The Story We Tell Ourselves

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Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

This series on situational awareness is principally about how we learn to relate to people in situations outside of our comfort zone.

To do this we need something more than tactics for making conversation. We need to be able to know who we are, what matters to us, and why.

What I've learn by working with a wide variety of people and groups, who are in the midst of change, is that we need a story that we tell ourselves. This story distinguishes us in every situation we are in. It is a story that enables us to know who we can trust, and who we can't. It is a story that tells us, don't go there, or, let's find out more.

Another way of understanding this story is as a foundation, a platform, upon which we stand, while everything whirls around us. It is the story of our inner strength and commitments in the context of the external world.

It is not necessarily a story that I will tell people. This story is private, not public. It isn't a branding or a promotional story. It is, rather, a story of the values that matter to us, that we are unwilling to negotiate away by our accommodation to others. It is the story that enables us to walk into any situation and not feel compromised.

In this post, I'm going to describe two ways to create this story. One way out of reflection on who we are and what we want. The other through a more analytical approach using the Circle of Impact. 

Let's start with the first method which creates the story by looking at a couple of  scenarios.

Seeing the Situation

For example, when you go on vacation, what do you want to gain from it. Are you like some of us who enjoy adventure and discovery, or, like others, seek to be quiet and still. What appeals to you here is a part of your story.

I know folks who love going to the beach. They love sitting in a chair at the beach, reading a book, watching the waves come ashore, and then going out for a seafood dinner at night. They don't enjoy a manic schedule of biking, card playing and trips to the outlet malls. They have come for peace and quiet.

In this instance, that is their story. As a result, they need to be honest with their family members who love an action oriented vacation. That is the story which they tell themselves.

As a result, both types of vacationers need to be honest and respectful of the other. Both have to give in a bit, let the other have their approach, and plan to join them for some of the time that they enjoy, whether quietly on the beach or riding a jet ski jumping waves.

Here's another scenario. You are invited to a business after hours networking social event by a friend in your industry. You've never been to one of these meet-n-greet things. You don't really know what to expect. You are meeting your friend there. As you walk in the door, he texts you to say that he is running late, and will be there in 15 minutes. What do you?

The story you tell yourself, about who you are and what matters to you, guides your response in this awkward situation. You can stand outside and wait for him. Or, you can go in, register at the door, get your name tag, get something to drink, and stand near the front waiting for your friend. Or, you can immediately begin to introduce yourself to people you do not know. If you are somewhat shy, this may take some effort. However, I believe, what you will find is that many of the people in the room are experiencing the same uncomfortableness.

If being uncomfortable in social settings is the story you tell yourself, then you will be. If, on the other hand, the story you tell yourself is

"I'm not here to impress people. I'm here to listen, and learn, and make one new contact with whom I'll schedule a follow up meeting."

In effect, the story is a plan of action which sets specific boundaries, and is focused on one goal. Once there, and the goal is met, then, a release of pressure will be felt, and our story changes.

This shyness thing used to be me. Those of you who know me personally may find that hard to believe. But it is true. The story I told myself in those days was

"What do I say? How do I start? What if I look weak and silly?"

It took time but the story I told myself changed. I began to walk into those situations looking for someone whom I could befriend. I would not go to a mingling of 3 or 4 people, but to the person who was standing by themselves. I'd introduce myself, and just start asking questions. Each question was not planned other than the initial one,

"So, what do you do? How do you spend your days?"

After they told, me, I'd ask a question about that thing. If they said,

"I sell insurance."

I'd respond with,

"What kind?"

Then they say, something, and then I asked, something like.

"How do your new customers find you?"

Or,

"What is generally the first question people ask you when they come to you for insurance?"

My story shifted from being about my fear to about my curiousity and interest in the other person. The rapport that comes from asking questions is the kind that builds trust, at least when the questions are kind and respectful. Now, I am not afraid to meet any person regardless of who they are.

Another Approach

The story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but about who we are. If your sense of identity is murky, then the story you tell yourself will be too. As a result, it may then be helpful to take a more analytical approach to developing your story. My Circle of Impact model can be a help.

3dLeadership - Purpose-Vision-Values

To develop the story that we tell ourselves, we don't start with the Three Dimensions of Leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. Instead, we work from the Four Connecting Ideas - Values, Purpose, Impact and Vision. Let's take them one at a time.

Think of this discovery process as a conversation between us right now over coffee or dinner. Just the two of us talking. We aren't looking for the perfect answer, but an honest, beginning point of understanding. We've just met, and I'm just asking questions because I'm curious, not nosey, just interested getting to know you.

Values:

I ask:

"If you didn't have to work for a living, and you had access to all the financial resources you would need, how would you spend your days, and why?"

"What do you think are the values that are important to you in doing those things? Do you think those values define you more than any other? Do they please you, make you smile, get you excited about the day ahead?"

In discovering the values that matter to us, we are identifying the foundation upon which we have built our lives. These values help us to establish the boundaries that guide us. If this is new to us, then we may have to live into this awareness. These values may not be evident, active or relevant at a particular moment, with some people, and then, some comment, triggers in us an awareness. This is how we grow into the values that matter. We try many, discard many, from our emotional investment in them, and then come to realize what is truly important to us.

These are the values that tell us who we are, and are the ones we want to have always present. I have five of these values, and I'm looking for them in every thing that I do. I, personally, have decided that if three of the five are not present in the opportunity before me, that I'll not participate. Knowing the values that guide and give meaning to our lives is a way of saying No to situations that are not supportive of the values that are important to us. This is why knowing what our core values are is so critical to being able to walk into any situation and function well.

Purpose:

I ask:

"How do you spend your days? How did you end up doing this kind of work? Does it give you a sense of purpose, a sense that you are making a contribution?"

The conventional thought is that we all have a singular purpose for our lives. I find that very limiting. Instead, I see purpose as an intentional focus on applying our values in a specific way in the situation that presents itself to us. Here's how this could work.

