These are my giants

auntiechellechocolatechipcookiesbysamiteditedMy childhood best friend, Amy Fisher, made the most amazing chocolate chip cookies. She brought them up to Lake Tahoe (in California) for a group ski trip twenty years ago and we ate them in 11 seconds. They were shockingly good.

So, I stole her recipe, including the secret ingredient that made them taste so unexpectedly delightful. Then I changed a few things – the sugar type and amount, and the amount of vanilla extract. My family calls them Auntie Chelle’s cookies (I’m Auntie Chelle), though I owe every bit of credit to Amy for teaching me how to make those cookies.

Of course, Amy Fisher didn’t make up the basic recipe on which those ski trip delights were built. Goodness, no. Chocolate chip cookies had been around for a long time before that. She just tweaked a few things and made it her own special version of chocolate chip cookies, too.

Ready for this to relate to business messaging?

Jennifer Louden wrote a blog post this past week about stealing other people’s work and claiming it as your own. The article was also about the fact that we all “steal” other people’s work. We use the insights and teaching of others to inform our own. That this is really the nature of “new ideas.” (You see the chocolate chip recipe connection here now?) This “stealing” process is at the heart of the popular Isaac Newton quote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Jennifer Louden’s post made me think a lot about my own giants – those upon whose shoulders my work and I stand. I’ve got some amazing giants contributing to my work in the world, many of whom have no idea how they have contributed. That is going to change right now. The following people brought work to life that makes up a huge part of my own:

Danielle LaPorte & Carrie McCarthy: I know that Danielle LaPorte is highly influential in many an online entrepreneur’s life right now. For me, her greatest influence begin in July of 2008, when I picked up a copy of the book Style Statement, which she co-authored with Carrie McCarthy. Two months into my business, I came upon that gorgeous book laying on a table at Barnes & Noble. I bought it immediately, took myself through the process of finding my own Style Statement and fell in love, love, love with it. Then, I started offering the book to clients and helping them use it to name their own style. Then I tweaked the process. And I tweaked it some more. I added modified exercises from Grace Bulgar and Nancy Duarte (see below for more on both of these giants). Over five years, this process has evolved into my own Expression Élan process, most beloved by my clients and business community. Let it be known, though, that the Expression Élan’s foundational strength lies powerfully in that Style Statement process I learned from Danielle LaPorte and Carrie McCarthy. (Thank you, Danielle & Carrie!)

Grace Bulgar: Grace Bulgar wrote the first “how to” book I ever read on creating and marketing your business. As far as I can tell, it’s the last one she’s written in that vein as well. The book is filled with exercises for finding clarity within a business team. I took one of those exercises and shifted some of the content to better fit my purposes. It, too, makes up a meaningful part of the Expression Elan process. (Thank you, Grace!)

Nancy Duarte: Oh, the depths of learning I’ve taken in from Nancy Duarte are too expansive to share here. From a direct content perspective, though, I took one question from her book Slide:ology and applied it to my Expression Élan process, making the outcomes significantly more powerful for my clients. That question: What is your verb? (Thank you, Nancy!)

Garr Reynolds: Hands down, Garr Reynolds has taught me the most profound lessons about creating presentation slides that delight my and my clients’ audiences. I use his lessons on image-based slide design from his book Presentation Zen in my corporate trainings, in my clients consulting and in my own speaking. Clients love me about slide design because of what I teach them about Garr Reynolds’ process. (Thank you, Garr!)

Chip & Dan Heath: I use Chip & Dan Heath’s SUCCESs principles from their absolutely awesome book Made to Stick when I teach people how to be more engaging and memorable (sticky!) when they communicate. There is no guide out there that comes close and I’m not into reinventing a sweet-spinning wheel. While I add and expand on the details from my experience, their work is the heart and soul of this piece of my work. (Thank you, Chip & Dan!)

John Medina: I love telling clients about the Pictorial Superiority Effect. C’mon – wouldn’t you? I also love that I get to give them timeframes for switching things up in their speaking – 10 minutes, then do something new – because people love being told exactly what to do when it comes to organizing their speech. Thanks to John Medina and his book, Brain Rules, I have a zillion tools for telling them what we know works when it comes to engaging other people’s brains. (Thank you, John!)

