The Edge of the Real: Our Fragmented World

Big Hole Battefield 1

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

Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity

Charles Taylor

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

The Teacher in Ecclesiastes wrote a very long time ago,

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

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

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

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

The Hyper-reality of the External World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At The Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gaining Perspective

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Over the past three years, the ground upon which we stand has been rolling like the ground underneath this Vermont house after Hurricane Irene came through.

If you are still standing, congratulations. If you don't know which direction you are facing, welcome to the club.

If you have fallen, and are trying to pick yourself up, don't quit. What you've been through, in retrospect, can provide valuable lessons for the future. If you need a hand, just ask. It is how we stand together.

My Experience

Like many people, my last three years have been the hardest that I've ever faced. From losing all my clients within a six week period in the spring of 2009, to 2011 becoming the busiest, most productive year that I've had in the past decade, there are lessons I'm learning that each one of us can apply.

One of things I learned is that I was not as well prepared for the storm of the recession as I should have been. Like many people, I assumed that what I was doing was enough. It wasn't. As a result the process of the past three years has been a process of personal development that enables me to see what I need to do to make the next three years the best that I've ever had.

There are three things I did that have been infinitely beneficial. I want to share those with you in this post as a guide for how to look at the next year.  I suggest that you download my Circle of Impact Leadership Guides as a reference. Print them off, and use them for taking notes to your self. Keep them handy. They will help you gain and maintain perspective on what you are headed.

The Circle of Impact Leadership Guides

I'll give you a quick overview of each guide, and then speak to the three things to do that will help develop the impact in our life and work that we desire.

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12TransitionPoints

Creating Impact In Times of Transition-TP

The first thing to know is that we are all in transition. If you think, maybe, you are just in a disruptive time, and, that things will return to where they were. Look at this list of 12 transition points. This is a random list I wrote down one afternoon. I'm certain that another dozen could be identified. The point is not to be overwhelmed with the sense of disconnection, but rather to see that change is normal. 

Change is happening to us all the time. We each need to make the mental shift from seeing change as random, disruptive chaos to a pattern of change that has a logic that we can tap into and take advantage of. Once we start thinking in terms of transition, we begin to see how a process of development can unfold to our benefit. This is where we start because with a transition mindset, we begin think more opportunistically about the future.

To see our life and work this way is to see how it is a system or a network of connections between various aspects of what we do where we do it.


Circle of Impact - Life-Work Coaching
From this perspective, we can see three broad areas that every leader faces:

The Three Dimensions of Ideas, Relationships, and, Social & Organizational Structures.

The problem is learning how to align them so that they work together. Our experience tends to be more fragmented, which is where our experience of the ground never being stable under our feet is found.

The key to pulling all of this together is being intentional about the ideas that link the dimensions together. These ideas are:

The Four Connecting Ideas of Values, Purpose, Vision and Impact.

Each one of these ideas needs to be clearly defined so that they can be effectively applied.

For example: You are building your team to start a new venture. You want to select or hire people who not only share similar values, but, are also committed to the purpose of the endeavor. Bring these two ideas together in the selection of a team, and, a vision for what is possible will emerge. As a result, instead of never getting by the team formation stage, your team comes together quickly, and, moves well into the process of creating the impact that you desire.

The Circle of Impact perspective provides a way to see the whole of an organization. But just seeing it doesn't mean we know how to apply it.

 

The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide
The Five Questions guide is the tool that helps us clarify, focus and move more quickly into action. Ask them continually over time, and we begin to see a pattern that helps to make better decisions. This is just a tool. It isn't a magic wand to wave over a problem and it goes away. It is a tool that must be applied and acted upon. So, when you have answered the five questions, make sure that you do something specific in response, and then come back and ask the questions again.

I created the My 5 Questions template to make it easy for me to quickly answer the questions whenever the need arises. The purpose is to clarify, focus and move me to action. There is no limitation on where you can use these questions. Use the personally, professionally, with your team, your family, with clients, or with someone you meet over lunch. The questions work very well in conversation.

Three Things that Mattered the Past Three Years (2012)

It is simple. Just three things to do.

1. Care for people. Regardless of who they are. Whomever you meet each day, care for them. Treat them with respect, dignity, and compassion. I don't mean take over their lives. I mean provide them a relationship that enables them to become a better person.

2. Think for yourself. Decide for yourself who you are going to be. Act with integrity towards your own values and goals, so you can help others do the same.

