The Sweet Spot


There are two continuum that we all live on.

Between our talent and our skills.

Between what we love and what we hate.

The Talent - Skills Continuum

It would be nice if we could live out at the edge where we are at our most talented, and are doing what we love. But life and work doesn't work that way.

Talent is great, but without skills, we don't achieve what we desire.

Skills are fine, but if we aren't really talented in this way (Remember Johnny Bunko?) then we end up frustrated, disappointed, hating what we do, and quite stressed over it.

Most of us live in the middle between our talent and our skills.

Think of talent as your strengths. (If you don't know what they are then check out StrengthsFinders. It is a helpful guide to finding your talent.)

If you spend more of your life & work at the Skills end of the continuum, and not somewhere in the middle, then you will always feel that you are overcoming huge obstacles to getting things done.  You need to move to closer to where your talent is.

Talent is where we connect with our desires. We know that we are gifted and see it reflected in the satisfaction we get from utilizing our talent.

If you are at the other end, where you Talent rules, then you need to develop Skills that help sustain your Talent's vitality. Talent is a resource that is optimized by Skills development.

The Love - Hate Continuum

This is where the stress gets manufactured.

If you do what you love, then you are free. If you are in a situation that you hate, the emotional toll grows with each day.

Think of your emotional life as a well, a cistern, waiting to be filled. You can fill it with pure, clean water, or you can poison the water with the toxin of stress.

Find what you love, and live and work with it. Let it fill the well of your life with joy, peace, freedom, fulfillment, fun and a real sense of impact. This is where fun in life & work is found.

Finding The Sweet Spot

Doing what you love and are talented to do would seem to be the sweet spot on these two continuum. Ideally that is true. But in reality, that spot is closer to the middle on the Talent - Skills continuum and closer to what you Love on the other.

Here though is what is important to understand.

The price of living on these two continuum is emotional. Call it stress if you will, but it is emotional.

We hide this emotional toll because many more of the skills that leaders need are analytical, decision making ones.

We spend a lot of time in our heads. We think through problems, make decisions, implement them, and move to the next one.

It is that transition from one analytical process to the next that builds up the pressure.

It is important to understand the connection between our minds, our bodies and our emotions. There are many scientists who understand the science of this better than I do. So, do your own research. But here is what I've learned.

Rationalized Emotion

I've come to see that most of what we think is rationalized emotion. Our motivations begin down deep inside of us, and come out emotionally in some settings, like in sports, and yet in organizational / work settings we find them expressed as rational thought.

We all know people who are like emotional time-bombs. They seem rational on the surface, but they have a hair-trigger anger that creates fear and stress in people. That is a picture of this connection between our emotions, mind and body.

The well of emotions needs constant replenishing with positive emotions. If those emotions are not there in your life or work, then you need to begin today to address them.

Time to Make Changes

If you know you are stuck in a situation that is more stressful than fun, where you talent is under-utilized, where you hate not only what you do, but the whole context of the work, then you need to make some changes. The sooner you change the better. Waiting only fills the well with more toxic emotions.

Where do you start? Start with the Circle of Impact Guides. If you are new to them, here is a helpful guide to understanding the sequence of ideas in the guides.

Circle of Impact-StepbyStep


The Benefits of Adaptive Learning


The other day, I stopped by to see a friend and colleague. On his desk was one of the best leadership books of the past decade, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow. It is stellar description for leadership of the importance of the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Adaptation is a key skill for leaders who are managing change, while at the same time creating stable, sustainable enterprises.

Peter Mello and I had the opportunity to interview Marty Linsky on the book for two Weekly Leader podcasts, Part 1 and Part 2. It is worth hearing Linsky talk about the book and his work with Ron Heifetz.

Sitting there with this friend in his office, talking about leadership, how we deal with people in various situations, I came to a realization about myself, and about adaptive leadership.

In order to be an adaptive leader, we must be an adaptive learners.

I  realized, then, that virtually everything I know, I learned from someone else.

It wasn't like a being student in a classroom learning from a teacher. Rather, it was learning by listening and observing to the lessons embedded in a person's perceptions and experience.

Listening and Observing - keys to being an adaptive learner.

Informational or Contextual?

There is no way I can tell you what I have learned from any particular individual. It isn't that type of learning.

It isn't informational learning.

Rather it is contextual learning. Learning from the context of a person is learning to see how ideas matter within a certain distinct situation.

It isn't abstract, or detached from experience. Rather, it is how an idea that transitions from the idea itself to something practical and real, that's applied in a particular situation.

The use of values in an organization is an example.

There are two types of values.

There are the ones that are on a list that the company claims are their values.

Then, there are the ones that actually are practiced by the people in the company.

These two sets of values are not always the same, congruent or even aligned.  Depending upon different conditions, the same understanding of value will have a different application in an organization.

Company A espouses to be an open, transparent organization placing a high value on communication. Company B makes the same claim. The difference is in their context.

Company A is physically structured so that executives are separated into their own discrete offices. Communication is mediated by administrative assistants, and written information distributed throughout the company. If you want to speak to V.P. Joe, you go through his assistant Mary, or look at the latest memo.

Company B is physically structured around an open space concept. My friend Dana Leman of RandomKid share with me her experience of touring the Bloomberg offices in New York. She sent me a link ot a video tour of their offices. Regardless of your position, your office is in the midst of this open concept. The benefit is a greater exchange of ideas.

So, two companies can claim allegiance to the same values, but their application of those values be totally different. To understand the difference is to understand how to these insights and apply them in your own context.

Through my conversation with Dana, my perception of how to organize office space is different.

This is how adaptive learning happens. We listen for insights for applying ideas in various contexts. The more we learn from others the clearer our own understanding becomes, and how we can be adaptive leaders.

This kind of understanding is tacit and intuitive. It isn't an understanding derived from an analytical process. Rather, our brains synthetically weave together many thoughts, impressions, experiences, and feelings to provide understanding. The more this emergent awareness is allowed to take place the greater the capacity for adaptive leadership.

Adaptive leadership is a shift away from the old command-and-control method.

It requires openness to other people, their ideas, their experiences and an appreciation of their particular context.  The easiest way to begin to learn this kind of adaptive behavior is simply to listen and apply the good ideas that you hear each day. 

The Difference Adaptive Learning has made to me.

Sitting in my friend's office, I came to realize that adaptive learning had been my practice for over 30 years.

Listen and learn from people, whomever you meet, you can learn something from them.

Listen to them, ask questions to clarify what their experience was. Listen without trying to compete. Listen to learn.

Take what is heard and seen, then, reflect, process and apply what you learned.

