Monthly Blogs 2011

Community Legacy

December 2011

The above photo is of an African elder (in brown) surrounded by some members of his tribe. This photo was taken by Roberta Taylor two years ago when I joined a dozen Americans (and one from Brunei) to explore Tanzania. The trip was led by Richard Leider and David Peterson (Daudi). While I don’t remember this African elder’s name, exact age or very much about him, I do know that he was at least 75 years old, and loved by his tribal community.

Over the past 5 years I have been helping the participants of the civic engagement/leadership development programs Leadership Twin Cities and Leadership Philadelphia answer this question: If today was your 75th birthday, and life had gone really well for you, what would people be thanking you for, especially those from your community? I tell each participant that one of the most important outcomes of their deep dive into community issues (one full day each month for 10 months) is to discover and pursue their community calling.

I do this exercise each year for 60 Twin Cities and 110 Philadelphia for-profit and non-profit leaders because this 75th birthday vision can help shape today’s priorities. Let me walk you through it. Round 1 involves asking your three imagined 75th birthday guests what they would like to thank you for. These guests include one each from your personal, professional and community life, and don’t forget that the other person at the table is you! So what is each person thanking you for?

Round 2 asks these same three people and you about today; what would each suggest you continue to do, and what would each suggest you change in order to achieve that 75th birthday vision? Please note when you do this exercise that each representative could be alive or not. Go ahead, try it, then ask yourself “is it time for a change?”

Several years ago I heard a presentation by Larry Wilson, founder of the Twin Cities based training and organizational consulting company Wilson Learning. He told the audience that there is actually a mathematical formula for change readiness: Vision + Dissatisfaction + Process > Cost. In other words, our vision plus our dissatisfaction plus our process of change needs to be more powerful, more compelling, than the cost of change (most often this cost includes time, effort, risk, money, emotion). One only need look at how health clubs fill up in January and empty in May to see how costs can overpower the most popular new years resolution and source of dissatisfaction each year: losing weight and getting fit.

How does this relate to community calling? My guess is that your imagined representative from the community at your 75th birthday party really wants to be able to thank you for your community contributions, and he or she probably thinks you are making progress today, but there is possibly something getting in the way (usually a cost) that you need to deal with. Can you fine tune and strengthen your vision (this 75th birthday vision will do)? Can you let your dissatisfaction with some community issue be amplified in your heart and mind to inspire you to action? Can you find a process that works for you over time, and overcome the cost factors?

Let’s make sure we are on the same page on the definition of terms. I am speaking of both community calling and community legacy here, so let me stop and define each. Aristotle is believed to have once said: “our calling is the intersection of our talents and the needs of the world.” In other words, what we are really good at, care about and enjoy doing (our preferred talents) need to find their way into our primary work, and hopefully also into our service to the community. And our legacy? Since I couldn’t find a good enough definition in the dictionary, I’ll offer my own: Our legacy is our personal, professional and community contributions that live on in the hearts, minds, words and deeds of others. Another way of saying this comes from psychologist Erik Erikson: “We are what survives of us.”

You now have some new tools, strategies and perspectives on discovering and pursuing your community calling and building a more sustainable community legacy. Try the exercises I have suggested. Picture yourself in the center of your tribe as a wise, generous and beloved elder. Happy New Year, and have a happy 75th birthday!


Lessons from Steve Jobs

November 2011

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

Stanford commencement speech, June 2005
(The following commentary was supplied by a colleague, Greg Guettler, after I shared the above quote with him.)

Although there have been plenty of laudatory comments made about Steve Jobs in the last month (I’m among them), I can’t help but think that Steve would be reprimanding us for our shortsightedness. Was he visionary? Of course. Did he have a profound impact on technology? Probably more so than any other individual of our time. But, he did not hit a home run every time at bat. Rather, what Steve Jobs exemplified was an unrelenting ability to use failure as a way to define success. Need proof? After leaving Apple in 1985, he spent the next 11 years trying to recreate success through the launch of NeXT computer hardware, then in the transformational launch of NeXT software, and then in the acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd. During that 11-year period, he spent most of his Apple fortune trying to build the next great thing – and failed at nearly all of them. But then, through a bit of serendipity, Apple purchased NeXT for its Operating System and the rest is history.

