These are some of the inspiring stories of smart people who have gone through The StillPoint Experience. All were at a point where they needed fresh thinking and clarity to move themselves and their enterprises forward. These tales chronicle their journeys.
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“StillPoint taught me that I wasn’t as focused as I should be. When I focused more, my vision became clearer.”
The Power of Vision: A Storyteller Finds His Way Back to Writing Through Focus
After years as a professional weaver of tales at some of the world’s largest PR and marketing agencies, Aaron Heinrich stepped away, started his own brand agency and stumbled when the economy soured. The Stillpoint Experience taught him to refine his vision. The result? He focused more on writing, righted his company, and made himself a happy man.
Artist and master puppeteer Jim Henson once had a charming British TV show about a gentleman whose gift was storytelling. The man sat all day in front of a fireplace telling stories to his puppet dog, who, in Henson’s world, spoke like a human. Every day another blazing fire; every day another tale. It gave the storyteller several lifetimes worth of diversion and peace. But most of all, it made him happy. So that’s what he did, even if Henson’s less benevolent puppets did their best to draw the storyteller away. In the end, he told stories and he was happy.
Aaron Heinrich would have no trouble seeing the truths in this yarn. A San Francisco Bay Area storyteller and brand strategist, he’s a natural-born weaver of tales who has done so for some of the largest public relations and marketing agencies in the world, either as senior manager or project leader. He did this for decades and became an award-winning marketing communications executive.
He was happy telling stories this way, but eventually, he felt the need for “more control over my own destiny.” In short, he wanted to do more writing, notably on things he was passionate about. “My mission was to be able to continue writing in some way. I had been beating my head against the wall,” he says. He also needed to do something tangible for himself, he says, and Heinrich, a man in his 50s, bought himself a Victory motorcycle. That was a good day.
In 2013, he started his own company, Big Brand Theory, to tell clients’ stories, both to the world and to their own employees. The first year, the company did “really well,” he says, then “things slowed down.” He tried to kick-start the company but found that “when the economy picks up, people hire in rather than out.” It was more cost-effective for them to do so.
About a year later, in 2014, he started his own online magazine, Asphalt & Dirt, a passion project about the motorcycle lifestyle and “people who ride, race and even build motorcycles.” The magazine has yet to make money, but, ah well, from the beginning he loved it.
Heinrich knew Lisa Arie and explained that his business was stumbling. She suggested he go through The StillPoint Experience to help him clarify his thinking and gain traction.
He did it twice, each time finding his balance point was his vision for himself and his company. Even so, he excelled at it, just as he did for every other character trait that supports success. To put it more plainly, vision was a 1 percent problem on a scale of 100. “Lisa told me this was the difference between a really good athlete and an Olympic athlete. That 1 percent is as hard to do as someone who does 50 percent.”
He worked on honing his vision. “I wasn’t as focused as I should be. When I focused more, my vision became clearer. I needed to align with everything else in my character. It was a kind of balance. When you’re aiming at alignment, as you do in high tech, you fight to keep the wheels on the road.”
After StillPoint, Heinrich focused on a couple of strategies. “Within a day or two, people were calling me to do some writing for them. I had run agencies, parts of agencies, projects at agencies. Some of the biggest. But now I was focusing more on the writing,” he says.
The StillPoint Experience had awakened a new metacognition [an extreme self-awareness] and a new perspective that led to new opportunities. An epiphany had opened his eyes: “I’m going in a slightly different direction now with more upside. I’m focusing as much on the writing as on the brand elements. We may have started out too big. We were probably proposing more than [clients] could actually afford.
“As I was going through the 21-day period [with mental and written exercises that reinforce the lessons of the initial assessment], people referred me to places where I was given a lot of projects to do. One place [handed me] three new projects. …A couple of these projects involve more writing and may grow into something bigger. I had been reacting as I would have at an agency. Now, I have to remember that patience is a virtue,” Heinrich says.
Overall, he says, [Big Brand Theory] will do well this year. …I’ve kept the faith, especially from a writing standpoint. My wife [who works with him] tells me I don’t give myself the credit I should. I’m good at expressing strategy and connecting the dots. I stalled because I was trying to force things to happen when what I needed to do was let go and let them happen. I think there is something about going with the flow.”
In parallel, Heinrich is writing more than ever for Asphalt & Dirt, which gives him pure writer’s joy, and he’s still riding the roads on his Victory.
“I’m clearer now and stressing less. I’m more fulfilled than I’ve ever been, and I owe a lot of that to StillPoint,” he says. There’s something priceless about a tool than can help you focus your energy for the best possible outcome.”
“The StillPoint Experience has introduced balance to my life. Before this, imbalance was taking over my world.”
The Power of Vision: A Cerebral Academic Learned to Lean in and Changed His World
For most of Charles Neddermeyer’s life, he has believed in the power of the brain and knowledge. It’s been a fortunate perspective for a veteran of 17 years as a teacher, first in the high schools of gritty Detroit blue-collar neighborhoods, then in the civilized independent middle schools of Michigan and California. But it wouldn’t be enough for a lifetime of happiness, even though teaching, for him, “was always something so essential.”
For most of Charles Neddermeyer’s life, he has believed in the power of the brain and knowledge. It’s been a fortunate perspective for a veteran of 17 years as a teacher, first in the high schools of gritty Detroit blue-collar neighborhoods, then in the civilized independent middle schools of Michigan and California. But it wouldn’t be enough for a lifetime of happiness, even though teaching, for him, “was always something so essential.”
Neddermeyer comes from a family of teachers, who inspired him to enter the field he loves. In the beginning, he devoted his graduate work in Michigan and abroad to the subject. When he became a teacher nearly two decades ago, he gravitated toward social studies. But his passion was global studies including fields such as environmental sustainability, global connectedness and women’s issues, and that’s what he’s invested in as a teacher.
Right now, he teaches a seventh-grade Global Studies course at The Buckley School, a highly regarded coeducational independent school in Sherman Oaks, California, but he also gets involved with the students, working as an adviser for Buckley’s Multicultural Inclusion Group with students from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.
Neddermeyer has long been on a path that explores global enlightenment. It has made him a man with a passion to impart big ideas that engage young minds. “When you’re teaching kids great ideas, hopefully it does change the world; hopefully it does generate more love and understanding from a global perspective.”
His students, who affectionately call him “Neddy,” seem to appreciate his commitment to them. “As I get older and more refined in the craft, I hear from so many more students who are happy to boast of their success in the broader global community,” Neddermeyer says.
His sense of mission, the students and a brimming social life appeared to keep him happy for years. Then a wrenching event in his personal life put him in a deep funk. Two years on, Neddermeyer still couldn’t find a way to move forward.
A friend—Alfonso Montiel—told him he had the perfect person to help him regain his footing. Montiel had gone to Vista Caballo, a remote ranch in Colorado where Lisa Arie had established an exclusive executive learning center for top-tier businesspeople. Montiel went through a private Vista Caballo Experience and told Neddermeyer that she had opened his heart, his mind and his perspective. Montiel was so grateful, and he prompted Neddermeyer to reach out to her.
Arie suggested The StillPoint Discovery Experience. Neddermeyer did the evaluations online and the subsequent 21 days of follow-up exercises. He engaged in “intense discussions” with Arie. She understood very quickly what was holding him back.
“She helped me understand that I needed to [recalibrate] my vision…and helped me recognize that I’m kind of very cerebrally based, and it’s very difficult for me to let my heart lead.” That was the key that would allow this master schoolteacher to engage more fully with students, colleagues and parents. He opened up and felt zero stress about doing so. It felt so natural.
“Before this, my relationships with other people were very surface. After doing The StillPoint, I recognized within myself a more balanced, less-guarded approach. Before, I had blinders on and wasn’t seeing to the side, the left and the right. Now, if what I see is uncomfortable, that’s OK because I feel capable of handling it.”
The upshot: He experienced a major change of perspective that has filtered into every aspect of his life. “My students ask me, ‘How can you be so calm, so at ease?’ Certainly after StillPoint, I’ve taken what Lisa has guided me toward understanding and used that in my meetings with the administration at school, discussions with parents, talks with small and large groups.
At first, Neddermeyer resisted. Lisa advised him to “give it a few days and see what happens.” He did, and what unfolded was an upheaval in Neddermeyer’s vision of himself and his world.
Has The StillPoint Experience improved his life? “I know it has. It’s changed the way I communicate with [students’] parents, with my family members, with people who come in and out of my life. I’ve encouraged friends to go through StillPoint. Professionally, I feel more centered. And in my private life, I’ve been able to begin a new relationship. After doing StillPoint, I can take a more honest and open approach and share my feelings. It’s really lovely.
“Overall, Lisa’s program has introduced balance to my life. Before this, imbalance was taking over my world. I’ve been comfortable letting the things I placed so much unnatural importance on go to the side. They’re still important, but my job, my family and taking care of myself are also important, maybe because I have a broader perspective.”
The StillPoint Experience has also made him happier. “I didn’t think of myself as an unhappy man before. But I’ve since recognized myself as being broadly unhappy before having this experience. Lisa’s program allows you to explore what makes you happier, not only in those brainiac things, but in personal relationships, too.”
“The StillPoint Experience should be used by anyone who wants to make the leap to conscious leadership and living a rich multidimensional life powered by love.”
The Power of Receptivity: An Innovator Learns to Trust Differences and Be More Receptive
After an athlete goes through years of debilitating chronic illness and keeps her mind open to unconventional mind-body treatments, she realizes even she could be more receptive.
Tara Sheahan is a former East Coast athlete, a one-time marketing VP and PR executive, the former wife of retired Patagonia CEO Casey Sheahan and the mother of two grown sons. She’s also a survivor of some harsh life’s trials. Today, she’s thriving and transformed.
This Colorado native now lives amid the serene cottonwoods, red earth and wild horses of her home 45 minutes outside Aspen, where she runs her own Conscious Global Leadership organization. Through it, she teaches some of what has healed her over the years—mindfulness, meditation and Eastern-inspired breathing techniques—to businesses, groups and individuals.