Share what you learned with others. Express gratitude.  

This is how the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides came to be developed. Circle of Impact
From lots of conversations over the years, about what was happening in organizations, each one contributing a little piece of wisdom and understanding, creating a holistic perspective, I learned what I was suppose to see in leadership. In effect, these are not my ideas, but rather my catalog of what I've learned from other people. These lessons have wide applicability because this is the product of contextual learning, not simply the exchange of information.

The benefits of adaptive learning are many.  Here's what I've learned.

1. We learn that Ideas matter.

They are the key to understanding where we are and how we can adapt to the changes that are constantly confronting us. They connect us to people. They are tools for being more effective communicators. All learning at the most fundamental level is about ideas. Without ideas, we are left only with feelings. As a result, adaptive leaders must also be idea people who are interested in the ideas of others, not just in what they are thinking.

2. We learn that Relationships matter.

When we place ourselves in a position to learn from every person with whom we meet, every single one, we come to understand how our interaction within a social context is where the action of organizations is found. The greater our capacity for forming adaptive learning relationships, the greater our capacity to develop the adaptive capacities of employees.  Those adaptive capacities provide employees the opportunity to lead from their own specific work context. This is part of what I mean by the idea, Community of Leaders.

3. We learn that Structures are either tools for adaptive learning and leadership, or they are obstacles.

If the structure of a business does not provide a way for people to learn from one another, and to apply that learning, then it is stuck in a system of operation that is not sustainable. 

For many businesses, the structure of their organization is, seemingly, the only tangible, secure, stable, set, concrete, real thing that exists. It is a monument to the past, not a platform for constant adaptation and innovation.

4. We learn that learning matters more than knowing.

When our posture towards others is learning from them, we are less concerned about making sure they understand just how much we know.

It this is an issue for you, then practice asking questions about things you do not know. Read books in subject areas in which you have no background. Stop trying to reinforce you own knowledge, and start expanding it. Start listening for the wisdom and insight in others.

5. We learn that if we never stop learning, we also never arrive at a full and complete understanding of anything.

Adaptive learning isn't a tactic we deploy for a period of time to ramp up our current knowledge on a subject. Rather, adaptive learning is a lifestyle of openness to new ideas, fresh insights from people and a reflective approach to applying ideas by doing things differently one step at a time.

6. We learn that adaptive learning changes us so that adaptive leadership is possible.  

Adaptive learning simplifies the way we approach leadership. It becomes about the impact we need to have right now. The old way of strategic planning is having to change to become more adaptable. This approach produces leaders who are nimble, intuitive and able to take advantage of the changes that are constantly happening.To adapt is to change. To change in this way is to make a difference that matters, it is to create impact. Becoming impact focused simplifies leadership.

7. We learn that adaptive learning leads to adaptive leadership which leads ultimately to becoming a Community of Leaders.

An adaptive leader will be most effective in creating a culture of adaptive learning. To do so means that each person takes responsibility for their learning, their contributing and their responsibility to create impact. Adaptive learning starts with the personal decision to learn from others. This nurtures within the individual the personal intiiative from which all leadership originates.  It isn't just the individual initiating change. It is the whole organization as a community functioning as adaptive leaders.  This is what I see as a Community of Leaders.

Realizing that I have lived this way throughout my life, my gratitude grew towards the hundreds of people from whom I've learned. Many are no longer with us. Many have no idea of the impact that they have had on me. Many are friends who are my go-to-people for counsel when I need it. Many are random people whom I've met in passing whose stories and insight helped me gain a deeper appreciation of so many different ideas and ways of leading organizations. If you are one of these people, I thank you.

The Initiative Generation

On top of Max Patch

Leadership is a product of personal initiative.  

It is a decision, a thought process, an act of the will, and an expression of identity and personality.

However, for initiative to constitute leadership, it also demands that it produce change, a change that matters, a change that makes a difference, a change that advances toward a goal.

The context for change is almost always some group of people socially connected around an idea that matters to them.

This is a basic understanding of what leadership is becoming in the 21st century. It is different than in the past because it is not based on wealth, social class, educational credentials, national origin, religious preference, geographic location or organizational title, position or rank.  

This new sort of leadership is based on personal initiative, social connection and the desire to make a difference. As a result, it is a kind of leadership that anyone can do.

Therefore, I think it is safe to say that, 

Passive followership is over; Personal initiative for impact is in. 

The implications of this shift are significant. If you are the senior executive leader of an organization, it means that the game of recruiting talent is changing.

This is an ongoing conversation that I'm having with Gretchen Zucker, Executive Director of Ashoka's Youth Venture. Recently, she gave a presentation on Talent for the 21st Century. She, graciously, shared her presentation with me for this blog post.

Gretchen points out that

"8 million jobs have been lost since 2008 in the US; nonetheless, employers are still having difficulty filling jobs with the right talent." 

She quotes Robert Litan of the Kauffman Foundation.

Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs created in the U.S.were created by firms that were 5 years old or less. That is about 40 million jobs.

Who is creating these new businesses and the jobs that follow?

People who take initiative, are socially connected, and have a clear purpose that drives their desires to make a difference.  The difference though is in the numbers.

While there may be a long history of small business in the US, entrepreneurism did not become the world changing movement that it is until about 30 years ago. 

This came clearly to mind recently as I sat across a work table in the office of a web designer, colleague and friend who is in his mid-20s. As he took a call and left the room for a moment, the difference hit me that when I was his age in the late 1970s, I did not have a single friend or acquaintance, in my age group, who had started their own business. I know entrepreneurs existed, but I didn't know any. Sitting in my friend's office, I realized that his circle of friends were creating a new culture of entrepreneurism in our community.  

According to Paul Reynolds, entrepreneurship scholar and creator of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor,

"by the time they reach their retirement years, half of all working men in the United States probably have a period of self-employment of one or more years; one in four may have engaged in self-employment for six or more years. Participating in a new business creation is a common activity among U.S. workers over the course of their careers."*

My own path to entrepreneurship began in the mid-1980's with the reading of Peter Drucker's Innovation and Entrepreneurship. My contact with people who had started their own businesses was very small. Not so today.

What this indicates to me is that there is a growing class of initiators whose leadership is changing not only the landscape of business, but of communities and nations worldwide.  

This is the point that Gretchen Zucker presents.

Gretchen's organization, Youth Venture is part of Ashoka, created by Bill Drayton, who coined the term social entrepreneur.  Ashoka and Youth Venture invest in people who are changemakers.  

Ashoka and Youth Venture are shaping an Everyone A Changemaker™ society: every individual will take initiative, develop solutions to social needs and drive positive impact.Every part of society will benefit from having more changemakers, from a company to a school to an entire country.

