Makawalu: Counting our Thinking

The Hawaiian concept of makawalu came back to mind for me this morning, in capturing a re-blog+commentary I added to my Tumblr, Ho‘ohana Aloha:

From Bobulate: An eightfold path of Sylvianess
It’s a post mostly about Ho‘omau, the Hawaiian value meaning to perpetuate, and a question:

How do we keep the good work people do for us, and sustain it even after they have left us?

Imagine it, if you had a wall in your conference room, or lunch room, or intranet digital portfolio, where you had a Ho‘omau Makawalu – a memory of eight things for each person to Ho‘omau and Ho‘ohanohano with (chapter 13 in Managing with Aloha, the value coaching us to “Cultivate respectfulness. Honor the dignity of others by conducting yourself with distinction”). Your titles might be “Charlieness” “Ashleyness” “Dannyness” and “Leilaniness”” they’d be wonderful, and such a celebration of Ho‘ohana – those special ways that people mark their signature to work.

The work we do each day requires so much from us. Value it. Do more than remember it; keep it in play.

My commentary complete there (in regard to Ho‘omau) I shifted my thoughts back to how eight-ness has become so natural to me given my sense of place: Simply by merit of growing up in Hawai‘i, I have always known that multiples of four and eight are highly regarded in our culture, but why?

I went digging in my own library of reference books, and this is what I discovered.

Kauna, Ka‘au, Lau” Counting Fish and Taro

“Numbers is the special language of mathematics and Hawaiians had developed a numbers system of their own long before the arrival of Captain Cook” Hawaiians had adopted a base unit of four in addition to a hybridized base ten numerical system” The Hawaiians’ base four units were called kauna, or four; ka‘au, or forty; lau, or four hundred; mano, or four thousand; kini, or forty thousand; and lehu, or four hundred thousand.

According to J.H. Kānepu‘u, a Hawaiian author of a letter to the editor of the Hawaiian newspaper Ke Au ‘Oko‘a, dated January 21, 1867, the number four was used for a very practical reason: a fisherman could hold four fish by their tails between the five fingers of each hand, or a farmer could hold four taro plants in the same way. Incidentally, fisherman and fishmongers in Hawai‘i today still count fish, particularly ‘ōpelu, according to the old method, in units of four, forty, and so on.”

—from KÅ« Kanaka, A Search for Hawaiian Values by George Hu‘eu Sanford Kanahele

I have seen small reef fish counted this way, and it’s just been one of those things I figured as a fisherman’s habit. Handy, simple, practical” hands, fish and food together; very Hawaiian.

Hungry Koi

Makawalu: Counting our Thinking

Makawalu is the concept of abundance in thinking, giving in to all the possibilities of the physical and the spiritual world. Maka is the word for eyes, and walu is eight, thus makawalu literally means to look for eight ways or facets of thinking connected to and extended from wherever you may start.

If you begin to use a tool, think of eight ways you might be able to use it.

If you plot a garden, think of eight sections that will rotate your earth in season.

If you consider a friendship, think of eight ways you will be able to share it.

If you write a song, think of eight voices who will help you sing it.

And then for each of those eight ways, think of eight more. Within your spirit, all is entirely possible.

Makawalu stems from a belief that our intelligence is infinite: For each of the eight perspectives one might come up with, another eight will be possible (making 64), and on (to 512), and on (to 4,096), and on to infinite possibility. It is the expectation of abundance over scarcity— always.

Thus in Hawaiian, makawalu is also the word we use for numerous, many, much, in great quantities, and sometimes, it is “used with implication of chiefly mana [divine power].” —Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert in the Hawaiian Dictionary

Quite cool, isn’t it.

We count on numbers to count, to enumerate for us, and place all variety of things in orderly sets and collections. Sometimes we want them to contain – to be our limits, keeping things reasonable and manageable.

But then there’s Palena ‘ole, that 9th key concept we adopt in Managing with Aloha so we will grow in an exceptionally unrestrained way:

9. Palena ‘ole (Unlimited Capacity):

This is your exponential growth stage, and about seeing your bigger and better leadership dreams come to fruition. Think “Legacy.” Create abundance by honoring capacity; physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Seek inclusive, full engagement and optimal productivity, and scarcity will be banished.