One of my values is integrity. It is so that I don't live with regret or fear, or, even the sense that I've compromised by values to accomodate some person or situation. The purpose of integrity beyond that is to provide me a basis of relating to every person from the same position of respect towards them. My purpose, then, in social situations is to act with respect, by listening, being honest and truthful, without being beligerent. The purpose of my integrity is to establish a basis of friendship that is open, mutual and filled with opportunity for shared work and contribution.

Purpose is a way of translating the values that matter to us into action. While our values may become clearer and more specific over time, they rarely change in any radical sense. Our purpose, however, can and should change. For purpose is the mechanism for focusing our values in the situation that is before us right now. Even if we are talking about our purpose as sort of a life mission, it still is subject to change. With our values as a foundation, we live out a purpose in an adaptive manner to fit the time and place in which we live.

While our purpose is about what we do in acting upon our values, it is also about the effect that we want to have.

Impact:

I ask:

"Tell me what difference you think your work makes? Why is it important? Who is impacted by what you do? What do they tell you?"

The way our world works is by an exchange of products or services by an agreed upon price. Money is the most tangible medium of measure we have. It is simple, straightforward, and for that reason obscures many of the signs of value that actually exist, yet we never really see.

To look at the difference a person makes, we have to look at what our expectations are, right now. This requires us, on both sides of a relationship, to have an idea of what we want, or, what our purpose is. If we can define our purpose, not as what I do, but rather the difference I want to make, then my story takes on a very different feel.

Let's return to our business after hours event. In that room, our purpose is what? Is it to meet people? Or, is it something more. Is it primarily about "my" interests or about the other person's?

My friend and colleague Meridith Elliott Powell told me years ago about her strategy for after-hours business events. Her focus was to go, meet people, and leave as soon as she had three follow-up meetings with new contacts. She would go to alot of these events, and built up a substantial client list through that focused approach to business relationship building. She's one of the best I know at this. I found her approach incredibly helpful, and focused on the purpose of the event, which is to initiate new business relationships. Then she works her "magic", she's really good, in the interaction she has with people within the context of their business.

When the story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but what we create, the difference that we make, about the relationships that we form, then we approach everything with a different level of confidence. If we measure our lives by our activity level, then we never really see clearly the outcome of that activity.

Measuring by activity comes out of the old factory production model focus. The most tangible measure of that work was the paycheck. Measuring by impact is a change model focus. One is repetitive. Let's see how many events I can go to this month. The other is a creative relationship with people where together we learn to make a difference. How many relationships do you have right now that if asked they would say, "She makes a real difference in my work." And, then be able to describe precisely what that impact is.

The Four Connecting Ideas are not isolated from one another, but, are interconnected as a way to understand how things can fit together in our life and work. To be able to see the impact of our values and purpose in real life, then our perspective changes, and our story does too. It opens up possibilities that may have been present, but were hidden behind the production measure mindset.

Vision:

I ask:

"Where do you see yourself in a year? What's your plan for today?"

The vision we need is not some grand, epic adventure into the future. Instead, our vision is our story lived out in real time, right now. It is the story we tell ourselves every day that enables us to make decisions. In the context of the Circle of Impact, it is about people, and the organizational structures in which we live and work. Our vision emerges and is lived out every day through the story we tell ourselves.

A vision then is simply what I do and the decisions I make, based upon my values and my sense of purpose for this particular moment, all through a deep desire for impact, with the people that I work with and encounter everyday.

The story we tell ourselves is a guide in the unexplored land of today. It helps us to know the boundaries that will both protect us from the unwanted compromise of our values, as well as, opening us up to the possibilities in every human relationship and situation.

When we find the story we tell ourselves, and, we grow into it, it ceases to be a story "out-there" that we tell myself. We become the story. We become the living embodiment of the values, the purpose, the difference and the vision for being an authentic person regardless of where we are and with whom we are with.

The story that we tell ourselves is the secret to being situationally aware. If you are a person who finds him or herself overwhelmed by circumstances, people and change, then you need a story which helps you live in those moments that are threatening and uncomfortable. 

Where do you begin to write your story. Here are two suggestions.

1. Think of the situations where you are most comfortable. What are the values at work in those situations that you'd like to see in those uncomfortable situations.

2. Write a three sentence introduction of yourself that describes the person you believe you actually are. This is not what other people think of you, but you at your strongest, most impactful, most free and at peace self. Write it down, carry it with you, and edit it until you've found the story you really want to tell yourself. Then toss it away, and let your story unfold.

It all starts with personal initiative. One step. Then another. And another. If you need to share your story with someone outside of your world, send it to me. I'll not critique, but will ask questions to clarify, so you can be clear. Then you can go live the story you tell yourself.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves


The Edge of the Real: Our Fragmented World

Big Hole Battefield 1

I have been arguing that in order to make minimal sense of our lives, in order to have an identity, we need an orientation to the good, which means some sense of qualitative discrimination, of the incomparably higher. Now we see that this sense of the good has to be woven into my understanding of my life as an unfolding story. But this is to state another basic condition of making sense of ourselves, that we grasp our lives in a narrative. This has been much discussed recently, and very insightfully. It has often been remarked that making sense of one's life as a story is also, like orientation to the good, not an optional extra; that our lives exist also in this space of questions, which only a coherent narrative can answer. In order to have a sense of who we are we have to have a notion of how we have become, and of where we are going.

Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity

Charles Taylor

We all exist in time. We know that yesterday we went to the market, and tomorrow, we'll visit with friends over dinner or spend our days at work. We look back in remembrance and forward in time with anticipation. We understand the cycle of time as a part of life.

The Teacher in Ecclesiastes wrote a very long time ago,

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
  a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
  a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
  a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
  a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
  a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
  a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
  a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

While we may acknowledge this to be true, we also desire for time to stand still. We desire stability and continuity, to keep the good and avoid the bad. This is a response to a world that is more fragmented than whole.

Look to the conditions of our external world. It is a world of change that is often disruptive, random and unwelcome. Yet, it is this very fragmented world that we ask to be consistent, stable and compatible enough to make us feel good about ourselves and provide a ground for a personal identity that can withstand the change we experience. This fragmentation is primarily between our inner selves and the world that is separate from us.