Ashoka and YV help ensure the success of any entity, region or field by finding the best new ideas, by cultivating the changemaker talent to act on those ideas, and by designing new ways to allow major change to happen.

Ashoka and Youth Venture are helping to nurture the people I describe above. Currently Ashoka is supporting 2,500 Changemakers in 60 countries. So you can see that as this trend continues, it not only changes the world within the proximity of each person who is a changemaker, but it also sets a standard by which their peers begin to understand themselves.  

This standard is appealing because it isn't based on someone else's idea about who they are, but their own. It is out of their passion and commitment that these Changemakers venture forward to change the world within their reach.

This is the world that is coming to schools, congregations, scout troops,  and businesses everywhere.  This is a societal change that is being led by children and young people. This is a grassroots, entrepreneurial movement that begins at an age young enough to care for the needs of the world that they can identify, even at six or eight years old.

Recently I asked Gretchen Zucker to respond to two questions.

What is the single greatest misperception that businesses have about the current generation of young people as employees?

Businesses need to realize that the current generation of young employees (Millennials) is very different from the last generation (GenX) or the generation before that (Baby Boomers).  Times have changed dramatically and Millennials reflect that accelerating change in a new information era.  Millennials are very purpose-driven, tech and information savvy, globally aware, highly engaged (volunteer at twice the rate as their parents), and struggling to come out from under the very broad wings of their parents.

The best thing a manager can do to maximize the productivity of young employees is to encourage and enable them to be changemakers.  They are craving this!  Don’t be threatened.  They will amaze you with their creativity, drive and ability to mobilize teams to get things done.  

I've seen this trend grow over the past twenty years. A tipping point is approaching that will mark a shift that is of historic proportions. This point will be when a critical mass of people worldwide decides that they are going to take personal initiative to make a difference, and do so within a social context of shared responsibility and commitment.  When they do, they will no longer look to institutions to take care of them, as in the past. They will join together to take care of each other and their communities. 

I asked Gretchen, 

"Where do businesses go to find people like Ashoka’s Changemakers?"

Any employer (businesses included) needs to look upstream to figure out how to get far more changemaker talent (entrepreneurial problem-solvers with strong team, leadership and empathy skills), as the proportion of our society who are changemakers today is only 2-3 percent, making the “war for talent” as fierce as it’s ever been.  By enabling and supporting dramatically more people – in particular at a young, formative age – become changemakers through actually experiencing taking initiative to address a social need and leading change. 

Once a young person experiences the power of entrepreneurship, teamwork, empathy and leadership, he/she will forever carry the mindset and skill set with him/her in all aspects of life.  As change accelerates and employers must stay ahead of that change, the single greatest factor of success will be the proportion of their community (staff, stakeholders) who are changemakers.  

So, you can see how monumental is this shift for organizations.

No more passive followers who care little about their company. No more disgruntled employees who only care about how well the company compensates them for the sacrifice of personal time and the personal inconvenience they must go through to be away from the things they do care about. Strangely, it means that owners and managers will have to respond to a higher form of expectation for how their organizations function.

The cause of poor morale in the workplace isn't the external realities that affect the business. Rather, the internal ones. Morale is not some mysterious human social phenomenon, but rather an outcome of organizational design and management. It is an indicator of uncertainty, and produces a passive aggressive followership which is antithetical to the genuine leadership of personal initiative. The talented and self-motivated will leave or force change.

Regardless, organizational leaders have a choice to make. To resist the emergence of a generation of leadership initiators and watch their organizations decline, or to embrace them as a beneficial movement by accommodating their energy, ideas and influence to create new opportunities.

What, then, must a business person do to create an environment that is most conducive to attracting the young men and women that Ashoka and Youth Venture support?

First, envision the possible.

See it in this illustration from Gretchen Zucker.

What if this was your typical employee?

"I saw a problem with our operations and so I got our team together to devise a solution, which we’re now working on implementing with the involvement of other colleagues. I just wanted to make sure with you that I’m moving in the right direction. Is this okay?"

Second, invest in people.

Read my post Return on Initiative: ROI for the 21st Century. You can take a regressive cost/benefit approach to the development of people. It isn't a zero-sum game. Instead, it is a game of survival. Every business' survival is dependent upon creating an environment that accommodates and nurtures the kind of social entrepreneurial initiative that Ashoka and Youth Venture are developing in people worldwide.

This shift changes the talent recruitment game from a race to hire the best credentialed person to the one who has demonstrated that they are a Changemaker.  

Third, understand what motivates people to take initiative to make a difference that matters. 

No one asks people to initiate. It comes from an inner desire to make the world a better place. Ancient philosopher Aristotle saw this motivation as a function of the purpose of every individual. Something inside points to something outside that connects the two together and creates what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia which is happiness or human flourishing.

In simple terms, this desire for happiness, that is a kind of completeness, can be seen in three goals that I observe in people.  These goals are active reflections of their inner purpose. This is what people want from their life and work.

Life that is Personally Meaningful

Relationships that are Socially Fulfilling

Work that Makes a Difference that Matters

The children and young people that come to RandomKid** have these goals, as do those who work with Youth Venture. The people with whom you work, play golf, and share the subway have these goals. Each person's expression of them is unique. Yet, we are the same at a very fundamental level.

We look for social and organizational settings where these goals may be pursued. This is why children and young people are coming to RandomKid.

RandomKid's mission is to provide staff and services to youth, of all backgrounds and abilities, for the development, management and accomplishment of their goals to help others.

We educate, mobilize, unify and empower youth to directly impact local and global needs. By helping kids to become innovative and successful world problem-solvers, we are securing a better fate for our world now, and into the future. We don’t ask you to be a part of us; we become a part of you (emphasis mine).

In this sense, RandomKid provides an organizational structure for these young leaders to take initiative by creating projects that make a difference that matters to them. As Anne Ginther, RandomKid Co-Founder recently commented,

"What is most important to remember is that our mission is to help KIDS help others. It’s about empowering youth to make a difference. It’s about building the change-makers of tomorrow."

Dana Leman, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President tells me that they have learned that kids want ownership, fun and measurable impact from their projects.

There is a parallelism between what I observe in people and what RandomKid has identified in their project leaders.

Personally Meaningful = Ownership

Socially Fulfilling = Fun

Make a Difference that Matters = Measurable Impact

There is no dividing line between the child and the adult in this regard. Their goals are one and the same, just expressed differently.

This is the environment that initiators and Changemakers want. This is not the business environment of the 20th century. It is of the 21st century. 

