A Leader’s Guide to Finding the Positive Side of Turbulence
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Episode 172 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio episode 172: A Leader’s Guide to Finding the Positive Side of Turbulence. This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth on the web at businessadvance.com and now here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated. Sitting right across from me, as always, is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi there, Pam. It’s terrific to be with you again for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio. As always, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to accelerate themselves — and their companies — to their next level of game-changing innovation, growth, and success. And Pam, there’s never been more of a need for game-changing innovation and success as there is right now during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic and the volatile economy that it’s kicked up.
Pam Harper: Yes. The fact is that we’re all impacted differently, but the double hit from these issues is causing a level of disruption that’s as severe as the most violent turbulence in the atmosphere.
Scott Harper: You’ve got that right.
Pam Harper: To get through this crisis, we need a better understanding then of the nature of the turbulence we’re all facing and how to better navigate through it. That’s why we’re glad to be speaking with our colleague and friend, Amy Lee Segami, president and managing principal of Segami Studios and Consulting. Amy is a former engineer turned artist and entrepreneur, who paints on water — literally with water as her canvas. With her unique applications of fluid dynamics, she embraces turbulence to create a unique brand of painting on water. You can see samples of Amy’s art by going to growthignitersradio.com, Episode 172, and scrolling down under Resources.
Pam Harper: Amy’s works are in museums, permanent collections, and her process was nominated for the 2020 Thomas Edison Innovation Award. Through the years, Amy has received many honors, awards, and recognitions. This ranges from Crain’s Chicago Business 40 under 40, to a grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. Last year, she received one of two inaugural advancing consulting awards from the Society for the Advancement of Consulting. She’s also been featured by media, including BBC, NPR, and Crain’s, and the TED Blog.
Amy, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Amy Segami: Thank you for having me, Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Let’s start out by talking about this whole concept of turbulence. What led you to the belief that there could be a positive side of turbulence?
Scott Harper: Yeah; most people think of turbulence as not that good.
Amy Segami: That’s right; that’s a common belief. I would say, go back to education and the observation. For me, I studied fluid mechanics for years and with a lot of research and analysis work in the wind tunnel and water channel, and I have seen what turbulence looks like. Later on, I applied it to my artwork and realized that turbulence is part of the natural process, whether it’s physical, natural, biological, social, or technology. Think about anything that is going through a process and coming up with a new or improved has to go through turbulence.
Scott Harper: So things have to get shaken up so you can do something new, is that what you’re saying?
Amy Segami: Yep.
Scott Harper: Amy, what’s the biggest insight that a leader can use to take the idea of turbulence and work with and through very disruptive issues like this COVID-19 pandemic and the economic volatility we’re facing?
Amy Segami: I think it’s important to have a positive mindset to embrace the turbulence as part of the natural process. Think about all the good things that are coming out from the volatile situation and think about the innovation process. As if you’re watching the water rushing on the shoreline and the water is crashing onto the sand, onto the stone, and that is polishing the stone. That’s how we end up having smooth pebbles. In the turbulent times, the idea will get tossed and turned. I would encourage everyone to embrace this rough situation, this turbulent time. This is complex and ambiguous. We have never been here before, but if you have a good mindset, be mindful and keep centered and focused, you’ll be able to see opportunities; you’ll be in a better place.
Pam Harper: Amy, the issue for so many of us is that we think of turbulence as bad. How did you come to a place where you decided that it was good? It’s a very contrarian view.
Amy Segami: Thank you. I have seen many situations that go through a turbulent time and coming out on the other end much, much better. I have always embraced turbulence; you could say that in life we go through adversity, we go through unexpected situations whether there’s a health challenge, whether it’s a career challenge. What didn’t break you makes you stronger.
Scott Harper: Yeah. As you’re speaking, I’m reminded of the old adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In this case, necessity is turbulence. If you’re going along nice and smooth, you do things the same old way. But if you’re faced with something really different, really disruptive, you got to do something different. Right?
Amy Segami: Right.
Pam Harper: One of the things you were talking about is moving forward, but for a lot of people that we speak with, they’re at various points of acceptance about what is happening. There are some people that we talk with who are in almost complete denial that anything is different right now. Then there are other people who are completely panicked. And other people yet who are beginning to look at moving ahead. Do you find some of that as well as you’re talking with some of your clients?
Amy Segami: Yes. That happens across the board; there’s a whole spectrum of reaction.
Pam Harper: One of the things that we feel strongly about is the whole piece of acceptance. You have to accept what’s happening before you can begin to deal with it. Would you say that’s true when you’re dealing with the dynamics of turbulence as well?
