In Transition, Start with Connections

First Posted August 13, 2012.

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Listening to the discussion between Mitch Joel and Jeff Goins about writing, raised the question about how to start anything. This is particularly important if you are at a transition point in your life and work.

I know I need to change. How do I start?

Think. I'm starting fresh. Not starting over.

The best way to start fresh is with connections. The connections to ideas, to people and to the contexts where your transition is taking you.

Starting with Connections to Ideas

Connections with ideas at its most basic level is about communication.

You are communicating a message to someone, maybe even yourself.

My blogging here is primarily about helping me clarify what is going on in my head.

What is going on in my head is a product of what is going on in my "gut"; about what is happening intuitively.

Intuition is nothing more than making meaningful connections with ideas or situations.

You are in a meeting. Something is said.

Boom, flash, I've heard this before.

Then you begin to wrack your brain from where.

What do you do? Start writing down things. You are brainstorming. All of a sudden. You remember.

You do because you have made a connection in your mind. It isn't a direct connection. In fact, there is no connection, yet there is. This is the function of the intuitive mind.

You then speak up and show your brilliance. Simply because you started fresh with the connection to something.

Connections are not always logical or linear. More often, I find, they are random. That is why I read books and blogs that have nothing to do with my work.

There is a common thread of ideas that connect everything together. No one has the final word on what string of connections is. But it exists. I see it every time I engage with other people's ideas.

The more broadly you learn, the more you will see that everything is connected in some way. I find it very comforting and exhilarating. You will too.

What are ideas?

Ideas are nothing more than the rationalized emotions we feel brought to life in a logical order of words that help others know what we mean in our "gut".

Make the connections, and you'll find fresh meaning for starting.

 

Starting with Connections in Relationships

This is probably the easiest way to start fresh in a transition.

Start with people. Here's a simple way to do it. This is what I did 17 years ago when I started my leadership consulting business.

Ask people you trust, "Who do I need to know? Will you introduce me?"

Simple. Because you are not asking them to do anything more than make a connection for you. With that connection, you say,

"I'm in transition to X. Any advice? Are there people you know that could use these kind of services?"

This is how we make fresh connections that lead us through our transitions.

What are Relationships?

Relationships are nothing more than personal connections that are founded upon common experiences, values and mutual beneficial caring for one another. If the relationship is missing one of these, then it is not whole. It has potential, but is not fully formed.

When people make a connection for you, they do because they care about you. They see something worth investing in, even if the investment is as little as an introduction. Respect that gift, thank them for it, and then return the favor in connecting them to people they need to know. This is how we develop strength in relationships during a time of transition.

 

Starting with Connections to Contexts

When we are in transition, it just does not take place inside of our minds and gut. It happens in a real world context. None of us live in isolation tanks, hermetically sealed off from people, places and events. We are living real lives with real consequences. And we live them within contexts that are just as real, if we make to be so.

When we change, our connection to contexts changes.

By far this is the most complex of all the transitions that we are going through. We are changing patterns of behavior, which is the hardest part of change.

It isn't that I have a new job. It is that this new job context is going to be different than the last one. It may be a good change. But it is a change none-the-less.

So, how do you start fresh in a new context?

Simplify around your core values and purpose.

Think of this transition as an opportunity to get rid of some old habits that weren't very healthy for you.

Stop doing somethings that weren't strengthening your ability to be at your best everyday. Then start doing some new things.

The new context may be a new job. It could be your children are now all gone, off to college and their careers. It could be a move to a new part of the country. It could be new responsibilities at work.

Whatever the context, it is an opportunity to change for the better.

What are Contexts?

Contexts are any relationship, place or event. They are the social and organization structures where we live and work.

Family is a context. Business is a context. Friends are a context. Community is a context. Even social media is a context. Natural disasters, political campaigns, vacations and social clubs are all contexts. Mastermind groups, religious congregations, car pools, kid's athletic teams, scout troops, fishing, hiking and drinking buddies, high school and alumni associations, are all contexts. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Ning groups, Slideshare, Google+ are all contexts. 

Any and every person, place and event that our lives touch is a context. Each one connects with us, and contributes or distracts us from who we are and the transitions we are in. It is best that we not take them for granted.

Life is discovered in the connections

Transitions get harder when we try to minimize change, and we try to do it all on our own.

Transitions are about change, necessary change, change that can be beneficial and beautiful, if we can see it that way.

It is for this reason we need to make fresh connections with ideas, with people, and by simplifying our lives around the things that matter most to us.

Make sure you listen to Mitch and Jeff's discussion on writing. It is excellent. If you are in transition, both of these gentlemen have valuable insights, okay, wisdom, that will be helpful to you in adapting to changes in your life and work. Make sure you visit Jeff's webblog on writing. It will inspire you beyond the practice of writing. Writing is a very helpful tool in managing the transitions of change that we experience in our lives and work.


