The Frontier is Within

IMG_0258A century ago Frederick Jackson Turner declared that the frontier was closed

A half century ago, President John F. Kennedy, challenged the nation to believe in the frontier of space as he focused attention on going to the Moon.

"No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space. ... We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

A hundred years from now, what will people have said the frontier that we crossed and settled was? As I reflect upon this, I don't think we really know.

The Frontier of the 20th Century

When Turner presented his frontier thesis, what he saw was the emergence of science and expansion of education as the frontier boundaries of the 20th century. What he could not have known was that the 20th century would also become a time world war and violence between nations, and by nations towards their citizens.

While our science advanced, our humanity retreated into barbarism.

Of course, human beings have always been blood-thirsty. But the 20th century marks a level of the sophistication in the practice of genocide, slavery, eugenics and war that is unprecedented.

This development was not so much a failure of science, for science as a culture was never in control of its own advancement. But rather a result of the social, political and economic philosophies of the modern age that emerged during the 18th. and 19th. centuries that gave a rational basis to the violence on such an enormous scale.

The humanistic philosophies of the Renaissance, which drew upon the ancient philosophies of Aristotle and Plato, and the ancient religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, gave way to the ideologies that diminished human beings into utilitarian means for industrial and cultural advancement.

As modern people, we celebrate individualism and freedom as the ultimate purpose of human society, and yet turn a deaf ear to the sufferings of people singled out for extinction by their governments. We are following a logical course of the ideologies that have dominated the last two hundred years of human history. What is the future of a planet where death on such a massive scale is hardly mentioned by presidential candidates. Is our only option to throw up our hands in defeat and let violence suck the life out of civilized societies?

I have wondered over the past decade or so why it is that so much of visual culture about the future has become so apocalyptic, and less hopeful. Compare E.T. the extraterrestrial (1982) , Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series from a generation ago to films and games like The Road (2009) , The Book of Eli (2010), the Resident Evil series and, most recently books, films and television series about zombies, vampires and alien invasion.

Does the shift from an optimism about the future, as expressed in President Kennedy's challenge, to a darker, apocalyptic one reveal our own deep insecurity about the future capabilities of technology?

Walker Percy's question from a generation ago still resonates deeply as a question that remains to be answered.

Why does man feel so sad in the twentieth century?  Why does man feel so bad in the very age when, more than in any other age, he has succeeded in satisfying his needs and making the world over for his own use?

Maybe, to paraphrase a biblical reference, through the advancement of technology, we have gained the world and lost our humanity.

The question of our time is, then, "For what purpose, and to what end does our technological advancement lead us?"

One Step Removed

I have thought a lot about frontiers over past decade, as my interest in the Lewis & Clark Expedition grew. I found in their story both the inspiration for venturing toward the frontier, and the cautionary lessons that can guide us.

I've concluded that we are one step removed from understanding what the frontier of the future is.

I know that there are all sorts of predictions about the future. I'm not talking about predicting the future. Predictions are largely taking current knowledge and extending its development into the future.

Instead, I'm talking about a frontier of the future of what is unknown and undiscovered.

This is a different mindset that requires a humble openness to the future, and a certain skepticism about what we already know and have achieved. In effect, we do what the best scientists and explorers have always done, look forward without prejudicial assumptions that bind discoveries into a preconceived understanding of the future.

The future is the horizon upon which we set our bearings, our aspirations and the validation of our values.

The difference between being an explorer rather than a futurist is that the futurist stands in the present looks towards the future, and the explorer, instead, leaves the present behind to embrace an unknown future. 

In the past, explorer's were individuals of vision who largely made their discoveries out of the public's eye. Today, we need more than individuals who are willing to venture into the unknown, we need a society that will. As the old saying goes, "the thinking that got us here is not the thinking that will get us out of here."

This first step in pioneering the future is to reorient our lives and world so that we see ourselves living on the frontier. For this is what I see, the end of what we've known for 500 years, and the beginning of a new epoch of discovery.  This reorientation is the frontier that is within each of us that must first be crossed before the larger horizon of the future can be identified.

The Next Frontier is Within

Explorers do not decide to go, and then walk out the door. They prepare.

The preparation that we need now is the frontier that is within each of us. The focus of preparation is simple. The execution is difficult.

We can begin with this question.

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?

This starting point leads us to the frontier within. The frontiers that we then must cross is intellectual, social and spiritual.

The intellectual frontier is to think for yourself, thinking with open observation, without prejudice, yet with skepticism toward your own conclusions. 

The social frontier is to make connections with people, establishing relationship of respect, trust, and mutual support and collaboration, so that shared discovery creates new communities of understanding for the future. 

The spiritual frontier is recognizing there is a reality beyond the material and beyond that which I can control, which is intelligible to those who embrace it with openness and a willingness to learn and adapt to its frame of understanding.

Once the frontier within has been embraced, then the next frontier will show itself.


A Return to Lewis & Clark for the 21st. Century

Lemhi Dawn 12 9-16-04Many of the pictures that I post on my blog posts and at my Facebook page have been taken as I have traveled parts of the trail of Lewis & Clark trail.

From August of 2004 through December of 2006, I published a weblog called, Lewis & Clark for the 21st Century. There I posted on the leadership of Lewis & Clark as the first 21st century leadership team. As the bicentennial celebration ended, I ended my posting, but not my interest.