The challenge to be a whole and complete as a real person becomes more urgent as our world fragments into hyper-realities.  Of course, to see this, understand it, and live into it requires us  to understand how our inner and outer lives have become so fragmented, how the world is and is not a mirror of our inner state, and how we can establish a path to personal wholeness.

The Hyper-reality of the External World

The hyper-real social world that I describe in The Spectacle of the Real is a world of random experiences that are presented to us as daily events of significance intended to define who we are as people.

Look at your Twitter or Facebook feed, or, watch the news scroll across the bottom of the screen of your favorite news channel, and you'll see events, causes, ideas and personalities that are promoted as information that is important for us to engage. These status updates are not descriptions of all that is taking place, but rather a filtering of what is important and what is not. The selection of what is included and not included is commentary on the news, not the news itself.

ALL media content is mediated content, not raw data for our own critical mind to determine whether it is news or not.

The early promise of social media was as a more or less unfiltered reservoir of people and information to connect and engage.  Social media sites have evolved into clever, highly sophisticated advertising platforms, promoting not just products for sale, but perspectives and social philosophies intended to guide our understanding of the future and our place in it. The more they know about us through our social media postings, website selections and online purchases, the tighter and more closed the sources of information that are provided to us.

The hyper-reality of social media fragments the narrative sense of our lives, that Charles Taylor describes. For our lives to be understood as a continuous, unfolding story, we need to be able to see our life experience as a whole in two ways. First, as having continuity and connection over the entire length of our lives, and second, as being open to what is new, different and unpredictable.

Hyper-real contexts always place us on the outside of the screen, looking in at those who are doing the real living. We are meant to see a reality that is larger and more important than our own existence, filled with the fascinating people we must follow, and never, ever, involving us as direct participants in their lives. The result is that our inner lives take on a stunted, not flourishing life, disconnected from an outside world that can fully engage us

I have often heard people say in response to my daily change of my Facebook cover picture, how much they would like to go to the places that I have been. There is nothing unusual about those places. Many are within minutes of where I live. Or, the number of times the thought has crossed our minds about how much we would like to do what those crazy guys in a YouTube video did or say what they said. Social media sharing is a vicarious experience, not a direct one, as it is not quite as real as the one we create when we act upon some desire to go see a concert or hike to a beautiful mountain waterfall.

The reality is that the attraction of the screen is always random, momentary and intermitant, never whole or complete. Our lived lives, on the other hand can be filled with meaning, friendship and a real sense of accomplishment and contribution.

As Umberto Eco wrote in Travels in Hyperreality"the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake." This is the hyper-real, social media context in which we seek to understand who we are as persons. The more deeply engaged in this hyper-real world we become, the more disconnected we become from our inner selves.

The Numbed Self, or, The Hyper-Real Inner Life

Marshall McLuhan, writing in the 1960s, was one of the first to recognize the social impact of images on a screen. His most famous epigram is the medium is the message. In McLuhan's most important book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man there is a chapter entitled The Gadget Lover: Narcissus as Narcosis. In this essay, he uses the Greek story of Narcissus as a way of seeing the effect that electronic technology has upon us a persons.

"The Greek myth of Narcissus is directly concerned with a fact of human experience, as the word Narcissus indicates. It is from the Greek word narcosis, or numbness. The youth Narcissus mistook his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of himself by mirror numbed his perceptions ...

... the wisdom of the Narcissus myth does not convey any idea that Narcissus fell in love with anything he regarded as himself. Obviously he would have had very different feelings about the image had he known it was an extension or repetition of himself. It is, perhaps, indicative of the bias of our intensely technological and, therefore, narcotic culture that we have long interpreted the Narcissus story to mean that he fell in love with himself, that he imagined the reflection to be Narcissus!"

Narcissus was unaware that the image was of him. His inner self-awareness was disconnected from the external reality of the pool. His sense of self or identity was broken.  His awareness of who he was had been severed from his awareness of the world beyond his perception. The wholeness of life was lost on him. He had no way to tell a complete or whole story of seeing his reflection in the water, because his perception of the image in the water and his self-perception were disconnected. He was a fragmented man captivated by a hyper-real image in the water.

McLuhan was one of the first media critics to see electrical technology as a tool for replacing our sense of identity with an artificial image. The computer screen, the iPad, the Smart Phone are objects which are now extensions of our identities, representing our inner selves in the outer world. This is why it is do difficult to let go of them. To let go is to lose our identity.  Whatever is on the screen is not who we are, but, rather, a substitute representation, a hyper-real presence.

Sherry Turkle two decades ago began to speak about how Life on the Screen provides us multiple identities. In her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other  she has similar insights as McLuhan's.

Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies. These days, it suggests substitutions that put the real on the run.

... we seem determined to give human qualities to objects and content to treat each other as things.

But when technology engineers intimacy, relationships can be reduced to mere connections. And then, easy connection becomes redefined as intimacy. Put otherwise, cyberintimacies slide into cybersolitudes. And with constant connection comes new anxieties of disconnection, ...

This is a fragmented relational world lived through the hyper-space of the screen.

At The Edge

Charles Taylor in his book, A Secular Age, draws a distinction between the self of the modern age and that of the premodern one. He speaks of the modern self as being "buffered" against the intrusion of the outside world, and the pre-modern self as being "porous" so as to allow what is in the outside world to take on meanings that intrude into our sense of who we are.

By definition for the porous self, the source of its most powerful and important emotions are outside the "mind"; or better put, the very notion that there is a clear boundary, allowing us to define an inner base area, grounded in which we can disengage from the rest, has no sense.

As a bounded self I can see the boundary as a buffer, such that the things beyond don't need to "get to me", to use the contemporary expression. That's the sense to my use of the term "buffered" here. This self can see itself as invulnerable, as master of the meanings of things for it.

... the porous self is vulnerable, to spirits, demons, cosmic forces. And along with this go certain fears which can grip it in certain circumstances. The buffered self has been taken out of the world of this kind of fear.

... the buffered self can form the ambition of disengaging from whatever is beyond the boundary, and of giving its own autonomous order to its life. The absence of fear can be not just enjoyed, but seen as an opportunity for self-control or self-direction.

As Taylor's description shows, the separation between our inner selves, or "minds"  and the world at large is much more complex than simply identifying either a connection or a detachment between our inner and outer worlds.