The End and The Beginning Redux

In March of 2011, I wrote a post called The End and The Beginning.  Here's an excerpt.

What I see is:

    The Beginning of the End of the Progressive ideal.

     The  End of the Beginning of the Capitalist model.

     The Emergence of freedom and democracy on a global scale.

The first two, Progressivism and Capitalism, along with modern Science, are the principal products of the age of Enlightenment.

The Progressive ideal believed, and still does by many of its advocates, that through government control of science and industry a free, equitable and peaceful world could be achieved. Conceived during the 19th century as a belief that society could be perfected, and as a counter-balance to the industrialization taking place in Europe and the United States, it was an utopian belief in a well-order, controlled, uniform world.

The Capitalist model was born in a belief that each individual should be free to pursue their own economic welfare, and not be forced by government rules or economic servitude to do that which they choose not to do. It was the ideology that provided the basis of the industrialization out which has come prosperity for more people in history and the rise of the modern middle class.

Both the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have brought great benefits and liabilities to society. They form the two sides of virtually every divisive issue confronting the world today. They are quite similar, yet in very different ways. Both are organized around the control of power and wealth. Both have been institutionalized in the large, hierarchical organizations in Washington and on Wall Street, and in similar institutions throughout the world.

Over the past decade, the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have begun to show their age. The assumptions that underlie these ideologies are being challenged by forces of change that are beyond their control. Because the control of global forces of change is problematic and less realistic.

I wrote this before the Occupy Wall Street movement began.

I have thought for a long time that there was an evolutionary cycle of institutional decline taking place. Some of this change was the result of out-dated organizational and leadership philosophies, and some of it the emergence of technologies that provide for a more boundary-less environment for communication and collaboration.

This change is an organic process that will ultimately transform or replace most organizations. While I still believe this to be true, I also see that there is a revolutionary cycle of institutional destruction taking place as well.

Read these two different views of the Occupy Wall Street movement. First, Naomi Wolfe's The Guardian article, The Shocking Truth about the Crackdown on Occupy. Then read Matthew Continetti's The Weekly Standard editorial, Anarachy in the USA.

If both are right, then what we are seeing is the rise of political violence on a broader scale in America than we have seen since the late 1960's / early 1970's.  I see parallels from my youth in this generation of young people who rush to join the protests, without really knowing what they hope to change. Their frustration is shared broadly.

A few times over the past few months, I have heard business people in differing contexts say something like, "I'm not making any investments in equipment, no acquisitions of companies, and no hiring until after next year's election."  The reason, instability, a lack of clarity about the rules. In effect, they don't know how their investments will be taxed. As a result, they are forced to sit and wait, contributing to a further erosion of jobs and economic sustainability for families and communities.

This fits with the trends picture presented by Charles Hugh Smith in his post The Future of Jobs. Look closely at the 5Ds at the end of this list.

Most cultural and economic trend changes begin on the margin and then spread slowly to the core, triggering waves of wider recognition along the way. Thus some of these long-wave trends may not yet be visible to the mainstream, and may remain on the margins for many years. Others are so mature that they may be primed for reversal.

The key here is to be aware of each of these, think on which are most likely to impact your current profession and how, and estimate when that impact is likely to be expressed so that you can position yourself wisely in advance:

  1. Automation enabled by the Web…
  2. The cost structure of the US economy—the system-wide cost of housing, food, energy, transport, education, health care, finance, debt, government, and defense/national security--is high and rising, even as productivity is lagging. …
  3. The stress of operating a small business in a stagnant, over-indebted, high-cost basis economy is high, and owners find relief only by opting out and closing their doors. …
  4. The Central State has been co-opted or captured by concentrations of private wealth and power to limit competition and divert the nation’s surplus to Elites within the key industries of finance, health care, education, government, and national security. ….
  5. Financialization of the economy has incentivized unproductive speculation and malinvestment at the expense of productive investment. …
  6. The U.S. economy has bifurcated into a two-tiered regulatory structure. Politically powerful industries such as finance, education, health care, oil/natural gas, and defense benefit from either loophole-riddled regulation or regulation that effectively erects walls that limit smaller competitors from challenging the dominant players. …
  7. Selective globalization and political protection has created a two-tiered labor market in the US. …
  8. Financialization and the two-tiered labor market have led to a two-tiered wealth structure in which the top 10%'s share of the nation’s wealth has outstripped not just the stagnant income and wealth of the lower 90%, but of productivity, the ultimate driver of national wealth.
  9. … Looking farther out, there are emerging trends I call “the five Ds:” definancialization, delegitimization, deglobalization, decentralization and deceleration. …
  10. Definancialization. Resistance to the political dominance of banks and Wall Street is rising, and the financial industry that thrived for the past three decades may contract to a much smaller footprint in the economy.
  11. Delegitimization. The politically protected industries of government, education, health care, and national security are increasingly viewed as needlessly costly, top-heavy, inefficient, or failing. Supporting them with ever-increasing debt is widely viewed as irresponsible. Cultural faith in large-scale institutions as “solutions” is eroding, as is the confidence that a four-year college education is a key to financial security. 
  12. Deglobalization. Though it appears that globalization reigns supreme, we can anticipate protectionism will increasingly be viewed as a just and practical bulwark against high unemployment and withering domestic industries. We can also anticipate global supply chains being disrupted by political turmoil or dislocations in the global energy supply chain; domestic suppliers will be increasingly valued as more trustworthy and secure than distant suppliers.
  13. Decentralization. As faith in Federal and State policy erodes, local community institutions and enterprise will increasingly be viewed as more effective, responsive, adaptable, and less dysfunctional and parasitic than Federal and State institutions.
  14. Deceleration. As debt and financialization cease being drivers of the economy and begin contracting, the entire economy will decelerate as over-indebtedness, systemic friction, institutional resistance to contraction (“the ratchet effect”), and political disunity are “sticky” and contentious.