Now through the encouragement of Joe Mussulman, creator of Discovering Lewis & Clark, I am returning to blog on the story. My latest post explains my multiple purposes in doing so.

I hope you will subscribe to Lewis & Clark for the 21st Century. There will be more there than just a retelling of the story. Their experience will be a stepping stone to an exploration of many themes relevant to where we are today. Please share with your friends and colleagues. I look forward to our discussions.


Simple Happiness

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Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things. ... Despite these afflictions man wants to be happy, only wants to be happy, and cannot help wanting to be happy.

But how shall he go about it?  The best thing would be to make himself immortal, but as he cannot do that, he has decided to stop himself thinking about it.

-Blaise Pascal 1623-1662

The opportunities that life presents us today should provide us the conditions for happiness. But, as we are all discovering, these choices are not making life simpler, but more complex.

So many good choices, yet, so difficult to decide. Or so many hard choices, so difficult to act upon.

As a result, we ignore the complexity, and just choose the path that seems the least troublesome.

We face our opportunities with a form of denial. We deny that complexity has any control over our lives, and so we lean on the tried and true, denying that the world has really changed.

I see this particularly in how people have dealt with the recession over the past four years. A classic hunker down, trim way, downsize, wait it out scenario. That may work for some, if your industry is healthy, and your community is growing, but for others, not so much.

We must work through the complexity to discover simplicity that leads the happiness we desire.

Simplicity in this sense is becoming clear about what we want and how we want to get there.

This is how the Circle of Impact Guides came to be. Through lots of conversation about change, finding clarity in the midst of confusion, and discovering a simple path forward through a process that came to be. Here's how the image above gets processed.

Circle of Impact-StepbyStepI've written about this before at here and here.

Working through Complexity to Simplicity  

Complexity comes when we see so many opportunities. They are embedded in the relationships that we have with people, and the many places we encounter those people.

Our Network of Relationships

Consider for a moment the full range of people that you know and with whom you regularly interact. This interaction may be face-to-face or online. It really does not matter. Because there are opportunities for impact in almost any place where we have those relationships. There are more with some people than others, but the point is that each relationship has its own natural potential waiting to be realized.

If you were to map your network of relationships, meaning first list everyone with whom you regularly interact, and show the links between them, then with you, by interest, values, social or organizational proximity, and your desire for greater depth in the relationship, then you will see a broad range of opportunities emerging.

If you are at a transition point, these are the opportunities that will carry you into the next stage of life or work.

Social and Organizational Settings

Next list the social and organizational contexts where you live and work. These are places that you meet people, work with them, have fun with them, do serious things with them, serve with them, worship with them, do things with your children with them, and interact with them on the large and small issues of life and work.

The complexity for a lot of people has not come from those they meet face-to-face, but with those whom they meet online in a virtual relationship. Facebook provides the best example of a place where people go to interact with a wide diversity of people. Within those settings, there will be a small percentage of people with whom there are opportunities that advance us forward in our life and work. Make sure this people are included in your above list.

Like what you can find in Google+, identify the various places where you interact with these people. List them according to these There are opportunities that come in each, but they are dependent upon the relationships finding a common ground for working together.

Focusing on Our Values and Purpose

List the values that matter to you. There is no master list. What matters is that these ideas matter to the extent that they are non negotiable. From this list comes a sense of purpose that orients us toward what we want to achieve in life.

For example, one of my ambitions is to help people discover their call and realize their potential. It is based upon more core values of respect and belief in the inherent dignity and value of people.

My strongest relationships are with people who share a similar set of values. Some I'm never physically been in their presence. Yet, we support and mutually mentor one another based on those values.

When our purpose and values align with our social and organizational settings, we'll find happiness and fulfillment growing in our lives.  When these become clear, we will find our lives and work simplifying, and decisions more easily defined, and the actions that follow done with greater focus and passion.

Simple Happiness
Happiness is a product of values, purpose and action. It is not simply a feeling, which is fleeting. It is the full flourishing of human life.

Happiness becomes simple when we are clear about our purpose, and we are able to share its work with like-minded people.


A Culture of Alternatives

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Some times transitions can be smooth, sometimes difficult. As a global economic community, we are in a difficult transition from the modern industrial age to what will follow. 

Modern organizations share a common assumption. This is true if you are General Motors or the old Soviet Union. Efficiency is the route to an economy of scale and scope.

The problem with efficiency is not what it gives us, the ability to do more with fewer resources. The problem is what it takes from us.

Robust, sustainable cultures are those that have many competing alternatives.

I'm not here writing to advocate for the free market as many conservatives and business people do.  The free market is an ideal, while inviting, it cannot exist while there are powerful institutional structures that can dictate the terms of the market. This is where we are now with the relationship that exists between Washington and Wall Street.

I'm also not here to simply denigrate governments as the overseer of efficiency on a global scale. Governments are important institutions for providing a basis for alternatives to grow and develop.

We are at a transition point because with the elevation of efficiency to its preeminent role, control over the economic and organizational systems of society must also grow.

Over the course of my lifetime, close to 60 years, I've seen the control of society grow to the point where virtually everyone of us is breaking some rule of efficiency every day.

I have been persuaded by Joseph Tainter's thesis that societies collapse when the diversity of alternatives diminish and a one-size fits all culture develops. This is the course our society has been moving along for the past 50 years.

