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Saturday, November 16, 2013

My Disintegrating Ecco Shoes

So the soles of my Ecco shoes -- a nice pair of Oxfords I hadn't worn for a while -- started disintegrating at work yesterday.  Chunks were falling out of them all over the floor.


I searched online and found this article ( about it from 2010, with a lot of rants from soon-to-be-ex-Ecco customers.

I called Ecco customer service, who said I could return the shoes in a prepaid bag for a "warranty analysis", which sounds like a squirrely way of getting out of doing anything for me.  Not sure what I expect, but some kind of "Tylenol-class" customer service behavior might have saved this brand for me.

Doesn’t look like it.  Either they’ve written off the victims or they don’t know how to do industrial grade customer service.  In any case, hard to see taking a risk on another pair.  Maybe they’ve solved the problem, and maybe they haven’t, but who wants to find out.  There are plenty of nice-looking comfort shoes whose soles don’t disintegrate.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Daily 2 Minutes of Big Body Language is Done

Not really anything to do with the Project, but I’m packing it in on an explicit practice of standing or sitting in a “Big Body Language” pose for 2 minutes every day (early intervention from February, discussed here).

The main thing is that I’ve gotten restless with all the “good habit” things I have to do every day, mainly as a consequence of aging: brushing, flossing, exercising, meditating, reading, writing, blah blah blah.  Preventive maintenance of one sort or another is becoming an alarming % of my day.

Also, though, from the Chutzpah POV, the Big Body Language seems to have organically populated my day to the extent that it’s not necessary to set aside 2 min just for that.  I have much better mindfulness and results displaying Big Body Language in meetings, when considering chutzpah-consuming ideas or moves, or even just sitting at the dinner table.

So I can cut the 2 minutes out of my day… and save the time for just being alive.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Interventions for June

OK, May is over, time to re-tool for Month 5.

Start by retiring a couple, which proved to be No Problem:

  • Be Interesting when you get on stage: Didn’t prove to be a problem for me.  This is one area where I’ve been blessed with plenty chutzpah.  Honorably Discharged
  • Learn to Love the Phone: Surprisingly, this has proven to be a fairly smooth area, too, after years of hating and fearing talking on the phone.  Maybe a collateral effect of other chutzpah builders?  Honorably Discharged

New ones for May:

  1. Continue with Speak Truth to Power: This hasn’t been easy to get going; maybe we need a dose of mindfulness about occasions when I should have done so, but didn’t.
  2. Dare to meet people more popular than you.  I hate this; I shrink away from meeting people I think are popular, even when I might really like them or vice versa.
  3. Dare to be unpredictable.  A fundamental tool of chutzpah is keep people a bit on edge about what you’re going to do next.  This will likely not be easy for me.
  4. Dare to say “No”.  A staple of Assertiveness Training.  Good practice.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mindfulness and Debugging

This is taking us a bit far afield of the Chutzpah theme, but I’ve been reading a bunch about mindfulness as background to using it as a general tool for enhancing my chutzpah and other good traits (as well as diminishing some less-desirable traits, but that’s another story).

Mindfulness is not some gushy New Age concept.  It’s a pretty understandable state of mind where you are neutral-to-friendly about what’s going on in your mind while not getting sucked into it.  Yes, you are “not attached”, but in a rather rarefied sense: you’re not exactly remaining indifferent while lovely foodstuffs or gorgeous sex partners are presented to distract you from your detachment.  You feel your hungers and you feel your lusts but you’re not drawn into them to the point that you lose your awareness of yourself.

In any case, one area where mindfulness is familiar and key to success is debugging.  I’m most familiar over the years with debugging software, since that what I did for a living for twenty-odd years and may do again someday, but if you read something like “Shop Class as Soulcraft” or “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” other Maker-ish stuff, you can see the same use of mindfulness and debugging, only in this case debugging shop tactics or repair.

The idea is that you can’t see the problem if your mind is clouded by attachment.  You get attached to the last thing you fixed, so you (wrongly) conclude that the problem you’re looking at now has the same cause.  You get attached to some of your presuppositions (“the problem must be in the allocation module”) and close your attention off to data that lead you away from that to the correct root cause.

