Graciousness

Think of a person who embodies graciousness. What personal characteristics come to mind? How do you experience that person?

On the other hand, think of the polar opposite of graciousness. A person with such a disposition typically is self-centered, brusque, irritable, and shows very little gratitude. He/she expects loyalty from others but does not give it in return. After you have had an encounter this person you feel empty, rejected, isolated, and ignored.

I recently asked a friend to describe the essence of a leader he deeply admired. The answer was that this person showed unconditional acceptance towards others and consistently sought to contribute to the common good. He also did not use people, rip them off financially, and use them for his own ego and selfish needs. In other words, he is gracious.

Here are some behaviors I have seen in gracious people.

  • A prominent politician who took time at a public function to focus on what I was telling her despite the fact that everyone also was clamoring for her attention. She also offered encouragement for my comparatively meager political activism.
  • A very busy CEO who responded immediately to my email requesting information about his key leadership best practices
  • A stranger from Mexico who greeted us at a restaurant table with a “buen provecho”. (By the way, this is typical social protocol in Mexico)
  • A friend who noticed that a stranger was feeling “down” and offered a word of encouragement

In all cases, the gracious person responded with generosity, consideration, and courtesy. They gave of themselves and their time.

Many of us, distracted by busyness and self-preoccupation, forget to be gracious. But such consideration for others can be a choice. Of course, the bigger the differences between ourselves and others (political and cultural), the more challenging graciousness becomes.

But eventually habits can become engrained in our character.

How have you chosen to be gracious?

Where have you observed graciousness in others?

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Simplify Like Picasso

Can you share complex ideas and issues using clear, concise and simple language?

As far as your “grand”  strategy is concerned, can you boil it down to one succinct statement?

If so, you are a top-notch communicator — your audience will understand your message easily, retain it over the long-term, and be more motivated to act on your ideas.

At Apple, designers live and breathe the notion that optimal function and great design arise from simplicity.

Consider this excerpt from the New York Times article By Brian X Chen “Simplifying the Bull: How Picasso Helps to Teach Apple’s Style”

Teachers in Apple’s internal training program, according to Chen,

Sometimes point to a collection of Picasso lithographs that artfully illustrate the drive to boil down an idea to its most essential components.”

 This quest for clarity and simplicity applies to everything we do in life, including:

* Crafting a personal mission statement

* Shaping corporate mission strategy

* Clearly expressing the essential message in our writing

* Having a conversation about an important subject with our children

* Pitching a new service or product to a customer

 Questions:

What do you have to do to simplify your ideas for maximum impact on your audience?

 Can you boil down your core idea to one short statement? 

Can you have a conversation about your ideas without beating around the bush?

In all these instances your overriding objective is to:

Simplify and clarify so that your message has maximum impact and influence.

 Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words: look at Picasso’s progressive refinements of his bull. Simplify and communicate like Picasso!

Bull images by Art Resource, NY; 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Anything is Possible if You Have Enough Nerve

So goes the saying by JK Rowling.

Some time ago,

  • A colleague told me he wanted to write a book
  • A friend expressed an interest in living in a foreign country
  • An executive decided to explore a bold new business strategy

In each case I encouraged the folks to “go for it.” I knew that the path ahead would be rewarding as well as challenging.

What type of person goes out on a limb with major life decisions and subsequently enjoys the fruit of that adventure? Who are such people with nerves of steel?

In most instances they were seemingly “ordinary ” people that pulled off extraordinary results.

Certainly they did not habitually play it safe and were preoccupied with questions like “What if?” If so, they would live in a constant state of fear of venturing outside their comfort zone.

The flip side of being overly cautious in one’s decisions is found in an advertisement for the Mt Sinai Medical Center. Their philosophy states,

“But rather than going step by step, the goal is to make bold, conceptual leaps. Impatience is a virtue. Failure is an integral part of success, and no journey is as exhilarating as going out on a limb.”

So who are these risk-takers? They

  1. Are not afraid of experimenting.

Risk takers are the dabblers in life.

