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#40 | THE WATERMELON BUS

“Everything you can imagine is real.”

—Pablo Picasso

 

We were driving through rural, agricultural Florida just north of Lake Okeechobee when I saw it.

“What is that?” I said, removing my sunglasses for a second look.

Several vehicles ahead, on a four-way section of downtown road, was an old yellow school bus with the entire top cut off and the seats removed. Inside, filling the cavernous space, were watermelons . . . thousands of watermelons.

“Look! They’re off to watermelon school,” I said to my wife Alison. “It must be a private school. They’re all dressed alike.”

A couple of miles down the road I spotted another watermelon bus equally topless and fully loaded as a makeshift agricultural transport.

“Brilliant,” I said.  “I want one.”

Alison was driving (as usual when we road-trip), so I pulled out my phone, went on eBay, and typed in school bus. Sure enough, I could buy one with the tap of a finger. There was a 2005 Thomas Freightliner for $1,625, and a 2007 Blue Bird 84-passenger with 226,104 miles, for $699.99.

As it turns out, there are lots of used school buses available. They’re cheap, and you can own one in minutes.  Cutting the top off and growing enough watermelons to fill it however is a different matter.

* * *

As we reached I-95 near Vero Beach, I still had watermelon buses on my mind. How utilitarian, creative, resourceful, and quintessentially American-free-enterprise they were. Some original, creative soul has taken something of no further value to its original owner (a retired school bus) and then reimagined its potential for a completely different industry.

If someone had asked me yesterday what could be done with a used school bus, I certainly wouldn’t have come up with transporting watermelons as an option.

This is dispersed power in action. No two people see the world exactly the same way—and that’s a huge advantage in terms of the potential for local-level creativity and leadership.

From 1988 to 1991, right after graduating from college, I taught Russian and Soviet history at a prep school in Maine.  Flashing back to that place and era, I imagined all the old Soviet school buses being sent to a central scrap heap for processing and disposal. No creative reimagining in that system! No watermelon buses, to be sure.

Today, in America, old buses end up on eBay where buyers and sellers make their own choices about current value and future use. Only in this kind of dispersed power system can you find such creativity, and as I browse once again I’m still super tempted to buy one.

What would I turn it into?

It all makes me think: What’s your watermelon bus? Where in your life have you taken something of little or no value to others and reimagined and repurposed it as something valuable just for you?

My voice disorder (spasmodic dysphonia) is a watermelon bus. On the surface it’s nothing more than a literal pain in the neck, which for a long time made the simple act of speaking a difficult chore. But then I reinvented and reimagined SD into something different, something valuable. My voice condition was a symbolic invitation to disperse power, share leadership, and strengthen the voices of others. It was an opportunity to decentralize power and advocate for a corporate values system in which everyone felt trusted, respected, valued, heard, and safe. I turned an incurable neurological disorder into a watermelon bus.

All of that was invented in my head and that alone made it real – gave it life.

You’ve done this, too; I’m sure of it!

Reflect for a moment on the literal and symbolic watermelon buses you’ve created in your life—the places and situations where you’ve found value when others saw none.

That’s self-awareness. That’s dispersed power. It’s what the Sioux call the Seventh Power, which is the innate ability of the individual human spirit to manifest the divine light that lives within us all.

Be thankful and proud of the watermelon buses you’ve created and give all those around you the space and trust to do the same.

 

“This is a hard truth for some to accept; that a lack of resources may not be their true constraint, just a lack of resourcefulness.”

—David Burkus

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.

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This is the fortieth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!




Interviews with Bob Greenberg, Part 3

In this video, Kevin Hancock speaks about how he became a champion for shared leadership and dispersed power. When Kevin lost the power of his voice, he turned to others for their ideas so he could speak less. He also speaks about how he found the Lakota tribe on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and how he connected with them through the loss of voice. He speaks about his own personal learnings, specifically about shared leadership and dispersed power. He finishes by sharing how Hancock Lumber has flourished from this new business model.

Click here to watch the full video.




Kevin Hancock featured on The Backpack Show with Chris Brogan

In this video, Kevin Hancock speaks with Kerry O’Shea Gorgone. Kerry talks with Kevin about his experience of the partial loss of his own voice, while initially considered to be a hindrance, was eventually seen as a gift – an invitation and a calling to lead differently, and to lift up others’ voices. They also dive into his work as CEO of Hancock Lumber Company, one of the oldest and best known family businesses in America.