I'm not making a political statement to say the course that the Soviet Union took should be instructive for us today. In many respects, their economy failed because they lacked alternatives. Central planning did not create a robust, sustainable society. It created one of fear, not just fear of impoverishment, but fear of those who control the institutions of society.

The United States is not the Soviet Union. Our histories and founding values are different.

What we do share is a belief in large, supra-national, global institutions guiding the course of society by persons selected by some criteria of elite status.

Whether that control is by law, or political coercion or moral condemnation, the effect is to create a culture of efficiency by removing alternatives that may fail, inconvenience some person or be financially costly.

Our society is no longer robust and sustainable because we are quickly squeezing alternative ways of doing things out of our economic system. As it has done so, it has also squeezed out the benefits of efficiency.

Is there an alternative course?

If Tainter is correct, then we are headed towards an economic collapse. If so, then alternative ways of sustaining society must be developed in parallel with our current system.

I see this, for example, in the rise of local buying initiatives. When farmers are connected personally to those who buy their produce, the relational conditions for an alternative economic culture grow. I hear more and more about bartering between people who have services to provide. And possibly, most importantly, I see it in local efforts to develop cultures of entrepreneurism that create both for-profit and non-profit organizations that provide alternative ways for local economies to function.

The Conditions for a Culture of Alternatives

For an alternative culture to develop three things are needed.

First, individual initiative.

This is what I saw a decade ago as the starting point for all leadership. Individual initiative focused upon creating impact. This initiative is about how people take personal responsibility for their lives and of their families and communities.

Second, community collaboration. 

Consulting with a wide spectrum of organizations over the years I see how institutions force collaboration upon people. It is often seen as a way the old institutional barriers are being brought down. Collaboration can certainly do that, but it must come from the collaborators themselves.

Third, open culture of ideas.

All alternative approaches begin as an idea that needs to be tried. Openness to new ideas, and a willingness to test and fail with those ideas is essential in creating a culture of alternatives.

The End of an Era and The Beginning of a New One

For the past 18 months, I've been writing about the end of an era of industrial capitalism and utopian progressivism. Each was born out of the Enlightenment hope for a better world. Each was a product of, or, reaction to the industrial culture that elevated efficiency as a core societal value.

That efficiency demanded institution control by those who were designated the leaders of the system. It worked as long as the means of production was limited to the industrial plant; as long as advanced education was limited to the few who could afford it; and, as long as the means of communication consisted of the distribution of the information that leaders wanted people to know.

Today, all that has changed. In many ways, the opportunities that we have today are like a return to a pre-industrial era, or as some would call it a pre-modern time. In the past, cultures of alternatives always existed. Today, they are found where people recognized that they must develop new ways of living and working to provide for their families and community. Then, it was understood as the culture of the frontier, today, as sustainable, local cultures. 

The frontier that confronts us now is a world of failing institutions. If we take the perspective of alternatives as a guide, then we'll see that all approaches have a life span. They begin, grow to maturity, and then devolve to extinction of irrelevance. We are in that third stage with the institutions of the modern age.

What will the next stage look like at maturity? It is anyone's guess. I am fairly certain, however, that we will see greater individual initiative, more collaboration and a renaissance of ideas. This is what a Culture of Alternatives will look like.


The End of Binary Faith

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Binary Faith is a faith in opposites.

It is the faith of the modern world in labels. Labels serve to identify who we are and more importantly who we are not.

It is what election campaigns are about.

It is what modern religion and anti-religion are about.

It is about our modern consumer choices.

It is about moral debates, advocacy, outrage and campaigns for righteousness.

Binary faith is based on creating a world of perception in distinctly defined terms of good and evil.

We are all Suckers

In the end we are all suckers. We suck because we believe the labels represent reality. We want to believe, need to believe, and so we believe. And we get sucked into a binary faith that divides the world into good guys and bad, where we are always on the side of good.

We believe in the campaign ads, and the opinion pundits, and the advertising and even our family members and neighbors.

We believe, not because they are right, but because we want to believe that they are right. We want to believe because we don't know what to believe. So, we end up believing just about anything that relieves us of the conflict of having to choose good over evil.

We choose sides because we have never learned how to stand on our own. We let others do our thinking for us. As a result, we never figure out just how manipulated we have become in the modern world of binary choices.

You can tell when people have been hooked by binary faith. Their language is filled with talking points. Simplistic statements that are intended to clarify, set apart, and remove all doubt as to the veracity and validity of their individual faith in this person, ideology, product or group. They are not statements that open up conversation, but are rather closing statements to a case that can only be made by saying, "I'm not like them!"

They laugh, cheer and celebrate when the other side is caught in some humiliating turn of phrase.  Sarcasm and condescension is the core manifestation of the binary trap we find ourselves in. We laugh along with those posing as superior intelligent beings, wanting to be like them. In reality, we show ourselves to be weak, pathetic, ill-prepared to deal with a world that is not binary. It is the basis of both comedy and political commentary today. It is shallow and non-intellectual, condescending to the listeners and demeaning to those who are the subject of derision. 

These people, often quite intelligent, with advanced degrees from prestigious institutions, have stopped thinking, and have become automatons. Automatomic thinking is thinking that occurs in a closed system of self-verifying statements, hermetically sealed off from any real, rational debate about what or who is good or evil. It is built upon the need for confirmation basis to validate one's own superior opinion.