3. Live opportunistically in the moment. As a planner, I can confidently say that a long-range plan is more often a closed door than open path. The best plan is knowing who you are, what values matter, and the impact that you want to achieve. The process is discovered daily in the moment to moment interaction that we have with people. This is where real freedom is found.

Afterword Three Years Later (2015)

The years 2012 to 2014, for me, were ones of dramatic change. When I wrote the above post, I was optimistic about the future. Instead, within the first year, the non-profit that I had been hired to lead failed and closed. The recession's effect upon my consulting work lingered. And my marriage ended. Hard year, but still a year of transition.

I realized, as everything was ending, that something new was beginning. I had to get to that point so that I could begin. I took the time to reflect, to heal, and, begin to set my sights forward. I found myself working an hour a week with a group of women in an addiction recovery program. A totally new and different experience for me. And, then, I came to see that I need to relocated my life and work to Jackson, Wyoming.

The Circle of Impact Leadership Guides serve as a check point to connect perceptions that I had three years ago with those that I have now.

My Values have not so much changed, but have become clearer, more definitive, and, more focused on putting them into action.

My Purpose has changed. Instead of focused on businesses in a consulting context, I am redirecting my energies towards the personal leadership of individuals.

My Vision has yet to become clear. The reason is that Vision functions in the context of relationship, in a social context of collaboration and community. I have only move to Jackson within the past month, so time for visioning with others will come.

My Impact for the future will emerge as I go through the process of aligning my life and work with The Four Connecting Ideas.

 Attribution Some rights reserved by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region


Three Turns

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Near the end of my father's career, the company for whom he had worked for over 35 years, was purchased, and, not so slowly, its assets drawn off and exploited for use by the parent company.

I remember him telling me of the day that he was on a management recruiting trip in Pennsylvania, and received a phone call that the company was not going to make payroll that week. He returned home to help usher through the closing of the company and be the last executive remaining as he handled the outstanding employee medical and benefit claims against the company. He was of an age where he could retire. It was a sad day for him. He had worked for the company his entire career. 

My dad's story is not unusual. It is symptomatic of the time we are living in. I thought of my father as I watched last year's under-appreciated film, The Company Men.  It is a story of executives and their families coping with change as their corporation goes through a series of downsizes simply to raise the share price. Like my father's experience, the film illustrates a very common experience of change. Here's a clip of a meeting where decisions are being made as to who is to be let go.

 

This has become a very normal experience for people. Even with a nice severance package, the emotional trauma of being fired is something that doesn't quickly go away. What lies behind this approach to quantifying the value of a company is a way of thinking about organizations that I believe is ultimately destructive rather than a path to sustainability.  The logical outcome from over a century of this way of thinking has been the narrowing of the value of a company to something short term and specifically related to its financial value.

Consider the executive's rationale for downsizing staff and eliminating a division of the company in this exchange between Tommy Lee Jones and Craig T. Nelson's characters from the movie. .

Nelson: "Stock is stalled and revenue is flat."

Jones: "Entire economy is flat. We are in the middle of a recession."

N: "I only closed two of the shipyards. Should have closed all three of them. Stock is in the toilet."

J: "Everybody's stock is in the toilet."

N: "Well, the stockholders would like to see their share value maximized."

J: "Heh, Heh, Heh, Well ... sell the Degas'. ... three thousand jobs?"

N: "Gene, we aren't some little shipyard any more. I'm not going to keep pouring money into a losing operation."

J: "We innovate, retool ..."

N: "American heavy manufacturing is dead. Steel, auto, shipbuilding ... the future is in healthcare infrastructure and power generation."

J: "I have to be involved in any decision that affects one of my divisions."

N: "You wouldn't have approved the cut. ... You'd go behind my back to the board again, right?"

J: "They were good people, Jim."

Both men are backed up against a wall. They are caught by a way of thinking about the value of companies that worked in times where growth was relatively assured. Now, the competition is tougher, more astute and far more flexible in their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Do you think they could have seen this coming? I'm not sure. It goes back to how to you determine the value of a company. I'm not talking about how Wall Street values it, but the people who are touched by the company in some manner. How do they value the company?

Can the value of a company be reduced to one thing, like the share price, or the charismatic leadership of the CEO or a design innovation? Or is the value embedded in the whole structure and context of the organization?