Most makers of one sort or another have encountered mindfulness in this disguise.  It’s part of what I love about debugging: you’re rewarded for the rectitude of your mindfulness.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Be Interesting When You Get On Stage… Harder Than It Looks

Of all the Interventions I’ve tried so far this year, Be Interesting When You Get On Stage is the easiest for me.  I’ve been in the habit of being interesting for decades, and although there are venues where that’s more challenging for me – small crowd of powerful people I want to impress – I generally leave my mark.

But it ain’t as easy as it might look.  For whatever reason, each interesting remark costs me something.  If I try to pay mindful attention to it, there’s a very brief flash of longing, longing that these people will like me, like what I’m saying, reward me, praise me, then a flash of fear that I won’t be able to be heard, that they’ll ignore me, then finally a flash of angry contempt, for them for scorning me (in advance, so to speak), but also contempt for me for wanting their good opinion.  The anger stays with me, largely as anger at myself, and it’s not uncommon for me to recall with self-contempt charming things I’ve said at a dinner party on the way home: my wife and I call them Bad Thoughts.  The Bad Thoughts crystallize all the contempt for myself without the intervening longing and anger at the others that make the contempt more comprehensible.

Easy to see why the roomful of powerful others is so challenging, given this internal play.  But it took years to decode it and I’m still not seeing it all in the moment, which is probably the key for harnessing these charming interventions in the service of Greater Chutzpah.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Maybe This Chutzpah Project Thing Has Something Going…

So, yesterday, I had a big meeting to attend, one where I’m supposed to do great things but in fact have been pretty much unnoticed in the hustle and bustle (somehow, despite my charm and good looks…).

In the past, I’ve longed to get out of going, and have used some excuses to do so.

And yesterday morning I was full of them: I had gotten in late the night before, there had been a chance I’d be out of town that day anyhow (which meant, I thought, that I wouldn’t be missed).

But because of mindfulness, I had an inkling that these were excuses, and what was lurking beneath was The Fear: they will ignore me (which, as I have said, is a big one for me).

I didn’t have enough direct chutzpah to get myself to go to the meeting anyhow, but I had enough to ask for help: I asked my wife what she would do.

She said, “You might as well go; something good may happen.”

And that was enough to tip me.  I went, and it was in fact quite good.  I spoke up, I got noticed (by some for the first time).  I made a splash: a very mild one, but a splash, instead of a no-show.

Mindfulness + asking for help = different outcome.

Monday, May 6, 2013

There’s an Art to “Speaking Truth to Power”

As I start tooling up to speak up more, it occurs to me that you can be a jerk about speaking truth to power.

There’s a way of doing it that makes you lose credibility instead of gaining it.  If you wade in with a “take-no-prisoners” attitude and blurt out your truth, it’s as if you hadn’t said anything.

In “48 Laws of Power”, one of the laws has to do with this.  It’s “Don’t argue with your superiors, but demonstrate the truth of what you say indirectly.”  That’s part of it.  A standoff – opinion against opinion – with a powerful superior just ends up with all your supporters and all your support evaporating and a conclusion that, even if you’re on to something, it couldn’t amount to much.

Demonstrating, to the contrary, invites others, including your powerful superior, to draw their own conclusions about the “facts” (although, of course, the conclusions are yours all along).

I’d love to get better at demonstrating as part of speaking truth to power.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Definite Improvement in Phone-Fear Mindfulness

Since I started the “Learn to Love the Phone” intervention in April, I’ve noticed a big down-tick in my habit of running away from phone calls with emails.

It goes like this: the right thing to do is to call X, but instead of calling her, I talk myself into sending her an email “first”.  “Rude to interrupt someone without teeing it up first.”  That kind of thing.

What inevitably happens is that X doesn’t respond to the email.  May not even notice it.  And that gives me an excuse to defer the phone call: “haven’t heard back from X”.

Chutzpah giants around me don’t waste any time worrying about being rude interrupters.  They want to reach out, they reach out.  Phone first.

That’s my next step.

Monday, April 29, 2013

4 Interventions for May

You know, I didn’t make any progress to speak of on the four interventions for April, except for the thing of listing daily fears.  So I’m going to continue that one, and continue three more from April.

