Monday, October 13, 2014


Seven Arts to Positively Transform Your Life

Is there a way to heal the modern heart and mind? Is there a means by which we can transform ourselves in order to reach our full potential in daily life? Can we learn to unify our body, mind, and spirit in such a way that leads to interconnection, shared values, and a greater sense of community?
In Living With The Wind At Your Back, David Shaner teaches us how to remain calm, centered, and focused in the midst of constant change; he edges the reader closer to a life of joy, fulfillment, growth, and social contribution. This is an important book as the author provides a clear Seven Arts pathway, based upon daily exercises, that enables us to experience a deep connection with something larger than ourselves.
  • What if you took the principles of Ki-Aikido directly to a professional sports team? Or to a Fortune 500 Boardroom? And how does this positively drive results?

  • Dr. Shaner poses key questions to consider and shares vivid examples of the Seven Arts change process in action.

  • What are the fundamental principles of authentic personal confidence? Dr. Shaner illuminates this pervasive and timely question.

  • Extensive instructions and background in Tohei Sensei’s Ki Breathing Meditation and the deep value it brings to living.

  • Historical anecdotes from Shaner Sensei’s time serving as uchi deshi with Tohei Sensei in Japan.

  • Teaching Ki-Aikido to the Pitkin County (Aspen, CO) Sheriff’s Department and to the security team at Caesar’s Palace and the Mirage Casino and Resort Hotels in Las Vegas.

407 pages   •   Color images   •   $32.95

Order the book, read samples, Special Combo offer, etc…

View an introduction to the book by Dr. Shaner

Living With the Wind at Your Back by David Shaner reaches from the blindingly fast ice slopes of ski racing, to the patrol car of a deputy sheriff in Aspen, to the inner secrets of Ki Aikido, to meditation, comparative philosophy and a new renaissance in American manufacturing. Fascinating!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Golden Rule: The World’s Most Simple and Greatest Management Principle

Reflecting on “The Golden Rule” might be an easy way to get to the essence of the second of The Seven Arts of Change —The Art of Compassion.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12).  This moral principle is not limited to Christianity; it is a universal theme in all of the world’s major religious and philosophical traditions. Confucius emphasized compassion for others with the “Silver Rule” from his book, The Analects. In passage XV.24, Tzu-kung asked, “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” Confucius answered, “Is not reciprocity such a word? Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” 

My Ki-Aikido teacher, Soshu Koichi Tohei Sensei, included a similar guideline in his teaching called the “Five Principles to Lead Others.” He expresses this guideline in the fourth principle that says, “Put Yourself in the Place of Your Partner.” Practicing this principle is critically important when performing all Aikido arts used for self-defense. Aikido is really nothing other than practicing the Golden Rule, the Silver Rule, compassion, and non-dissension put in motion.

Why do I suggest that The Golden Rule is world’s greatest management principle?  The answer is because it is an absolute game-changer when you actually practice it at work!

When you practice The Golden Rule you:

  1. Create more value for less because you reduce resource waste due to a lack of understanding, alignment, and shared interest.
  2. You break down barriers that promote functional separation and the illusion of self-sufficiency.
  3. You promote connection and cooperation.
  4. You stop judging and criticizing others, departments, and functions for their failures.
  5. Instead, you become a part of the solution by proactively helping others and asking for help from others, departments, and functions.
  6. You eliminate non-valued added layers, rules, KPIs, reporting lines, boxes, territories, and boundaries.
  7. You promote reciprocity by learning what other people actually do.
  8. You create feedback loops that promote an understanding of how actions taken today affect others (internal and external customers) tomorrow.
  9. You are transparent…instead of hiding behind functional bureaucracy that promotes separation and independence; you promote connection and cooperation by virtue of showing your weaknesses as a result of asking for help.
  10. You become co-dependent and work as a team.

If you think about the common denominator for all 10 points, it all comes down to doing things that promote human connection, cooperation, and understanding.  When people actually like each other they are more productive AND the quality of life at work gets better.  

In order to promote this kind of connection, I have always used “Target Behaviors” that would serve as the visible benchmark for “how” we want to work together.  I focus on visible behaviors because that which ultimately drives behavior is the invisible MIND. (Short video clip on targeted behaviors below.)

Since the aim of organizations is to improve performance, it is easy to understand “what” we do.  “What we do” everyday is use data (clear, measurable, visible, analytical tools) to improve all processes that deliver value (products and services) to the marketplace.

In contrast to the “what”, “how we work together” is driven by the invisible mind.  Every employee has a mind that we cannot see and measure; it is invisible. Yet, everyone’s mind is driving the entire organization in ways that are either on-strategy  (promoting cooperation) or off-strategy (promoting problems and wasteful distractions). 