So, a picture emerges that promises the economic and political environment to be more unstable and volatile over the coming year. I believe this requires us to make a change in our perspective about the way we view the evolutionary changes that are working in tandem and at time against the revolutionary changes of the past few months.

Understanding the Transition

Many of the people I am with on a daily basis feel a strong ambiguity towards institutions, like government, business and religion. Many of these institutions are failing, declining, or evaporating before our eyes. I don't need to go into the reasons why. It really doesn't matter that much because to a great degree, it is a function of the transition from one era to the next. I don't believe we can stop those changes. Our course of action is to be different. Here are some of the ways we can adapt to this changing social landscape.

1. Develop Parallel Structures that provide a buffer against the disintegration of legacy institutions. Creating parallel and redundant structures provides a greater margin of security against the shifts that are taking place. The thinking process behind this is to define the four Connecting Ideas of Mission, Values, Vision and Impact for your organization, and then answer, How do we create the structures that can fulfill the potential that resides in this ideas?

2. Develop Networks of Trust that provide a community of collaborators who stand with one another as economic conditions worsen. If society moves towards a more anarchic, violent place, then having a network of trust is essential for security and safety.

3. Develop a Long View / Big Picture that projects out how new ways of working can become sustainable.  Right now, using traditional plannng methods, it is very difficult to create a long range plan for development. Yet, without some clarity about the Big Picture, we are at the mercy of the current fashionable idea. Build a Long View / Big Picture around the Values that are most important to you and to those who are in your network of relationships. Strong values lived out in our relationships are an essential strength for being more adaptible in the face of revolutionary change.

4. Develop an Independent, Adaptable Mind that is able to discern the Big Picture in the moment of decision. Don't let someone else tell you what to think. Think for yourself. Do your own research. Read broadly. Think critically, with a view to understanding context, trends and what the Big Picture is. Engage in conversation, ask questions, change your mind, and build a network of people who are just as independently like minded.

5. Develop the Character of Resiliency that refuses to quit or fail, but continues to adapt and learn. This resiliency comes from an inner strength of courage and confidence that we can go through any difficult situation and remain true to ourselves. To be resilient requires us to see ourselves as more than the victim of current circumstances, but able to adapt and change to create the structures and relationships needed to advance forward.

6. Develop Traditions that Celebrate Values that unite people together as communities of shared mission and responsibility.  Of the four Connecting Ideas, Values is the only one that does not change. Our values are the glue that holds us together in times of crisis and stress. It is the core strength of every lasting institution. Those people and institutiosn that are able to change are the ones whose values are greater than its organizational structure.

7. Develop the Leadership of Personal Initiative in every social and organizational setting you touch. The attitudes and behaviors of entitlement and dependence, which have been nurtured by the institutions that are declining will not sustain society in the future. The freedom of the individual is the freedom to lead through their own personal initiative. The key is understanding that this initiative is the leadership of the future, as person who are free to act, join with others to create the parallel structures that are needed to replace the structures in decline.

The End and The Beginning Redux

I'm still convinced that we are witnessing the decline of Progressivism as a viable system for society. I'm also convinced that Capitalism as it has developed in the late 20th / early 21st century is not sustainable. I am more convinced than ever that individual freedom and the liberty of democracy are the trends that will carry us through the violence of the next generation. I say so because the era that is passing away before us will not go quietly. But go away, it will. That too I am firmly convinced.


The End and the Beginning

Seeing what's coming

What if our past experience instead of illuminating the future, obscures it? What if the way we have always approached a problem, or the conduct of a single day, or the organization of our work makes it more likely that we end up not accomplishing what we envision?

Working in planning processes over the years, I've concluded that people can see what they want, but fail to reach it because of how they go about it.  We can imagine the future, but not see the path that will take us there. This gap in our abilities is becoming more acute as the ways we have worked are becoming less effective.