This list only includes the giants that come to mind today who have provided substantive content foundation for my work. My own art and contribution of ideas is directly and substantially supported by the work they have done.

Like Amy Fisher, they brought this amazing recipe that I tweaked to fit my own business community’s needs.

This list does not include other absolutely critical contributors to my work like Stephanie Pollock, Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Jennifer Louden, Dan Roam, and Sunni Brown – all of whom have taught me in varying ways how to think better, how to do business better, how to push my artistic edges, how to live in integrity and peace and how to keep at it no matter what.

It is a gift to get to add my little bit of brains and art to the brilliance of these giants. I am immensely grateful for the learning curve they saved me so that I can serve those I’m best set up to help.

I wonder – who are your giants?

I’d love to hear. I bet they’d love to hear about it, too. I wonder in what way you can honor the contribution they’ve made to your work? Share your ideas in the comments. We might want to “steal” one of them.

The New Michelle Barry Franco (Note: I’m Still Just Me)

As you can see, things have changed quite a bit here at michellebarryfranco.com. I spent the last part of 2010 having some really heartfelt conversations with myself and a few things came out of those conversations:

1. I want to express myself completely, authentically and with my whole heart in this life
2. While public speaking is a big part of my past and will continue to be a meaningful part of my future, it is not my whole message – the one I want to shout from the rooftops
3. I am inspired to talk about the entrepreneurial life, parenting, and the intentionally designed life – the Crafted Life, as I like to call it. It’s a message all mixed up together and I Love every aspect of this “spaghetti map” conversation.

So, that’s what inspires this new focus on www.michellebarryfranco.com. I hope this is a conversation you want to have, too, because I am so excited to get into it with you.

And in case you prefer a more dynamic media explanation of things, here’s a video where I talk about the new adventures here at www.michellebarryfranco.com. This isn’t the whole entire story (so many little details, I’ll share them as we go…), but it’s another version in case you care.

I can’t wait to hear what you have in mind in your world for 2011!

The Mindful Use of Technology for Authentic Human Connection: Wisdom 2.0 Conference Reflections

A really important conversation began this weekend.

It’s a conversation that we all, on some level, know has to happen. It’s one that’s happening in many of our hearts and minds as well as in our families, marriages, within our friendships – maybe even with work colleagues. Those personal conversations have been intense, conflicted, and even frustrating for many of us… because the answers and next steps aren’t really clear.

I’m talking about How to stay connected spiritually, in a heart and soul-centered way, as human beings while taking bold and brilliant advantage of the exciting technological advances in communication that we have available to us today.

The Question is:

How do we make mindful use of technology that has the power to bring us meaningfully closer to more people than ever before, while maintaining a real connection both inside ourselves and in our face-to-face interactions?

For those of us who love the different kinds of connection that technology facilitates, it can be tricky to find the best ways to keep that virtual connection strong and useful… and give ourselves the “unplugged” time required to be truly present in heart, mind and spirit in our face-to-face connections as well. After the Wisdom 2.0 Conference this weekend, I understand even more fully why this struggle is so real for me and others like me. I’ll tell you more about that later but let me just say for now, it’s not entirely our lack of willpower (whew!)

A zillion little sound bites were shared that caused spikes in my brain, heart and gut energy.

I’ll share just the few that sit with me today, as I re-enter into my work life two days post-Wisdom 2.0:

Possibly the most striking discussion I heard the whole weekend happened in the second half of the first day when Tami Simon, founder and owner of Sounds True (multi-media publisher of many best-selling soulful audiobooks and videos), described her experience of checking email. She talked about that rush that happens sometimes when she checks email and watches that long list of emails flood her inbox. The incongruency between the overwhelm that email so often causes for our “to-do” list and that strange attraction (compulsion…? ….addiction?) to receiving new emails. Tami’s not alone. Knowing laughs and head-nodding filled the room immediately (my own laugh & head-bobbing included.) This happened even as we were all mid-stride in a conversation about how overwhelming email can be and that it also plays an unwanted negative role in so many of our days. Tami cited brain research on the rush of dopamine that floods just the right part of our brain as those emails fill our inbox and I felt suddenly vindicated somehow… like my own attraction to checking email at least wasn’t just about a lack of willpower on my part.

