How Either/Or Thinking is Killing Us

Leaders, listen up: Have you ever heard the improv maxim, “Yes, and….?”

In my work researching, writing, and speaking to audiences about the power of empathy, a magnet has pulled me to one notion that gets in the way in almost every dysfunctional workplace or societal conversation.

Let me explain…

Our brains seem to defend us – yet often hold us back – due to cognitive dissonance.

From the article cited above:

The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people are averse to inconsistencies within their own minds. It offers one explanation for why people sometimes make an effort to adjust their thinking when their own thoughts, words, or behaviors seem to clash with each other.

Put simply, it is less distressing to us to hold one single view in our thinking. We want this one thing to be true OR this one other thing, but we refuse to believe they can possibly be both.  We crave simplicity.

But life is not always that simple. Others see things differently based on their own experiences, worldviews, philosophies, and personalities. 

Call it either/or thinking or binary thinking. Any way you slice it, this approach can lead to division, stress, mental health crises, families being ripped apart, and the destruction of our planet. Not to mention how it stifles creativity, innovation, and collaboration at work.

The either/or approach to leadership and relationships is broken. It got us into our current mess. It’s not working for us.

As leadership paradigms shift in the new era of work and as society demands more collaboration for its own survival, we are called to embrace dialectics

To simplify, dialectics is understanding that we can hold two seemingly contradictory things to be true at the SAME TIME.

We can be empathetic and high-performing.

We can be compassionate and competitive.

We can be kind and ambitious.

We can be empathetic leaders and still make tough business decisions.

We can care about our people and still hold our personal boundaries.

We can be stewards of the environment and still reap financial rewards.

We can turn to alternative energy and reskill our people.

We can marry purpose with profit.

We can deliver great results and do right by our teams.

And when we extrapolate this out to our lives outside of work….

We can disagree and love each other.

We can care deeply and have to let go.

We can care about the collective and also prosper individually.

We can enjoy nice things and still be good to the environment.

We can be gentle but still get our point across.

We can guide behavior without abuse or shame.

We can both be right. Now, the question is, how will we move forward?

In our world and workplaces today, it no longer serves us to focus on either/or thinking. We must embrace BOTH/AND.

Think about all the innovations your organization is missing out on because your leaders are clinging to command and control leadership. Never leave the door open to new perspectives, insights, information, or possibilities.

We have the capacity to hold two things to be true at the same time. It just may take practice.

For your organization, and for our world, it’s time we embrace the power of BOTH/AND. Abundant, inclusive, both/and thinking will get us out of our current dysfunction.  Are you ready to see what’s possible?!

Photo Credit: Fly D on Unsplash

3 Leadership and Innovation Lessons from 50 Empathy Interviews

50 EPISODES! I’ve now recorded 50 episodes of The Empathy Edge Podcast and have learned so much from these inspiring leaders, changemakers, and rockstars. 

This podcast was a way for me to continue my research and my own learnings about empathy in action after I was done writing the book. And man, I’m so glad I am doing this! If you’ve been listening, you’ve heard from CEO’s, CMO’s, communications experts, and even social entrepreneurs about how they are puytting empathy to work in their business models and reaping the rewards.

Here are 3 inspiring lessons that my guests have shared with us about empathy’s role in our work and society (Tweet This!)

  1. Innovation can’t happen without optimism: The need for optimism is vital to social change but also innovation and advancement. I’ve spoken with leaders toiling away at redefining success in our workplaces and broader culture – and taking a long term view. It would be so easy to say they are dreaming or “It will never happen” but they are  committed to seeing it through. They are hacking away at it and succeeding –  and that is what it takes to ignite change.

Episodes to check out:

Susanna Camp and Jonathan Littman: What’s Your Entrepreneurial Type?
Kara Goldin: Undaunted Leadership
Ian Bently: Conscious Consumerism Meets Conscious Brands for the Win

  1. People-First leadership is not a passing fad: So many inspiring stories with real ROI and business success. We are no longer lacking models – we just have to elevate the people doing this and having success so this can quickly become the norm. Most management models are outdated and actually hinder success in the modern era.