Dana Leman commented to me recently about what she sees in the kids who take on a RandomKid project. 

Today's kids are not about trying to fit their ideas into standard business models. They are trying to develop business models that fit their ideas. They think about process as an afterthought and tend to engage in a more organic and responsive approach to today's emerging markets.

This is why so many young people in their 20s and 30s are starting their own businesses. Because they don't see themselves fitting in the institutional setting of the last century. And what organizational leaders must understand is that their competition for talent is not within their industry, but rather between the business structures of the past and the future. Either accomodate or become irrelevant is the reality that we face.

I started this post with the following manifesto.

Leadership is a product of personal initiative. 

It is a decision, a thought process, an act of the will, and an expression of identity and personality.

However, for initiative to constitute leadership, it also demands that it produce change, a change that matters, a change that makes a difference, a change the advances toward a goal.

The context for change is almost always some group of people socially connected around an idea that matters to them.

This is the future of leadership. And its future can be seen in the 10 year olds, the 14 year olds, the 18 year olds and the twenty and thirty somethings who are taking initiative to follow their passion to make a difference in the world.

Sixteen year old RandomKid Co-Founder and CEO Talia Leman speaks of her organization's mission as 

Leveraging the power of kids worldwide to drive an economy of positive change.

This is the purpose they share with Ashoka's Changemakers and Youth Venturers. This is the 21st century talent pool that stands apart from the rest. 

If you want these young people to work for you, then you must become like them. You must become an agent of change by encouraging and equipping the people in your business to take initiative to create an environment that can make the difference that matters. 

This may seem to be one of many options for the course of organizations and businesses. I'm convinced that this is the future that is fast approaching.  It isn't an option.  

When Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom in their book The Starfish and the Spider write about "leaderless" organizations, they are advocating for a leader-filled organization.

In a traditional sense, it could be said that organizations like Ashoka, Youth Venture and RandomKid are developing the next generation of organizational leaders.  In reality, these kids are already leading random organizations of social connection that are making a difference in local communities across the globe. The future is now, not tomorrow or next year.

This new future may seem filled with ambiguity and doubt. The reality is that as you accommodate your organizations to the ingenuity and 21st century leadership skills of these young people, a level of impact that your organization has never known will emerge. I'm convince that our best years are ahead of us, and they are going to be fun.  Because the children who are leading us today would not have it any other way. 

The Initiative Generation is here. Welcome them with openness, support their initiatives, and celebrate the difference they are making now.

*Wikipedia: Entrepreneurship-

** Disclaimer: I am the Board Chair of RandomKid.

The Social Bond

Troop in Edinburgh - Night

"If this afternoon, you were to lose everything, become a failure in all that you had sought to create, who would stand by you?" 

This is the question I asked of a number of men during a six month period a many years ago.

At the time, I did not realize how traumatizing my question could be. Most of them answered with reflective silence.

The others? "My mother."

None of them were confident that their spouse, their children, their neighbors, the people from their congregation, work, the club or any other social association would hang in there with them during a time of humiliation. In effect, these recognized leaders of their businesses were isolated and alone, alienated from a community of support and caring.

It did not take long to realize that I had to stop asking the question.  It didn't help them. I also realized that I had to become a person who could stand along side of them when they would go through the worst experiences of their personal and professional life. It changed my approach to being a consultant. It elevated my understanding of the relational nature of leadership.

Why is it that these men thought that no one stood with them?

Is it something personal?

Or is it something embedded in the way leadership, professional life and the structure of organizations have developed?

Failure of the sort that I described to them could come as a black swan, out of the nowhere, without expectation. Over the past three years, many people have found themselves in this situation. It points to a fragility that exists in our lives that is buffered by relationships of trust.

Trust is basic to healthy human interaction and the functioning of society.  We diminish the value of trust when it is understood as little more than the basis of economic exchange.

In my post, The Emergent Transformation, I distinguish between human experience that is series of transactions of information and encounters between people, and a transformational one where our interaction creates a higher level engagement.

Here's an example of what I mean.

The closest Starbucks to my home is in my neighborhood grocery store. For most of the baristas, I'm a customer. I come in, order my coffee, pay for it, and leave. Whatever banter we have is rather meaningless, just the sort of talk that accompanies any transaction.

However, there is one young woman who is different. She engages me in conversation. She recognizes me, tells me about her day, asks about mine with genuine interest.

One morning, I walked in and said, "Grande bold, room for cream, please." She starts to laugh. She stops and says, "Sounds like the names of your pets." We both laugh. It is one of those situational jokes (You had to be there.). So about once every three or four visits we talk about my dog, Grande bold, and my cat, Room for cream.

Granted, the barista and I will never become BFFs or colleagues in business. However, the moment we shared that day transcended the typical economic transaction that was the purpose of my visit, and has transformed my relationship to that store.

The Social Bond Online

Over the past decade, an interest in human connection and social networks has grown dramatically. Much of this interest is taking place online through social media platforms. You only have to look at the rise of Facebook to see the extent of the desire that people have to be socially connected to other people.

Many people denigrate the trend towards connection by social media.

"They are not real relationships." 

The relationships that develop are viewed as the online equivalent of a large cocktail party. Lots of meet and greet (search), exchange of contact info (befriending), and a superficial staying in touch (status updates.)

There is a social bond to this shared experience.  Real relating is taking place. Some of it is at a low level of social interaction as describe above. However, some of it is at a personally meaningful level. Social transformation is taking place as our connection deepens with each interaction, and possibilities open up for good things to result.  This is my own experience. 

The social bond is not the online space where we meet. The bond is the connection that we share through a common interest. Our interaction is real and provocative. Like many people, I find people whom are asking similar questions, seeking similar solutions, and who are open to learning from others.

There are two conditions that determine whether the social bond online is superficial or substantive.

The first is the transformational potential of the ideas or common interests that bring people together.

The second is the willingness for participants to allow their interaction to lead the interaction where it needs to go.

As you can see, it isn't being online, but what we do online that matters. By being a particular kind of person, we engage others in such a way that the social bond emerges from its hidden place in the social setting..

Learning to see a social bond

Earlier in my career, I worked at a small college. One of my roles was to develop a student leaders program. For three years I failed as I sought out the top student leaders to form a group focused on leadership. They simply were not interested. Persistence is sometimes not the answer. Changing your approach is.

Over time, and through my doctoral work, I came to see what was in plain sight, but virtually all of us miss when we talk about leadership.

We see leadership as a set of transactions or rather interactions and moments of decision within an organizational context. We think of leadership as a function of process. Is it simply a series of transactions made between people and groups within an business, or is it something more?