These innovators are the designers who will try out different styles knowing that some will not work, actors who experiment with scenes that “bomb”, or scientists who repeatedly try experiments that fail. Their philosophy is “Better to try and fail that not to try at all”. As a result they keep going with the knowledge that their efforts will eventually be successful.

When one looks at the disposition of innovators they

  1. Have a fierce resolve in the face of obstacles

A study of the biographies of great leaders reveals that many doggedly zigzag their way to success. What keeps them going is an underlying confidence and tenacious persistence in the face of naysayers and uncertainties. They believe that they have the ability, and history, to come out on top.

Such confidence is based on the memory of past accomplishments, inspired by the vision of realizing an idea, and is combined with the ability to suspend self-doubt. It can be the quiet determination of people with gentler and less bombastic dispositions.

It takes courage to try new things and to boldly adventure into new territory. The key is to face our inner fears and take the needed actions anyway.

3. Combine nerve with raw courage

The older I get the more I realize that in the pursuit of anything that matters one needs to be in it for the long haul. In the face of fierce opposition or cold indifference to our efforts sometimes the tendency is to give up. Courage is the one character quality that keeps us going in our pursuit of new goals. Courage is best defined by John F Kennedy in his book “Profiles in Courage” He writes that people of courage put their convictions “ahead of their careers”.

Having the courage of our convictions is then the heart and soul of raw nerve.

Questions

What new ideas do you want to explore?

What rewards would you miss if you held yourself back?

Where can you get the needed support and/or resources?

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The Ups and Downs of Cultural Conformity

A friend of mine moved to the South from New York because of a job opportunity. He told me, “People keep asking me, where do you go to church?”  To this community, fitting in with the culture involved one being part of a church. However, since my friend is Jewish, church attendance was not on the cards for him. This was the first of many cultural adaptations he had to make.

Every time we leave the bubble of our own culture we run into folks who do things in different ways. We then face the challenge to respect the differences and adapt to them as best as we can.

However, what do you do when you find yourself in conflict with the dominant culture that surrounds you? What if you don’t go to church? Do you conform or do you do your own thing?

I remember one time I was asked by a very traditional company to assess some of their junior executives for C-Level promotion possibilities. It was the holiday season and I wore a dark red cashmere sweater (in lieu of jacket and tie) to the job, which was held in a rented conference room at a local hotel. It was not long after that I heard that a complaint had been lodged with HR….that I had come to work in a “Christmas sweater”!

Should I have given a damn about that comment? Probably yes, if I wanted to work for that Company again. However, the attitude “I’ll live my life and you live yours” brings one into conflict with the unofficial “chief conformity officers” in the community where one lives and works. There are times when it is simply not prudent to try and fit in and follow the herd. The price of conformity becomes too high.

And so we determine our own goals, values, and behaviors and then live by them no matter how much flak we get from the dominant culture.

However, there are times when we choose to adapt to the cultural norms. What criteria do we use to make changes and to incorporate those values into our lives?

Three Rules of Successful Cultural Assimilation are

First, recognize that we live in a highly conformist society. Part of this conformity has a positive impact by a creating cohesion in a community. It’s that “they who pray together that stay together” phenomena. It is also the glue that brings people together to get things done like community action or charitable work. So next time I’m invited back to that company I won’t wear my Christmas sweater.

However, the downside of “enforced togetherness” is that it can set up a tension between one’s own personal preferences and the desire to belong. On the negative side, sometimes we don’t want to pay the price of being squeezed into a mold or controlled by others.

Second, know when to conform and when to draw a line in the sand and declare to all “I do things my way”. At times the choice I make is based on practical considerations. For instance, in Japan, it is customary for folks to bow to each other. The depth of the bow depends on a number of considerations like rank and age. As a Westerner, I don’t have clue how low to bow so I avoid the practice all together. Going native with my bow could get me into trouble. There are other times when I choose to at least greet people in in their native language. To me this is not conformity but an act of respect. They know that I cannot continue the conversation in this language but give me credit for trying.

