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Integrity: The Path To Self-Mastery

April 18, 2014

From presidents to parents, we are all leaders in some way. Every day we make choices that matter. In this multi-part series, we encourage readers to consider their choices as leaders using HopeLab’s Questions for a Curious Leader. The goal? To spark a personal, fiercely honest reflection that supports greater clarity – where new possibilities and perspectives can then emerge.


Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book Outliers: The Story of Success breaks down the concept of masterful practice. In his book, Gladwell cites the work of K. Anders Ericsson who studied mastery and top performance in a wide array of professions including surgery, acting, programming, music, and firefighting. Ericsson found that “the journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor the impatient.” The same might be said of the practice of integrity.

Mastery of any endeavor is not simply about practicing a lot. It is also about a particular type of deliberate practice that pushes you beyond your competence and comfort with attention, intentionality and resilience.

Ericsson’s research illustrated the “10,000 hours or 10 years” rule of practice essential for mastery. Athletes and musicians alike brought precise attention to the placement of their bodies, their thoughts and their emotions as they cultivated their genius. Purposeful, highly focused practice might occur up to 5-6 hours per day, but rarely more. Rest was essential.

Ericsson’s research also revealed that one may well need “a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself.” We can’t go it alone.

Integrity too is a practice that takes discipline. We inevitably fail along the way. Mastering the practice is a lifetime’s work. And the practice will not look that different from the aspiring violinist or the Olympic swimmer–to get better we’ll need knowledgeable instructors and a willingness to push at the boundaries of our learning edge. Curiosity, candor and accountability are handy assets in the practice. It is humbling, rewarding work.

There are no short cuts.  Staying curious and keeping the promises we make—living in whole-hearted integrity—may be the practice of a lifetime; but we need only start with this moment. What do you intend to do with it?


This blog series is based on the writing of Pat Christen, Susan Edsall, Chris Murchison and Richard Tate. In creating Questions for a Curious Leader, we’ve benefited greatly from the contributions of several colleagues and partners. To learn more, please download the quick reference guide.

Kevin Neilson

Do You Haiku?

April 17, 2014

We sure hope you do!

In the spirit of play with purpose, we invite you to celebrate National Haiku Poetry Day by appreciating something larger than yourself, whether it’s nature, justice, knowledge, community, family—or something else altogether.


Compose a haiku that’s inspired by an element of our work in resilience, purpose, connection, control, belonging, or physical activity. Then submit your haiku on our Facebook page in the comments section by 10:00 PM PDT.

Prepare to be surprised

Several haikus will be featured on Thursday 4/24, where the highly coveted HopeLab High Five will be awarded in a visually stunning style—we promise! Plus the HopeLab High Five’s secret redemption value will be revealed.


Remember a haiku consists of three lines with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5.

Like this:


Or this:


So try your hand at haiku on our Facebook page. There’s only upside!

Chris Murchison

A Thriller of a Farewell

April 15, 2014

Recently we said goodbye to an employee in a truly remarkable way. Instead of telling you about it, I encourage you to watch it. Spoiler alert: You’ll love this behind-the-scenes look at one of the most joyful and unorthodox send-offs ever. Plus, you’ll get a glimpse into the positive organizational culture we strive to cultivate here at HopeLab. Please enjoy!

How We Put the “Good” in Goodbye

Departing from a job is a significant milestone in anyone’s career. These endings are inevitable, and we make every effort to mark the milestone in a meaningful way at HopeLab. To honor the individual in their transition, we consider the whole person, their interests and passions, and curate a farewell that respects who they are as an individual and how we know them. Our farewells will often include a memory book with photos and hand-written notes from staff. There might also be a meal with favorite foods or at a favorite restaurant, a handcrafted article like a handmade card or a fun activity. We try to create an event and/or gift that delights the individual and communicates how much they matter to us.

pop up book

Endings are significant cultural events at HopeLab. Although sometimes sad, acknowledging and honoring these transitions strengthens our community and builds resilience. Every employee will one day leave your organization, so paying attention to endings is one of the best ways to live the values of your organization.

For insight on how honoring endings can impact your bottom line, read Jessica Amortegui’s article in Fast Company.

Janxin Leu

Why Doing Good Is Better Than Feeling Good

April 8, 2014

We often think of happiness as feeling good in the moment. But there’s a more potent kind of happiness that can have a more positive impact on our well-being: the happiness that comes from doing good.  Happiness from doing good can give you a sense of purpose in life, and new insights from science show that purpose, or the pursuit of something that is meaningful to you, can improve your health, even at the genetic level.

