The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™
FEB 2010, No. I, Sec. I
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Shrink Rap I: Transforming the Conventional into the Creative
Testimonials: Fairfax County Govt. VA; ESP Inc.; Assn of Legal Admins
Chapters -- Minnesota and Orlando
Shrink Rap II: Boldly Bring Your Inner Chutzpah
Main Essay: Audacity of Humility: Leading by "All Too Human" Example
Offerings: Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit: Email email@example.com
or go to www.stressdoc.com for more info.
1. Shrink Rap I. "Transforming the Conventional into the Creative"
examines the power of discovering and designing "bright crystals" of
contradiction. Learn to transform conventional cognition and communication into
imaginative, insightful and multifaceted understanding and adaptation -- the
hallmarks of creative connection.
2. Shrink Rap II. "Boldly Bring Your Inner Chutzpah" defines the term,
provides some illustrative stories demonstrating how "chutzpah" involves an
assertive if not aggressive attitude and takes a little daring. Such spirit is
needed in these troubling times. To find your "Inner Chutzpah," you may have to
"Confront Your Intimate FOE" -- with "Three Steps for Overcoming Fear of
3. Main Essay: "The Audacity of Humility" through definitions and
vignettes examines how a leader, by being vulnerable and humble, whether by
laying down the "self-important" corporate mask and megaphone or by inviting and
absorbing critical feedback, courageously comes down from the pedestal making it
easier for people to meaningfully relate and connect. This role model
encourages people to be more accepting of their own humanity, motivating
understanding and compassion for self and others.
Transforming the Conventional into the Creative:
Discovering and Designing the “Bright Crystals” of Contradiction
These days everyone wants to be creative, to “think out of the box.” But how do
you walk the talk? As a workshop leader who often tries to give organizations a
“Jolt of CPR: Being Creative, Passionate and Risk-Taking,” let me share
one concept that just might be an integral component of creative thinking and
problem-solving. On stage, I like to introduce this concept through a
thought-provoking and, possibly, unsettling exercise that was inspired by the
research of Dr. Albert Rothenberg, as reported in his book The Emerging
Goddess: Creativity in the Sciences and the Arts. (The title evokes the
mythic imagery of Athena, Greek goddess of both war and creativity, being born
full-sized from the head of her almighty father, Zeus.) This Yale Psychiatrist
and Cognitive Psychologist found
that subjects who responded with more opposites or antonyms in a word
association test – e.g., "wet" to the word "dry" or "fast" to the word "slow" –
had higher scores on certain creative personality measures than subjects
generating mostly synonyms or "original” responses. (Rothenberg’s sample was
fairly small and at most his results can be suggestive. My casual workshop
trials indicate that usually less than ten percent of the audience free
associate predominantly with antonyms. Of course, I remind participants that
this is only one informal measure of creativity.) Considering the small or
informal sample size, nonetheless, why might there be a correlation between
contradictory association and personality differentiation? To expand your
worldview and problem-solving vision, consider these Seven Cognitive
Complexity Keys for Transforming the Conventional into the Creative:
a. Challenge the Conventional.
To think oppositionally reveals a willingness to confront the conventional and
the accepted or even "the respected authority." While some view this as
defiance, others see a delicious opportunity. As von Oech wryly noted in his
classic on creativity, A Whack On the Side of the Head: "Sacred cows make
great steaks." Or more potently and paradoxically, consider the pioneering 20th
century artist, Pablo Picasso’s refrain: “Every act of creation is first of all
an act of destruction!” (Guess sometimes to “think out of the box” is not
sufficient; to start fresh and be fertile you may have to blow up the sucker, or
at least be willing to challenge some traditional or foundational assumptions.)
To seek a higher truth, one may have to look at the oppositional with a more
complex, ironical, or even volatile mind’s eye and become more comfortable with
seeming contradiction. (Hot ice anyone?)
b. Recognize Yin-Yang Perspective.