We are in a time of global transition in all aspects of life. Short-term, reductive, passive aggressive, reactive thinking is not going to lead us out of a recession into a new era of peace and prosperity. Instead, we need to realize that our approach is failing, and that we need a new way to think about how organizations function. It must start with the willingness to be different, to think differently, and invest in changes that provide for long term development.

The Context of Change

The ancient Greeks had a word for change which is metanoia. Literally, it means a change of mind, but it has come to mean something much larger and more comprehensive. Metanoia points to a change of orientation, perspective and direction.  There is a sense in the meaning that the change of mind is accompanied by some regret. So the change, upon reflection, is a choice to follow a different path. People choosing to turn toward different values and new ways of expressing them.  Metanoia is a change that embraces the whole person, the mind, feelings and will, and is expressed in action that is change.

This change of mind is an awareness that the path we have been on is no longer sustainable. As I wrote in my post, The End and The Beginning, this change marks an end of an era in several ways. The nature of this redirection means that the recent past is no longer an adequate guide for understanding what we must do in the future. As I began in that post,

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?

The continuity between the recent past and the near future has broken down. This is a turning point for us. The 20th century may provide our most immediate experiential memory, but for the purpose of understanding the future, it is now ancient history.

Reflect upon the attacks on 9/11, our response to them, and the global recession of past three years, and our response to it. Can you see how the tried-and-true methods of the last century have not worked. Neither peace nor prosperity are being restored, in fact, the world is less peaceful and prosperous than it was a decade ago. Terrorism maybe contained upon our shores, but it still festers in places of poverty throughout the world.

Fear, doubt and diminishment in the confidence in our leaders and institutions are increasing.  Greater diversity, interconnectivity, and, yes, even greater business efficiencies, are not answering the question about what it is that we must do.

We are now at a crossroads that requires metanoia, a change that is comprehensive and whole. This change of mind requires us to begin to see businesses as a whole organizations, rather than as a collection of interchangeable, discardable, transferable, value-specific parts. The company in The Company Men was dying because it too, like my father's company, was just a collection of assets to be exploited. There is no future in this way of thinking. To have a future requires us to change our minds and see things differently.

Three Turns 

To change our minds, we need to make Three Turns of perception, understanding and orientation. 

The Moral Turn  In the first clip from The Company Men, above, Tommy Lee Jones' character raises questions about the selection of people to be let go. His response, that there is an ethical question involved, is met with a legalistic answer. 

By reducing the decision to a question of share price and what is required under the law, the company is not just making a business decision, but also a moral choice.

What is a company that no longer manufactures its products?  Is it now a money machine for its share holders as long as the money holds out?

The moral turn is first and foremost about the purpose or mission of the company. 

Does a company whose actual purpose is share price encourage confidence and trust?

Does a company whose primary focus is share price understand its connection to the people who work in the business and the communities where they are physically located?

Is a company more than its financials?

Does a company have a responsibility that goes beyond i ts shareholders, and what is defined by what is strictly legal?

Every organization exists in a context that is greater than the sum of the parts of the organization. There is a culture that is physical, ideological, technological and social.

For example, what distinguishes an insurance company in London to one based in Sao Paulo or Detroit is geography and culture. Yes, they each ofter insurance plans. Yes, they each have customers. Yes, they each generate revenue. The difference is the local context that helps to define the culture of the business.

As a result ...

a company is not primarily its mission or purpose, but its values that are embedded in ideas and relationships within the context, culture and structure of the organization. 

Values permeate the whole of the business, including those persons and organizations outside of the business who are influenced by it. Values inform its purpose, its vision of impact, its relationships with all those who are touched by the company, and how the company measures its impact.

The mission of a company is a product of its values.

When the purpose of the company is more than its financial value to shareholders, it is no longer, just a reservoir of assets to be exploited, but a context in which to create the future.  

Recently I heard a presenter during in an organizational development  workshop describe organizations that are mission driven as organizations on the rise. He used a diagram similar to this one that I use to describe organizations in transition.

Transition Point - without Title
When a company reaches a point of maturity or stabilization or equilibrium, the importance of its mission as a guide often fades. What follows is an increasing focus on its financial assets as its primary purpose. The presenter was convinced that once an organization shifts from a mission focus to a financial focus, it has entered a stage of decline.  In effect, they no longer see how a company can grow, but rather be sold. 

The moral turn that a company needs to make is to reaffirm its values and reestablish its mission as the driving force of the company as a whole.