Click here to watch the full video.




#7 | THE FUTURE-BASED SELF

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

 

“What you think, you become.

What you feel, you attract.

What you imagine, you create.”

—Buddha

Despite an incalculable myriad of differences in backgrounds, experiences, and opportunities, every living human shares one common truth: We must all move into the future from the spot we presently occupy.

Wherever you are at this moment is your launching point for the future, and nothing can change that. We take our next step from the piece of ground we now stand upon.

“Everyone has three selves: a past-based self, a future-based self, and a present-based self. The past-based self is the person an individual thinks he or she used to be. This self-concept is influenced by powerful memories. The future-based self is the person the individual imagines he or she is going to be. This is influenced by powerful goals (or the absence thereof). The present-based self is a combination of the other two selves, with either the past self-concept or the future self-concept dominating.”

—Dan Sullivan

An essential component of self-awareness is recognizing whether or not our thoughts are led by the future or the past.

I have learned this lesson the hard way many times, most recently through my voice condition. In 2010 I acquired spasmodic dysphonia (SD), a rare neurological voice disorder that makes speaking difficult. At its worst it feels like a seat belt has been tightened around my throat when I talk. The condition is particularly restrictive in group settings, on the telephone, and anywhere there is background noise.

In 2018, after living with SD for nearly a decade, I began seeing a hypnotherapist by the name of Maggie Clement. Once a month I would travel into Portland and meet with her in a small first-floor brownstone office near Maine Medical Center. The first half of each session was an open discussion where Maggie would ask me questions and listen as I described my emotions and experiences with respect to SD.

“How often do you think about your voice?” Maggie asked me one day. “And when you think about it, are your thoughts positive or negative?”

These two questions would come to mark the turning point in my ability to navigate and transcend my affliction.

I left her office that afternoon and drove home in a reflective silence.

The following day I began counting every time I thought about my voice. Additionally, I noted whether the thought was positive or negative.

I realized that I thought about my voice more than one hundred times a day, and each time, it was negative. I was constantly thinking about the difficulties I had encountered in the past and then projecting an expectation for continued difficulty in the future.

For example, if I was going to a restaurant that evening I would momentarily think of it dozens of times that day, with the expectation that the chatter and clatter would overwhelm me.

It turned out I was unaware of both the frequency and fragility of my thoughts. I did not know, until Maggie called me out, that I was constantly worrying about how my voice would perform in the future based on my experiences from the past.

After months and months of training Maggie helped me to break this self-fulfilling prophecy. Today, thanks to my heightened self-awareness, I recognize a negative thought about my voice as soon as it arrives.

“Ha, I’ve caught you!” I now say to myself when such moments manifest. “Now, go away. You are nothing but a self-contrived negative thought about the future based on past experiences.”

Today I deliberately put positive thoughts in my mind with respect to my voice. I envision it performing. I imagine myself healing.

The difference in my vocal performance has been dramatic. I still have a shaky voice at times, but it no longer dominates my thinking or expectations. As a result, I’ve improved a condition that the medical community defines as incurable.

This was one of many lessons I learned regarding the limiting powers of a past-based mind. Thankfully Maggie taught me that this was my mind we were talking about, and as such, I had the ability to fill it intentionally with future-based optimism.

“The future-based person achieves freedom from the past.”

—Dan Sullivan

(Note: Dan Sullivan is the creator and author of the book and audio series HOW THE BEST GET BETTER: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF ENTREPRENEURIAL SUCCESS.)

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the seventh in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



Unstoppable: How Kevin Hancock of Hancock Lumber was Able to Thrive Despite Spasmodic Dysphonia

In this interview, Kevin Hancock talks about how he was able to find positivity and strength through his diagnosis of Spasmodic Dysphonia (SD). By changing his mindset and prospective, Kevin was able to see his diagnosis as a gift which allowed him to begin listening to the ideas of others. When he began listening, he heard ideas that showed him that each employee had the capability of being a leader. His leadership style became one that fostered the growth of others.

Click here to read the full article.