Episodes to check out:

Rebecca Friese: How to Build a “Good” Culture
Susan Hunt Stevens: The ROI of Psychological Safety
Scott Burns: 5 Workplace Concepts That Won’t Exist in 5 Years
Jay Baer: How Empathy Gets Your Customers Talking

  1. We can all do more: If anything, the guests I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing inspire me and my listeners to find their niche and DO MORE. Whether they are launching social enterprises, mdoeling empathy in their own organizations, or tackling systemic racism, they are taking steps. There’s enough work to be done to close the empathy gap. Find your passion and attack it from there.

Episodes to check out:

M.E. Hart: How to Bridge Divisions by Embracing Our Common Humanity
Gabrielle Thomas: Using Your Voice and Platform to Impact Change
Karen Catlin: How to be a Real Ally
Terri Givens: Radical Empathy to Bridge Racial Divides
Elisa Camahort Page: The Art of Empathy in Politics, Activism and Media BS

If you haven’t yet, you’re invited to check out The Empathy Edge podcast!

Soak up the insights and inspiration while you work out, fold laundry, or take a daily walk. Please subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or Google.  (And kindly leave an honest review if you’re able!)

Have podcast suggestions for future guests, format, or topics? Would love to hear from you!

Photo Credit: Becca Henry

Why a Brand Project is a Transformation Project

A Brand Project is a Transformation Project

What can management consulting teach you about brand strategy work?  


My very first post-college job was as a change management consultant for a large consulting firm. My job was to equip people and teams at Fortune 1000 companies to adopt big changes, whether that was a new system implementation, workflow, or organizational structure. 

All of these projects had one thing in common: They transformed the company and the jobs of the people in that company. On the human level, they transformed how people thought of their jobs, their skills…and how they saw themselves. 

We dealt with the gamut of human emotion: Anger, fear, worry, excitement. Change brings that out in people. As diverse as humans are, they will all react differently to major change. 

Nothing could have equipped me better for my work as a brand strategist. 

Let’s be clear: A brand strategy and messaging project, whether to create a new brand or revamp an existing one, is a transformation project.  (Tweet this!)

Clients come to me because they know they need a change of some kind. In sales and marketing message. In reputation. In customer base. In market position. And change, of course, excites some people, worries and confuses others, and angers a few more. 

There are many brand strategists who come at this work purely from a marketing angle. “This is about your marketplace reputation and simply how you look and talk.” Yes, partly true. But it’s also about how you ACT as an organization. 

For going on 13 years now, I have brought diverse groups of leaders (at all levels) together in a room to hold an all-day brand strategy workshop. Some are psyched the company is finally “doing something” about their brand and lack of clarity in message. Others just want to pop off about how marketing sucks. Still others don’t quite understand why they are in the room. 

And then…magic. 

I must admit, when I first started this work, I wasn’t sure how my process was going to fly. What if I couldn’t wrangle the voices or disagreement? What if no one completed the pre-work? What if no one spoke up? What if EVERYONE spoke up? What if at the end of the day, we still had no consensus, and everyone left not only dejected but pissed they’d wasted their time? 

Turns out, there was nothing to fear and everything to gain. 

Because I have found in my proven brand strategy process, that when you bring these diverse voices together (after prepping with some crucial pre-work) to hit them directly in the face with their strengths and red flags; when you force them to hear each other and respect the vantage point each one has of the company and its customers; when you allow “non-marketers’ to express what customers ask for and how they think the company solves problems; when you get the founder or CEO to vulnerably riff on the impact and legacy she or he hopes the company will have on the world (in a way many of them hear for the very first time), there is no other word to describe it but magic

Why? How? It’s partly a forced exercise in empathy. Partly making people take a chunk of time away from daily firefighting to think ABOUT the business. And partly deft facilitation and dot-connecting. But not just on our part, but on how they step up to do the same.  Often the ground-breaking phrase or big idea comes from a heated moment of debate, shouted out by one of my clients, not me. (Instigating and provoking, when used for good, are two of my superpowers.

Together, these people transform perceptions and prejudices of each other. Yes, marketing cares about driving sales. Yes, engineering has an eloquent and inventive way to describe the product (and often, some pretty creative marketing campaign ideas). Yes, HR is actually a strategic business driver because they bring in and nurture the most important aspect that drives our growth: Our talent, our people, our brand ambassadors. 