Here’s the May lineup:

  • List Every Day the things you were afraid of that day
  • Be Interesting when you enter the stage
  • Learn to Love the Phone
  • Speak Truth to Power

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fear of Criticism and Counter-Measures

As I track the daily fear parade – and it’s even hard to remember fears from that same day, although not as hard as trying to be aware of them in advance – one theme that’s emerging is I am very afraid of criticism, or maybe even I am afraid of how angry I get when I get criticized.

Not sure which of these makes more sense.  My kneejerk reaction to criticism is: incoming harm.  And my immediate reaction is to lash back at the person delivering it, with sarcasm and witty retorts if not with blows.

I want to watch this a bit more – and hopefully be aware of it in the moment increasingly – before I come to conclusions about what it is and what to do about it, but it seems like a daily recurring thread of fear, and hence, daily recurring oppty for chutzpah.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Chutzpah and Fitness

I read something this morning, an inspirational quote on the website of a local Quantified Self gym, which was trying to tie fitness to work/life balance:

Life is crazy. We all know it. Juggling several things all at the same time. I’m proving that no matter what is happening in my life, my fitness gives me the physical and mental balance to take everything in stride — and enjoy it!

I know; that’s nuts; fitting in fitness does more to clobber your work-life balance than almost anything, especially when you get to be my age and the jogging, stretching, resting, flexing, flossing, just pile up to an unholy percentage of each day.

But there was something to it as well: feeling fit makes you feel better, which makes you feel more equal to things.  It fuels your chutzpah.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

More on Being Mindful of Fear

OK, so I’m writing down, more or less at the end of the day, all the things I can recall being afraid of that day:

  • Losing my job
  • People who are angry with me because I’m wronging them, or so they think
  • Strangers
  • Neighborhoods I haven’t been to

But a) it’s hard to remember this stuff, even that day, and b) it doesn’t seem to make me any more mindful when fear happens, at the moment of fear.  Well, maybe a tiny bit more mindful, but nothing game-changing.

I’ll stick with it, and see if the mindfulness just comes more slowly than I would like.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Richard Branson and Other Chutzpah Gods

Richard Branson dares to do all kinds of things, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

So did Baba Ram Dass (aka Richard Alpert).  “Wherever you are, there you are,” was his watchword.  In other words, make the best of your situation.

Neither of these guys is (or was) trying to “execute a chutzpah agenda.”  They were trying to live out the idea that their Self had a narrative that had to be discovered and “honored”.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

“Growing a Pair” as a Partial Synonym for Building Chutzpah

As discussed last week, I’ve been tracking chutzpah-related traffic online.  And I’ve found a lot of co-occurrence between “chutzpah” and “growing a pair”, or, as puts it, “Growing some @#$%ing balls”.

I’ve been wrestling with the idea – maybe I just have too much time to think – of what the difference is between chutzpah, at least the way I’ve been using it, and growing a pair.

I think I have an idea.

“Chutzpah” has to do with getting something you want regardless of what it takes.  Obviously, one thing it “takes” or might “take” is getting someone else out of the way.  But that’s not the point; the point is getting what you want.

“Growing a pair” puts the idea of besting the other person front and center.  Showing balls is specifically edging someone else out of the way, whether to get something you want or for some other purpose.

Close, but not exactly the same.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Let’s Start by Writing Down What I Was Afraid of Today

Between Saturday and Monday I got peeved by my lack of traction on being aware of what I was afraid of.

So I resolved to write down every day the things I could remember that had made me afraid.

So I’ve been doing that this week.  3-4 things a day.

Talking on the phone has got to be one of the hugest (most huge?) things on the list.  So I’ll need a Supplementary Intervention about the phone to try to get moving off my stuck point of emailing people I should be phoning because my chutzpah levels are too low to phone.

We’ll see.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Who Is Thought to Have Chutzpah?

As part of the Project, I’ve been monitoring the online world (well, really only Twitter, although I suppose should add LinkedIn and Facebook) for “chutzpah”.

I can’t help but notice that a disproportionate number of references to chutzpah concern politicians and athletes.