The point I wish to draw here is that the extremes of either a "buffered" or "porous" self are products of the fragmentation of the world in which we live. Wholeness is discovered, lived out, at the boundary between them, which I'm calling The Edge of the Real.

Two Questions

There are two questions that I wish to raise that I will pick up in part two of this essay.

1. Is the fragmentation between our inner selves and the outside world neutral, neither good nor bad, just the way things are, and therefore, just something to adjust and adapt to each day?

I am asking whether what I have said thus far has any merit. Am I just creating an issue where this is none?

I ask this because Taylor in his A Secular Age clearly shows that there are benefits to living a bounded, buffered life, creating a safe space between my inner self and the outer world.

2. If this fragmentation is unhealthy, then what does it mean to be a whole person, and how does one bridge, cross over, heal the gap between our inner lives and the outer world?

I ask this question because of what I observe in people who are broken and people who are whole. I see a pattern or a collection of patterns that point to how the boundary between the world of our minds can engage in the world apart can become a place where life is made whole.

The Edge of the Real is a place of discovery. In part two, I'll explore what I see as the source of wholeness, and part three how to create wholeness in our lives and work.


What Defines Us?

2010-11-08 13.36.32

Family

I grew up in a family environment where family history verged on ancestry worship.

Connection to the past mattered. I have a folder in my photo file of the grave stones of family members, from both parent's sides of the family.

I regularly recognize in my interactions with people how my family has defined me. My mother's parents (below) had more to do with this than anyone in my family.

GrandmereGrandfather

What my extended family gave me as a child, and continues to provide me as an adult, is a ground upon which to stand that defines a part of who I am. Increasingly, I am aware that this is a fading reality in our society.

It is not that family doesn't matter. It just matters in a different way. Family has become, like any social relationship, a vehicle for self-expression and social positioning.  This is a result of the fragmentation of social and organizational life.

In the pre-modern past, one's identity was less individual and more social, defined by family affiliation and community proximity. Where you lived and what your family did defined you.

Today, we are all individualists, with a choice as to how we are defined.

Recently, this question came to mind as I talked with a friend about her past, and how it was filled with traumatic experiences from early childhood into middle age. I was amazed by her ability to stand apart from the abuse of her past and see it objectively. While that did not cancel out the deep emotional trauma she felt, her pain did not define her. She was not her pain, nor the abuse she received. She was something else, something more. For her family is central in defining who she is and is largely responsible for the healing she has experienced.

Questions

As I thought about her experience and her response to it, and reflected back upon my own family experience, a number of questions began to come to mind. Here are some of them.

To what extent are we defined by ...

        What we do?

        Where we work?

        Where we were born?

        Where we went to school?

To what degree do  ...

        Our choices,

        Our actions,

        Our network of relationships, and,

        Our daily work and recreation schedule

                ... define us?      

Is our personal identity a manufactured public perception like a product brand? Or, are we the person others think us to be?

I don't think there is an easy answer to any of these questions. There are answers, however they are complex, not simple.

The Question of Potential

Each question above I've thought about often, and in various ways, for almost 40 years. I used to think that our identities are unitary, singular, only one thing, that we are born with an identity.

I, now, see us human beings as much more complex. The range and possibilities for our sense of who we are is greater that we can imagine. One way to understand our identity is to understand what our potential means.

Potential is that unexplored, undeveloped part of us, born from the talent, gifts and experience that expands our awareness and reach in life. It is all future and very little past. It is the difference that we make that has yet to be realized. 

Potential is not something fixed and set at birth. It isn't a commodity. It is unbounded openness. It is not only unknown, but undefinable before its realization.

Potential is not additive but exponential. It isn't a container of what we haven't achieved. It is a platform from which our whole life & work is built. The more we build upon, the greater our potential grows. Our potential creates opportunities for new possibilities in our life and work. 

The only limitation on our potential is time. We must apply ourselves to reaching our potential everyday. I'm not advocating for becoming a workoholic. Rather, I am suggesting we develop an opportunistic attitude about each day. We look for opportunities to make a difference, to have an impact, and to affect change within the contexts where we live and work.

If we build toward reaching our potential each day, then over the course of our lifetime we reach far beyond our present abilities. If we did not try to grow or think that potential doesn't mean very much, then a growing sense of lost time and opportunity will grow within us. I do not wish that feeling on anyone. Regret and longing are not comforting thoughts when one is old and past one's prime.

My point is that we need to see potential as an ascending line of development throughout the course of our lives. This is the inner truth of our experiences of transition in life and work. Each transition point is one where we are being pulled to change in order to fulfill our potential. In each life or work transition is opportunity, if we only see it that way. 

In order to continue to reach for our potential, we must stop doing certain things and begin to learn and master new skills, attitudes, behaviors as we move into new social and organizational contexts. This is the secret to mastering our transitions in life and work. It is the secret to being adaptive and reaching our potential each day.

The Question of Impact

To understand and identify our potential is to understand our potential Impact.

Impact is the change that makes a difference that matters.

Embedded in that statement are the values, talents, relationships, strategies, structures and ways of measurement that are required to live a full, healthy, meaningful life. 

Impact isn't just what we accomplish or what we achieve. It is also opens up new potential, fresh opportunities, and environments that may not have existed even yesterday.

Impact never reaches a final point of completion, either. It is a stage along a path of development. Our potential is the same, not a fixed quantity, but something that grows and develops with initiative and action, or, diminishes from inaction.

We are not human machines, but living systems that are constantly evolving. We are always either growing or declining physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This growth is not set, fixed or predetermined. It may show itself as a pattern of development, but it is not formulaic. We are open and responsive to the full range of experience that we have. Our potential for impact is far greater than we can imagine.

To envision our impact is to imagine our potential.

To imagine our potential is to understand better who we are as persons within the social and organizational contexts of our life and work.

To define ourselves is to see that we are both the same and always changing. This is human nature at its most basic.

The Shift in Question

It has become clear to me that the way we understand what defines us has to change. Up to now personal identity has been seen as a kind of object, a thing that we possess, and lasts our life time.

