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I post to my blog regularly on lessons about life, leadership, innovation and sustainability. Please follow me for more fresh-baked bread from the oven of my mind. Also signup for the Sustainovation newsletter for updates on events and other great posts.

Workplace Culture Coffee Break

A "Coffee Break" webinar with NRC's Angelica Weddell on how to deal with and change the workplace culture. Who is responsible for culture and what is your role in it? Check out this brief webinar with tips to make a difference in your workplace! 

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It's The Little Things/StrongTowns Podcast

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It's The Little Things/StrongTowns Podcast

Explore the world of government innovation. Podcast and chill my friends. Grab some red wine, kick your feet up and let's get snuggy.

Download and listen to the podcast today!

https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/9/19/its-the-little-things-4

  

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Exago Innovation Spotlight

Honored to be a "spotlight" innovation expert for Exago's international audience. Learn more about what it takes to innovate in government... 

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Procurement Sucks: Let’s Do Something About It!

The time has come to rethink our approach to government services. Fact is, what we’ve been doing isn’t working and it’s time to change. Government is woefully behind in its thinking in the vendor space—our goal should be partnership and innovation, not just procurement. 

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Taking the first bite of the elephant…the disgustingly unfortunate, critical truth.

This powerful metaphor and real-life example is a disgusting guidepost on the truth of where to begin when dealing with changing any large, monolithic system like government. 

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America is afraid...of us. Let's end that together.

So right now, we’re the scariest thing in America. By “we”, I mean government.

Chapman University does a study every year looking into the fears of average Americans using a random sampling of 1,200 adults across the country. And, corruption of government officials is the top fear…for the third year in a row. In fact, 75% of Americans are afraid of government corruption, topping the list by far.

Americans are more afraid of government corruption than they are of dying in a terrorist attack. More afraid of government than a loved one becoming seriously ill or dying. Yet, the odds of being killed in terrorist attacks are 1 in 20 million, and the odds of a loved one becoming seriously ill or dying is 1 in 1 over a long enough timeline. Which reminds us that fear isn’t rational.

Did you know we are born with fears—but not with phobias? That’s because fears serve a useful purpose. Fear focuses our energies and attention in a way designed for our survival and can sharpen our minds. But when our mind is distracted by irrational fears, a great deal of critical energy can be extended to pursuing or protecting against the wrong thing. And, we all have irrational fears.

For example, I have a deep-seeded fear of sharks. Many people do. But mine works not just when I’m in the ocean, but also when I’m in the swimming pool. I actually check from time to time to make sure one didn’t happen to find its way through the drain in some dramatic resurgence of the Jaws family bloodline into my hotel pool. Rational? No way. Embarrassing? Heck yeah.

The fact is I’m 3,300 times more likely to die from drowning than by being attacked by a shark. But, my irrational fear of swimming-pool-shark attacks prevents me from fully enjoying the experience of swimming, and leaves me focused on something that’s not the real danger. And that’s why the fear of government corruption topping the list should be so concerning. The hard truth is our residents are afraid of us. And because they are afraid of us, they don’t want to interact with us. And in many cases, we’re more than happy to oblige. We design systems so our residents don’t have to interact with us. We usually do this with best intent, but it may be having an unintended consequence.

In my opinion, the real enemy of government is apathy. And yet we spend time designing systems to minimize interactions with our citizens, instead of working to interact with our citizens in the right ways. We need more positive interactions and more positive touch points with our residents to lessen the fear. We need to go from apathy to engagement. But how?

Clarity. We are seeking clarity.

And clarity is not transparency, but that is the best we usually do—if that. “Let them see the data and they can draw their own conclusions.” Even our language creates unintentional separation between us and our communities. But, transparency is not enough. Not nearly enough. Transparency, just making data available, breeds apathy, because who wants to interact with something they are afraid of? And transparency is not clarity. We want clarity.