Makes sense, I suppose.  Politicians are constantly flirting with shamelessness, which brings them into chutzpah territory and beyond as a normal occurrence.  And athletes need to establish their turf, like herdsmen or feuding mountain clansmen.  Big Body Language is part of chutzpah kindergarten for athletes.

But there isn’t much Twitter traffic about chutzpah among celebrities, who also seem to border on politicians and athletes.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

4 Interventions for April

OK, well March blew by along with its interventions.  I’ve had some juicy encounters with chutzpah – encounters that have been full of feeling and therefore taught me a lot – but not much consistency in trying to apply the month’s interventions.  This may well end up as a longer project than I had figured!

I’m still coming up way short in Do What You’re Afraid Of, or even in Become Aware of What You’re Afraid Of (although the latter has shown some progress).  For April, let’s stick with Do What You’re Afraid Of.

Three more:

  • No Matter Where You Enter the Stage, Be Interesting When You Get On It (from Kristi Hedges’ book on Presence)
  • Learn to Love the Phone (like many geeks, I shy away from the phone, mainly for chutzpah-deficit reasons as near as I can tell)
  • Speak Truth to Power (an old anarchist slogan repurposed for my Chutzpah Project)

Let’s see how this goes.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

No Matter Where You Enter the Stage, Be Interesting When You Get On It

Just finished reading Kristi Hedges’ excellent Power of Presence.  Kristi is someone I’ve thought better and better of as I’ve gotten to know her better, and the book is really good: not repetitive, down-to-earth writing, straightforward information on the how of being a better leader that’s quite useful.

One chutzpah-ready idea (among many!) from the book, which resonates with earlier experience I had as a consultant: no matter where you enter the stage, be interesting when you get on it.

People aren’t paying attention to anything nowadays that doesn’t demand their attention, and nothing squanders attention – even when the audience has no choice but to pay it – like mealy-mouthed, equivocating, or plain old dull talk.  It’s worth giving a fair amount of effort to how to be interesting: in meetings, when you speak, when you want to be heard and win people to your point of view.

It’ll be an Intervention for April, I think.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

An Entrepreneur with Great Chutzpah

We had an entrepreneur in this week who, one of my partners said admiringly, “owned the room.”

He was not a jerk, or shameless, or a “bad boy,” as many of the entrepreneurs we see are.  If you grant me that chutzpah is the golden mean between self-effacement and shamelessness, they slosh over into shamelessness.

This guy didn’t do any of that stuff. He just thought he was pretty good and made us think it, too.

How?  Humor, for one thing.  He poked fun at some of his early assumptions building his company, and did so in a way that brought us in on the joke.  He made fun of VCs a bit, too, but, unlike jerky entrepreneurs, it didn’t sting.  Again, we were in on the joke.

Also, he made persuasive arguments with logical steps in them to show us why he believed he was doing well (his potential is good but his numbers aren’t there yet).  And, unlike jerky entrepreneurs, he didn’t try to mislead us.  He told us all his trial installations were just that: trials.  The logical arguments made sense, and made us think he was sensible even though the proof isn’t there yet with his company.

A lot of people seem to think chutzpah means “win/lose”: you grab at something before I can grab at it and take it away from me.

By being funny and sensible, this entrepreneur made his nerviness “win/win”.

Hope we get the chance to work with him.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

When Fawning is Easy; When It’s Hard

I shouldn’t say it’s always hard for me to fawn.  I find it easy to fawn:

  1. When I like the fawnee.  I guess that’s sort of obvious, but it probably needs to be toted out and examined.  Since I like the person anyhow, I don’t have to worry (as much) about whether they’re going to like me.  I don’t have to worry about what to say, because we already have things we like to talk about.  All I have to do is feature things they want to talk about rather than feature things I want to talk about, and we’re off to the races.
  2. When I’m not fawning on my own behalf, but on behalf of a third party, like a Cause or a Product.  I don’t know why this makes fawning easier for me, but it does.  And not just me; a friend told me the other day he doesn’t mind fawning when it’s on behalf of a greater cause.  Maybe this gets to the heart of why fawning takes chutzpah: when you’re fawning on your own behalf, you’re saying, “look at me, look at what I want, look at what I’m after.”  That’s a chutzpah sink; it’s much easier when you’re saying, "It’s not about me, but about <Important Cause>.”