I am (fill in the blank).

One of the reasons why we viewed our identities this way is that for most of human history we lived in homogeneous communities formed by generations of families. But over the past couple hundred years, that social context has been eroding as families fragment through relocation to new places for economic, ethnic and political reasons. Identities have become more fluid as social interaction required greater flexibility and adaptation to change in society.

As a result, we must learn to adapt to the relationships as they present themselves. This shows us that our sense of self is far more fluid and maleable than maybe we once thought. In this sense, our core identity ends up having multiple expressions, which may appear to us as different identities.

The question that confronts us most directly, then, is what makes up that core identity that allows us to be the same person in very different social and organizational contexts? Or to state it differently how can I be a person of integrity who knows how to find strength for any situation?

The Question of Identity

This post, like many I've written over the past three years, has taken not minutes to create, but weeks, and in this case months, to write. They have because so much of what I write is done in a quest to discover my own understanding of what I sense or observe in my and other's life and work. This quest to understand defines me as much as anything I know. What I learn feeds the importance that integrity has for me.

What I write therefore is often much more personal than may be evident. But it is also social because I writing in the context of many conversations and experiences that I have with people and organizations.

I find that many people have the same issues or needs as I do.The need is to be clear about who we are, and how that factors into how we live each day.

The Place of Desire

A third thing that I've discovered about personal identity, along with the importance of integrity, and our potential impact, is that we are driven by desires. We often talk about these desires as passions.

I have come to this view through the work of philosopher/ theologian James K.A. Smith. He writes,

"Because I think we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things, I also think that what constitutes our ultimate identities - what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are - is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate - what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world. What we desire or love ultimately is a (largely implicit) vision of what we hope for, what we think the good life looks like."

I find this to be true, and yet hard to get at it. It is so much easier to create a list of values or strengths or traits, and say, that is me. But down deep inside of us is a presence that is passionate for the things that matter.

As I have written before (The Platform of Desire 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5) on desire, I see that there are three principal desires out of which the whole of our identity finds expression.

Three Goals of Life-Work - Simple

These desires are for Personal Meaning, Happy, Healthy Relationships and To Make a Difference that Matters in our live and work.  These desires form the core of our identity. They do because they are ways that we define what we love.

These desires must form the core of our identity because the platform of our identities in the past is eroding.  No longer will families live in inter-generational community. No longer will we work for the same company all our lives. No longer will we find homogeneous environments where everyone finds support and affiliation with people who are like them.

The future is open, diverse and filled with constant change. For this reason our identity cannot be based on external circumstances, but rather on who I am within. And who I am is what I love and desire to create in my life.

When our desires drive us to clarifying the values that give us identity, then we know where to find meaning in our life.

When our desires point us toward the kind of people with whom we can have happy, healthy relationships, then we will know how to be the kind of person who can create those relationships.

When our desires define the impact we want to have, then we know what our life's purpose ultimately means.

As I have worked through a number of scenarios that could possibly define who we are, increasingly they became more complex. The more complex they became the more I realized that the picture I saw was a picture of all the choices from which to build our lives. As a result I was pushed back to what I had discovered before.

There is more to say, and I will in future posts. But let me leave this long post with this final thought.

To live is to love.

To love is to give.

To give is to live a life where meaning, happiness, health and impact flow from the daily experience of seeking to fulfill the potential that we each have to make a difference that matters. 

Series Note: This post is the first in a series that I am calling Reclaiming the Real. You can find a page of links to each post in the series here.

In Transition, Start with Connections

First Posted August 13, 2012.

IMG_1900 (2)

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.


Understanding What You Have To Offer

Hermione_bag-harrypotterwikiacomwiki

I like to think of people as bottom-less reservoirs of unrealized potential. Sort of like Hermione's handbag in the Harry Potter stories. Her handbag is useful because literally everything can fit in it, from a complete camp site to a huge broad sword.

The reality is that most of us don't see ourselves this way ... as full of unrealized potential. 

We are not even sure we know what we can do well, much less the difference we can make every day.

In this post, we are going to change all that.

Do you have paper and pen handy?

You are going to want to write down some things as we go along.

Change and Transition

Change for most of us, today, is a way of life. It isn't always as we expect it either. In some cases, the change is just the slow decline of all that we thought was good and hopeful when we were younger.

You can see it when people talk about their work. It is something to endure. It is as if the job's purpose and their idealism left them a long time ago. They still get up every morning, drive to work, and go through the necessary activities to do the work. But, it isn't a happy picture of the good life for many people.

Add in a global recession that may become a way of life for many people, and it is easy to understand how we can lose touch with the things that matter. Especially the talent, the skills, the passion and the unrealized potential that is who we are. We carry them around inside of us everyday, just like the stuff in Hermione's handbag, that has the potential of enriching every place we touch,and every person we encounter every day.  

So what do you do when this is not your situation, like it happen to one of my friends, who found himself out of his dream job after 40 years, and is definitely not ready to retire?

These are two sides of the same coin. Both the person who has lost their passion and purpose for work, and the person whose work lost him, need to understand who they are, distinct enough from their workplace, so that a picture of their unrealized potential can begin to be drawn.

The first thing we need to determine is "What do I have to offer to the world?"

Say that to yourself.

What do I have to offer the world?

Say it out loud if you want, emphasizing the "doing" of the offer.

What do I have to offer the world?

Write the sentence down. Look at it again.Think of your hands open extended out in front of you. In your hands is what you have to offer. It is the gift that you give to people, organizations and places that makes a difference that matters.

Now imagine that every day you climb out of bed to offer to the world all the unrealized potential that you have been storing up in the Hermione's handbag of your life. 

We are, now, beginning see that our unrealized potential is not some abstract value, but something real that we have to offer. Something tangible that can make a real difference in the world. We are recognizing here that we have within our own abilities the power to bring change that creates goodness wherever I am, even at work.

To learn what we have to offer is a process of self-discovery. It leads to a realization of all that we have been storing away, out of sight, out of mind, down deep in Hermione's handbag all these years.  It is all we've learned, gained and developed in the way of knowledge and experience over the course of our lifetime.  The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide
Five Questions

, I sat down with my friend who lost his job and talked him through the Five Questions That Every Person Must Ask.