Amy Segami: Yes. Pam, I’m so glad you pointed that out because there are things that we can control and there are things that are beyond our control. We are facing a situation, it’s beyond our control that it is here — the virus is here — it’s affecting a lot of people. But there are things that we can control such as following the guidelines of social distancing, physical distancing, the stay home order, that kind of thing. I would say, think about something that we are more comfortable with. I think most people have a better acceptance of the weather. If it’s the raining, if it’s a snowstorm, we will get through it. It will be here a certain time for a while and then the sun will come out. It’s true, we don’t know how long this is going to last, we’ve never been here before, but it’s the having that acceptance that, “Okay, it is here. Now, what can we do about it?”
Scott Harper: It’s kind of like when, years ago, I was hiking in the mountains and I fell into a river. I was going along a log and I slipped and I fell into the river. It was a swift river, and at first, I tried to swim against the current, but it didn’t do me any good at all. It was when I said, “Okay, I’m going to get swept downstream, I’m going to get swept downstream,” and I swam sideways and I finally came to a bank. I was way off the path, but I was alive. That sounds a little bit like what you’re talking about.
Amy Segami: Yes. That, in a way, is sort of counter-intuitive. You want to swim, you want to go to where you want to go, and if you kind of go along with this a little bit, you will be okay.
Pam Harper: Understanding the principles of turbulence — accepting that we’re in it, we’re really in it, and we’re going to have to look at how we deal with it differently — is going to be how we’re going to get through it and move beyond it.
With that, we’re going to take a quick break and when we come back, we’re going to talk more with Amy Segami, president and managing principal of Segami Studios and Consulting, about how the principles of an ancient art form can help us learn to better navigate turbulence. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We focus on enabling visionary leaders to ignite, sustain, and boost the momentum it takes to achieve game-changing results, no matter what their circumstances. We’re on the web at businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: To everyone listening, welcome. We’re glad you joined us. Whether it’s because you’re a subscriber or you’ve just found us wherever you pick up your podcasts. But there is a special reason to visit growthignitersradio.com, this is the only way you can access all of the previous podcast episodes from the past five years.
Scott Harper: It’s also where you can find unique show notes, bios, and resource links specifically related to each of our podcasts. We feature award-winning CEOs, thought leaders, and bestselling authors. You can explore more by going to growthignitersradio.com today.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper — that’s me — and Scott Harper. Scott and I are talking today with Amy Segami, president and managing principal of Segami Studios and Consulting, about finding the positive side of turbulence. Amy, how can people find out more about you and your work?
Amy Segami: The easiest way would be going to paintingonwater.com
Pam Harper: You can also access this episode and find out more about Amy by going to growthignitersradio.com, Episode 172.
Pam Harper: Let’s get back to our conversation now. Amy, you’ve developed a variation of an ancient art form called suminagashi. Can you tell us what it is and how it can help put us in a mindset that can better enable leaders to deal with turbulence?
Amy Segami: Suminagashi came from the Japanese word. Sumi is the black ink that Asians used to do the calligraphy and brush painting, nagashi means floating. This is an art form that was practiced by the Shinto priests 2,000 years ago. The idea is that when the priests would meditate in front of the water, the pond, the river, the ocean, they would empty their thoughts into the water because that’s safe and sacred. They would take a brush, dip into the black sumi ink, and one drop at a time just let their thoughts go into the water. They would touch the surface of the water and the ink would ripple out, just like a concentric ring, as if a pebble dropped into the water. Then the priest would take a piece of rice paper, lay it on top of the water to capture the pattern of the ink. That’s known as suminagashi. In English, it would be “flowing ink.”
Scott Harper: You’ve adapted that art form. How can it tell us about turbulence and how can that be used as a metaphor for leaders?
Amy Segami: Think about the ink dropping into the water. Most people think of it, it will be a perfect, concentric ring. That’s what our eye sees. However, the ink touching the surface of the water is never, ever a perfect circle. No, because there’s a complex system.
Scott Harper: Right.
Amy Segami: The ink is moving, the water’s moving, the earth is turning, the wind is blowing, and there’s no perfect circle. How it translates into the business world and for the leaders is that with all good intention, we will set out strategies, game plans, marketing ideas that we think are perfect.
Scott Harper: Okay, yes.
Amy Segami: We want to do the best. But the market reacts differently, the society reacts differently, and unexpected like COVID-19 happens. There goes out your business plan, there goes out your marketing plan. The idea is not to strive for that perfect circle. In nature, there’s no such thing as a perfect circle. There’s something similar to a circle. If everyone will have that kind of mindset as you do your best and adapt for the rest.
Pam Harper: There is no such thing as perfect — never was, never will be. The turbulence, the nature of the way that the ink drops onto the water can help remind us of that, keep us in the mindset, as we’re trying to deal with the issues that we’re facing?