From another perspective, we rarely see the end of something coming, or the beginning of the next thing. We tend to see in retrospect.  Our aversion to change, I believe, is largely because we don't like surprises. We defend the past hoping that it is sustainable into the future, even if we see a better, different one.The past, even less than ideal, at least seems known and more certain, more secure, more stable, more predictable, more comfortable, at one level.  It does not mean that it is satisfying or fulfilling, but it seems safer. 

As a result, instead of providing us a sound basis for change, the past can inhibit us from achieving the vision that we see. Instead, we live by a set of cultural forms that must be defended against change. In other words, the form of the way we live and work remains the same even after its vitality has gone. 

Change that has come

What impresses me about our time is how fast change is happening, and how quickly things we thought were normative seem less relevant.

Ten years ago, websites were the rage. You weren't on the cutting edge of business without one. Today, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a host of other social media platforms are the norm for a business. Twenty years ago, CDs were the norm. Now, digital I-Tunes downloads. Thirty years ago, the Soviet Union was the West's nemesis, now militant Islam. Forty years ago, Vietnam and racial equality were the dominant issues of our time. Now we have an African-American President, and Howard Schultz wants Starbucks in Vietnam. Fifty years ago, President Kennedy was challenging the nation to go to the Moon within the decade. Today, the government is putting space exploration on the back burner as space travel is becoming privatized.

Could we have imagined these changes?  Possibly. We'd probably not be able to see how they'd happen. That is the curious thing about visions and visioning. We can imagine the end, but not the means.  The pathway to the future goes through today and tomorrow. Yet, we are captives of our past thinking and experiences.  They are the measure of what is possible and what can be done.

The End and the Beginning

I have been reflecting, in particular, on these thoughts over the past several months.  I've tried to step back without prejudice and identify what I see without reducing it down to a few simple categories. What I do see are the markers of change in three broad areas.

For one it is the The Beginning of the End, for another The End of the Beginning, and for another, surprisingly, The Beginning of a long delayed Beginning.

Some of this reflection was prompted by a conversation about a project event to take place later this year. It was a discussion about how businesses function. The contrast was between a focus of work as a set of tasks to be done and the importance of human interaction in meeting organizational goals. I realized coming out of that conversation that this project, for me, represented a turning point in human and organizational development. It provided a picture of the past and the future. The past as the Industrial model of business organization and the future of organizations as communities of leaders. That last phrase was what I envisioned a decade and a half ago when I began my consulting business. Only now, after all these years, do I see that simple idea beginning to have relevance for the way we live, work, organize and lead organizations.

What I see is:

The Beginning of the End of the Progressive ideal.

The  Endof the Beginning of the Capitalist model.

The Emergence of freedom and democracy on a global scale.

The first two, Progressivism and Capitalism, along with modern Science, are the principal products of the age of Enlightenment.

The Progressive ideal believed, and still does by many of its advocates, that through government control of science and industry a free, equitable and peaceful world could be achieved. Conceived during the 19th century as a belief that society could be perfected, and as a counter-balance to the industrialization taking place in Europe and the United States, it was an utopian belief in a well-order, controlled, uniform world.

The Capitalist model was born in a belief that each individual should be free to pursue their own economic welfare, and not be forced by government rules or economic servitude to do that which they choose not to do. It was the ideology that provided the basis of the industrialization out which has come prosperity for more people in history and the rise of the modern middle class.

Both the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have brought great benefits and liabilities to society. They form the two sides of virtually every divisive issue confronting the world today. They are quite similar, yet in very different ways. Both are organized around the control of power and wealth. Both have been institutionalized in the large, hierarchical organizations in Washington and on Wall Street, and in similar institutions throughout the world.

Over the past decade, the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have begun to show their age. The assumptions that underlie these ideologies are being challenged by forces of change that are beyond their control. Because the control of global forces of change is problematic and less realistic.

A principal assumption of the Enlightenment is that we can know what we need to know by analytical decision making. In other words, by identifying the parts of a situation, we understand it, and therefore can design a strategic mechanism for controling the outcome.  This analytical process works very well in the realm of the natural sciences, less so in the realm of the social sciences. To paraphrase novelist Walker Percy, "Science can tell us how the brain functions, but not about the functioning of the mind."

At the beginning of this essay, I wrote of what I was seeing The Beginning of The  End of the Progressive ideal and The End of the Beginning of the Capitalist model. Neither of these observations are political statements. I am not a Democrat, nor a Republican. I am not a Progressive nor a Libertarian. I find none of the current choices of political affiliation representative of my own perspective and values. I speak as an outlier, not an antagonist. 

I see these ideological movements as products of a different time in history. The assumptions and the way of thinking that brought these ideologies into prominence are now receding in appropriateness. The conditions that gave rise to these ideas over the past three hundred years are now giving way to new conditions.  If progressivism and capitalism are to survive, then their proponents must change.