A group of researchers led by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina compared happiness from feeling good versus doing good to determine which is the better foil to being stressed, defensive, and feeling miserable and how each impact physical health.  To do this, the researchers asked 80 people questions about how happy they felt and how depressed they felt, then drew their blood to analyze the genes in their white blood cells.

The researchers found that at a psychological level happiness from both feeling good and doing good were inversely related to depression.  In other words, the excitement of a fun new experience can counter depression and so can helping a friend in need.  But the two types of happiness had much different impact at a genetic level.

Happiness from doing good was linked with reduced in inflammation in the body – or in biomedical terms, the down-regulation of pro-inflammatory genes.  This is a healthy pattern.  We want to see low levels of inflammation gene expression in our bodies, in general. Inflammation is helpful in small amounts – it can be a sign of healing, like the swelling around a cut or a bruise.  But inflammation also serves as an inadvertent fertilizer for chronic diseases like cancer and cardio vascular disease. Think of it this way: Inflammation is like an iron—it’s really good at solving a small set of problems, like getting the wrinkle out of a shirt.  But if you leave it on for too long, it will burn your house down.

Happiness from doing good was also linked with an increase, or up-regulation, of antiviral genes. This is also a healthy pattern.  These genes help produce an antibody response that protects us against viruses like the common cold we catch from our cubicle neighbors or our children. So higher levels antiviral gene expression can help keep us healthy.

But people with high levels of happiness from feeling good showed a different pattern. Interestingly, although they experienced a lot of happiness, their biology was going in a risky direction. This doesn’t mean that happiness from feeling good is bad for you.  There’s probably no immediate harm from chasing happiness for the sake of happiness.  But the absence of happiness from doing good – if you are just a happiness junkie, only looking for hits of happiness from feeling good – may set you up for disease.

The take away is this: Cultivating a sense of purpose in life by doing good, not just pursuing momentary gratification sets us up for feeling happy and makes us healthier. A sense of purpose is also a key component to resilience, or the ability to bounce back from adversity. Currently, there are lots of apps and other technology that track and help us feel good, but there are far fewer that get us into the mindset of doing good.


Does TED Still Deliver After All These Years?

April 1, 2014

After 30 years and an explosion of popular interest, TED remains a compelling place to share powerful ideas, revitalizing and reinventing itself with its move to Vancouver. Having previously attended TED in Monterey, then Long Beach and now Vancouver, B.C., the event’s focus on technology, entertainment and design in a setting of such spectacular natural beauty was both grounding and enlivening.

Several trends caught my eye at TED 2014: the convergence of highly customized technology (from prosthetics to microbial assays); the design and production of smaller, faster, and cheaper products (from 3-D printers to satellites); the increasing awareness of the wisdom of nature (from the lessons learned from observing an ant colony to the psychological and biological benefits of being in nature); and the growing appreciation of cultivating not only our knowledge but our wisdom (our “resume” vs. our “eulogy” values).

Here are just a few of my favorite highlights from the TED 2014 stage:

Run, Climb, Dance


A rock climber, engineer, and biophysicist, Hugh Herr of the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Extreme Bionics lost his lower legs due to severe frostbite years ago. He now wears bionic limbs designed at the Lab. Digital sensors and design make sensitivity and acuity possible. Dynamic interface allows his bionic limbs to move like flesh and bone, enabling Herr to rock climb and run up hills. Using an electrical interface, his bionic limbs move with his thoughts, as he demonstrated by running in place on stage with incredible ease. Herr’s talk included an inspiring performance by ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis who lost a leg in the terrorist attack at the 2013 Boston Marathon. “In 3.5 seconds, the terrorists took Adrianne’s dancing away from her. In 200 days, we gave it back to her,” says Herr. Adrianne delivered an elegant and grand performance, dancing on stage for an enthralled TED audience.

Love and Openness

Jill Bolte Taylor was back on stage at TED and was as inspiring as ever. Eighteen years ago, at age 37, Dr. Bolte Taylor survived a massive stroke, ultimately writing about her experience in My Stroke of Insight. Her original 2008 TED talk, where she described her experience of and recovery from stroke, is one of the most watched TED talks ever.


She believes the experience of surviving and recovering from her stroke made her kinder, more open and more expansive. I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Bolte Taylor at a Barbary Coast YPO event following her first TED talk. It was a moving experience with a remarkable woman. “I think our first job in the world is to love one another,” she says. “We come into the world through our right brain; we come into the world with curiosity about one another and an openness to others.”

