Harry Potter, the heroic sufferer

image from static0.srcdn.com

This post originally appeared on August 6, 2007, on the Leading Questions blog.

 

To Suffer is To Be Human

Professional people make mistakes. Some are minor, some idiotic, others catastrophic. Some are innocent, others not, some recoverable, many terminable. All professional people experience the suffering of failure and its consequences. Yet, we are not supposed to either acknowledge it or let it affect us. To do so is to deny our own humanity

Suffering in life takes on many forms. It can come at our own hands when we’ve done something regrettable or through the agency of other people. The question for us who are in the professional world is whether the suffering we experience has any value. Is there something to affirm in suffering, or is it simply an experience to avoid at all costs.

It was this question that came to me as I came to be introduced to Harry Potter. 

 

My Entrance into Harry Potter's World

I came late to the Harry Potter stories. All the reviews of the films and books had misled me to think that it is a story about the heroism and courage of a young boy at a school for wizards. For ten years, I could not muster the emotional energy to become involved in a story that is a children’s fantasy. Increasingly, my practical and intellectual interest is reality, the real world where people live and experience life. I’ve lived far too long diverted by spin and pseudo-reality. The world we live in, I find, is filled with fantasy, or rather it is an artificial world of escapist dreams. The diversion of fantasy can have the salutary effect of buffeting us against the suffering we may experience in real life. Yet, it is when we face reality that we discover aspects about our lives and ourselves that living in a dream world doesn’t afford. Ultimately, living in a fantasy world makes it more difficult to face the realities that beg for us to pay attention.

Recently, I listened to an interview with David Yates, director, and David Heyman, producer of the latest Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which compelled me to enter Harry’s world. The way they described the movie helped me to see that there was more than a children’s fantasy tale in J.K. Rowling’s story. So, over the course of one week, I watched the five HP films in order. I came away from viewing the series with a deep desire to read the stories, and will soon, and to reflect on their meaning for our time.

 

Harry Potter, the heroic sufferer

Harry Potter was born into suffering through the death of his parents. The experience of suffering for Harry continues through his mistreatment by the Dursleys, the peer abuse of the Sliveran punks, and then through the long series of attacks by Lord Voldemort. Of the reviews that I’ve read over the years, what stands out to people is Harry’s courage in the face of danger. It is certainly there, but what makes Harry the most unique hero of time, in league with Frodo Baggins of The Lord of the Rings, is the effect that suffering has upon how he lives his life. His strength in facing danger and tragedy has been born in suffering. During one of the movies, Harry comments that what he is facing is no worse than the loss of his parents and the abuse of the Dursleys. Suffering is the core of his life experience. It has made him the heroic figure that he is. As the child who lived, he lives not because of some magic ability, but because of the strength of character that comes through suffering.

 

This dialog with Sirius Black from the Order of the Phoenix film captures some of this perspective.

Harry Potter: This connection between me and Voldemort, what if the reason for it is that I'm becoming more like him. I just feel so angry, all the time. And what if after everything I've been through, something's gone wrong inside me. What if I'm becoming bad?


Sirius Black: I want you to listen to me very carefully Harry. You're not a bad person. You're a very good person, who bad things have happened to. You understand?


[Harry nods his head]


Sirius Black: Besides, the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters. We have all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the power we choose to act on. That's who we really are.

I find this a very biblical perspective that goodness and darkness inhabit us all, and that we choose to cater to one or to the other. Harry suffers because of the darkness in the world. This suffering has a chastening effect on him. It wipes away the illusions about there being some magical resolution to all problems. He understands that he must act. And so he does.

This perspective on Harry’s character reminds me of the ancient Stoics who had a similar reality-based view of life. They carried no fantastical optimism into life. They recognized that goodness rises out of suffering. C.S. Lewis, the Christian apologist and Oxbridge don had a similar idea that suffering produces a reservoir within us that increases our capacity for love. That is what I see in Harry.

Harry reminds me of Homer’s Achilles whose heroic endeavors are for honor within the community. For Harry, it isn’t some abstract notion of community that he serves. His courage comes from a core of goodness that is released through his friendship with Ron and Hermione and through the teachers who see in him something special. His suffering inoculates him from a fantastical idealism. He lacks the innocent optimism of youth that would certainly have been completely crushed by the Dursleys. In this sense, he is like the ancient Stoic who knows his duty and does it regardless of the consequences. He can never fully feel joy because the suffering of loss is with him all the time. Yet, he knows love from his friends, and their love for him inspires in him acts of sacrifice that completes the bond of their little community.