It has been a long road for her, one that inspires observers with her tenacity to ask the big questions and search for answers. Sheahan was always a high achiever, but much of that disappeared in 1996, when one of nature’s smallest creatures, a tick, bit her and changed her life. Her doctors in Vermont misdiagnosed her and didn’t treat what was later identified as Lyme disease, which requires speedy treatment to forestall agonizing symptoms and ensure full recovery. In the months that followed, she went through a period of unspeakable pain in her back and extremities, pain in her hands so tremendous they were put in removable casts, dementia, forgetting her own children’s names.
“It incapacitated me,” she says. “I had to let go of the hope of doing some things again—being an athlete, a perfect mom, an ideal wife. Eventually, I let go of everything. Everything but love. Then a shift happened. I went out one night and said, ‘If there’s a god, please help me. If I let go of everything but love, I’ll accept being in a wheelchair.’ When I let go of the things that had defined me, there was a sense of relief. When [American spiritual teacher] Ram Dass had a stroke and couldn’t do anything, he called it fierce grace. The idea was not to struggle, to let it happen. This way, you’re not a victim or a martyr. You see a beauty, a grace in what’s happening.”
Sheahan began to design a life that supported her “from the inside out,” and she asked the bigger question: “Why am I sick?” she says. In early 1997, she sought out one of the country’s premier Lyme disease doctors in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, who spent a long time combing through her medical history. He diagnosed Lyme disease, and her physical recovery began.
“I took massive amounts of antibiotics, and I got better, but I was still hobbling in 1998. Then a friend recommended that I get tested for a parasitic creature the tick may have been carrying. The test was positive, and I was treated with heavy-duty drugs they give to AIDs patients. Again, I had a bump in recuperation. But those drugs kill everything, and I got candida.
“At this point, I began to change my inner life to fight the outside world’s programming of self-loathing, ego and conditioned behavior. I read Dr. John Sarno’s book, The Mindbody Prescription, which explains that every time we have a negative thought, it activates cortisol; this is acidic and creates a physical imbalance. We just start to wear ourselves out, and that breaks everything down.
“To deal with that, I followed a regime of holistic healing, acupuncture, naturopathic and homeopathic medicine and mind-body conditioning helped by meditation. “With everything I learned, I began to feel much better in 2000,” she says.
Then misfortune struck again. She got an ovarian tumor and couldn’t eat. “I got really, really thin,” she says. “They took out the tumor, along with all my reproductive organs. All that nervousness and all that anxiety started to go away.
“I worked with a therapist to understand how a sexual trauma when I was 16 had affected me emotionally. When I looked back at this situation, I saw that my Catholic conditioning was telling me, ‘You’re just bad.’ My self-image had really suffered. But an indigenous shaman would tell me this means your soul, like a child, left your body, and you need soul retrieval. I needed to walk back to that moment in time, assuring myself I could protect myself,” she says. “Therapist Dr. Martha Susan Horton, of the Amáte Institute Aspen, would say it was a matter of growing up emotionally by looking at all the times when I didn’t feel protected or honored and returning to those moments, replaying them in deep awareness to understand the story the mind created wasn’t necessarily true.”
All this helped, and Sheahan began to flourish. After her tumor was removed, she tried out for the Olympics in cross-country skiing, which she had excelled at before falling ill. “I was off the couch in 2001, started training in 2002 and tried out in 2005. I got very fast and was beating skiers a lot younger than myself. I used Dr. John Douillard’s extraordinary protocol for natural nasal breathing while I was racing and training, which accelerated my performance,” she says.
But I was knocked out by a highly poisonous rattlesnake bite,” she recalls. She would now have to give up the dream of competing in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
It was another unbelievable blow. Sheahan, again, sought to understand the why—”why do we get sick to get well,” she wondered.
“At this point, I started becoming a student of consciousness, where we’re operating at the level of the higher emotions—contentment, love, curiosity—and accepting we have an ego that also needs to be loved. I went to India to study meditation and how to achieve wisdom and happiness at the One World Academy, [where billionaires, business leaders and thought leaders have also studied]. I discovered that businesspeople were taking what they learned there and becoming more creative, more connected,” she says.
Inspired, Sheahan launched Conscious Global Leadership with a fall 2010 event on world-transforming leadership at the prestigious Aspen Institute. She was off and running with a platform to “revolutionize the way leaders conventionally think,” she says, with a proprietary blend of “sage, science and CEO wisdom. I want to support the self-actualization of leaders, which means guiding them to trust their inner wisdom and to lead from the heart.”
Now, she partners on events with change makers like Muriel Hemmingway and Deepak Chopra. And she privately teaches and coaches organizations, schools and nonprofits. Her latest innovation is Breathelab, which teaches the neuroscience of breath. “We practice and entrain nose breathing to switch off the sympathetic fight-or-flight circuitry and turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, which has the effect of calming the mind,” she explains.
Overall, Sheahan continues to work on her own path to inner wisdom and a life lived from the heart. “Since I teach it, I have to live it and be it,” she says. So she sits for one to two hours every morning practicing meditation, yoga and breathing techniques. And earlier this year, she was handed a chance to go through The StillPoint Discovery Experience, an iterative online process that shows individuals, for one, their “balance point,” the trait that can bring their thinking—and performance—into balance. It was developed by Lisa Arie, founder of the exclusive Colorado-based Vista Caballo, which specializes in intensive custom leadership training for elite executives.
Sheahan was surprised to discover she needed to work on her receptivity. “I thought I was receptive. But after this result, I let my ego go and stopped listening to my inner voice saying that I didn’t need this tool, that I had already done so much research. ‘Shhhh! You need this,’ I told myself when I didn’t get 100 percent on everything.
“Lisa helped me navigate and understand the brain mechanics of what was happening, and the StillPoint process recommended practicing one of the specific neuroscience-based strategies that are provided to help me develop this thinking style. I chose one that asked me to do nothing for five minutes every day, and I continue to do that. It’s a remarkable tool that allows more expanded thinking. This whole experience gives something to the mind where we think in more creative ways. It made me more open to my intuition. Another exercise had me write things down that I didn’t have the answers to, and I did that. The StillPoint showed me how to hone my inner guidance to then have the confidence to answer my own questions. That was a powerful gift,” Sheahan says.
“The StillPoint Discovery Experience opened new levels of creativity in me. It helped me actualize my goals. It improved my ability to strengthen character traits like curiosity and acceptance, which is where receptivity comes in. I’m now more receptive to new ideas and relationships and more receptive to other people. We tend to be with people who are more like us, but we usually learn through differences. Being more receptive creates an inner flexibility and a deeper core.
“Essentially, StillPoint’s exercises open up neural pathways to stimulate whole-brain thinking. A heightened self-awareness accelerates the results,” she says. “StillPoint should be used by anyone who wants to make the leap to conscious leadership and living a rich, multidimensional life powered by love.
“The StillPoint Experience actually made me happier,” says Sheahan. “It really brought out a childlike quality in me. In learning, I used to be so hard on myself. Because of the playful way this is written, it made me more open to play. And I think play is about opening and expanding and allowing new things to drop in. Nature is laughing, in bliss. I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as humans, have nature in our spirits.”
“The StillPoint Experience doesn’t label you. It gives you another way to think.”
Are Your Dialogues One-Way Conversations? It’s Time to be More Receptive
One executive’s startling realization that she was shutting down dialogue by dominating the conversation. She stopped talking, started listening, and transformed herself and the world around her with receptivity.
Sometimes life throws you a curveball and you end up someplace totally unexpected. That’s how it was for Kassi Hanson, who found her life’s calling in a field she had never imagined loving.
Now the Associate Director of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Hanson began life in a direction that you might say was the polar opposite. “I really thought I was going into fashion,” she recalls, and that’s how she began, enrolling in Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, but after a meandering series of circumstances she turned away from a career in the arts and enrolled in the University of Utah to study economics, earning a Bachelor of Applied Science.
“I have no idea why I went into economics,” she recalls. For a long time, she was afraid she had made the wrong decision, but “in the end, I realized it was exactly the right one because I wanted to help people.” And that’s what she did, more so than ever in her current work, where she spends her days seeking solutions on the heartbreaking financial side of health care for cancer patients.
Hanson started on her path after an internship in New York, when her alma mater back in Utah hired her as a reimbursement analyst. From there, she became a manager at a major health data company, where she made a name for herself by developing “a really simple equation that had never been done for getting a lot of money in really quickly,” she explains. That helped the company develop its claims management software in a big way, and she was recruited from there into a large health insurance company to work in contracting and network relations.
That led to a position with another major health insurance provider, this time as a director of contracting and later as a regional director of network relations. It was a place where she was happy for several years. It was also where she met Lisa Arie, a leadership guru who had started the Vista Caballo advanced learning center for high-echelon executives, on a remote Colorado innovation ranch.
Hanson’s company had nominated her for a Woman of the Year award; as part of this, she was given the opportunity to go through Arie’s Vista Caballo experience, a process that helps executives find balance and helps them become more effective, clearer thinking and more humane leaders. On the ranch, participants interact with horses, who give them honest, often surprising reactions to their behavior. There are many moments of profound personal insights along the way.
As Hanson went through the Vista Caballo horse experience, she was in a group of 15 fellow executives who spent one week of every month for three months with Lisa. “It was intense because she didn’t do what I expected. We were working with horses [at a stable near headquarters]. But we had been in a corporate environment for some time, and she made us think in an entirely different way. She was talking about energy. I had been focused on fear. The horses were a really big deal. They’re magical, magical animals. In trusting them I began to trust myself. Lisa was the catalyst. She was a springboard for me to become who I am .”
Eventually, she left that company and joined the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. “Going to the cancer side was really tough, but it was something I had to do. My father-in-law had just passed away from cancer after struggling with it for 12 years, and I wanted to make more people aware [of such struggles].” Much of her job now is “helping people by negotiating rates with insurance companies for payments. I feel that people don’t talk enough about the financial part. I realized that people with cancer can be in trouble financially, and I tried to make people at the cancer center more aware of cancer victims’ financial struggles. There are lots of things that can go wrong, and it’s really a big deal. It’s heartbreaking.”
