Kanayama Consulting

Transforming organizational life through trust

Geoversity Launch Program in Panama February 2016

I was invited to a four-day program in Panama to launch Geoversity, a new alliance of entrepreneurs, institutions and artists to collaborate around educational and business initiatives. The concept is place-based human development in harmony with nature that encourages biological and cultural diversity. Geoversity’s goal is learning from and partnering with nature in creating community, enterprise and artistic expression. Our common purpose is nothing less than bringing about a popular shift away from humankind existing apart from nature, “toward a bio-cultural renaissance of societies evolving in harmony with nature”.

I was thrilled to sign on for the following reasons: 1) Nathan Gray, the convener and a serial nonprofit entrepreneur, invited people who bring their whole selves to their professions. Like me, he’s drawn to Reinventing Organizations and the evolutionary Teal perspective, the philosophy of evolving organizations that lift groups of people up through self-management; 2) Meeting and working with entrepreneurs and “restless global creatives” sounded fabulous; and 3) Facilitating meetings and hanging out in a biosphere preserve (a tremendous biodiversity lab) and the canal zone in Panama (a global hub of commerce and cultures) sounded too fun to pass up!

Since my way in was my engagement expertise, I worked on the meeting agenda, contributed meeting design and went to Panama. I facilitated small group meetings and the program wrap-up. The small groups were incredibly alive, one tremendously productive on the assignment and another became useful in resolving the eventual climax. After program changes, the facilitation team needed a way to end four days of programs on a positive note, and I was happy my idea was useful! The best part was I really enjoyed myself.

Here are my three takeaways from this assignment. ONE: that I can drop into a new team of people I didn’t know, and do good work. Planning was all remote, through emails and Skype calls. It was thrilling to exchange ideas on the fly with a diverse group (including Nathan, a Harvard engineering professor of technology and innovation, and a Latin American internal communications consultant) and produce something fast. The team’s output quality will be superior in the future because we'll know each other better, but the level of engagement was already high, which bodes well for the future of the network.

TWO: If you have a chance to meet Verne Harnish, @thegrowthguy, you take it. Verne was in my first small group, and I’m professionally smitten. We had an extra terrific chat over dinner gushing about Peter Drucker (and this article in particular) and Adam Grant (sign up for his newsletter if you don’t get it already), organizational schemes taking cues from nature (Margaret Wheatley), and shared our experiences in affordable housing and nonprofits. The next morning, he made magic in a large group by drawing two diagrams, one of a command-and-control pyramid organizational chart and another of diffuse organism of teams where on one is in command, and ripping up the pyramid with flourish to great applause. I’m newly inspired about achieving scale, reframing how I approach I work, and reading his book with my ED/CEO Roundtable.

THREE: no one controls what happens when you bring a group of inspired and driven people together to birth something, especially if you’re giving them the power to define it. So we rolled with the punches – adjusting the agenda as we went along. Some were concerned about organizational structure, then we learned about underlying dynamics. Perspectives diverge, and could cause conflicts. However, the initial projects of Geoversity took shape with much energy, in executive education for entrepreneurs and CEOs, and study-abroad programs for college students. Study-abroad ventures consist of exciting collaborations between the Mamoni River Preserve, University of Redlands and Global Student Embassy. Other projects include a “patient capital” investment vehicle for the biosphere reserve, sustainable chocolate production, a performance venue in the biosphere reserve, and a bamboo-built multi-use structure in Panama City.

In summary, I gratefully marvel at my good fortune to continue my involvement in this extraordinary network/alliance/evolving organism. A network with a unifying purpose and divergent initiatives that wants to have staying power needs expert tending. I'm really excited to enable a diverse group of partners to benefit from the alliance as their involvement evolves. What an amazing learning opportunity for everyone involved!