The Social Turn  When the value of a company is reduced to its share price, the company loses the value that exists within its social structure. Not every member of the organization benefits from a rise in the share price. As a result, the company fragments into internally competitive parts to see who will survive the company's disintegration.

For example, as a Boston Red Sox fan for over 45 years, I was particularly disappointed in their collapse this year. It was not that old patterns of attitudes and behaviors that had hampered the team in the past had returned. Rather, it was the squandering of the talent and potential that existed on paper, at least, at the beginning of the season.

By all appearances, the social environment of the team is the core reason for their decline. At the beginning of the season, they were the odds on favorite to win the World Series. Great pitching, the acquisition of two all-star hitters, and a coaching staff that had produced two World Series championships held great promise for the upcoming season. Yet all that collapsed into a mess in what appears to be based in a collective selfishness and lack of accountability for the team's social environment and on field performance.

The Social Turn is the recovery of the human dimension in organizations. As human beings we are social beings through which our individuality develops. Much of the fragmentation of modern business organizations isolates individuals and business units into individualized roles that make collaborative team work more difficult. As a result, the connections that exist between people in the workplace are treated as having marginal value. 

Structural Hole 2

In The Company Men, when Ben Affleck is fired, the stated reason is that his position is redundant. In effect, the company was recouping a cost that it viewed was exceptional rather than necessary.  The company also loses in this kind of fragmenting of the social structure of the business. Affleck's character was not just a person in a cubicle, but was a connection point in a network of relationships that provided information and influence beyond the company. The value may be redundant, but it is a redundancy that creates strength and resilience, not weakness.

Social fragmentation is not just found in businesses, but in global society at large. Its destructiveness finds its way into companies and organizations, weakening their ability to marshal the talent that exists. The Social Turn is one that values relationships of honor, respect, humility, trust and mutual reciprocity. These values function to create a social fabric that allows for diversity and interconnectivity that creates the sustainability that businesses and communities need.

The Structural Turn The industrial model of business was conceptualized around the idea that a business is filled with a few smart people and a lot of laborers. The world has changed, yet the structures of organizations have not. Still the structure is a hierarchy of decision-makers "leading" a larger number of decision-implementers.

This approach does not work as well as it once did. Here are just a few reasons.

1. Technology levels the information playing field.

2. Advances in public education, and the expansion of higher education has created a society of workers who are much better informed and equipped to do decision-making type work.

3. The complexity of working in a global environment of diverse cultures makes it more difficult for a few people to know everything they need to know about the issues that confront their business.

4. The skills required for leadership and management of business are much more accessible to far more people than every before.

5. Hierarchical structures are organized for control through compartmentalization and standardization.

The Structure Turn that is taking place elevates personal initiative, network collaboration, and adaptive learning as the keys to the organization and leadership of businesses.

Instead of a structure organized around compartmentalized roles and defined areas of responsibility, the emerging structure is an open environment where the skills and resources needed for the work of the business is acquired through a network relationship structure.

In this structure each person is responsible for the whole of the project, not just their segment. Each person can function in the role of leader, while not having a title as one.

In this networked structure, the premium skills are placed upon thinking skills that are both analytical and intuitive.

As I recently commented to Dana Leman of RandomKid,

"Imagine Proctor & Gamble without bosses and managers, and everyone is a leader."

Leadership ceases to be a title, and becomes a set of behaviors and attitudes that all share. For the character of this kind of leadership to take root, it requires changing the structure.

Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy
The Structural Turn is towards an organizational culture where people are free to create and contribute, to communicate, to initiate and to pitch in where they see a need.  Instead of being doers of assigned responsibilities, they are facilitators and problem solvers.
In many companies, this kind of structure is developing. However, it must happen at the senior level for the turn to be successful.

How would the company in The Company Men function differently if they operated under a network structure?

1. More people would be engaged in meaningful reflection about the challenges facing the company because they knew that had an actual stake in its success.

2. Innovation would be more prevalent as employees practiced a higher level of leadership initiative and problem solving.

3. New business applications through employee ingenuity would expand the number and range of revenue streams the company has.

4. The company would be unified behind its shared values and mission.

5. The company would be a more attractive place for the top talent to work.

6. The company could more easily adapt to financial downturns.

7. Communities would be vying for the opportunity for the company to create a local operation.

The central message of the Three Turns is for your mission to drive change in the company, centered around values that unite people to create a shared company culture of trust, personal initiative, and a desire to contribute to the company's success. When this happens, the turn from hierarchical structure to a network one can take place as a natural evolution of the company.