After 40 years of doing the same job, it is understandable that we don't know really know what we know, and we need help getting down into Hermione's handbag to find out what we have to offer.

To understand this is to see that we are not what we do.

We are what we desire to change, the impact that becomes the validation of who we are.

This is what we offer, our gifts, talents, wisdom and experience to make a difference that is an expression of the very best of who we are.

Now, let's answer the Five Questions.

Transition

The first question asks what has changed. If you are out of a job, then the answer is easy. If you are at a dead end in the work you are currently doing, then you need to reflect a bit more on how things got this way.

It is important to see that our lives are a long progression of changes that has an inner logic. To see the rationale behind the changes in our lives is to understand how we are always in transition from where we were to where are going to be.

Write down what helps you to understand what this sequence of change looks like. It is a reference point for understanding what you've been going through. Keep what you write down, and the benefit of seeing this transition will grow over time.

If you are in a hard spot right now, go back in time as far as it takes to that point when you were happy in your work. Because when you were, you were fulfilling some of the unrealized potential that you have. Remember fulfillment is happiness.

Impact

It is a simple question. What is my impact?

It may be the hard to answer because it forces us to look at the world differently.

So, think in terms of what is the impact that you'd like to create? Put yourself back in your old job or back when you were the happiest in your work, and then ask, What is the impact that I had then?

Don't be too analytical. Keep it simple.

Who are you impacting?

You need two lists of people.

Create a list of those people whom you believe were impacted by your work and relationship with them.

Contact them to discover what it was that made the difference.

Create a list of people whom you know who can provide you connections to people and fields of work that are currently not open to you.

Follow these steps.

Ask, who do I know?

Ask, who do they know that I don't know that I need to know?

Contact your list to set up a conversation.

Share with them the impact that you'd like to achieve.

Ask them, who do you know that you think I should know?

Ask, are you willing to make an introduction for me?

Go to see these people, repeat the process.

Opportunity

When you go talk to people, don't go looking for a job. Go looking for an opportunity to make a difference with the assets that you bring to the business.

Think ... I'm looking for opportunities to create impact.

Your opportunities are not limited to the work and occupations that you have had in the past. By understanding what you offer, you can demonstrate how they can be applied in many more situations than you can imagine.

Obstacles / Problems

Let's be honest with ourselves. Often the loss of a job is the product of our own failure to do what we needed to do to stay current in our field or demonstrate the value of the impact that we bring to the company.  As a result, there may be obstacles or problems that stand in your way of fulfilling the opportunity that you see before you.

Don't sit around paralyzed by guilt and regret. Neither will bring the next job or the good life. Get to work on resolving the issues that hold you back so that you are prepared for the next opportunity to make a difference.

The Offering

Knowing what we have to offer the world is an important step of bringing fulfillment to the unrealized potential that fills our Hermione's handbag. What we have to offer is our gift. When we give it, the impact is magnified because the spirit of the gift strengthens the environment of the relationship and organization.

Our offering of service to create impact distinguishes us from those who are simply looking for a job. By giving of ourselves, we create the conditions for goodness to be realized for the companies and clients we serve, and for our own sense of well-being to be fulfilled.

The steps above are simple. Believing that we have something to offer is hard. I hope that this process is helpful. If you need more specific help, just let me know.


Networks in Transition

Transition Point - without Title

Networks are the new management mantra. The back story to this development is the increasing importance of healthy relationships for the sustainability of organizations. I've seen this coming since the mid-1970s with the realization that relationships are the vehicle through which life works.

The science of networks is growing in sophistication and practicality. It is truly amazing to see what the data on networks can reveal. That said, networks are not the end point. They are a transition point to something else.

The first transition

If you step out, look back, you'll see that for most of the past couple millennia, organizations have been structured as hierarchies. I've posted on this before.

Hierarchy of  Structure

This hierarchies look basically like this image.  There is leadership, with a level of  middle and supervisory management, followed by everyone else. This is an over simplification.  The point though is that the structure was organized for order, efficiency, and bottom-up accountability.

This hierarchy has been the primary form of organizational structure since human beings began to organize themselves. Some form of this hierarchy will always exist. However, it will be different.

Into the context of organizations appears a new phenomenon called a network of relationships. This is a new form of human organization that exists as connections without a designated location for these relationships. These are the kind of relationship that populate social media networks. They are virtual and intermittent, lacking comprehensiveness and continuity.

Prior to the advent of modern communication technology, the highest form of network was a local community of residents.  This ancient form of the network was based on physical proximity. Think of an Amish barn raising where all of one's neighbors come to your farm to construct a building that serves a family's need for sustainability.  Of course, no one talked about their local community as a network, but that is essentially what it was.  The connections formed a tight bond of closeness that made it difficult for outsiders to join. Today, networks are the opposite, loose, open configurations where the social bond is in the moment.

Hierarchy of Connection

Today, this network of relationships looks like this.  It is not primarily based on living near one another, but rather being connected through common interests. The sophistication of these networks is enabled by the data mining that modern computer technology provides. Social media provides the most practical and universal means for these networks of relationships to develop.

These networks are driven by the science of connection and its viral nature. There are great possibilities for impact when a network is mobilized for a cause, when an influential hub (person) sneezes and the whole world catches a new pair of shoes, or when one person posts a video of some random guy dancing, and it is shared globally millions of times. This is the power that this form of network connection holds.  This, however, is a feature of contemporary networks of relationships, and not the potential, ultimate end.

Two shifts

Networks are a basic infrastructure of the future of organizations. Where hierarchies are based upon position and role within an organization, networks are based upon who you know, and the ability to turn those connections into action.

To understand networks is to be aware of a couple shifts that have taken place over the past century.

The first shift is the elevation of the individual to a place of centrality in their own network of relationships. In this respect, being member of a community or an institution means less today than it did a generation ago. This individualism is a product of living in a society of choices made available to all who have the means as a consumers.  Today's consumer mindset sees organizations and networks existing to meet my purposes and desires. It is social in a limited, not a comprehensive sense.