Third, love and celebrate others. That goes against the drift of judging everything that is different. I like my independence and my own mongrel cultural mix but I value diversity at the same time. Over the years my life has been greatly enriched through contact with other cultures. The Mexicans, where we lived for seven years, have taught me the value of social protocol trumping transactional conversations. It is more important for me now that I greet people (Buenas dias), ask for permission to pass by on a sidewalk (con permisso), or wish people well when they are eating (buen provecho) than to jump into a conversation and ask directions to the plaza. I celebrate the fact that this particular culture values relationships over transactions. Differences are not bad or dangerous; they make me a better person.

The underlying message of this blog is: Be yourself by all means but be respectful as well of cultural norms that bind us together in an increasingly fragmented world.

What are your stories of cultural adaptation?

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The Gift of Failure

How do we rebound from life’s failures?

For years I have rehearsed some of my many failures. Some I carry with remorse. Others I have endured with a pain it the pit of my stomach and the thought “Damn, how could I have done that?”

For most failures I have clawed my way to self-compassion and forgiveness. Then today I read the following poem in the latest edition of the Sun Magazine. It helped me not take myself so seriously and recast personal failure as a gift.

I share the poem with you and let you arrive at your own conclusions about your own recovery.

The Diver

by Lynn Davis

Lynn Davis is a writer who lives in North Carolina. “The Diver” is her first published poem (The SUN Magazine), unless you count the one she wrote in sixth grade that everyone teased her about.

The Olympic moment I remember most
Does not involve gold medals
Or bright, enthusiastic faces in the Parade of Nations.
It’s one man, a German,
Who went in for a dive and landed on his back
And scored zeros across the board.
Imagine his disappointment,
Rage, even:
How stupid,
How incredibly stupid.
When I watch the video on YouTube,
I want to thank him
And tell him how much he means to me,
For who among us does not say, Goddamn,
What I could have done different,
What I could have done better.
And isn’t that so much more human:
Our persistent
Unavoidable
Beautiful
Failure.

View the video at https://youtu.be/N4NPctt-_nE

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How to Develop a Comfortable Approach to Being Appropriately Selfish

You have spent much of your life taking care of others. So when do you get around to taking care of yourself?

Maybe you are the

  • “Giving Tree” parent who burns out looking after the family day in and day out and your health goes to hell in a hand basket.
  • Manager who has difficulty saying “no” to a highly demanding boss. As a result you do the job of several people.
  • Leader who has difficulty delegating and does the work that reports should be doing themselves

So, at the end of your rope, you want things to change.

However, you also believe “servant leadership”.

Where do you find balance between self and other care? Here are some scripts you might find helpful.

“ I am not a doormat”

People pleasers are often exploited.

If you fall into that category, have you ever stopped to think that you may be reinforcing this behavior? What about saying, “I am not a doormat” and then shut the door to unreasonable requests? You might be surprised to see that your levels of resentment, anger, and frustration with the “users” in life goes way down. That’s because you finally took care of yourself.

The next message is for those who have become overly dependent on your help.

 “You need to take care of yourself”

While it is a good thing to take care of others, that caring should not be at the expense of your own health and relationships. The boundary you set here does not have to be all or nothing. Maybe a reduction of care for the other by 20% would be in order. A person I know, who feels that her role in life is to fix everyone who comes to her with a broken situation, now asks herself, “Do I want a friend or a caseload?”

Now, try this next boundary-setting script.

 Which part of no don’t you understand?”

The world is full of users who spit us out if we set boundaries with them by refusing to be available 24/7.

A good solid no, delivered firmly and repeatedly, comes as a shock to them. When we decline their requests they may squawk and wine and declare us public enemy #1. However, it is important for us to stand our ground.

If it requires saying no to your boss you might want to do it carefully. See my article “How to Succeed in Saying No To Your Boss”

https://cedricj.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/how-to-succeed-in-saying-no-to-your-boss

Take the above steps and you will have found a comfortable way of being selfish.

Question

What is your story about setting limits with others?

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Be Here Now

Some time ago we had supper with a delightful couple. Our friend was going through a particularly difficult time in his life at that time. After the meeting I commented to Kris “I feel such compassion for Steve” To which Kris replied, “His name is not Steve. It’s Joe!”

Where was my mind when I had dinner that night with Joe? I was busted for not being fully present on our dinner date.