With these closed cultures of opinion, no outliers are permitted. No real questions are allowed. Only those questions that prove the superiority of their group's position over against the inferiority of their binary opposite.

For all the connection between people the internet has brought to our world, it has not solved the problem of binary faith. In fact, it has accelerating its advance as it is easier to find and exclude people who either share or reject one’s faith.

I use the language of faith because in many respects this is the religion of the modern age. Binary faith is a belief system that provides meaning within a cult-like social structure. It is cult-like because for true believers, it is a faith that excludes the heretic and unbeliever.

For faith seekers, binary faith provides a basis for identity and acceptance into a community of faith whose demands are simple. Just believe and never doubt. Total compliance, no questions asked and inclusion is ours.

Modern Day Good and Evil

The supreme problem with binary faith is its inability to be honest about the real world. Binary faith is an answer to a dualistic abstraction of what is good and evil. “We are good; they are evil.” Simple faith for complex times.

The reality is that each person, culture, ideology, nation-state, religion, and political movement is a rich mixture of good and evil. Behind every evil act is some value which has been twisted for evil ends.

There is no way to absolutely separate good and evil as totally distinct entities. They live like kudzu vines intertwined around a forest of trees. Virtually impossible to eradicate the parasitic vines without killing the host.

So it is with the world as it exists. To rid the world of evil requires us to separate it out from that which is good, and then eradicate it. However, this takes us back the old binary trap of only two choices, choose the good or the evil.

But life isn’t so simple. It is much more complex, and the complexity requires us to be alert, reflective and aware of what is present before us.

The problem is that binary faith doesn’t want that. Good and evil are situational choices we make every day. We create good lives by making good choices, and evil by bad choices. It seems like a simple binary choice, but it is not. They are choices of degree and intention, choices of how my personal preferences affect the lives of others, measured in degrees of change and significance of impact.

To make good choices we need three things.

First, we need a community that is open and hospitable to people outside our faith.

The best description of this sort of community that I have found comes from the ancient Christian writer Paul, who in a letter to a church in the Greek community of Corinth that is caught up in its own binary trap. He used the metaphor of the body to describe the kind of faith community this church should exhibit. The metaphor follows a understandable line of thought of contrasting various body parts to show how each is essential to the function of the body. He may be writing about a specific church, but it applies to every faith system, regardless of type. Near the end of this metaphorical reflection, he writes this words.

“On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-26)

In a binary faith, we individually determine who is the weaker, the less honorable, the least respectable person in society. These are the people we reject because they represent the other side, or those we feel that must be protected because they are unable to think for themselves and stand on their own.

The result is a faith where suffering is not shared, and honor offered only to those who are most the single-minded and fanatical in their belief. 

Good and evil aren’t binary forces. They are complex choices that either create the kind of community Paul illustrates or destroys it. Communities that are not based on demonizing the other are places where one may discover, in one’s self, how to deal with the tension between the forces of good and evil that are within each one of us, and then learn to create goodness in ways that build alignments between opposites.

Second, we need a clearly defined value system.

This value system cannot be binary, but universal and holistic. It must be able to state what is the good for all humanity. It cannot simply be a belief that divides the world into two classes, good vs. evil. Or a system that is simply self-serving.  Many universal, trans-cultural values may require my own self-sacrifice to be fully realized. This is antithetical to a binary faith.

Imagine a political faith or a commercial faith where these values are prominent.

Third, we each need to be persons of character.

This means to live a whole life, not some perception of life based on our political and consumer choices that we've been suckered into. For our identity to be based on who we are, how we relate to others, and how we live our lives each day requires us to not divide the world into good and evil, haves and have-nots, in and out, weak or strong, honorable or dishonorable, acceptable or rejected.

Character comes from daily making choices that elevate the world we live in rather than destroying it through division. These choices are informed by learning to think for ourselves, listening to others and deciding a path in life that leads to being the person that our values say we wish to be. For this to happen, we need to be clear about what we believe and have a community of people who are willing to share in the suffering of people. As a result, it will be a community that also celebrates and honors each person in their advancement in the character of their living.

I realize that this may sound like I'm advocating a kind relativism that is at the heart of the modern notion of tolerance. I am not. I find tolerance, as presently practiced, a condescending mask towards the other, and a faith unable to address genuine issues of good and evil.

I don't believe all people are essentially good or bad. I do believe that some people choose to be evil, violent and destructive, and should be understood in this way. I believe that good resides in each person, yet at war with those inclinations toward evil that fills our world with hatred and arrogance.

I am not saying that all faiths, ideologies and beliefs are the same. I believe that there are a universal set of human values that have always existed that if lived fully would create a better world.  

The End of Binary Faith

The end of binary faith comes in the collapse of faith into no faith and alienation from the connections that bind people together in community. I believe this moment in history is coming. The ideologies and institutions of the modern world are built upon a binary platform. It is not sustainable. What follows is not better.

Our hope is in ourselves to create communities based upon value systems that include all people without dividing them into preferential categories. These communities will thrive or fail on the character of the people in them.

This is part of the future that I see coming. It is not all bleak, but hopeful. It is though because I am convinced that once a person decides to think for themselves, to reject the binary designations of society and create communities of character, then the strength and sustainability of society will grow.