The result is that much of the emphasis on networks is focused on developing them for one's own purposes as a universal platform for marketing the individual to a world of individuals.

A second shift is the emergence of the network as a place of virtual habitation. We live online, and our relationships are online, and our identity is formed online, and our life is lived online. What the old hierarchies and old local communities offered was a physical place to live one's life and to develop the habits and practices that provided a basis for a sustainable society. There is a reason why cultures survived centuries, even millennia, without the modern technologies that we have today.  These cultures of the past were communities rooted in a specific place, organized around specific traditions that helped people know how to live a life of contribution and meaning within that specific context. Many of the habits and practices that provided sustainability during the pre-modern era have eroded away as we taken up residence online. Today, everything can be done online, not requiring anything more than a wifi connection to be connected to a network of social profiles of people whom we only know as they choose to present themselves online. 

The significance of this shift is seen in the difficulty that people who are not highly engaged in an online network of relationships find in dealing with people who are not used to face-to-face human contact. Frankly, they do not understand the patterns of interaction and communication that take place through social media platforms. As a result, they are missing the necessary capacity to be persons of influence who can make a difference on a global scale.


Three Desires-Impact-NoFill
These two shifts inadequately address the fundamental desires that people have.  Those desires are for our lives to be Personally Meaningful, for Happy, Healthy Relationships, Socially Fulfilling and to Make a Difference that Matters. All of this can happen through our online network of relationships. To do so requires that they become more than simply a place where I daily project my personality into noise of the online social world.

The Next Transition

These changes are why I see our current fixation on networks of relationships as a transition point between the old hierarchical structures and what comes next. What comes next is a recognition that we are more than the constructed persona of our diverse social media profiles. We are real people who have lives apart from the online world.

The next iteration of the network is for them to become more communal. By this I mean that the relationships transcend the virtual to be transformational. For this to happen, there must be a personal stake in the relationship that moves beyond what I get from it. It goes to what I give to make it work.  In this respect, the next transition is a return to the old communities of proximity where being a neighbor meant that we were actively engaged in the care and sustainability of our community of common welfare.

SharedLeadershipImpact
There is a sharedness of these communities of relationships as seen here. When I speak of "leading by vacuum," it is a way of talking about how we each bring our own gifts and talents to the network of relationships, and in so doing, the network transcends the virtual to become something greater.

In this scenario, the individualism of the network is transformed into a community of relationships who share a common purpose or goal for their relationships.

For example, the Flow Ventura Global Triiibes Retreat  brought together people from around the globe, most who had never physically been together before. We knew each other online. The event would never had occurred had the relationships been simply virtual and individual. Instead, over a period of time, our relationships came to increasingly matter more and more. We were more than virtual connections. We were friends whose daily interaction online mattered in how we live in the dispersed places where we reside.  In other words, knowing one another online was insufficient for the sustaining of our relationships. We needed to be together in the same place, face-to-face, and side by side.

The retreat as a result was transformational for many of the participants.  Many common points of interest explored in the conversations and presentations elevated the shared values that transformed our once virtual network of relationships into a community of friends whose relationships matter to one another.

Facilitating The Transition from Network to Community

For a network to transition into a genuine community requires leadership. It needs people who facilitate and coordinate the interaction that is needed to build a community of relationships. Conversations within these networks need to clarify the shared ideas of purpose and values that are a basis for a shared vision of impact, and a common commitment to share the responsibility for it. Each provides a way for the relationship to transcend superficial connection to one that is meaningful, fulfilling and makes a difference that matters.

This is the future that I see emerging. I see it as the logical evolution of networks of relationships to become more communal than social. That does not mean it will happen in every place.  It does mean that it is possible. That it is a choice fueled by our desires for a certain kind of life that transcends the shallow superficiality of much of what we experience each day.


TransitionsOrgStructure
PDF of this guide now available
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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.


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.


The Moral Component

When we are young, the world is an open book.

There is nothing like being 11 years old with a vivid imagination and absolutely no sense of barriers in life. Then adolescence hits, and we realize that there are some limitations.  Some people are more popular, cooler, smarter; some more troubled and broken. Others are destined for success, happiness or a life of hardship and toil.

Then the hard work of finding just how open and limitless one's opportunities are begins. It may start at 15 or at 21. It may not become important until we are 30 or even 45, and when we do, we realize that our life needs to count for something. When we discover, not just our interest or passion, but our purpose, our destiny, then life changes. Forever.

When we discover the difference our lives should make, our options are immediately reduced, narrowed, defined. We find out that life has limitations, all of a sudden, there is an end point, way out there, when we can say, "I'm done."  At least, that is what we think.

At some point, we may also discover that the pursuit of our destiny is more than just achieving something, more than simply a destination. There is something embedded in the middle of that pursuit that when we were young we could not see, maybe only feel. It was always there, but it wasn't clear to us. Then at some moment, a line is crossed, and we discover that there is a moral component to this quest to fulfill our destiny. We realize that it is no longer about just about destiny, but the journey that leads there.

This moral component is not some abstract, philosophical concept that stands as a branded idea for your life. There are plenty of people who brand their morality, wearing it on their shirt sleeve, and capitalizing on it by capitalizing it.  That is not the moral component that I see.

This moral component is something simple, deep, and intangible. It is the quality or rather the virtue that makes a difference in how we live out our purpose. It is something about who we are as individuals, about our life, work and impact.

Martin Luther King had that moral component. So did Mother Teresa, Mohandas Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Abraham Lincoln. Each of them was their own person, standing strong as the world around them went a different direction. That is the strength that comes from the moral component.  It isn't ego that made them strong, though they probably had strong egos.

The moral component is something else. It transcends our circumstances, our place in history and the singular importance of us as individuals. It is that indelible quality that links us with others through time, and gives our destiny and purpose its meaning, and the reason our commitment and resilience matters.

Even if I live another 40 years, given my family's genetics, I see that I have now passed some indecipherable midpoint in my career.  My options are fewer now than they were just five years ago. I see it, and find peace in that. It makes things more simple, and to an extent clearer.

When you are young, there is anxiety about what your life will become, and the difference you'll make, and whether it will truly count in the end.  There are thousands of options, choices, directions to go in. Everyone tells you that you can do anything you want. However, in the back of your mind, you know it isn't true. You just want to know what that one thing is that is your destiny.