Amy Segami: And be agile, be flexible, be adaptive.
Pam Harper: Amy, can you tell us a story about how you’ve applied the principles of turbulence and suminagashi in a consulting engagement?
Amy Segami: Okay. This actually happens several times. It happens in several situations when the organization is looking for leaders and executives that would embrace innovation, that would be open-minded for different ideas. They would bring me in and have them do the painting on water. During that process, typically people would go, “It’s not doing the way exactly what I plan to.” People react differently, some would be frustrated, upset. They say, “Why would I be bothered with something like this? It’s trivial, what’s the meaning of it?” On the other hand, there would be people who got really deep in thought and` reflective in ideas such as, “Gosh, I thought I am the leader and I should be like the black ink being bold and strong. I should be able to decide where it’s going, what it’s going to do. Now I realized in nature, as the water’s moving, everything is in motion. I am not in 100% control in such a way that I can dictate what I needed to be. It’s better to have an open mindset to incorporate to see how the direction of the ink is moving and how my eye influenced that.”
Scott Harper: It seems like you have no control, but you can influence. You may be able to touch the situation — the water in the painting or the situation in your leadership, and move things so that they’re more interesting, perhaps.
Amy Segami: Well said, Scott. That’s where the ambiguity comes in. It’s as if we don’t have any control, and yet we do.
Scott Harper: Okay. In your story, what is it about what you did that permitted the people that you were helping to innovate and move into new thoughts and new actions?
Amy Segami: I’m trained as an engineer, so most of the time things are very digital, right or wrong, on or off, zero or one. But in this world it’s not black and white, it’s all a lot of shades of gray in there. To help people to understand that with a process is much easier when they are experiencing it, then through PowerPoint or pages and pages of academic paper. I’ve seen this happen again and again when they’re actually looking in the tray, and it is something they have never done before, at least up to now. It’s new, it’s different, it’s out of their comfort zone. In this space that they themselves experienced the turbulence of where they’re at, their competency, their confidence.
Pam Harper: When we’re out of our comfort zone, there’s always something that we can do. It sounds like what you do is help people to experience that there’s always something that you can do when you’re in the middle of this turbulence that’s going in all kinds of new directions.
Scott Harper: That can actually take us to a better place.
Amy Segami: Yes. Stepping out of the comfort zone is where people are experiencing a lot of turbulence in their mind. Stepping out of their comfort zone means doing something they have never done before. What does it say for their confidence? What does it say about their skill set?
Pam Harper: We’re all going to be learning something new, that’s for sure. We’re going to take another quick break and when we come back we’ll talk more with Amy Segami, president and managing principal of Segami Studios and Consulting, about immediately useful ideas for leading your organization to find the positive side of turbulence. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, and we’re on the web at businessadvance.com.
Pam, our conversation today on finding the positive side of turbulence is one of a series of episodes that we are featuring on the emerging leadership issues that are coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic volatility and even chaos that is generating.
Pam Harper: For additional insights on how to help yourself and others cope with the many emotions triggered by major changes, such as large scale reorganizations, layoffs, pay cuts, and much more, be sure to listen to our conversation with Dr. Leslie Austin on how you can best lead yourself and others through the many feelings and behaviors associated with the uncertainty and loss, while at the same time looking ahead to the future.
Scott Harper: Go to growthignitersradio.com, select Episode 172, and scroll down to Resources. You can click on the link to our conversation with Leslie Austin. To find out more about the services that Business Advancement Incorporated offers, go to businessadvance.com
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been talking with Amy Segami, president and managing principal of Segami Studios and Consulting, about how understanding the principles of turbulence can help us all better understand and successfully navigate the major disruptions that are occurring in life, especially in the business environment. Amy, can you remind us how people can find out more about you?
Amy Segami: They can go to paintingonwater.com and that will lead to my other pages, amysegami.com.
Pam Harper: Of course, you can access this conversation and resources by visiting growthignitersradio.com, Episode 172. Amy, this is the part of our podcast when we discuss practical ways to bring the ideas we’ve been discussing to life. Let’s talk about one idea at a time for finding the positive side of turbulence so that organizations can get to that game-changing innovation and growth. What’s the first idea?
Amy Segami: I have a number of studio strategies, so I picked this one. What I always do when I walk into the studio is to test the water. Test the water — find out where the water is, what’s the temperature, what’s the viscosity, what’s the humidity. In a way, to translate that into our everyday life and business is to be aware of what is going on right now.
Pam Harper: Can you help us narrow in on that?
Amy Segami: In this rough time we are going through it’s is to gather the information, get the facts, get the lay of the land.
Scott Harper: Okay, so it sounds like having conversations with a wide range of people is a good place to start with that.