After she started with the cancer alliance, she began connecting with Arie again. The stress of dealing with cancer stories began to take a toll, and one day, Hanson sent Arie a long, rambling email. “We need to talk,” Arie replied, and they did.
“She told me if I can change my perceptions, I can change my reality,” says Hanson. “She suggested I go through The StillPoint Experience,” an online, 63-day experience. It’s one of Arie’s Vista Caballo programs that can be done remotely and helps participants find clarity and balance.
“I thought this sounded really cool and I did it,” says Hanson, “but I didn’t realize how much it would change my life.” The character trait “receptivity” bubbled up as the balance point— the trait she needed to work on. “This hit me dead on. I don’t think I would have seen this if it weren’t for The StillPoint Experience. My husband and others confirmed that I was always dead set on something. When I think about it, from childhood, I always had to be dead set on some point that I needed. I realized I was someone I didn’t recognize.
“The StillPoint Experience made me realize that I need to listen to people, to be more receptive, and I think now that I do that. It changed my life. I thought I was really easygoing. Now I understand I need to stop talking and listen. Everyone gets a turn. I usually have to dominate, and that shuts everything down. Of all the balance points, the more I dug into it, the more I realized receptivity is one of the most important,” she says.
Arie’s follow-up conversations with Hanson had a profound impact. “She’s amazing. I just adore her. Not only did she help with this, but she helped me work out a couple of other things. The StillPoint Experience doesn’t label you. It gives you another way to think, and I like that. You have to be adaptable to change and a lot of people aren’t. I want other people to have the opportunity to take part in this.” Hanson says.
The StillPoint Experience, she says, gave her more confidence. She also gained something else. “At first, I hadn’t read what I was supposed to read. I was in denial. I understood that The StillPoint is here to help me and teach me to balance my thinking. After going through the entire 21 days, I realized the experience also made me 100 percent happier. I am happier.”
These days, Kassi is on the second leg of her StillPoint journey. Her new balance point? Vision.
“I’ve changed brain pathways. I’ve changed habits. I became unstuck.”
The Power of Persistence: Staying Focused and Persistent Means a More Conscious Leader, More Productive Employees
How revelations about the value of persistence helped a longtime human resources manager bring out the best in herself and her company’s employees.
Jane Bowman Goetschius is the human resources manager at iconic Vermont-based ice cream producer Ben & Jerry’s. But in the world of that weird and wonderful company, she’s the People Mission Manager. “Titles and levels are not so important to me. What I do and the impact this has are what’s meaningful to me,” she says.
Goetschius has always preferred the essence of things over the trappings. She’s a human resources manager who is constantly striving to see the whole picture and the whole human. “I’ve forever had a sense I wanted to help people. I knew that developing human potential was important. And that’s what really led me to go into human resources,” she says. At Michigan State University, a BA in business with a minor in personnel laid the groundwork. Since then, she’s spent her entire life in a discipline that she’s found fulfilling.
The field has changed over time, but the fundamentals haven’t. “Humans are humans. You are stewarding human capital, and that doesn’t change. The tools and techniques do,” she says.
She’s been an empathetic, accessible manager, which means in every job she’s had, from Vice President of Human Resources at Goodrich to Senior Human Resources Business Partner with IBM and finally her current perch at America’s original disruptive ice cream maker, people have come to her with their problems and conflicts. “I get great satisfaction when I help or inspire someone to develop individually and when I influence the larger system and help it grow and thrive,” she says.
Goetschius was particularly moved by the experience at her second job as a human resources business partner at Unisys in Pueblo, Colorado. There, she worked with a group of employees with no prior experience in the high-tech industry and molded them into productive, self-managed work teams. “It was a fabulous job and I learned so much,” she says. It happened again at Ben & Jerry’s, where she’s been deeply affected by a whole company, from people on the board to people on the manufacturing line, that has renewed its commitment to a core company value of “linked prosperity.”
The value is emblematic of Ben & Jerry’s grassroots decision making, embodied in self-managed teams. “It’s a model here and we build on that strength,” she says. The model persisted after Unilever acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, when, to Unilever’s credit, it agreed to safeguard the company’s widely admired social mission and business model. The founder-based, entrepreneurial organization and the multinational corporation learned from each other. “Unilever brought certain processes that were essential for us to scale. We brought an entrepreneurial spirit and a social mission to Unilever. We have a very engaged workforce; people are very passionate and committed to the mission and to our success.
These are connected, open people who function with a lot of autonomy, and turnover is quite low. It’s weird and wonderful. And a good place to work,” Goetschius says.
Both experiences—at Unisys and Ben & Jerry’s—were instances of what she calls “seed planting. You grow many seeds and then turn them over to someone else to cultivate and harvest. I really enjoy growing teams and communities that are productive and performing, and I must say I believe more in strength-based organizations than in efficiency. It’s a more appreciative, more expanding way of interacting with employees and the systems impacting employees. It brings it all back down to the individual and effective processes and can be leveraged. You could call it an unlocking of energy and potential.”
Throughout her career, Goetschius has consistently “worked on” herself to develop professionally. “There’s always potential for growth, whether in my personal life or at work,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of leadership assessments and coaching, and I always have things I can work on to improve…and things I didn’t realize I did so well—I’ve been told I can be a bit hard on myself.”
Early in 2016, forward-thinking Ben & Jerry CEO Jostein Solheim presented Geotschius with the opportunity to sample an innovative leadership tool developed by Lisa Arie, founder of the elite leadership learning center Vista Caballo in remote southwest Colorado. Called The StillPoint Experience, the neuroscience-based tool combines a series of initial, thought-provoking questions participants answer online with a 21-day follow-up period that encourages each participant’s own brain mechanics to turn new realizations into new behavior. Goetschius eventually went through StillPoint three times, each time reaping fresh insights into her thinking and behavior as a leader.
“After going through the process once, I was surprised that a short 10-minute self-diagnostic would surface such meaningful insights for behavioral changes. Plus, I was surprised it revealed that I needed to work on persistence—my perception had been that I was already quite persistent,” Goetchius says.
“Lisa reminded me that I was surprised because I might be using only one aspect of persistence, or I may be using persistence in only one area of my life, like work, or I could be identifying myself by my role or title. Once I looked through that lens, I understood what she was saying about developing an ability to see the whole picture. It was an instant shift in perspective, and once I started working with the strategies, my behavior and approaches changed immediately.”
The StillPoint Experience recommended several strategies to help Goetschius develop her persistence. She chose to practice a minute or two of reflection every day. “I was taken aback by the patterns I saw doing this, and I saw how small the changes could be to make a bigger impact. It led to new behavior and new belief systems, including changing my perception of self-care and becoming much more intentional about how I was going to spend my energy for the day. It led me to be more present, listen more openly and to not take work back onto myself. I felt less guilt and internal agitation, which grew out of me always wanting to feel I was helping. I became less accessible, which is a good thing.
“People then solved problems on their own, recognizing that they’re quite capable of doing so. I don’t want to change the company’s open-office concept, but tweaking those behaviors, not completely changing them, means I can be more impactful by promoting autonomy and helping employees realize their potential. The StillPoint Experience helped me work through this,” she says.
After the online segment, Goetchius spoke on the phone with Lisa periodically over the subsequent, 21-day action-plan period. “That was lovely, and I now have a notebook filled with sticky tape where there were aha moments,” she says.
Lisa helped me navigate my revelations by illuminating, for instance, that “I don’t need a lot of structure, but my team does. So I’ve been more specific in instructions since this is more effective for them. This means they’re more productive and there’s less distraction for me,” Goetschius says.
Goetschius puts in long hours and sometimes takes on too much, but Lisa and The StillPoint Experience have helped her find a place of balance where she says no more often. “I save energy when I’m more confident in who I am and show up focused, able to see the whole picture in more intentional ways. [I’ve learned that] being more persistent is self-care and team care, actually, since the result is more structure, planning and conscious contributions. Lisa also helped me realize the power of working in bursts when finishing bigger projects,” she says.
In two more forays into The StillPoint Experience, Goetschius examined her ability to think with more curiosity and self-inquiry. In the end, StillPoint led her to see deeper patterns that affected her behavior so she could change them. “There were two or three thought patterns that kept coming up through the entire StillPoint Experience that got me to the reasons for behavioral patterns: self-care, confidence in my decisions, and seeing myself a little bit more clearly as a person.
Being clear about intentions and acting upon them is strength, Goetschius says. “If you’re clear about intentions, you can be more impactful—it takes a lot of self-inquiry to understand your intentions.”
“The process showed me that I may not realize how others perceive me, and with this tool I’ve gotten more inquisitive about how people see me. I’ve also gotten more insight into how I see myself and how I can contribute more to Ben & Jerry’s. I’ve found that curiosity has led me to the discovery that my assumptions are not always right. It’s given me the chance to see the whole picture, which is what I’m working on now. Not the big picture, but the whole picture. The goal is to better express myself, to fully contribute, to understand all the facets of my purpose and create an organization that’s thriving and growing. I’m getting there. I am. After 21 days of working on my skill at self-inquiry, I’ve also gone off on a retreat and spent some time on this. There was synergy with Lisa’s work and a sense of renewal.”
For Goetschius, there is much to recommend about The StillPoint Experience. “The process is clear and simple, you can do it remotely and you get to insights that actually change behavior quite quickly. I initially pushed back on some things—a very human response. But now they make sense because I realize I’ve changed brain pathways. I’ve changed habits. I became unstuck.”
Looking back at her months of going through The StillPoint Experience, Goetschius says the process made her “more intentional as a person and in my work. I’m more focused and I’m taking better care of myself. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But now I have a better idea, and that’s a good thing.”
“The most powerful thing was getting the results and
seeing the change.”
The Power of Persistence: A Leadership Wunderkind Discovers That Focus Produces the Best Results
Andy Sontag’s greatest passion is “designing experiences that build relationships,” he says. The idea is that we humans need to collaborate to solve big problems like, say, the refugee crisis in Europe. “Problems like this can’t be solved by one individual,” he says. “I create experiences that build meaningful relationships between people. When you work as a group, it’s amazing what comes out of that.”