Of course, we must stop being suckers if this is to change. We must stop being manipulated by those who see us as mindless sheep willing to do their bidding.

I am not a utopian. I don't believe that if we are just nice to one another, the world will be a better place. That is a strategy of mindless tolerance of evil that clearly exists in our world.

I am a realist. I see the end of binary faith as a realistic hope for how we might live in peace and harmony in the future.


Still Waters Still Flow

Snake River Swimming Hole

In my previous post, Leading by Vacuum, and in my two-part presentation The Flow of Leadership and Community, I use the concept of flow as a way of understanding how change "flows" through our life and work. The flow of a stream follows the path of least resistance. It is persistent in finding that path, and renews itself everyday for that journey.

If we speak of flow in human terms, as Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi has done by bringing this important idea to the world, I believe we will understand how people and by extension, the world, may find peace.

Peace is not the absence of conflict, for I do not think that is possible. Rather, peace is the ability to be one's true self in the midst of conflict. To live with integrity is to be at peace, which creates one of flow. This peace is the product of love finding its completeness in our life and work.

Flow = Love

The ancient Greeks had four words for love. They are:

Agape - unconditional, sacrificial love

Eros - physical, erotic love

Phileo - friendship

Storge - affection like a family

In our modern world, we have split these loves apart, treated them like separate loves. As a result, we become people split, fragmented, with too many tributaries seeking their own flow. This is what it means to be a broken person, and to lose the conditions for peace and genuine flow.

As my title suggests, Still Waters Still Flow, we must find a depth of life experience that gives us a clear sense of purpose to each day. Then we will not be in conflict, but in the flow of life. Being complete, as whole persons, flow brings the peace that we need for a world in the midst of conflict.

To pick and choose between which of the four loves I am to use to express my relationship towards people means that our relationship will be incomplete, ultimately unsatisfying and disappointing.

When flow happens, we discover a kind of wholeness or completeness which brings fulfillment and contentment. This is a depth of life experienced that is expressed in stillness and peace.

This is what lies behind our loss of and desire for community. It is why our virtual relationships are incomplete, never fully realizing the potential that exists in any relationship. If we are not complete people, how can our relationships be whole and happy, and how can the world in which we seek to change also become whole and healed of its conflicts?

As I've said many times, as human beings, we desire meaning, and healthy relationships, and ultimately for our lives to make a difference that matters. Without each of the four loves functioning in our life, our relationships and our work, it is not hopeful that our desires in life will find fulfillment.

Affection and Friendship

There are many people for whom I have affection. I care about them, appreciate who they are, and wish to be with them more than I am presently able to be. There are hundreds, may more than a thousand people who fall into this category for me.

I wish for many of these relationships of affection to become friendships, where we identify a certain common or shared desire for one another's happiness. It is the sort of thing you see in bars as friends gather. There is connection and happiness because the relationship transcends simple appreciation.  There is something shared which links each person together in a meaningful, fulfilling way.

My guess is that many of our relationships are like this. People who are acquaintances, who transcend a shared affection to become genuine friends, often only for a short period of time. Like old high school buddies reconnecting on Facebook or at reunions discovering that those shared experiences in high school produced friendships that have survived even the disconnect of time and place.

Or the deeper connection that takes place when someone becomes ill with cancer, and the care of neighbors pours over in affection and genuine caring. We step forward to care in these moments partially believing that if we were in their shoes, people would care for us in a similar way.

Intimacy

The physical love of eros is more than sexual. Unfortunately, it has been reduced to this in our society. Erotic love is embodied love, a love of the whole person towards another. It is something larger and deeper, more significant and difficult to achieve. It is what we call intimacy. 

This kind of love shatters the illusions of appearances. It is openness and vulnerability, a desire that we all want, but too often find difficult to achieve. It is why we can still be alone or lonely while in the midst of a crowd of friends. It is a question of the depth of intimacy that we share with one another.

We want all the physical benefits of intimacy. Yet the emotional, psychological and spiritual openness that is required is something we often resist. This is why, in my estimation, pornography is such a powerful force in our culture. It presents the illusion that intimacy can be achieved without the other three loves. It is purely erotic, without a foundation of relationship, or genuine affection and friendship. 

Sexual intimacy touches deeply our physical desires for relationship. Yet, it can be incomplete if that openness is not feeding our shared affection and friendship. It is why the current popularity of having "friends with benefits" is really not surprising at all.  It makes perfect sense to desire intimacy with those with whom you already share some personal meaning and friendship. What is missing is the commitment that is needed for intimacy to be complete.

Understand, I'm not advocating for all our friendships to have a sexual side. I am saying that our desire for intimacy goes deeper than our sexuality to the very core of our identity. It is about being known as a real person by another real person, not by someone who is playing a role in the virtual reality of the appearence of intimacy.

Complete Love

It is the fourth love, agape, which is the most powerful. It brings completeness to the other loves through which peace and flow are discovered.

It is by far the most difficult love to live fully. It holds within it the highest ideals of human relationships, of love at its most complete and fulfilling. Yet, it is the hardest because it requires the greatest sacrifice to give it.

Agape love is self-giving love. It is sacrifical and unconditional. It requires great maturity to love someone, not for what what it means to me, but for what it means to the other. It is where our affection, friendship and intimacy find their complete flourishing.