I no longer worry about that. I find that as life proceeds, the moral component grows in importance because at the end of life, it is that which is our true legacy. 

A friend said during a group conversation that he wanted his legacy to be that he was a good man, a good husband and father, and ran his business well.  The moral component for him was becoming more clear, and knowing him well, I see it in the life choices that he has made over the years. 

Philosophers and historians speak of the moral component in many ways. One of those is the difference between a naive and reflective view of history.

A naive perspective refers to a lack of self-consciousness about the values that inform our lives. There is a sense of not seeing it at all because it is so much a part of one's life, like breathing air or water to fish, we don't notice it.  There is an innocence about this approach. This experience of the moral component in life is such that we see it as continuous through time, across the generations and the foundation upon which we understand the meaning of life. It is unself-conscious because we do not hold these moral values in any objective sense. They are highly subjective and personal, quite possibly never defined in any specific sense. Yet they exist, and we tend to begin to see them when they are under threat.  They are who we are in a real sense, and this even more so as we consistently live them out in a purposeful, intentional way.

A reflective approach stands apart from the moral component, and attempts to view it objectively. Yet this is impossible in any pure, scientific sense because what brings us to this relationship with the moral component is awareness of the connection between the idea and our own lives. We become aware that we lacked objectivity in our formerly naive view of life.  We may speak of this change of perspective as a loss of innocence or coming of age or quite possibly of becoming a cynic. We experience a disjunction or disconnection between our values and the social and organizational environments where we live and work, and stand apart viewing the moral component, trying to understand how it fits in the situation we are in. 

The moral component viewed from these two perspectives is a very complex phenomenon in our lives. We may find that we want to be both naive and reflective at the same time. We want to believe in our values, seeing them as universal, transcending time, space and culture, the way life ought to be, bring purpose, peace and fulfillment.  We may see that these values are rarely lived to their fullest, that some of the greatest proponents of these values were crooks and charlatans, and that there are other philosophies or perspectives that are compelling and valid in their own right.

Where this leads for some people is to confusion and for some to an abandonment of their hope for fulfillment of their destiny. For others, they embrace the moral component as a guide to create a life of goodness and difference that matters.

The people I mentioned earlier are these people. They held to their values in a changing world where their values were not normative. We remember them as much for their courage as for the values they believed in.

As I have reflected upon this picture over the past few months, I began to see that the moral component of life and leadership matters in ways that have been lost. For many people, their naive view of the way leaders should behave and function in their roles has experienced a loss of innocence. With that loss has come cynicism. And what must come next, is a recovery of a more sober, realistic understanding of the moral component in leadership being that which brings credibility and respect to them.

Making a difference that matters, making our lives count, creating a legacy of leadership and goodness comes from recognizing and developing the moral component in our life and work.

This means that we are aware of the values that matter to us, and that we must live according to them. To stand when everyone else is running away or in cynical denial of their own loss of innocence is to live by a moral code than is more than a brand or an inspiring-idea-of-the-month. In the end, this is what separates the moralists from those who truly lead.  This is the legacy that is possible for us all if we choose.


A Fine Line

On top of Max Patch

A fine line marks our lives.

Its a fine line that separates us from who we are today and our better selves, 

     between what we think and what we know,

          between what we desire and what we seek,

               between what we believe and what we do.

A fine line between what we are willing to try and what we will sacrifice.

A fine line between making a difference, and wasting our lives.

A fine line between fear and determination.

A fine line between failure and success.

A fine line between good and evil,

     between altruism and narcissism,

          between nobility and inhumanity.

A fine line between who we are and how people perceive us.

A fine line between who others are and how we perceive them.

A fine line between us and people who are different than us.

A fine line between what is normal and what is abnormal.

A fine line between what is acceptable and and what is not.

A fine line between comedy and tragedy,

     between humor and horror,

          between the fullness of life and the loss of it.

Yet, we live in a world where all these fine lines are portrayed as wide gulfs that we are unable to cross.

These gulfs represent the worst of ourselves. They are what divide us. They treat life as a dichotomy between one thing and another. As a result, they rid us of the beauty of ambiguity.

The fine line is a moving line that forces us to pay attention, to be aware, and to appreciate the subtle nuances that actually exist, so that we live as seekers, explorers and discoverers of what life offers.

To live with the fine line is to live with ambiguity. To do so means we break out of the ever narrowing boxes of perception that close us in, make us defensive, isolated, and out of touch with the world that exists on the other side.

The gulf of dichotomy is a fantasy world. It is not real. It is an illusion. It is a world of hermetically sealed categories that we embrace to avoid engagement what those people and arenas that we do not understand.

There is a fine line that most of us never cross. It is a line that breaks us out of the conformity of dichotomy, of the we-versus-them mindset that is a product of manipulation and control.

Are we afraid?

It is okay to say so.

Do we think for ourselves?

Or do we follow some conventional line of thought to fit in, to belong, to find some connection beyond ourselves. 

Do we lack personal initiative?

Do our actions defines us?

Actions of purpose and impact, not just calendars full of activities.  

Life's goodness and beauty doesn't come in a box from an online retailer. They aren't a commodity to acquire, to trade or to hedge against. It isn't one thing or another, it is embedded in the ambiguity that defines the fine line.

Recently, I wrote ...

Picture with me walking out to the edge of what you know and have experienced, and seeing a line. 

That line is the horizon of your life. It is way out there.

Or, it is right here, in front of you, close at hand, always marking the line that confronts you. Day by day, that line is getting closer and closer. Avoid it and you'll be boxed in, cornered, paralyzed by the ambiguity of the fine line.

The fine line is the horizon of our life. We live up against it everyday. Face up to it and find a life and work filled with goodness and beauty, meaning and fulfillment, and a difference that truly matters.

We have a choice. Accept the fine line, step across it, and embrace a world of ambiguity, goodness and beauty. Or, shrink back from it, embracing the gulf of dichotomy, and imprisoning ourselves in our own world of irreconcilable difference.

It's a fine line. Will you embrace it?