Fair enough.  Fawning is harder than usual for me:

  1. When the fawnee is indifferent to me.  Now I not only have to say, “listen to me,” I have to act like a clown or make a fool of myself to get his/her attention.  I’m not sure why I equate drawing attention to myself with acting like a clown or a fool, but I do.  And to make a clown of myself and then have the fawnee ignore me: it’s humiliation++.
  2. When I have to compete with other fawners.  Right here is why I hate networking events: many-to-one fawners-to-fawnees.  Good definition of Hell: I can be rescued from eternal torment in a lake of fire, but the Way Out is to fawn on Satan or one of his top lieutenants at a networking event where all the other damned souls from my lake are fawning to get out as well.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Chutzpah and Sensitive Posts: the Golden Mean

Since before I brought The Project live in February I've been pondering the issue of Really Sensitive Posts.

It's easy enough to talk about chutzpah-building in the abstract. And at least some of the more practical Notes From the Field are easy enough. But what about situations that involve my boss, my wife, etc., where too much frankness can blow back. What to do?

Well, if chutzpah is the golden mean between self-effacement and shamelessness, there's got to be a golden mean between gutlessly insipid posts and suicidal ones. A golden mean I've got to aim for.

I'm thinking of posting the really sensitive ones to a private blog, to be opened up when the sensitivity has elapsed. That way I can keep to a posting schedule and not crimp my style while reserving the right to open things up in the future when the material in a post is less volatile.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Chutzpah in Scottsdale

Just got back from a few days in Scottsdale at a VC and Private Equity IT group conclave.  Delightful to find out that such a group exists, and a fun time with a good crew.

Didn't seem so at the beginning.  Coming in to a new group of people all of whom seem to know one another and feeling like I have to impress them is a situation that daunts the crap out of me.  And that’s how I was Tuesday evening when I went to bed after meeting a few people and depleting my slender reserves of chutzpah.

Fortunately, I remembered the Interventions and mindfulness about fear in particular.  By remaining mindful of what I was afraid of – actually, having people I wanted to impress react to me with indifference – I was able, paradoxically, to keep it in perspective.

(The opposite, not being mindful, tends to make the fear more global, more ominous, and, because it’s unknown, more scary.)

I also remembered the Intervention about associating with those with chutzpah.  I hung out with some guys who were speaking up at the sessions, who seemed to be a standard deviation or two out on the comfortable/confident  axis, and they proved to be great guys and very friendly to me.

This in turn started a virtuous circle going.  I won’t say I felt like Homecoming King at the end of the conference, but I had met a bunch of great people whom I’ll stay in touch with and whom I wouldn’t have met sans conscious work on the chutzpah dimension.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fear of Talking on the Phone

One big weird area of fear for me is talking on the phone.

I think I share this with a lot of geeks and ex-geeks.  We’d do almost anything to not communicate through the phone.

Blessedly, I’m missing the fear of talking face-to-face, and have gotten over the fear of talking to audiences.  But the phone remains an open wound, so to speak, in the Fearless Body.

As with my post on "Mindfulness and Chutzpah" last month, one challenge here is to be aware of the fear in the moment, i.e., right when mindfulness might allow me to choose to use the phone even if I’m afraid.  What often happens is I just go off on a non-phone-using course without it even coming to mind in any conscious fashion.  Obviously there’s no way to get control over a fear which doesn’t come into consciousness.

So this month one challenge is to remain aware of moments when I’m running away from using the phone without allowing the moment to pass.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Notes from the Field: Evidence of Increasing Chutzpah Levels?

I’ve noticed the past couple of weeks that asking for favors for me – just me, not me on behalf of some larger entity like an employer or my children or a non-profit – has gotten easier for me.

Asking for these kinds of favors – “would you look at my manuscript?”, “can I pitch you a story idea?”, even “will you go out with me” back in the day – was always pretty difficult for me.  I would rehearse multiple times asking a girl out as a teenager.  I still do some rehearsing with phone calls where I’m asking something from someone I consider more important than me.

And this kind of rehearsal helps with defusing the negative Voice of Failure from within, because one can anticipate every derogatory thing the person on the other end of the phone might say and plan comebacks, all in advance.