We live in a hyperkinetic and multi-tasking milieu and there is no more important advice that we can give or receive than

BE HERE NOW

We all have experienced some or all of the following. We are

On a conference call checking our e-mail while others talk

Listening to our partner with half an ear and thinking of several projects at the same time

Continually distracted by intrusive thoughts

Totally or partially disconnected from our feelings

And the result is

Everyone knows we are not fully listening

We miss important pieces of information

We live with unnecessarily high levels of stress

We lower our intellectual and emotional horsepower

And we call Joe, Steve.

In fact, we live up (or down) to the spirit of the ditty

There was a man my grandfather knew

Who had so many things he wanted to do

That whenever he thought it was time to begin

He couldn’t because of the state he was in.

So what is the answer?

First, one does not have to become a spiritual expert with high levels of mindfulness that can be sustained for long periods. That takes years of meditation practice. We can start with small steps now.

Secondthere is no second. In fact, there is no excuse for us not developing the clarity of thinking, focused listening, and inner tranquility for short periods of time that help us be more effective leaders and empathic partners.

Here are some possible rudimentary steps we can take.

1.     Take time out from electronic devices in meetings and in general. I know an executive who receives 300-400 email a day and has learned so to prioritize that he only responds to 10 a day. Such prioritizing is not easy but is possible.

2.    When you listen to people, hit the pause button in our minds. Don’t try and formulate an answer and ask yourself not just “What is this person saying?” but also “How do they feel about it?” and “Why is it important to them?”

3.     Recognize that there will still be more work to do after your fourteen-hour day. So set limits on yourself and go home and have supper with your family, turn off your Blackberry, and focus fully on the people most important to your life.

4.    Get a life apart from your work. The list of possibilities is endless but do something where you make a contribution and above all have fun.

Have you ever noticed the gaps between musical notes. If these spaces were not there one would have noise. Reduce the noise in your life by finding silent spaces. And post a notice in your office “Be here now”.

Question

What small steps have you taken to “Be here now”?

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When The Battle is with Yourself

Every once in a while we find ourselves at war (or at least having a tiff) with ourselves.

I had one of those “at odds with the self” dreams some time ago. In the dream I was in a boxing ring with myself (yes you can do that sort of stuff in dreams). The two parts of the self were bashing away at each other and both our faces became swollen, bleeding, and disfigured. It was one of those slugfests where there was no winner but just a lot of damage.

Upon waking my first conscious question was “Now what was that all about?” Here was the interpretation that bubbled into my mind after some reflection.

I had been very critical with myself in the previous few days. I won’t bore you with details but that internal conflict bled into my dreams. The typical result of such internal battles is never very pretty. A lot of black eyes ensue.

So in the middle of meditation the next day, while trying to calm my mind that was behaving like a barrel full of hyperactive monkeys, I had this insight. Here goes.

In order to both understand and calm our inner battles, which can occur for a multitude of reasons, we need to experience that

it is better to be:

1.   Sad Rather Than Mad

Getting to our core emotional state is essential to insight. I had recently experienced a great loss (our beloved dog died of cancer). As a typical male, my default emotion was a low-grade anger. So it is quite understandable that I would have the boxing match dream. What I really needed to do was to continue to walk into my experience of sadness. This is by far a more difficult emotion than anger to process.

Question: What is your underlying emotion when at war with yourself?

2.   Aware Rather Than Unaware 

While we may sleepwalk our way through our waking state or through life in general our dreams do not let us off the hook. Finding ways to be present with our real emotions that are connected to our recent history (sometimes past) of trauma is the path to fully living our lives. The key to understanding is often found when we unlock the code in our dreams.

Question: What are your dreams telling you about your real conflict?

3.   Accepting Rather Than Resisting

The flame of our internal battle is often fanned when we do not accept what is or the reality of our circumstances. When we try to change what can’t be changed, all we do is hurt ourselves. Resistance always causes us to stay at a superficial level and not go deeper. Instead of letting us experience our emotions more fully we end up medicating ourselves with substances like alcohol to food or frenetic activity and/or twisting our real emotion into something more familiar and seemingly easier to handle.