That makes sense for Sontag, who has known the positive power of group initiative growing up in a kind of utopian “intentional community” in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where community land is owned collectively and houses are owned by the individuals who inhabit them. Home to famed Antioch College, the area is a verdant Valhalla of rolling hills, forests and valleys that endowed him with what he calls “the most wonderful upbringing. I could walk into my friends’ houses and feel I was at home.”
At 18, the idyll ended when he flew to Ghana to volunteer briefly in a refugee camp and had what he calls “the most meaningful experience of my life.” This was followed by a year with Americorps in Seattle working in “restorative justice” for the homeless. He moved from a deep interest in the intersection of politics and criminal justice toward what he saw as a higher leverage point for making positive change: business. He started thinking about “the evolution of capitalism toward purpose” and went to college to study entrepreneurship and sustainability. It was the beginning of a life aimed at “bringing businesspeople to their highest potential good,” as Sontag says.
These thoughts placed him on a path to Denmark, where he studied leadership and entrepreneurship at the respected Kaospilot business and design school. While there, he co-created a methodology for designing experiences that build relationships, which he has since taught extensively. He has used it on numerous projects, among them facilitating experiences to bring together artists and entrepreneurs at an international leadership summit in Iceland where, in a few days, startups were born and relationships forged under the banner of one core belief: When individuals work collectively, they can move mountains.
Today, Sontag has left the freelance and startup life to be a full-time “experience designer” in Denmark at UFUSE, a firm that represents creative clients in Europe and the United States. UFUSE had been an investor in a company Sontag started “because they believed in my ideas,” he says. So he gets a lot of freedom to design experiences that foster UFUSE’s mission of “unleashing creative courage.”
He focuses much of his time on fortifying his ability to contribute to the world. He identifies two sides of this mission. One is the systemic: “We need better systems for distributing clean energy, for education, health care, and transportation,” he says. The second and foremost side is, he says, “the evolution of an individual and collective consciousness towards compassion and away from an egocentric worldview.” He asks: “How can we cultivate our ability to put our own house in order before rushing around trying to fix others’?”
Personally, Sontag has long been on a quest for clarity and balance. Along the way, he read a FastCompany.com story on Lisa Arie, who founded Vista Caballo, an exclusive learning center for top-echelon executives based at her remote Colorado ranch. He sensed she was a kindred spirit and followed her progress. Eventually she became his adviser for the startup Core, which sought to “create experiences that unfold human potential.” Arie was with Sontag “for a year of that journey,” he says.
Their meeting was fortuitous. Sontag had “many conversations with [Arie] about how to help people, how to bring together people from different disciplines and different parts of the world.” And about balance.
From late 2014 through early 2015, he went through The StillPoint Experience, a new self-discovery tool Arie had designed to help people find their metacognition: the thinking they need to navigate their most challenging moments. “It was a profoundly impactful experience,” Sontag says. “For me, it has been effective in helping me make decisions in a strategic way.”
The StillPoint Experience showed him that to achieve balance he needed more persistence, from the macro to the micro levels. For instance, he says he knows that he’s “really good at having ideas and making things happen. They call me a fire starter. But I get bored quickly. Another opportunity may arise and I just can’t turn away from it.” Something similar happens with books: “I’m a ravenous reader, reading up to five books at the same time. But a lot of times, I’ll get three-quarters of the way through and then don’t finish them.”
With more persistence, Sontag says he can “really focus and do one thing at a time.” As it is, he’s still taking on a bit too much. “I’ve gotten better at focusing, but I’m still struggling. The first step in making change is to identify it and articulate it. I’m strong at connecting to people and ideas, which I don’t want to get rid of, but as the same time I want to have more patience with things to get the full benefit.”
The StillPoint Experience consists of an initial diagnostic online and 21 days of follow-up exercises to reinforce what was learned. One of Sontag’s exercises had him list both his projects and those of his collaborators. He was floored; he saw clearly that the ones where someone was 100 percent invested in a project had the best outcome. These exercises were, for him, the best thing about StillPoint: “The most powerful thing was getting the results and seeing change. Doing the exercises every day became a ritual, and I kept doing them after the required 21 days.” .
He realized he had to pursue persistence over time to see change over time. For instance, when his current boss at UFUSE was investing in Sontag’s former (successful) startup, the young entrepreneur was also working half-time at another company. “I realized that was a classic lack of focus. I was splitting my focus between two companies. Then three months ago, I started working full-time at UFUSE,” Sontag says.
At the same time, he realized there was a double edge: Lack of persistence can do harm. At Arie’s prompting, he continues to work on persistence. It’s not only good for him professionally but personally, too, because it promotes thinking in a balanced way, and balance reduces stress.
For Sontag, “StillPoint was a challenging experience. It’ll make me happier in the long term. Psychologically, it was meaningful. It gave me a lot of focus, a lot of direction in many ways.”
“StillPoint has had a continuous positive effect on my productivity and self-awareness.”
The Power of Persistence: How a Nonprofit Leader Became a Faster, More Centered Decision Maker
From an early age, Mischa Delaney knew she wanted a career that would be in service to others. She began her journey in that direction first with a B.A. in clinical psychology and then with a master’s degree in environmental leadership. Her studies fused her growing desire to impact as many people as possible with her belief in the potential of a systemic change in capitalism.
Today, as the Colorado Community Lead for B Lab, she’s connected to an extensive network of people interested in her central passion—using business as a force for good. “It’s about making people’s lives better, and business has so much capacity to do that,” she says.
Delaney had been dreaming of starting her own organization to catalyze change when she discovered B Lab, a Pennsylvania-based national nonprofit that certifies and supports B Corporations to build a global movement remaking business as a force for good.
She envisions “a world of equality and prosperity…and it’s important for me to remain positive and work toward that goal. The environment should be intertwined [conceptually] with equality and prosperity; the more people think of the environment in this way, the more they will care about it,” she explains.
B Lab “perfectly aligns with my personal vision,” she says. “It made a lot of sense to achieve what I want to achieve alongside B Corps rather than trying to achieve something by myself on a smaller scale. I see myself doing this for many, many years. There are so many opportunities for growth in this industry.”
In the two years the three-person Colorado B Lab team has been on the ground, they’ve forged a strong Colorado B Corporation community of more than 60 large and small companies. Mischa works with the local B Corps to cultivate that community, something she does through engagement, building relationships, creating learning opportunities and organizing community-galvanizing events. Colorado B Corps are part of a growing international community of more than 1,400 certified B Corporations from 42 countries and more than 120 industries working together toward one unifying goal: to redefine success in business.
She praises the organization’s “fail-forward” culture. “This is a growth period for B Lab,” she says, “and there’s definitely a startup culture…where risk-taking is encouraged. When you take risks, you can land with your face in the dirt. The key is to learn how to [get up and move] forward.…There are times when fears or doubts creep into experimental projects; I work every day on my own mind-set [to stay positive]. And I’m constantly reminding myself that you can’t let perfect be the enemy of good. You just have to see things from a place of curiosity.”
At B Lab, everyone is encouraged to undertake professional development projects, and Delaney was in a phase where she wanted to learn more about herself as a community leader and contributor. She was familiar with Colorado-based Vista Caballo—an exclusive learning center for high-tier executives—as a long-standing local B Corporation and a company that’s “completely aligned with what is going to change the world.”
So she approached founder and CEO Lisa Arie, who recommended that Delaney complete The StillPoint Discovery Experience personal diagnostic and development tool online. Arie told Delaney it would give her a chance to see if her thinking were in balance and, if not, how to bring it into balance. Drawing on precepts of neuroscience, Lisa said Delaney could experience metacognition, the deep thinking beyond cognitive thinking, within 21 days. At this point, the lessons of StillPoint would become part of her; they would seem natural and she would find her way to balance.
Did it help? “Absolutely,” Delaney says. Perhaps most important, she discovered she needed to develop more persistence to achieve balance. “StillPoint has really impacted my ability to persist and conclude things faster. The guidebook impacts you as a person more than anticipated in really wonderful ways,” says Delaney. “It affects your ability to make on-the-spot decisions, to identify blind spots. Overall, it made me a more grounded person. There are some great aha moments, but there’s also a lot of subtlety in the work the program encourages you to do. StillPoint has been a launchpad to look at my bad habits.…By helping me in small ways, it has had a big impact on me overall.
“It has made me more effective, to be more focused about productivity and more aware of moments when I face difficulty. I often used to get distracted and walk away [when things got tough]. Now, I’m able to name it and face those bumps in the road. StillPoint has had a notable and continuous positive effect on my productivity and self-awareness,” she says.
As Delaney went through The StillPoint Experience guidebook, she had to envision an end goal of more persistence. “At that time, I was just beginning to think about buying my first home. It was crucial to involve my family in this process, to help them see my vision and to get them on board for this bold decision to buy a piece of property, which has brought a lot of joy into my life. During the two months I was going through the [home-buying] process, I was also doing the recommended practices in the guidebook. It ended up impacting my house search to the extent that I could walk into a place and say, ‘Yes, I can envision my future here.’
“The work I did with StillPoint is tied, too, to my general well-being. I’ve been rehabilitating a chronic injury to one of my knees. Ten years ago, I had unsuccessful surgery on it. At some point, you say enough! You need persistence to address the disappointment and stamina to deal with the pain. StillPoint helped me push through a year of four procedures and the recovery process,” Delaney says.
“I talked with Lisa on the phone during [StillPoint’s] 21-day follow-up period. I cannot recommend Lisa enough,” Delaney recalls. “She is such a skilled woman in her work, and she left me feeling seen, inspired, and motivated. She gave me suggestions on how I can improve. The conversations were always about approaching things from the standpoint of curiosity, instead of being judgmental. There’s no shaming in StillPoint. That’s an important point of the program.”
Today, Delaney says that “it was an absolute joy to engage in StillPoint, which has had an impact on my long-term happiness. Focusing on persistence has made me a better person at work and has helped me achieve personal goals like buying my house and addressing my physical well-being. I remind myself of all those lessons at least on a weekly basis. They ripple throughout my life.”
“The StillPoint Experience does a good job of opening the dialogue within yourself.”