So how can we improve “the mind” of the organization? The key is visible BEHAVIOR that we can see, reward, encourage, and celebrate.  By promoting Target Behaviors, we can make  clear organizational values and priorities that codify/institutionalize the kind of behaviors we want to reward and celebrate. Simply put, we want to reward and celebrate behaviors that evidence The Golden Rule.  If we encourage this kind of behavior, then “the mind” of the organization begins “to do” things (perform behaviors) that are consistent with the list of ten (above).

Here is a sample list of Target Behaviors we are using at a current client company.  Think about each of these “behaviors” in terms of The Golden Rule and the ten organizational benefits.

  1. Embrace Change 
  2. Think and Act Like An Owner
  3. We Are One Team
  4. Practice Respectful, Open and Honest Communication
  5. Meet Your Commitments: Do What You Say
  6. Take Responsible Risks

Let’s quickly review how encouraging and rewarding these Target Behaviors promote connection and cooperation (like practicing The Golden Rule).

  1. Embrace Change (you are willing to get out of your box).
  2. Think and Act Like An Owner (you see and understand what everyone must do working together).
  3. We Are One Team (you are willing to practice reciprocity, help others, and ask for help).
  4. Practice Respectful, Open and Honest Communication (you are willing to listen for understanding and speak to be understood).
  5. Meet Your Commitments: Do What You Say (you are responsible as others are counting on you to deliver your part of the equation for enterprise-wide success).
  6. Take Responsible Risks (you drive out the fear of failure and functional separation by institutionalizing cooperation through helping and asking for help).

The next time someone asks you, “What is the one key principle that, if practiced and institutionalized, would lead to organizational excellence and financial success?” you might consider answering the question like this: “Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you”.  By practicing The Golden Rule at home and at work, you promote connection and cooperation.  And besides, when people work on “liking each other” (The Art of Compassion), then dramatic change and transformation that lasts can occur at home and at work!

Final video clip on the Seven Arts of Change being based on The Golden Rule:


Monday, December 2, 2013

Lessons from the Confucian Analects

Over the years I have found the Confucian Analects to be a source of inspiration when searching for underlying principles that guide performance improvement for individuals as well as organizations. Confucius (551-479 BC) lived during the Warring States Period when China was not unified and in the grip of civil war. For Confucius, the problem was that the leaders had lost the T’ien Ming (the Will of Heaven); that is, their own lack of morale behavior and awareness was causing the country to spiral out of control. The “fix” Confucius thought, was to provide a positive example of how to live thus serving as a model for moral education in a divided nation. If Confucius could transform bad (selfish) leaders into good (unselfish) leaders by first transforming their hearts and minds to be in accord with the Will of Heaven, then these same leaders would provide visible examples of love and benevolence (jen) that could turn war into peace and poverty into prosperity.

I believe that the key is to observe the little things that leaders do in daily life that evidence the quality of their thinking (mind) and leadership (behavior). Indeed, it is the small acts of kindness and consideration that, when accumulated drop-by-drop over time, can turn around an individual, a company, or even a nation.

Let’s consider one of my favorite examples from the Analects.

Analects 10:12. “The Master (Confucius) would not sit, unless his mat was straight”.

Talk about the “little things” … when I first encountered this passage I thought Confucius must have been completely anal-retentive! But think about it. Confucius was saying his behavior would always evidence his mind. If his behavior were disorganized and sloppy, then it would evidence a manner of thinking that was unclear and improper. Such thinking and action is not in accord with the Will of Heaven and principles of virtue that call us to respect not only persons with whom we live and work, but also a person’s property (the mat, a chair, a desk) where we live and work.

When I walk into a new client company or organization, sometimes “the culture” is palpable. For example, this simple Confucian principle was evidenced to me for the first time when I walked into my new client’s headquarters (Frito-Lay) in Plano, Texas. It was the late 1980’s and the headquarters looked to me like I was entering the Emerald City! As I walked into the glass sunlight building in the very early morning, I saw vast open clean spaces with beautiful hardwood furnishings at each cubical. At this early hour only the security personnel were available to let me enter the building. There were no employees, no suppliers, and no customers, and yet, the building itself exuded quality. The fixtures, the stair railings, the hardwood grain on the desk surfaces, all seemed to shine.

And then I noticed something eerie. There was not a single piece of paper, pen, or object out of place on ANY of the desk surfaces at EACH office cubical - - absolutely no clutter! I thought, “we have a culture here where the MIND of the entire organization (Pepsico) certainly believed in being aligned, focused, and purposeful”. And then I thought, “the Master would not sit, unless his mat was straight.”

So, you might be thinking, “What does this mean?” Or even worse, you might be thinking that you would not want to work in such an antiseptic workspace! But, let’s examine this more closely. What was obviously a corporate policy to leave one’s desk clean and clear after the workday, was not intended as an infringement of personal creativity and expression. Instead consider the Art of Preparation, the first of the Seven Arts change process. Imagine the mindset required to purposefully align people, processes, and core metrics for improved financial performance. Consider further the importance of establishing a clear baseline (as in “standard work”) in a truly lean organization.