Fragmented and Compartmentalized or Connected and Aligned for Impact?

Circle of Impact

The Circle of Impact is designed to show how the Three Dimensions of Leadership work together.  It is a picture of connection and alignment that leads to impact.

Unfortunately, most of us don't think this way.

Our thinking is often fragmented, compartmentalize, lacking in meaningful connection and alignment. 

It was only through conversations with people where we were trying to sort through this fragmented, compartmentalized picture that the Circle of Impact came into being.

It could have been a long or brief conversation about a specific problem or something quite general and obscure, regardless, the issue had one of three origins.

Either it was an Idea problem, which could either be characterized as a thinking problem or a communication one.

Or, it was a Relationship problem, due to either a personality conflict, a difference in values or the lack of personal engagement.

Or it was an Organizational Structure problem, related to issues of governance, program, operations or resources. Later, it became clear that the Social Structure of an organization also can be setting for these kinds of problems.

In this week's Weekly Leader column - The Subversiveness of Gratitude, I write about the importance of connection.

What we are discovering, and the practice of gratitude is showing, is that truth is not in the discrete, isolated parts, but in their connection to one another. On a human scale, this means that our identity is not our position, title or place in a system, but rather the function that we have in connection. Collaboration and shared responsibility is the ground for understanding who I am within any social and organizational setting. The connection between the parts is where the action is, and the organization lives.

What is the connection between the Three Dimensions?

Ideas are the tools for connection.

Social and Organizational Structures are the settings.

Relationships are where connections are made, and the action is.

The Ideas that matter in helping people make connections are Purpose or Mission, Values, Vision and Impact. If there is a hierarchy of importance, it is found with Values. Our conception (Idea) of our Purpose or Mission, our Vision and definition of Impact are formed by our Values.

For example, my Mission is to help individuals discover and act upon a purpose for their life and work. The ideas that give meaning to my purpose are values centered in human purpose, potential and impact.

It is also true that social and organization structures are tangible expressions of the values that are either intentionally determined or become the default values through inattention. Those values maybe about order, productivity, respect, trust or integrity. Or they may focused on wealth creation or personal freedom. Whatever the values are, they are the ideological foundation for these structures. They are seen in the effect or impact of the structure on the people who work wihtin the organization.

The three dimensions are not equal, but complementary. Look again at the Circle of Impact picture.

Purpose is an idea that is connected to Structure. The key focus here is to align the structure with the purpose of the organization. Without that alignment, the organization works a cross-purposes with itself.

Vision is an idea that is connected to both Relationships and Structure.  The focus here is a picture of activity showing what it is like for people working within the structure of the organization to achieve the desire impact. 

Ultimately, what this means is that leaders are not interested in ideas just for the sake of the ideas themselves. They aren't interested in having healthy relationships just because their values say they should. And, they aren't interested in structure just because it is needed for a business to function. 

Instead, leaders are looking for ways to utilize Ideas to strengthen Relationships and inform how the Structure of the organization can be aligned with the company's Mission or Purpose.

The Impact of the Three Dimensions of Leadership should be better communication, collaboration and coordination.


A Dozen Thoughts on Thinking, Communicating and Relationships

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


Alignment

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The professional service provider who does not want to be commoditized in today's marketplace must develop a new quality and character in their business.

This is not the quality of efficiency. We can be extraordinarily efficient and still become commoditized. We are talking about a different kind of quality.

The old quality was focused on business systems; the new quality on relationships and networks.

The quality of networks is built upon the action that results from our influence. Just knowing people isn't enough. It is what happens because of our relationship that matters.

This is a character issue. Not character in the moral sense of right and wrong, legal or illegal.

It is character in the sense of what you stand for, and the content of your actions. 

I am talking about what it means to be trusted.

We build a network to establish trust with a widely dispersed, diverse collection of people and groups. People's trust in us is measured both by what they think of us, and what they do in response to our relationship with them.

As a result, we must think differently about how we approach the development of our businesses and organizations.

Impact Alignment

Thinking differently is to learn to think dynamically, to align the three dimensions that command the attention of every leader of an organization.

Our Purpose needs to be aligned with the work we do, and the social and organizational structures where we do it.

Our Values need to be align with our relationships, through out networks, and with how we communicate our purpose and the meaning of Impact.