The Power of Persistence:
How It Paid Off for One Founder, Who Led Her Nonprofit to Powerful New Funding
After going through The StillPoint Experience, Villy Wang had an epiphany: She needed to persist, even while BAYCAT, her San Francisco nonprofit for underserved youth, labored under a deficit after two funding sources dropped out. Not long after this, formidable new guardian angels signed on, easing the nonprofit’s budgetary imbalances and restoring her faith.
Villy Wang had been a Wall Street banker and lawyer. But her beginnings were humble as the child of a single Chinese mother who, as a struggling immigrant, lived in the New York projects and worked in sweatshops. Wang even toiled there with her. Her mother—who was her inspiration—worked hard, studied, rose to build her own sewing business and moved her family to a house away from the projects.
Wang did well in high school and got into Brown University, her goal was “to make as much money as possible so I could take care of my mother.” But “between Brown and Wall Street, I began to realize I didn’t quite fit in.” She had been that disadvantaged youth who, thanks in part to technology, was able to make it.
Wang’s career took her to San Francisco and eventually she gave up her well-paid job as a lawyer to found a nonprofit that would provide a way out of poverty, via technology, for the underserved youth of San Francisco. In 2004, she started BAYCAT (Bayview-Hunters Point Center for Arts and Technology), which she describes as “a nonprofit social enterprise that educates, empowers and employs young people, from historically underserved Bay Area communities, in the digital media arts.” They develop expertise in video and music production, graphic design, Web design and even animation. The central idea is to tell stories. “We believe everybody’s story matters,” says Wang.
She understood that in neighborhoods like Bayview and Hunters Point, kids suffered from a creative digital divide. “Even if you put an iPhone in the hands of these [BAYCAT] kids, they don’t have the parents who have any idea about this. There’s a lack of education, a lack of role models. And how many jobs can they get by referral this way? I want them to get where they could be.”
For her, empowerment is key: “We believe in giving them the technical skills, access to the equipment, getting to know themselves better. That’s what [BAYCAT] is about—bridging the [disadvantaged] past to the [promising] future. BAYCAT was one of the few social enterprises that made the link between the underserved and the higher industries like high tech,” Wang says.
In the 11 years BAYCAT has been operating, more than 3,000 kids have taken at least one class. They’re all—low-income white, African-American, Latino, Asian—producing something, from a TV show to corporate identity videos for local businesses. Eighty-nine percent of BAYCAT’s kids come from households making less than $55,000 a year, and they’re living in neighborhoods with the greatest health and crime challenges. BAYCAT STUDIO, the working production arm of the nonprofit, employs 20 young adults—18- to 25-year-olds—every year. …We have a 90 percent success rate in employment, meaning they stay on the job,” Wang says.
In the process, BAYCAT has won the support of arts greats like musician Herbie Hancock, author Dave Eggers, and actors Benjamin Bratt and Delroy Lindo.
Wang, both BAYCAT’s founder and CEO, was inspired by President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program and his commitment to bettering the lives of young minority men and boys. “I do want to change the system,” she says and points to a 13-year-old African-American boy who came to BAYCAT and was “a handful. He needed a lot of help to be confident,” she says. “He was academically challenged—one of those who society assumes will end up in prison.” Today, thanks to BAYCAT, he’s an employed filmmaker.
BAYCAT STUDIO had served more than 100 clients, but by 2014, it was facing a deficit after two foundations dropped out as funders. “Our kids’ films were in over 30 film festivals, and our production studio was thriving. But at the end of 2014, we still ended in deficit,” she says. Lisa Arie entered the picture in late 2014 when she was looking for a videographer and found the studio. “How perfect is it to meet a Lisa,” Wang says now.
Before long, Wang and several of her team members engaged in The StillPoint Experience to find out where and how they needed to focus their thinking to get BAYCAT back on track. “This was beautifully designed, fairly easy to use. What was interesting was getting the first feedback. How it was framed was very interesting to me. This was different in that it really valued balance. Other assessments tend to put you in a box,” Wang says.
She tried to incorporate balance into her everyday life, and to achieve balance she needed more persistence. Bringing her thinking into balance by challenging herself to be more persistent was an epiphany, as was the idea of “not being afraid. …The StillPoint Experience does a good job of opening the dialogue within yourself. I realized that my personal development is so wrapped up with my organization—it’s like a baby. I birthed the baby and now that baby is 11 years old. I’m the mother who didn’t get any sleep over the last years. I need to replenish myself.”
“This has been an amazing time to see my self-awareness and how this affected the success of BAYCAT. I asked myself, What am I going to do if there’s a deficit? I talked with Lisa about it [after doing The StillPoint Experience], and she said, ‘Just let it go.’
The moment she gave me permission, everything fell into place. I could be fully engaged with my amazing management team, and we could be strategic thinkers together. I had been worried about the well-being of my employees, my students, our community. I think I felt that I alone had to make the final decisions. But I realized I didn’t. This new idea gave me a completely new perspective on decision making. The minute I realized that, the blockage stopped. I was less afraid and more open to opportunity and new ideas. And along came the 50 Fund.”
Did it ever! The 50th anniversary Super Bowl will be held in the San Francisco Bay Area in February 2016, and the local Super Bowl 50 host committee decided it would donate back 25 percent of its proceeds through the group’s nonprofit arm, the 50 Fund. One of its signature philanthropic initiatives is the Playmaker grant program, which awards 50 grants of $10,000 each to 50 notable Bay Area nonprofits every week leading up to Super Bowl 50. The host committee, after a competitive process, chose BAYCAT STUDIO to document all this in videos. It means churning out 50 videos with 50 nonprofits in 50 weeks. It’s a superb opportunity.
“This is a game changer for BAYCAT,” says Wang. “It will take us to the next level. We could have been closed in fear and not taken the leap. But we’re seizing the opportunity. We’ve got to take some risks to scale. This has been a great turning point.” As soon as the contract was signed, BAYCAT got to work.
By early June 2015, Wang was feeling concerned again. BAYCAT needed more capital from the donation side of the business. She reached for her persistence. Once again, it paid off, as it had so many times in the past. A generous new funder, Bloomberg Philanthropies, entered the picture with a multiyear grant for BAYCAT.
Arie’s perspective, constant words of encouragement and the lessons of The StillPoint Experience stay with Wang. She reminds herself to remain persistent to achieve balance in her thinking, which counteracts the stress and fear that had dogged her. With persistence and balance, she has found a new perspective that has opened her eyes to new possibilities. She has found a new clarity and a new confidence that keeps BAYCAT moving forward in wonderful and unexpected new ways.
Through metacognition—a deep self-awareness—Wang can see the relationship of the various styles of her thinking, and through a neuroscience-based repeating process of self-reinforcement, she has been able to bring those styles into balance. She saw plainly what she needed to do, and BAYCAT has benefited from that wisdom. Stresses and fears figure less and less in her decision making. Her new confidence clearly places decision making with her and team.
All this is a good thing. “I know that finding balance through persistence and focus leads not just to my own fulfillment but to BAYCAT’s, too,” says Wang, “and I’m happy about that.”
“I don’t go into meetings now with biases, but with an open mind.”
The Power of Self-Inquiry: How an Operations Ace Learned to Open Up and Listen
So many business leaders think they need to dominate conversations with employees and board members. But Michael LaBuda discovered there’s another way: listening with an open mind, discussing and then deciding.
“For a lot of businesspeople, it’s hard to do that. If they can, it’s very rare,” says the COO of Dallas-based Dolphin Blue, America’s first and only online all-green general store.
That’s the way LaBuda operates these days, and he loves that the change opened his mind to new ideas, made him more innovative, and mitigated his stress. It took time and circumstances—a whole career and a little help from a friend—for him to scale up to this new outlook.
LaBuda started on a path toward running businesses early on, working in various industries and then earning a B.A. in business management and an MBA.
Along the way, he had plenty of in-the-trenches management experience. Then about five years ago, he started working part-time at Dolphin Blue when founder and CEO Tom Kemper asked him to help with a sudden “overload of business. They could not keep up with the amount of business that came in, and it was truly overwhelming. I helped them catch up and get back on track,” says LaBuda. A few months later, Kemper asked him to come aboard to handle operations.
LaBuda had always been mindful of the environment, but he says he really got into it at Dolphin Blue, where Kemper, a walk-the-talk kind of guy, sold LaBuda on his belief that it’s up to business to take the lead in producing a sustainable society. “It’s a whole different game here,” LaBuda says. “Dolphin Blue is the poster child for sustainability, true sustainability, true eco-friendly practices and products. Tom says that if we say we’re environmentally friendly, we are. If it means we make less money, then that’s the way it is.
“He says that ‘we don’t sacrifice our children’s future by selling products that devastate the planet and wrest dignity from those who toil in production.’ All Dolphin Blue products meet the most rigorous environmental and social justice standards,” according to LaBuda.
This means the Dolphin Blue staff spends a lot of time researching products. “We have to be careful about sourcing truly sustainable products,” LaBuda says. “Some suppliers say they do that, but many are really just greenwashing,” or marketing their products as sustainable when they are only marginally so. The year 2011 was a watershed. Kemper, an avid wilderness adventurer, contracted Lyme disease and exhibited Parkinson’s-like symptoms caused by a tick bite. Exiting the business to manage his recovery, Kemper asked LaBuda to take on more and more responsibility, and then requested that LaBuda assume the role of COO. Kemper physically left the office that year, while remaining CEO and the face of the company. “Take care of yourself, and I’ll take care of things here,” LaBuda told Kemper. The company’s well-trained, well-prepared staff smoothed the transition.
Today, LaBuda is running the company day to day, and Kemper stays involved with strategic direction.
“We’re a small business, and proudly so,” LaBuda says. “In everything we do, we maximize efficiencies. Every product is researched to certify its environmental attributes, which assures that our customers always get a product meeting high sustainability standards. It takes substantial time to certify each product, so we constantly seek other efficiencies in systems and processes wherever possible.”
LaBuda has not only provided stability while Kemper has been taking care of his health. He has also put in place more streamlined operating systems. This eliminates errors and shortens turnaround time, crucial for the many orders Dolphin Blue handles, like the 30 million post-consumer recycled, printed envelopes the company produces every year for various organizations.