Amy Segami: That’s always a good place, yes. Having that first perspective, which is also one of the strategies I’ll discuss later on. But just really get the facts, instead of what you think it is or what somebody thinks it is. It’s what are the facts? Go to science, get the factual information.
Scott Harper: A very useful idea. What’s a second practical idea that people can use to apply the principles of turbulence to making good things happen?
Amy Segami: In turbulent times, everything is volatile, and you can have a sense of kind of getting dizzy almost, losing a sense of grip. My recommendation is to ground yourself. Begin at the beginning; define a ritual. For me in the studio, before I start a piece I have a ritual to go through. My tray is this big and where do I begin? Left side, right side? Anything is possible. I have a ritual that I always put my first drop right in the center and go from there.
Amy Segami: How does that relate to everyday life? A lot of people, when they used to go to work, go to the office, they probably hang around by the coffee machine and talk to the colleagues. The other day I drove around and I saw at a shopping mall, there’s a long line of cars waiting for the Starbucks drive-through service. That’s their ritual. But what other rituals can you have at this turbulent time for yourself that would have a way of grounding effect?
Pam Harper: It’s interesting you say that because a lot of times at the beginning we’re not even always all there. What you’re reminding us is that we have to stay very aware of exactly how we enter into our day. Maybe it’s that you’re reading certain news sites or you have certain people you always reach out to in a day, as you said there’s coffee or whatever it is. But becoming aware of the rituals that help us ease into what we’re doing
Scott Harper: And to become more present so that we can pay better attention and actually have better influence.
Amy Segami: Very much so. Having the ritual as we know in every religion, in every culture, and office environment, we have certain rituals because that kind of prepares our mindset and sends a signal to ourselves that we are about to begin the next process.
Pam Harper: Exactly. Let’s move on to the third immediately useful idea for finding the positive side of turbulence.
Amy Segami: I would say perspective matters; get a sense of perspective. Too often we were busy with everyday tasks and projects, and to-do lists. This is the moment that we can actually pause and think about our perspective, a different perspective, as the role. For example, it’s time to think about your role as a parent, as the child, as a neighbor, as a friend or colleague, and reaching out and deepen those relationships is one of their way to survive through the turbulent time.
Pam Harper: How could we move this into leading our organization? How could we use that to gain an additional perspective on dealing with the turbulence in our business?
Amy Segami: Early on, Scott talked about talking to diverse people from different backgrounds so that we have different perspectives. That’s one way. For work situations, reach out to colleagues, the people know well as the people you did not know quite well. Here’s an opportunity to reach out and connect with them, perhaps nominate them for an award, find out what their challenges are, and maybe you could offer some insight to help out.
Pam Harper: I’m glad you said that Amy, because one of the things that we have been doing is reaching out to people that we haven’t been in contact with for quite a while. It’s been fascinating to reconnect and see how we’ve all changed and evolved. It’s opened up some ideas about things that we could do differently that we hadn’t thought of before. It is innovation in its own right, isn’t it?
Amy Segami: Yes.
Scott Harper: It’s interesting because some people will look at a situation and see turbulence as, “Oh my gosh, this is a disaster.” Other people can see it as even exciting or as an opportunity to do things in a different way and get a different outcome. Yes, totally agreed. I used to say, “I’m always much smarter in somebody else’s office,” and that’s that perspective thing.
Pam Harper: Amy, here we are at the end of the episode, do you have some final thoughts you can leave us with on leading to find the positive side of turbulence?
Amy Segami: I think the final thought is just the beginning, is that turbulence is caused by eddies. For people who work with water, scuba diving, fishing, sailing, you know what eddies look like. If you don’t, here’s what you can see an eddy, is take a tiny drop of cream, put it into a cup of black coffee, and then you will see that swirl and that’s what eddy is. In life, we have all kinds of eddies that are like those swirls. Eddies happen when two currents going in opposite directions come together and they create that swirl. Life is full of eddies, whether it’s the weather, whether it’s the kid, whether it’s a health challenge. There are eddies big and small, we never run out of them. What happens when there are so many eddies all at one time, that’s when turbulence happens.
Amy Segami: Look at our rough time right now that we are going through — it’s a lot of eddies. Just know that eventually, it would dissipate, it would damper out and we will ride it through.
Pam Harper: Amy, thank you for sharing your insights with us on Growth Igniters Radio.
Amy Segami: Thank you for having me, Pam and Scott. You guys are doing such good work.
Scott Harper: Thank you, Amy, and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, see examples of Amy’s art, share on social media, and read her bio and the episode transcripts, go to growthignitersradio.com, select Episode 172.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success and leaving you with this question to consider.
Scott Harper: How are we, in our company, going to model accepting and navigating the turbulence we’re encountering so that our company can innovate and grow beyond this crisis?