Let me demonstrate the difference: “Causa latet vis est notissima.”

Am I saying a good thing or a bad thing? Is this something I should be afraid of? Translated from Latin, this means “the cause is hidden, the results are well known.” A great quote by Ovid. But, if you just read it in Latin, you likely don’t know what to make of it.

What I wrote was completely transparent, but it wasn’t clear. Once it became clear, you can make a decision about whether you’re okay with what I wrote, or whether you disagree. But since you likely don’t read Latin fluently, I wasn’t writing in a language you understand. And we do this all the time, which discourages our citizens from engaging with us. We speak government to our residents. And this creates two groups: those who speak government (us) and those who don’t (them), which is counter to our goal of engagement.

I call this bureaucracide. It’s death by 10,000 paper cuts or drowning in a sea of three-letter acronyms. It’s making it hard to be a part of your community. We use our own language, our own acronyms, our own jargon to service our customers, and we expect our residents to know how to “speak government.” No wonder there is no interest in interacting.

So we have to fix this to end the apathy. But how? We have to start with finding the facts to tell a story. What is the goal? What story is worth knowing? Always begin with the goal so the team knows where they are going, and then we can begin seeking clarity:

  • Collect. It all begins with collecting good data that measures success towards a specific goal. Data must be accurate and actionable. Measure those things that can answer an important question and don’t “overmeasure." Start small when collecting data and grow into it.
  • Convert. Take it from data to information is where we empower our leaders. Now we can make informed decisions. Use graphs, graphics, visuals or infographics that tell the story from the data accurately. Clean up the data so you can learn from it, and focus on the lessons not the noise.
  • Candor. Speak truthfully about what the facts show with passion, but without pride or prejudice. Because the facts matter. So be passionate about the facts. This will allow you to tell a compelling story.
  • Connect. Put the dots together and tell the story. A story connects emotion and fact together to weave a compelling story, because the story is where we engage.
  • Communicate. Speak plain. No acronyms. No “insider” talk. Talk human with the goal of having a dialogue with your residents.
  • Captivate. Get people’s attention and hold it with a compelling story. Be bright. Be brief. Be gone.

Then engage.

When you have achieved clarity, you can engage citizens and create a truly high-performance government. When you first engage, some will be upset. It’s normal. We must accept our residents have been afraid of us, push beyond, and continue to engage. It will take some time to heal, but when we tell the story and are honest and passionate about the facts, we will win over our communities. We will win over our residents and build community champions, creating a spiraling up effect of engagement, results and connection.

So I invite you to join us and commit to telling one story well. You know the one that needs telling in your organization. Measure data. Translate it into information. Be honest. Tell the story. Be human. Get people’s attention and engage. Then do it all over again. Create clarity one story and one step at a time.

This mission takes all of us. From the leader setting the goals, to the people doing the great work in the field (and collecting good data), to the tech team, the analyst, the manager, director and all the employees who speak the truth and make the story relatable. It takes every single one of us to tell the story in a way our community can understand and we have the tools and the ability to do it.

And if we achieve clarity, we will engage our citizens and start our communities on a path of spiraling up. We will fulfill the promise we’ve made to be stewards of our fellow humankind, by ending the apathy and erasing the fear. But it takes all of us to make it happen, so I hope you will join in this epic journey, and start your community’s first clarity initiative right now.

End the fear. The path is clear. Team Us.


 

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What I Saw When I Died

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Categories: April

What I Saw When I Died

My heart stopped beating six years ago, I died, and it changed my life. I call life after that experience "Life 2.0". In my TEDx talk about it, I give voice to the power of twenty seconds of insane courage and feeling the hard things (and the good things) and taking time to reflect in the sunrises and sunsets, and the power of Team Us.

But there is one part I haven’t talked about, except to a few, and mostly in passing: what I saw when I died.