Our Vision for Impact needs to be aligned with both our Purpose and our Values in order to have a chance of making a difference that matters.

To align all three is to live in the dynamic of the three dimensions. This is not a linear process of development, but one of attention to all three in a coordinated manner. 

Begin wherever the pressure point is at any given time.

If business has stopped knocking on your door, it could be that all three of these dimensions are no longer aligned.

Your sense of Purpose may not be aligned with what you do in your business.

Your Values may not be actively lived out in your relationships with people. They may simply see you as a commodity business rather than a trusted advisor.

You may have no Vision for the Impact of your business upon your Relationships or through the Social and Organizational settings where you are involved.

Is this a complicated process? Yes, it does seem to be. It is because the dynamic of alignment is complex, and we need to think in these terms.

Complexity Thinking

We think in a linear pattern ...

    step one, step two, etc. ...

which we learn from reading ...

        one sentence follows after another sentence, a paragraph the previous one, etc ... and so on.

Even our sense of time in linear.

    9:00 am follows 8:59 am ...

        February comes after January, etc.

Linear thinking is simple, orderly and easier to control. This is not the picture that the Circle of Impact presents. It is a dynamic, complex picture that shows how the Three Dimensions function in alignment with each other, and that alignment is achieved through clarifying and acting upon the Four Connecting Ideas.

Circle of Impact- simple

Anyone who has been a part of a complex development or engineering project understands that while time is linear, projects aren't. They are complex with multiple time lines happening all at once, each converging together at just the right moment.

Complex thinking is dynamic. Once we see it as such, not philosophically, but in practice, then our perception of what is taking place in the context of our work changes. We can see the dynamism, and understand how to leverage it for great impact. Here's one example.

You are sitting in a planning meeting. A presentation is being presented. Something familiar is being said. You are thinking, "Where have I heard this before?" Then you remember the same proposal was offered a decade ago, and rejected for the same reasons that it should be rejected today.

In this instance, the linearity of time collapses and through your memory, the past is now being lived out simultaneously with the present. And though you have not thought about that previous meeting in ten years, it is now present in your perceptions into the future.

Time in this sense complex and relative, bending to our perception of the complexity of the moment. 

Once you learn to see this dynamic at work, then it becomes a simple, yet sophisticated, picture of where you are. It is a perspective that gives you a competitive advantage.

The future of our businesses is not simply by focusing on operational efficiencies. It is learning to see, to think, to perceive a much broader, dynamic landscape of activitiy. The Circle of Impact is one picture of the dynamic that is always taking place. It is therefore important to recognize that it is ...

The character of our thinking - our ability to think dynamically - and the character of our relationships - the alignment of what we believe in - that create the future we desire.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons #4415406714_4fe20a6535


How Entrepreneurs Think

Bill Taylor, one of my favorite idea guys, writes about the difference between MBA thinking and entrepreneurial thinking.

... as the economy experiences the most deep-seated changes in decades, maybe it's time to change our minds about what kinds of people are best-equipped to become business leaders. Is our fascination with the comings and goings of MBAs as obsolete as our lionization of investment bankers and hedge-fund managers? Is it time to look elsewhere for the "best and the brightest" of what business has to offer?

My answer is an emphatic Yes! As a linear, sequential thinking, I know that nothing is like that any more. We are more like the Octopus ride at the amusement part with four arms and three tentacles per arm all whirling around never quite knowing who's in charge or where we are going. It is enough to make one nauseous.

Taylor's perspective is supported by the work of Saras Sarasvathy research into how entrepreneurs think, called "effectuation."

Effectual reasoning, however, does not begin with a specific goal. Instead, it begins with a given set of means and allows goals to emerge contingently over time from the varied imagination and diverse aspirations of the founders and the people they interact with.

I find this such a relief, because I've found that over the years, my planning process have changed to become more effectuation-like.

It is one thing to have a vision for the future. To have some sense of where you are going is good. The reality is that most visions are incomplete, moving targets. They are all based on current data or past experience. What Sarasvathy is showing us in her research is that the future is gain through adaptation. We take what we have to work with, and adapt to find the best possible outcome. This is effectual thinking.

Bill Taylor describes the difference that Sarasvathy sees between entrepreneurial thinking and the kind developed in business schools.

