The Ending of a L.A. Love Affair

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Leaving San Francisco in 2006 to find myself in L.A.

FALLING IN LOVE

It was love that brought me to Los Angeles in 2006, but not the way you think. Ok, yes, it was what you think, but not really. Love was the catalyst for me moving from San Francisco to L.A. But I was already actively looking for my next step, feeling a desire to expand, when I was introduced to someone whom I came to fall head over heals for. Being an innocent, or fairly innocent business woman and entrepreneur from Sweden, it was like catnip. Impossible not to pursue. On a deeper level, I was ready for an inner make-over. During the five years I had lived in San Francisco, a whole new me was emerging and I was hungry for more. I wanted to break free from ‘Business-Lotta’ and become a yoga-teaching artist of sorts, explore my creativity and spirituality, teach leadership to top executives in Hollywood – with the belief that I could transform the story-factory of the world, and become someone new and better. Shinier.

Being with ‘the cool kids.’ Happy.

BEING WITH ‘THE COOL KIDS’

It worked. Sort of. Not the love-part, but the intensity of the emotions opened up a whole new universe for me, and so did the invitation to enter into his world. Suddenly, I was hanging out with ‘the cool kids’, with which I always had had a complicated relationship. But these people were different, I thought. They were artists, creators, and they moved through the world with an effortless ease, partially because of their looks, partially because of their upbeat take on life, partially because they were part of the L.A. creatives’ scene with the never-ending pool parties. But not the boring ones with the drugged out models. Instead, the eclectic ones with wigs, burning-man inspired set-ups, great funky DJs, and a strong community of people who chose to pursue a different path. I felt as if I could let out my inner child to play, and while I still didn’t fit in, I had more fun initially than I had ever had before.

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Anything goes, which is part of ‘the seduction vortex’.

ANYTHING GOES

I believe that is one of the reasons why L.A. is so attractive for so many. It’s not only the patina of glamour that Hollywood lends. The sense of promise can be found in most nooks and crannies in the rest of L.A. A promise and permission to be yourself, especially an idealized version of yourself. If you stay out of Hollywood, L.A. can be incredibly non-judgmental. Indeed, almost anything goes, coupled with a deep curiosity and a lust for life. People come to L.A. to become someone or something. It is the city of dreams and opportunities, a haven for creatives, and a mecca for those who want an audience. Unless, of course, you are a paperless immigrant, homeless or one of the many heart-broken dreamers leaving Hollywood on Greyhound buses every week. But even for many of them, it’s a never-ending seduction. In some ways, it is very much like the Eagles’ song ‘Hotel California’. “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” So you stay, and while you are in sync with all the ‘cool stuff’, even if you are 85 years old, like one of my neighbors, Johanna, a sweet woman with a lot of spunk, yet completely focused on her looks, you wake up one day and realize that you are in fact 85 years old. Despite all the cosmetic surgeries and all the green drinks time didn’t stand still, and you never even managed to exit the hotel lobby. Very few places on earth manage to create that type of seduction-vortex.

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Singing at nightclubs in Hollywood. Pinching my arm.

BECOMING AN ARTIST

A few years in, I had landed a bit more, found more grounded people and like-minded friends to hang out with and I had become a singer, a dream that I had never even dared to believe in as a child. I was performing at venues in Hollywood, which made me want to pinch my arm. I was exploring other creative avenues as well, and I was discovering myself on the inside, following a series of spiritual awakenings that took me on the now mandatory Ashram-trek to India coupled with shamanic journeys. Work-wise, I did end up coaching powerful executives in Hollywood. But the more I saw, the more disillusioned I got. The inside of Hollywood is more like a fiefdom with dated views of management and of women. Things are slowly changing, mostly because the distribution game has upended the seat of power, but the belief that I could, or wanted to be part of changing that world, disappeared. Yet I still didn’t feel done. I had started writing extensively in English, and I finished a book, a biography and a self-development book, which I ended up not publishing, due to concerns of people who might get hurt in the process.

The Global Investment Fund focused on Women.