This Eastern symbol depicts a complex truth: that seeming opposites don’t
necessarily result in division or separation, but potentially flow into each
other forming a greater, interconnected whole. Also, the symbol illustrates how
a small circle of contradiction embedded in its opposite (as represented by a
small black dot in the largest part of the white flowing amoeba-like space or a
small white dot in the largest part of the black flowing amoeba-like space) is
seeding the emergence of its counterpoint, that is, the white space ultimately
transforms into black space and the black into white.
A Yin-Yang perspective was articulated by the pioneering actor and comedian,
Charlie Chaplin, who, for example, believed the “light-hearted” emerged from
darkness: “A paradoxical thing about making comedy is that it is precisely the
tragic which arouses the funny. We have to laugh due to our helplessness in the
face of natural forces and in order not to go crazy.” Or consider the poignant
observation from the inspiring disability pioneer, Helen Keller: The world
is so full of care and sorrow it is a gracious debt we owe one another to
discover the bright crystals of delight hidden in somber circumstances and
irksome tasks. Ms. Keller certainly perceives the yin-yang seeding
principle. Finally, what about this seemingly contradictory example: have you
ever had a fair fight with a close friend or partner? You both express angry
feelings; each one says his or her piece without wanting to rub the other’s face
in the mud. And lo and behold, once feeling genuinely heard (even without
reaching total agreement) the anger begins to subside replaced by a sense of
relief, sure, but also some intimacy, perhaps even a little more trust.
c. Develop Forest and Trees, Tactics and Strategy.
Oppositional thinking is not simply reactive: by definition it’s positioning
one concept in juxtaposition or relation to another – such as by quality,
e.g., “wet vs. dry,” quantity, e.g., “large” vs. “small” or by
position, “above vs. below” or “hill vs. valley.” That is, oppositional
perspective challenges you to see multiple points of view, including your
antagonist’s mindset – which may facilitate understanding and empathy or even
give you an advantage in terms of short-term tactics and long-term strategy.
Creative problem solving requires definite feel for details (the trees), but you
also want a sense of the big picture (the forest).
Grappling with polarity encourages the rejection of simplistic “black or white”
and “good or bad” thinking. A capacity to make discriminations, to see shades
of gray (a byproduct perhaps of the tension between forest and tress and other
dichotomies) and, especially, examining both sides of an issue is critical for
being a guide “on the cutting edge.” (And remember, these days, “If you’re not
living on the edge you’re taking up way too much space.”)
d. Blend the Analytic and the Empathic.
Oppositional processing also means building a mind bridge within, that is,
harnessing your masculine and feminine energy, using your head and heart, or
according to one neuropsychological researcher, cultivating “bi-hemispheric
peace of minds.” Of course, the different sides of the brain-personality are
not always in perfect harmony. On a personal level and in the performance
arena, I need time and space for my manic-like, “out there” stage persona. But
I also must have room for being a sometimes melancholy or a frequently
introspective and analytically insightful cave dweller. (Alas, sometimes one
soars then crashes or at least burns or runs out of energy before the
rejuvenation cycle kicks in.) But when I have both these energy – mind and mood
– sources cooking and interacting, when my heated passion is tempered with cool
purpose and hard-earned perspective…then I’m “Touched with Fire” (the title of
psychologist and best-selling author, Kay Redfield Jamison’s book; its subtitle
– “Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament”).
e. Pay Homage to Janus, F.Scott and A. North.
Many in the arts and sciences have recognized the importance of reconciling
seeming opposition to achieve a sense of wholeness or enriched integration, what
Albert Rothenberg called “Janusian Thinking.” This cognitive process was named
for the dual and opposite profiled, Roman deity, Janus, whose image was often
found on gates and doorways. And appropriately, Janus was the god of
“beginnings and endings” and of “leavings and returns.” Consider my Janusian-like
linguistic loop of beginnings and separations: “One must begin to separate…one
must be separate to begin.”
Moving from the mythic, to the more contemporary, thinkers of all stripes,
including Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Alfred North Whitehead and acclaimed 20th
century author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, have embraced the latter’s ideas about the
significance of grappling with opposition: “The test of a first-rate
intelligence is the capacity to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same
time and still retain the ability to function. For example, one should see
things as hopeless yet determined to make them otherwise.” Sounds like another
leading edge mantra!
f. Explore and Express Text and Context.