NOT FORGOTTEN

Not Forgotten!I spoke today at the annual Maine Youth Leadership Conference (MYL) (www.maineyouthleadership.org). MYL is one of my favorite organizations.  Each year it brings 10th grade “ambassadors” from every high school in Maine to come together for a program of leadership development, social tolerance and personal exploration.  For the past two years I have given the Friday morning talk to the group, during which I have shared my learnings and adventures at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

My talk explores five themes:

  1. Overreaching. Those who hold the power in organizations often over reach.  They go too far.  Overreaching has consequences.  The conquest of the tribes of the Great Plains during America’s western expansion is one such example (from which there are still  communities among us trying to recover).
  2. We all come from a tribe. We all come from a tribe (family, neighborhood, community, region).  Our tribes pull on us all to act a certain way and to do certain things.  But we are all here on this earth to individuate; we are all here to hear our own callings and become the person our soul wants to be.
  3. When we serve ourselves we strengthen our tribe. In this respect, being selfish is selfless for when we find the people, places and activities that truly inspire us we give the most back to the world we live in.
  4. When it comes to leadership, less is more. In my talk, I share my story of losing my voice to Spasmodic Dysphonia (SD).  SD is a rare voice disorder that restricts speech.  I acquired the disorder in 2009.  Sometimes I can talk freely.  Sometimes I can’t.  SD forced me lead differently and that turned out to be a blessing.  I have since come to believe that every CEO should lose his or her voice, at least for a time.  When you lose your voice, as the leader of an organization you…listen more, ask questions, pick your spots more carefully and share the leadership stage with others.  I have since become passionate about creating organizations where everyone leads and strengthening the voices of every member of the tribe (be it Hancock Lumber or Pine Ridge).
  5. Mitakuye Oyasin. Mitakuye Oyasin is a Lakota phrase that means “we are all related”.  This concept lives at the center of Lakota spirituality and it has scientific principles supporting it.  Lakota philosophy believes that all things that live, have lived or shall live are related as everything that lives come from and returns to the earth.  All living things are comprised of the same elements and particles.  From the earth to the earth.  It is in this way, for example, that the Lakota viewed the buffalo as their “four legged brothers”.  I have come to believe that Mitakuye Oyasin is a hidden revelation for our planet.  Once rediscovered, the idea changes the way people view the world.  The boundaries we see all around us are actually artificial, not real.  In the end, we are all one tribe even though we have convinced ourselves otherwise.

During my talk I told the students at MYL that after the Lakota were defeated in the 1870’s, they were sequestered out of the way on a series of remote reservations.  For the next three generations, American public policy was to “remake” the Indians so they could live successfully in the white world.  Children were removed from their homes (well into the 1950’s and 1960’s) and sent off to unforgiving Indian boarding school to be remade.  Their hair was cut, their dress was changed, their language and customs were forbidden.  They were conquered then colonized.  The effects of this overreaching are still being felt as the reservations on the Northern Plains are to this day among the poorest and most self-destructive places in America.  In elementary school we are taught that “Columbus discovered a new world” but people already lived here.

My experiences at Pine Ridge have shown me that the people who live there have all the skills and talents necessary rise above the transgressions of the past and to soar like their ancestors.  No one needs to save or fix them.  At the same time, the people who live there need to feel recognized, acknowledged and respected.  “They don’t even know we are here,” is a common theme I hear at Pine Ridge.

At the conclusion of my talk, the program coordinators made me wait as a group of students went out in the hall.  A few moments later they returned with dozens of back packs and school supplies they had organized for me to send to Pine Ridge as a gesture that says “you are not forgotten”.  People cried, smiled and celebrated.  A short while later, my Jeep was loaded with backpacks.

A guy from a  lumber company in Maine and a group of 10th graders from the same state were together reaching out to the people of Pine Ridge saying…we are all related…you are respected…you are not forgotten…be well…go forth in peace.

So cool, I thought to myself as I drove away.  Nowhere in my “job description” at our main office in Casco does it say I am supposed to be talking to students at MYL or increasing awareness at Pine Ridge.  We all need to listen for our callings and not lose ourselves in the 24/7 churn of “bigger, better, more”.  It’s all one tribe and each person on this planet is here to individuate and find their own true path.