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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)