A RETURN TO THE BUSINESS WORLD

Feeling a hunger for reentering the business world, I decided to create a global investment fund for women entrepreneurs together with my own training model for entrepreneurial leadership attached to it. It was a great time meeting amazing people who were all about ‘conscious money’, especially in the Bay Area and together with a friend and partner, we were able to get far in the process. I also joined the woman’s leadership organization 85 Broads (now Ellevate) and shared leadership of the SoCal Chapter with two other women. In 2010, I stepped up as the President of the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, focusing on the creative industries in L.A. I sought a reconnection with my Swedish roots, to ‘normalcy’ and to put my leadership theories into practice. While pursuing the restructuring of an organization hovering close to bankruptcy, unpaid, I did learn a lot and together with a great group of people we did turn it around, but I was exhausted. I ended up not continuing with the investment fund due to the many restrictions in fundraising, and because of the realization that it was still the learning/training aspect that fueled me the most.

The first visual of the Video-Game

THE VIDEO-GAME WITH BIOFEEDBACK

Instead, I moved my focus to creating a video-game, using storytelling, biofeedback (deep breathing) and a way of teaching the leadership model I had developed through video-games. I partnered up with a wonderful colleague and we fund-raised from venture capitalists, built business models, met more investors, learned the inns and outs of how to create a successful video-game, and the world of sensor-technology. It took us to the first offer of $250.000 in funding, but in a joint decision we turned it down, since it came with too many catches. The more we met with Venture Capitalists, the more I felt a deja-vu over what I had already done back in Sweden, namely living in a VC-based reality. When I realized that nothing had changed since my last VC-funded adventure in Sweden more than a decade earlier, I decided that instead of trying to fight the system in order to get ‘chosen’, or attempt to change it, I’ll do it on my own terms. Starting with what I have control over, and a love for, namely writing.

The Hollywood and VC-pitch for describing the storyline behind the game was: Alice in Wonderland meets Matrix, meets Harry Potter with a dash of the Walking Dead.

FANTASY WRITING & THE LOVE AFFAIR STARTS CRUMBLING

So while I still want to build the video-game; I believe in game-mechanics as a superior learning device, especially coupled with biofeedback, I decided to pursue the most fun part of it, namely to create the world around the game through fantasy-writing. The more positive reinforcement I got from producers and writers in Hollywood regarding my storyline and writing (in English, my second language, which made me want to pinch my other arm), the more I realized that that would be my ‘in’. The writing itself would be the way of creating enough Intellectual Property leverage for negotiating with investors, if I would need them at all. When that message started to sink in, it felt as if I were waking up, questioning for the first time my choice of living in L.A. In July, 2014, after participating in a writing workshop with professional writers in Hollywood Hills, a workshop that made me happier than I had been in a long time, I drove home that night, crystal clear that I was ready to move. I had learned what I came for.

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The adventure continues in Seattle, further down the rabbit hole, but now with more joy, trust and surety of footing.

NEXT ADVENTURE

It has taken me few more months to land in that decision, to find out where I want to go, and how I can enable the development of extraordinary leaders and a more sacred form of doing business, while reviving another project AND keep on writing in order to publish the first book from the game-world. Now, it feels very clear why I came here. It was a self-discovery tour, a creative revelation, an entrepreneurial journey and an existential & spiritual make-over, all of which, thankfully, only took nine years. I have no idea if Seattle is the end-game, but I do know that it’s calling me, maybe it’s the same guidance that prompted me to pack my bags and leave for L.A., and for that matter, the U.S. A couple of the new things I intend to embark on creatively is to learn how to play the guitar, with the intent of being able to do some singing-song-writing – and I want to do some improv again, which terrifies me, in a good way. I’m incredibly grateful for everything I’ve learned, and all the amazing friends I’ve met along the path, those who are born in L.A. and those who come from across the world, all of whom that have made L.A. their home. They have taught me so much about life, and about embracing it all, creatively and spiritually. Seeing the starry-eyed expressions of the people fresh of the boat here, Swedes and other nationalities, as well as East-Coasters tired of the snow, their eyes blinking in unison with the lamps on the giant billboards, I salute them all, wishing them happy dream-fulfillment. Yet, I know that I won’t come back and live here again, even though I will visit friends and keep working with clients and creative projects in L.A. So while the physical L.A.-love affair is ending, I’m carrying my love for the creative and the entrepreneurial with me, both expressions of life that are closely related to the soul. Or rather, I believe they are pure expressions of soul. I will pay that forward and continue down the rabbit hole, how far, and wherever, it takes me.