As a “word artist” – both on the page and on stage – the importance of grappling
with “text” and “context” is inescapable. “Text” is the “on its face” data or
“utility” of a message while one notion of “context” is the envelope of
personal, interpersonal, cultural, historical background or circumstance in
which the message is embedded, thereby providing or coloring it’s full meaning
and significance. The best communicators understand that, in yin-yang fashion,
both text and context along with substance and style and a forest and trees
perspective must be accounted for if real meaning is to be gleaned, or if
“message sent is to be message received.” Can you relate to this vexing example
of one-dimensional information flow: have you ever received directions for
assembling a product with only verbal instructions and no supportive images?
Of course, accurately receiving a message is only half the battle. The cutting
edge communicator is not simply passionate but also knows how to deliver a
message, especially by telling a story. According to Daniel Pink, in his book,
A Whole New Brain, most of our thinking and our knowledge are organized as
stories. Storytelling is the ability to place facts in context and to
deliver them with emotional impact. A story blends high concept and high
touch. Stories are high concept because they sharpen our understanding of one
thing by showing it in the context of something else, a basic tool for
understanding. Of course, when telling stories, especially in our ADHD
culture, consider this Shakespearean maxim – Brevity is the soul of wit.
And I would add, “Wisdom.”
James Lukaszewski, founder of The Lukaszewski Group Inc., a crisis communication
firm, observed in a recent speech: “Telling stories is far more powerful than
all of the studies, analyses, data, and information piled together on any given
subject you can name. Data is debatable; stories permit everyone who hears,
sees, or reads to make up their own minds from their own perspectives. Great
leaders tell great stories. Stories help others learn to be leaders…Be a
storyteller and you'll become known for being helpful, memorable, and a source
of inspiration, insight, as well as self-evident truths."
g. Generate and Tolerate Thesis-Antithesis Tension.
When trying to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable you may experience what
psychiatrist, Richard Rabkin, called a state of “thrustration,” which I defined
thusly: “Thrustration occurs when you’re torn between thrusting ahead with
direct action and frustration as you haven’t quite put together the pieces of
the puzzle.” Some are not able to tolerate such tension. A truly classic
New Yorker cartoon, playing off the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities,
forever lampooned the dangers of self-righteous rigidity in the face of seeming
contradiction. A nattily attired, pompous looking publisher standing behind his
power desk begins to chastise a humbly dressed, hat in hand Charles Dickens:
"Really, Mr. Dickens…was it the best of times or was it the worst of times? It
could scarcely have been both!"
However, if you can stay with such cognitive tension and confusion, the angst
just may fire the right hemisphere of your brain with the potential for sparking
metaphorical images and analogies along with surprising and paradoxical visual
puns. The reward may be worth the risk. Here’s a personal illustration of how
the tension between thesis and antithesis yielded a creative and integrative
“Aha!” Back in the early ‘90s, I wound up writing some rap-like lyrics for a
black beauty contest theme song. (Don't ask. I had periodically tried my hand
at poetry, including a bluesy number called “The Burnout Boogie.” Email
for any and all.) One morning, shortly after my
noble, beauty contest effort, I awoke chastising myself: I was a university
professor, a psychotherapist (thesis)…What was I doing trying to write rap
lyrics (antithesis)? A blazing flash scattered my sleepy haze. As the mist
lifted, there…a mystical (if not hysterical) conceptual vision; a catalyst for
my pioneering efforts in the realm of psychologically humorous rap music. I was
no longer just playing in a field of dreams: “If you write and “Shrink Rap” ™
it…they will come” (creative synthesis). Clearly, my goal in life has a
paradoxical bent: to be a wise man and a wise guy. Again, a pretty good
recipe for a cutting edge thinker, leader and budding “psychohumorist” ™!
A conceptual framework for turning on your creative brain has been outlined.