The company experienced steady growth over the last few years, then two years ago, it started selling a broader range of products, going from mainly office supplies to also offering home and garden products, toys, and pet supplies. “We decided to pursue the consumer side to expand our footprint and sales, and because we finally had some truly sustainable, new consumer products to sell…that meet our strict standards. Until this year, we only sold made-in-the-U.S. products, but we’re expanding and we’re carrying products from other countries that are even more sustainably made,” LaBuda says.
The company’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Dolphin Blue was recognized with two major B Corporation honors two years in a row: Best for the World and Best for the Environment. “We are very proud to be a certified B Corporation and exceptionally proud of these honors. They speak to our dedication,” LaBuda says.
This year, company management has been going through something of a transition. Kemper wants LaBuda to take over all operations and promote him to CEO, “when the time is right.” They decided to help this along by talking with longtime friend Lisa Arie, who guides top-tier executives toward new leadership perspectives at her exclusive Vista Caballo learning center in southwestern Colorado.
She had LaBuda go through The Signature Discovery Experience, an online interactive experience with a diagnostic and follow-up development elements.
LaBuda was smitten with the process. “I thought, Wow, you’re dead on. This could really help. It could really make me a better manager if I keep these things in mind. This looks at different [thinking styles], and you work your strategy to develop them. You develop a different way to approach decisions, and you can bring your thinking to a more balanced approach.
“Going through The StillPoint Experience is a good idea. You can kind of take a step back from something that’s not an easily quantifiable idea. You’re thinking out of the box,” he says.
LaBuda went through this process twice and realized he had a very strong sense of vision and persistence. He needed to work a little on self-inquiry to keep an open mind and avoid preconceived ideas. But, he found, “traits are not exclusionary. By being more self-inquiring, you do end up being more curious as well.
“When we’re strategizing here at Dolphin Blue, I’m taking all this into account and doing it that way. I don’t go into meetings now with biases, but with an open mind. And I’m comfortable with that. For instance, when I meet with our board of advisers, who come from all walks of life and business, I’m very, very open to anyone’s point. We have discussions and I ask them, ‘What do you think of that? How can we build off of this?’ Then we make decisions based on our discussions.”
LaBuda valued the times he could discuss with Lisa what he was learning. “She’s like a rare diamond; she can get you thinking in a different way and really open you up. She knows what to ask so you can start asking yourself the right questions. She leads you down a different path.”
As for Stillpoint, he says, “it has made me happier with myself and the way I make decisions. I’m less stressed out. It helps me be more innovative. It gives me a broader viewpoint in my conversations with people. That’s one of the best things it does.”
“Within a month, the company had pivoted…The StillPoint became my rock. I kept coming back to my balance point for introspection, for growth and for inner happiness.”
The Power of Self-Inquiry:
How a Tech Founder Pivoted in One Month to Create the World’s First Pedestrian Navigation App
After going through The StillPoint Experience, the founder of an app dedicated to helping pedestrians share their experiences on city streets decided she needed to go bigger. Her company pivoted and produced the world’s first navigation utility for pedestrians. Within two months, this app was winning competitions.
Allison McGuire was on the right road. Still in her twenties, she had already gone through a dozen iterations of herself: L.A. golden child who tested in the highest percentiles, actress, Boston University student, possessor of a strong work ethic, seeker of goals, advocate of progressive causes, budding politician in London, nonprofit professional who became disillusioned with D.C.’s pettiness, impassioned walker, smart risk taker, and finally New York tech entrepreneur because that’s where she was sure she could finally fulfill her life’s mission: “to give a voice to the voiceless.”
McGuire found herself at the intersection of walking and technology, and cofounded SketchFactor, an app to help pedestrians share their experiences on city streets. Her vision attracted brilliant collaborators. She lived through the predictable startup months of working from home on a diet of rice and beans. And she rounded up funding.
SketchFactor launched in 2014 with success written all over it. Within four hours of launch, 10,000 people downloaded it from the App Store, where it was in the top 0.1 percent of apps. It became the No. 3 navigation app behind Google Maps and Waze, and the No. 1 pedestrian app ever created. “We knew we were onto something,” McGuire says.
But there was trouble. Even though she had vetted the app beforehand with hundreds of users, community leaders and many experts, critics called the app racist—before it had even launched. PCmag.com, in one of its well-regarded app reviews, concluded that “[SketchFactor] doesn’t deserve to be maligned for promoting racism.” A strong support system, humor and faith in the demonstrated need for an easy pedestrian navigation tool kept her grounded.
She forged ahead with turning SketchFactor from a novelty app into a broader utility for pedestrians that would be rolled out in cities across the United States, then the globe.
McGuire sensed she could use deeper insights for the daunting journey to come. She took part in a Vista Caballo Group Experience in Colorado, which opened her eyes to the power of better understanding her own reactions and thinking. She wanted to go even deeper and signed up for The StillPoint Experience, Vista Caballo’s online self-discovery tool, to find out where and how she needed to focus her thinking to grow her company.
She ended up going through the experience four times, each time honing her metacognition—a deep self-awareness. She was able to see the relationship of the various styles of her thinking, and through a neuroscience-based repeating process of self-reinforcement, she was able to bring those into balance. The detritus in her mind fell away and she saw starkly how she thought and the effect of that. The kernel of a new clarity emerged. She could see the options and she knew the answer. She understood for the first time what she needed to do. No more stressing about unknowns—what if I do this or that, will we fail? She knew what to do.
She had decided: Her company needed to do an about-face. Instead of wasting time turning SketchFactor into a utility, this young woman of big ideas went bigger to match her vision.
In February 2015, she stopped working on SketchFactor and started to develop a broader, more innovative utility app called Walc. Within a month of rapid-fire development and design, her team had pivoted. “We’re building a future, so we created a new company,” she says. McGuire now had a brand-new app, which was essentially “a tool to get pedestrians where they want to go,” and it had a life-changing mission: “to make the world walkable.” There were plenty of navigation apps for vehicles out there. This would be the first navigation utility app designed strictly for pedestrians.
Walc users essentially navigate with landmarks. Everyone, even longtime residents, need help getting around cities, for instance, when they lose their sense of direction as they emerge from the subway or a building. With three taps, Walc gives easy landmark-based directions to any urban destination. The concept has already won app competitions, including BMW’s Future of Mobility in April—just two months after the app was created. “We won because no matter what vehicle you use, you have to walk to get from your vehicle to your final destination,” McGuire says.
The app closed a final round of funding. After beta testing, Walc launched on iPhones and Android phones in New York, the most densely walked city in the United States. From here, it will roll out across the United States and then the globe.
SketchFactor was shut down. The company is now Walc.
McGuire credits The StillPoint Experience with underpinning the clarity and confidence that enabled her fledging company to pivot. She will keep the lessons of this process: There will always be a decision-making moment when you don’t have all the information. That creates pressure and stress. Know yourself clearly, and put the missing piece of your decision making squarely in your own hands. You will marvel at the results.
Through it all, she says, StillPoint became my rock. I kept coming back to my balance point for introspection, for growth and for inner happiness. There’s nothing else in the world, aside from working with Lisa herself, that could do that on such a consistent basis…At the end of the day, I’m really grateful for that experience.”
“It took an outsider to identify my value and my work and say that back to me and identify what I could work on just to be my best self.”
The Power of Self-Inquiry: Learning to Conquer Fear and Stress in a High-Test Life
An environmental activist had spent years planting big ideas in the public psyche. But lately, she has trained her laser focus on herself. She’s working on being her best self, and her forward-thinking company is reaping the benefits.
Ashley Orgain is an environmental and social activist who’s encouraged to be her authentic self at work. That’s unusual in the world of commerce, but that’s what happened for this young mother who, at 18, read the works of environmental thinker Bill McKibben and began connecting the dots between sustainability and the future of the planet. Later, learning how to be a businesswoman, too, earned her everyone’s respect.
Her job? Mission Advocacy and Outreach Manager at Seventh Generation, a company that for 27 years has been formulating plant-based household products that are safe, work really well and generated approximately $250 million in sales for the company in 2014. She’s the one at this Burlington, Vermont, enterprise who’s responsible for the development, implementation and management of the company’s mission-based campaigns and outreach aimed at “leaving the world a better place.”
A veteran of six years at Seventh Generation, she joined the company full-time during a period of upheaval, when the founder and first CEO stepped down; then two more CEOs filled his shoes in quick succession. The company’s financials and products didn’t falter, but employees were stressed out, morale tanked and turnover reached 50 percent. When current CEO John Replogle was hired, he brought Orgain onto the sustainability team and she eventually became the team’s manager.
Then over the last year and a half, as she puts it, “I put myself in a position to create [the scope of my job]. John always had the vision that there would be a person working with our marketing organization on sustainability and on authenticity. That’s how I got to where I am. I worked with a broad group of stakeholders, including employees, progressive businesses, nonprofit partners, consumers and elected leaders—all through the lens of sustainability—to create the change we seek in the world.” Essentially, Orgain’s job became ensuring that the company is exerting an influence “greater than our size….Educate, engage, activate, inspire—that is the core. I love my job; it’s true.
“This comes from the heart of our mission: the Iroquois Confederacy belief—and the vision of our founder—that ‘in every deliberation, we must consider our impact on the next seven generations.’
“We’re not just thinking about our bottom line. We’re thinking about years out from now—how will the decisions that we make today impact the health of communities and the environment down the road,” Orgain says. “To do that, we know we have to link arms with others to create change that we couldn’t do alone, the sum being bigger than the parts.”
Replogle fully supports such thinking: “Now, almost everything we do affects everything else in unimaginable ways, and business as usual cannot successfully lead us.…We are in urgent need of a new and better business model,” he says.
Integral to that new model is getting involved. In 2013, for example, Seventh Generation and the American Sustainable Business Council cofounded the Companies for a Safer Chemicals Coalition (CSCC), representing more than 200 leading businesses that want meaningful chemical reform. “The Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976 and has never been updated. You might assume that the chemicals used to make products sold in the U.S., like toys and food containers, are regulated and tested for safety—but they are not,” says a telling statement on the company’s Mission + Action webpage.