The difference in mindset, Sarasvathy concludes, boils down to a different take on the future. "Causal reasoning is based on the logic, To the extent that we can predict the future, we can control it," she writes. That's why MBAs and big companies spend so much time on focus groups, market research, and statistical models. "Effectual reasoning, however, is based on the logic, To the extent that we can control the future, we do not need to predict it." How do you control the future? By inventing it yourself — marshaling scarce resources, understanding that surprises are to be expected rather than avoided, reacting to them fast.

This way of thinking is much more concrete and present-centered. It is opportunistic and willing to take risks, and overcome them when they fail. I encourage you to read Sarasvathy's article, What makes entrepreneurs entrepreneurial? Share it with colleagues and friends and start to talk about how to think effectually right now.


Careful How You Think

"The thinking it took to get us into this mess is not the same thinking that is going to get us out of it."

Do you believe this statement attributed to Albert Einstein?

If you think the mess we are in is simply the product of George Bush, then your thinking will make the mess worst. If you think that Barack Obama will get us out of this mess, that too will only contribute to making things worst. If you think the mess is about greed, or globalism, partisanship in Washington, too many taxes, too few, or the lame attempts of the NY Yankees to buy their way to another World Series championship, then your thinking is only making matters worse.

This kind of thinking looks for scapegoats to blame and accepts victim status as a logical conclusion to the mess we are in.  This is the thinking that got us into this mess.

President Obama in his inaugural address spoke:

 ... What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

Let me suggest that hard work is not the place we begin. Rather, we begin by self-examination. We begin by seeking to understand what we don't know. We seek to identify those assumptions that have resulted in the kind of thinking that has created the mess we are in.

A place to start is with the writing of Umair Haque. He writes the Edge Economy blog. In a recent post he writes,

Scary new year? Think again. 2009 may look bleak - but this year, those with the purpose, courage, and vision to get seriously radical will have the opportunity to reconceive and reinvent the global economy.

This year, leaders of all kinds face a single, critical challenge: building 21st century organizations that yield new sources of advantage, powered by new rules of management.

Here's why - and how to get started.

Tomorrow will not be like yesterday. This is no mere recession: it's a tectonic global shift in savings, consumption, and investment. Today's macropocalypse is a rupture in the global economic fabric - and the next half-decade will be spent reweaving it. It is not a temporary departure from business as usual, an illness - it is a structural transformation, a lasting change.

20th century business isn't fit for 21st century economics. Yesterday's businesses were built for a world of overconsumption, artificially cheap production, symmetrical competition, and macroeconomic stability. That was yesterday. Today, the herd of industrial-era dinosaurs is going to be mercilessly culled - unless they can evolve to fit a radically altered economic environment.

Tomorrow's market leaders have new DNA. We've spent the last year identifying next-generation leaders - from the Obama campaign to Google to Threadless to Zara - and learning from them. They look and feel radically different because they were built for 21st century economics, not 20th century economics. They are organized and managed according to new rules; and it is those new rules that make the difference between surviving - and thriving in - the macropocalypse, or being vaporized by it.

You see "The thinking it took to get us into this mess is not the same thinking that is going to get us out of it." is not just a memorable aphorism. It is a fundamental description of humanity tendency to denial and self-deception when it comes to highly complex situations. The mess we are in today is the most complex of our lifetime.

My word to myself and to you is take responsibility for the way you think. Be skeptical, optimistic and pragmatic. Think through assumptions and reach their logical consequence. Think about impact. Think critically, not formulaically, and with real curiousity. This will begin to help think how to create a new DNA in Hague's vernacular for how we are going to live in the 21st century.


31 Questions: thinking & interaction

21. What thinking–human interaction skills do leaders need?

I know this is an odd construction - "thinking-human interaction".

Much of leadership takes place at the moment of interaction with people. The face-to-face meeting in a hall way, on the phone or at a conference table.

Many leaders at that point of interaction have the arrogant expectation that the other person has to get on board with their agenda at the moment.   

Better leaders learn how to get in the moment with people and understand not just what to say, but how to say it based what signals the other person is giving. 

This is called situational awareness. It is a very important human relationship skill.

To a great extent, this interaction is a thinking process. But it is not an analytical process. It is a process of synthesizing all sorts of scraps of information to know what is going on. 

How do leaders learn to think on their feet in this way?

Is this a natural ability that some have? Or is this something anyone can learn, if they are willing.

If you understand what I'm driving at here, you'll understand that I'm talking about the intersection between intellectual/thinking skills and the relational environment that the leader creates.