Talking Story Category Page: Key 9—Unlimited Capacity

To have all of this kaona (hidden meaning), mana‘o (learning connected to the spirit’s divinity) and Language of Intention in one word, Makawalu” it helps you know that anything is possible, if only you can imagine it to be so, and then commit to making it happen.

Purchase Managing with Aloha at in hardcover, or in the Kindle Store.

Fridays with the Alaka‘i Nalu

Preface: I have thought about the Alaka‘i Nalu quite a bit this week as we’ve talked story about what it means to “Nalu it” [When Managers Say the Right Things] for if there ever was a group of people who taught this manager to “go with the flow” it was them! The story which follows was originally shared on within the first year my book was published, for this very special group of Hawaiian watermen and women had starred in a few of my chapter stories, and many readers had asked me to share more about them. My Fridays at the Hualalai Resort with the Alaka‘i Nalu have come back to mind for me with all the warmth and joy our best memories hold within them — how could they not turn out that way, when you work with people who live their lives with Aloha? So here once more, is,

Fridays with the Alaka‘i Nalu

Every Friday my alarm went off at 4:30am. After a few weeks, my body’s rhythm adjusted, and I could naturally wake up just 5 or 10 minutes before the buzzer sounded, clicking it off before it woke my husband and children too.

My Friday mornings were for Hui Wa‘a, a weekly paddling program our resort did for residents and guests, so they could get a beginner’s taste of what it’s like to be part of a traditional Hawaiian canoe club. The paddle started at 7:30am, and so by 5:30am I’d meet my Alaka‘i Nalu to get their read on the morning’s surf conditions. As they stood on the beach and watched the wave sets come in, sensing the mood of wind and water in intuitively trained habit, I waited for the rising sun to light their faces. They read what the morning would be like in their way, and I read it in mine.

An Alaka‘i (spoken as noun) is a guide or leader. Nalu is the word for waves or surf. The Alaka‘i Nalu were my watermen (and women), my leaders of the waves, and guides in the surf. I was their manager, and they my staff, and never would I think of going into the ocean’s arms without them. Neither would I want any of my guests to. When the ocean called, the Alaka‘i Nalu listened, and they became her appointed teachers and coaches. The rest of us were their students. They would teach us: Nānā i ke kumu, “Look to the source” and the ocean was their source. She was their everything, their inspiration. As their manager I did only one thing: I brought both groups together, teachers and students. I wouldn’t have it any other way, for I trusted my Alaka‘i Nalu completely, and I myself would never be one.

As usual, we’d start our Hui Wa‘a paddle with a briefing we called our ‘ōlelo. Guests were taught about the canoe and how best to paddle her. They were always reminded to respect the ocean, and we would offer a pule, a short prayer to keep us safe in her arms during our paddle. Then, being sure everyone had tabis to protect their feet on our rock strewn beach, we’d prepare to launch the canoe.

On this particular morning, I watched Ikaika’s eyes settle on a teenage girl during our ‘ōlelo. In the day’s group were several return guests, anxious to skip the preliminaries and add an extra ten minutes stolen time to the paddle. However the girl was new, a first-timer, and Ikaika carefully watched her for any sign of nervousness or apprehension. I didn’t see these things in her, instead recognizing the almost haughty I-don’t-care attitude I’d seen dozens of times in a teenager’s demeanor, and I let my own attention return to the other guests.

However Ikaika knew better. He was assigned to be a steersman that morning (the steersman would be the captain of each Hui Wa‘a, the single authority we all deferred to), and in making his canoe assignments, he sat the girl in seat 5, just in front of him. Ahead of her, in seat 4 he put Aaron, the Alaka‘i Nalu who normally would have been the stroker (the pacesetter) in seat 1. His decision thrilled another return paddler who was given the privilege of stroking the canoe. The girl’s parents were put in Na Maka Eleu, a different canoe. I wondered why Ikaika chose to split them up, but I respected his decision and said nothing.

