Monday, December 11, 2017

Started Thinking About Your 2018? Start Here, With Five Questions and Answers About Creating a Vision Board

I’ve made more new year’s resolutions than I can possibly remember. Like many people, I’ve struggled to act on them consistently enough to see the results I want. That’s one reason I’ve turned to a visible, tangible representation of what I want: a vision board. I’ve become so enamored of the concept that I’ve chosen to offer a workshop on the subject. It will take place in San Francisco on Saturday, January 13, 2018. You can register for it here

At this point I hope you’re intrigued enough by the concept to ask: “what’s a vision board?” To this point, I’ve identified five frequently asked questions about vision boards. I share them here with my responses. 

What is a vision board? 

  • It’s a visual representation of what you want in your life over a certain point in time. In other words, it’s a display of what you want to feel, think, do, and have in different areas of your life.
  • It’s a depiction of your goals in several areas of your life: personal relationships, health, family, spirituality, career, finances, travel, hobbies, volunteering, and any other domains you choose. 
  • It is a collage of words, quotes, aphorisms, affirmations, pictures, and other materials. You get to decide what to include from any or all of these types of content, among others.

Why create a vision board?

  • It helps you to clarify what you want. Putting together a vision board challenges you to get clear about your goals and the paths towards achieving them. 
  • Its presence enables you to focus your energy on what you want. The picture you create will be readily visible, either in front of you, and/or in a convenient place so you can review it often.
  • A vision board melds the power of the visual and emotional. As you see what you want, challenge yourself to envision what it will be like to attain it. In this sense, the vision board can help you align your time and energy to achieve your goals. 

How do you create a vision board?            

  • Get clear about your goals and desires. Meditate, journal, or call on any other technique you find useful to do so. The intent is to use your imagination to create a clear image of something you wish to manifest. 
  • To this end, I’ve found it helpful to note and write about things I think about or say I want. This extra effort enables me to ponder my true motives. In so doing I move away from thinking that I want something because believe I should want it. That’s just one example of how my thinking can obscure what I really want. 
  • You’ll want to pinpoint areas of focus (e.g., financial, relationship, health, physical, intellectual, family). You may choose to one vision board, or several with each dedicated to a separate area of your life. 
  • Collect content related to goals. That means, people doing what you want to do, things you want to obtain, and things you want to achieve. There are no limits as to where you can find content to include in your vision board. It includes photo albums, scrap books, magazines and newspapers, maps, and the Internet (e.g., check out royalty-free images at sites like Pixabay.) 
  • Organize your content based on specific goals you’ve set
  • Lay out content on your board to get a sense of how it fits together. Then make any additions, deletions, or changes before affixing it 
  • Affix content to board piece by piece, section by section
  • Indicate the date you created your board by writing it in the lower right or left-hand corner

Should I make a physical vision board or an electronic one?

Both options are potentially valuable. You can:

  • Create a PowerPoint or other electronic presentation that includes different materials. These include words, quotes, aphorisms, affirmations, and pictures that you mix together. You can find them on the Internet or scan documents to manipulate them for your purposes. 
  • Decorate a poster board with different kinds of materials cut out and affixed using glue or another adhesive.
  • Affix your content to a cork board or wall

How should you use your vision board? 

  • Incorporate your vision board into whatever personal spiritual practice you enjoy, whenever you choose to do so. 
  • In the morning, viewing your vision board helps to focus your thoughts and actions for the day.
  • In the evening, you can review your vision board to identify what you’ve achieved during the day.
  • In fact, you can check out your vision board anytime to gain inspiration and guidance. Placing your vision board strategically so you can see it during your work day helps in this arena.

Have more questions about vision boards? Contact me at mitchell (at) or 415-517-5756. 

Ready to sign up for my January 13, 2018 workshop? Go here.

Happy holidays! And here’s to a great 2018!!!

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Theory That Matters: Lewin's Three Phases of Organizational Change

I searched on Amazon for books that cover some aspect of change and came up with over 200,000 titles. That’s not surprising if you pause to consider how often we face change on personal and professional levels. 

I'm expanding on my thesis regarding the importance of theory to practitioners here by considering one important theory of change, which helps us to understand the substance underlying this allure. 

Kurt Lewin posited a model of planned change that consists of three phases. These are unfreezing, moving, and freezing (referred to as refreezing by some researchers). His model represents a starting point for designing a change process (Clayton, 2008). It also represented the first systematic work on organizational change.

Let's consider each of the three phases in more detail. 