The brilliance in conversation that came from the stage was really staggering. We heard about how one of the founders of Twitter – Greg Pass – Tweets to push the edges of his own creativity and exploration (my words.)

Philippe Goldin, a hard-core brain researcher/neuroscientist from Stanford showed us in graphics and enthusiastic narrative the ways in which research indicates that meditation is better for our mind, body and spirit than just about anything we could possibly do, period (including exercise.) High-ups from Google in a number of departments told us about how they integrate mindfulness practices like yoga, Qi Gong and meditation into their daily lives – and the programs they bring to Google employees in an effort to help their employees stay healthy in all aspects of their lives as much as possible, even in the midst of a truly uber-connected work world.

The description that Linda Stone gave of how to know if you have email apnea (a shortage of breathing while using email) felt  like she had been secretly looking into my office window and watching me: sitting at computer, shoulders slumped forward, hands turned inward on keyboard, staring blurry-eyed at the screen, shallowly breathing (and sometimes even holding my breath, when I think about it!) As Linda requested that we practice this familiar position in our chairs, she asked us to take a deep breath in – an almost impossible task from that position. Point made. Not a lot of deep breathing going on from this position. We simply can’t get in an optimum amount of air in this body configuration.

The speakers were really fabulous: brilliant, interesting, and truly mindful human beings (far as I could tell.) But really, the major coup of the whole weekend for me, was getting to hang out in a room full of my kin. The energy in the room was palpable – people were clearly very very excited to have this conversation. We were excited for ourselves and we were excited for what this means for humanity and technology. The possibilities for mindful, conscious, beautifully human business felt greater than most of us had experienced before. All that and it felt like we didn’t have to turn in our smartphones and computers to make it happen. There’s a middle way, it feels – and it’s awesome to be in a roomful of really smart, mindful people searching for that middle way with us.

For me – and I have struggled both with being “too connected” and with not feeling like I know how to virtually connect “well enough” – this conversation was totally riveting, enlightening and thought-provoking. If you check out the Twitter stream (#wisdom2conf) you’ll see that I am most definitely not alone in those feelings. You won’t find the answers there, necessarily, but you will find a lot of people committed to that goal.

People are already doing very cool things to help make the online experience more human, transparent and soulful. More businesses are being Visioned and launched right now by people in that Wisdom 2.0 conference toward that end. It’s exciting.  We absolutely cannot ever replace human touch, eye-to-eye contact, the energetic exchange that happens when two or more people sit together in a room in conversation, in meditation, or in solidarity on an issue. I don’t think any of us want to replace those lovely human experiences. It’s about expansion… opening… growth… different kinds of connection that enrich our lives in new and unexpected ways. I don’t think we’ve found the perfect way to use technology to enhance our human connections (doubt we ever will) but I am optimistic that we are having the right conversations to help us get closer to that goal. Go check out the #wisdom2conf Twitter stream – and read the blog posts being shared about the experience – and you’ll see.

This was just the beginning. You are invited to join the conversation right now. I’d certainly LOVE to hear your thoughts & ideas on how we can mindfully take advantage of the technologies available to us and use them in service of a more authentically connected world.

Wabi Sabi: The Art (& Bummer) of Imperfection

I just found a pretty obvious error in my main self-study program guidebook. It’s an error I should have seen. I know it wasn’t there in previous iterations that came from the interior book designer. I know because I looked those ones over really detailed-like. But those last few revisions, I was just checking the essentials – were the errors I mentioned fixed? That kind of thing. So, I missed it. And that seriously bums me out.

Primarily, I am bummed out because I had a bunch of those guidebooks printed so I could send and hand them to those who pre-ordered the program. I had extras printed for some speaking events I had planned. I had more extras printed to ship out as orders come in. So there they sit, that crazy one page in the appendix where you can’t read anything because it is actually two pages of text piled onto one page. Oh, and of course there are those copies that I already shipped before I even noticed the error. Argh – the embarrassment!