When we think only transactionally, we miss seeing the social dimension. 

We touch on it when we talk about collaboration and team work. But if you listen, most talk about improving those aspects of their business is not about the social dimension, but rather the tactical dimension of business processes.  My observation is that most leaders don't address the social dimension until it has become problematic. By ignoring the social dimension, we create a self-profiling prophecy as issues arise that not subject to easy process change.

Let me say it this way.

The last remaining unexplored leverage that leaders have now is the social dimension.

Tactics and processes, while essential, do not address the issues that many businesses now face. Leaders must identify the social bond that exists within their organizations if they are going to find the edge they need for sustainable growth in the future.

I learned this in addressing my own failure with my student leaders program. My approach had been abstract and tactical, lacking in a context for application. So, I shifted my focus to mobilizing student groups through the social bond that brought them together.   

In a college context, there are sports teams, fraternities, sororities, academic clubs, religious groups, advocacy groups and residence halls. In each, a group of students discover each other through a common bond that unites them together. It provides each person connection, a place of belonging, and a sense of identity.  For the group it provides purpose, a reason to exist and possibly as they develop a way to understand the difference they can make as a group.

Connecting Ideas2
In a business context, there are associations based on interest, skills, industry and locale. The social bond unites the executive team, the administrative staff, the sales staff, and back office as uniquely definable groups whose shared work experience provides a basis for connection, belonging and identity.

The leader of the organization has to discover the social bond that unites all the different groups to make them one group. That social bond is wrapped in what I call the four Connecting Ideas. 

When I discovered this perspective, I made two changes to my student leadership program.

The first change was to shift my attention from the individual leader to the group.

The second was to shift my leadership emphasis from teaching abstract principles of leadership to learning to lead within the context of doing it. 

I did this by starting two new activities on campus. One was a campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity International. The second was an afternoon play group for the elementary age children of adolescent mothers in our community. For each, I went to the groups on campus, asking them to sign up for a service weekend with a Habitat affiliate in a nearby county or one of the play days with kids during the semester.  In both instances, groups eagerly stepped forward to sign up and participate. They saw it as a fun, meaningful activity for their group. The leaders within those groups rose to the top as organization as they took on responsibility, with the added benefit of new leaders coming forth who wanted to focus on these new campus activities.

The transcendent character of a social bond

A group's social bond is not a branded idea. While ideas may describe the bond, it is more than an idea. It is instead something emergent. It is something that is whole, that draws people together into a relationship that transcends the moment.

Here's the difference. Your college's basketball team wins the national championship. The streets of town fill up with cheering, celebrating fans. The experience brings people together around their shared joy for their team. But once the cheering stops, the bars close, and baseball season begins, the bonding experience of the post-game celebration is gone.

The social bond is something that people draw upon for meaning and purpose in their relationships within a particular social or organizational context. This is historically been one of the core strengths of religious worship. It isn't just the ideas of faith, but the shared experience of faith that matters. It is a whole shared experience that elevates one's perception of who they are and how their life matters.

For military personnel, the experience of battle is the archtypical bonding experience. This became quite clear to me when I watch for the first time the HBO documentary,  We Stand Alone Together: The Men of Easy Company that accompanies the mini-series Band of Brothers.  Lt. Dick Winters commander of the 506 Paratroop Infantry Regiment,Company E speaks about the men under his leadership.

I look upon them ... each man with great respect ... respect that I can't describe ... each one of them proved himself that he could do the job.

The respect which is difficult to describe is the bond that unites them as soldiers. It comes through a shared experience where they were tested as men and as human beings in the crucible of battle during World War II. Shifty Powers describes it.

"You know these people that you are in service with ... you know those people better than you will ever anybody in your life ... you know them right down to the final thing .. that comes when you start your training .. that progresses."

Listen how these men, in many ways not different from people we encounter everday, describe their relationships with one another.


The social bond that these men have exists beyond analytical description. It can't be simply broken up into a collection of ideas or stories.  It goes deeper than that.  Their relationships matter more than just as as a group of acquaintances. Rather, they are forever connected by the bond of shared experience. You can hear it in what they say. 

Here's what Ed Tipper said in the video.

There is an intimacy develops like nothing I've ever experienced anywhere, not in college, not with any other group of people.

It is like the union leader who commented to me during a values identification process with his company.

"I want us to get back to where we were twenty years ago when we were family."

Embedded in these emotions is the social bond that made working for the company or serving in 506PIR Company E something more than a job.  What formed was something fundamentally important to their experience as human beings. We are not solely individuals. We are not simply interchangeable parts in a system of organizational processes. And potentially not just list of friends in a Facebook profile.

Attention to the social bond that exists in organizations is largely missing in our society today. We treat the shared work that human beings do as mechanical scientific processes that are to be performed and measured. By removing the human social element we think we are removing ambiguity and creating efficiency and consistency. Rather, we are diminishing the organization's ability to maximize the potential that resides in each employee. It produces a rush to the bottom of the lowest common denominator level of social experience. The potential that resides in each person cannot be released because it must be done so within a social context that shared purpose and experience. Our potential is not realized solely by individual initiative, but by collaborative action.  At the heart of every team is a social bond waiting to be recognized and released. It is the hidden potential that awaits recognition by organization leaders world wide.

The challenge we confront

Years ago, when I asked people who would stand with them if they failed, unwittingly, I was revealing the absence of the compelling connection that the social bond in an organization can create. The reason for this is not solely the mechanistic principles modern scientific management.  It is also a national culture that seeks to remove risk and danger from every day life. 

When I first watched the We Stand Alone Together documentary of the actual members of Easy Company, I turned to my son and said,

"If you ever find yourself in a group where this is your experience of friendship, consider yourself to be one of the lucky few. Most people go through life never having this kind of experience of human community."

At the heart of the social bond is the recognition that we need one another. Not because we are weak, but rather because we are incomplete as individuals. The togetherness that is realized when this social bond is strong enables men and women from diverse backgrounds to join together to achieve greatness beyond their individual potential.

The challenge before us is to believe that this is true, and to act accordingly. For if this is true, then how we organize our businesses will set the stage for the elevation of the social bond creating a culture of shared human endeavor, that is required more today than every before.

First steps in discovering the social bond that exists in your organization.

I could give the standard analytical process of a set of processes that focus on the development of values and organizational purpose. But I won't, even if at some level that is important.

Instead, just treat each person with openness and honor.

Learning how to do that (I'm assuming we all need to learn to be more open to others, and to honor the best in them), a new social context will emerge that can elevate your company to a new place of shared endeavor.

