a boy named Nobody

I was leading a ropes course program for a youth-at-risk high school group. One of the first things I asked kids to do was put on a nametag. Partway through the morning, I noticed a kid dressed in all black, looking disinterested and detached from the rest of the group. I walked over to greet him and noticed that instead of a name, his nametag said ‘Nobody.’ It was a perfect name to describe what he must have felt like in his life. I asked him a few questions about it, but mostly encouraged him to take a few steps beyond himself during the day.

I kept my eye on him throughout the morning and he remained around the perimeter. Not in, but not really out. As we progressed through the process of building conversations, increasing the level of heights and trust, Nobody kept choosing out. We applauded his choice not to climb or fall, and kept right on going with the next activity. In the afternoon, we got to the High V’s.

The High V’s event is built 30 feet up in the trees – strung between massive, beautiful, California redwood trees. There is a cable that wraps around one tree and runs horizontally to two other trees – forming a giant V-shape parallel to the ground. Attached to two separate belay systems, two participants climb side-by-side up the tree that stands at the apex of the V. Each climber steps out onto their respective cable – each of which heads off to a separate tree. As they move onto the cables, facing each other, they are only about two feet apart. The next step is to put their hands across onto each other’s shoulders, letting go of the tree that they just climbed. A tree that at one point looked intimidating now seems incredibly sturdy compared to the cables that they are currently balancing on.

Leaning against, and looking at one another, the two take their next step out onto the diverging cables. With each step, their feet get further and further apart, requiring one of two things: (1) they lean against each other – accomplished by standing up tall, not bending over the waist, and ‘falling’ inward towards each other – like an A-frame house where the base keeps getting wider. This inward lean gives the other person something to lean against – a source of stability in an otherwise, stable-less situation. It is the physical embodiment of synergy. Or, (2) they let their more self-protective instinct take-over and instead of leaning, they bend over at the waist. This begins the unraveling of relationship – entropy. Instead of standing straight and bringing the center of their own gravity out and toward their partner, they try to protect the little balance they have on their own cable by bringing the center of their gravity backward. With each successive step in this manner it gets worse. In order to maintain contact with their partner’s shoulders as they step, the only option in this ‘holding back’ position is to bend over at the waist, thus bringing their center of gravity further apart from each other which begs for more bending over at the waist which now restricts the ability to even look in each others eyes for strength.

Communication is lost. The only way to stay up, or take another step, is to pull against the other person. In relationships, and on the V’s, this is a mess that inevitably ends in falling. Not that the opposite keeps them up there forever, but it certainly enables them to go farther along the cables and in relationship. The energy is fueled by connection – synergy vs. separateness and entropy. We can choose either, whenever we want. However, the further apart we get on the V’s and in life, the more risk it takes to lean in.

As kids went up the V’s with their partners, Nobody made his way to the belay lines to join the seven others holding the climber above them on the cables. It was a small step towards others. We sent pair after pair up the V’s and were nearing the end. All of the kids had gone or were in harnesses getting ready to go. I kept my eye on Nobody, wondering how he would play this out. Nobody had declined requests from partners to do the High V’s, and every one had already partnered up.

A few years prior to this group, I was delivering a program to another group of youth-at-risk and was really burnt out at the end of the day. I felt like it did not matter – any of the work, all of my energy, all of my desire. I saw ‘trout faces’ everywhere – where ‘lips move, but I can’t hear what you say,’ where eyes don’t blink to let you know life is present – just dull, disinterested affect from all these kids. An extraordinary opportunity – not taken by them – yet again, I presumed.

There was a probation officer at the program and I let my frustration known to him and he said, “Remember the law of 82: These kids need to hear the lesson 82 times before they decide to make a change. For some, today is the 1st time they’ve really heard it. For one, or perhaps a few, if we are lucky, it’s the 82nd.  Too many people give up on them because they don’t know if 82 will ever come. Don’t be one of those people that gives up on them because you never know if your message, your caring is the 82nd.”