Love & Peace
Lotta Alsén, April 23, 2015

What will it take to change the culture and ethics of the banking industry?

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William D. Cohan writes a great article in The Atlantic, ‘Can Bankers Behave‘ on the problems of dishonesty and culture in the banking industry. He posits that while there are some changes afoot, it’s still a long road ahead, if the path towards ethics can be maintained at all.

While I agree with Cohan on all major points, I also maintain that unless leadership and even the definition of leadership changes, the cultural dishonesty problems will persist. Leadership, in my book, starts with how we lead ourselves, which in turn depends on our level of self-awareness, and our psychological maturity. With increasing self-awareness and psychological growth, becoming more whole human beings, we also develop more integrity. So a culture that puts personal leadership at the top will also develop employees that are driven by higher standards; employees that have the audacity to question existing unethical or borderline activities on their own. Obviously, this needs to coincide with changes in the rewards system, together with support from the top that actively encourages the said employees to question what they see as unethical behaviors and encourage them to find better and more ethical solutions.

For all of this to happen, leaders at the top need start with themselves and their own personal growth. They need to be able to espouse wisdom and integrity, leading with example, which unfortunately is counter to what is currently known in most corporate cultures today. Part of this more elevated level of leadership is to create a more diverse and life-supporting culture, both of which are proven recipes for increasing returns AND achieving openness and honesty.

The inner reflects the outer. Starting with developing the inner is the only sustainable path to get ‘bankers to behave’.

What is a Conscious Business – and is that enough?

The Conscious Capitalism/Conscious Business Model

At Wisdom 2.0 in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, I heard CEO Jeff Weiner and Fred Kaufman speak about their work in turning LinkedIn into a conscious company with compassionate management at the held.

A conscious business, according to Fred Kaufman, the author of Conscious Business – Building Value through Values, fosters peace and happiness in individuals, respect and solidarity in the community, and mission accomplishment in the organization. Kaufman lists the three dimensions of business; “the impersonal, task or ‘It’, the interpersonal, relationship, or “We”, and the personal, self, or “I”.

The impersonal realm comprises technical aspects. It considers the effectiveness, efficiency, and reliability of the organization.

The interpersonal realm comprises relational aspects. It considers the solidarity, trust and respect of the relationships between organizational stakeholders.

The personal realm comprises psychological and behavioral aspects. It considers the health, happiness, and need for meaning of each stakeholder”…

Kaufman continues: “Instead of looking at the business-world as a three-dimensional space, most managers – and investors – focus only on the It. Stripped of the human dimensions, business appears to be an unconscious activity in which success and failure depend exclusively on the management of mindless things. However, business success essentially depends on the leadership of conscious beings.”…”Over the long term, the It, We and I aspects of this system must operate in concert.”

I love the clarity of this definition, and how Kaufman connects the tenets of a Conscious Business with Ken Wilber’s Integral Theories. In many ways, this book could be seen as the more detailed and leadership-specific sister or brother of the more overarching Conscious Capitalism, by John Mackey and Ray Sisodia. The rest of the book focuses mostly on how to cultivate great, or conscious leaders, according to Kaufman.

Both books are crucial in order to visualize a new form of business that are conscious and that strive to offer something distinctly different than what we know today. Yet for me it’s not enough. It’s too dry, too much like medicine instead of a succulent and savory meal. Not enough right-brain, not enough feminine, not enough embodiment, not enough heart, not enough fun, and not enough mystery.

Maybe a great leader is a conscious leader. But then an extraordinary leader has to be able to also add and hold these missing aspects – namely creativity, joy, embodiment, heart and the mystery. Only then will we be able to create not only conscious companies, but extraordinary companies that will transform the world.