The sea was calm, glassy and welcoming. It was a perfect morning for a paddle, and conditions couldn’t have been better. As we ventured beyond the protective bay of Uluweuweu, the soft creamy blue of the water suddenly changed to a brilliantly intense marine color: deep beneath us, the ocean floor dropped away at the shelf. Skipping off the water’s surface, the breeze picked up a slight chill, and rolled gentle surges beneath us. Just as suddenly, the girl panicked and bolted up in the canoe in desperate fear, looking for a way out.

Ikaika had kept his canoe, one of four that morning, in the back of our hui. Paddling ahead of him, the rest of us never saw what happened. I’m told that the other three guests in Ikaika’s canoe sensed a fleeting change in their rhythm, but eyes ahead, kept paddling. By the time we’d all come together again on the beach, the paddle over, all we saw was a girl transformed, with exuberant joy on her face, the joy one sees when their child first learns to walk, or comes home from school to tell you they made starter on their soccer team. In the weeks which followed, the girl and her parents would become our self-appointed Hui Wa‘a ambassadors.

What happened?

Aloha and Mālama (the value of caring, compassion, and stewardship) was in that canoe that morning. Aloha was in Ikaika. And Ikaika was bound and determined to share it, in his mālama, his care for another who had come to Hawai‘i hoping and dreaming she might find it. And thankfully, because of the Aloha and respect which I had for Ikaika, I didn’t get in the way of it happening, despite all the good intentions most managers have with safety, liability, and just plain needing to know everything themselves so they can control it.

In normal workplace talk, that last paragraph may read a bit differently: “There were talented paddlers in the canoe that morning. They had been trained well. They had a job to do, and they did it, making sure their guests were safe.”

All of that was in place, but mostly, it was Aloha. It was just another story of how Aloha makes a difference in people’s lives and in their work, and it happens in our islands every day. It was another story of how the unique character of Hawai‘i, our Hawai‘i, our home, is shared in someone’s workplace all the time when that someone loves the work they do, and understands work brings meaning to life. Life brings meaning to work. The work we do is personal; that’s just the way it is.

We are currently living in an age where the need for reinventing work has never been more pronounced. We all want to bring meaning to what we do, and in our world we have the many blessings of paradise to inspire us; Aloha is not reserved for Hawai‘i alone. There are more stories to be shared, to be learned from, and to be multiplied. Our stories, all stories of Aloha.

I hope you will tell us yours.

Postscript: This was a true story in the worklife of Ikaika Kanuha, one of the Alaka‘i Nalu who are the watermen of the Hualalai Resort at historic Ka‘Å«pulehÅ«. Ikaika’s dream, is that the wonder of Hawai‘i’s ocean environment is respected and loved by all who live in and visit our islands. He has chosen to make his work his life. He understands he can make a difference, and dreams can become one’s legacy.

North KÅ«ki‘o Beach
North KÅ«ki‘o Beach, at the shoreline of Uluweuweu Bay
Looking toward the Hualalai Resort at low tide, gentle low surf, 6:45am.

Aloha! Just joining us?

Talking Story is the blog home of those who are learning to be Alaka‘i Managers — those committed to managing and leading with Aloha. Read a preview of the book which inspired this movement, and visit our About Page.

Talking Story with Rosa Say

When Managers Say the Right Things

Choosing the right thing to say isn’t that difficult, when it flows from the right intent. And what great results we can achieve!

When managers say the right things in a workplace, release happens — self-imposed floodgates open wide in the people who surround those managers, and their greatest possibility comes out to play. Work of different stripe, pattern, color and intensity happens, because now, people feel it can. They feel their work is wholly welcomed. Their work. People can add a personal signature to what they do — they can weave in their Ho‘ohana, and go for ‘Imi ola. They can experiment, take creative liberty, stretch, dabble and explore — these are all the good things which happen when “Nalu it” is part of the work culture.

“Nalu it” surges ahead. It jumps from meaning “go with the flow” to becoming, “go for it!”
“Nalu it” was important: It relaxes people, and gets them to drop their guard a bit more so they can go with the flow to start with. But so much more is usually possible, and when their managers say the right things in encouragement and support, people can really “go” in a big way.

Canoe Surfing at KÅ«ki‘o PointReference points: If you’re just joining us, learn about “Nalu it” here. The Hawaiian values which guide us are listed and defined for you on the right sidebar of the blog.
Besides being a pretty cool metaphor, the Language of Intention and water flow imagery of “nalu it” (to go with the flow) helps us see the work we do, and the momentum we achieve with that work, through the lens of natural physics. The strength and perpetual power of wave action is pretty obvious, yet consider this: People are a force of nature too!