But the last couple of weeks, as I say, I’ve had less dread about these asks, and have even just picked up the phone once or twice (ok, I’m exaggerating: not the phone, but picked up the keyboard for an email) and quickly dashed off a request for a favor.

Like a lot of these Notes from the Field, hard to attribute to any of my Interventions so far, but at least, as we say in the investing business, the needle is moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February in Review; March in Forecast

Well, February flew by, chutzpah-wise, and not just because it has fewer days.  Startup of the Project consumed more cycles than one would have thought (doesn’t it always?), and remaining mindful of the month’s Four Interventions was more problematic than I would have thought going into it.

So much so that I’m going to continue two of the Interventions – “Associate with People with Chutzpah” and “Become Aware of What You’re Afraid Of” – into March.

Together with two new ones: “Work with Enemies”, and “Do What You’re Afraid Of.”

“Do What You’re Afraid Of” ratchets up the fear factor from simply being aware of something terrifying to actually doing the terrifying thing, or doing part of it.

Two possibilities: this will terrify me so much that I’ll just become even less mindful of fearful things, or it will force them more into the foreground.  We’ll see.

The other Intervention, “Work With Enemies”, is trying to develop chutzpah by stretching me out of working only with people I like.  What a limitation!  How liberating it would be to be free of it.

And then, of course, continue with “Dare to Fawn” and “Become Aware of What You’re Afraid Of”.

Looks like a great March!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Notes from the Field: Fawning Delivery Can’t be Lame

Coming home from my wife’s meetings today, I was thinking about opportunities I’d had to deploy the Four Interventions and grow in chutzpah.

It occurred to me that most of the time when I chanced on chutzpah opportunities (and most of them this week were in the Dare to Fawn department), a lot depended on the delivery.

Duh, I guess.  Probably obvious when you’re not in the midst of a situation.  In the midst of things, I see, if I’m lucky, an opportunity to manifest more chutzpah and then I have to do something then and there without having had any chance to think things over or rehearse alternatives, and, to be frank, I do lame stuff.

Lame fawning is painful to watch and painful to generate.  Maybe the most painful thing that happens is that I say things I don’t believe because I think they will impress the person I’m trying to fawn on.

Well, surprise, fawning that smacks of inauthenticity is just as painful to receive as it is to give.  People can’t always tell when someone is sincere, but most of us can tell really easily when someone is insincere.  It’s obvious.

So, looks like there’s some measure of preparation that has to take place here.  It’s like improvising music.  You practice common melodies and licks and chops, and then when you are solo-ing you pick from your library but remain spontaneous.

I need to build up a library of fawning.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mindfulness and Chutzpah: Notes from the Field

I’m at some professional meetings for my wife, trying to help her by shmoozing and charming her friends, colleagues, and potential supporters.

At breakfast a man who sits next to me strikes up conversation and turns out to be an elder statesman of my wife’s world, a man eminently worth shmoozing.

The prescription?

  • Expand my footprint with Big Body Language, lean towards him, take up space.
  • Dare To Fawn, by telling him how great his taste in food is, how the organization is not the same without his leadership.  These are all true, so easier to fawn about.

What happened instead?

I essentially… blanked out.  I stammered out some stuff about the food, and fairly quickly made an excuse about having to do some work and fled the scene.

Once I got a safe distance away I realized what had happened: I had failed to Be Aware of My Fears.  Failed without even the opportunity to recognize what was going on.  I was thrown into a state where the only thing I could think about clearly was getting away.

So mindfulness has to precede chutzpah.  I have to let myself be aware that a Chutzpah Opportunity is being short-circuited by fear and consciously put a stop to it.

Do-able, I guess, but mindfulness is never easy.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Associating with People with Chutzpah

On paper, this makes a lot of sense.  After all, it stands to reason that you are, in part, whom you associate with.  They rub off on you, for better or for worse.

But I’ve had trouble generating action items for this chutzpah intervention.  Part of it is that I already pick people for their chutzpah superiority to me.  Not sure why, but I do.  My wife has more chutzpah than I do.  My best friend today has more chutzpah than me – way more.  I’ve always been drawn to a type of guy friend with chutzpah levels that floor me when I think about it.  But I don’t.  I like them.