I usually joke around in order to avoid that topic, because it has so many religious implications for those who look for them, and I am not one to talk often about religion, especially in mixed company. I find that people ascribe their own religious beliefs to the experience with great certainty, making my personal experience a complete reaffirmation of what they already believe to be true. I have been loathe to discuss it because it also leads to judgments (intentional and unintentional), and commentary about me, my life, my choices, etc., and I don’t know many people who sign up for that lecture voluntarily. Regardless, it is something I have not discussed much and only in close company—until now.

Yes, I had an experience and it was profound in what it both said and what it didn’t say about this life and what comes after. It was something to behold, but not much to look at. It seemed to be a creation of my own mind, although I had never “seen” this place before. But that all changed less than a month ago.

Recently, we returned from a “bucket list” trip to New Zealand which I can accurately say was the best trip I’ve ever taken, and amongst all the little, gritty details that make up the substances of our best memories, there was one moment unrelated to that amazing trip that stopped my soul, and unexpectedly demanded my undivided attention: I came across the landscape of that afterlife world...

It was similar to a vast desert landscape with no vegetation and with diverging and converging paths that crossed a vast sea of brown and reddish terrain. In the distance were mountains shrouded with storm clouds and a fiery hue emanating behind the mountains that reflected off the clouds. It was dark and cloudy, but there was no lack of light. While it may sound threatening, it was not. It was not hot or cold. It was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable. The place had a sense of intense calm, as if the air muffled the sound, but moved lighter than ever. Ethereal.

In every direction there were what I can only describe as “nomadic tribes” of people, men and women, dressed in similarly drab and unremarkable robes, wandering with shuffling purpose through this desert afterlife. People were marching in different directions and would occasionally switch to different tribes, and head in different directions, as these groups crossed at intersections. In that sense it was like the traffic flow of our afterlife, following one another in a pack of traffic but heading different directions to get where we were going at intersections. I remember changing tribes a few times as well.

I did see people that I recognized, but I cannot recall who I saw; just the awareness that I knew them when I looked at them. That might be because your soul is recognizable and familiar, even if your body is not. Faces were completely recognizable in their detail, but not memorable, as if that was part of the power of this place. The majority of the time, however, I spent in the company of unfamiliar souls. That may seem like an odd thing to say because in “regular time” I was only there for slightly over 20 seconds, but it felt like four days.

There was no hunger, and these nomadic tribes were marching along quietly, and if there were words spoken, I cannot recall hearing them. Things seemed to move with a sense of unspoken understanding and calm. In fact, the first time I remember hearing someone speak or break the silence was when a bright light came, the sky split open and there was a face larger than the entire scene before me: It was a doctor saying “he had me” and I remember asking “is this real?” as the light enveloped me and pulled me from the scene. It was real. Life 2.0 was ahead.

But the landscape, as vivid as it was in my head, did not replicate any desert scene I had personally come across. And for some reason, not having ever seen that scene in real life has been a mental barrier on some level, and consequently, I’ve struggled to give much voice to this part of the experience, instead focusing my voice on changing my life, and helping others do the same.

It’s as if the true essence of that entirety of that moment was eluding capture in anticipation of the landscape being seen and experienced. On the Tongariro Alpine in New Zealand, at the foot of a volcano (“Mount Doom” from Lord Of The Rings no less), there is a landscape that is the stage of my experience in the afterlife. And I have now seen it. And there is something powerful in that. And while the air was different in feel, and the sun was out, and the mountains were closer during this hike, and there were far fewer people, I came across the scene. And that experience somehow makes my time “in between” or my time in wherever you believe I was, to be more real.

And maybe there is some power in this story for you as well, so I share in the hopes that it makes you think about how there are things that are bigger than us all, and beyond our complete comprehension. About how experiences can shape us profoundly without having true form, and that there is so much we do not know or understand, no matter your religious proclivities or universal certainties. That this life is bigger than our day-to-day politics, stresses and trials. I know that this might not be much of an ending to this story, but it is not the end of the story. In fact, that seems fitting and similar to my experience in the afterlife. Just one more important story on the path of my journey, without an ending.