This love is not a love of convenience. It is a love of commitment.

This is why agape is a love which is the most powerful and transformational. For it to become the love between two people requires a laying aside of our individual right to be fulfilled, so that we might together find it as a shared fulfillment. It is a costly love through which we gain the best of all loves.

This is why this love is usually associated with romantic love. It is the love that throughout human history has been associated with marriage. Yet, it is more than that. It is also the love associated with a passion or calling to service. It is the love that makes it possible for the other three loves to find their wholeness and connection.

The Impact of Love

Am I setting up an impossible scenario for our relationships? Of course I am! For without a standard, an ideal, or a vision of the highest in human experience, then there is no clear direction to the flow of our lives.

When the love I describe becomes complete within us, and seeks out others who also have found a completeness in the love within them, then a depth of relationship results that changes us. We are transformed by loving, not simply by the idea of love.

All these human characteristics that we celebrate and honor, like Respect, Trust, Confidence, Responsibility, Courage, Empathy and Self-sacrifice find a ground upon which to grow. For ultimately, flow rises from our own capacity to be the person we wish others to be.

I wish I could say that all this can come without pain or suffering but it can't. In fact, it is the very comforts of our modern life that stand in the way of a fulfilled, complete and flourishing life. Those comforts present the appearance of strength and completeness. But too often they are the curtain that blinds us to harsher realities of the world.

For still waters to run deep requires the dredging of the stream bed of our lives to remove all those barriers to flow. The more courageous, the more willing we are to raise the standards of our life and work, the more willing we are to be committed to do the hard work of changing our lives, the more willing we are to defy fear, and move into unknown territories of discovery, the more we will discover that still waters still flow bringing peace into a world of conflict.

This is not simply about our individual experience of flow. It is also about developing the capacity to create flow for our families, our businesses and communities. For this to happen, we must become complete in our capacity to love. What more could we say than I have found love's completeness in my life and work, I am satisfied, fulfilled and at peace.


The Value of Failure

First Posted August 31, 2012.

CurledProps-Dad
B-29 US Army Air Corps Guam 1944-45. My Father is on the far left.

During a conversation with one of my sons the other day, we were talking about doing things that are hard, not doing them well, and then coming through it all with success. Reminded me of my father's experience during the Second World War of landing in a B-29 without its running gear down. As they say, any landing you walk away from is a good landing. You could say that any failure you learn from is a good failure.

One of the ways to talk about this is to "fail-fast." Lots of people use this terminology as a way to more quickly learn what works and what doesn't. What I did not realize until a minute ago when I Googled the term, trying to track down where I first heard it, was that it is a specific function in systems theory. Here's a description from Wikipedia.

"A fail-fast system is designed to immediately report at its interface any failure or condition that is likely to lead to failure. Fail-fast systems are usually designed to stop normal operation rather than attempt to continue a possibly flawed process. Such designs often check the system's state at several points in an operation, so any failures can be detected early. A fail-fast module passes the responsibility for handling errors, but not detecting them, to the next-higher system design level."

I really love this idea. But you have to be, not so much fail-tolerant, but change oriented. Change as in, "Oh, boy, I get to learn something new today!"

Learning from failure is a way to accelerate change processes. If we have a goal or an ambition in mind, the quicker we learn how to make it work, the quicker we get to our goal. People who work in highly complex manufacturing systems understand this. Their error tolerances are miniscule compared to most of us. We learn to accommodate our failures, too often, by not learning from them and becoming better. The point is not to accept failure as a normal part of life and work, but to learn from it and change to be better.

What does failure really show us?

More than anything it shows us our limitations. That is not a bad thing. It provides a boundary from which we can work. It is easy to think of this in physical terms.

Years ago I was rock climbing with some friends. Nothing serious. No equipment. Just climbing around. I was under a sloping rock shelf about 10 feet tall that had an opening in it. I thought, I'll crawl up and out to get on top. It was the sort of thing that I had always done as a kid climbing trees and things.

As I got up into the hole, I found that I was going into a  hole that became wider as I climbed through. Wider than I was long. No place to place both my hands and feet. I found myself flat out, front side up, with nowhere to go. I was in real trouble. With the help of friends, I got myself out of that mess.

This fast failure taught me a lesson. Be careful. Be belayed. Know my limitations and the limitations of the setting that I am in.

Failure also teaches us about fear. More about what we do fear, rather than what we should fear. There is a difference.

If we fear failure, what precisely are we afraid of?

Are we afraid of humiliation or something worse?

Does this fear block us for taking a chance, to possibly fail at something?

Or does our fear help us, as Gavin De Becker shows in his book, The Gift of Fear.

Fear is another one of those limitations that lets us know where we stand. It is a boundary that we either overcome or respect. Both require courage and humility.

I was thinking of this after David Pu'u sent me a link to Orianthi's Courage music video.

Courage here is persistence in the face of limitations and challenges that face us. It is the kind of character that is needed to learn from failure.

Failure, therefore, is just another lesson along the journey of life. As long as you are learning from your mistakes, it really isn't failure. Failure in this sense is really quitting, giving up, without any expectation of starting over, beginning fresh or recommitting to figuring out what went wrong.

What is the relation of failure to success?