In 2015, that coalition—now with a CSCC composed of 3,000 leading consumer brands—alongside environmental health allies pressed Congress to modify the current version of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act to do a better job of protecting the public from toxic chemicals and minimizing companies’ business and compliance costs.
“When members of Congress talk about regulating industry,” Orgain told a U.S. Senate press conference in March 2015, “too often they forget about small- and medium-size businesses that have embraced good business practices. Seventh Generation stands as proof that cost-effective products that not only meet consumer demands, but are increasingly demanded by consumers, can be formulated and manufactured without chemicals of concern.”
Orgain has been busy planting high-test ideas like this in the public psyche for some time and recently felt the need for a little renewal of her own.
There’s a strong personal development program at Seventh Generation, and every year, the whole company is invited to participate. Some are selected to pursue a path in leadership development, and Orgain was invited this spring to participate in The StillPoint Experience executive training tool. She jumped at the chance: “I’m always looking for ways to be more effective,” she says.
“The program had us meeting three times with Lisa Arie [owner of the exclusive Vista Caballo executive learning center in Colorado, who developed The StillPoint Experience] over the course of three months. So it was planned for maximum benefit.”
Orgain says she experienced “a significant opening in perspective,” particularly in self-inquiry. She went through the initial assessments, but “the most important thing was having a nurturing and supportive teacher,” she says.
“In an organization that gravitates toward extroverts, I report to an extrovert and he’s always been exceptionally supportive. But it took an outsider to identify my value and my work and say that back to me and identify what I could work on just to be my best self.…That one-on-one teaching gave it depth.”
Depth is precisely what Arie was after. It was crucial that Orgain develop a metacognition, or deep understanding, of what her StillPoint answers meant and why she needed to develop her capacity for self-inquiry. The upshot: The young executive grew more certain that it was okay to question herself constructively and became, as a result, less stressed and more relaxed.
“I feel happy now,” Orgain says. “Particularly after the phone conversations with Lisa, I felt a big increase in my happiness at work and all around. Over the last year, the company has been cruising along, doing really well.…And I want to make sure the people are doing the best they can in their roles.”
“It’s not about strengths or weaknesses. It’s about awareness. And in that awareness, someone can be calm and centered and happy. And I am.”
The Power of Self-Inquiry: See Yourself Clearly and Build a Better Company
Pam Rusten is a force of nature. As a girl, she became a fearless, accomplished horsewoman. Later, she figured out how to cook and bake with heart and skill. Professionally, with a design degree in hand, she worked for years as an art director. She eventually switched to marketing, and today, she’s a master marketer with 30 years in the field and a history of successes at the corporate level and at her own marketing firm.
In 2010, something occurred that would change Rusten’s life. She met Sarah McNally, a specialist in innovative leadership techniques who is passionate about helping people connect to their worth. Sarah had joined her father, the author, filmmaker and thought leader David McNally at Minneapolis-based TransForm Corporation in 2008, and together, they began developing 21st-century leadership learning tools. As Rusten traded life stories with the McNallys, they just clicked.
Rusten joined them later in 2010, becoming the company’s “Creative Engineer,” and it was a good match: McNally father and daughter came from a philosophy of inspiration and development, while Rusten contributed marketing and strategy. They made the decision to work with companies to establish for each a leadership development framework, working with them side by side every day—sometimes for years—until each company’s goals were implemented. After Rusten joined TransForm, she helped the firm win long-term contracts for this work with some of the brand powerhouses of North America.
All the projects they worked on had one thing in common—“who is the leader and is that person doing the work to make the people in the business successful. I thought, We’ve got a great platform we can use to distinguish us from other businesses: We can look at the brand from the people side,” says Rusten.
Together, the McNallys and Rusten forged a platform for leaders that they call CEE™ the brand. “It’s an elegant process for aligning your Corporate brand with your Employer brand and Employee brand,” according the company’s website. “When everyone in an organization is aligned behind a common purpose, iconic brand experiences happen time and time again.” To accomplish this, Rusten adds, “it’s so essential to have purposeful leaders who inspire an organization to create iconic brands.”
On a daily basis, Rusten and her colleagues at TransForm work with leaders to “inspire, align and connect people to purpose,” she says.
In practical terms, this means, says Rusten, that TransForm shows companies “ways leadership can move out of the soft skills and into return on investment and the daily operations of a business. We work with leaders to develop their brand. We help them develop leadership skills to operate in a purposeful way in a highly complex environment.”
All this means that TransForm has become extraordinarily busy with high-profile clients as it goes through a period of “tremendous growth and opportunity,” as Rusten puts it.
This spring, there was a need to pause and take stock. Lisa Arie, founder of the exclusive Vista Caballo executive learning center in Colorado, where David McNally had gone for the Signature equine experience years ago, suggested to Sarah that the company’s leadership go through The StillPoint Experience, an online executive training tool she developed. Ultimately, all the leadership took part.
The StillPoint Experience revealed that Rusten has plenty of every basic character trait required in business. But she needed to work a little on developing her power of self-inquiry. The initial assessment, the 21-day follow-up exercises and the one-on-one discussions with Arie flipped a switch for Rusten.
What happened next was powerful for both Rusten and the company as a whole. “That piece for me is giving others the time to catch up with [me],” she says. “When we were out there in the companies, I was not as patient about giving people the time [to work through ideas]. Now, people tell me I’m patient, I’m careful. We’re being clear and purposeful to grow the company, and it feels really good to have the company in that place.
“We had gone through all these different assessments. Before I got to The StillPoint Experience, feeling like [I needed to work on some trait] was a negative, but Lisa made it a positive. And that helped me set aside struggling with the idea.
“It’s not about strengths or weaknesses. It’s about awareness. In that awareness, someone can be calm and centered and happy,” Rusten said. “And I am.”
“Other tools are about what’s wrong. This one is about what’s possible.”
The Power of Curiosity: How a Smart Executive Learned She Didn’t Always Need To Have the Answer
Penny Tudor is a scientist who works for the Best Company on Earth, an accolade earned by Burlington, Vermont-based Seventh Generation, America’s leading brand of nontoxic and renewable bio-based household, baby and personal care products.
The company name comes, somewhat prophetically, from the Great Law of the Iroquois, which states: “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”
Not only is Seventh Generation a mission- and values-driven enterprise with rigorous standards of social and environmental performance that won it classification as a rare B Corp, it’s also a flourishing company, with annual 2014 retail sales surpassing $350 million, that has attracted celebrity investors like Al Gore.
Tudor wouldn’t have it any other way. She started out as a food scientist working for Ben & Jerry’s, which was then acquired by Unilever; an offer to stay on couldn’t convince her to do so. “Going to work for a company that was not mission-based was going to be a challenge, so I chose to go with [Seventh Generation],” she says.
She flourished in this milieu, building in 10 years the company’s quality assurance policies and practices from the ground up. Tudor rose to Director of Quality Assurance, Regulatory, and Program Management, learning as she went to manage a team of smart scientists and technicians. “The company’s small enough that you feel you make a difference. I do believe I changed the company in a positive way,” Tudor contends.
“Quality assurance is important for us,” she explains. “We don’t have our own manufacturing and rely on third-party partners in the U.S., Canada and Germany.
“When the company was smaller, once they contracted out the manufacture of products, they weren’t paying a lot of attention to the contract manufacturers. I wanted to make sure [the producers] were being consistent and doing what we wanted of them.” Today, that is exactly what she does, in addition to making sure the company is in compliance with federal, state and local requirements. You could say Tudor keeps the company on the straight and narrow.
Founded in 1988, Seventh Generation eventually outgrew charismatic founder Jeffrey Hollender’s capabilities; the board replaced him in 2009 and asked him to leave altogether in 2010. The subsequent CEO, a veteran of PepsiCo, who was given the mandate to ensure the privately held company’s revenues multiplied exponentially, lasted little more than a year as he struggled with a founder who seemed unable to let go.
In 2011, the board chose a leader whose thinking aligned with the company’s mission: John Replogle, former Burt’s Bees CEO, took over as president and CEO. Financials, while important, would again take second place to mission and values. “We’re very lucky,” says Tudor. “A strong mission attracts people like [Darmouth-educated Replogle].”
Revenues continued to experience healthy growth, with a slight blip of flat sales during one year of the Great Recession. “It all comes back to making sure you hire like-minded people who understand the company’s mission around corporate responsibility. People have to know why they’re here,” Tudor says.
The change of leadership was difficult, she says. “But everyone kept the faith; they continued to believe in the products and mission. There was never any doubting of these fundamentals.”
Under Replogle’s watch, Seventh Generation managers were encouraged to avail themselves of effective tools that could improve their performance.
“To take the next step in my company, it was important for me to do The StillPoint Experience that HR recommended. It’s important for me to be a good, effective leader,” she says. Tudor loved it: “This focused on opportunities to expand….Other tools are about what’s wrong. This one is about what’s possible.”
Tudor went through The StillPoint Experience three times in quick succession, each session followed by a 21-day period of exercises meant to reinforce the initial lessons. This concentrated dose and the deep follow-up questions by Lisa Arie “really helped me get there,” Tudor says. Arie, who founded the Colorado-based Vista Caballo exclusive leadership ranch and developed The StillPoint Experience as an executive training tool, had Tudor and some of her colleagues work on “three [character traits] we wanted to improve,” says Tudor. “I did those three in the first 21 days and then worked on three or four more.”
It was a slow evolution, she says, and she discovered she wanted to work on her ability to be curious more than anything. “As a scientist, curiosity was not something I used a lot, but I knew I could use that as part of my people-management skills.
“I went into most situations thinking I needed to have the answer. Because of The StillPoint Experience, I learned I didn’t need to, and I used the curiosity part of my brain. Then I went into meetings like this. I relaxed more. I realized that I didn’t have to have the answer, or the right answer. So I realized I could ask more questions. And I actually did ask more questions. Depending on the situation, most of the time there was more openness and collaborative problem solving.
