Category Archives: 1 Think Pond Essentials

Are You Alive at Work?

Have you ever been so engaged in a project that the hours you spent working on it seemed like minutes and you almost hated to finish it?

A key mechanism in reaching that state is your brain’s”seeking system,” says Daniel M. Cable, a social psychologist and professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, “When our seeking system is activated,” he says,”we feel more motivated, purposeful, and zestful. We feel more alive.”

In his book Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do, Cable says that employees’ seeking systems play an important role in fostering creativity and innovation. However, many organizations are “deactivating” the seeking systems of their employees by limiting their roles, stressing efficiency, and enforcing precise metrics.

Three triggers that activate the seeking system–self-expression, experimentation, and purpose–are disregarded or discouraged in many organizations. People who can respond to these triggers at work actually produce more dopamine–the same neurotransmitter that is increased by physical exercise. Absence of those triggers leads to fear and apathy. The effect of a work environment that discourages employees from offering ideas or taking time to try new approaches is similar to that of an opiate.

Think ponds are a way to preserve your seeking system–whether you work somewhere that encourages self-expression, experimentation, and purpose or the opposite. Your think pond celebrates ideas and provides a space for experimentation. Finding meaning and purpose in the work is intrinsic to the process.

If you already love your work, maybe a think pond will help you improve and advance the ideas and solutions your employer seeks and go after opportunities that make you feel even more alive.

If not, maybe your think pond will give you a diversion that compensates for your stultifying workplace. Maybe it will help you change it. Maybe it will bring you the clarity and courage you need to leave it for the situation that gives you life.

What Unites Us?

Pick out ten people from the phone directory, randomly. Chances are, they will differ widely in their methods for earning a living, their career aspirations, and their educational credentials. They will each have their own interests outside of work, their own ways of making the world better, and their own unique mix of strengths and struggles. What unites all of their diverse enterprises–all the different ways they spend their time, earn their money, and pursue their own conceptions of excellence and success–are the same four inter-related, lifelong human endeavors stems from and continually draws from four elemental capabilities:

We dream. We learn. We create. We launch.

Those capabilities are at the root of everything we do in the world and we continually develop them and draw from them. They underpin all our efforts to plan careers, pursue jobs, improve skills, build reputations, cultivate clients, and build networks. They are with us throughout our studies and in every job we hold, as well as in all the periods of transition and change in between. They are the cornerstones of what we do to add value in our workplace and in all the communities to which we belong.  They create the framework for facing challenges, confronting change or upheaval, and dealing with what disturbs or inspires us. They contribute to our everyday, mundane activities, such as cooking or shopping, our pursuit of and escape from routine, and all our efforts to care for family, friends, community, and world. They help us cope, persevere, grow, and find joy. Regardless of occupation or location or education or wealth, every person possesses these four capabilities in some form and develops them to some degree.

Those four endeavors are powerful tools we can use to confront the changes and uncertainties of this time and to live a more rewarding, meaningful life. Most of us, however, are not using the tools at our disposal to our full advantage, nor are we sharpening them in preparation for future challenges.

How can we pursue these endeavors with greater passion, intention, and discipline?

We All Need a Sounding Board

Have you ever had an original idea or theory that you know is good–but you keep it to yourself? Maybe you sense that the people around you don’t want to hear about it or think they wouldn’t understand. Maybe you’re worried someone might take credit for it or even steal it and use it for their own profit, so you keep it to yourself. Maybe a little part of you is afraid that people will try to talk you out of it or point out a major flaw.

I get it. Carrying around a good idea can be comforting and hopeful. It can feel exhilarating to know that you have this great solution in your back pocket that you can pull out when the right opportunity comes along.

But consider what could happen if you wait for that perfect moment: It comes. You have a potential spotlight. You are at a meeting or conference or networking event with influential people who can fund or support your idea. The perfect opening comes up and all eyes are on you.

You begin talking. If you’re like me, it is unlikely that you will take full advantage of the opportunity. Maybe the language you use will fail to capture the magic of your idea. Maybe you will get into too much detail about aspects that are not important. You finish knowing that your audience probably doesn’t understand the key point you wanted to convey, maybe even has the wrong idea of what you are presenting. If they ask questions, you may not be prepared to answer clearly. Your time is up. You know that if you start trying to correct their errors they will lose interest.

With your think pond, you can present your idea early and see how different people react. You can role play and practice so that when your time to shine arrives, you will confidently state your idea in language that hits the right notes. You have already answered many of the potential questions that will arise and maybe even defended your idea powerfully.

Moreover, you know there are people–somewhere out there–who believe.

Time to Reflect: A Full Notebook

On August 23, 2016, I picked up an 80-page journal and started recording ideas and taking notes for a book centered on an idea I had been playing with and talking about for quite a while. It was called the think pond.

This weekend, at a cabin by a river, I filled the last page.

Now what?

I now have 80 pages of thoughts and ideas that can be used in a book or in-depth essay. I think I have the makings of a model people can use as our world undergoes what some have said is a wave of change that is more profound than the Industrial Revolution and seems to be on the verge of breaking. Now it is time to pull it together into a work that has a distinct identity and that people can understand and use.