To be open simply means to listen, to understand, to affirm, to let people try and fail, and to create the expectation that others will be open.

It means letting new people have the opportunity to influence decision-making and direction. It means not assuming control over every aspect of the organization's life.  And from my experience, openness is a powerful attractor for talented people to come work for your business.  It is a signal of authenticity and opportunity.

To honor is to appreciate the value and dignity of each person (see my post Honor and the Lost Art of Diplomacy) .

This is more difficult because it requires us to pay attention to the other people in the room. We must look at them not as human resources or representatives of particular social ideologies. We look at them with dignity and respect, with appreciation for the potential contributions that they can make. In many cases their contribution can only be realized when the social bond creates social strength for the depth of trust and collaboration needed for a challenge moment.

In one way or another, much of our lives is lived standing alone. But it does not have to be this way. To stand alone together is the product of intention, initiative, openness and persistence. It emerges from the thousands of individual encounters that we have where our connection to one another begins to matter beyond getting tasks done.  It is where genuine transformation happens.

Discover the social bond in your business, and you discover the path to a future that is yet to be realized.

What is Good?

Moran-sunrise -KathrynMapesTurner Moran-Sunrise by Kathryn Mapes Turner

This is the question that was the basis for the only philosophy course I took in college. The course, Philosophy of Art, I had hoped would explore the artist impulse that people have to create. And to be able to define what distinguishes a good piece of art from one that isn't.

Unfortunately, the course was neither about art nor how to distinguish what is good. Instead, it was a course in semantics, of how one talks about art, and why art can't be defined.

It wasn't that the professor spent portion of every class denigrating people who had religious faith. It was rather that we talked around subjects, never about them, and therefore never reaching a point of understanding or resolution.

He would take a seemingly innocent or benign idea, like goodness, and through a process of analytical reductive reasoning show us how there is no true idea of goodness. This simple and effective tactic left most of us in the class scratching our heads about what the class was about rather than questioning what we believed about anything.

For probably ten years, I would occasionally dream about this professor. Dream about us debating in class, and me changing his mind. I don't think the professor was so clever to think that he'd make philsophers of us all by tearing down our belief systems. Rather, I think he was convinced that truth could be understood in the analysis of language. And yet, that truth was not true in a values or universal sense, but true to the use of the words in that context.

I think he was an intellectual nihilist, yet did not live that way. He believed in something, and for him it was his art and athletic endeavors. It was what he truly valued. And I'm convinced they gave him a social context of friendship through which universal values were evident in their interaction.

What I understand today is that my professor's approach to understanding could not produce a kind of understanding that is whole, but rather small and fragmented. 

As a kid, did you ever take a part a toy, and then try to put it back together, only to have some parts remaining? The toy is something whole. Something more than the sum of its parts. Language is something whole, more than grammar and patterns of word usage.  

Say the word tide, and it conjures up a range of images. But you don't know what I mean. If I add high or roll to it, two very different images come to mind. The words are parts. Sentences, paragraphs, essays, chapters, and books are wholes. Not necessarily complete wholes, but some whole none-the less.

Art Loeb - Pisgah trailsTo describe the whole of something, or to describe an object as good, is not to describe its parts, but something else. 

For example, this image is of a portion of a map of the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. For many of you, it is just lines, shading, markers and names. You can tell it is a map, but it doesn't go much further than that.

The map can serve as a guide, an introduction, to what a person can find here on a visit.  Come this summer, you can visit the Fish Hatchery or swim in the cold waters at Sliding Rock or hike up to John's Rock. Each place is represented on the map. Each a place that has meaning for people who visit here.

For those of us who have spent time here, the map is much more. It is a visual connection point to memories and images of places, people, situations and experiences that we've had in locations noted on the map.

For example, just off the map image there is a place call Mt. Hardy.  Seen at the center of this picture.  Mt Hardy from Devils Courthouse 1 On the map, it is just a name of one of hundreds of peaks to climb. Yet, on a June night in 2003, it was a place of fascination and horror, as we watched lightning flash and strikes all around as a group of us camped.

The place on the map represents more than a name. It is something whole and complete, because we experienced it as more than a name on a map. It is a place that will forever stay with those of us who camped there that night.

When we say something is good, we are not trying to analyze its component parts to identify what makes it good. We are saying something about the whole of the object.

I'm convinced that human thought is rationalized emotion. We feel something, and our words provide us a way to connect with those deeper parts of our lives that we know exist, but have a hard to time expressing. We use things like maps and art to provide a connection between those parts of us that are only understandable as something whole and complete.

When we talk about what is good, we are talking about values that capture for us something whole and often times something that is greater than us. These connections, to me, represent the emergent reality that I wrote about here. We are not just our thoughts or just our emotions. We are not just a bank of talent or a fulfiller of tasks along an assembly line. We are whole beings who cannot be understood in any complete way by analytical reduction. Our wholeness rather is understood as unrealized potential within a particular setting. Wyoming When we look at a work of art, like this painting of Wyomng, that I found online many years ago, we can get really close and look at the technique of the artist, the picture fades and the brush strokes emerge. Then step back, and the picture takes on its wholeness again.

What is good about this painting can be described on many levels. There is the technique. The thematic material. The use of color and perspective. But all those are only parts of the picture. When they are all combined together, do they create a painting that we can say is good? Possibly, but it has a lot to do with the values that we bring to the experience.  And our values are products of our interaction with people in society.

I believe that our lives can be like this painting. Excellent in the execution of the brush strokes and use of color, but even more significant because of the picture itself. When we find wholeness in our life and work, we are more than the sum of activities that we do each day.  We become a work of art whose life and work is good. Create Goodness picture

When the Five Actions of Gratitude appeared in my mind one morning driving through northern Mississippi, this is the sort of thing I saw in the fifth action, Create Goodness.  A couple quotes from my Weekly Leader column.

The ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle taught his students that “every action and pursuit is considered to aim at some good….what is the highest of all practical goods? … It is happiness, say both ordinary and cultured people; and they identify happiness with living well or doing well.” By this he means that the actions born from our individual initiative, through our relationships, in our work and the daily course of our lives aim at goodness, defined as happiness or living or doing well in life and work. ...

Contemporary philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in describing Aristotle’s thought on this point wrote,  “ What then does the good for… (humanity) … turn out to be? … It is the state of being well and doing well in being well … . “ The word that Aristotle uses is eudaimonia (eu-day-mo-knee-a), traditionally translated as goodness. Its meaning is much more complex that simply as an adjective for describing a piece of pie or last Sunday’s football game. It touches on ideas related to fulfillment, human flourishing, happiness and completeness. The good person is one whose whole life is an integrated combination of thought, feeling, initiative, interaction, and action, resulting a good life or good work, or a better product, community or world.