Question: What will it take for you to stop resisting your unfortunate circumstances and come to a place of acceptance?

The war with the self is often reflected in dreams. It also comes out when we project our conflict onto others. We do this by becoming overly critical of the flaws (always easy to find) in others.

In the end we are the ones who negotiate our own peace treaty by

§      Honestly accepting what is

§      Being compassionate about our tendency to twist our emotions

§      Choosing not to dump our emotions on others

§      Desiring to live our lives as awake and aware as we possible can.

Then maybe the two parties boxing in the dream will be dancing with each other tomorrow night when we are asleep. It will be a sign that we are finally at peace with ourselves. For now.

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Five Behaviors of a Visionary Leader

You can learn the ways of a visionary leader.

Here’s how.

I have known quite a number of remarkable futurists in my decades of consulting practice. Each took their organization to new levels of excellence and profitability. However, one stands out above all the others. I recently asked him “Do You See Blue Sky or Dark Clouds in your industry?” His business was going through a bit of a slump but he had an irrepressible sense for greater opportunities in the future.

o What made this leader stand out from his peers in the same organization/industry?

o Why was he like the optimistic child who viewed a pile of manure and started digging for the pony?

The thing about this leader is that he saw both the obstacles as well as new possibilities for the future.

What five behaviors made him such a remarkable visionary?

He had a

1.  Global Business Perspective

The problem with many a successful business is that the leadership can become internally focused. What worked in the past is assumed to be the predictor for future success. However, this leader was able to appreciate and integrate multiple socio political and global factors like the growing scarcity of water, nutrition needs of a greatly expanding and mobile world population, advances in technology like that of artificial intelligence, and the changing nature of the workforce that included millennials.  He truly saw the bigger picture.

2.  Realist/Optimist Disposition

Futurists are not clueless or careless dreamers. They can look at the facts about their organization, good and bad, and press on to new business frontiers. That makes them realists. However, what makes them stand out from the pack is that they see viable business opportunities where others see obstacles. They ask questions like, “How can we leverage the downturn in the economy to our advantage?” And their native optimism spurs them on in the face of opposition.

The motto of such a leader could well be

Pensaron que nos habían enterrado, pero no sabían que éramos semillas They thought we were buried, but they did not know we were seeds

3.  Openness to Change 

Most of us have a love/hate relationship with change. We may hear the drum beat “change or die”.  We resist the imperative to alter our ways for a multitude of reasons. Our resistance may be conscious or unconscious, based on a fear of going out of our comfort zone, spurred by a tendency to rest on the laurels of our success, or a deep longing for the “good old days”. But in the end, the visionary leader has a compelling reason to lead change. And come hell or high water, change happens.

4.  Wide Network With External Thought-Leaders

Many senior leaders confine their network to their own organization. However visionaries have the opportunity to meet with thought-leaders beyond their own company and discipline. In so doing they enjoy the fruits of cross-fertilization.  All this exposure to a wider circle enriches their capacity to innovate and expose their organization to new ideas.

5.  Deep Interest in the Arts and History

 I once taught a Humanities course in a Business Management degree program. One course assignment was for the students to visit a museum, art galley, cultural event from their ethnic group, or read a biography of some important historical figure (other than in business). The assignment was then to relate this experience to their business context. The surprise was that many of them had confined their whole life experience to the business world.

Great visionary leaders read widely, travel extensively, have broad experience in the arts, and are insatiably curious about the world around them. They then import this experience to their business experience that becomes richer as a result. All work and no play truly makes “Jack a dull boy”. The leader I work with has all this intellectual and cultural breadth and it continually informs his work experience.

I realize that this article is based the anecdotal evidence of one leader who embodied all these behaviors. However,

My Question

What behavioral markers have you observed in true visionaries?

What research (articles) do you have to support your observations?

Please share your perspective.

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Trust Matters

By 

Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D

We all know that when trust is broken, it hurts.

Trust is the bedrock of every relationship both political and personal. Without trust, we are like a boat, left to drift with no anchor. From infancy to adulthood, trust is the cornerstone of healthy relationships,  personal well-being, and civil society.