Emergent connection

These ideologies born in the age of Enlightenment share a reductive approach to knowledge. In other words, we gain knowledge and understanding by breaking things into parts. The assumption is that things are collections of discrete parts.  Yet, we know that in the natural sciences, the mixing of different chemical elements creates something new and different that cannot exist in any other way. Water being the most obvious example.

However, in the social realm, there is a shift toward emergent knowledge as the basis for understanding what is.  The emergent perspective sees connections and wholes rather than just parts. In a network of relationships, the value isn't one person, but rather the connections that one person has to other persons. 

List-NetworkThink of it as the difference between those radio ads selling lists of sales leads, and knowing the person who has a relationship with 100 of those buyers. The former is a list of contacts, of names and addresses. It is a parts list.  The other is a picture of a network of connections that one person has. This second picture is the picture of the future, for it is a picture of relationships.

We see emerging forces all around us. Again, this is not a political statement, but an observation. One difference between the Tea Party demonstrations and the Union demonstrations of the past year is the difference between an emergent organization and a traditional hierarchical one. The Tea Party organization is intentionally decentralized in local communities. Unions are designed as centralized concentrations of power.  One body speaking for a host of organizations.

 The difference here is between a centralized and decentralized organizational structure, like that described in Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom's book, The Starfish and The Spider. The centralized structure (the spider) is vulnerable at the top. Take down the leader, and the organization suffers significant loss of prestige and power. The decentralized system (the starfish) is not vulnerable at the top, because there is none. In a decentralized system, no one expression controls the fortunes of the whole. The centralized is the industrialized model, and the decentralized, an emergent one. The system that the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model share is one of centralization. Operating separate from both are independents and small business entrepreneurs. The difference is between a hierarchy of control and a network of collaborative relationships.

The recent rebellions in the Middle East are also examples of this emergent model. The use of cell phone and internet technology to connect people in agile, less structured ways make these rebellions possible, not necessarily successful, but possible.Their desire is for a freedom that they see provided and secured by democracy. When thousands of demonstrators fill the streets of Cairo seeking the end of a repressive regime, their impact is far greater than their numbers. We see a visual counterpoint of the difference between being a nation of free people and one living under an authoritarian government.

Even as the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model decline, the impetus towards freedom and democracy grows. I heard recently that there are now more nations with democratic governments than at any time in history.  Democracy that grows from a grassroots base is an emergent model. The impact is greater than the sum of its individual parts. In an emergent context, one person's actions can serve as a catalyst for thousands more. For example, the recent uprising in Tunisia was started  when a street merchant Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the abusive treatment by police of his vegetable cart business.

The Network is Emergent

In business, the emergent model has relevance. When a business perceives itself to be a structure of parts, processes and outcomes, following upon the centralized industrial model, then it has a much more difficult time seeing the value that exists in the relational connections that exist both between people and within the structure itself. It is why so many businesses become siloed and turf battles insue.

Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy

However, when a business sees itself as a network of interactive individuals, then the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The result is higher levels of communication, collaboration and coordination.

While the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model are products of the age of Enlightenment, emergence, freedom and democracy are even older ideas finding new ground and relevance.  In the traditional business organization, their relevance can be seen in two ways.

First, in the freedom of the individual to take responsibility through their own initiative. This perspective harkens back to the ancient Greek democracies where Greek farmers and small business owners participated in the governance and protection of their city-state. For businesses to replicate such an ethos requires a shift in perspective from employees as functionaries of the tasks of the company to a recognition of the potential contribution that each person offers. It is in this sense that each person leads out of their own personal initiative to give their best to the company.

Second, in the emergence of businesses as human communities of shared responsibility. The traditional approach has been to break down the organizational structures into discrete parts of tasks and responsibilities, and to staff to that conception of the organization. This traditional hierarchical approach worked in simpler times when businesses were less global, more homogeneous, and employees less well trained, and had the technology to advance their contributions beyond their individual position in the company.

Today, the environment of business has changed, as the context becomes more complex and change accelerates. Agility and responsiveness are not embedded in structure, but in human choice and in relationships that amplify those shared choices to make a difference. It is the freedom to take initiative to act in concert with others that creates the conditions of successfully managing the challenging environment of business today. The result of a greater emphasis on relationship, interaction and personal initiative is a shift in culture. One only has to select any page in the Zappos.com Culture Book to see the influence of genuine community upon the attitudes and behaviors of the company's workforce.

The Keys to Change

I began this post by saying that we rarely see the end of something coming or the beginning of something new. What I offer here has been germinating in my mind for the past three years. It is still not yet fully formed, and may never be. Yet, I am convinced that the changes that I see happening mean that there is no going back to the halcyon days of the 1990's or even the 1950's.  Business organizations will not long succeed as mechanistic structures of human parts. Rather they must emerge into being communities of leaders, where individual initiative, community and freedom are fundamental aspects of the company's culture

The keys to the future, in my mind, are fairly simple.