And at the same time I pull away from people who lack chutzpah.  An old friend needs my help, but I’ve been putting off engaging with him because he is so lacking in chutzpah it drives me away.

Maybe I should just take a “bye” on this intervention?  That would require some chutzpah!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How is Fawning a Type of Chutzpah?

At first glance, fawning – “giving a servile display of exaggerated flattery or affection, typically in order to gain favor” – seems like the opposite of chutzpah.

But because I’m a geek, and for all the geeks out there, fawning is actually something that requires chutzpah of us.

Why?  We want to be totally “honest”, meaning we don’t want to act like we’re seeking power or influence for ourselves.  And fawning – which is done in order to advance one’s own agenda – requires a certain amount of inner daring: “dammit, I’m going to get out there and get mine”.  In short, it takes a certain amount of chutzpah to fawn.

Plus, fawning is a performance. It requires daring to get out there and act like someone you’re not.  Half the appeal of “honesty” is that you don’t have to risk failure.  The excuse that you were just being honest is a fallback.

Thus, I submit that fawning is a weapon in the quiver of he-who-has-chutzpah, and I would certainly claim that the effort to fawn when it’s not your nature requires a certain stock of chutzpah to begin with.

“The 48 Laws of Power” recounts how Galileo had the chutzpah to fawn on Cosimo II, featuring him and Medici dynasty as the earthly counterpart of the moons of Jupiter he had just discovered.  As “48 laws has it,”

Galileo turned his discovery of Jupiter’s moons into a cosmic event honoring the Medicis’ greatness… Cosimo II made Galileo his official court philosopher and mathematician, with a full salary.  For a scientist this was the coup of a lifetime.  The days of begging for patronage were over.

If a giant like Galileo can make the chutzpah-to-fawn pay off for him, why can’t it work for me?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Notes From the Field: 2 Min. of Big Body Language in Action

I’m sadly not that attentive to possible longer-term effects of my 2 minutes of morning Big Body Language during the day, but I did become aware of two subtle sensations during my sessions yesterday and today:

Yesterday: When I stand in Wonder Woman pose in my home office I often look over the books on my bookshelves to pass the time during the 2 minutes.  And my reflections are usually pretty somber: “So many books unread, and so few I’m reading per week, and so few weeks left…”  Just vintage pessimistic aging thoughts.

But yesterday my eye traipsed across “Software Factories”, a ‘90’s book about competing in a flat world by using very productive high-level software languages.  I associate this book with Michael Cusumano at MIT Sloan School although a deeper look at the book just now showed me it was written by Jack Greenfield and Keith Short (“with” some others). two Micro-softies.  In any case, good book, very thoughtful, no matter I’m having a Senior Moment with the author’s name(s).

From the Chutzpah point of view, I had had it in mind to speak with Cusumano for some time on this topic, and had not moved further with it because of Chutzpah Deficit.  But now, in the heart of a 2-minute Big Body Language session, I said to myself, “Why not?  You’re a bright guy with some interesting ideas?  Why wouldn’t Cusumano want to talk with you?”

(And further, just now, I even took the next step and verified that Cusumano is not even the right guy to talk to!  Talk about progress!  More strides than I’ve made in three years of listing this on my to-do list!  Fruits of Big Body Language?  Correlation is not, of course, causation, but it is a first cousin.

Today:  Yet again in Wonder Woman pose, looking around my room.  All of a sudden I began to notice (and self-admire) how much more muscular my body felt since I resumed weight training in mid-December.  Harmless narcissism, one would say, except that it involves chutzpah as well as narcissism.  The body was there before the 2-minute session.  Presumably the narcissism was as well.  Didn’t the Big Body Language supply the chutzpah?

Too soon to say, but these are new thoughts.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Big Body Language: the Theory

Amy Cuddy is the inspiration for this Chutzpah Intervention.

A brief synopsis of the relevant research:

Her latest research illuminates how “faking” body postures that convey competence and power (“power posing”) – even for as little as two minutes -- changes our testosterone and cortisol levels, increases our appetite for risk, causes us to perform better in job interviews, and generally configures our brains to cope well in stressful situations. In short, as David Brooks summarized the findings, “If you act powerfully, you will begin to think powerfully.”

