Discovering Your Unique Contributions
Presented in the TWC Passport Speaker Series
I thank you for asking me to speak on this topic today. What I want to say to you is that without you, my TWC and HP communities, I would never have discovered my biggest dreams or my own contributions. You have listened me into who I am and what I do, and without you, no dreams, no contributions.
What I'd like to talk about today is not the ten things to do to discover your own contribution. I have no idea what they might be, in any case. What I want to talk about is how the world works, as I see it now after 50 years. Which is very different than how I thought it worked for most of my life. . This talk might also be called, "What I thought the world was like, and how it really is (for me.)"
So here's a picture of what I thought the world was like when it came to discovering my unique contribution.
I'd be walking along one day in my life, alone, probably a little lonely, romantically lonely, when I'd stumble across my contribution like a thing in the sand. The thing to do until then was be on the lookout for it and go listen to people who could give me clues about where it might crop up.
What I've found about contribution, though, is real different from this picture.
It has to do with being listened into my dreams. So what I want to talk about today is two things: being listened into; and dreams.
Being Listened Into
There are so many things I want to say about being listened into.
I will speak about speaking vs. listening; and how both tie into rewards and recognition; how I used to think about listening, and how I think about it now; how it happens, how to make it happen, and what listening has made happen in my own life.
Then before we move onto dreams, we'll close the listening discussion with an example of listening - an excerpt from HPL's latest Readers' Theater, and together we'll ask, "what are the elements of listening that lead to dreams fulfilled?"
Relationship between speaking and listening
I experience that you here today are listening me into my thinking and speech. Without you I would not be having these thoughts. You are half the equation. And no t less than half. The notion that I have something to say , that I'm 100% of the action today and you're just passively sitting there is just that. A notion that I've held most of my life, an d one that has not served me or the world.
For most of my life I have believed that I should not agree to stand up here until I had something to say. But the way it works for me is that not until I agree to stand up here, and imagine you listening to me, do I actually discover and invent what I have to say. I don't have it before I've agreed to stand up here You, the community and the audience come first. You the listener generate my speaking.
As theologian Nelle Morton said 25 years ago, "In the beginning was not the Word but the Listening."
Now there's a corollary to the power of listening. We make powerful contributions as listeners without even realizing it. Traditionally, our culture has not noticed listeners, or rewarded us, or ranked us highly. Nor have we valued ourselves in this role.
My first job in HP, 14 years ago in Santa Clara Division, one of my friends was Rob. (I've changed the names in this story.) Rob was a brilliant highly ranked engineer. In the next cubicle was Cal, a "performance problem," ranked marginally, and contributing nothing to the technical agenda. The two were inseparable: Rob, before his whiteboard, gesturing and explaining, as Ca l looked on, mildly enough occasionally asking a question or two. In several years Rob left the company for a start-up. I went over to visit him and who do I see in his cubicle but Cal, looking on as Rob explained something. And I suddenly "got it." Without Cal's listening, Rob had nothing to say. Rob needed Cal to listen to him so he could know what he was thinking.
Cal was absolutely vital, and 50% of the creative process that resulted in what we called Rob's thoughts. Yet he was marginally ranked, considered a performance problem, and Rob got all the benies.
But HP is changing. As we focus more on teamwork, and begin to develop language and perceptions about what makes a team effective, we are noticing and rewarding these "listening" "receptive" roles. Recently a consultant friend and I wrote a chapter about the transformation of HPL. She listened me into my story, which I then wrote up. Now traditionally, because it was my story and I wrote it up, I would have been the sole or at least the primary author in the article. But because it never would have happened without her listening, and the listening came first. we put her as the primary author.
In HP as well, the invisibility of the listener is changing. Joel has modeled the change in HPL, acknowledging me lavishly for my otherwise invisible role listening others into their dreams. In the most recent big project, our Walk Through Time, Sid Liebes has not once been recognized for his 26 year dream fulfilled without saying it wouldn't have happened without me. We'll look closer at the Walk Through Time in a minute.