So, after I calmed down from freak-out mode, I realized I had two options: 1. toss out (recycle) the 30 or so copies I have sitting here in my office that haven’t shipped yet (that’s 6420 sheets of paper plus covers that would require significant natural resources to process through recycling, all for one page error that (as you’ll see in a minute) really isn’t a big deal from a practical perspective at all, or 2. use the books I have on hand and explain this embarrassing error to each person to whom I send a guidebook.

First let me tell you, I have perfectionistic tendencies only about a few things. One of them is the work I create in the world. (The other is interpersonal communication, which is a ridiculous thing to be perfectionistic about and, frankly, causes way more stress and instant replay of conversations than makes any sense whatsoever.) So, all of my cells in my body were fighting for the option to obliterate any evidence of this error by getting rid of these otherwise beautiful books. But my commitment to our lovely Earth won out. I just cannot get myself to recycle these books for the sole reason of protecting my ego.

Especially since the page that is ruined is even better as a handout-style insert. It’s the Outlining Skeleton for the section on how to Champion Your Business through expert presentations and everyone who uses that outline would most certainly make a copy of it (or download it from the Vision Into Action web page) and fill it out with information for the particular speech they are preparing. So, really, nothing is lost from a users perspective at all.

This reminds me (strangely) of the time I was teaching three public speaking classes at a new college and had to create a totally new syllabus for that quarter. Somehow, in my frenzy to get all of the required “course outcomes” language on the syllabus, I left the “cl” off of the word “class” on all 100 copies of the syllabus. As I stood there at the front of the room establishing both my authority and my witty, fun-teacher status with a roomful of students focused on whether they would get to leave class extra early this first day of school, I noticed that the word “class” had unfortunately become the word “ass.” There are a lot of other words on that syllabus I could have left letters off of and none of them would have created nearly the snickers and red-faces (okay, maybe it was just my face that was red) as that one.

But no. It was “ass” – right there. As you might imagine, my students loved it. Me, not so much.

So, I had to be cool about it. After all, I’m that fabulous mix of “authority, witty, fun-teacher”… (ahem.) Which means I surely said something hilarious (read: lame.) Then, I got to pass that syllabus out to 100 students and know that, while they may have heard little else in that first class we shared of the term, there was a really good chance that they attended to the part where I put “ass” in the syllabus – and told their friends in the hall afterward.

I’m not sure exactly how the two lessons interplay (except I guess the part about proofreading more carefully), but here’s what I do know. I put my heart and soul into those classes I taught – and I did the same with Vision Into Action. I wish I was perfect (I think I wish that… though it does feel kind of constricting in my chest area when I write it…) but it seems I’m not.

So I land on one of my favorite concepts from Japanese culture, wabi-sabi. Beauty in imperfection. “Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” (thanks Wikipedia)

And I remind myself that Contribution is what matters in this life – making a real difference in the lives of other from my own gifts and strengths. Then I feel mostly better about things. (Well, that, and I have included a beautiful insert in Vision Into Action that replaces those pages, of course – and future runs of the guidebook will be fixed.)

I wonder – has anything like this ever happened to you? (Don’t just make something up because you feel bad for me, either.)

Thank you laverrue for the gorgeous, wish-I-was-there-in-real-life image of the wabi-sabi barn.

Soulful Sales & The Sacred Moment

I am finding my way back into the rhythms of home after two blissfully spiritual days at a sales seminar.

Yes, you heard me right – a sales seminar. A blissfully spiritual sales seminar.

Oh, isn’t this a complex statement on so many levels?

First of all, we soulful types often have a harder time than others with sales and marketing. Sales, marketing and other business-y type concepts feel so sterile and heartless… I know that’s not true for every soulful business owner of course, but enough of us struggle with this that there’s a good chance that you do, too. So spiritual sales might seem like an oxymoron… impossible, really.

Not if you hang out with Mark Silver of Heart of Business, though. His whole premise is that business transactions can promote spiritual healing and growth. Which is all fine and good in theory, but can a person really back this kind of radical statement up with experience and facts?

Yes. He can. He showed us how in this workshop – and I am positive that it’s true, after what I experienced. (And really, it affirms all of my business exchanges in my business… though I didn’t have nearly as much language and as many tools before to maximize this part.)