Boys, Interrupted

Dr. Phil Zimbardo, a Stanford professor and psychologist, shared his findings at TED on “the demise of guys.” Zimbardo, who has co-authored a book by the same name with Nikita Duncan, identified some disturbing trends in the U.S.: 1/3 of boys grow up with no father in the home; boys who have fathers see imagethem roughly 30 minutes per week vs. spending almost 44 hours per week in front of a screen; boys are five times more likely than girls to have ADD; only 42% of boys entering college now graduate; young men increasingly prefer online pornography to sex with women; addiction arousal and lack of basic social communication skills are on the rise among young males. Zimbardo believes we need to refine and “re-find” masculinity, regulate screen time, increase vibrant, interactive family time, increase the presence of male teachers in elementary school (now only one in nine), as part of a broad solution to a significant challenge facing our boys and young men.

Forest Bump

In an amazing TED Fellows talk, Shubhendu Sharma, a reforestation expert from India who once worked at Toyota, explained how he has adapted the principles of Toyota car manufacturing to create “mini forests” that can be massed produced.


Sharma is releasing his Afforest Method soon which will enable you to send a sample of soil from your yard for analysis so you can improve your soil and identify native plants that will thrive in your locale, all while increasing biodiversity and improving air quality. As Sharma memorably quips, “You can make a forest for less than the cost of an iPhone.” The resulting forests are simply beautiful.


Some of my favorite quotes from TED follow. Even devoid of much context, I think these are also ideas worth spreading!

In response to Charlie Rose’s question about what quality of mind has served him best, Google’s Larry Page responds, “Staying focused and curious about the following two questions, ‘What is the future going to be? How are we going to create it?’”

“We are wired to solve. We make order out of chaos,” says David Kwong, a NY Times crossword puzzle maker and illusionist.

“Architecture is about the visceral, emotional feeling towards the places we occupy…Buildings don’t just reflect our society, they shape our society,” notes architect Marc Kushner.

David Brooks at TED: We spend too much energy cultivating our “resume virtues” and not enough energy cultivating our “eulogy virtues.”

TED Fellow Bora Yoon, a sound architect and musician, “Both music and architecture are systems that organize empty air.”

Masarat Daud, journalist & educator on wearing the burqa: Remember, when you see someone veiled, in a hijab, niqab or burqa and you judge them, “The brunt of your bias doesn’t hit the cloth, it hits the human being behind the cloth.”

Novelist Isabel Allende says, “What have I gained with aging? Freedom. Lightness. Softness. Spirituality. But I also have lost things. Inside I feel charming, seductive and sexy. But nobody sees that. I feel invisible. I hate feeling invisible. The Dalai Lama has aged beautifully but who wants to be vegetarian and celibate?”

Sarah Kay explains the necessity of verse, “Poetry is like pooping. If there is a poem inside you, it has to come out.”

Janxin Leu

Why Resilience Technology?

March 25, 2014

When something really tough happens – when we lose someone close, when we get a sobering diagnosis from a doctor, when we experience financial hardship, some of us are sent into a tailspin and really struggle to get our lives back together.  Others of us may be just as knocked down but somehow are better able to pick ourselves up and thrive in spite of what we are enduring.

ResilienceWhy are some of us better at coping with the stresses caused by adversity?


The truth is, bad things happen to us all. But here’s the good news: Resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity, is an innate human trait. At HopeLab, we’re exploring how social technology might support resilience, even help us thrive.

Scientific research has shown that there are actually 3 psychological experiences we can intentionally cultivate to bolster our natural resilience:

  • A sense of purpose, or meaning, in life
  • A sense of healthy connection to others
  • A sense of control over one’s destiny

Given what we know from science, how might we use tech to help people cultivate and stay true to their sense of meaning in life? How might we intentionally design to foster healthy connections between people? How might we use apps to help people feel less helpless when things are spinning out of control? Or how might we take an existing intervention that supports resilience and scale it using mobile technology?

We’ve all seen or even built mobile apps that help individuals track their personal wellness, from biometrics to happiness to stress reduction.  But building apps to tap into our innate resilience and help us thrive is an area of blue-sky opportunity. And we’re looking forward to exploring the possibilities and sharing what we learn with you.

Kevin Neilson

Re-Mission 2 Wins a 2014 ON for Learning Award from Common Sense Media

March 20, 2014

commonsense_award_badge_rev_circularOnly thing better than one award is two!

In the span of a week, Re-mission 2 has won a second prestigious award, receiving Common Sense Media’s highest rating for learning potential and engagement.

“Our learning ratings are the most comprehensive tool parents and teachers have to distinguish digital media that is truly educational from those that simply claim to be,” said James P. Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. “The ON for Learning Award recipients have set themselves apart from the pack. We congratulate HopeLab for receiving this award and for creating a terrific mobile app that helps kids learn and have fun, too.”

