Saturday, August 8, 2009

Collaboration with Carson

I find it very comforting to know how collaborative human beings are. We enter this world completely alone on an individual journey and we leave completely alone on a similar individual journey. Between those two primal events, we live our lives.

During the course of our lives we are continuously affected by others. We travel along a path with specific people for the predominance of our lives, while others touch us for mere instances. The great part is that everyone creates an effect. My 4-year-old son has taught me to look at these effects differently.

Carson loves apple juice. My two older daughters loved grape juice at his age, but he’s been a fan of apple juice since he was a toddler. We are a frugal family so we buy juice in the frozen concentrate containers and make it ourselves in this really cool pitcher. The pitcher has a handle on the top of the cover that can be pulled up and pushed down in a plunger motion. The insert attached moves up and down inside the juice container creating a swirling affect and mixing the juice. It’s one of those great inventions I wish I had created.

Ever since Carson was big enough to hold the empty container, he’s wanted to make the juice himself. He pulls his stool up to the freezer door, pulls down a frozen juice container and sets it on the kitchen island to thaw. For the next 30 minutes he asks, “Is it ready yet Dad? Is it ready yet? Is it ready yet? How about now? Is it ready now?” He’s learning patience.

Once it’s ready, Carson puts the pitcher on the table and opens up the juice container. He pours the concentrate into the pitcher, and then fills the now empty juice container with water from the faucet. He dumps the water into the pitcher with the concentrate and repeats this until the pitcher is full.

“It’s done Dad; oh wait. It needs just a little more,” he states with excitement, his little eyes wide open and focused on the next bit of water trying to ensure he doesn’t spill any.

When the container is finally filled to his satisfaction, I put the top on that has the little plunger part. “Can I do it Dad?” Carson begs.

“You bet.” He pulls the plunger up and down watching the water and juice mix together with bubbles and splashes of golden light mixing as well.

I think the enjoyment of making the juice is more satisfying to him than actually drinking it. I enjoy the process and the time with him. But as he enjoys the achievement gaining responsibility and having fun, I enjoy the lesson.

As we pour the water from the juice container into the pitcher of juice, I watch the two components interact and mix. I notice that once the water from the container is poured into the pitcher, there is no way to separate the water out again. Surely, you can evaporate the water and see the remains like the old grade school science project of mixing sugar and water then letting it evaporate with a string in the mix. The string becomes caked with sugar once the water has evaporated.

What I mean is that you cannot pour the contents of the pitcher back into the juice container and get out the exact water molecules and only those molecules that you just poured into the pitcher. Once water from a cup is poured into other water, it cannot be separated. Even if you pour colored water into a clear water pitcher, you cannot extract the exact colored water again. You can see the separate colors but you cannot dip the cup back in and pull out only the colored water. It mixes instantaneously and cannot be extracted. That’s what collaboration and networking are about.

Throughout our lives we ‘mix’ with many people. We do this intentionally at times and seemingly by accident at other times. We never really know what that other person has to teach us, but whatever it is, we find that we are never the same again. We cannot be. Just like the water cannot be separated, we cannot pull out the lesson or the memory of that instance. We can avoid it, try to forget it, but our subconscious, powerful minds will store that and keep it with us. We cannot reach in and pull the memory out like we can delete the page from our computers. Learning to leverage the collaboration process is one mark of successful people.

As we mix with others, we can add too much of ourselves and try to dominate them. We can add too little and not provide the benefit they need and we have in abundance. We can mix the wrong way – too violently or too passively – causing the messages to be missed. Then there are the wonderful moments when we mix exquisitely with another and teach both an incredible lesson. I have been fortunate to mix just that way recently with many new teachers.

Every time I make juice or just pour a glass of water, I will think about all the people I will meet today who will become a part of my life. I will think about how I will become a part of their lives. And I’ll think about how I will win the lottery with how we will mix.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Savannah who?

Once a year in the summer, my wife’s sister takes her 3 children on a 15-hour drive from Arkansas to Green Bay, Wisconsin to visit us. The family stays for about 2 weeks sharing time and fun with all of our kids. The event allows all 13 cousins to spend some quality time playing, camping, water skiing and generally getting reacquainted. For the adults, it’s a 2-week family reunion that provides a break from the Johnson’s absence before their whole family (including their dad) travel back for the Christmas holiday. This summer’s trip was no exception.

With all the fun and activities going on, I was provided some neat insight from one of the seemingly forgettable events. It happened during a routine phone conversation with my sister-in-law; a call that normally would be quickly dismissed as a humorous error.

While the four sisters in my wife’s family were making plans for the events we would all participate in, I was home getting my twin boys to sleep. A phone call interrupted the boys’ bottle time. I answered with the usual hello followed by, “I am great. How are you?” By the sound of her voice, I could tell the caller was my wife’s twin sister Kelly.

She quickly got to the point of the call stating, “We are planning for the week and want to know what Savannah’s schedule is.”

It was a seemingly simple and earnest question; however, neither of my daughters’ names are Savannah. Kelly had mistakenly called my house when she intended to call her other sister Brenda, who happens to be the mother of Savannah. Not a big deal. We had a quick laugh and ended the call. What continued to intrigue me for several days was the pattern of thought that my mind went through in an instant of hesitation after Kelly posted the question.

I first examined the name Savannah to determine if I had heard her correctly. Next I reviewed the voice to determine if I had mistaken Kelly for my wife Tracy. Finally, I reviewed why she might be asking me about Savannah before clarifying with her what she asked. That seems pretty normal and simple. Now review the details of what my mind went through all in the split-second hesitation between the acts of hearing “Savannah” and responding verbally to Kelly.

My mind raced through all the names of my children – Lauren, Megan, Carson, Aiden, Owen – and my wife’s name, Tracy. This was to determine if any of those names rhymed with Savannah. If they rhymed, maybe I misheard her. None of those names rhymed with or resembled Savannah, so I didn’t misinterpret the name.

Then I recalled other names stretching beyond my immediate family thinking that Kelly might know the group I generally meet with – Kevin, Rob, Emily, Carl, Natalie, but none of those names resembled Savannah either. Satisfied that I had confirmed I heard Kelly correctly, my focus switched to who was asking the question.

I replayed the recording of the question in my mind to verify whether this was Kelly asking or my wife, Tracy. (Why that was important, I don’t know. Some other part of my mind was in control.) It took about 2 reviews before I determined it was indeed Kelly.

I then looked for logical reasons as to why she would be asking me about someone else’s daughter. “Did she think I had talked with Brenda or James? Did she think my wife was home and I would turn and ask her the question? Did we talk about this earlier at her mother’s house?” No was the conclusion to each of the questions.

Satisfied that I had no logical reason for being asked this question, I asked, “Who?” And when Kelly repeated the name Savannah, I said who I was and Kelly realized her mistake. We had our quick laugh.

The insight I got was on how quickly our minds’ relational database zips through all possible scenarios trying to make reason of a situation; even one that is a clear mistake. It likely takes 10-12 seconds to read through all the possibilities, but our brains on auto-pilot will conclude the task almost instantaneously. The more amazing part is that it seems to happen in an involuntary way. I didn’t stop and ask myself all those questions as though I was in an interview. Some part of my brain just reacted – like one of those on-line search engines that just miraculously pops the correct result. It reinforced to me the incredible power our brains possess.

The question for me now is how can I better condition and use that power to continue helping others in a greater and greater manner?