7 Memorable Lessons on Work & Life

Note: Frequent TLNT contributor Fran Melmed attended this month’s Business Innovation Factory 6th annual summit (BIF-6) in Providence, Rhode Island. She filed this report.

BIF-6 came with killer credentials. I deeply respect Saul Kaplan, BIF’s founder and chief catalyst, and my co-health collaborator, Greg Matthews, couldn’t sing BIF-5’s praises enough.

As many of you will appreciate, high expectations can be an experience’s undoing. It’s hard, if not impossible, to meet one’s fantasized version of a much-touted movie, book, or gastronomic junket. So, while I went to BIF-6 with these high expectations, I also heard my internal skeptic whispering, “we’ll see.”

My inner voice was wrong and Greg was right. BIF-6 delivered two days of non-stop exposure to folks you’d typically never find together in one room — a retailer, college presidents, government agents, a 12-year-old, technologists driving civic engagement, student engagement, and climate change. Also, a skateboarder turned scientist, a hospital CEO/concierge.

The list goes on and on and makes for the most stimulating intellectual soup you can imagine — and a most demanding intellectual experience as well. For unlike other conferences, BIF-6 refuses to do the thinking for you. What it offers instead is random collisions of unusual suspects, to quote from Saul Kaplan’s introduction, and a chance to create your own narrative based on what and whom you respond to.

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Work and life lessons worth remembering

With that intro, here are the memorable lines and moments that sang to me:

  • Luck is being open to opportunity. Testing for this mental framework is part of Zappos’ hiring process. Zappos asks potential hires to answer on a scale of 1 to 10 how lucky they are, knowing that luck is often about what we bring to bear. Or, to paraphrase Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh, resources aren’t the limitations; resourcefulness is.
  • It’s not about being smart; it’s the acceptance of being stupid. This line came from Richard Saul Wurman, TED founder and agitator extraordinaire, but the concept was repeated by many. Embracing our stupidity (aka, our naiveté or fresh eyes) is not something we do with relish, and yet that very reluctance keeps us from discoveries, understanding, and the ability to translate experience and content for ourselves and to others.
  • Our world is shrinking but its inhabitants are not. Through the camera lens and captured story, Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio bring attention to our global health issues. This thread was picked up by Gerard Van Grinsven, a former Ritz-Carlton executive who is bringing his concierge-like mentality to health care in the form of the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. Gerard Struck out to create the “Cirque de Soleil of health care,” an institution that’s the community center of well-being, not illness. He’s creating new methods to maintain health and boost revenues, with tea sommeliers, concerts, a cafeteria people seek out even when they have no clinical reason to be there, and a catering department that hosts functions and offers cooking classes.
  • The passionate person expresses their vulnerability and builds trust-based relationships. This definition was expressed by John Hagel, co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, along with the depressing stat that in the US only 20 percent of us are passionate about the work we’re doing and the (unsurprising?) fact that passion has an inverse relationship to the size of an organization. Those with passion and the drive to enhance their performance exhibited both a “questing” and “connecting” disposition. They actively seek out challenges, and they have an instinctive desire to connect with people who share their passion. Don Tapscott, Len Schlesinger, John Maeda, Richard Leider, and Bruce Nussbaum spoke about generational change, rethinking our institutions, and aligning our work with our passion and values, but the lingering question was how will large institutions adapt?
  • What exactly will get us to change in a massive way? This was posed by Jigar Shah, CEO of the Carbon War Room, who’s on a quest to reverse climate change. His question could be asked by many of us in the work we do. I know it got me thinking about how we can remove workplace barriers to being healthy and inspire employers to become global health activists.
  • Being a different thinker was more difficult than being a woman or a Latina. Carmen Medina, a former CIA agent, gave voice to many of us when she shared her response to a question about being a “first” in the agency. How many of us feel like a square peg in a round hole, not fully utilized or understood? How many of us can’t fully contribute because of a lack of openness to new ways of thinking? For me, this tied back to an equation for “fit” described by Richard Leider, the founder and chairman of the Inventure Group: Gifts + Passion + Values = Right Work.
  • Tomorrow is a time of infinite possibility and finite resources. The elegant Keith Yamashita, founder and chairman, Sypartners, brought the summit to a close with his thoughtful ruminations on “is it worth it to be great?” I truly cannot do his speech justice; give yourself the pleasure of hearing it firsthand.

There are so many other memorable moments and lines. Rather than dwell on the experience, I’m going to unleash the learning, For it’s not innovation until it works in the real world (Saul Kaplan).

This was originally published on Fran Melmed’s Free-Range Communication blog.