According to game reviewer Marc Lesser, Re-Mission 2 combines high entertainment value with brilliant engagement. “Each of the six games in this collection is entertaining, well-designed, and distinctive. Kids are likely to jump between them in excitement, making progress in quick chunks before rotating to the next. Knowledge is cleverly baked into each weapon and enemy name, such as Radiation Beams and Reed Sternberg Overseers. The actions they perform clearly symbolize their real-world functions.”

We’re delighted to receive this award from Common Sense Media. It means a great deal HopeLab and the entire team that helped build Re-Mission 2, including medical professionals, game developers, and – most importantly – young cancer patients. We’re grateful for their input and expertise.

Thank you so much!

Chris Murchison

What Gardening Taught Me About Thriving Organizations

March 18, 2014

Although I tend to neglect plants (often to their peril), I recently found inspiration in an unlikely spot: my own garden. As my partner and I redesigned our backyard, we had to pay careful attention to so many details—the soil, shade and irrigation, as well as the pattern and visual tapestry of what we planted. I was struck by a similarity: Cultivating a garden is a lot like cultivating a healthy and vibrant organization. Both require vision, a principled approach and careful tending over time.


Seeds of wisdom

Out of curiosity, I scanned the web for insights and lessons on gardening. I found many that nicely reflected the practice of tending and building organizational culture. These wise sayings inspired me the most:

  • There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments
  • Gardeners must dance with feedback, play with results, turn as they learn
  • Leave one corner of your garden untouched, chaotic, free and you will reap insights
  • Think about how the landscape you govern represents the footprint that you leave behind you on this Earth
  • Watering is the practice of gentleness
  • The wise gardener knows when to stop

One of the most common metaphors of the workplace is a well-oiled machine. But this focuses solely on efficiency and productivity, ignoring other aspects of a vibrant organization. The gardening metaphor is a good reminder that tending to workplace culture requires presence, creativity and improvisation.

So, what wisdom might you add to the list?

I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

For your use or sharing pleasure.
Print. Share. Be inspired.





Kevin Neilson

Re-Mission 2 Takes Gold

March 17, 2014

parents_choice_goldRe-Mission 2: Nanobot’s Revenge, our cancer-fighting mobile app for iOS and Android, is a Parents’ Choice Gold Award winner! The Parents’ Choice Awards program honors the best material for children, ranging from books, toys, music and storytelling, to magazines, software, video games, television and websites.

According to the Parents’ Choice review, “Re-Mission 2 is fun and not overly difficult…. The greatest benefit [is] … in restoring a sense of control not only to children who are fighting illnesses themselves, but to those who are affected by such illness among their families and friends. The satisfaction of destroying a disease so overwhelming, of having a personal weapon against something so intangible yet so real, is of infinite value, a tool almost as powerful as the medicines themselves.”

Everyone at HopeLab is honored to receive this prestigious award and delighted to be placed in such remarkable company.

Thank you, Parents’ Choice Awards!

Janxin Leu

Job Satisfaction Is Closer Than You Think

March 6, 2014

One of the great pleasures of working at HopeLab is that guest speakers from all over the world visit us and share their fascinating research. Today we were delighted to host Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, a Yale professor and scholar who is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on the meaning of work.


After years of research, Dr. Wrzesniewski has discovered that in every major occupation, from cleaning crews to physicians, some people view their work as a calling, not just a job or a career. People who view their work as a calling actively create meaning in their work through “job crafting,” a set of practices anyone can adopt.


Crafting meaningful work

Job crafting is what people to do redesign their own jobs in ways that foster engagement, job satisfaction, resilience and well-being. Employees craft their jobs quite naturally in three ways:

Task crafting—alter the number, type and nature of tasks one performs, even if this goes outside one’s job description, as is often the case.

Relational crafting—modify the number, type, and intensity of work relationships, with a special emphasis on changing the style of interaction so that it promotes positive outcomes.

Cognitive crafting—shift one’s perception of his or her role and identity within the larger organization.

The bottom line

Job crafting influences what, how, when and with whom one works. But the greatest effect of all is that it changes the meaning of work so that employees feel more in control and on purpose. Research indicates that meaningful and purposeful work impacts key outcomes including motivation, absenteeism, engagement, and satisfaction, among others. And no matter where you sit in the organization, whether you’re a VP, a manager, or an entry-level position, job crafting yields increases in both performance and well-being. And that’s good for the entire organization.


Excellent, here are some additional tidbits for your snacking pleasure. Enjoy!


“At first, I never liked this job. But I had to love my job to live, so I started to decorate my truck.”


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