“One of the things I struggled with was communicating up in my organization. So, with greater curiosity, you feel more confident doing that and speaking in front of groups. Absolutely, it has helped me do that, too. The new human-interest content I have is more interesting than facts and data. I think more, for instance, from the perspective of someone in the audience. What kind of questions would they have? I have more confidence and I’m more relaxed communicating with people.
“In team meetings, for example, I’m interested in keeping the team engaged and finding the right agenda topics because everyone does really different work. It’s about finding something pertinent to build the team and the relationships. I’m able to do that after my StillPoint sessions. At a team meeting now, we actually run out of time before we finish our agenda. We walk away with action items. So it’s a nice balance of sharing info and action. It’s good to be heard,” she says.
All these epiphanies and advances have made Tudor “definitely happier. I’m more relaxed, able to find more joy in what I’m doing. I feel more excitement about what I do, and I’m more hopeful about what I can accomplish. With more curiosity, I’m just having more fun.”
“I’m so happy I completed StillPoint….I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last few months and I’m still learning every day .”
The Power of Curiosity: How a Driven Undergraduate Learned to Face Down Stress
Madison Quinton, at 21, has all the hallmarks of someone who will go far. She is self-disciplined, smart, sweet, great at managing her time and not afraid to make friends with her professors at Saint Francis Xavier University, an elite Canadian university that has produced a long list of scholars, artists, innovators and leaders, including at least one Canadian prime minister.
She is also one of those rare individuals who, from an early age, has tried harder than most to get her life right. From growing up in London, Ontario, horse country to her university life in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Quinton has worked to understand her own decisions and other people, which may begin to explain why she’s majoring in psychology.
Doing well has always mattered to her, and in the process, she has suffered from the stress of the high achiever. But, she says, she wasn’t handling the stress well.
So this year she was happy to accept Lisa Arie’s invitation to go through The StillPoint Experience, a new self-discovery tool Arie designed to help people access their metacognition: the deep thinking they need to navigate their most challenging moments and, thus, find a balanced approach to thinking and life. The two share a natural alliance; both adore horses, which, in Lisa’s case, led to her founding Vista Caballo, an exclusive executive leadership center in Colorado based on equine experiential learning.
Quinton went through The StillPoint Experience twice, each time completing an initial diagnostic online and 21 days of follow-up exercises to reinforce and focus what she had learned about herself. To help her through, “Lisa explained things in great detail. We spoke on the phone and she was extremely helpful and made things clearer for me so that I could experience the full 21 days of personal exercises,” Quinton says.
Thanks to StillPoint, she discovered she needed to develop her sense of curiosity, and she set to work doing just that. “By taking a step back and looking at things from a different [perspective], it has sparked my curiosity in how I learn and how I react to things. I have made progress, I am doing extremely well in school and I am happy with where I’m at in life,” Quinton says.
Post StillPoint, she says she “made plans and set deadlines regarding when I am going to start and finish projects, allocating more time to studying and working on incorporating a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle into my everyday life. I have formed great relationships with my professors, I feel more confident approaching them if I have questions, my grades have improved significantly and I’m able to balance a healthy education life and social life, which I think is important,” she says.
Quinton has also noticed diminished stress levels: “I am noticing that I’m becoming comfortable with my decisions, and knowing that they are best for me gives me less stress and anxiety….Second-guessing myself is something I often do when I’m making big decisions, and I have just come to terms with the fact that I’m in charge of my life and my decisions. Exploring different ways of overcoming this has helped me overcome the second-guessing factor.”
In her personal life, Quinton had been stressed about something young women often worry about—her weight—and about breaking up with her boyfriend: “Now that I’ve started to see a change, I’ve been looking into different avenues to become healthier and happier. Before, I talked myself out of going to the gym. I have since discovered that [exercising] alone is hard and that having someone else to do it with is not only fun but motivating.
“I have also come to terms with breaking up with my boyfriend and becoming comfortable with putting myself first, because I need to be happy with myself before I can be [happy] with someone else. I wasn’t comfortable breaking up with him before I took this journey because I was always nervous about what other people thought. After exploring my thoughts and emotions, I have eased myself into being happy with the decision I made,” she says.
Quinton vows that “the 21 days don’t stop here for me! I’ve discovered a lot about myself and want to explore more to see what I can come up with.
“I’m so happy I completed StillPoint,” she says. “It pinpointed aspects of my life that I had overlooked or had not explored in great detail. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last few months, and I’m still learning every day.”
“I had not asked or expected my [top executives] to be vulnerable with each other. The Stillpoint Discovery Experience created this opportunity for them. The result: They grew closer and came to trust each other more.”
The Power of Curiosity: How New Perspectives Made One Leader and Her Team Closer and Stronger
Tami Quiram has spent her life in analytical work. The weekends are for family and water sports from racing sailboats to water skiing—weather permitting—near her home in the Green Bay, Wisconsin, area. But during the week, Quiram is a self-professed “numbers person” who has spent most of her professional life in the complicated, demanding world of insurance.
She has also had more than a passing interest in innovation: “I don’t understand not trying to do things simpler, easier, better. Why wouldn’t you?” she asks rhetorically.
These days, grounded in a commitment to, as she puts it, “affordable, comprehensive and patient-centered health care,” she is President of Large and Small Group Insurance for Humana, as well as Enterprise Vice President for this sprawling, Louisville, Kentucky-based corporation, one of America’s half dozen largest health insurance providers.
Between January 2014 and June 2015, Quiram’s group had gone through a series of organizational changes. She was promoted to her current role with expanded responsibilities. Her seven top executives within the group were also in new or expanded roles. At the same time, the insurance business was going through tremendous change surrounding introduction of the Affordable Care Act. There was a lot going on; it was a time of reform and rethinking.
Quiram and her team of high achievers were being asked to improve business performance simultaneously on multiple levels. “We collectively had high expectations for our organization and our team,” she says. Everyone needed to bring their A game to meet the challenge. “I knew the team members were going to need to trust each other and rely on each other’s strengths more than I had seen in the past,” says Quiram. She understood that the term “team” had to mean “our team” because collaboration would net the group further success and innovation.
Quiram wanted to shine a light on the team’s collective brilliance and remembered Lisa Arie, founder of the exclusive Colorado-based Vista Caballo, which specializes in intensive custom leadership training for top-tier executives. Quiram had gone through one of Arie’s custom group experiences near Humana headquarters in Kentucky and came away with “a very strong appreciation for Lisa and all she does for others.”
In February, Quiram signed up herself and her team for Arie’s integrated online tool, The StillPoint Discovery Experience, which can be done remotely. She went through it a total of five times, and each of her team members completed at least three rounds.
They went into it with the shared goal of attaining “better business performance,” says Quiram. But they ended up rarely talking about that. What gripped them was each individual’s balance point, meaning an area that needed a little work to bring each executive’s thinking styles—and the group’s business performance—into balance.
They were all “open, candid and vulnerable with each other. They shared their balance points, the challenges they were having, as well as their personal discoveries,” Quiram says. Everyone, including her, “was learning something about themselves, and each person was learning something different.
“Personally, I bounced back and forth between [working on] curiosity and vision,” she recalls.
“The StillPoint curiosity activity requires you to make random word pairings and look for new connections,” she says. “For me, curiosity wasn’t about asking questions as much as it was about making…new connections that, for me, had not been intuitive.
“For example, I was exploring the connection between time management and [the feeling of] fulfillment when I noticed that I tended to spend my time on problems rather than on activities that gave me a sense of fulfillment. By choosing to shift how I used my time, I found I was more fulfilled and that others were capable of solving many of those problems,” she says.
“Similarly, when money and worry were paired, it was too easy to conclude the connection is ‘people worry about money.’ Deeper contemplation led me to see that people often worry more about what they have and could lose than what they lack. Translating that to business applications, I started to ask myself if I become more risk averse when the business is performing really well.”
Working on her vision was a different story. “Prior to The StillPoint Discovery Experience, my concept of vision was all about the long-term vision for my organization,” Quiram says.
“As part of StillPoint, we played with vision in short spurts. For example, what’s my vision for this meeting or for the family dinner? I started taking time to close my eyes and envision myself in the near future. What surprised me is that I rarely (OK, never) conjured up a picture of me at work. Rather, I saw myself volunteering, running and participating in community activities. This is a shift for me, and I’m really curious to see how my future choices will be shaped by this different perspective,” she says.
As for the team, Quiram realized that she generally tries to create a culture where folks feel comfortable and safe sharing. “Therefore, I had not asked or expected my [top executives] to be vulnerable with each other. The Stillpoint Discovery Experience created this opportunity for the team. The result: They grew closer and came to trust each other more. We can now focus not just on personal development, but also on team development. As a result, we’re stronger as individuals and exponentially stronger as a team.”
For Quiram and her team, the deep conversations with Arie during the 21-day period of exercises following the initial diagnostic sealed the deal.
The team, she says, thought the exercises, aimed at “knowing your balance point and then knowing how to gain balance,” were extremely helpful. “But they also truly appreciated the one-on-ones with Lisa. Lisa has an ability to see into your soul and extract parts of you that you otherwise ignore. She helps you sort through your emotions and make sense of them. And even more important, she challenges your perspective and self-reflection. One of my team members could not have made the progress [that happened] without that challenge.”
Arie did the same for Quiram. “At one point, I shrugged off something during a conversation with Lisa with a comment like, ‘I know my reaction was really the result of some bad news I got earlier in the day.’ Lisa’s response was, ‘Well, if you want to believe that, I guess you can, but we both know that isn’t true.’ It was a good push. We were able to really get at some deeper thoughts and desires. And those realizations ultimately helped my stress levels subside.”
Since going through The StillPoint Discovery Experience, the team members have displayed an ability to take themselves to new levels of “unity and willingness,” according to Arie, who calls this development “something to be very proud of, something that can inspire other leaders and set a standard for other companies.”
That and Quiram’s more fruitful interactions with her colleagues have made this analytics maven happier. The process has also made her more nimble as a thinker and businesswoman. “I feel more positive and more at peace. I also feel smarter because I see connections and, maybe more importantly, connections I might have missed otherwise,” she says. “Best of all, I know the individuals on my team collaborate in a way that improves overall team performance. And that takes pressure off me. In the end, we all learned to trust each other more. And we love that.”