But first I want to talk about how listening happens, different than what I thought for most of my life. Here's my old picture.
Again alone, when once in a blue moon somebody comes along and listens to me. Notice the critical element of my own passivity in the process.
But on the right hand side is how begin listened to , and into something, is now for me. Together we must and can and do build and say yes to contexts that listen me and you into being.
The TWC is the most powerful listening I have encountered in my life. Here is what the TWC listening made happen in my life, and some reflections on these experiences.
In '93 Laurie Mittelstadt and I invited the director of the Global Fund for Women to keynote the TWC. I felt afraid of doing this: what if her beliefs about women's oppression offended someone? But I felt even more afraid of a world where she couldn't speak up, and so I said yes to the request to introduce her. Even though I also feared my own my beliefs might offend someone? In introducing Anne, I learned that learned that I believe global companies should define citizenship NOT as the mile and a half radius around our factories, but as the entire planet. My dream of HP raising the bar on what it means to be a corporate citizen began with this talk. The idea of HP for the World began with this talk.
In '95 I said yes to being a keynote speaker at the TWC and learned that I believe it is we that must carry on Bill and Dave's legacy, by reinventing what it means for our times. And for me, one of the things it meant then was to speak about my partner, as if this were a normal thing to do from a podium in HP. And speaking of my own experiences of perpetuating racism and sexism as if this were normal. HP for the World grew with this talk.
In '96, using organizing techniques learned from TWC, Laurie Mittelstadt, Darlene Solomon and I along with other colleagues from HPL created a "Celebration of Creativity," a TWC for HPL, that gave birth to the image and vision of HP for the World. This vision has been absorbed throughout the company as you can see.
Also in '96 I said yes to helping the GLEN group with upcoming talks with senior management about domestic partner benefits. I wrote a Readers' Theater using experiences we gathered from all over the company of what it means to be discriminated against for being gay at HP. Knowing that we would perform our reading for Lew Platt and his staff in the board room especially scared us , even as we never doubted we needed to do it. For our efforts we were rewarded with great new friendships with each other, the kind that come only when you undertake something big and risky; and generous listening and good questions and subsequent dialogue with Lew's staff that resulted in the equal benefits for all our employees and all our HP families.
In '97 with colleagues at HPL, following on our first TWC for HPL, we created the "Celebration of Creativity - the Conversation Continues. For this day we built a one mile walk through time, at a million years to the foot, with 88 posters marking milestones along the way, tracking a billion years of life from star dust to us. The walk served as a deep rich context for asking in many new lights, what should HP be doing? And HPL? And we as lab or function? And I has a human being?
Now this is what Listening and Being Listened To can make happen, but how? Let's look at an example and try to discern the critical elements of the listening.
I could go into any of these examples of the riches I've experienced from the TWC, but I'll focus on the last one. We'll start with an excerpt from the Readers' Theater that kicked off Earth Day, April 22, a couple of weeks ago. Sid Liebes, who hates theater, has agreed to play it again with me, for you.
Two weeks ago, HPL had an experience that occurred because I listened one of our senior scientists into a dream he's had for 26 years: to create a one-mile walk through time. We thought we'd act out a few minutes of our conversation so you could see this listening role in action. This conversation began 18 months ago at my desk, and others joined in....
Sid: Hey, Barb. What a Day! that Celebration was last week. It put me in touch with dream that started over 26 years ago...
Barb: Whoa!, Sid, what happened 26 years ago?
Sid: Well it was the earth's first Earth Day. I was so moved, and I wrote a letter to the editor of the Stanford Daily to propose a mile-long walk to celebrate life, and help us realize how fragile earth's life is, and the urgency for us to preserve it.
Barb: Tell me more about the walk...
Sid: (enthusiastically) Well, it would scale to a million years to the foot and start with cosmic star dust accreting to form the planet and continue through 500 my - 5 billion years, into the present...
Barb: "From star dust to us..."
Sid: Exactly, and the way
Barb: (interrupting) Hold on a second, Sid. What ever gave you this idea then?
Sid: I grew up 3 miles from here, in the 30s. When I was a boy, I would hike for miles through endless fields of California poppies and eucalyptus forests that surrounded our home. El Camino had no traffic lights, and today's San Francisco International Airport was a gravel runway called Mills field... When my wife and I returned from Princeton to Stanford in the mid 60's, the changes in the Peninsula hit me hard. I initiated several successful local environmental initiatives but I was haunted by the pending death of the world's megafauna and...
Barb: (interrupting) So what happened when you proposed the Walk 26 years ago Sid?
Sid: Well, no one was crazy enough to join me on it, and I wasn't crazy enough to do it alone. But now, I am. I'm impelled to try. We humans just have to get it, as a species- the negative impact we're having on the majority of life, and the positive impact we could have.... I want to build a mile-long wall, in some open public space, like the Presidio, for example, unfolding the scientific understanding of life, to give people a visceral understanding of how precious, and beautiful and fragile life is... So Anyway, I'm gonna retire and do it...
Barb: Wow, I love your idea, Sid! But I've gotta tell you, it feels awful to me that you have to leave HP to follow your dreams. What if HP is big enough for our dreams? What if HP requires our dreams to stay great and profitable? What if we could do the walk here at HP?
Sid: Here? How? Do you think HP would go for this? Why?
Barb: Well, let's just think about it. Remember the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity, from 1992? I heard you quote it yourself last Creativity Day, Sid.
Sid: Yes. That remarkable document. 1600 scientists assess the state of the planet and , paint a grim picture of where we're headed, and conclude by saying,
" If vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated, a great change in our stewardship of the earth is required." And they call on corporations to help.
Barb: Exactly, maybe HP lead the way?
Sid: But does HP want to lead the way?
Barb: Well, let's see. We'll ask all the powers that be, and if it doesn't seem like the right time then why don't we reframe the walk not as an environmental statement but
Sid: Not as an environmental statement. Then what?
Barb: Well, as the deepest, richest context in which to be asking the business questions. What should HP be doing, in light of the future of the planet? What problems should we be trying to solve? Using what kinds of technology? How should we be working together? And each of us could ask our own deepest questions... what am I doing with my life? Is this what I want my legacy to be?
Sid: Well here comes Laurie
Barb: And Jean Tully, and Geoff Ainscow
Sid: And Jim Sheats
Barb: And Joel's right in there with us....
End of Readers' Theater
What did you see here? Take a few minutes here as we play some music to identify what to you are critical elements.
Here are elements I see:
Now what did Barb listening Sid into his dream, and Laurie listening them both into their schemes, and Geoff and Jean listening those three, and Joan and Nancy and Hazen and Sheila and Rick and Jim and Shalini...listening them and each other ....give rise to?
On Earth Day, 400 HPL employees in Bristol, England began the walk, concluding their day by passing the baton to 1300 employees in Palo Alto, who took the walk, followed by workshops, and concluded by pas sing the baton to our 40 employees in Mizonoguchi, Japan, who concluded their day by passing back to Bristol. In 24 hours we collectively walked over a thousand miles, completed a worldwide walk through 5 billion years of life, from star dust to us, and in that context asking "What should HP be doing, and HPL? and I, personally?
Hearing about the walk from others, Corvallis site now plans to hold the walk for the site and the entire town for daVinci days. Vancouver Site and Components are exploring hosting it as well.
The day after Earth Day, we hosted employees from HP-Palo Alto site through the walk. Wonderful messages of insights gained came to us from these walks, and 1 employee, working with Sid, is now setting up the walk for the Bohemian Club for its July meeting.
Two days after the HPL walk we hosted 50 non-profits taking the walk. Out of that the Tech museum has asked to set up the walk, along with the Children's Discovery Museum, along Guadeloupe Park in August for 100,000 people.
And the State of the World Forum, also called the Gorbachev Peace Forum, now plans to host the walk. In November, 700 leaders from 50 countries will take the walk from star dust to us, as the context for their deliberations about the world's future. They have invited Sid and me to keynote their conference.
Now I'd lack to back off the Walk Through Time, and look at some things all the TWC experiences had in common, and what's involved for me in making it happen.
First of all, I never enthusiastically said YES to any of them. I was too scared. I did manage to say no to the NO that comes into my head and out of my mouth almost before I can stop it. And based on my experience, just saying NO t o you own NO can be enough to get the ball rolling.
And back to how I thought the world worked and how it really works for me.
I always believed that to stand in front of a large group and talk to lots of people you had to be an extrovert. You couldn't be shy like I am. I would rather be in bed reading a book than almost anything else... but here I am. Ho w? The way it works as I see it is that I want to accomplish my dream: of HP raising the standard of corporate citizenship, of how we treat each other in the work environment, and how we treat our customers and how we treat the world. And to move this dream along, I need to talk about it, so I say yes when somebody asks me to speak. And I'm terrified every time. I get insomnia starting weeks before the event, and that includes this one. And I get scared until right before I'm standing here, looking out and seeing only other people, you, just like me. But the bottom line for me is, when I come from my commitment I'll do these risky things, and, the fear doesn't go away.
So before we move into a lot fewer thoughts on Dreams, I'd like to pause again, and give you a chance to reflect on your own experiences of listening.
Now I said I had two points to make about how the world works so different from what I thought was how it worked. The first point was about the power of being listened to, and the necessity to find, invent and say yes to contexts that listen us into our contributions. The second point I want to make is about the necessity of remembering, discovering or inventing our dreams.
I have only a few points to make about Dreams.
Again, what I thought vs. How it is, for me. And then some realizations about a lot of "great" thinkers; a discovery about realizing dreams, and how to seed them by listening to myself.
How I thought it worked was that if you were great, like Martin Luther King, you had a dream. Since I wasn't great, I figured I had no dream and the best I could do was go listen to those who did. But what I now believe is that it works like this: it's having the dream that makes you great. It's the dream that produces the greatness. It's the passion we have for what we want that draws others around us and attracts the resources it takes to accomplish the dreams. (Goethe quote.)
I leaned as a child that what I wanted was wrong, and probably from the devil. This belief kept me from ever even glimpsing my dreams, and took some years to get over. So where is the dream? In years of reading, in many traditions, I love best the description by a radio preacher from the 30's, Emmet Fox, who spoke of our "heart's desire" not as that of the devil, but as the voice of God, or Spirit, or whatever we call it: the still small voice within that whispers to us in the wee hours of the night, surprises us in a movie, or as we read the headlines. It's deeply personal, and sometimes embarrassing, and speaks directly to us, and may seem trivial to others. An example:
For me, 12 years ago, the heart's desire began as a deep pain, and sometimes tears when I would watch the news or read the paper or hear the stories of the kids who needed but did not have families. Sinking into my pain freed the voice within to whisper, "I want these kids in my life as my own." My heart's desire brought me 9 years ago our daughter and 7 years ago our son.
This brings me to my fifth point about the dream. Personally, I don't often hear my own voice directly. It comes in twisted or sidewise. I believe this is related to being socialized to please other s to the point I completely lost touch with what I wanted other than to please you. So I've had to learn my own soul's code that signals me when I have something to say or there's something I want to have, b e or do.
For me, one good signal is when I get hypercritical of anther's thinking, "What's so original about that? I've heard those thoughts a million times. Besides her sources aren't even accurate...." or worse, "Who does s he think she is? " "He would never be making money on this drivel if he weren't male..." These are usually signs to me that I, Barbara Waugh want to be in their shoes as the speaker, resource, leader, etc. I have something to say. I won't know what it is until I volunteer to speak up, and then it will come to me. So hypercriticism and judgment are my clues that its time to say yes to the next opportunity to step out.
Another signal for me is envy. When I wish I could be like her or him; wish I had what they have, it's time for me to go for whatever it is that they have that I want. This isn't always what it seems. It may not be the big house or the lavish vacation. It may be the sense of entitlement from which it emanates that I envy.