What is “standard work” other than the equivalent of “not sitting, unless your mat is straight.” Standard work means preparing to perform your duties the same way, every time for the purpose of establishing a clear measurable baseline necessary for process improvement in a data-driven organization.

In other words, just as my initial reaction to Confucius’ habit of correct sitting was negative (suggesting that he was anal-retentive), many employees consider performing standard work as a call to boredom (not action) by enforcing a lack of creativity and innovation. Quite to the contrary, standard work is the equivalent of the Art of Preparation - - “not sitting, unless your mat is straight.” Performing things consistently (standard work) serves as the basis for creating world-class products and delivering world-class services with zero defects built into the actual process. Doing things consistently in an error free manner is really a matter of MIND - - “not sitting, unless your mat is straight”.

Just for fun, let me conclude by sharing briefly a few of my favorite passages from the Analects that evidence lessons on leadership.

Analects 2:4 The Master said, “At fifteen I set my heart upon learning; at thirty I took my stand; at forty I came to be free from doubts; at fifty I understood the Will of Heaven; at sixty my ear was attuned; at seventy I followed my hearts content without overstepping the line.”

Lesson: Personal development is a lifelong process and there are no skipping steps!

Analects 12:17 “To govern (cheng) is to correct (cheng). If you set an example by being correct, who would desire to remain incorrect?”

[Besides being homophones, the two words in Chinese are cognate, thus showing that the concept of “governing” was felt to be related to that of “correcting”.] Note by D.C. Lau, trans. The Analects, Penguin Books, Great Britain, 1979, pg. 115.]

Lesson: Leadership means “leading by example”. If you practice what you preach, including learning from/correcting your mistakes, then others will find it easy to emulate your “best practice” example.

Analects 25:24 “A student asked, ‘Is there a single word which can be a guide to conduct throughout one’s life?’ The Master said, ‘Is not reciprocity (shu) such a word? Do not impose upon others what you yourself do not desire.”

Lesson: The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) is yet another prime example of “leading by example” … “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Ironically, in the Confucian philosophical system, this passage 25:24 is called the Silver Rule and is based upon the same guiding principle of reciprocity. Using oneself as a measure to gauge how you treat others is a simple and effective tool applicable at work and in daily life.

Analects 2:3 “The Master said, ‘Guide them by edicts, keep them in line with punishments, and the common people will stay out of trouble but will have no sense of shame. Guide them by virtue, keep them in line with rites, and they will, besides having a sense of shame, reform themselves’”.

Lesson: Autocratic managers are never able to “lead by example”. The true goal of leadership is to create an environment where people perform willingly to the very best of their ability, even when no one is watching.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sensen no Sen: Taking Performance to the Next Level

Suppose you are trying to take your performance to the next level. Whether the context is athletics, business, music, or maybe just taking better care of yourself through improved diet and exercise, you can always take your game to the next level through improved focus.

As a practitioner of the martial arts, I find the training methods used for black belt examinations to be of the same substance as methods used to improve anyone’s performance in any endeavor.

Peak performance requires calmness under stress, which yields expanded awareness, which feeds the ability to clearly focus on the right “stuff.” This enables you to perform with confidence at a higher level. When you learn to practice with confidence in the daily pursuit of continuous improvement, for example in the martial arts or in a lean enterprise, anyone (or organization) can plan to take their game to the next level. For individuals as well as corporations, adopting the Seven Arts change process means that the focus is mental; that is, learning to be fully engaged and at your best every single day. Imagine what changes might occur at your workplace if everyone involved were completely focused and supportive of each other!

Let me explain the martial context first.

This past June I was teaching our Eastern Ki Federation Summer Camp held at Christopher Newport University. The focus this year was training students who were preparing for their Black Belt examinations. There is a planned increase in performance with each grade (kyu) as students work their way through the early stages of traditional martial arts training.

imageThe theme was building upon an oft-spoken phrase that my teacher Soshu Koichi Tohei (1920-2011) always taught, especially when preparing students for black belt testing, “ki (or mind) moves first.” Tohei Sensei is the Founder of Shinshin Toitsu Aikido and Ki no Kenkyukai, and was the first person to bring the martial art of Aikido out of Japan in 1953. That “ki moves first” or “mind moves first” is an important concept to internalize for learning to move earlier (sensen no sen) in anticipation of your attacker’s intention(s). These concepts are also at the heart of the first of the Seven Arts, The Art of Preparation.