And her TED talk, with a somewhat moving ending.

Her research was actually to have subjects assume “big body language” poses for two minutes prior to an interview or some other high-value situation.  Those who struck the poses “scored higher” (kudos from the interviewer, job offers, whatever) than the control group.

For my purposes, I’ve adapted this idea to have two minutes of Big Body Language every morning.  Which I’ve been doing for the eight days of February so far.

Professor Cuddy studies Any pose that expands your body territory is legit: hiking out arms and legs, standing with hands on hips and legs spread (the “Wonder Woman” pose, as Cuddy calls it).

The photos here show Sarkozy looking Big while Merkel looks Small.  Her head is tucked in on the right, her hand beneath Sarkozy’s.  His hand is extended toward her, impinging past “neutral” space, as does his exuberant hug on the left versus her vague gesture of fending him off.

This power pose, called

Of course, no Big Body Language photo shoot would be complete without the Master.

Results?  Nothing much so far, but the month is young.

Next I will start using Big Body Language in meetings, expanding out my space instead of tucking in to accommodate others.

Stay tuned…

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Four Interventions for February

Here are the four new practices I’m going to add to my life – or attempt to add to my life – during February.  I’ll say more about each in subsequent posts (I plan to post 3x/week btw, and fine tune if that’s too often or too infrequent).

  1. Big Body Language.  There is some evidence that simply increasing the size of your body language (in the same way that peacock spreads its tail or a dog raises the hair on its neck) increases your chutzpah.  This is the “get down on your knees and move your lips in prayer and you will start to believe in G-d” school of behavior change.
  2. Do What You’re Afraid Of.  As we will explore, there’s an intimate connection between chutzpah and fear.  Actually, for February, I’ll try not (yet) to do what I’m afraid of but simply to be aware of what I’m afraid of.  Start small but steady.
  3. Dare to Fawn.  Seems like an oxymoron on the surface, but I believe that deliberate fawning is a tool of chutzpah growth.  More soon.
  4. Associate with people who have Chutzpah.  You are who you associate with, or so the story goes.  Don’t lurk in the shadows with the chutzpah-poor.  Get out in the floodlights with the chutzpah crowd.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Asserting that Chutzpah is a Virtue, not a Vice

Chutzpah has gotten a bad name.  Merriam-Webster online describes it as “supreme self-confidence”, which sounds good, but then “nerve, gall”, which does not.  Urban Dictionary, in character, calls it “unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall”.  Not good press.

Aristotle famously defined courage as the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness, both demarcating its edges and establishing a general principle that virtue is a moderation between extremes.

Pirke Avot, a section of the Jewish Talmud and (I believe) the first self-help book of all time, says: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am for myself alone, what am I?  If not now, when?”

The first clause offers scope for chutzpah as a virtue, for what else is the elemental stuff of standing for oneself if not chutzpah?

I think we are on safe ground by taking a leaf from Aristotle’s book and defining chutzpah thus:

Chutzpah is the golden mean between self-effacement and shamelessness.

That’s the row I’ll try to hoe this year.  Breaking out of self-effacement while steering clear of shamelessness.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Chutzpah Project

I’m kicking off a new project, the Chutzpah Project.

Well, I was going to kick off a new project on Jan. 1, but, like many great projects I’ve worked on over the years, it slipped.  Only by a month.

I loved Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project.  Her idea was to document – via blog and eventually book – her attempts, over a year, to get happier by trying stuff.  She drew up a list of stuff – four things a month – to try.  Things like “be physically active”, “be nice to others”, “try new things”.  She did four in January, four in February, etc.  And tried to do all 44 (11x4, if my arithmetic is correct) in December.

Of course, she didn’t succeed.  She couldn’t do everything, and some days she couldn’t do anything.  But she never gave up.  And she learned a lot about happiness along the way.

I want to do the same thing for chutzpah.  Give it a year.  Try four things a month.  Maybe even try 44 things in January 2014 (which will be a year).  Document lessons learned along the way.

I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

Dan G.

(Next Post: Chutzpah Redefined, Rescued from its Detractors)