1. Leadership starts with individual employees' own personal initiative to make a difference. Create space and grant permission for individual employees to take initiative to create new ways of working, new collaborative partnerships and solve problems before that reach a crisis level.

2. Relationships are central to every organizational endeavor. Create space for relationships to grow, and the fruit will be better communication, more collaboration between people and groups, and a more efficient coordination of the work of the organization.

 3. Open the organization to new ideas about its mission. Identify the values that give purpose and meaning to the company's mission.  Organize around those values that unite people around a common purpose, that give them the motivation to want to communicate better, collaborate more, and coordinate their work with others.  Openness is a form of freedom that releases the hidden and constrained potential that exists within every company.

We are now at the End of an era that is unprecedented in human history. The next era is Beginning, and each of us has the privilege and the opportunity to share in its development. It requires adapting to new ideas, new ways of thinking, living and working. I welcome the change that is emerging, because I find hope that a better world can be gained through its development.


What is Good?

Bloodline in the Rock - Mt Moran 2

The first and only philosophy class that I took in college was a course called The Philosophy of Art. In retrospect, I believe I took that class because I thought the class would be about something, not just ideas, but something tangible, like paintings or buildings.

I imagined looking at works of art to try to understand the artist's purpose. What I discovered was a class where we didn't so much discuss or debate, but were denounced for believing in values like the good or beauty. We were presented with as nihilistic and cynical view of art as you can imagine.  I came away from the class angry for the wasted time spent, and of my own inadequacy to offer arguments that countered the professor's own self-confident positions. 

For me, the question - What is good? - remains. 

It is through works of art that I reflect on this question.

For example, last year on a retreat, we were invited to paint a picture that would be hung with other pictures on a high wall in our church. The painting above was my effort.

Is it good? Technically no. Artistically, not really. It is realistic? No. Is it beautiful? No.

But does it have meaning for me? Yes. It does because it is representative of a place that means something to me.

The same subject in the hands of an accomplished professional artist looks like this. This is Moran Sunrise by Kathryn Turner of Jackson, Wyoming. It is of Mt. Moran, one of the mountains in the Grand Teton chain of peaks.

Moran-sunrise1824 - Kathy TurnerCopyright © 2009, Kathryn Mapes Turner Fine Art

Kathryn is good at what she does. Just as I can stare at that mountain for hours on end, I can do the same to her painting.

What is the difference between my philosophy prof who cynically tried to convince us that there is no way to determine what is good and a painting by Kathryn?

I believe it revolves around context. If your context is only the abstract world of ideas, then you can argue that good is non-existent, except for a good argument. However, if the world that exists outside our minds is the context, then we'll recognize that we are not the center of the universe, that we are part of something larger.

Recently, I came across a couple quotes, one by a 19th century German writer name Max Stirner who was popular at the end of the century.

"For me nothing is higher than myself."

During the 1905 revolution in Russia, Konstantin Somov wrote,

"I am delighted at every new victory of the revolution ... knowing that it will lead us not into an abyss but into life. I hate our past too much ... I am an individualist; the whole world revolves around me, and essentially it is no concern of mine to go outside the confines of this 'I.'

I think my philosophy prof would approve.

When we talk about What is Good?, we are talking to one another. We are communicating a wide range of impressions and feelings that seek logic, coherence and understanding. When Kathryn paints, she paints to communicate with people who may buy one of her paintings. They do so because some connection between the painter, the painter's purpose, and the world of awareness of the buyer has been reached.

To ask the question of What is Good? is to ask a moral question, a question about what we value. The answer to this question is a communal one, because for the good to be a real value is to see how it connects people together in a way that elevates their own awareness and their relation to the world outside their minds.

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I find a deep richness in Kathryn's art. It is personal because it is a picture of this place that is special to me.  It connects me to more than a physical place of beauty. It also connects me to people that I've met in this place. Some who have become life long friends.

For something to be good, it needs to reach inside us and connect us to some reality or truth or value outside of us. This is what great art does. And remarkably so, it is something that we can all achieve. We do not have to have professional talent in order to create works of art that have the ability to make connections. It certainly helps.

My advice is find yourself a way to express yourself artistically, and share it with others. Shared it not for the accolades that may come, but to create the deeper connection that is represented in the purpose of the art that you've create. And good it will be.


After 15 years, this I've learned.

The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide

Earlier this week, I quietly celebrated the 15th anniversary of the beginning my consulting business, Community of Leadership, LLC. There was no time for celebration or fanfare, just another day of trying to make a difference that matters.  However, a road trip this week gave me time to reflect on the past 15 years.

Here's some of what I've learned.

1. You don't know what you don't know, and if you did, you'd be so overwhelmed by it, you'd never act.

I was young and naive when I began my consulting practice in 1995. I started with a desire to help leaders develop their organizations and communities. That purpose still remains. What I didn't know then is just how ill-prepared I was to go into business on my own. If you remain open to learning, to trying new things and fixing what is broken, you can make it. But it isn't necessarily easy. The Five Questions That Everyone Must Ask that is a part of my Circle of Impact model developed from my experience and that of others, especially #5.