 

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40 Life Lessons at 40

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Categories: October

40 Life Lessons at 40

As I reflect on the first 40 years of my life, I thought I’d share these pearls of wisdom....I hope you can relate to at least one of these....

1. Girls grow faster than boys, so if you are young and have a younger sister who is close in age, be kind, because chances are she can beat you up in a year or two.

2. Changing your life is about 20 seconds of insane courage.

3. Lead. Whether they want you to or not.

4. Consider the source.

5. Age is measured in years. Life isn’t.

6. The best way to sell anything is “Be Bright. Be Brief. Be Gone.”

7. Doing 21 shots on your 21st birthday is a bad idea. Letting your friends choose the shots is a worse one.

8. Be grateful. It is the key to true happiness.

9. Drive-by humanity is real. Your words can change someone’s life. For good or bad.

10. Live the life you love and love the life you live.-Yaga t-shirt circa 1994

11. Love is love. No matter what. No matter who.

12. Be aware of the world around you.

13. Make up your own words. “Snigletize” your life. It’s more fun.

14. If a girl dumps your books in middle school, she’s got a crush on you. Don’t trip her to show you like her back.

15. “Why” isn’t a four-letter word.

16. Start every conversation with finding a way to get to yes.

17. Team Us. That which unites us is greater than that which divides us. Which is an especially good reminder right now.

18. You’re on my planet. And I’m on yours. It’s my “ride” through the universe, so if you litter or treat my ride with disrespect, I’m going to have something to say about it.

19. Watch as many sunrises and sunsets as you can and take 5 minutes to appreciate your life, good and bad.

20. Everything deserves its day; even the hard things. Feeling is part of living.

21. Appreciate and love your family and friends while you can.

22. If you end up in a fraternity or a sorority, having a smart mouth will also help you learn a lesson in humility.

23. If your mom or dad pushes you, it’s because they care.

24. If your brothers or sisters push you down, it’s because they don’t.

25. Be passionate. And help others find their passion.

26. Inspire yourself. Inspire others.

27. Be eccentric. The world remembers eccentric people.

28. Hug your mom and say thanks for bringing you into this world at least once a year.

29. I’m terrible with gifts. It’s a thing. I also have no fashion sense. I’ve come to terms with it.

30. I believe in Pockets of Positivity and our responsibility to stop the Energy Vampires in this world.

31. Approach the world with childlike wonder.

32. I am a Scorpio, fire sign with Mars rising and born in the year of the dragon. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a choice.

33. Say sorry. Apologizing is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign you care.

34. Validation is for parking.

35. Have the courage of your convictions. Step up to bullies. Speak your mind. Intervene. Stand strong. Be willing to look foolish for what you believe.

36. Ask forgiveness, not permission.

37. I died five years ago and it will forever change how I live. I am grateful for every moment that led up to that, and every moment that has come after. I hope everyone is as lucky-minus the dying.

38. People who say “I’m looking at this from 30,000 feet” should be immediately ignored. That just means they can’t see shit on a cloudy day.

39. Get arrested at least once. Not all laws make sense. For example it’s illegal in Oakland to throw a bowling ball down an alleyway at an alligator…come on people…

40. Make sure your children know how much you love them. Embarrass them with it. Then do it again.

What’s your favorite life lesson? Please share it with me.

 

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Recent Post

  1. Workplace Culture Coffee Break Nick Kittle 08-Jan-2019
  2. It's The Little Things/StrongTowns Podcast Nick Kittle 03-Oct-2018
  3. Exago Innovation Spotlight Nick Kittle 11-Sep-2018
  4. It’s Time to Create a Business Solutions Group Nick Kittle 29-Aug-2018
  5. Procurement Sucks: Let’s Do Something About It! Nick Kittle 19-Mar-2018