Number 82 arrived. He was a boy that was really afraid to do the High V’s with his partner – and then did it. He came down from the event with so much energy and approached Nobody, knowing that he had declined others requests, but he asked again. Nobody said ‘okay’ – a genuinely reluctant okay. It was an ‘okay’ that included his guarded nature and his curiosity. Kids gathered around to help him get the harness on and soon Nobody was on his way.

As the last team on the last event of the day, these two boys embodied what it was all about. It was not about getting to a place of having ‘no fear’ or even getting over fear. Fear is just part of the landscape of greatness. It is impossible to have a life without it and this day was about creating energy for what is more important than fear.

They got to the High V’s and stepped out. And they just kept stepping. Kids on the ground went wild. With every step they leaned further against each other – one holding the other up only by the act of being willing to be held by the other. The V’s are built so that there is no finish line, no place to get to, no other side. Every pair eventually falls. Nobody and his partner kept going and the energy on the ground was converted into yet another step until they were practically horizontal, flat-out, pushing for each other. Their feet could not get any further apart, and they slipped from the cables on the next step and the belayers lowered them to the ground, holding onto each other. When they got to the ground, the others were all over them with every kind of high five and hand-shake and fist pump – genuine congratulations.


Tom Lutes, one of the people who taught me so much of this work, explained a simple circular model. Around the circle were the words vulnerability, inspiration, support and trust. You could start with any word in the circle and it would began to spin like a wheel with the energy you put onto that word – presumably moving in the direction of “success”. If you jumped in to embody/demonstrate any one of these words, it would have an impact on the next word. Vulnerability therefore would lead to inspiration, inspiration would lead to support, support would lead to trust and trust would lead to more vulnerability.

Some people need to have more trust before they are willing to be vulnerable (again). I say ‘again’ because we are all born this way – vulnerable. And ALL of us have been dropped, let down, cheated, ripped off – and some far too many times for one life. Nobody was among them. The boy who asked Nobody to do the V’s with him was number 82 and was the embodiment of support on the wheel that began to spin in Nobody’s favor. Nobody decided to risk again – to be vulnerable, to bring all of himself. Those of us on the ground were genuinely inspired, which led us to ceaselessly support Nobody and his partner. As a result, trust grew throughout, and in turn Nobody allowed himself to be increasingly vulnerable, and finally he saw that he could do this. And it was working out for him.

As we debriefed the day, each of the kids talked about their experience – what happened for them, how they made it happen, how would they make it happen again. As we got around to Nobody, he got up, walked over to the bag that held the nametags and sharpies and simply changed his name to Somebody. He patted it over his heart and onto his t-shirt, threw his old nametag away and simply sat down. He smiled cautiously. We all smiled back and moved to the next person.

-Bill John

the meadows

In Memoriam

We are sad to report that Margie Meadows passed away this past week. She is the wife of Ernie Meadow, the creator of the LN-4 prosthetic hand we build in our Helping Hands program.

If the Helping Hands program and the LN-4 hand has touched your life, please leave a comment here and we will pass your words along to Ernie during his grieving process.

She has been reunited with Ellen Meadows in that great beyond. Ellen was killed many years ago in an automobile accident and inspired her parents Ernie and Margie to create service projects in her honor. The LN-4 is a result of that inspiration. We at Odyssey share in that call to action and will be working double hard to put hands on people around the world in their honor. After more than 50 years of marriage, we pause today to remember a great person, an amazing wife and mother, and a friend to people across the globe. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ernie and their children as they process their loss.

Our gratitude to all of you and our clients who have supported the Helping Hands program and the work of this quiet and humble man and his wife.


Proud to be at the Mall

Updates from your favorite Leadership, CSR, Teambuilding company that offers Life Cycles (bike building), Helping Hands (Build-a-Hand), Playhouse Challenge, and so much more.

Typical road/air warrior mode – arrive at the hotel in the darkness of 8pm. Upon check-in, ask for the location of the workout room (mentally prepared to get on a machine to make up for a 12 hour commute). WAIT. A new opportunity is presented by the concierge – a night tour of the town. The description of which creates an entirely new possibility.