A brand strategy and story is not just a marketing exercise, but a company-wide transformation exercise. It attracts the right customers with clarity and conviction. It inspires them to want to join in. It inspires us as employees by giving us purpose. And in almost all cases, it ignites serious discussion on how operations, policies, hiring, even product design needs to change, if everyone wants to live up to that articulated new brand story. 

One of the best compliments of my career was from the CEO of a tech company. He said our brand strategy work did not simply result in a new product name, message and look and feel for the company. It forced the leadership to have core strategic conversations. He relayed that the project helped them change the way they talk – internally and externally – and would help them achieve their ambitious corporate vision and goals. That’s transformation and it’s way more than a new logo. 

Brand strategy, true brand strategy and story crafting, is not just about cute taglines, logos, or ads. It’s about transforming the way employees see their work, the company sees its purpose, and customers engage and clamor to be an important part in that story. 

Ready to transform? Take a look at what we can do together and let’s have a conversation about your goals to see if this is the right fit. 

Photo Credit: Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Innovation Builds on What Comes Before

What do you think of when you think of innovation? 

Do you picture a think tank of experts, crammed into a meeting room with Post-it notes on the wall, formulas on a white board, leftover pizza boxes strewn about, and crazy ideas flying back and forth? 

When we think of innovation in that way, it can seem daunting. What if I go into a room to innovate and come out with nothing? How long will this take? How do I spend time on this while running my business? 

The reality is that many innovations occur when we borrow and build upon what’s already there. What has come before. And we make it better. We find new uses for it. We slightly tinker with it to make it fit a brand new customer, market, or purpose. 

I’m a huge fan of not reinventing the wheel. Like, ever. Sure, inventing something completely unheard of is amazing (iPhone, Tesla, ride sharing, anyone?).  

But not all of us are wired this way. While, I’m rapid-fire white-space thinking and can come up with new, crazy ideas with the best of them, I am also someone who excels at reacting to something first and then finding all the ways to make it better.  I’m also good at seeing what’s there and connecting the dots that no one else sees. 

Are you like this? 

If you are, cool. Embrace it. Understand that this is a skill and it makes you more efficient at adapting and evolving.  

When there is no need to reinvent the wheel, don’t. Simply improve it. (TWEET THIS!)

A past marketing VP of mine used to call this “Stealing with pride.” Not quite plagiarism, but if you see a company or team doing something great, learn from it. Adapt it to your own purpose, voice, data. Don’t “rip it off” but build upon it. 

In my inbox, lives a little folder called “Good Marketing Funnels.” This is where I save any email campaigns that resonate with me. Maybe I loved the brevity. Maybe the call to action was irresistible. Maybe I liked the way they wove the story across multiple emails. 

Often, I use these as inspiration instead of starting from scratch. But I make them mine. And I make them even better. 

Use your resources. Learn from those who’ve mastered things. See what others in your industry are doingNot to make yourself feel bad or get jealous. But analyze the ideas that work, make them your own and make them better. 

Consider it a more efficient way to innovate! 

Want to borrow some great marketing ideas, powerful sales email templates, and proposed blog post topics to take and customize for your own brand so you can boost business? Check out my digital program, MOMENTUM Pro and get all the goods!  

Photo Credit: Photo by Alessandra Caretto on Unsplash

How You Can Look At Innovation

While all the talk of “pivoting” these days is turning into a drinking game for some entrepreneurs, it’s important to remember one important thing: 

As a business owner, creator, entrepreneur, it has always been your responsibility to innovate. This is not new. 

Show me a business that never adapts, and I’ll show you an extinct business. 

Show me a leader who fails to evolve, and I’ll show you someone who’s never had a real impact. 

Many businesses big and small have shown remarkable ingenuity in how they are adapting to change. Some have gone after new markets. Some have changed their sales strategies or service delivery models. Some have reimagined their product lines. I shared some great examples here in this article on five ways to pivot and thrive

And not all of it is about “technology.” 

In fact, innovation requires more than tech. It requires humanity. Empathy. Mental space. New relationships.   (TWEET THIS!)

Wanted to revisit two classic posts from the archives with you on this important topic: 

Make space to innovate. 

When you strain and struggle, you don’t leave yourself enough space to get creative. This is why an empathetic team culture leads to more innovation: People are free from fear and pressure and can focus on creativity. They feel safe. Their heads are not full of so much extraneous junk. They are free to see things in a new way and imagine new possibilities. Years ago, life coach Danelle Dowling shared her formula for innovation: Think Less, Bitch Less, Push Less = Create More. If you need some tough love on how to get more creative, check it out. 