Nalu from what’s expected, to what’s possible

People know they are in a workplace to work. What managers must often do for them however, is strip away anything that holds them back. What makes a difference in a workplace culture, and in the quality of what that workplace produces or delivers, is the freedom of self expression that defines that work and channels its best energies, as opposed to the structural impositions of job description and process expectations — yes, you read that correctly: Job descriptions and and process expectations are structural impositions which function very much like shackles do, keeping more liberating work in check. The best work happens without them.

Just ask your customers, and listen closely. They’ll tell you that they don’t really want your staff to follow your rules per se, they want them to own the work (‘service’ or a ‘great product’ to a customer) with a personal touch, and with that owner’s intensity that conveys “this work is part of me, it’s important to me that it’s good, and I’m so happy I can share it with you as my customer and guest.” When your staff has “owner’s intensity” they never say, “let me get my manager” because they don’t need to; they make stuff happen (they Ho‘o), and customers thrill to their sense of urgency. Customers admire what they perceive as initiative and passion, skillful ability and uncompromising competence.

As a manager, you want your customer and guest to see those things in your people, and experience them in the service they receive. All of it is a reflection of you and what you do — what you support and enable — as a great manager.

So what are those ‘right things’ that all managers can be saying?

The different phrases are abundant, and you can make them personal, saying them in your own words, but they will all be rooted in two kinds of intention: Giving permission and sharing appreciation (the value of Mahalo).

Sharing appreciation has to do with that excellent and timeless supervisory advice: Catch people doing something right. Great managers aren’t cagey or subtle about it either: They speak up (saying the right thing, at precisely the right time) to let people know they’ve caught them, for the glorious affirmation of the aha! moment which just happened, and so they have a chance to say thank you in a genuinely sincere way. In a workplace, the best “thank you” of all is said when a manager catches their people wallowing in their strengths and talents; they’ve lost all sense of time, and their work is truly in flow. Because of the investments already done in basic competency and in value alignment, people are confident, and their work seems to sing. Managers are able to say, “thank you for doing what you do, and for doing it so well” because KÅ«lia i ka nu‘u — the value of excellence has been in play.

Before we get to that sweet spot however, the right things said by a manager will largely be about giving permission, in whatever the form and frequency that permission is needed.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.” The people who say it (and usually quite proudly) are those who hate being held back in any red tape or within the more plodding, cautious work of others. They want to go for it; they’re the “nalu it” surfers and waterwomen who paddle out where there aren’t any lifeguard towers. “Better to ask forgiveness than permission” sounds cocky and arrogant, but often it’s simply confident. They feel their odds are more in favor of success than failure — odds are that asking forgiveness isn’t going to happen, so why waste time on the permission? Just get it done, and prove the point. Everything will be fine — how bad could it be?

“The cool thing about reckless abandon is that there is always time to be sensible later.”
~ Seth Godin in Insubordinate

Again, more confidence than arrogance is in play here, for they also have a much bigger viewpoint of what success is: They’re quite sure there will be a discovery of some kind that isn’t necessarily a bona fide accomplishment yet. Heck, that discovery might even be a brand new mistake they never made before, because it’s the first time they were able to paddle out that far. That’s a good thing! Mistakes are cool. Whoever would expect they need to be forgiven for that?

The very best workplace wave people can ride? When they get permission as a gift without having to ask for it first. They get, “Nalu it!”

Let’s get back to those “right things” that a manager will say. I’m a fan of the “Nalu it” Language of Intention because it’s such a good reminder of these statements as a “give good permission” intention category. Examples are;

“Just go for it — you know what to do, and you’re the best at it.”
“Sounds to me like you have a handle on this, so just call if you feel you need something; I’ll be happy to help.”
“I’m sensing you have another idea about this; tell me about it.”
“The energy you’ve been devoting to this is fantastic; thanks so much.”
“We’ll have the luxury of more time with this project; would you like to try a different approach?”

Or simply, “What say we try something new, you game?”
And as often as possible, “What do you think?”