Do it because you love it

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My favorite of all the insights from Wisdom 2.0 in San Francisco last weekend, though, came from the wise words of meditation teacher and psychologist Jack Kornfield, who quoted:* “If you are going to save the environment, save it because you love it.” And I keep coming back to the wisdom of those words. Don’t save the environment because you are afraid that it’s dying, or that you are upset at ‘those’ abusing it. Don’t use the energy of destruction if you want to express your love. Whatever you do, create with love and go from there. Applied to business and leadership, it becomes a transformational practice.

Looking at my own life, I see how many paths I’ve taken that have been ‘good for me’, regarding career, experience, track record and because there were business opportunities that I felt I couldn’t say no. Or, I did say no many times, but more because I thought I could create something better on my own. It’s been a long journey to recognize what I truly love, especially as an entrepreneur and as a consultant and coach. Being close doesn’t count. It’s an even further journey to keep choosing that path, even when it scares me witless. A spiritual practice indeed.

*Someone else’s quote. Jack mentioned the name, but I don’t remember who said it. Please enlighten me if you know : ).

Lessons from Wisdom 2.0 – Transforming Mindfulness into Extraordinary Leadership

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I’m just back from my first Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco, the place where mindfulness and technology merge, as they call it, and it was a very inspirational conference, both because of the level of the speakers, and because of the great community of 2500 participants from all over the world being passionate about mindfulness – and even more – creating a better world through conscious business.

This year, the conference had shifted a bit (from what I’ve understood from previous years), more focusing on the next step of mindfulness; namely compassion, which Dalai Lama calls ‘the radicalism of our time’. Many of the researchers pointed to this development as the most crucial step for human progress, happiness – and yes, societal transformation. Without it, mindfulness as just a stress management tool, becomes depleted, and it loses its power.

In that sense, I want to bring back the use of mindfulness as a spiritual and heart-opening practice, which then most include loving-kindess, and also what Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute Chade Meng has started talking about, namely that leadership includes both wisdom (a clear mind, self-awareness and insight) and compassion (beautiful intentions – where generosity key, loving-kindness & compassionate action). All six born out of mindfulness. Chade Meng also spoke at the conference about that business is about helping people and at its best business reduces suffering.

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, and Fred Kaufman, the author of Conscious Business who now works at LinkedIn, spoke about the path of turning LinkedIn into a conscious business through compassionate management, which was one of the most inspiring speeches, since it also was the most practical.

Ending with the speech from neuroscientist and psychologist Richard Davidson, which was poetic in its clarity about the four constituents of well-being, all increased through the practice of mindfulness and loving kindness, namely:

1) Resilience – our capacity to handle and come back from adversity.
2) Having a background glow of positive emotions – reminding ourselves of our innate basic goodness.3) Generosity – the most efficient way of positively affecting our brain chemistry
4) Attention – inversive mind-wandering. The average American adult spends 47% of their time being unaware of what they are doing – and when they are unaware, they are less happy.

Now when Mindfulness has gone mainstream, imagine what can be done if the ability to pay attention is used to create a much better world – through conscious businesses and extraordinary leaders!

 

 

 

Why the lack of women in tech companies is a leadership problem

shutterstock_171770795 The lack of women in tech is not a gender problem; it’s a leadership problem!

I just spent the weekend at Wisdom 2.0, a conference in San Francisco bringing together tech leaders from Silicon Valley and beyond with mindfulness leaders and wisdom teachers. One of the most inspiring speeches came from Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, and Fred Kaufman, speaking of their work turning LinkedIn into a conscious business with compassionate leadership as the leading principle.

That is in stark contrast to the rest of Silicon Valley, and what’s happening with the continued drop-off of women in the tech sector. “Sixty percent of college graduates are now women, yet they earn only 18% of computer science degrees. That’s actually less than half what it was in the 1980s, when women earned 38% of those degrees”.  This according to the latest numbers, shared by Hillary Clinton during a woman’s conference in Silicon Valley last week. Currently, men outnumber women 4 to 1 in the technical sectors, and more than 50% of women in science, engineering and technology will leave due to a hostile work environment and lack of growth opportunities, which means that the so called ‘pipeline’ is leaking like a sieve. This also applies to women entrepreneurs seeking Venture Capital (VC), another realm where women lack opportunities. This is not too surprising either, considering that only 6% of women make partners in the VC-industry going backwards from 10% in 1999. Men invest in other men, and men choose other men as leaders. Unconscious gender bias is part of the problem, but the missing link is the lack of leadership.