Times are tough. Stress is high. It’s on you as a creator to take care of yourself and make the space you need to reimagine possibilities and adapt quickly. 

Redefine innovation 

Innovation is not simply about inventing something no one has ever seen before. True, that is part of it. But can you innovate your processes, service delivery, product usage? Can you adapt how you interact with customers, how to design products, and even which markets you serve? 

And can you simply conduct business in a whole new way? Break the mold of how “things have always been done. This past post shows why redefining success IS innovative. And companies like Zoom Communications, AirBnB, and Ford are showing that empathy and compassion for employees and customers is an innovative (and profitable) way to do business. This was the entire point of my book, The Empathy Edge. The way you do business can be what sets you apart and creates a whole new standard of success. 

Want to rethink your own brand and business? Let’s chat in a 90 minute strategy session to get the juices flowing on what’s possible with what you already have to work with. 

How to be a better negotiator 

Nice guys and gals finish last. 

That has been the conventional wisdom, hasn’t it? That only sharks using cutthroat tactics can make favorable deals and negotiate effectively. 

I’m calling BS.  

Turns out, empathy is a secret weapon when it comes to negotiation and effective collaboration. And author, activist and strategic consultant Elisa Camahort Page shared with me how she learned this powerful lesson from an unlikely source: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

 Elisa knows how to successfully get what she wants, so of course, I had to sit down and talk with her about how empathy helps you negotiate deals that are mutually beneficial for both parties. 

Elisa is known as co-founder and COO of women’s media company, BlogHer. After the successful sale of that powerhouse brand, she’s now focused on speaking, writing and consulting with entrepreneurs and organizations. She co-wrote Roadmap for Revolutionaries: Resistance, Activism and Advocacy For All, a resource guide to activating around causes you care most about, which features contributions and/or endorsements by diverse activists and advocates such as Gloria Steinem,  Guy Kawasaki, Soledad O’Brien and Senator Kirsten Gellibrand (get it – it’s empowering!) 

Elisa’s thinking on this topic was triggered by an episode of her favorite cult classic TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you’re not familiar with it, she gives us a quick overview. 

So many things I think you’ll love about this energetic interview, especially: 

YouTube video

Highlights include: 

*Why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is rich with lessons in leadership and collaboration (2:23) 
*How innovators can learn to see unintended consequences and “take responsibility for the magic you create” (12:15) 
*What BlogHer taught her about mutually beneficial relationships (13:30) 
*Three things to look for in healthy relationships…and three things that can destroy partnerships (14:21) 
*Why we need to compromise and prioritize (18:30)  
*How to think about inclusivity when marketing and storytelling (20:30)  
* The easiest way to get to what someone really wants (28:21) 

Too many great Tweetables from Elisaso I’m giving you my faves! 

“Innovation + Empathy > Innovation + Efficiency” (TWEET THIS!)

“Instead of thinking about negotiation as a war, think about it as party planning. What pieces do you need in place to get this party started?” (TWEET THIS!)

“You can’t develop a bigger audience and community until you develop empathy for the people you want there” (TWEET THIS!)

Learn more about Elisa Camahort Page’s speaking and writing on her website  
Follow #RoadMap4Revs for info about the book, Roadmap for Revolutionaries 
Check out her new consulting firm, Ternstyle Group 
Discover her work with Mentor Bureau 
Connect with her on Medium, Facebook, or Twitter @elisacp 

Why hibernate?

A friend of mine recently commented that your life cycles around metaphorical seasons of growth and change. Sometimes you are in the Spring, where ideas are blossoming, seeds are being planted and animals are poking up their heads as they venture from their winter lairs. For your business, this may mean new product ideas, connecting with potential partners, planning a brand facelift.

Summer is when you’re white hot and sizzling. Everything is firing on all cylinders, you’re in the Zone, things are happening, moving, shaking. Often this means you’re in a bit of a crazy busy flurry of activity as well.

I imagine Fall to be the hravest. Maybe those connections you made at those networking events are finally bearing fruit. Maybe prospects on your email list slowly turn to buyers or clients. Maybe that press pitching you’ve been doing yields to a prime bit of ink.