2. What you THINK you are doing, and what you ARE doing aren't always the same. The difference you think you are making, and the actual difference you are making are not always the same either.

Focus is a good thing. However, if it is practiced too rigidly, you can miss what is right in front of you. While relationships have always been important and central to what I do, I'm not really selling a relationship. Instead it is a process of discovery and development where the relationship is integral to that process. At the end of the day, real progress often comes from the conversation that takes place within relationship.

The actual project, while beneficial, is often a secondary benefit compared to what happens in the relationship. The project deals with an immediate or current need. The development of the relationship prepares us for the future. The lesson, therefore, is to realize that nothing is ever exactly like you think it is or want it to be. The task for us is to be aware of the peripheral or ancillary processes that are taking place, recognize their value and give them attention.

3. Work is a context for personal growth. As a result, everyday we can afflict ourselves on our loved ones because we are not the person whom we or they think we are, not always living up to what we say we believe or are committed to doing.

My family has lived through my many personal transitions over the past 25 years. It has not always been easy for them. The old joke of asking "... when is Dad going to grow up and get a real job" is a familiar refrain in many homes. There are two sides to this situation which are important to address with our loved ones.

If you remain the same person over the course of your lifetime, you may never reach your potential. Growth has it price, and often that price is in our relationships. If your family expects you to remain the same person you were when you married or before you began a dramatic growth curve, then there can be conflict.

What I've seen in too many situations are families where the structure of the family is what is important, and not the actual relationships. And when Dad or Mom begins to change, it creates conflict, because what we are used to, what is comfortable, secure and predictable, is no longer there. Ambiguity and change get thrust into an already volatile cultural social environment.  As a result, families grow apart, members go looking for support and intimacy in other places. So, if you are growing into being a new person with a new focus and purpose for your life, then know that it has its effects upon your loved ones and you need to address it openly and with genuine humility.

One of the ways that I've seen these situations addressed is an appeal to balance between life and work. I'm not sure that balance is achievable. It assumes that we can compartmentalize our lives into the personal and public or work and measure out our time and attention in proportion to our priorities. I've concluded that alignment is a better approach. We create alignment by elevating the importance of living out our purpose and values, and allowing for the social settings and organizational environments where we live and work to adapt to our core beliefs. In other words, be willing to change what you do so that you can become the person you are destined to be.  Again, this is not necessarily an easy path to take.

If your life's trajectory is taking you through many stages of personal growth so that you are becoming a different person at 40 than you were at 25, or different person at 55 than you were at 40, then it is very important that your family grow with you, and you with them. If your growth happens too dramatically, too radically, over too short of time, without their input or support, you'll find yourself becoming estranged from them. The lesson is that every transition we go through in our lives is filled with opportunity and challenge. How we meet both determines what comes next. As you change, care for the people who matter most to you. Keep them close, so they understand and can support you as change happens. If they genuinely love you, then you'll make it through the hardships of change.

4. After 15 years, my original purpose and the values that sustain the vision for my work remain the same. The structure of my work has constantly changed.

This is not just a good lesson for personal growth. It is a lesson for businesses and organizations develop. I find the reverse to be often the case, where the social and organizational structures dictate to us what our purpose and values are. Purpose and values are internal strengths. Structure is an external form that provides a context for living out our purpose and values. People whose security is in the external world of things and order, often find themselves frustrated because it is impossible to control their social and organizational contexts. Those who rely on the internal world of their purpose, values and a vision for impact, find these ideas provide them the strength to manage the chaos of change in the external world. As a result, when your personal strength is internal, you can move into a wide variety of contexts and make a difference that matters. You remain the same person regardless of who you are with, and what you are doing. This is what we mean by integrity and authenticity. This is why it so important to know what you purpose is and what you value. They are foundation of sustainability and opportunity in life and work.

5. Opportunities may abound. However, not all opportunities are equal. We usually don't know this until we are half way into the project. Then, we realize that it isn't going to work out or there is something better that we didn't initially see.

While I'm not an advocate for quitting, I have learned that ending something sooner than later is usually better. Know what you want from life and work. Know what you are committed to giving to a particular situation, and don't forget it. Often the reason why these opportunities don't work is that there is not sufficient follow through and effective execution of the plan. In addition, I've learned that what someone says is the opportunity or the problem is probably only part of the story. You'll find it out soon enough, and that is when you'll know whether you should increase your participation or quit.

Life will teach you lessons that you can then turn into growth and benefit for yourself and others. If you let it. Personally, I'm looking to another 15 years of work before I retire. I feel that everything up to this point is just preparing me for the main act which is coming. In other words, if you have a plan for your whole life, make sure that you leave open the possibilities of changing your plan so that at the end of your life your legacy is clear and secure. Your legacy may come in the last half of the last chapter. So, be committed to staying true to your purpose and values through the end of your life.