Seven paradoxical, mind-expanding tools were illustrated:
Challenge the Conventional,
Recognize Yin-Yang Perspective,
Develop Forest and Trees, Tactics and Strategy,
d. Blend the Analytic and the Empathic
e. Pay Homage to Janus, F. Scott and A. North,
f. Explore and Express Text and Context, and
g. Generate and Tolerate Thesis-Antithesis Tension.
So learn to discover and design “bright crystals” of contradiction. You will
transform conventional cognition and communication into imaginative, insightful
and multifaceted understanding and adaptation – the hallmarks of creative
connection. And as illustrated, this connection manifests in domains ranging
from achievement to affiliation: 1) in the intrapersonal realm of
mind-mood/mania-melancholia/heated passion-cool purpose interplay,
“bihemispheric peace of minds” along with the synthesizing “Aha!” experience and
2) in the interpersonal realm of empathy, integration and emotional
intelligence. Here are complex concepts to keep us evolving and to enable one
and all to…Practice Safe Stress!
ESP Corp--Engineering Solutions and Products, Inc.
[Half-day team building offsite -- "Transforming Stress, Conflict and Change
into Creative Teaming" -- for 50+ Managers (mostly ex-military, former
high-level NCOs); Dallas, TX; major government contractor to DOD/armed services]
Feb 17, 2010
On behalf of Engineering Solutions & Products Incorporated, and all of the
participants from our Dallas Offsite in January 2010, we would like to extend
our heartfelt "Thank You." Although our workshop was only a half day, you
ensured it was packed full of energy and attention-grabbing topics and
information. We believe that better communications is the key to success and
your presentation really drove home that point. The best thing of all was that
your presentation was totally in synch with the company's values and how the
President/CEO expects his Senior and Junior Level Managers to interface with
employees. The exercises were outstanding and I could see our participants
wanting to have their data shared with the group. Participants were so
motivated by the presentation that you received a well-deserved standing ovation
by all. Thank you for spending time with us the previous day in order to get a
better understanding of ESP and our corporate values - it meant a lot to the
team that you went above and beyond to make the presentations meaningful to
all. We gained a lot from this team building/better communications workshop and
look forward to working with you at future events.
Again, thank you!
VP of Operations
Association of Legal Administrators -- Minnesota State Chapter
[1.5 hour workshop on "Practicing Safe Stress in Challenging Times" for 50+
Feb 12, 2010
Thank you very much for your fun and informative presentation. I heard many
positive comments such as "great and relevant topic," "great presentation with
real life examples," and "nice to have some tips to deal with stress." Many of
the participants commented on how much fun they had with the exercise. Overall,
it was a great time and we really appreciate it!
Colette M. Canniff
Legal Administrative Assistant Manager
Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P.
800 LaSalle Avenue, Suite 2800
Minneapolis, MN 55402
Association of Legal Administrators -- Orlando Chapter
[Luncheon Keynote -- "Jumpstarting the New Year -- Practice Safe Stress through
Resilience, Focused Flexibility and Laughter"]
Subject Re: Post-Orlando ALA Meeting Greetings from the Stress Doc
Yes you can enter me on your free newsletter list.
I really enjoyed your program last week and will strive to use what I learned
I really enjoyed your rap song at the end of the program too.
I have "dropped the rope" 2 times already and boy what a difference that makes.
Thank you! :o)
JoAnna C. McCurry
Grower, Ketcham, Rutherford,
Bronson, Eide & Telan, P.A.
Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social
Worker, is a one-of-a-kind "Motivational Humorist & Team Communication
Catalyst." The "Doc" is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker known for his
interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop programs. The
"Stress Doc" is also a team building and organizational development consultant
for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and non-profits. And he is AOL's
"Online Psychohumorist" ™. Mark is an Adjunct Professor at Northern VA (NOVA)
Community College and currently he is leading "Stress, Team Building and Humor"
programs for the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions and Brigades, at Ft.
Hood, Texas and Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. A former Stress and Conflict Consultant
for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe
Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his award-winning, USA
Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace
resource" by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info on the Doc's
"Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-875-2567.
(c) Mark Gorkin 2010
Shrink Rap™ Productions