This is an on-going conversation that my friend Tom Morris and I have had over the years. Succeed too easily or at too young an age, and you may not have a full appreciation for what you've gained. To fail successfully is to learn and build upon the lessons of failing.  When success finally comes, it is sweeter for knowing what was required to get there.

So, my friends, never fear failure. Only fear not taking advantage of the opportunity to learn that failure brings our way.


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.


Twelve ways we know we are at a Transition Point

First Posted July 18, 2012.

Transition Point

This post follows up on Life's Transition Points.  It helps clarify what it means to be at a transition point in one's life or work, or even with one's business.

If any of these twelve conditions are your current experience, you are in transition. Every transition point is a point of decision. We don't always know what that decision is, even though we know we must make one.

I've learned this personally as I've twice in my professional life lost all my clients in a very short period of time. The most recent was a result of the recession. From the peak of my client work to nothing in six weeks. That is a transition point. I'll say more about what I did after I describe these twelve scenarios.

We know we are a transition point when ...

1. What use to be easy is now hard.

It may have nothing to do with us at all. Our context changes. The world changes. The economy changes. Competition gets more fierce. People's attention is distracted. It takes twice as long to get work done than it did before, which really means it is taking four times as long as it should.

A host of other reasons are possible.

Or, realistically, it could be that our skills have not kept up with the demands and expectations of the work that we do. We've become complacent, a bit lazy, too comfortable, and then it all changes in what seems like a moment.

2. We find that our performance has reached a plateau, neither getting better or worse.

We feel stuck. We are doing okay. But okay isn't okay. We want better. But we don't know what better is any more. Better isn't more. We don't really want more. We want something else. But because we aren't really doing that poorly, we are okay. Not great, just okay. And that is the problem.

3. We are clearly not doing well, as our life and work are in decline.

You can see it in people who are not doing well. The stress levels are high. They are not as social as they used to be. We don't hear from them as much. And because they are less social, because of the change they are going through, they are are out-of-sight, out-of-mind, and no longer a convenient member of our social network.  They are in transition, but where are they going is not clear.

This describes more people we know that we realize. If it is us, then we need to stop, and begin to make some changes.

4. We lose our job, and are forced to rethink who we are and what we have to offer an employer.

Our personality, knowledge, skills and experience matter. Do we know what these assets are? The question is not where is my next job, but who needs what I have to offer?

5. We are unhappy in our current life and work situation. This can come from a range of issues. Some may require professional counseling. If so, we can find that help.

As our world has become more individualistic, in every way, we have lost the connections that help people in psychological need to find strength and support in community. I've worked with a number of people over the years who clearly needed professional help. Once recognized, a corner can be turned, and health regained. It, too, is a transition point.

6. We are tired of doing the same thing over and over.

There is an old saying, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." Or worse, work for many has become a traumatic, dehumanizing experience, like a low-level version of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). For some, simply finding life/work balance may not be enough. It may mean transitioning into something very different. A new career or calling that brings renewed purpose and focus to our lives.

7. We don't know how to spend our time at work. Low motivation to create good things.

We come to work, and it takes some time to get oriented to what I'm to do. The work has changed, and I don't see how it has. It is confusing. The result is that I'm not that interested in bringing my best to work.

8. Our relationships are not healthy.

Whether the relationships are at home or work, when relationships are not healthy, we are needing to step back for a moment and ask,

    What should I expect from my relationships?

    Are our relationships leading somewhere, or are they holding us back.

    Are they negative or toxic, elevating and inspiring?

    Am I able to be at my best for others when I'm with them?

I'll write more about this in the future.

9. We are confronted with life decisions that have no easy answer or application.

Life decisions ... like your parents need you to care for them. Your adult child comes home to live with you. Your spouse develops a chronic illness that requires more of your time that in the past.

The business we own is failing and needs to close. What do I do? Where will I go?

10. We are thrust into a leadership role in which we feel unprepared.

It could be a corporate merger that elevates us to a position of leadership that we neither envisioned nor sought. Yet it is now our job. What do we do?

11. We are entering a new stage of life, as children leave the home, or a marriage ends.

These kind of changes affect our sense of identity. So much of how we understand ourselves is based on how we fit into a social context. I'm a parent. I'm a wife or husband. I'm a son or daughter. I sell <fill in the blank>. I do <fill in the blank>.

When it ends, it isn't just that our responsibilities and activities change. We change. We aren't simply the person we say we are. We are part the person we've always been, and part the person that our social and work context requires us to be.

12. We have a general uncertainty about life and work purpose.

We've never really answered the question, "What is the purpose of my life? What is my calling? What is my mission? What is to be my life's impact?" These are questions that drive us through the transition points that we encounter.

I hope you see that we are all in transition, all the time, 24/7/365. This is the true nature of change. It isn't just what happens to us, but happens through us and in us.

When we encounter these periods of change, we need to respond with a clear sense of purpose.  We need to be able to say, after I get through this, I want to be at <fill in the blank>.

On a personal note

In the spring on 2009, all my clients left me. It was mostly related to the recession. I understood, and accepted it as one of the conditions of change that we all have to face.

I was at a transition point, and since then, I've faced a couple of more of these points in time where I knew I had to change to be different than I was in the past.  As I write this, I'm in the midst of one of these points in my own life and work.

What did I do when I lost all my clients?

I made a couple of decisions. First, to become more social. Second, to learn new skills. And, three, to take on more responsibility.

