Friday, November 09, 2007

Edgewalkers by Judi Neal

Thursday morning I went to see Judi Neal speak at a Prarie View Food for Thought event. Neal is author of the book, "Edgewalkers." This is the term she uses to define people who help bridge different worlds by being on the edges of them.

On her website,, she says, "they are often people who have pursued unusual educational and career paths... these unconventional people often clash with more traditional, rule-bound colleagues, and they are often frustrated by organizational systems that emphasize quantitative results over creative impulses. And yet in today's fast-changing, globalized business environment, organizations must recruit and support these people in order to stay competitive." One of the other books she referenced this morning was Megatrends 2010, which I read earlier this year.

She started and ended her speech this morning by singing. She has a lovely voice, and plays guitar quite well. She seems to be a woman of many talents.

She said she first came up with the phrase "Edgewalker" when she was reading an article and Malcolm Gladwell was quoted in it as saying that most people who cause positive social change live on the edge of town. They don't want the judgment of people who are interested in maintaining the status quo. He was talking about it in the context of quantum physics and the idea that the edge is where creativity happens. Neal thought that was interesting and she came up with the word, "Edgewalker," to describe people who are the ones who live on the edge where this new thinking can occur.

She listed three things that are hallmarks of Edgewalkers.

1. Self-awareness
Awareness of your thoughts, values and behavior and if you're living that way now, and a commitment to spend time in self-reflection.

2. Passion
Edgewalkers have an intense focus on purpose and the use of gifts in a way that adds value to their life and work.
*Nothing is half-hearted about Edgewalkers
*Commitment to something bigger than themselves
*No tolerance for small talk
*Life histories often include traumas or life threatening events; near-death experiences; alcoholic, abusive or mentally ill parents; being inspired by a saint-like person

3. Playful
Joyful sense of fun and creativity. An ability to keep everything in perspective.

Obviously, as you know if you're a regular reader here, those things describe me. The question, as always, is what to do with that information. It is much like reading "The Creative Class" by Richard Florida. It's interesting. I can identify myself. But what do you do with that information? The difficulty is getting "the establishment" to appreciate those of us who are "different."

She had a little test for us to take to see if we were Edgewalkers. There were 20 questions. I said yes to 19 of them. Her cut off was if you answered yes to 12 or more you were an Edgewalker. There were a couple of them that really, really resonated with me.
I frequently feel different from most people.
People often see me as a risk-taker, but the things I do don't seem risky to me. Somehow I just know they will work out.

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know both of those are things I've talked about here multiple times. The archives of this blog would illustrate all of these 20 questions, actually.

The one question I didn't choose was, "People often see me as a leader, even though I am different from most of the people who have been leaders in that organization." I guess that would also be true if I consider my current job. I am very, very different than the people before me. They were trained clinicians and I'm not is an obvious difference. So, maybe I had 20 out of 20.

I have often described my life as living in two different worlds. That was even one of the questions I posed for the Sunday morning dialogue sessions in August - what double lives do you lead. It's something that I have pinpointed as a difficulty for me when relating to other people. I will always be a farm girl at heart and am so thankful for that background, but I spend more time these days doing things like serving on boards and going to chamber breakfasts - neither of which I ever did in the farm world. I like having both perspectives, but I don't really, fully, fit into either one. And it's difficult for people to relate to me as well.

Of course, the chamber breakfast involves something I despise - chit chat. Peggy was sitting with me this morning and looked over at me and laughed when that one came up because she has heard me say dozens of times that I hate chit chat. I just see no point in it. It's a waste of time. I'm not going to find out anything about you and you're not going to find out anything about me while we're engaged in mindless prattle about the weather. So, why bother? Idle chatter is boring and I'd much rather be by myself and quiet than listening to it. I can meditate, read, think or create in that time that would otherwise be wasted with small talk.

My favorite questions to ask people are, "What are you afraid of?" and "What have you always wanted more of?" because those two questions give you a sense of who a person is at their core level right away. And if we aren't people who are going to bond, then why waste our time? We'll both be better served by finding different people who are on the same wavelength.

I had to learn that you just couldn't ask people things like that the first conversation you have with them. It took me a long time to learn it. I'm still known as "the question person" among my friends. I have always thought it's a leftover from my days as a journalist. One of my best talents as a journalist was interviewing people. I was always good at that. You have carte blanche to ask almost any question you wish.

You may remember I mentioned recently that in Salt Lake I met someone I knew I was supposed to meet. One of the reasons I knew that - other than I just knew it the second we exchanged hellos - was that I knew I could ask him those questions in our first conversation and that he would have an answer. I did. And he did. Just as I expected. So, instead of having chit chat, we had real conversation - such a pleasant change of pace from the normal experience of someone you meet by happenstance.

I really enjoyed Judi Neal and her lecture about "Edgewalkers." It would be wonderful if the corporate world would listen to her, but it's hard for me to imagine such a thing. The mere structure of the business world is designed to crush creative souls - rigid hours, bare cubicles and white walls with mission statements posted on every available surface should keep everyone from having an innovative thought. Should one occur, however, there's always a middle manager nearby to contain it before it infects anyone else. OK, I'm being overly dramatic for effect, but only by a little bit, and bear in mind I've spent most of my career in "creative" fields.
As I used to joke with coworkers, "Dilbert isn't funny when you're living it." And there's a  reason so many people can relate to Dilbert.

I don't know this to be true, but I'm guessing that expanding new media companies don't demand that people punch a time clock, keep their work areas pristine white, and spend endless hours in meetings where they watch powerpoints of the company handbook.

I'm really fortunate in my current job that I get to do things on my own schedule, in my own way, but that's because I don't have any coworkers, so I don't have to conform to anyone's standards. And, my board is very supportive - as long as the work is getting done they don't care how it happens. I'm blessed. And I'm thankful for it everyday.

My dream remains to make my living being me.

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