Any competitive endeavor has this mental dimension in which confidence arises from not only solid practice and preparation, but also from internalizing prior knowledge. In the business context, this prior knowledge refers to the company’s strategic plan. It represents a map to the future that when understood by all, enables the organization to execute the operations and commercial business plan. Again, whether in the martial arts, competitive athletics or business, it is important to communicate, understand, internalize, and have confidence in, “the plan.” Understanding and institutionalizing both the competitive strategy and the operational business plan means that everyone has bought-in and has prior knowledge (sensen no sen) of the roadmap to success.

imageTwo of Tohei Sensei’s three main teachers were Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), the Founder of Aikido and Aikikai, and Nakamura Tempu (1976-1968), the Founder of Shinshin Toitsudo and Tempukai. From Ueshiba Sensei my teacher learned the “power of relaxation” for performance improvement. And, from Tempu Sensei, he learned the principle that “mind leads body”. When Tohei Sensei explained what he meant by “ki moves first” he would refer to traditional concepts in budo (martial arts) that were sometimes used by his teachers.

For example, Ueshiba Sensei (O-Sensei) used to refer to the concept of “sensen no sen.” At Summer camp I was sharing this concept in my efforts to explain Tohei Sensei’s teaching that for all forms of performance improvement, it is always the case that one must be prepared to act prior; that is, “ki moves first”/ “mind moves body.”

imageOne of our EKF Head Instructors in attendance at the camp is originally from Japan, but is now living in North Carolina as a professional translator. After camp, she followed up and wrote back to me a very clear summary of sensen no sen:

“I have looked up sensen no sen and the character for sen is 先 (the same as saki = precede; anticipate; prior; ahead; previously).  It is one of the Budo terms as follows:

go no sen  (後の先) — after the prior
“go” = behind, after, rear, “no” = of

sen no sen (先の先) — prior to prior

sensen no sen (先先の先) — prior to prior to prior”

In other words,

Go no sen — After you see the actual attack, you respond.

Sen no sen — After you recognize the attacker’s intention, you deal with the him before his attack reaches you.

Sensen no sen — After you recognize the attacker’s intention to attack, you deal with the attacker before his intention become an attacking move.  

They are all equally employed martial art tactics (so “go no sen" is not an inferior way to sen no sen or sensen no sen).”

So, what does all this mean? If you really think about it, what causes you to be held back in your performance whether it is at work, on the athletic field, or on the musical or artistic stage? That which holds you back is your mind, specifically your ability to focus on the task at hand. And, the key is that you cannot just focus some of the time when you feel like preparing and practicing. No, your ability to take your game to the next level will require you to remain calm, relaxed, and focused making “on-strategy” decisions all day, everyday. Executing “the plan” means being fully engaged, willing to give your best, and understanding exactly what you need to do to make a difference. In athletics and in business, you need to understand how to keep score (core metrics), how your personal actions influence the score, and you need to have prior knowledge (“mind moves first”) in order to execute the plan on a consistent basis.

Note that this Seven Arts change process applies equally to the minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, daily focus required to overcome addictions of all kinds. After all, we are all addicted to “the way in which we have always done things” and this represents literally the attached mind that is holding us back! Unless your mind is 100% focused in the right direction, you cannot expect to take your game and performance to the next level.

The key to sustained improvement for individuals as well as corporations is to understand deeply, practice, and habituate/institutionalize the mental ability to remain calm and relaxed under the considerable stress of seeking continuous daily performance improvement. When the stakes are high the stress and pressure to perform becomes greater and greater whether it is advanced black belt testing, overcoming an addiction, or pursuing continuous improvement in a world class company.

In short, continuous performance improvement in the martial arts and in business means that you have to let go of tension, let go of the past (“the way in which we have always done things”), and have prior knowledge of, and confidence in, the future plan. You are really preparing to “boldly go where you have never gone before”! And that can be scary; unless you have (and believe in) an overall performance improvement strategy that when executed will lead to success.

Developing, practicing, and institutionalizing sensen no sen would enable you or your organization to anticipate obstacles and respond with corrective speed and accuracy. Whether you are responding to an attack in the martial arts, or a verbal threat on the factory floor, or an immanent strategic threat posed by a competitor with a new product or service, your ability (and your organization’s ability) to be at your best depends upon first calming your mind and then focusing it upon “on-strategy” tasks hour-by-hour every single day.

So, how then do you “take your performance to the next level?”

Overcoming an addiction and pursuing world-class performance both start with the MIND. At the end of the day, you must be able to focus, anticipate problems, respond in ways that are on-strategy (making good choices), and remain doing so on a consistent basis even under the daily stresses and strains occasioned by the pursuit of continuous improvement. As Tohei Sensei taught, “ki moves first” (related to Ueshiba Sensei’s sensen no sen) and “mind leads body” (related to Tempu Sensei’s shinshin toitsu-do).

Tohei Sensei’s ki-aikido teaching that “mind goes first” is woven through The Seven Arts of Change, but is especially important for practicing The Art of Preparation (Assessment), The Art of Relaxation (Clarity, Visibility, and Focus), and The Art of Conscious Action (Execution).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Schwarzman Scholars: The Right Idea at the Right Time


What if you were the kind of business leader that could envision the future and act upon that vision today? In the vernacular of The Seven Arts of Change, this would be practicing The Art of Preparation; acting now to prepare the conditions for a favorable future.

What if you could see the future and then act today in order to connect people, economies, and cultures for the good of the whole? This would be practicing The Art of Working Naturally in order to facilitate lasting, sustainable change.

What if you viewed free market capitalism as a gift enabling you to be so successful that you were determined to give back today thus enabling the education and success of future generations? This would be practicing The Art of Service.

What if today you realized deeply that your life was blessed because you were fortunate to receive the gift of nurturing parents, caring mentors, exceptional teachers, and dedicated co-workers? This sudden realization of immense gratitude would encourage you to practice The Art of Conscious Action and, in this case, motivate you to considerable generosity.

One hundred and ten years ago, successful British businessman Cecil J. Rhodes established the Rhodes Scholarship program enabling top students from the British Colonies, the United States, and Germany to attend prestigious Oxford University with the goal of promoting international understanding.

Today, successful American businessman Stephen A. Schwarzman has similarly established a scholarship program (Schwarzman Scholars) that will enable 200 of the best and brightest to study at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. Participants will be 45% American, 20% Chinese, and 35% rest of the world (top 20 economies). Scholars will study for one year in Beijing (with travel opportunities) and receive a Master Degree in any one of a variety of concentrations. The first class is set to graduate in 2016.

Schwarzman is the visionary Chairman and CEO of Blackstone, a leading private equity/asset management firm that he co-founded in 1985 starting with a modest $400,000. Today Blackstone has over 200 billion under management.

Question: Why is Schwarzman steering his significant philanthropic endeavors in this direction?

Answer: Because long term, Schwarzman understands that we need enlightened leaders who understand well what is to become the largest economy in the world. Like the vision of Cecil Rhodes, Schwarzman hopes that his foundation will enhance international understanding by preparing today the next generation of future leaders by exposing them to the country most likely to become the number one economy in the world in just a decade or two.

China is the second largest economy in the world and is currently growing three times faster than the United States! Indeed, while our employment numbers stagnate (even as the economy and stock market improve), China is creating 10 million jobs per year. Schwarzman wants to prepare us as a society (today) for what is to come. China is also becoming the United States’ largest creditor. Rather than becoming fearful and angry due to our relative under performance, Schwarzman wants to prepare America today for living and leading in a very different world tomorrow.

Education and understanding is key. As one who came to Furman University 30 years ago to teach Asian and Comparative Philosophy in the Southeastern United States, I tried to do the same; namely, foster international understanding by bringing different cultures and new ways of thinking to life for my university students. I applaud Scwartzman’s bold vision and investment in the kind of “hands on” educational experience that will surely help prepare the next generation of leaders for whom China will play a central role. Understanding Chinese culture, economics, business practices, and changing government policy deployment will be an asset to any leader in the coming decades. As Steve Schwarzman has said, China must become a part of our educational “core curriculum”, and not merely be an “elective” option.

And, the question you might be asking…”why am I choosing to highlight this investment in education as part of this Seven Arts of Change blog?” I want to share a conscious, heartfelt, and public thank you to my family and also my teachers and mentors at The University of Hawaii and in Japan. When I finished my dissertation research in Japan and then subsequently received my doctorate in 1980, Japan was seen as an economic miracle. Japan is the size of Montana, and yet, it became the world’s second largest economy. The American business world had far too few subject matter experts and I realized that the door was wide open for a young and eager scholar like myself. Even starting as an academic, doors unexpectedly opened for me in the business world working with the likes of Ryobi, Mitsubishi, Mita/Kyocera and many other multi-national organizations. Today I am filled with gratitude as I realize that none of these opportunities would have presented themselves to me had I not sought a unique educational track with mentors in Japan that took me under their able wings. As I am truly grateful for these educational opportunities, I applaud Schwarzman’s vision and generosity. It is wonderful that the next generation of business leaders will have this auspicious opportunity to study in detail the inner workings of what has become today the new second largest economy in the world.


Monday, July 1, 2013

The Life, Legacy, and Seven Arts Leadership of Nelson Mandela

An ongoing theme in this Seven Arts of Change blog is that leaders like Gandhi, Lincoln, King, and Mandela model “principled” leadership and inspire CEOs as they lead their organizations through sustainable change.

As the world reflects upon the life and legendary accomplishments of Nelson “Madiba” Mandela, it occurs to me to see his approach to leadership as richly aligned with the principles outlined in The Seven Arts of Change.