The trap ,when we encounter a situation like this, is to think, "Focus. Get the next contract. Remove distractions."

I understand this. But it assumes the change we are going through is temporary and life will return to what we knew previously.

I realized this change was transformational. I recognized, at that point in 2009, that I needed to become different, that the past was never coming back. I needed to change. I saw that what I was doing was not sufficient to sustain my client base through hard economic times.

 At that point I understood that our economy and society were changing dramatically. And I needed to change. I did two things right away to elevate my presence socially and to learn new skills.

The first, I took on the responsibility to organize the first Lessons in Leadership Winning Workshop here in Asheville. We created a complete event which began two weeks prior with email blasts to build awareness and enthusiasm. We included two networking events, one immediately prior, and another, immediately after the workshop. The workshop, itself, was the product of a team of people who worked together for almost a year to create an event that was seamless from beginning to end. It was a fantastic success.

The second endeavor that I took on came out of the blue within the context of one of the online social networks that I'm in. I had posed a question related to a situation that I new client had hired me to address. The issue related to the question of morale in the workplace. The response to my question was so remarkable that I decided it would be worth publishing as an ebook. So, with some help of one of the participants, the ebook, Managing Morale in a Time of Change was created.

As I went through this transition point, I learned new skills, gained perspective on what I could do and what I couldn't, realized what I liked to do, strengthen my reputation / brand, and made a difference that mattered. Understand, none of this I was paid to do. I did it because I need to change my course. These voluntary experiences were hugely beneficial in preparing me for the next stage of my professional life.

We all encounter Transition Points in our lives. Our lives and work are often,

Hard

at a Plateau

in Decline

experiencing Loss

Unhappy

Confused

Stuck

feeling Inadequate

at a New Stage

and, Uncertain.

The question is what are we going to do about it. It is as simple as change or be changed. There is not a not-change option. So, take charge of these transition points and create the best future that is possible.


Relationships in Transition

Transition Point Coaching Logo

A couple of my friends have had adult children who moved back in with them. In one instance, a son returned from a long term overseas assignment to restart his professional career. For another, a son lost his job, and estranged from his wife, moved home.  I learned from both these friends the importance of openness and compassion in the midst of change.

These transitions, for both child and parent, are difficult. The found space that parents retrieved after their children began their adult life is taken over by their children whom they love. The question that nags in these situations is, "What should our relationship be now?"

Transitions in life and work are not simply processes of change and economic reordering of life and work. The social and organizational contexts that encompass them are intensely relational. They strain the well-worn path that relationships built over time develop.

When life altering change comes, and we find ourselves in transition, we need to focus on the social as much as the practical questions of job search and finding a new place to live.

Long-standing relationships develop a predictability that becomes expectation for continuity. Disturb that pattern, and relationships become frayed.

Something as simple as a job change that requires a move can become highly disruptive. It isn't just the one employed who moves, but the whole family who is uprooted to a new place to establish roots in a new place.  If the family unit is fragile, the transition can be more difficult than it should be.

When we enter a transition space moving toward that point where change is made and a new course is set, reflection, communication and a refocusing of values is needed.

Reflection is a form of self-criticism that enables us to see the logic of change in the midst of the transition.

Communication allows us to see a broader picture as we discover how those who are also impacted feel. We listen and learn from them how best to manage the transition.

Refocusing of values serves to ground us in what is matters most to us, which serves to focus our purpose as a vehicle for those values to live.

All of this is best done in open and honest conversation regularly scheduled.

If you are a parent whose adult child has moved home, talk with one another about how this is personally impacting each of you. Discuss what is important in the function of the home, and reach an agreement on the basics of living under the same roof again.  While the adult child is still a child to the parent, and the parent to the child, they are also adults who should share responsibility for living together again.

If you are in transition, and find yourself, living at home again, especially after years away, recognize that you are not reentering the home of your youth. You have entered a social environment that has changed. No longer is this place oriented around the nurture and protection of children. Your parents, while they still love you, have moved through their own transitions into new stages of their life as adults. There is a place for adult children in the lives of their parents. But it must be discovered, and not merely assumed it is an extension of what their childhood was like.

Change is hard. It doesn't have to be as hard as we make it.  All is required is for us is openness for the relationship to be what it needs to be today, not as it was in the past, or wish it had always been. Going through the transition points in our lives are hard enough without our relationships becoming an obstacle to positive change.

FiveActionsOfGratitude
A Support Plan for Relationships in Transition

My proposal is not a widget that fits every situation, but can beneficial in many situations.

Simply apply the Five Actions of Gratitude to how you live together in the midst of change.

This is a tool you can use to negotiate how you live under the same roof again. A simple translation could be something like this.

Say Thanks - At least once a day, with sincerity and specificity.

Give Back - Take responsibility for caring for both the private and shared spaces.

Make Welcome - Be hospitable to one another. Be open to the gifts that you have to offer and receive. Think of this as a new relationship.

Honor Others - Even at the most difficult moments, treat one another with dignity and respect. Be honest, caring and trustworthy. Be apologetic and forgiving. Be kind to one another.

Create Goodness - Establish new paths of interaction and sharing. This is particularly true in the transition is to be lengthy.

Practice these things, and the transition will go more smoothly, and new dimensions of your relationship will emerge.