First, there's the unfreezing phase. It involves challenging established patterns and structures. These activities must occur before discarding old behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and values. In other words, individuals must jettison their resistance and desire to conform. 

Second, there's the moving phase. It incorporates changes in attitude, values, structure, feelings, and behaviors. These result from discussing and planning new actions (Weisbord, 1987). Confusion and transition dominate this phase. Attempts to predict or identify a specific outcome of change are difficult. Individuals and groups know old ways are being challenged. They do not have a clear picture of what will replace them, however.

Finally, there's the freezing phase. It refers to the new place of stability or equilibrium that exists with change. A new mindset crystallizes and individual comfort levels return. New behaviors support individual behaviors, personalities, and environment or they will not endure. This group decision does not ensure permanent change, however. Without reinforcement, change may be short-lived and individuals may regress to old behaviors. 

Lewin's model has several strengths. Schein (1995) argued his change phases offered a theoretical foundation for other perspectives. It identified critical variables that needed to be observed in the process. 

Other researchers have illuminated strengths of the model. These include its focus on how to move people through change (Clayton, 2006); its grounding in democratic institutions and values (Burnes, 2004); its emphasis on group dynamics in change (Marrow, 1969); and its potential for improving group effectiveness in stable environments (Coram & Burnes, 2001). 

Others have discussed the limitations of Lewin’s model. Clayton (2008) argued that the term “phases” might be misinterpreting as static. Madsen (2008) noted the model offers little guidance on the unfreeze phase. How to prepare people to be open and ready for change is absent. Coram and Burnes (2001) considered the model most applicable in top-down, autocratic organizations. They also believed it emphasized incremental and isolated change. It therefore could not incorporate radical, transformational change. Finally, Burnes (2004) considered the model too simplistic and mechanistic. It thus failed in the face of continuous, open-ended organizational change. It also ignores the roles of power, politics, and conflict in organizations, he argued. 

Lewin’s change phases nonetheless remain relevant. They help to explain infrequent, discontinuous, and intentional change (Weick & Quinn, 1999). More importantly, his model influences current discussions of change (e.g., William Bridges' three-stage transition model) (Clayton, 2008). It informs the organization design (OD) movement (Cummings & Worley, 1997, p. 23). Finally, it is central to ongoing research on the theory and practice of change management (Burnes, 2004). 


Burnes, B. (2004).  Kurt Lewin and the planned approach to change: A re-appraisal. Journal of Management Studies, 41(6), 977-1002. 

Burnes, B., & Coram, R. (2001). Managing organizational change in the public sector: Lessons from the privatization of the Property Service Agency. The International Journal of Public Sector Management, 14(2), 94-110.  

Clayton, M. (2008). Super Models. Training Journal. Retrieved November 6, 2017 from 

Madsen, S.R. (2008). Preparing faculty and staff for change.  Academic Leadership, 6(1). Retrieved November 6, 2017 from 

Marrow, A.J. (1969). The practical theorist: The life and work of Kurt Lewin. New York: Basic Books.  
Schein, E.H. (1995). Kurt Lewin’s change theory in the field and in the classroom: Notes toward a model of managed learning. Retrieved November 6, 2017 from 

Weick, K.E., & Quinn, R.E. (1999).  Organizational change and development.  Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 361-386. 

Weisbord, M. (1987). Productive workplaces: Organizing and managing for dignity, meaning, and community.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

4 Reasons Why Theory Should Matter to Researchers and Public Relations Practitioners Alike

Academics look to theories as fundamental building blocks for their research. Practitioners seem less enamored of the subject.  

Consider a recent report based on interviews with 22 public relations and marketing executives. They discussed how they manage the challenges of the digital era. In this Institute for Public Relations and PepperCom study, data looms large as the source of information for decision making. Sometimes experience, gut instinct, and/or a combination of these sources trump data as most critical in day-to-day efforts. 

Claeys and Opgenhaffen (2016) tackle the more fundamental problem head on in their investigation of the relationship between crisis communication theory and practice. They observe that practitioners in that field complain that academics ineffectively translate their research into useable materials. Practitioners cited in this piece consider theories too abstract and not readily applicable in their crisis communication work. They do, however, ground their experience in a theoretical background.  