Ten minutes later I was on the streets, running past the White House and then the dimly lit paths and majestically lit monuments of the National Mall. I ran the entire loop, which felt like a private tour. Humility, pride, and respect, with a large dose of gratitude, were compass points of my feelings and emotions.

I ran by/under/around the Washington Monument, WWII / Korea / Vietnam memorials and monuments of Lincoln, Jefferson, MLK, FDR, as well as the Smithsonian Institute, Holocaust Museum, the Capitol, and much more.

My mind was flooded with all I’ve seen and learned that has happened at the National Mall – speeches, walks, protests – and the amazing deeds, courage, and outcomes by those memorialized.

This work has taken me all around the world (20 countries) and I have met thousands of people from all around this little blue ball going around the sun. It is with this perspective that I report there is nothing else on the planet like the United States of America. And as crazy and off-track it is at times – I’m so grateful for so many reasons to call it home.

FYI – I was in DC for a Life Cycles program. It was a huge success at many levels for all of those involved.

-Todd Demorest



Updates from your favorite Leadership, CSR, Teambuilding company that offers Life Cycles (bike building), Helping Hands (Build-a-Hand), Playhouse Challenge and so much more.

I read in a recent study that the average employee at a USA based firm leaves 5.5 unused vacation and/or PTO days per year. Not me.

I was able to get a holiday this summer; complete with family and tropical breezes and such. Before going, I updated my email auto-response to stating I was going to be ‘unplugged,’ and that if support was needed, to contact a fellow colleague. I did similarly with my phone. The results were terrific. I did not turn on my computer for a week and my phone was set on airplane mode for the duration.


The results in short:

– extended family, work, and life in general continued on just fine without me (much to my ego’s chagrin)

– no pavlov dog responses to things dinging or vibrating

– more time to read, converse, reflect, and connect with where I was and who I was with in the moment

– more time to play. That youthful gift of playfulness. Well beyond exercise, games, competing etc. Just PLAY!:)

– upon return I had more energy and a fresh perspective.


We hear it again and again from participants and client partners that Odyssey’s programs provide similar results to the above (and other benefits too).

Now that it’s October, I could use some more rejuvenation. Maybe your team could too!

-Todd Demorest


Bikes, Tires, and Metaphors

Life Cycles, the original bike building program, allows participants to create something valuable and pass it on to the end user. As they build a bike and pass it along to a child, the result is a firsthand experience of the value of collaboration, customer-centricity, and teamwork. Metaphors like these are rich and relevant to teams and leaders. However, there are less obvious metaphors that also emerge during the course of the program:

Tires need air. Everyone knows how to use a bicycle pump, right? Simple. You secure the nozzle over the tire valve and inflate. But in the past twenty years, the way to secure the pump to the valve has done a complete 180-degree change.

It is amazing to see people IGNORE the detailed description and pictures of HOW TO USE THE TIRE PUMP. The result is frustration, rework, and often a broken piece of equipment. Not good if you are building bikes for kids. Not good if you are aiming to build your team and be a world-class business.

For me, breaking the tube for a child’s bike was a lesson in humility. I learned that the next time – even if I think “I KNOW” – I must be humble enough (and not so much in a hurry) to pause and check to see if the ‘game’ has changed.

As fast as the world and business are changing, can you afford not to pause, confirm what is truly needed, and THEN act? So in business, when building a bike…bikes for kids…at least look at the pictures carefully.


Q + A with Lain Hensley – Part III

How do you advocate for one of these types of programs where we’re receiving feedback from attendees that they are already over-programmed during the meeting, and that what they would really like is free time?

They want free time because they do not see the value of the team building session over the other sessions. We need to do an amazing job of aligning our program with the entire meeting so that it does not feel like a disconnected session that is unrelated to business. It should feel like an interactive session that complements the existing message and builds on the overall dialogue. I do not believe that the solution is to cut the “team building” or “connection time” from the meeting.