Swimming as a Lab for Controlling Negative Self-Talk

I’m a perfectionist, and tend to be quite self-critical. It took me a while, but I eventually realized how much negative self-talk I do. Faced with a challenge or trouble, I used to unconsciously tell myself “I can’t do this” or that I was at the mercy of what was happening, which prevented me from taking action. This is how a perfectionist can put themselves in a downward spiral, when things could just as well go in a positive direction. Being self-aware when negative self-talk is happening is the first step to reducing its downside. The more I notice it, the more it helped me escape the trap of focusing on negatives, when there are just as many positive things going on.  

My swim buddy Mitch’s surprise pep talk put my negative self-talk in sharp relief, in the context of my avocation of swimming. Even though I’ve been making progress reducing negative self-talk, it was definitely a factor in my swimming. I decided to try a couple of techniques to reduce it, and record what worked and what happened. This is what I did.

1.     I took note the moment I started telling myself “I can’t do this”. After the coach dictates a challenging workout, Mitch (or my other swim buddy Jeanne) and I would repeat the drill, look at each other and say, “OK, we can do this”. I replaced it with a positive mantra instead of a negative one.

2.     That might sound simplistic and Pollyanna-ish. What I also did was address my perfectionist tendency to see things as “all or nothing”. So if I can’t do 50 yards on 1 minute 10 seconds, I tried adding 5 or 10 seconds to the rest instead of totally giving up and resting all I want which makes me feel worse, which also causes the coach to yell at me. If I can leave for the next 50 before he yells, I’m doing OK!

3.     Another strategy is to focus on what’s working – Mitch said my form doesn’t fall apart. So as I swim, I’m telling myself, “My strokes are still carrying me. I’m starting to get tired, but I’m doing OK. Keep at it”.

4.     Try anything that makes me feel better. Half way into a drill and going is getting tough, I focus on my breathing and try to control it just as it’s becoming tempting to breath in harder and breath out faster, which doesn’t help my swimming. So until I can steady the breathing, I might slow down my strokes just a bit or kick more. Simply knowing that I can pay attention to breath control is uplifting.

5.     #3 and #4 also have a secondary effect, because I know that if I push through when I could slow down (or slow down even more), I get better. I know from experience that THIS is where improvement happens. So the knowledge that I’m doing the right thing is a reward that I get while swimming.

Doing the five things above increased my swim performance, because I didn’t give up when it got hard. It made my workouts more doable. I struggled less. And surprisingly, I felt less tired after. I noticed that sometimes after swimming I’m more tired than animated, because I get up before 5 to get to the pool and don’t always get enough sleep. When I reduced my negative thoughts, I felt more energetic and positive about myself, increasing the benefits of the rush of endorphin that keeps me returning for more.

Here’s a great resource, “How to Stop Negative Thoughts from Getting You Down”. It’s chock full of techniques you can follow, but here are three of them I used in this experiment without even realizing. Each item below shows examples of techniques and concepts from the infographic, look for the text in bold.

1.     Mitch, as my swim partner, wants me to do better. A caring person wouldn’t tell me, “Kori, you CAN’T do this.” Simply knowing that made me realize the absurdity of telling myself that I couldn’t do it, and helped me stop, cold turkey. This is a technique of disputing your own negative thought.

2.     Defensive pessimism – this is considering the worst-case scenario. In swimming, there really is no downside to failing to do the drills as dictated, because I’m still exercising, which is good for my health. Explicitly thinking, “so what if I can’t do this?” helped me stop beating myself up when I couldn’t do the drills.

3.     What also happened is that a particular drill was more challenging for Mitch than for me, so I slowed it down just a smidge to swim with him. The infographic says helping someone else shifts attention from your own problems and boosts self-esteem, which worked like a charm.

My experiment with reducing negative self-talk improved my result, reduced stress and significantly enhanced my mood during and after workouts. If you think you suffer from negative self-talk, I hope you try one of the techniques. You may find that awareness and a little tweaking goes a long way towards feeling better and grabbing more staying power. You might feel so much better in the process that improved result may just feel like a bonus!