This isn't something they teach you in school. But they should. It is a defining skill of leadership that is rarely discussed.


Moving from Thinking-in-part to Whole

Circle of Impact-L&WHandout

Over the past week, I've spent time engaged in conversations about how to think. The situations vary. Some of these conversations are about how to develop a new organization, others are about how to think through problems or tell a story that leads to the resolution of some conflict or problem. In each of these situations, the ability to think in a whole-integrated manner rather than in parts is the key to progress.

In each case, I'm using the above Circle of Impact diagram as a guide. When we think in part, we focus on one or two of the Three Dimensions of Leadership -  Ideas, Relationships and Structure. Thinking in whole, we see these three dimensions aligned.

Here's an example of what I mean.

Misunderstanding - A Matter of Perspective?

The Manager's POV

A corporate manager finds that he is at odds with his boss. He feels mistreated because his best work gets criticized and in essence rejected. He becomes frustrated and loses motivation to do his best.  He and his boss reach a crisis point. He either changes to meet his bosses expectations that he is clearly not meeting or he leaves to find another job and repeat the process over again. Let's look at how he can analyze this situation using the Three Dimensions of Leadership as separate perspectives.

Treating this scenario in part, the manager sees the problem as simply a Relationship one. His boss is a jerk and just treats him badly, with no respect or confidence. He feels a victim, and speaks of his boss' bullying of him.

Secondly, he sees that there is a problem of miscommunication between them. He feels that he is not explaining himself well enough to his boss, which is explains why his boss doesn't understands, and treats him as he does. He reasons that he needs to better clarify his Ideas to his boss, showing that he is meeting his boss' expectations, and does understanding what he is suppose to do.

He also sees that there is a is a Structural issue whereby no matter how well he performs, he won't be able to meet his boss' expectations.

Until he looks at this scenario in a whole-integrated manner, he really doesn't know why his boss is critical of him. All three explanations are valid in the abstract, but are they in reality.  Each needs to be considered by him in order to resolve the conflict that exists.

In this scenario, the whole perspective begins with the manager understanding what his boss' expectations actually are, particularly in terms of methodology, timeliness and completed goals. He needs to see that fulfilling those expectations is not personal between them, but rather what is required to work within the structure of organization of the company. He needs to stop, listen and pay attention to his boss. While the boss' expectations are not personally imposed upon the manager, he needs to develop a rapport with based in respect of his boss through open, honest conversation.

The Boss' POV

The boss is thinking the following ...

"He doesn't follow instructions. He doesn't meet expectations. He is always venturing off on tangents that are irrelevant, time-consuming and counter-productive. He always has an excuse for not meeting goals. His excuses are never his acceptance of his responsibility, but someone else's failure. He says he is doing his best, but his best isn't good enough. He lacks focus, discipline, follow through and timeliness. His future with the company is on the line."

If the manager has been told this, and had not heard this, then the issue of thinking in a whole-integrated manner isn't simply thinking in a whole-integrated manner. It is the acceptance of responsibility of the implications of thinking in this way. To do so means he must listen to his boss' critique and address it in a positive, proactive way. He can't simply write off his boss as a jerk who doesn't understand that he is doing his best.

Moving from thinking-part to whole

It appears that to think in a whole-integrated manner is very time consuming. However, what I have learned from practicing this approach is that we actually see more quickly what is going on in situations, and therefore know what to do in response more quickly.

This faster thinking process leads to greater agility and confidence.  In doing so, we gain greater clarity about our lives and work; we can be more responsible, more effective and actually more closely come to fulfilling our potential.

It is important to see that thinking in part is fragmented thinking, unable to see the connections and relations between various aspects of life and work. Aligning our Ideas, Relationships within the Structure of organization in which we work enables us to see things that others do not. The ancients would call this wisdom. I call this Situational Awareness.

At the heart of the problem for this manager is not simply his relationship to his boss. It is his understanding of his boss' expectations and how he is to function within the structure of the company. If he saw these three dimensions in a connected way, he'd find the pathway to being his best would open up for him.

To move from thinking in part to whole is a process of learning to not personalize our thinking in such a way that we can only see our own perspective. This is what both the manager and boss had not been able to do. It is the challenge that we all face in complex life and work situations. Learning to see the whole picture frees us from the contrictions of thinking in part to seeing how we can bring our best to each situation that we encounter every day.