The two years it took to fill this notebook and write about some of the ideas have been tumultuous. I have lost my Dad and sister-in-law. My household has expanded, pushing me out of one office and then another. (I have been working at home since 1996.) In January 2017, my two little grandsons, now ages 6 and 4, came to live with us. Work in that year was mostly impossible because the promise of these two little lives was even more compelling to me. And of course, the consequences of the 2016 election invaded my thoughts, making me question much about human nature, the systems I thought I knew, and the future. Both the pressure of urgency and the inertia of despair have been present. Many times, I thought about quitting. Writing is hard. The children need so much from me. But this vision I have will not let me go.

So I am making a one-year plan for getting this project—the book and the organization needed to make it known—into a state of reality and off the ground. (Or should I say on the ground and out of the clouds?)

What Does It Mean to Thrive at Work?

To thrive at work is to provide for my family while doing work that aligns with my vision of life and of a better world. The work is meaningful to me and I am fully exercising the abilities I value. Thriving means I have an appropriate balance between stability and flexibility so that I am always able to foresee and adapt to changes in my field. It means I am able to contribute to the work of others and call upon a network of collaborators when an exciting opportunity opens. It means having the freedom to try new things and explore new ideas.

Inspiring Quotes for Think Ponds

“The future is not in building a new tower of Babel, but in cultivating well trodden paths from house to house.”
Raimundo Panikkar

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
Howard Zinn

“Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope…These ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Robert F. Kennedy

Think Pond Wish List

Think Ponds are for people who want to:

  • Do joyful, creative, meaningful, and fulfilling work.
  • Have conversations and experiences that stretch the mind, spark the imagination, and expand the vision.
  • Make “digital life” less fragmented, more inquiring, and more aspirational.
  • Become attuned to possibilities and potential changes that could have wide-ranging effects on their lives and the world.
  • Work with a diverse array of minds and talents.

Tools for Think Ponds: Let’s “Betend”

When my grandsons play together with their action figures and toy cars, they create a running narrative that is always punctuated by the word “betend” (their way of saying “pretend”). The five-year-old–I call him “Buddy”–will say, “Betend all the animals escaped in the city” or “Betend there is a volcano over there.” The four-year-old–I call him “Punkin Pie”–used to follow along but now is starting to add his own “betend” scenarios.

Of course, the mispronounced word is now and will always be part of our family’s lexicon, but I also think it might be a good way to describe a transitional stage many of us have experienced in our lives and careers. It’s when our actions and roles are more than pretending but not quite being.

Think Pond Enterprises is kind of like that now. It sounds like more than it is. But we are not pretending. We are looking at the world, exploring our imaginations and creative urges, and learning as if the world we desire is unfolding. We are swerving from the grooves of thought we took for granted, testing our wings, conducting thought experiments. That’s betending.

What is a Think Pond?

Think Ponds are fluid associations of diverse individuals who bring their imaginations, knowledge, and skill sets, along with their dreams and passion projects, into a community of their own design. Creative energies converge, expanding possibility. Obstacles are flattened as complementary skills combine and available resources broaden. Timelines contract. Promising ideas stay out of the trash. Connections proliferate.

For individuals, a Think Pond is a next generation platform for shaping and strengthening four essential lifelong enterprises: 1) Dream chasing, 2) Life-embedded learning, 3)Solution-crafting, and 4) Venture launching. Making the most of these enterprises will both improve your competitive edge and increase your level of fulfillment with the work you do in the world.

For the greater good, an evolving ecosystem of Think Ponds is a wellspring of creativity and collaboration that can increase the sustainability of innovative, socially valuable programs, incubate new businesses, and activate unrealized human potential.

The Four Enterprises

Do you think of a career as a sequence of jobs with progressively higher pay and greater responsibility? What if you reimagined your career as a set of four lifelong enterprises that you continuously create and expand and refine. Merriam-Webster defines an enterprise as “a project or undertaking that is especially difficult, complicated, or risky.” In other words, I am talking about endeavors that continue whether you are employed, unemployed, or under-employed. Whatever your circumstances, you keep these four enterprises alive because they supply something you need.

I think everyone need to pursue these four lifelong enterprises, regardless of the individual’s passions, aptitudes, credentials, employment experiences, assets, and constraints:

Dream Chasing. Using your imagination fully. Paying attention to the sensory experiences, images, and cultural expressions that swirl around you and mindfully pursuing those that awaken your mind, heighten the intensity of your emotions, and enrich your soul. Exploring possibilities, envisioning your desired future, and inventing the kinds of endeavors that will both fulfill you and make a positive difference. . . .

Life-Embedded Learning. Taking advantage of the numerous learning opportunities afforded by books, media entities, technologies, community resources, and people in your sphere. Continually investigating what you know and what you think you know. Consciously developing and applying new skills, adapting existing knowledge and skills in new areas, and finding greater depth of meaning and significance in the people, environments, and experiences you encounter.

Solution Crafting.  Looking at your life from different perspectives and seeking ways to synergize your assets and talents. Bringing an artistic sensibility, design thinking, and surprise into whatever you produce. Continually generating divergent ideas about how to look at and respond to circumstances, problems, challenges, opportunities, and desires–both individually and collaboratively. . . . .

Venture launching. Thinking about and testing ways to carry your ideas and solutions forward into the marketplace for your profit, into the public sphere for the good of others and the enrichment of the culture, or just into a wider conversation for their continued development and enrichment.