But here’s where it gets interesting. When Jobs went back to Apple they had some 350 R&D projects underway (typical, I think for managers who don’t understand the market and value everything equally as a result). Steve came in, interviewed the managers and reduced that list to 10. What made him so good at whittling down the project list? Failure. Newton, Apple III, Lisa, the Puck mouse, the G4 Cube, NeXT. He had plenty of mistakes. Some might characterize Jobs as being too visionary or ahead of his time. But the end result is – he learned from them all. So, here’s the point of the Steve Jobs legacy: You can’t hit a home run if you’re afraid to take a swing. If you miss, don’t underestimate the power of what you’ve just learned. Do what you love. Love what you do. Never give up.

Click here to view the entire speech


Commencement For Mia and Me

November 2011

labFriday, October 29, 2010, one year ago this month, my 21 years at Right Management came to an end. That same evening the service dog our family trained for two and a half years, Mia (pictured here) graduated. Two really big changes in one day! Mia’s year has gone very well with Erin, her 15 year old quadriplegic partner. They are now the best of friends.

My next chapter, George Dow Consulting, began the following Monday. While not without challenge and at times a bit of exasperation, this has been the most professionally satisfying and successful year of my life.

Year One Navigation as a Solo Entrepreneur: Taming the Four Beasts

After attending a keynote speech by Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation, in 2003, I joined a group of attendees for a debrief. Mr. Pink had just spoken of the growing momentum, and the many virtues, of self employment. I do recommend his book, but somehow in his speech Pink had failed to speak to some of the biggest challenges of this career choice. Ever since, I have kept four key challenges named during this debrief session top of mind.

If you consider moving in a “free agent” direction, I urge you to come up with your own approaches to the following challenges: social isolation, intellectual isolation, inability to leverage, and workaholic/obsessive tendencies. Each of these demons needs to be tamed for both success and satisfaction to follow a shift to entrepreneurship. In my January, 2012 entry I will share Pink’s 101 tips on overcoming these and many other challenges of free agency. How will you address these challenges if you move from a “domesticated” to “wild” working identity? Such is the transformation, and such are the challenges, of moving from corporate employee to entrepreneur.

The good news? If this is the right move for you, the rewards will far exceed the challenges.
Don’t settle.



October 2011

Senior Couple Hiking
In spite of illness, in spite of the archenemy, sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.
– Edith Wharton

Three Great Examples

Frank Lloyd Wright completed one of his most famous buildings, the Guggenheim Art Museum, in his early 90’s.

George Dow Sr., my father, on his 86th birthday danced and sang on Broadway with Hugh Jackman.

Jack Hill, my father-in-law, fully lived Edith Wharton’s words. He lived to age 99.

Who amongst your mentors and role models have lived these words?

How are you living them?


Sail Away

September 2011

USA Mark Twain postage stamp
“Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the wind in your sails, explore, dream, discover.”
– Mark Twain

Why I love this quote
It’s about inspiration and liberation. When one of my former clients wanted to declare to the world that she was about to transform her identity from a “domesticated” corporate executive to a “wild” entrepreneur, she chose to mail out this quote in a holiday greeting card to her entire network. She wanted everyone to know that there was no turning back, that she had set sail and was committed to a future without regrets. It was her version of the vikings burning their ships after landing on foreign shores. No way back home, no playing it safe, no regrets.

What bold move are you considering?sailboat

What is the worst that could happen if you did it? If you didn’t do it?

What is the best thing that could happen?


The Winds of Fate

August 2011


One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
Which tells us the way to go.

Like the winds of the seas are the ways of fate,
As we voyage along through the life.
Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

-Ella Wheeler Wilcox