from 58% in 2017), and according to Gallup’s annual trust poll only 23% of Americans trust big business. 

We distrust with good reason. Traditional marketing is inherently insincere. It co-opts trends, capitalizes on breaking news, mimics popular vernacular, and glamorizes the mundane to make us believe that products can solve our problems. But in today’s cultural context, these slick and sensational tactics don’t work. Consumers are demanding that businesses define their purpose, take a stand, and operate with transparency. Consumers are demanding that businesses be authentic. A global study by Cohn & Wolf shows that 90% of consumers are willing to reward a brand for authenticity, while 52% would recommend the brand  and 49% who would pledge loyalty. 

But there’s a problem. When business owners come to me with branding needs, they know or assume they need strategy in shaping, broadcasting, and delivering an authentic brand, but they have a number of resistances. One, they do not equate “authenticity” with “professional.” Two, they misunderstand “authenticity” as meaning something like “Just be yourself” or “Express yourself.” That framing of authenticity for branding is both incomplete and misleading. 

Unfortunately, authenticity is one of those words that has been so overused it has lost meaning. Like “natural” or “artisanal,” to label a brand or product “authentic” causes you to question the very claim. What makes an apple juice “unnatural”? What kind of artisans pre-cut cheddar for a Safeway plastic-wrapped cheese plate? What does “authentic” even mean, and how can a brand be authentic?

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How Deliberate Distraction Leads to Creative Breakthroughs

Imagine this: you’ve spent all day working on a difficult project. You’ve been excited about it for weeks, but you haven’t quite been able to pin down the final details. You’ve done the research, gathered the materials, bounced ideas off of your colleagues and your creative pack, and still you feel stuck in a cognitive rut. 

The goal is in sight but it seems that between you and it lies a chasm that you don’t have the tools to cross. Frustrated and bleary-eyed from staring at the computer for too long, you finally allow yourself a break and decide to take a shower (let’s say you work at home). Your chattering brain quiets as soon as the warm water hits your skin, and you let your mind drift. Trivial thoughts float like soap suds through your consciousness and you let them pass without concern. It’s only as you’re rinsing the last of the conditioner from your hair that the idea hits you. It’s like a key turning a lock that lowers the drawbridge over that cognitive chasm. It’s a eureka moment. 

We’re all familiar with those breakthrough thoughts that arise while we’re engaged in the most mundane of tasks, be it showering, commuting, or doing the dishes. But have you ever stopped to wonder why this phenomenon is so common? This question is the topic of new research suggesting that the single-minded work ethic we praise may actually inhibit innovation, and it is in fact in distracted moments like these that make room for the essential cognitive state of creative insight: wonder.

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Building a Work Culture of Collaborative Autonomy

The conventional corporate office is practically a thing of the past. The “side hustle” is becoming the hustle, previously distinct departments are dissolving to create more fluid collaborations between coworkers, and increasingly, people are breaking away from the traditional nine-to-five in order to pursue freelance careers. It’s estimated that by 2020, 50% of the US workforce will be freelancers

Digitalization and the shift in focus from production to creation in a postindustrial era helped pave the way for this liberation from the workplace. But there is a deeper motivation behind the trend toward self-employment, and that is our longing for autonomy. As Daniel Pink discusses in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, the secret to success isn’t the promise of wealth or fame but rather our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives. 

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Speaking Up for Your Beliefs Through Brand Storytelling

One day, my nine-year-old daughter came home upset. Her music instructor had asked the students to recommend a song they could learn as a group. My daughter, an introvert and music lover, promptly volunteered a popular song that her mother and I agreed was innocent enough. Her classmates loved the song choice so the teacher started to play it. In the middle of the song, he turned it off and decided to go with The Beatles’ Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da. The kids complied.

Maybe the teacher felt one of the lines was inappropriate. Maybe he just didn’t like the beat or style. Whatever the case, he gave no explanation to the students and left my daughter feeling deflated. She rarely volunteers ideas at school so we discussed how she could have responded to the teacher’s change of plan. I told her directly, “When you think someone — grown up or not — is not acting fairly, speak up. That includes me. You have a voice that deserves to be heard if your aim is fairness and truth.”

She smiled, nodded, and I hope she took something away from this experience. But my daughter — like any creator, business owner, or entrepreneur — felt compromised. She shut down because her ideas were shut down, and the more we’re rebuffed, the less likely we are to speak up again.

The same is true in business. For all of you who have yet to boldly define the voice of your business or brand, who fear taking a stand and leading with your ideals, it’s essential to recognize the power and importance of leaning into the stances you’re willing to take and living the story you want to tell. Sometimes those stances may be risky, contested, controversial even. But conscious consumers won’t follow a brand that doesn’t wholly believe in itself.  (more…)

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Cultivating the Customer Experience with Wonder Gestures

Why is the Magic Castle Hotel the second highest rated hotel in Los Angeles next to the Four Seasons? After all, a room at this modest hotel pales compared to the luxury of the Four Seasons. Much of the Magic Castle’s success has to do with popsicles. Actually, it has to do with how the hotel staff creates moments of memorable – and talkable – delight. Whereas travelers might be loyal to the Four Seasons for reliable quality, other travelers love the Magic Castle – and they love to talk about it.  (more…)

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