A great leader, whether in their role as a partner at a Venture Capital firm, or heading up a Tech Company, is aware of their biases and actively works to counteract them in order to create a more balanced work environment and a more inclusive culture, which incidentally, is also more lucrative. Except for a handful of cases, the reality is that great leadership is not promoted or prioritized. Great leaders aren’t born, they are made. In order to become one, we have to grow as human beings, become more self-aware, which also means knowing where we fall short, understand our biases, actively cultivate compassion and other EQ-building skills and have time to practice and learn from our mistakes. Another critical quality of a great leader is to be able to balance short-term effectiveness, hitting milestones, and other critical survival issues if you are a start-up, with creating a supportive and inclusive culture.

Which is a tall order for most of us. Adding to the fact that many of Silicon Valley’s leaders are young, lack leadership experience, training and take their cues from Venture Capitalists, who in their quest for the next bankable innovation search for what they know (other men), who operate like they did (homogenous male teams that can ‘kill’ the competition and give them their hockey-stick return, preferably by yesterday). While the IQ is through the roof, the EQ, and the willingness to grow as human beings, fall by the wayside.

My personal experience of the tech world stems from both the US and Europe. I started an Internet company with two other women in 1999 back in Sweden. At that time, women were so rare that the Venture Capitalists used to stare at us in business meetings as if we were exotic animals at a zoo. Since then, not much has shifted, even here in Silicon Valley. Yet, it’s not surprising either. Both in my work as an executive and leadership coach with tech companies and tech leaders, as well as in my work as a leader and entrepreneur, I’ve learned that the lack of women becomes a vicious circle, which btw, is the same for race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation. Essentially, what we don’t know, and aren’t exposed to becomes ‘the other’, which then gets treated with indifference, objectification or exclusion by otherwise great guys. They aren’t even aware that this is going on and that they are participating in the alienation and the bias. This also results in the double standards that many of my women clients face – deliver stellar results – but don’t take up too much space or be too assertive.

Ultimately, the absence of leadership and the lack of recognizing the value the ‘other’ half brings to the table is self-defeating. Yes, most Venture Capitalists want an exit from the company within five years, which then creates an incentive for being as ruthless as possible in order for everyone to cash in. Yet, it is also clear that ROI increases when there is more diversity in the executive team, and that in order to fully serve a market, you need to mirror the market place in all the decision-making levels at the company. We live in a world where transparency, pocketbook-voting, as well as the growing relevance of the stake-holder model will be norm rather than the exception, which means that not hiring, promoting or respecting women just becomes economic stupidity. Women leaving the field in droves should be a major wake-up call to the industry.

Being an entrepreneur myself, I love the entrepreneurial Gung-ho spirit and those who shoot for the stars. And I’ve met so many amazing and wise guys in the tech-universe, including conscious venture capitalists, who fully understand the problem and are trying to rectify it. But in order to turn the tide, we need great, even extraordinary, leaders, men and women, who understand that the lack of women is not a gender issue to be relegated to the diversity team within HR. Instead, we need CEOs and Partners at the top VC-firms who are willing to stand up and openly recognize that the lack of women is a key-strategy issue, since it reflects deeper underlying issues with values and principles. Leaders who are willing to face these problems head on, and do their own work to grow as human beings, so they in turn can enable that innate potential in all of their employees and in all their portfolio companies if they are partners at VC-firms. Leaders who transform into great, maybe even extraordinary leaders that enable cultures that turn into extraordinary companies; companies that are profitable, game-changing and move humanity forward.

Lotta Alsén, M.Sc. International Economics, is the founder of Quickenings Leadership Institute, developing extraordinary leaders that can move humanity forward. She is also an entrepreneur with experience building companies both in Sweden and in California and the former President of the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles.