The Platform of Desire, Part 5

IMG_2304The Desire to Connect

Desire isn't just an idea. It is a movement within us drawing us towards some value or experience or person.

This drawing, like water into the porous membrane of a sponge, is the activity of connection.

You walk into a room at a business after hours event. You register, get you name tag, and turn around and look at the crowd. Who are you looking to meet? Who is looking to meet you?

We are drawn towards particular kinds of people. What is it that us draws to them?

You sign up for an online dating service, and out of the dozens of possibilities, one person jumps off the page. Why this person?

What draws us towards this one individual rather than another?

Why can we talk about the synergy between two people who only met two minutes ago? What is it that draws us into relationships where we are prepared to trust, to be vulnerable and change our business plan immediately?

It is the intangible nature of human desire. It is beyond rational. It really isn't subrational, but rather supra-rational. It is beyond explanation. It falls into the realm of faith.

What is it about the connection of human desire that causes us to flee the safety of the fortress to venture out into the unknown to discover what lay in our heart's desire all along.

Many refer to this as a call, a voice that constantly beckons them onward, to risk all for the sake of that source of passion deep within us that refuses to be quiet.

This is the magic that happens between two people or within a team when they stop playing the game of control and risk management, and pursue a call they share to make a difference that matters.

In other words, it is love that draws us together. The love of ideas, of people and of the change that we can create together. This is the desire that lies deep within us that calls us to accept and honor its all or nothing demand upon our lives.

The People We are Drawn Toward

At a most basic level, we are drawn toward two kinds of people.

One type are those who affirm or validate who we are. They are like us or complement us by helping us see the inherent value of who we are. These relationships appreciate us for who we are right now. These are family and friends with whom we have happy moments each day.

Often these are people we've known a long time and with whom, even if we are very different in personality, we feel comfortable because of our shared life experiences together.  These are people with whom we share similar values. These are our peeps.

The second kind are those people for whom we feel a kind of longing. This longing is to be different, better, fulfilled, complete, or known for some facet of our lives that the first group cannot see. These people set a standard for their life and work that we view as higher or more ambitious, and therefore is desirable. We desire relationships with them, hoping that some of their magic will rub off on us.  We desire what we think they have. More than anything, we want their respect, and a connection to them.

These relationships may not be with people that we know or with whom we spend most of our time. The relationship may be virtual as on Facebook or Twitter. A connection is made when they like a link that we post. A social media connection with this person fulfills a longing for association with someone whom we perceive to be the person we wish to be in the future. These persons symbolize for us the values that matter to us, that may seem beyond our reach, yet live down deep within us as the desires that we have for our life and work.

We need both of these kinds of relationships. However, neither speaks to the character of the relationship, only to a type of relationship.

The character of our relationships matter.  I thought of this when I came across this selection from the Diary of Anais Nin.

"The secret of a full life is to live and relate to others as if they might not be there tomorrow, as if you might not be there tomorrow. It eliminates the vice of procrastination, the sin of postponement, failed communications, failed communions. This thought has made me more and more attentive to all encounters. meetings, introductions, which might contain the seed of depth that might be carelessly overlooked. This feeling has become a rarity, and rarer every day now that we have reached a hastier and more superficial rhythm, now that we believe we are in touch with a greater amount of people, more people, more countries. This is the illusion which might cheat us of being in touch deeply with the one breathing next to us. The dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision."

She could easily be describing the relationships that many of us have through social media platforms. We desire connection. But too often it is superficial, lacking depth.

What then does it mean to have relationships of depth?  This is the kind of relationship that I wrote about in my post Still Waters Still Flow. There I write,

"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."

For these kinds of relationship to flourish requires a setting or an environment for our relationships to grow. Increasingly, I'm convinced that this is difficult to achieve when the relationship is only in a virtual context.

Digital or Analog, Virtual or ... ?

What do we call the setting of relationships that are not virtual, that exist outside of an online digital social space? To say they are analog, physical or real does not capture it well. What are our relationships that exist where we live, with whom we encounter in physical proximity to one another.

Lacking an adequate terminology, I've decided to use a sacramental term that Presbyterians and other Protestant Christians use to describe the relationship of God to the eucharist, the sacramental meal that Christians observe in worship. That term is Real Presence.

I'm using real presence in a non-religious way. It is the relationship that develops between people who find their life and work connected at a deeper level of meaning and impact than with other people. The result is that they are drawn together in such a way that the traditional social media platforms are an insufficient for the purpose of the relationship. In other words, they find they need to be in physical proximity to one another often enough to advance their relationship's purpose.

To be really present, requires us to be open and vulnerable, attentive and willing to adapt to each opportunity as it appears. Real presence is living each day with intention and commitment. I realize that these are familiar words to people today. The challenge is not knowing the meaning of these words, but deriving our meaning of life from living them each day.

There are many people that I've met online with whom we now have a relationship of real presence. We are constantly in touch with the living our of our lives. We are not simply observing and commenting in a detached manner. Our relationships to one another matter. As a result, we are drawn to be with one another in a physical sense. And so we make the effort to travel to be with one another.

Let me return to my question from above. Why is it that we connect with some people and not others?  Is it because the place where we meet and develop our relationships is conducive for the kind of relationship we seek? Is it because there are certain values that we share that can flourish in either a virtual or a physical context?

This is a complex question. To understand it we must understand ourselves. To understand ourselves demands that we understand the kinds of environments that are most conducive to making the kind of connections that we truly desire.

This is an important question because so many of our connections are virtual, operating only within a digital context. Yet, we are not virtual people, digitized, pixelated images or text narratives on a screen. We are embodied persons whose whole selves experience the movement of desire flowing through us.

Developing Platforms for Desire

We are at the beginning point in the evolution of the digital world. What it will be in a decade or in fifty years is pure speculation.

I am convinced that because we are desiring beings (James K A Smith's term), that the structure of society and organizations ultimately adapt to who we are. It is never smooth, however.

Today, we are at the end of the industrial era, without real clarity about what is to follow. Current global social and political forces are aligned to avoid change as much as possible. Resistance to human evolution is futile. And at the heart of our evolution as a species is the drive our desires for meaning, healthy relationships and lives of impact.

As a result, there will always be a tug-of-war between those forces that seek to control the evolutionary course, and those who choose the freedom to adapt to change as it presents itself each day.

As social media platforms develop, change and die, new platforms will emerge to meet the opportunities that come from human social interaction. The challenge for the developers of these platforms as I've said previously in this series, is not really how to monetize the platform, but rather how maximize the ability of people of shared desires to collaborate to make a difference that matters. The mousetrap has been invented. Now is the time to make a better mousetrap.

There is much more that can be said about the relation of human desire to the virtual online world. For now, this is sufficient.


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.


The Social Bond

Troop in Edinburgh - Night

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

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

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

The others? "My mother."

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

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

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

Is it something personal?

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

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

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

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

Here's an example of what I mean.

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

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

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

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

The Social Bond Online

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

Many people denigrate the trend towards connection by social media.

"They are not real relationships." 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning to see a social bond

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

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

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

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

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

Let me say it this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The transcendent character of a social bond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Here's what Ed Tipper said in the video.

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

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

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

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

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

The challenge we confront

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, just treat each person with openness and honor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trend Lines Going Forward

Lemhi Dawn 4 9-16-04

It is hard to believe that the first decade of the 21st century is now history. It has not been the decade that most of us expected. It has been filled with terror, war, economic disruption, political disappointment, natural disasters that showcased governmental inadequacies, and the emergence of social media as a force. In many respects, it was a decade where society did not move forward, and little prospects for broad scale improvement in the near future. 

Andy Crouch, an insightful cultural interpreter, has posted his assessment of the 10 tends that marked the first decade of the 2000's.

  1. Connection
  2. Place
  3. Cities
  4. The End of the Marjority
  5. Polarity
  6. The Self Shot
  7. Pornography
  8. Informality
  9. Liquidity
  10. Complexity

I'm in basic agreement with most of what Crouch offers here. However, it raises questions for me.

If these are trends, then where are they leading us? 

What is the line that extends from the past through the present to the future?

What should we do in response to these trends?

These trends are markers or sign-posts of changes that have been long in development.  I see these trends leading forward in the following ways.

Connection / Place / Cities / Pornography / The Self Shot

This trend line is complex because it is a mixture of several converging ones.

The need ...

for relationship,

for rootedness in a place,

for a place of openness, discovery and genuine diversity,

for intimacy, and,

for a real understanding of one's own identity.

All these are converging. Each of these trends have their problematic dimension though:

Of the shallowness of online connection

Of the disconnection of people from the physical places where they live and work

Of the economic viability of both rural and urban environments that fail to create an environment for human creativity

Of the failure of the institution of marriage to be a viable form of human intimacy for large numbers of people

Of a religious and political culture that offers narcissism rather than human community as a basis for human purpose.

The End of the Majority / Polarity / Informality / Liquidity / Complexity

This trend line is moving fast away from the social conventions and institutions of previous generations. The status of elite groups and institutions once secured by a culture of common perceptions and simple approaches is under going dramatic change. One-size-fits-all, works-for-all, and is available-to-all is no longer reflective of the way the world works, if it ever truly did.  Instead, complexity is the structure of society. As a result, no single or generic approach works. Instead many different approaches can be effective. The key here then is to understand how complexity impacts us on a daily basis.

Donald Norman writes in Living with Complexity,

"The keys to coping with complexity are to be found in two aspects of understanding. First is the design of the thing itself that determines its understanding. Does it have an underlying logic, a foundation that, once mastered, makes everything fall into place? Second is our own set of abilities and skills. Have we taken the time and effort to understanding and master the structure? Understandability and understanding: two critical keys to mastery."

Questions that I have.

What is the underlying logic that explains the meaning of these trends?

What is the "design (of the thing itself)" of the time we live?  

What is the historical movement that helps us to gain understanding of the past decade, the past generation, and what we may expect of the next decade and generation.

My conclusion is that we are in the midst of dramatic period of unprecedented change. In order to understand these trends, we need to understand the assumptions that have guided human history for the past several centuries.

For example, beginning in the 18th century a shift began that impacted virtually every country. It was the shift from aristocracy to democracy. What may not be readily evident in this shift is the continuity that was maintained throughout these great historic changes.

I wrote about this shift in my review of Lucino Visconti's masterpiece, The Leopard. It is a picture of the change from the old aristocratic order to new world order of democratic progressivism. In that post, I include a long dialogue that the Prince of Sicily and the representative of the new modern, progressive government of Italy have. Here's a portion.

The Prince: I am a member of the old ruling class hopelessly linked to the past regime and tied to it by chains of decency, if not affection. I belong to an unfortunate generation straddling two worlds and ill at ease in both. And what is more, I am utterly without illusions.

What would the Senate do with an inexperienced legislator who lacks the faculty of self-deception, essential requisite for those who guide others? No, I cannot lift a finger in politics. It would get bitten off.

Chevalley: Would you seriously refuse to do all you can to alleviate the state of physical squalor and blind moral misery in which your own people lie?

The Prince: We are old, Chevalley. Very old. For more that 25 centuries, we have borne the weight of superb civilizations that have come from outside, never of our own creation, none we could call our own. For 2,500 years, we've been nothing but a colony. I'm not complaining. It's our fault. But we are worn out and exhausted.

Chevalley: But all that's over now. Sicily is no longer a conquered land, but a free member of a free state.

The Prince: Your intention is good, but it comes too late.