NOTE – I am currently conducting a survey to determine the top 10 desired outcomes from company meetings. My assumption lines up with the early data, which shows that people attend meetings with the goals of connecting with co-workers, getting a personal sense of the leadership, and developing their network. Most of the presenters talking about financial stuff, company strategy, future products, and other nuts and bolts items, end up just reading from their PowerPoint. These elements can be delivered in an informational email or webinar previous to the face-to-face time. The biggest value of the face-to-face meetings is not the sharing of data and details, but making an emotional connection to the data and one another.

-Lain Hensley

Q + A with Lain Henlsey – Part II

We have a few meetings weekly, and so far none are really productive, resulting in a huge emotional response from several folks. How can we change the emotional memory so that these meetings become productive?

Research has shown that physiology is critical to our state of mind and that the complexity of the human condition requires us to address the physical self in addition to the mental state. Some suggestions and things to try — these are very simple and they will work. I have seen this work for 23 years EVERY TIME.

> Do not let people sit in the same seat for each meeting or for more than 30 minutes at one meeting.  They become territorial of their seat and their ideas. Standing is preferred when brainstorming or when you would like to have open dialogue.  Be sure ALL seats feel like they are just as important as the next, and that each person can see and be heard.  If you are going to allow sitting, then every 15 minutes have people move to a new seat. I am not joking… this will work, and they will smile, move, engage, and feel better without you even trying. They might resist this the first time, but then they will begin to prepare for the switch and move past the resistance.

> Never promise to have the meeting over in “X” amount of time so that we can all get back to work. WHAT?! I have seen so many meetings start this way. Start each meeting with a STAND. Make a strong stand for what you expect the value from the meeting will be and why you need them engaged.  Example: “Thanks for being here team. I am thrilled we have this time together and hope we have enough time to fully understand the value of this presentation to our success. We will be going over the financial today and you all know how important this information is to our ability to project the next business move and make our life easier. I value each of your input and perspective and I invited you to be here because I am convinced we can grow our business if each of us fully understand this data.” You get the idea.  Make it sound good to be at the meeting and make a big promise and then deliver. If the leader is not passionate about the meeting then the team will follow.

> Listen very carefully to the “Beliefs of your team.”  When you hear a negative belief, you need to identify the belief in a non-threatening way and then go to work to change it.  Example: I am… People are… Life is… This meeting is…  This team is…  My boss is… This project is… and so on. Beliefs influence focus, and that creates reality for people. If people say, “My boss is great,” then they will see things that support that belief.  If I love the rain, then when I hear it raining in the morning, I am already happy and my mood is up. If people believe this meeting is a waste of time, then they will be very slow to see anything else.

> The huge emotional response is actually a good thing. Change your belief about it. They have emotion because they still care and they want it to be better. If you get to a point that you no longer see emotion, then people are becoming apathetic and they will not work to improve the situation.

-Lain Hensley

Sign on the Side of the Road

Updates from your favorite Leadership, CSR, Teambuilding company that offers Life Cycles (the original company where you’ll build a bike for children), Helping Hands (Build-a-Hand), Playhouse Challenge and so much more.

I travel quite a bit as a lead facilitator for Odyssey Teams, Inc. On my route to SFO (San Francisco International Airport), I drive by a church in the City by the Bay that has a sign out front with an ever-changing quote or phrase. It’s now like my fortune cookie that I look forward to as I’m heading off to lead our programs or returning home to be a husband and father.

A few weeks back, the phrase on the sign read, “Never pass up a good opportunity to remain silent.” What a good reminder. Do I really need to say what I am thinking? If I am already planning what I am about to say, am I really listening to who is speaking to me? Am I speaking to be right, out of defense, or to raise my own ego a bit?

In our programs we often speak of A.R.T. (Aware of our Reflexive Tendencies) and of shifting our patterns to get a different/better result from whatever situation we are currently facing. Sometimes this requires stepping out of our comfort zone at some level. I think that for the majority (myself included), keeping quiet, listening for a moment longer, or pausing to reflect before speaking, is not typical behavior and thus is indeed outside of our comfort zone. We will never know the benefit gained to our goals, family, partners, relationships or self from remaining silent unless we do so more often. What do you have to say about that? ;)

-Todd Demorest