And as I mentioned earlier, another good signal for me is pain. Is there something about the world that hurts my heart a lot when I think about it? Something that I have a hard time NOT thinking about? Chances are, my voice within, my next heart's desire nestles within that pain and will come forth if I can hang out with the pain.
In the course of learning about dreams, I also learned something about many of the so-called great thinkers.
Let's start with the "great man or great woman idea." I believed in this one through my teens, 20's and 30's. But it began breaking down already in my 20's. I was in graduate school in theology at the University of Chicago, when I noticed that all the budding and many of the full bloomed theologians were simply compensating for their own deficiencies and then universalizing these compensations for the rest of us. So the guy who couldn't dance wrote a theology of the dancing God; and the guy with no sense of humor wrote a theology of the laughing God. The guy who felt God was so far off we could never know him, one of our most famous theologians, I learned was in a loveless marriage. He began an affair with another woman and soon his theology talked about intimations of the divine love in the love between two people.
Now I was one of the many who were trying to live my life based on the insights of these great theologians, and despairing when they didn't resonate for me. It took me years to realize they didn't resonate because they were completely irrelevant. That it was not the content I should have attended to, but the process of these folks. Get in touch with what is most missing in my own life, and allow it to guide me into greater wholeness.
And I discovered something else to be true for me, which is really the most startling thing I'm saying today. How I thought it worked to realize a dream, vs. how it works for me.
I always believed it was easy to know what I wanted; and hard to get it. That knowing what I wanted took a split second; getting it took my whole life, and once I got it, I would die.
When you think about it, this is the view of the world we get from western culture. Jason and the Golden Fleece, the Search for the Holy Grail, Star Wars, etc. All these guys know what they're looking for, it takes forever to find it and then they die. (Hazen: please add to Bibliography Mary Catherine Bateson's Composing a Life: exploring the effects of the quest myth in western culture on how we evaluate and make meaning and meaninglessness of our lives in contrast to other myths - for example, the myth of the quilt.)
How my life works, though is like this:
The thing that takes the longest for me is coming out of unconsciousness long enough or often enough to discover what I want. Once I know it, although there may be obstacles, even great ones, they melt away in the face of strong desire, and it doesn't take all that long. And I get what I'm going for. Time and time again. And I haven't died yet.
And why do I even want this dream in the first place?
Why have one? Do I really want to be great? Or have a unique contribution? Sometimes. But mostly, I want a dream for very pragmatic reasons. I want to feel good about what I do, have fun, meet great people, have them want to meet me, feel interesting to myself.. And I find that with a dream all that happens, and when I'm not holding my dream, or have segued off into negativity and bitterness as I often do, I feel lonely, isolated, petty, and a tad paranoid. And I don't like my life or anyone in it, most of all myself.
Each time a dream is realized, I start over. And starting over often begins by listening to myself.
I have 5 or 6 journals going at a time, on different subjects. And I indulge myself with beautiful, pens, silly pens, funky pens, markers in 75 colors, and water colors. And I indulge in books. Since the WTT, I've been listened into some new thoughts inspired by these authors.
Now these two things, the listening and the dream come together for me, and weave in and out, because the way I see it, we must be listened into our dreams. We must listen to ourselves and to each other, and for me, each time it happens, it starts small. Listening to myself by waking up at 3 am with thoughts, fixing tea and writing them out in one of my many journals; or with a book, having imaginary discussions with the author; or with one other person.
I'd like to share with you some small thoughts that have come to me in the last few months, through authors that touched me deeply.
With that, I ask you to listen to yourself for a few minutes.
Then I'll ask you to listen to each other, in twos or threes when there'd otherwise be only one. And then we'll have time for you to be listened further into your thinking by this great group here as those of you who want to, share y our thoughts with the group.
We'll pause for 3 minutes.
Then I'll ask you to turn to each other.
Then open mike speaking.
And now it's your turn to be listened into...your thoughts, feelings, dreams....
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