To be an Alaka‘i Manager, work on this deliberately: Speak with those two critical intentions of giving permission and sharing your appreciation. Add it to your list of dailies, with The Daily 5 Minutes and as a Best Communicator. The magnificent day will come, when one of your people looks at you and says, “I feel strong when I talk to you.”

A suggestion for Managing with Aloha readers: Review Chapter 4 on Ho‘omau, the value of perseverance and persistence. The connections to this discussion abound, and those Ho‘omau connections are often why we managers want to release others within their good work in the first place; they’ll have several “Nalu it” waves to ride over time.

Say Aloha to November and “Nalu it”

Glorious November. Generous too. What I love about the changing of the season, is how liberally it can drop goodness in our laps unapologetically. November  doesn’t bother to ask our permission; it just arrives with a flourish, like the cherry on top of a classic banana split.

It’s gonna happen for you, if it hasn’t already, so will you be a willing receiver when it does? Will you nalu it?

Skill of the Waterman

Nalu is the Hawaiian word for wave or surging surf, and the hapa-Hawaiian saying, to “Nalu it” means “go with the flow.” As every person who learns to swim in the ocean knows, you don’t fight the waves, you ride them.

I grew up thinking “Nalu it” was street slang, and so there was a very cool affirmation of sorts which washed over me the day I first looked up nalu in the Pukui Elbert Hawaiian Dictionary. They do define nalu as, “wave, surf; full of waves; to form waves; wavy, as wood grain” and then, as meaning number 2., “to ponder, meditate, mull over, speculate.”

That’s even better! The kaona (hidden meaning) of nalu becomes so much richer, for that definition means thoughtful intention to me. “Nalu it” begins to mean go with the flow, and be mindful at the same time; be present. Take notice, but also, leave some room.

When you stop and think about it, all flow needs that room — that space to flow well, to surge without inhibition, just as the best surf will.

So, we “ponder”…

As we ho‘ohana, and work with purpose, passion, and full intention have we freed up enough capacity in our lives so that we can “nalu it” when a golden opportunity drops in our laps unexpectedly? It doesn’t even have to be an opportunity… can we be open enough, and freed up enough, to enjoy whatever good shows up?

Or, are we normally running on fumes? Is there enough fuel in our reserves, so that we can take enticing detours without worrying that we’ll run dry, and will have taken too great a risk?

As we’ve said before, Be unencumbered. Especially now, when there is so much seasonal goodness to take advantage of, and to be in the flow with.

Park. Walk instead. Nalu it everywhere, and in all of your places.

Thoughts like these predictably recur in November. The year is drawing to a close, and holiday celebrations get our attention, seeming to say, “Hey you, pay attention to me, it’s time!” Can we do so, or are we still scrambling, reacting with, “No! I’m not ready for you” please hold off a bit more, and wait.”

Good try, for there’s no stopping the calendar, is there.

There’s little sense in resisting. No sense scrambling either. As David Allen says, “There’s no catching up; there’s only catching on.”

So nalu it; go with the flow this month and enjoy November. To park, and walk instead, is to take notice of your Sense of Place (our Key 8) and get grounded in that elemental, earthy way.

If you feel you must dig in with one last valiant effort, work on your sweetest closure and let stuff go: It will get you to Nānā i ke kumu (return to your source, value/chapter 17 in Managing with Aloha).

Say Aloha to November in your most welcoming way, and dwell there, within your spirit for the season, and your self-leadership. It’s a good place to be.

Lead the way

Do this for yourself and you’ll feel better: Going with the flow relaxes you.

Then, in the spirit of Managing with Aloha, give this same holiday permission to everyone who works with you. Share the Language of Intention of “Nalu it” with them — let them know their sweet closure is okay with you, and that you’ll support their enjoyment of the season too, where the goodness of nalu-ing it is completely possible.

One to review on this final thought… Dear Manager, who do you want to be?

Aloha! Just joining us?

Talking Story is the blog home of those who are learning to be Alaka‘i Managers — those committed to managing and leading with Aloha. Read a preview of the book which inspired this movement, and visit our About Page. Purchase Managing with Aloha at in hardcover, or in the Kindle Store.

Talking Story with Rosa Say