What to say when you don’t want to say anything


I woke up this morning thinking about what to write and…and my brain was empty.

What do you say when your brain has gone blank?

This is what introverts face all the time (self-included)…when we have to say to people that we don’t have anything to say (or talk about not wanting to talk.)

This is also an issue when my husband comes home and wants to greet me and I’m in the middle of writing a sentence that will fly away forever if I even murmur a word…and he say’s “Hi, Honey…”

(We’ve developed a code.)

To help us introverts and others, I’m designing a line of T-shirts you can wear to avoid this problem. (You can send me your order…we don’t even need to talk.)









Do you have any suggestions for the line? You can post them below…quietly.

Rebecca Crichton: Creative aging – a fresh perspective

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As we baby boomers move into our 60’s, there’s a big conversation going on about how to age gracefully, creatively, and avoid the stereotypes that come with words like “senior citizen.” Rebecca Crichton is helping shape that conversation in the Puget Sound, Washington area, through the organization she directs, The Northwest Center for Creative Aging (NWCCA).

The NWCCA offers a wealth of educational and experiential offerings to connect people with their essential purpose, enrich the aging process and help adults in the Northwest discover new insights and a renewed sense of community with others.

In this interview, Rebecca talks about what propelled her from her work at Boeing into this second exciting “encore” career. We also talk about the challenge of finding the right words to describe this boldly creative stage of life “mid-life and beyond.” and what she has discovered works to help adults sustain their vitality.

Here’s  the full episode:



Or listen to episode 53  in ITunes (and please leave a rating and review!)

About my guest

Rebecca Crichton began her Encore Career as Executive Director of NWCCA after a year of retirement from her 21-year career at the Boeing Company. At Boeing, she developed and delivered curriculum and presentations about leadership development, and taught and coached managers and executives to be better leaders. She developed more than 50 presentations aimed at increasing multicultural awareness. After retiring, she volunteered with several organizations serving the aging population in Seattle, including Senior Centers, and the newly formed NEST – North East Seattle Together – one of the first Aging in Place Villages in Seattle, and taught at the Lifetime Learning Center, a school with a wide range of classes providing learning to older adults. Since becoming the ED of NWCCA, Crichton has increased visibility of the organization, taught at many venues in Seattle, and continues to expand the ways that NWCCA serves both providers and recipients of learning related to Positive and Creative Aging.


The Show Notes

Find out more about Rebecca and the Northwest Center for Creative Aging at http://nwcreativeaging.org/.



What Robin Williams teaches us about leadership


Mork & MindyHere’s to the creative aliens among us!

There were so many reasons to love Robin – but let me add one: he always seemed wild.

He made me believe that there was room in this world for aliens, people who thought outside the box, people who moved with creativity and compassion and weren’t afraid to let their imaginations rip. He showed us where improvisation and humor could open us to seeing the world in new ways.

A lot’s being written about his troubles; I don’t need to go there. Instead I want to honor that outrageously funny, wild, spontaneous courage of his. Because I think we need more of that in our organizations, as strange and dangerous as that might seem.

For four years at the start of his career, Robin played Mork, an alien, a role that seemed to fit him perfectly as he reached millions of American viewers. As an alien, he was allowed to be goofy, make mistakes, poke fun at our broken systems, and, with no false righteousness, demonstrate great compassion and caring.

I think the world needs more aliens.

Robin was also a wild man – and our organizations need more of them, too.

I remember watching Robin play an American DJ in the film Good Morning,Vietnam. He talked a mile a minute, weaving between outrageous humor and pathos, respecting both. I was mesmerized, wanting to both laugh and cry as he ladled out his observations with compassion, humor and a keen sense of the bizarre. He was outrageously spontaneous. (I read that scene was mostly improvised.) He got into conflicts and improvised his way out with abundant good will.

In recent years, I’ve become increasingly upset with world politics as I read report after report about Wall Street investors who gamed the system and caused millions to go bankrupt, lose homes, or lose their retirements. Then, I read about how income inequality is growing and another war starting….Yikes! I needed something I could control:

My laughter.

I started searching the Internet for moments of Robin live at his most improvisational – his early club gigs, interviews with Letterman, or jiving at The Actors Studio. I watched old Mork and Mindy re-runs looking for the scenes where the directors let Robin perform “off leash.” While parts of Mork and Mindy may look a little dated today, the episodes with Robin improvising were show stoppers.