The Art of Preparation

Official biographer Anthony Sampson refers to Mandela’s 27 years in jail as a kind of preparation where he was able to develop “a philosopher’s detachment” such that he was able to learn how to be calm and relaxed under stress. Certainly every good CEO and leader must also develop the ability and capacity to master one’s emotions and not allow the daily fire fights of business to provoke a loss of composure, discipline, and/or integrity.

The Art of Compassion

Mandela’s life work stands as a principled testament for treating everyone with dignity and respect. He expressed this universal principle further as the noble cause of equal justice, and his natural actions arising from this basis secured the freedom for all in his native South Africa. Similarly, demonstrating compassion for others in the workplace is an effective leadership principle simply because it is consistent with human nature. We all desire to be treated with dignity and respect especially at work where human emotions and intense competition can sometimes bring out the worst in people.

The Art of Responsibility

Throughout his life, Nelson Mandela understood the power of acting responsibly. When serving a President of South Africa, rather than beating down his ideological enemies, he exercised disciplined restraint in order to create WIN/WIN conditions for all persons who (through his example) would learn to embrace change and work together within a new constitutional framework. In the same way, when organizations adopt an inclusive, highly participatory Seven Arts change process, then it is fair to expect every employee to act responsibly within the new system/culture that they have helped to create.

The Art of Relaxation

The African spirit of Ubuntu underscores our common humanity. People will naturally respond well to change when they are actively led by persons demonstrating the most basic human ethical principle: kindness. Simple kindness and accommodation, Mandela taught, are the seeds of real change. When people act out of kindness, it naturally triggers in others real calmness. In a relaxed environment, conflict can be addressed and problems can be solved precisely because people can now see clearly and make sound judgments. When organizations are faced with necessary change that inevitably surfaces fear, tension, and resistance, it is best to do everything possible to create conditions where doubt is removed and the new strategy is clear. When leaders of change can establish a clear direction and strategy, combined with transparent financials, then the organization can establish a kind of institutionalized calmness and trust that fuels lasting change.

The Art of Conscious Action

Mandela was very clear about his own values and principles. He was, in short, a very conscious leader who understood how to lead from the front. That is, he understood not only the power of simple acts of kindness, but also how to influence large-scale change through ritual and symbolism. Leaders of business organizations also have levers they can use to galvanize the collective spirit and shared experience of everyone in the company. In the Seven Arts change process, the CEO must lead by example and demonstrate the same values that he or she expects from everyone in the organization. Like Mandela, a CEO who is very visible leading the change process can use a wealth of tools that express their commitment to the change process.

The Art of Living Naturally

Even in prison Mandela began to build a network of loyalists equally committed to the cause of social justice. Overtime, the foundation was set to include a critical mass of followers who could lead a sustainable change process having many arms and legs. Similarly, in an organizational change process, real financial success and sustainability will require more than one charismatic champion. The CEO, no matter how committed and gifted, cannot execute all the change alone. Building a core team of change champions is critical. Each champion must understand that their mission includes developing people and preparing the next generation in order for the change process to last. In a Seven Arts organization, the change process grows and grows such that customers, suppliers, and shareholders all become active participants. Mandela, following the examples of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, understood that real lasting change requires changing the mind-set of all those affected by the proposed change. At the end of the day, the leaders of sustainable change must first work to change the organizational thought process; and second, work to expand the circle of change agents working every single business day.

The Art of Service

Nelson Mandela has built a legacy leading change in ways that continue to inspire people all over the world. The legacy is based upon following simple ethical principles that inspire people and thus serve as a collective call to action. Simple actions that are based upon kindness, mutual respect, and service to others demonstrate a leader’s sincerity and integrity. The power to lead lasting change (for a company or a nation) springs from these most basic considerations. The universality and effectiveness of the Seven Arts of Change process is very well evidenced by the life and legacy of Mr. Mandela.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Un-Stuck: Improve Your Performance

Improve your performance in business, education, government, athletics, music, and daily life.
I hope you enjoy this TEDx Talk Greenville!
David Shaner - Unstuck
Friday, March 29, 2013

Un-stuck - a TEDx Presentation

It was a real treat to give a TEDx talk last week in Greenville, SC.  The theme for the TEDx program selection committee was “Living Your Life by Design!”   Wow, that is a tall order for a 15-minute talk!  Imagine what it would mean to truly “Live Your Life by Design”… it could be fantastic right?  Just imagine the possibilities: you are living your life feeling empowered, there are no limitations, you feel calm, confident, expansive, grounded, centered, powerful, focused, and clear.  You are the author of your dreams.  Now that would truly be Living by Design!

But what if you feel stuck instead?

What if you do not feel grounded enough? Centered enough? Clear enough?  What if you actually sometimes feel like a victim of all that is going on around you?  What if you do not feel clear when you sometimes need to make important decisions?  What if you feel that you are not properly prepared and supported?  What if you know you do not have the right training, the right knowledge and those around you have all the control?  What if you feel powerless?