And then there’s Winter. Things go underground, dormant. Shutters close and we turn inward. We slow down. We unwind. While the snow falls, the tiny perennial seeds buried in the ground take a snooze to gear up for another glorious Spring.

The cycle continues.

I’m going to be taking a few weeks this December myself to reflect on 2012, plan for 2013 and refine my goals and activity. I recommend you do this as well. I’ve blocked out planning days on my calendar for both business planning and content planning. This year has been amazing: new book, new digital course for entrepreneurs, new clients. Now, I need to breathe and take some time to plot the course for 2013.

Without giving yourself the time and space for creative thinking, innovation is just a buzzword and not a part of your brand.

Photo credit:

How will you recharge and plan for 2013? Please Share in the Comments! One great way would be to check out my new Indie Brand Bootcamp to gain the focus, clarity and confidence you need to make all the right marketing moves this year. Use code LAUNCHSPECIAL for $50 savings. Hurrah!

Innovation Recipe: Think Less + Bitch Less = Create More

Innovation Recipe: Think Less + Bitch Less = Create More

You won’t get to marketing innovation with rules, mandates, 25 must-do exercises or management rah-rah sessions. We need to innovate on an individual level before we can contribute to the team before we can contribute to the company before we can contribute to our customers and the world. A culture of innovation can be encouraged top-down but it needs to also build from the individual-up.

Today’s guest post is from Danielle Dowling, a Los Angeles life coach who is an author, relationship expert and spiritual ass-kicker (love that). She is eloquent. She is poetic. And most importantly, she’s right. Read on…

Think less.
Bitch less.
Push less.
+ create more. (TWEET THIS!)

The universe responds to your diligence
but it also responds to your joy.

Consider when it’s time to pull back.
Not, by the way, to be confused with letting go.

“Easing up” is taking your foot off the gas.  Just a tad.
It’s 45 miles an hour, not 60.  A 5K run instead of a 10K.

Recognize when it’s time to loosen up and when it’s time to go harder.
Notice that voice that says:  “I don’t want to work so much today.”
“I need simplicity + quiet.”  “I need to hit the snooze button.”

At some point the relentless pushing will need to stop
or at least be put on pause.
Because there will always, always be more work to do.
And that won’t stop.

Consider slowing down and letting progress + contentment come to you.
We think the world spins on its axis because of our own aggressive participation.
But what if we ceased participating so fiercely?

We think if we slow down, progress will come to a stop.
But have you tried?

Observe what happens.
Contrary to popular belief, pulling back does not mean you will have to go without.
Slowing down the machine that is you does not mean you have to expect less in return.

Traffic doesn’t screech to a halt.
Planes do not fall from the sky.
You don’t gain seven pounds.
Your business pulses vigorously along.
And friends and family are happy to wait an extra 24 hours to speak to you.

In fact, easing up may usher in the next wave of
+ deep breaths that preempt innovation.

And it just feels ‘effing good to take a break once in awhile.
Ease up on yourself, but don’t minimize your dreams.
The cosmos will help you make your magic happen.

So take a break.
Make space for the seed of your efforts to bloom.
Know that the universe has your back on this one.

We all do.

A good question to ask:

What makes you your “most innovative” in business and life? What do you do to tap into creativity?

About Danielle: Danielle Dowling, M.A., who is an author, relationship expert and spiritual ass-kicker (love that). She is an intuitive strategist who works with women leaders who are ready to stop comprising on the things that matter most — soulful companionship, meaningful sex, sisterhood and above all, self-love. An expert all things love-related, Danielle is also available for speaking engagements, radio/telephone/skype interviews and other media appearances. So if you’re seeking fully-realized potential, legendary love or effortless communication befriend her on Instagram or Facebook and pop by her site for regular doses of rapid fire wisdom.

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Are you walking only “on the left?”

My precocious Black Lab mix, Eddie, can be a handful. With his deep chocolate eyes, he stares into your soul thinking he can make you give him a treat or rub his belly. OK, truth be told, it usually works.

But we have him fairly well-trained. One of the things we did with him immediately upon adopting him from the shelter was take control of the walk. This invoves keeping him on a short leash, always on our left side, until it becomes second-nature. Continue reading “Are you walking only “on the left?””