Sleep, my dear Chevalley, a long sleep - that is what Sicilians want. They will always hate anyone who tries to wake them, even to bring them the most wonderful gifts. And between ourselves, I doubt whether the new kingdom will have many gifts for us in its luggage. Here, all expression, even the most violent, is a desire for oblivion. Our sensuality is a longing for oblivion. Our knifings and shootings are a longing for death. Our laziness, the penetrating sweetness of our sherbets, a longing for voluptuous immobility, that is ... death once again.

Chevalley: Prince, are you exaggerating? I myself have met Sicilians in Turin who seemed anything but asleep.

The Prince: I haven't explained myself well. I'm sorry. I said Sicilians. I should have said Sicily. This atmosphere, the violence of the landscape, the cruelty of the climate, the constant tension in everything -

Chevalley: Climate can be overcome, landscape improved, the memory of evil governments canceled. Surely the Sicilians want to improved.

The Prince: I don't deny that a few, once off the island, may wake up, but they must leave very young. By 20, it's too late. The crust has already formed. What you need, Chevalley, is a man who is good at blending his personal interests with vague public ideals.

The picture here is of the clash between the ideals of progressivism and the exhaustion of the old order. With the former there was a belief that the world's problems could be solved, and with the latter, a realization that even in the midst of change, there is not much that changes.

What we can see here is not the replacement of the aristocracy with a populist government, but rather the transfer of power from one kind of elitism to another. It is the elitism of modern democratic progressivism that is reaching the same point that the old order aristocrats reached two centuries ago. That exhaustion is the inadequacy of the ideas and values that inspired revolution to create a sustainable society in a highly complex context. Ultimately, what happens is the loss of the ideals themselves and the adoption of a formula that is designed to resist change and perpetuate the system.

This trend suggests other trends.

The end of institutions as a unifiying force in society.

Whether those institutions are political, religious, social or educational, they no longer command the loyalty or respect by people as they once did.  Instead, communities of causes have replaced them and is seen in Crouch's Polarity trend.

This emerging trend is really the mixture of several changes.

A shift from a global to a local perspective as locus of solution making.

The impracticality of one-size-fits-all approaches to solving social and econonic problems is reflected in the persistance of the recession in its many forms.  This a product of the growing complexity of society that responds better to small, local initiatives than those applied from a single source.

A shift from a national orientation to a relational one.

As I've written previously, online technology enables us to work with colleagues globally as if we are locally connected. National origin means less, and personal values mean more in this context of local collaboration on a global scale.

The emergence of belief as the common bond that unites people organizationally.

One doesn't have to look farther than the passionate advocacy of the environmental movement or the Tea Party movement to see how traditional institutions are being replaced my groups of people who form temporary communities to advocate for a cause. This puts institutional elites at a disadvantage as institutional integrity has been less about causes or beliefs and more about process and operational integrity.

These are some trends that I see, and see them as positive developments. However, there are aspects of these changes that I don't think are quite yet apparent, yet will bring a new level of disruptive change as they emerge.

Many of the governing assumptions of our time are based on social, political and economic philosophies that were born in the era of The Leopard. I'm convinced that the ideologies of capitalism, liberal progressivism and its socialist varient, and individualism will come to be replaced by new ideas that provide a way forward.  It is my impression that we think these are given, guiding assumptions of contemporary society. I'm not convinced that these philosophies represent the future, but the past. It is why I see the two political parties as regressive, rather than visionary.  As these ideologies lose their vitality and relevance, their advocates have become more divisive and defensive. In my opinion, this divisiveness is a sign of the fading viability of these social philosophies.

If I was a betting man, which I'm not, I'd wager that the future trends that we'll see emerging over the next few years are:

New organizational structures that are designed for shared responsibility and collaboration.

Values as the unifying force, not only in organizations, but in society.

New confederations of cities and organizations that circumvent the artificial constraints of state and national boundaries.

Lastly, what should leaders do to be prepared to adapt to these changes?

1. Develop the leadership capacity of everyone in your organization.

2. Build organizational community through an emphasis on and the operationalizing of the Connecting Ideas of the Circle of Impact - Purpose, Mission, Values, Vision and Impact.

3. Take time to develop an understanding of the logic of what is happening locally and globally. Test assumptions, and be positively self-critical. In other words, think for yourself by constantly seeking to develop your capacity to observe, think, assess and make judgments.

My wish for each of us in 2011 is that we find new strength of purpose, greater capacity for leadership, and an ability to make a difference that matters that changes our world for the better.  All the best to you in your leadership endeavors.


The "not-so" New Atheists - Wired

Wired magazine never ceases to amazes me. Their current edition has an interesting article on The New Atheists.  Whether you are a religious person, an agnostic or totally disinterested, it is worth reading. 

I loved reading it because I felt that I was watching a train wreck.  While I may be a theist, a Christian and an ordained Presbyterian minister, I don't check my brain at the door, and don't believe that religious faith is incompatible with being a decent human being.  I also don't believe that religion is the cause of the world's problems.  And my issues with the New Atheists are not that they are atheists.  Rather, it is that their reasons seem so archaic and unscientific. 

The article features three prominent atheists - scientist Richard Dawkins, writer Sam Harris and philosopher Daniel Dennett.  Each have earned the platform from which they speak. For this reason their narrow, limited, truncated approach to religion is all the more amazing, at least as they are characterized in this article. 

For example:

Science, after all, is an empirical endeavor that traffics in probabilities. The probabilities of God, Dawkins says, while not zero, is vanishingly small.

This conclusion is not an empirically based judgment.  It is based on Dawkins own personal assumptions, it would appear. Michael Polanyi, a scientist and a philosopher, showed in his excellent book, Personal Knowledge, that scientific investigations are influenced by our own personal preferences and assumptions.   There is no such thing as pure empiricism.  Therefore, if one assumes that there is no God or that there is one, that that assumption will influence how one interprets one's research into the question.  The antidote is to humbly own one's assumptions and seek to understand how those assumptions have influenced the investigation.

Another example, this time from Sam Harris:

At some point, there is going to be enough pressure that it is just going to be too embarrassing to believe in God.

Pressure from whom?   This is an odd reason to abandon belief in God. It says more about the fragility of a person's emotional  life, rather than some sound basis for believing anything. 

The article author Gary Wolf offers this reflection on what an atheist's prayer would be.

... that our reason will subjugate our superstition, that our intelligence will check our illusions, that we will be able to hold at bay the evil temptations of faith.

What we are offered in the New Atheism is not the abolishment of religion, but a replacement of traditional theistic religion, whether it is a Jewish, Christian or Islamic sort, with an atheistic one with Dawkins and Dennett as the high priests.  There is nothing new in this approach.  It was the approach of my philosophy teacher in college over thirty years ago.  Its lack of sophistication is what surprises me.  Its dependence upon the European Enlightenment's unquestioned belief in the superiority of human rationality is surprising.  I thought we had eclipsed the modern world and had entered the post-modern one.

Another example:

... (Charles) Adams admits some marketing concerns. Atheists are predominantly the "upper 5 percent, " he says. "Where we're lagging is among the lower 95 percent."  This is a true problem and it goes beyond the difficulty of selling your ideas among those to whom you so openly condescend.

That says it all. The New Atheism is a movement of people who believe that you should trust them because they say so.  If you pay attention to trends in business, religion and society, you'll see that this approach that they take runs counter to those trends of the wisdom of crowds, collaboration and conversation based management.

The larger context is whether this issue has traction globally. Listen to Penn State professor Phillip Jenkins' interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air a couple weeks ago.  His research shows how the southern hemisphere is in the ascendency spiritually. Let me recommend The Next Christendom and
The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South as fascinating descriptions of the future of global religion

The Wired article is provocatively written, but ultimately shows that the question of God's existence is not really a scientific question but a personal one.  It is not a question that science can answer empirically. It is a question of faith, and these very smart men have chosen to place their faith in there not being a God, rather than that there is one.  Essentially, in their effort to rid society of religion, they have shown its importance by being examples of a religious faith, albeit a contrarian one.

A Point of Clarification

I'm saying that the New Atheists are no different than me.  Their religion is different than mine. However, it functions in exactly the same way.  It provides meaning and order to life.  What they would have us to believe is that they are superior to religious people because they are rationalists.  What I think they fail to understand is that their belief in rationalism or the scientific method or evolution functions as a religious belief.  It has a transcendent character to it.  By this, I mean that it elevates their sense of identity through their commitment to it.  They are just as religious as the next person.  The religious impulse to believe in something is partly what makes us human beings.  This is something that I believe is scientifically verifiable.


Star Wars: myth, religion, leadership and community

Having watched Star Wars III opening night at midnight, and read Instapundit's catalog of reactions, I could not help but think back to 1977 when the original was released. Then it seemed so modern and visionary.  George Lucas was using a sci-fi form to explore mythology and religion. 

Today, the mythology surrounding the Jedi and the Sith seem strangely shallow and non-descript.  I kept thinking about The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films during the show.  As in LOTR, the struggle between good and evil in Star Wars is real.  Yet, even with the focus on Anakin's personal struggle, the depth of myth and/or religion is strangely lacking.  Is this because Lucas didn't think about it after drafting his original plan?  Is it because their is no shared ritual that connects the Jedi to average people, ur, beings?  Is it because there is really no community as such, just individuals inhabiting a diverse, political, quasi-mythological world?

I know that there have been claims that the religion in Star Wars is essentially Eastern in nature.  But I don't see it.  The myth is of the contemporary sort that there is some indecipherable life force that inhabits all people, and is left with that.  It isn't really a moral universe, as it is a universe with some convenient moral affirmations - May the Force be with you.  But the Force must be of pretty pale Deist sort if the Jedi couldn't tell that they were about to be ambushed, or that their young-lings were about to be massacred.  This treachery seemed to have a reality about them that nothing else in the film had.  It was what captured my emotions.  The stealth of the Palpatine and the mediocrity of the Jedi.

What I left with in the end is that the Jedi were ultimately no match for the Dark Side, and it is only by their own individual force of will, training, and ingenuity that they succeed.  Whatever there is to believe in seems shallow and banal.  Is this really a picture of the contemporary church to Lucas?  If so, what then does the Sith represent?  The church's secular counterpart, the political realm of power?

As a leadership development specialist and planner, I enjoyed watching the film from this point of view.  It occurred to me that the Jedi Council is a rather dysfunctional board.  Sure they deliberate, but based on what criteria? Their feelings?  Ultimately, the leadership is a reflection of George Lucas himself.   The Jedi govern based on intuition and personality.  Palpatine on Machiavellian force of cunning and will.  As I have reflected on this the past couple days, I am surprised at how poorly the Jedi are portrayed.  They are master individualists, but they do not seem to know how to leverage their strengths as a team.

It makes me wonder what would have happened if Palpatine had gained control of the Ring.  Poor Sauron...no match for the Emperor.

Finally, what is missing from these last three Star Wars is what was present in the first three of the series -- a joi de vie, most explicitly characterized in the romanic tango between Princess Leia and Han Solo.  The woodenness of the characters stands in stark contrast to the characters in The Lord of the Rings.  In that series of three films. the core of the film is on the relationships between members of the Fellowship.  They care for each other, are willing to sacrifice for one another, and are a picture of genuine diversity.  In Star Wars I, II and III, the relationships exist like online instant messenger acquaintances.  Relationships based on the slimmest common interest.  This certainly isn't the picture of the relationship between Frodo and Sam.  Even Ewan McGregor, one of my favorite actors, couldn't produce the same level of pathos needed to become a real person.

What Stars Wars proves is that George Lucas is the master of the visual effect, and Tolkien the master of myth and character.   One is viewed as an escape, the other as a validation.