I’m going to share the highlights of my takeaways in hopes that you’ll get even a nugget of what I got from this experience. Then, I’m going to encourage you to check out his The Sacred Moment Home-Study program (which is $100 off just until March 29th!! Hurry. I am not an affiliate nor is there any other way in which I get compensated for my passionate endorsement of this program) or sign up for his next offering of this beautiful gift of a seminar, whenever that may be.

Here are my top 5 gifts from The Sacred Moment seminar:

1. Remembrance is available anytime. I would never have called this heart-connection process Remembrance. I would have said something like “checking-in with myself” and maybe that’s easier to understand for some as I explain this part, since Remembrance is a Sufi tradition – unless you are a Sufi. The point is, anytime we are uncertain, feeling lost or unclear how to answer a question or even indecisive about resolving an issue, our connection with the Divine (however we experience it individually) is available. We can access that connection then ask our heart to act as a conduit for communication. Mark’s guidance around this process was… well, divine. We practiced this often and I learned how to listen better over the course of the two days. For me, this alone was worth the price, time and energy expended for this seminar.

2. Compassionate Questioning is the way. I already loved listening before I got to this seminar. I truly believe that committed listening is the most powerful interactive sales tool we have. Yet, sometimes my excitement and intense curiosity cause me to take potential clients in directions they weren’t intending for our discussion. This happened while I was doing a practice exercise with another participant who helps women find clean and organic cosmetics. I was so excited about her business because it’s a personal mission of mine – removing toxicity from our products in my home all around -  that I started to ask her questions that were more about my own interests than her needs. While my enthusiasm is genuine and non-manipulative (I had no sales agenda with it), it can be overwhelming at times and take things off track. The focus on Compassionate Questioning in this seminar reminded me that I need to stay open to listening for their needs – removing my own curiosity in service of determining if I can really help them.

3. Your potential clients want to say “yes”. I have been on the other side of a zillion situations where this was so true for me. Yet, somehow I hadn’t realized how absolutely true this is. As soon as Mark said it, I had flashes of the immense relief I had when I found my designer (heart, soul & talent abounds!), our two amazing caregivers for our three daughters (oh my, the relief and gratitude!), my website developer…  I could go on with such a list! The point is – I wanted to say “yes” every time I met someone for each of these needs. I just needed to find the right person to say “yes” to!

4. It really is about Contribution, even during the sale. The gifts matter – on every level. The talents and skill matter. Whether you really can meet and resolve the need matters. Your greatest gift is making it abundantly clear when you can meet that need – and letting them know when you cannot meet the need. The kind of gifts that often come in wrapping paper and fancy bows matter, too. The samples of your Contribution that come in the form of “free gifts” with newsletter subscriptions, the tips you give on your blog, and the referrals you hand over when you can’t meet a person’s need are part of what make the business exchange a soulful exchange. You are two human beings – one with a need, the other with help for that need. While I live this approach in my business every day, the practical reminders and examples throughout the seminar were powerful reinforcers of that approach. Giving generously feeds your heart and soul and makes a real difference for another human being – and, frankly, spreads goodwill all around. Give big on behalf of all of that.

5. It’s all about genuine, human, soulful connection. All of it. Once we establish the baseline that our potential client has a need that we truly can meet and resolve, the sale is about making an honest connection with your potential client during the exchange. Mark lead us through this shocking (and slightly uncomfortable but way worth it) totally silent exercise where we connected with our own need (yes, our needs, not the clients need), then our own gifts, then the other person, then literally bowed in service (it’s way more dramatic and powerful than that remotely describes… you just have to be there doing it) to feel how the sales cycle works even without words. It’s totally real. You feel the shifts in curiosity, then offer, then agreement, then service. It’s gorgeous.

So, if you have a desire for spiritual connection in your sales experiences – especially as you experience sales yourself – you’ll probably find The Sacred Moment a beautiful gift to your business. I really did.

Regardless, I hope these concepts that I learned in the seminar will spark something in you that gives you a greater connection to your own soulful approach to sales. Will you let me know? I’d love to hear about it.

Much gratitude to Just Chaos for the lovely Sacred Lotus image.