Robin had an amazing imagination – and he showed us that running wild doesn’t mean that you have to let your ego run the show (like a tyrannic CEO). Wild, as Robin played it, included a great sense of humanity. It included a willingness to make fun of self, to be curious and to be moved. And, it was wickedly funny.

It’s not often that leaders, in our organizations, get to show their wild side – creative, energetic, unbridled, passionate and caring. It’s the Kali energy (for the Indian goddess) an energy that can be perceived as dangerous because it’s too much itself, too original and too hard to contain.

But what if we brought more wildness into our organization?

I expect there’d be some changes:

• You wouldn’t sit passively through boring meetings as they meandered aimlessly.

You’d speak up when you saw people getting hurt.

• You wouldn’t tolerate unethical behavior, but raise a question with a quizzical “I don’t understand – why do we do this?”

• You’d share all of your great and crazy ideas, not holding back for fear of someone’s judgment.

• You’d really listen to someone else’s crazy idea, searching for the gold in it.

• You’d applaud like crazy for someone else’s success.

• You’d help people laugh and you’d cry along with them. You couldn’t be afraid to show you had feelings.

I’m sorry we lost Robin. I’m giving my heart the space to grieve. I grieve the man and I grieve the permission I felt he gave me to be just a little wilder, truer and bolder.

I still need that.

Robin was one of a kind, a comic like we rarely see. But I’m hoping we remember the space he gave us all to bring a little more wildness into our lives.

So why don’t we call Orson, Mork’s commander in chief from Ork, and ask him to send us more crazy compassionate aliens???

We still need them.

So for now, Nanu! Nanu! Blessings Robin.


photo from Huffington Post


Unleash the Creativity Within Conflict!

combat on horsebackAs I began to teach about conflict, I saw a bunch of hesitant faces with those “do we really have to deal with conflict?” expressions.

Most folks I know don’t like to deliberately face conflict. Sure, they can handle objective, professional conflict – with some detachment and calm.  But stir deep emotion into the mix and they’re running for cover. 

But without conflict, we can’t harness the fruits of collaboration and creativity. 

Think a firm full of “yes” men and women!

We need conflict for creativity because conflict is about dealing with differences – and we’ll never get to the best solutions, and real innovation, if all we encourage is sameness.

We  want to encourage some tension in our teams between competing values.

In a hospital system, that tension may be called the conflict between money and mission. In other firms, it may show up as a fight between marketing and finance.  When we get down from our emotional high horses and stop fighting, it becomes clearer that we need to honor many diverse values in order to succeed.  to see that. Chances are we need to maintain all those values –

Often a conflict in values shows up as a personality dispute. When a team calls me in with a conflict, they are usually experiencing some ugly symptoms such as communication breakdowns and differences in styles.

What’s harder to see is how underneath the personality conflict are built-in differences in values that may never go away.  These are often polarities.

Manage the tensions that will never go away

Polarities are  tensions between interlocking values that will never go away – conflicts that are embedded in a system – because you can’t have one pole without the other pole.  Think yin and yang, day and night – we can’t have one side without the other.

I watched as an agency that always applauded individual achievement revised its focus and started promoting teamwork (while forgetting that individual achievement still mattered!)  Sure enough, after a few years, the technical specialists started feeling like their work wasn’t adequately respected – and started wanting to leave – because all the rewards were going to teams.

The solution is simple – yet sometimes difficult to achieve:  Think “both-and”: asking how do we honor both?

Some polarities we all know include the tension between balancing home and work.  If we ignore either side, we’ll feel the consequences.  Or trying separating our concern with our own self interest vs. our concern for others. Emphasize one without the other and you’re in for trouble.

Think both/and:  team and individual

Going back to our team/individual example, as we’re thinking about rewards, processes, and how we use training dollars, we can add one simple question:
Team working together

“How can we maximize team performance while encouraging individual excellence?”

Voila: our thinking is enhanced when we think both/and!

(And fyi –  polarities are everywhere!)

Our stories need conflict

As a storyteller, I listen for conflict. Think how b-o-r-i-n-g it would be to read “Young entrepreneur has a dream.  Successfully raises money. Builds team. Company succeeds – now she is rich.” (Alas, this kind of simplified story keeps being told!).