There is a BIG DIFFERENCE in these two mindsets.

The first one is being able to truly live your dreams, but the second, sometimes all too familiar, scenario is one that I call simply being stuck!

I know what it feels like to be stuck and during this TEDx talk I shared with everyone what I have learned over a lifetime engaging the condition of stuckness.  It is frustrating to feel small, ungrounded, unprepared, tense, and without focus.  But I guarantee that it is possible to change your state of being from stuck to un-stuck, which is the same as living your life by design with intention, power, and focus.

Being stuck is a natural condition…it is in our biology, it is part of our neurological functioning.  But it is not destiny.  If you are not right now living your life with meaning, purpose, and intention, then you are probably somewhere in the stuck camp.

So, how do we become free of stuckness?  How do we become calm and clear?  How can we learn to be grounded and powerful each day where we can live our life as though we are the authors of our destiny?

It is quite simple and I look forward to sharing with you my story of experiencing and studying the phenomena I call being stuck.  I will upload the TEDx presentation as soon as it is available in the coming weeks.  This is just a heads up!

Let me add that the process of preparing (The Seven Arts, Art of Preparation) for this presentation was a great challenge that I would recommend to all of you.  If you had just 15-minutes to explain how you would Live Your Life by Design… what would you say?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Prime Minister Abe and President Obama: Building Relationship is Key

Following the recent elections in Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party now has a super majority.  I was disappointed to hear just days ago that newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was unable to work out scheduling difficulties with the Obama Administration such that the Prime Minister’s first visit abroad would be to the United States.  I believe it is time to practice  “The Art of Preparation” (Seven Arts process) in order to re-energize the relationship between Japan and the United States based upon trust and mutual respect.  As President Obama begins his second term, both the United States and Japan have much in common with respect to the problems we encounter both domestically and internationally.  Let me explain.

First and foremost, the United States and Japan cooperate on a global basis and together form the cornerstone of our mutual security interests in Asia.  A strong, vibrant Japan (growing at 3% annually) is in the interest of Japan, the United States, and the global economy.  Japan is the size of Montana and yet it is the third largest economy in the world following China and the United States.

Second, in recent years a polarized and ineffectual Congress/Parliament causing inefficiency and stagnation has weakened both Japan and the United States.  Both nations need to put their “house in order” tackling government debt as a % of GDP.  The United States has to control spending (the budget deficit) and focus upon growing exports (the trade deficit).  Similarly, Japan, in addition to it’s debt burden, faces problems of demographics (aging population) and deflation.

Addressing these challenges in alignment would serve both nations. I agree with Robert Kimmitt* that we are going to witness (hopefully within the next two years) progress in trade for Asia as well as Europe.  In Obama’s second term, the Administration will focus upon The North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement proposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel (who will certainly be re-elected managing a 70% approval rating at home even while successfully steering the European Union around one challenge after another, especially Greece).  And, in the Pacific, Japan will be a key participant in the G-20, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

Japan’s role in these global trade discussions is critical and yet I fear that Japan’s influence in recent years has been set back by a revolving door in the Prime Minister’s Office (6 persons in the past 7 years).  Indeed, the average term for Japan’s Prime Ministers in the modern era is just 2 years!  The strong support for Prime Minister Abe in Japan is something that can be leveraged such that Japan’s voice at the international table is strengthened.  It is in the interests of the United States to have a strong Japanese representative where better results can be secured for Japan, the United States, and the global economy.  

It is for these reasons that I hope experienced statesmen like Abe and Obama can form a personal relationship of trust and mutual respect - - both are at the beginning of what could be a mutually beneficial change journey.  At the end of the day, getting the deal done, whatever “the deal”, requires compromise and mutual understanding.  Cultivating this kind of relationships is key and at the heart of the Seven Arts change process.  

I agree with Kimmett that the United States and Japan “need to make tough decisions at home and engage confidently in external discussions, including discussions with China.  And ‘confidently’ means being willing to listen, learn and make changes, even as we defend our core principles.  Japan, like any country, will defend very strongly its views on territorial and sovereignty issues.  But I think it is important for Japan also to demonstrate willingness to engage in dialogue on specific measures to reduce tensions”.  

When Prime Minister Abe’s trip to the United States is rescheduled (in February hopefully), I hope that the two leaders can prepare the way for a Seven Arts type relationship characterized by real trust and frank dialogue.  In this way, as our nations confront real economic and security challenges, we can expect that our leaders have already paved the way personally so that in the future they can get down to business when faced with any emergency or important task.  It would be wonderful if Japan were now entering a period of stability and international leadership.   This was most recently the case during the able tenure of Ryozo Kato, Ambassador of Japan to the United States  (2001-2008) who served the relatively long tenure of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (2001-2006).  

