Fill in the Blank

Photo by Civic Center

Have you ever been asked a question that’s so simple, but so deep it stumps you for a second? Here’s one: “Fill in the blank: ‘before I die I want to ______;” (Granted, it’s not technically a question….)

Now what if you could survey gobs of strangers with the same inquiry? Do you wonder what they’d say? What about your co-workers or your relatives – do you think you’d be surprised?

Artist Candy Chang asked a whole New Orleans neighbourhood the question by creating a giant fill-in-the-blank chalk board on the side of an abandoned building. [], and since then, many others have put boards like it in their cities.  “It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you”, Candy says on her website.

What comes up for you when you’re challenged to fill-in-the-blank? Does the answer align with what you do in your day-to-day?

There’s a spin-off of this project called Project Better. Using the same concept, their public boards say “[this city/neighbourhood] would be better if_____”.  Can you imagine what might show up in anonymous comments if a corporate leader put a giant “this organization would be better if _________” board? What about a big “this company’s leadership would be better if _______” board? Talk about being vulnerable.

The difference between this and a suggestion box is that it’s not just about mining for answers by whomever posts the board; the effect of allowing the larger population insight on others’ perspectives will surely stimulate innovative ideas and productive discussion.

I’m dying for someone to try this large-scale experiment in their organization and report back to me at

Back to School


Photo by The Green Party

Regardless of whether you have kids, my sense is that as August turns into September, we all get that “back to school” feeling. We buckle down and get a little more serious about our work after weeks of being pulled outside by summer…. be it long lunches, long weekends or long breaks. And there’s a twinge of sadness about saying goodbye to this universal “play” season.

For kids going back to school, the “goodbye” is balanced out a little. Even those who would hate to admit it know that there’s an excitement. It’s about seeing old friends, gaining status as you move to the next grade, the sports teams, the school plays, and hey, maybe even learning something cool in class. It’s familiar…..but different.

Let’s challenge ourselves as professionals to add some of back-to-school spark to our “back to the grindstone” perspective. Don’t repeat the grade! We don’t wait for kids to get 100% in one grade to move to the next one, and you don’t need to have had a perfect year at work to advance.

In other words, we owe it to ourselves to intentionally do something diffrent and interesting this season. Don’t wait until you’re sick of repeating the same grade over and over.

What one thing can you point to and say, “That’s somewhat intimidating, but tackling it would feel so great!” Is it asking for something you want? Being bold about sharing your vision? Raising the bar with sales goals? Upgrading your skills? Redefining your role? Your career?

This is not like a guilt-driven New Year’s resolution. Rather, this is about building off of another solid year of experience under your belt. You’ve earned a promotion to the next grade.  So what will you sign up to learn and experience this school year?