What is Good?

It is a life that is complete and whole, fulfilled, meaningful and makes a difference that matters. The good life is a complete and happy life.  It is a life connected to others just as their lives are connected to ours. And when we find that completeness, our lives are like a painting that evokes values that create goodness and elevate the lives of others. We also become like a map which is a reference point, an example, of what is possible, and for those who know that we have become a reminder of what the experience of a complete life is like.

Leadership Emotion

Emotions - 382031318_17f9632b01

Business people, unlike children, tend not to show their emotions.

We want to be seen as rational, analytical people detached from the push-pull of the ambiguities of the heart. Yet, reality is not this way.

Emotion is a key element in the complete and full success of any endeavor.

For some time I've had the notion that all our ideas originate in our emotions. What we think is really a way to understand what we feel. What we feel is really a response or reaction to what our five senses are telling us.

Look at the above picture.

What do you feel?

What do you think she feels?

What are her senses telling her?

Does she sense danger or anticipation of a dramatic surprise?

It is hard to say.

There is a trend towards greater autonomy for workers in businesses today. This is partly because the demands and complexity that we all face require us to depend more on people than before. Leaders are required to be more facilitators than bosses as a result. And the needed skills for this capacity are emotional in nature.

You can certainly read books on psychology and emotional intelligence to gain a better understanding of the emotions.To read about emotion is to intellectualize it. There is value in that, but I find that it is better to sensitize myself to the emotional and sensual experience that I am having. It makes far more situationally aware.

Here's a little experiment that you can try.

Carry around a pack of blank 3x5 index cards with you. On one side of the card, across the top, write down the fives senses - sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.

Try to be aware of them and write down in a column all those things you see, smell, taste, touch and hear. These many things that you were unaware of before. On the other side of the card, divide the card into three columns. As you are aware of your senses, write down what you feel ( if you can) and then an idea that matters to you. Then, write down the people who are connected to these senses and emotions.

Here's my card from today. I spent the day at the hospital where my father is recovering from complications from knee surgery earlier this week.

  Emotions Card - 5 Senses

Emotions Card - Feelings Ideas People
This exercise teaches us how to be more observant, to become aware of the sense data that we are receiving from our surroundings, and to understanding how these influence our feelings about the situation.

Learning to emotionally identify the connections between our environment, our ideas and the people who matter to us is vital if we are to be better at the human side of work. Practice this exercise with your team, and avenues for better communication and coordination will emerge. 

Photo Credit

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.

Emotions: Validation or Liberation

The posts over the past few days that focus on behavioral economics prodded me to begin to think about how emotions actually function in a more practical sense in how we work, live and even lead organizations.

I know in my own experience, my emotions for the vast majority of my first 50 years of life were never released, were kept in check, and only paraded out in the most secure settings. An experience with my oldest son watching the series Band of Brothers changed it for me forever.

We were watching the last segment which is a documentary on the men in the unit portrayed in the mini-series where they talked about their experience fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.  They described the closeness, the camaraderie, the trust, the bond, the absolute confidence that their fellow soldiers had with one another, and how they never experienced this depth of friendship during the rest of their lives. As these men, of common birth, of no remarkable accomplishments after their war experience, spoke of their relationships with one another, I realized that they had experience what I had desired in my own relationships with people. As that revelation swept over me, I began to cry, no sob, uncontrollably.  Once, I got control of my emotions, I turn to my son and told him, "What these men have experienced is what we all long to experience. If during the course of your lifetime, you find relationships with others like these men have had, then consider yourself more than fortunate. You will have experienced the kind of friendship we all long for, and most never, ever experience."

Emotionally it was a turning point for me, and to a certain extent has allowed me the opportunity to grow as a person. How odd that we find that through our emotions we find progress. The question is what exactly does this mean?

As I've reflected on this over time, I've come to a few conclusions that may make some sense.

First, I really don't have a scientific basis for what I'm about to write, but I'll not let the idea succeed or fail on its own merits.  I believe that our emotions are connected to the right hemisphere of our brain, and that it is the seat of our ability to create. Pure emotion cannot create lasting good. Establishing a connection to the more analytical left hemisphere is how our best attempts at creativity find success. This is my own interpretation of the many things I've read and heard on brain science. It is my own take.  If we want to be effective as creative persons, then we must bring both sides of our brain's life together.

When I was in my twenties, I had the opportunity to spend time with a number of artists. I loved their creativity. I had a real identification with them, but didn't really know how that could work for me. I had no real artistic talent that I could identify. I had taken a number of art history courses in college because visual culture was interesting to me. But, the closest that I ever came to doing with I thought artists did was take photographs.

The banner picture above is one I took this summer in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It is a several pictures stitched together to create an image that the camera could not produce with one shot, and is not really the picture you see if you stand at this spot in this side channel of the Snake River. There is an emotional connection to this place for our family. It is here just to the right side of the picture where our family has swam with horses, riding bareback through a deep pool where both horse and rider float, and we get wet, and experience a rare moment of real oneness with the horse.   

Through the release of the emotions of creativity, new openness and opportunities occur. We must look for them, seek them out, and take advantage of them for them to have any lasting meaning. But they are there none the less. For me the release has meant a greater level of sensitivity to the delicate situations occurring in my work with clients. It isn't simply formulaic analysis and standard set of recommendations. It is rather identifying the unique path that each person or organization must travel through a time of transition. It is where my creative work now occurs.

Second, I've observed that peoples' emotions also serve a validation purpose. In this sense, the emotions serve to defend against the intrusion of ideas and influences that might threaten those beliefs and practices that have come to provide security.  It is what connects to others, creates a social bond and provides a real sense of personal identity.

Throughout my life, I have encounter many, many angry people. Why are they angry? There any number of reasons. They feel threatened. They feel a loss of control. They are afraid. They feel misunderstood. They are embarrassed. They are confused.  Any number of reasons. They look to their emotions to validate their claim. The emotions become defensive.  We've all encountered these emotions in others, and may even feel them ourselves at times.

When we look to our emotions to validate rather than to liberate, we have closed a circle around our lives. We have determine (rationally?) that I no longer need to consider new ideas, new perspectives, new approaches. I know what I need to know, and any outside influence should be viewed as a threat.

If then, as I said earlier that the emotions are the seat of creativity, then what we have done by seeking only emotions that validate is that we have closed off our ability to create, to learn, to grow, and to make the transitions in life that are necessary for happiness and fulfillment. It means it is very difficult to venture across the narrow confines of our comfortable, secure, safe set of relationships in networks of relationships that much to us and we to them, but requires a greater level of personal security because the validation factor has changed. 