As a practitioner and academic, I appreciate the nuances of the argument for and against the use of theory.  But to persist in maintaining opposing viewpoints gets us nowhere. Both parties need to embrace the other, as theory can and will offer a useful starting point for everyone. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Theories offer models to help us to interpret reality. For example, one crisis communication theory can help us to assess if, how, and when to apologize in a situation. In other words, theory is not an end in itself but offer tools to better understand the world around us. 
  2. Theories represent the collective conversation around a phenomenon. No one person working alone oversees the development of any particular theory. Discussion and modification of the theory continues over time. Scholars and practitioners worldwide contribute in an effort that spans beyond our individual lifetimes. 
  3. Theory by itself is dynamic. It’s designed to change in response to new information or insight. In other words, practice spurs the evolution of theory, and vice versa. 
  4. Theory provides a common framework practitioners and academics can call on. It belongs to neither group alone, and ideally is accessible to both. That is, we can start from the same place when attempting to understand phenomena.

I’m not against using one’s experience or instincts when advising organizations. I suggest, however, that public relations and communications practitioners commit to spend time studying theory. Scholars concurrently need to render the fruits of their labor based on these theories more useful to non-academics. 

I’ve benefitted from understanding theory as a public relations and communications consultant, as well as through my work in various other domains. I believe with some effort melded with a can-do attitude can help many others to do the same. 

Note: This piece was originally published on 11/11/17 on the Science for PR blog, located here

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Kick Off 2018 by Creating a Vision Board (attend 1/13/18 workshop)

Two months remain in 2017! How do you intend to finish out the year while beginning to plan for 2018? 

I’ve recently begun this effort. I'm evaluating the professional and personal components of my life. At the same time, I’m building an image of how I want my life to be in 2018. To that end, I’m creating a vision board to serve as the guide and inspiration for my day-to-day activities. 

I’m write to invite you to participate in this effort. Join me on Saturday, January 13, 2018 for a special workshop on creating vision boards. You'll work with me and a small group of likeminded individuals. Together, we’ll create vision boards that display whatever we want to be, do or have in our lives in 2018. SCRAP, a non-profit creative reuse center and materials depot located in San Francisco, will host the workshop.

You can register for this program here. Read more about the power of vision boards here.

I’ve benefited enormously from having created and used vision boards over the last few years. I believe you will too. So please calendar the workshop and register today. Space is limited. 

I relish the opportunity to have you join me at this workshop on Saturday, January 13, 2018. Until then, have a joyous and productive holiday season.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

What It Means to Live in the Solution: I Don't Throw People Under the Bus

You’re joyfully doing your job. You tackle your responsibilities one by one. You check in with your supervisor to keep her apprised of your progress. You collaborate with colleagues, as needed, so your work reflects their contributions. Everything is going great.

Then you see your back in the mirror. Running lengthwise is an imprint of three deep, wide grooves. You immediately recognize them as belonging to a bus. You realize you’ve been thrown under the bus without your knowing it.

By definition, when you throw someone under the bus you cast them in an unfavorable light with others. You also take action or make statements intended to put them at a disadvantage. 

I also know all too well that you’re thrown under the bus when there’s a search for someone to blame. More specifically, here’s what I glean from instances when the technique has been used:

  • The project manager did not want to accept responsibility for its slow progress;
  • This same person feels a need to blame someone if for no other reason than to avoid criticism by management; 
  • It's unacceptable to not explain why the state of affairs is less than ideal;
  • You offer a logical alternative for why circumstances are less than ideal; and
  • You are not present in the room when the subject comes up with management, so you cannot object. 

Voila. You find yourself thrown under the bus. 

To make my position clear: I accept responsibility when it’s appropriate. When it’s not, it’s not. I don’t feel a need to blame someone else no matter how uncomfortable that may be. I also stand up for those not present who may be candidates for being thrown under the bus.

In short, living in the solution means I don’t throw people under the bus. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Listen to me present on crisis management, leadership development, workplace communication, and more!

Over the past two years I've developed and delivered Webinars on a range of topics for PCI Webinars, including crisis management, leadership development, and workplace communication. Now you can buy recordings of each of these one-hour programs. Click on one or more of the links below for details. 

I also deliver these programs live and customize them to meet particular organization needs. Contact me at mitchell (at) or 415-517-5756 to discuss further. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Reading During My Morning Practice (fifth post in a series of five)

I often read during my morning practice. Doing so gives me
something to reflect on – a foil, so to speak, for what may be pouring forth from me during my writing. While I’ve come to trust my inner voice more and more, the fact remains that blind spots in my thinking persist. I don’t have all the information I need within me to address the challenges of the day with equanimity. The right reading can and often does provide the spark I need. It offers a subtle jostle to my thought processes and a push in the direction I want to go. Without it, I may remain enmeshed in fear, worry, and anxiety. I will recall something I read during my morning practice at some point. It’s as if a voice in my head summons the particular message when I need it.