I look forward to collaborating with many of you in the future. All the best.  Thank you very much.


How to make your ideas connect

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If you spend any time reading blogs or Twitter feeds, you'll see that influence is connected to ideas. The influence of those ideas is born in being an effective communicator. However, what I find is that many, many people actually don't know how to use words. They can string a sentence together. We think we know what they mean because they are using words everyone else is using. However, if you step back and actually try to understand what they are saying, it is just nonsense language.

If you want your ideas to make a difference that matters, then they must connect on several levels. Here's how to make your ideas connect for influence and impact.

1. Context: Does the idea you are using have a real world context? When you use the word great, are you speaking about something that functions in an objective, measurable context? When you speak of excellence, is there a standard that is useful reference point for understanding what it means? The meaning of words are understandable because we place them in a context that is familiar to us.

2. Connection: Does your idea create a stronger connection to people? In other words, are you words intelligible to the people with whom you are trying to communicate. To tell a five year old that your family is implementing a collaborative process of decentralized domestic maintenance is to disconnect the child from the point that they are responsible for picking up their clothes and toys from their rooms. It is important to know your audience, and to understand how to make connections with them. The connections we make are not just intellectual, but also emotion. I'd say that most of our connections are first emotional, and then intellectual. If they are then we need to be emotionally aware of the effect that our words have.

3. Clarity: Here are two suggestions that I continue to have to practice. If you want to communicate clearly, try writing without any modifying words. No adverbs nor adjectives. When we use them, we are qualifying the idea, splitting it into more than idea, which adds ambiguity, and a loss of clearness. As a writer who tends to be too complicated, I know that the challenge is to be simple and clear, not comprehensive and complex. So, if your sentence structure is like William Faukner in The Sound and The Fury, sentences going on page after page, then try this. Take the sentence, and wherever a common is, put a period. In that phrase, put a verb. What you'll find is that your clarity of thought will increase, and the flow of your writing will improve. 

Making connections with people is a communication process. Work at speaking and writing in a context that people can understand. Connect with them on both an emotional and an intellectual level. Be clear by making your language and sentence structure as simple as possible. Do this and you'll find that you'll understand what your thinking better than you use to.


A Dozen Thoughts on Thinking, Communicating and Relationships

IdeaGapActionHere are a dozen thoughts that were on my mind as a new week begins. 

1. Listening is not the same as waiting to speak. It isn't nodding your head. It is being able to restate what the person said so that they know that you were listening.

 

2. Context matters. Just because you are an expert about one thing, doesn't mean that you are an expert in how that one thing relates to all things. Where you stand, your perspective, is just that your perspective. Respect your perspective, don't worship it.

 

3. Other people's context matters. Being influenced by a wide diversity of perspectives, broadens and deepens your own perspective. Build relationships with the widest possible collection of people. Your network should represent your curiosity, not your insecurities.

 

4. Real world experience matters. But it doesn't mean that you understand your experience. If you are not testing your ideas against experience, and your experience against other people's ideas, how can you say you are an expert? It is safer to think of yourself as a one learner among billions rather than the one expert among them.

 

5. IMHO isn't. Saying, "Here's what I think. What about you?" is.

 

6. Asking questions isn't doubting, but learning. Questions reveal truth. Questions reveal whether someone's ideas are clear, coherent, intellectually honest and have some connection to the way the world actually works. Develop strong BS filters by learning to ask hard questions.

 

7. Be careful of people who prohibit questions because you don't understand their "system."

 

8. Thinking something doesn't mean you know it. Just because a thought is in your head, doesn't mean you understand it, can explain it or apply it to someone's context. The quickest way to discover whether you understand your thoughts is to say them out loud. Verbalizing ideas is the shortest route to understanding what you really think. 

 

9. Practice reveals character. Before opening your mouth, and revealing how poorly thought out your ideas are, write them down, stand in front of a mirror and say them, or find someone who will listen and give you honest advice.

 

10. Never give a new presentation in front of an audience of strangers. Find someone who will listen and critique it first. Fix, then practice, practice, practice.

 

11. People's experience with you is more important than your ideas. Reverse that. Your ideas are only as good as the emotional experience that people have with them. Integrity and authenticity, not manipulation, are the keys to aligning your ideas with your audience's emotions. You must know your own emotions related to your ideas if you want to elicit authentic emotions from your audience.

 

12. Be your own BEST critic, not worst. Think for yourself. Don't be an expert on one thing. Be an expert of how many things are connected to your one thing. Don't accept someone's "informed" opinion as "completely and absolutely the last word." Read, study, ask questions, form your opinions, test them, practice them, write them down, speak about them from the heart and do this everyday.  In the end, you won't know more than anyone else. However, you will know what you don't know, and that will make the difference that matters.