Instead, I want to hear about what really happened behind the scenes – the bumps along the way, the mistakes, the failures or almost-failures – everything that gives a story texture. Great stories always include some conflict. I want to root for a heroine who learns how to work her way through conflicts on her journey.  She’s my gal – not the one for whom everything mysteriously works out!

Healthy conflict is needed in any group. How about you? What do you do to manage conflict creatively – for yourself and with others?



Spark Your Thinking by Going Visual

Patty Dobrowlski at work on a visual goal

My artistic career ended in third grade.  In fact, after I received a B in Mrs. Potter’s art class, I figured that I had no talent at all.  “Stick to writing words”, I told myself.  That self-talk lasted fifty years.

More recently, I’ve recanted and acknowledged some artistic things I can do – such as create Ikebana flower arrangements– so it’s not over for me yet. But the fact of the matter still remains: I can’t draw.

This didn’t matter at all to Patti Dobrowolski, whom I heard at a recent evening event on Visual Goal Setting.  Patti is a former actress, business consultant, creativity consultant, visual strategist, visual process facilitator, and captivating wild woman. With great enthusiasm, she reassured us drawing drop-outs that we would do fine just sketching stick figures.

One of the purposes of drawing our goals was to activate the power of the right (imaginative) side of the brain, which, fortunately for me, does not do critical evaluations of artistic talent.

I was sitting next to my friend and collaborator Claire Bronson, who had introduced me to Patti’s work a year ago. Claire is herself a visual facilitator who can turn a flip chart into a work of art, and make even a word look beautiful. (see her words at engagingpresence.com/approach).  I made a mental promise: don’t even think of comparing my drawing with Claire’s!

Developing visual goals

 Patti gave us copies of templates for her visual mapping process and we began. Step one in her process is to reflect on current reality – “what’s going well in your world and what’s challenging you?”  She asked us to capture the essence of our thoughts and feelings in one-word statements. “Don’t make a list,” she told us because lists belong to our left-brain organizing, linear self – not to the creative, knowing, more random right-side of the brain that we were to encourage in this exercise.

Putting down words wasn’t hard for me because I’m pretty aware of what is working in my life right now and what I’d like to change –  so I scattered words that described my current life: “Mariah the wonder pony” (captures my heart); “Great group” (love my current leadership program clients); “Fear of the future” (yikes, this economy???)  I then struggled to think of images to go with the words and mine seemed pretty tight and constrained.

Patti kept reassuring us that drawings don’t have to be good to communicate to the right side of the brain.

We then shared with a partner what we observed in looking at our map. I noticed that Patti’s process had already included three modalities: thinking in words, drawing images, and sharing out loud – all ways of reinforcing the power of the exercise.

Our next step was the most fun for me: highlighting our intentions for the future.  Patti invited us to go on a creative trip and let our imaginations rip.

I’ve been working hard re-visioning my business and I have a lot of energy about the future, so this part was fun. I dropped my “am I doing it right concerns?” and lept into creative mode. I quickly came up with ideas and images (still not so artistic, but I didn’t care!), about the future I wanted to create.

I allowed myself to be surprised. An airplane became an easy symbol for the international work I plan to do. A circle showed me how much I value collaboration.

This time, I loved the process of drawing. I was playing full-out and my desire was pulling me forward. I was connecting with intuitive wisdom  – and putting it on paper where I could see it, reflect on it, and act. Patti again asked us to share our reflections with a partner.

Bridging the gap between current and desired reality

The final piece of this action-packed session had us think about how we would move towards the futures we saw in our drawings.  We were asked to identify three bold steps that would help us bridge the left side (current reality) of our maps with the right (desired new reality.)  I noticed one of my tablemates stalled at this point, but I was on a roll.  “Link arms to a wide community,” “Write a bolder truth,” “Speak the passion through great presentations.” I couldn’t wait to go further and look at what each of these might entail but, alas, we were out of time.

Patti encouraged us to keep working with our maps, and invited us to download the free map template she has on her website: Up Your Creative Genius. Just to feed my imagination and keep going with the process, I bought a copy of her book Drawing Solutions: How Visual Goal Setting Will Change Your Life that describes this process in more detail (complete, of course, with great illustrations.)

Many thanks to the Pacific Northwest Organizational Development Network for organizing this evening. I just wish I could get back together with everyone in six months and celebrate our progress creating that new bold reality.


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