I read books focusing on issues that come up during my morning practice. These include mindfulness, goal setting, time management, and personal effectiveness. In the past, I would plow through such books one after the other. My goal was to finish a book so I could move onto the next one on my shelf. Somehow I was hoping to gain at least a glimpse of “the answer” to the question of what was missing in my life. That quest turned out to be futile. But I did end up with an impressive shelf full of books.

My process now is very different. First, I’m careful about what I read. I select books included in list of references of other books I’ve already read and enjoyed. Friends and colleagues recommend others. These readings challenge me to be more than who I am, to go beyond my self-imposed limits, and to overcome my fears. In turn, they reinforce new thoughts and inspire me to develop different visions for what I want in my life.  

Second, I buy very few books these days. I secure I'll continue to refer to in my writing, speaking, teaching, and consulting. I’ve eliminated many books from my library this way, with little sense of loss or longing. Instead, I look to the library to request books that peak my interest.  

As a result I’ve been able to secure approximately 95% of the books I’m interested in reading. And if any of the books turn out to be less than I expected, I can return it with no regrets or out of pocket expense. If I like the book enough, I can buy it. Once I get a book I tend to read it through from cover to cover. Then I’ll go back through the book a second time, page by page, during my morning practice. I am now looking for passages that resonate with me. These can spark in me insight I’ll want to recapture during future morning practice sessions. I’ll take notes on that particular passage. If I ever choose to use the quote in an article or speech, I want to be able to cite it. I work on a section of the book each day, until I finish it. 

As a result of this process, I have a healthy and growing collection of material from books. I can draw on it daily for insight and inspiration during my morning practice. Meanwhile, I read whenever possible during the rest of the day. In turn, I identify and request more books. The process never ends.

To view all five posts in the series, click on the following links: Introducing My Morning Practice, Part 1;  Why I Do a Morning Practice, Part 2; Four Items I Need in My Morning Practice, Part 3; Writing: The Cornerstone of My Morning Practice, Part 4; and Reading During My Morning Practice, Part 5.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

Five Guidelines for Responding Effectively to Audience Questions After Your Presentation

You’ve worked diligently to prepare a great presentation. Your purpose is crystal clear. You’ve know who will be in your audience. You’ve incorporated content that addresses their interests. You’ve crafted an engaging introduction. You’ve included a statement that previews the contents of your presentation. You’re identified main points, and closed powerfully. You’ve ensured your presentation flows smoothly from point to point. You’ve solicited feedback from your supervisor and colleagues. You’ve promptly incorporated this feedback into your talk. You’re ready. It’s show time. 

You’re not quite ready to present, however. You’ll also be asked to respond to audience questions after you conclude your formal remarks. This component deserves no less preparation than the presentation itself. You need to and will want to prepare. Even the best presenters undermine their effectiveness by failing to plan for questions. Hence, I urge you to spend time in advance thought and preparation in this arena. 

To this end, I encourage you to incorporate these five guidelines. They’ll help you to make the most of questions you’ll encounter.
  1. Identify what you consider as logical or obvious questions you’re likely to be asked based on your topic. These questions seek clarification on any or all of your main points; raise possible objections to your arguments; inquire about details regarding implementation; and/or probe next steps based on your argument.
  2. Craft and practice your responses to the questions you’ve identified above. Don’t simply write out and read your responses silently, however. Instead, speak them out loud—just like you’ve done when you’ve practiced your formal presentation. Reading and speaking aloud are two fundamentally different experiences. You might believe you’re prepared if you’ve written and memorized your responses, but it’s not the same thing.
  3. Aim for succinct responses that begin with your response to the question. If possible, add a sentence or two that reinforces your main message. That’s it. There’s no need to add more detail. You want to ensure you can address all potential questions. Responding at length to anyone or two can undermine this intent. Besides, your goal is not to show how much you know but to speak to the audience’s curiosity about your topic. That means answering as many questions as time allows. 
  4. Identify difficult or out of the ordinary questions you might encounter. These might invite you to comment on a hypothetical situation or rumor related to your topic. These questions may also seek your opinion on subjects unrelated to the purpose of your talk. In short, prepare for the unexpected, undesirable, and perhaps even inappropriate question. 
  5. Capitalize on these difficult questions to reinforce the main points in your presentation. Consider them as opportunities, not nuisances. You want to respond to even the most unusual question, yet move quickly on from it to make your point. Consider using statements to redirect attention towards the focus of your presentation. For example, 
    • When the question is unclear, unusual, or not relevant to the subject of your talk, use “What I think you’re asking is. . .”
    • When the question asks you to speculate or guess, use “I would prefer not to discuss that, but what I can tell you is . . .” 
    • When the question points to an issue or argument with which you disagree, use “That’s not the issue. The real issue is . . .”  
Answering audience questions well reflects skill as a presenter and leader. Take the time to prepare for these questions in the ways I’ve outlined here. The effort can help you demonstrate such prowess. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