* I recently read a very smart piece (Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 13, 2012) written by Junji Tachino, the Washington Bureau Chief of the Asahi Shimbun.  The article was based upon an interview with Robert M. Kimmitt who is an experienced diplomat with decades of Washington experience working in the State Department, Treasury Department, and also served as United States Ambassador to Germany.  I found that the article was not only smart, but also it reflected core elements for managing change (Seven Arts) between governments.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beyond the Fiscal Cliff: Let’s Operate from Abundance, Not Fear

We are all hopeful that sanity and rationality will prevail.  We have before us a working model that recommends both spending cuts and mechanisms for collecting additional tax revenue.  The gap we face is an annual deficit in excess of 1 trillion dollars.  We must address skyrocketing healthcare costs, and the expanding cost of entitlements (as baby boomers become seniors), and we must also close the loop holes that create lost tax revenue occasioned by a broken system.  The options are clearly spelled out in the bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles Report (The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform).   That Alan Simpson (R) and Erskine Bowles (D) could work out a bi-partisan model would be a good place to start for President Obama and House Speaker, John Boehner.

Actually, why not “think big” beyond the fiscal cliff?  Instead of solving our deep and significant budget problems by operating out of fear (as in avoiding a scary “fiscal cliff”), why not use our present economic situation as an opportunity to solve our problems operating out of a mindset of abundance and fairness? This mindset of abundance is consistent with the Seven Arts change process and, I believe, is good for America’s economy long term.

Let’s be specific.  

I recently saw an interview (conducted by Dr. Fareed Zakaria) with another high profile, distinguished bi-partisan pair.  Imagine an O’Neill-Rubin Report, or better yet, actually following their recommendations for both tax reform and putting America back to work.  Paul O’Neill, a Republican, former Secretary of the Treasury and former CEO of Aluminum giant Alcoa was trading recommendations with Robert Rubin, a Democrat, former Secretary of the Treasury and former Co-Chairman of Goldman Sachs.  What struck me was the power of thinking big and using our current time crunch (approaching the cliff) as an opportunity to truly tackle all the problems that we know exist in our broken system.

For example, let’s think big (read “abundance”) and use the cliff (read “fear”) as an opportunity for Congress to:

  1. Fix our legalized system of corruption in Washington.  Candidates for public office receive campaign funds from lobbies, corporations, and special interest groups.   The same people get elected and then, in return (quid pro quo), create legislation that systematically reduces our annual federal tax revenue by bestowing  preferred tax exemptions that amount to an estimated 1 trillion dollars in lost revenue.  This lost revenue repeats itself annually because it becomes part of the tax code.  As Zakaria stated, “It is the gift that keeps on giving!” Fix the tax code, make it fair to all, and the government nets 1 trillion dollars in annual revenue without raising taxes.

  2. By the way, a second benefit follows from the first.  According to some analysts, eliminating tax preferred exemptions would enable the government to actually lower the current corporate tax rate from 35% to 28% making international investment in America much more attractive.  Finding mechanisms to increase foreign investment would go a long way to put Americans back to work and stop the systematic out sourcing of American jobs.  Corporations seek not only low wage workers abroad, but also a preferred tax system for conducting business overseas. Our tax system is not business friendly when compared to other nations actively seeking foreign investment.

  3. Simplify the operations of tax collection.  We could replace corporate taxes, personal taxes, and payroll taxes all together if we adopted “pay as you go” tax often referred to as a value-added tax.  Simply tax the consumption of goods and services we want and need. This seems like a big idea, perhaps even a radical idea, but it has been around for a long time and O’Neill suggests it could easily lead to the third big fix.

  4. Simply the system of tax collection.  O’Neill suggests that the current system is very difficult to police and that an estimated 400 billion dollars of annual tax revenue is lost simply due to citizens cheating the system through non-filing or deliberate attempts to deceive engaging in fraud.  To make matters worse, O’Neill points out that the current system required to collect taxes costs the federal government an estimated 431 billion dollars annually.  As an experienced executive, he quipped that even a monkey could figure out a more effective and efficient system of fair tax collection. The system itself is broken and right now we have an opportunity to fix our system and prepare the country for economic growth and fair tax treatment for all American citizens.

Let’s think big, pull out a blank sheet of paper, and work together in a bi-partisan manner with a mindset that is operating out of a sense of abundance, not fear.  President Obama already listens to Mr. Rubin, but I would argue that Paul O’Neill might have some ideas for turning around our economy just as he did the fortunes of Alcoa. 

The business climate at present is uncertain which causes businesses to avoid capital investment.  We have an opportunity to think bold, innovate, create certainty and fix our economic problems.  Creating a sound and stable tax system we can believe in will spur growth, capital investment, and hiring thus putting more Americans back to work.  As O’Neill says, “let’s put people back to work and give them a chance to compete”.  I would add that The Seven Arts change process is exactly the right tool to enable employees to compete by giving them the tools to “be the best they can be” and succeed.