Though we all know trust is important, why does trust matter?

In infancy, the answer is obvious. Without trust, an infant can literally perish.  When, as children, we cannot trust our parents, we grow up coming to believe that we can’t depend on anyone else either. Later as adults, we may have very low expectations of others and be hesitant to ask for help. This lack of trust in others can be isolating and may affect our personal well-being and our ability to establish bonds with others.

Trust is an important factor in developing bonds with each other and is determined by how well we meet our obligations (implicit or explicit) to each other. Our bonds can be strong or tenuous, healthy or not, depending upon how well these obligations are met, be they in friendships, marriages, and/or work.

In adult life trust is broken when mutual obligations are violated. For example:

A partner betrays the other through lying or infidelity
A boss does not deliver on the promise of a promotion

A politician lies to us
A friend reveals information about us that was confidential
A colleague bad-mouths a peer to their boss in an attempt to gain advantage

Recently, an organization conducted a survey among its senior executives, asking them what leadership competencies they most highly valued. Interestingly, trust came out on top. Trust was critical because trustworthy individuals behave in ways that optimize organizational effectiveness. Specifically, trustworthy individuals:

Behave ethically and honestly at work
Consistently follow through on commitments
Establish a climate of mutual respect
Maintain the confidentiality of restricted information

In the absence of trustworthy behaviors, such as those noted above, an organization (or any relationship, in fact) can eventually descend into chaos.

Responding to Broken Trust

When trust is violated, we typically respond with strong emotions. Below, are some typical responses:

Anger

Anger is a natural response to betrayal. Anger functions as a defense mechanism that keeps the perpetrator (individual or organization) at arms length. Anger is useful in that it can protect us from further hurt and give us time to regroup while we develop a more productive response. However, anger also has a downside in that it can spill over, negatively impacting everyone in our life. Anger is a tricky emotion and one that needs to be managed carefully. Unlike sadness or crying, which can be cathartic and restore one’s emotional equilibrium, anger often produces more anger, and anger can be addictive.

Emotional Freeze

Another response to broken trust is to respond by shutting down our emotions. People often describe this as feeling numb. Though this response may be useful in protecting us in the short-term, eventually it can backfire because when we shut down, we also tend to shut out our significant others, potentially damaging our relationship with them and depriving us of the help they can provide.

Hurt

Disappointment, sadness, and confusion are typical responses to a violation of trust and are important responses in validating our experience of betrayal. However, sustaining feelings of hurt over the long-term can result in seeing ourselves as a “victim”. Embracing a victim identity may attract support and validation from others but eventually it disempowers us by depriving us of more productive responses.

Recovering From Broken Trust

As discussed, our initial responses to broken trust are anger, hurt, and the numbing of our emotions. What typically happens next is we get stuck in these emotions and we can’t let them go, resulting in emotional paralysis.

How do we disengage from these emotions and move on?

First, Find a safe context or person who can contain, validate, and normalize our emotional responses to being betrayed.

Second, learn to detach from our feelings so that we can begin to talk about the experience without getting overwhelmed and derailed by our emotions.

Third, explore new coping strategies that allow us to change our orientation to the painful experience. For example, change the way we think about the experience; distract and reorient ourselves by engaging in physical activity, which also helps to relieve the stress; and talk with others about their best practices in moving on from the pain of broken trust.

Finally, turn the negative emotions into productive action. Ask yourself: “What do I need to do to turn this situation into a growth opportunity or a productive outcome?” Then begin to visualize the details of that productive outcome.

We may never be the same again after the severance of trust but we have a choice: we can grow and produce a satisfying outcome or we can regress to unproductive states such as feeling emotionally paralyzed or perpetually angry.

There are countless stories of people who have grown through pain. Let yours be one of them.

(Please see the links below on this blog site for three other resources for recovery)

Forgiveness  https://cedricj.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/what-is-forgiveness

Courage  https://cedricj.wordpress.com/2012/07/15/courage-it-makes-all-the-difference

Self-compassion  https://cedricj.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/give-yourself-a-break-try-self-compassion

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