What It Means to Live in the Solution: Not Blaming Those Who Came Before You

When I live in the solution, I don't cast aspersions about or blame those who worked on a particular project before I did. Let me explain the meaning of this commitment with a hypothetical example. Over the years my wife and I have undertaken various home improvement projects. We interview contractors before choosing one best equipped to handle the job. More often than not, these conversations proceed as follows. 

Hello John (the contractor), I’m Mitchell. This is my wife, Joan (not her real name). 

Hi, Mitchell. I’m John.

John, we’re looking at replacing the set of stairs on the back of our house (that lead from the back door to the patio).

John proceeds out the back door of our house and down the stairs. He pauses to study them. He gets to the patio, turns his head up towards the sky as he ponders what’s he sees. After a few seconds he shares his assessment. 

“Well, we need to replace the stairs. The guardrails and the related foundation work must go too. You can see that foundation is crumbling. The last guy who worked on these stairs did them all wrong.”

In short, John based his assessment on another contractor’s perceived incompetence. If only that guy had done the job correctly! Then you wouldn’t be looking at the big bill you’ll be receiving from him to fix it. 

Was there anything wrong with the way the first contractor completed the job? Did it need to be redone as the current contractor was suggesting? That’s besides the point. What's more interesting is the technique used here to persuade us to hire this contractor. That is, present yourself as the solution, one who has come to fix what ails you as a result of the misdeeds of prior vendors. 

I have five problems with this approach:

  1. There’s rarely an objective standard. One contractor (or consultant) can claim one solution. A second contractor can offer a different one. Who’s to say who is (or was) right or wrong?
  2. When you blame an unknown contractor, you indirectly criticize the decision maker. The person(s) who hired the first contractor (in this case, that means my wife and I) screwed up. 
  3. You’re casting aspersions about the work of an anonymous individual. That means you don’t need to feel an iota of guilt about criticizing a fellow professional. That person may be someone you've worked with on other jobs. 
  4. You choose to promote your services by denigrating someone else. The comparison trumps an affirmative pitch, in my opinion. 
  5. Another contractor will come along and make the same claims about your work. 

The cycle never ends. 

When I live in the solution, I don’t need to find someone to blame. I don’t need to invent a reason things were done the way they were before I entered the picture. I don’t need to pick at the alleged shortcomings of those who came before me. I accept things as they are. I’m focused on improving the situation faced by the individual or organization. I'm not wallowing in the past. 

In short, when I am in the solution I am not blaming those who came before me. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What It Means to Live in the Solution: No Piling On

By choosing to live my life in the solution, I don't pile on. No, I'm not talking about jumping on the ball carrier in tackle football after he is down. I'm referring to "piling on" individuals or organizations who've committed some transgression, long after the initial revelation has passed. I'm talking about the seemingly endless jokes, parodies, sarcasm, and other material created to mock the faux pas. I'm referring to tweets, posts, videos, and other social media concoctions. I'm thinking of the mélange of rumor and innuendo that follows guilty parties for some time (if they're lucky).  I'm not talking about serious, intense scrutiny into issues that have widespread significance. We must continue to direct our critical energies towards acts that threaten our collective well-being.  I'm talking about piling on to individuals or organizations already down because of their behaviors. I'm talking about ridiculing those who have already paid dearly for their sin in the eye of the public. There's no need to add to their misery. They're suffering for what they did or didn't do, and likely will continue to do so. Subjecting them to our continued daggers serves no good. We might be fueled by anger, a need to make ourselves look good at someone's expense, or some other purpose. It doesn't matter, as our darts add nothing to the public discourse. Consider United Airline's decision to drag a passenger off an overbooked flight. Or Justine Sacco's unfortunate tweet. Or Anthony Weiner's sexual indiscretions. No doubt the key players in these circumstances have paid a steep price for their behaviors. They should have. That we had to perpetuate these and other melees makes us no better than them, those we aimed to ridicule.  In short, being in the solution means I don't pile on.