Why am I going to such lengths to describe emotions in this way?  I am because I believe that managing change or transition is as much an emotional process as it is a rational, analytical one. And if Danny Kahnemann and his cohort of behavioral economists are correct, then our emotions lead us, and are notTransition - Growth or Decline merely a response.

All transitions are emotional. If you take the image here as a guide, you'll see that at these transition points, we can either move up or go into a decline. From an emotional point of view, if we approach these transition points with resistance,looking for validation of how we have been functioning up to that point, then we'll continue to see a flattening of our performance or possible decline.

However, if we approach these transition points with openness to the opportunities that may lie ahead, our emotions will liberate our creative side to bring resources that would be constrained and confined otherwise. We will see that that what brought us to this level of success is not necessarily going to take us to the next level. Which means that we must change. We must stop doing some things and start doing new ones.

So, when you are in a meeting, and you are listening to some one who is angry, ask yourself this question. "What is this person telling me about what they love?" Why this question? Because I'm convinced that at the heart of our emotions is love. And the anger is telling us that this person feels that something they love is being threatened. If you want to move beyond the anger, then identify what it is that they love, and validate it, affirm it, and figure out someway to carry it through the transition with safety.

Do we have a choice in these matters? Can we liberate our emotions to greater creativity and impact?  I believe so. But it isn't an analytical process. Rather, it is an expressive one. Go put yourself in the position to be creative. Take a pottery course at the local community college. Join a Toastmasters group. Begin to mentor a underprivileged kid. Start writing a blog. Do something that is not primarily mental, but expresses your creativity in some way. As you do, you'll find greater confidence and insight into who you are. You'll discover aspects of your life that your emotions have kept hidden for a long time. 

Change: the alluring appeal

Steve Roesler, of All Things Workplace blog and a fellow Age of Conversation 2 author, commented on my Taleb on the Crisis post. It was so good, I felt that it was worthy of a post on its own.  Steve commented:

Ed, This is one of the finest articles that I have seen on this topic; I wish I had written it myself:-) Consistent with this is the nebulous, but unbelievably alluring, notion of "change." We see it in business, politics, and organizations in general. As one who has made a substantial living from phone calls requesting help with "change," the term now has new meaning for me and I treat it as such. "Change" is merely a catch-phrase for dissatisfaction with something. Yet instead of doing the reality-based and often painful work of addressing the underlying issue(s) of substance, "Change" is trotted out as a not-to-be challenged rallying cry. It has been allowed a special, almost sacred, status. Those who would question it are quickly deemed resistant, old-school, and/or (gulp) "traditional." (Each of these words has also been purposefully and inaccurately redefined when used in the context of "change." Those "in the know" will simply wink at each other, thus distinguishing themselves from the un-washed; no actual analysis of fact is needed). What continues to fascinate me is that, in a world with so much helpful and oft-quoted behavioral research, important decisions continue to be made in ways described by you and the authors. Which, I guess, is exactly the point. The result, then, would seem to offer the prospect of this worldview: "I would rather live with unsubstantiated hope that makes me feel good now than spend time investigating an evidence-based foundation on which to build my future." Film at 11.

Steve, you are absolutely right that change has become "merely a catch-phrase for dissatisfaction with something." 

My experience with people who want change is that they don't know what change they want, just that they want it. There is some intuitive sense that they have reached a transition point, and change is Growth and Change necessary. In this image, the dots are those transition points. The emotion that people feel at these points is discomfort or disorientation or greater constraint, less ease at achieving their performance than before. They realize that something is not quite right. Change is needed. They feel it, but their rational mind which is always trying to create order says,"Resist it. Fight it. Keep doing what you've been doing." 

In most cases, what they have been doing is no longer as successful, so performance is flattening out or declining.  If they could step outside themselves, they could see it.  As a consultant, this is the privilege that I have everyday of walking into organizations and seeing the change they are in.

What Nassim Taleb and Danny Kahneman are wanting us to understand is that we are not purely ratioanl beings. In fact, the more intelligent, the more highly educated you are, the more likely you are denial about the role of emotions in your decision-making.

Our emotions are leading indicators of what is to come. The more in-tuned with our emotions we become, the greater the capacity for anticipating the arrival of a transition point, and knowing how to adapt to the constant micro-changes that are required to make the macro change to a new direction.  For in the diagram above, to move to a new level of performance requires that we stop doing some of the things we have been doing before, and begin to do new things that will carry us to that new level. It takes mental fortitude to turn our backs on what has made us successful to this point, and create new capacities that will carry us forward.

On a personal note ... about five or six years ago, I passed through an emotional transition point. The specific situation is not relevant to my point, but the change I went through is. I am now more emotionally moved by situations than ever before. These deep emotions of both happiness and sadness have made it possible to be a better analyst of the transition points that leaders and the organizations are going through. And as I have analyzed what is taking place, my emotions are being touched by seeing my values expressed in the statements and actions of people. So, values are a key to these transition points.

Two examples.

Being the catalyst for an agreement where by a for-profit health care provider purchases the "operational" assets of a non-profit provider, resulting in an informal partnership where the for-profit provides the services, and the non-profit continues in existence as a foundation to provide funds for indigent care.  At the heart of this win/win situation is a commitment by both parties to the people of the rural county where the services are provided.

Being the catalyst for an organization to move from an almost total focus on the past to an emerging vision of the future, with the senior executive recognizing without solicitation or prompting that he is not the one to lead them into that future. So, instead of holding on until retirement in four years, he resigns effective one year out, giving them time to find his replacement.  This frees the organization to start new initiatives right away instead of waiting for his retirement to begin to pass through their historic transition point.

When emotions and the rational analytical mind are a dynamic balance, transitions can be achieved in a win/win fashion. And win/win is the game of the future. This is what is so disappointing about the poltical culture of our country. We are at a transition point, a point of change, and change is merely a way to play the old political zero-sum game of I win/ You lose. 

How does one get in touch with ones emotions in this context?  I don't think pop psychology is the answer. There is too much narcisisstic self-deception embedded in that perspective.

Rather, begin by admitting that your emotions are leading indicators of change, and listen to them. If you can't hear them, then begin to write a journal,or begin to blog. I know that my blogging has provided my emotions an outlet for expression that I never had before.

Do something that connects your emotions to some tangible action that is constructive and beneficial. If you are angry about something, get involved in some way where your anger can be constructive. While not an expert, I imagine this is the next step in the evolution of emotional intelligence.

Thanks Steve for a provocative comment. It has given us much to reflect on.