For me, this is what makes Harry the most compelling character that I’ve come across in a long, long time. I can’t wait to read the books because I want to see what Rowling sees in this. I don’t think his suffering is merely a literary device. There is a moral purpose to it, and through its power, transforms the community that surrounds him. Hear me correctly. Shared suffering transforms a community, giving them the strength to face the most challenging difficulties.

In the Order of the Phoenix film, at the point where the Hogwart’s wizards and witches leave to go to the Ministry in London, Harry tells them that he wants to go by himself. He says this to protect them from danger, death, and the experience of his own suffering. Yet, they know because they have been with him so long that their lives are cast together, and they now will share in his sufferings. It is a powerful statement about friendship and community. It isn’t simply the bond of shared values. It is the bond of shared suffering that gives their fellowship real depth and life.

It is this very experience that so many professional people lack. They experience suffering through failure, loss, or the cruelty of others. For the most part, they suffer alone. Several years ago, during a series of encounters with men in various professions, I asked them, “If you were found out to be a failure today, who would stand by you?” Virtually all of them could only answer, “My mother.” Tragic that professional people who are endowed with great talent and opportunity are also alone in their personal pursuits. It is at this point of failure that most experience the suffering of isolation. We lose a child or a parent, and people come to our side to offer comfort. It may not be the precise wording, but I heard once, “Success has a thousand friends, and failure none.”

It is also what so many churches, synagogues, and religious institutions miss as well. Communities that avoid identification with the suffering of others can only see suffering through the lens of an abstract philosophical concept. Listen to people who speak of the power of their religious experience. It often has to do with the experience of others reaching out and sharing in their suffering just when they need it. It is this shared suffering that makes the message of redemption so powerful for so many.

In The Order of the Phoenix film, near the end of the concluding battle at the Ministry, Lord Voldemort tells Harry that he is a fool and will lose everything. Harry looks straight at him and tells him that he has what Voldemort lacks, and that is friends and love. At that moment, Harry feels sorry for him. How many professional people in hearing this exchange will look at Harry with longing for the same type of camaraderie and togetherness?

 

Frodo’s suffering with Sam

The closest contemporary literary example to Harry Potter’s suffering is the story of Frodo’s journey to Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings. Frodo steps forward and accepts the role of the sufferer as ringbearer. He is able to do so because a fellowship of men, hobbits, elves, and trolls join him in the journey. Ultimately his journey to cast the ring into the fire that will consume it is a lonely one, shared only with his friend Samwise Gamgee. Throughout Peter Jackson’s treatment of Tolkien’s mythic story, we see Frodo change as he absorbs the suffering that comes with being the ringbearer. Frodo’s greatness comes from his determination to see his quest through to the end no matter what the consequences. Through suffering and the acceptance of his own mortality, Frodo does his duty and accomplishes what no other character in this story could do. Through the faithful long-suffering friendship of Sam, Frodo is able to bear the suffering through to the end of his quest. For Frodo, this suffering remains a mark forever on his life, a living presence that eventually leads him away from the Shire.

 

Suffering, Heroism, and Community

It is not unusual for contemporary films to feature suffering as a human experience. Often this suffering is viewed as the victimization of a person, rather than an experience that leads to strength, courage, and friendship.

As we see in Harry Potter, the core of his suffering is from the loss of his parents. Death in our society is treated as an inconvenience. It is the most inexplicable experience. Our culture hates to acknowledge our mortality. We retreat into unreality as a way of not dealing with it. Yet as we see in Harry Potter, a story that takes place in a fantastic world of wizards and witches, reality is filled with death and suffering. Out of this experience comes personal greatness and the salvation of community.

In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Yoda says, Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.”  This is the conventional wisdom of our time. We run away from the emotions of fear, anger, and hate because we do not want to suffer. What Yoda does not say, and what we see in Harry, is that these feelings of fear, anger and hate are real. Most of us suffer in silence because we are afraid to face this reality. When we accept suffering's reality, we can discover virtues that bring strength. Through Harry, we see not a person who has given in to his anger. Rather, we see his anger in the context of the love and fellowship of his friends. They are the counterbalance that transforms the sufferer from victim to hero.

 

Finding Strength in Suffering

I can’t tell you that you will find strength through your own experience of suffering. It is for you to discover, on your own, with people who care about you, the meaning of the suffering you may experience. Regardless of whether your suffering is self-imposed or an affliction from some other source, recognize that your struggle to find strength will make you a person who is able to befriend others who suffer in the same way. Ron and Hermione’s friendship with Harry was deepened by their sharing in his experience of suffering. Frodo and Sam were transformed through the suffering they shared. I don’t believe we can go looking for people who will share our suffering. Rather, the key to finding strength is our recognition and empathetic response to other’s suffering. In effect, we must give strength to find the strength that we need.

The embarrassment of failure, the humiliation of a lost job, the emptiness that comes with the loss of a loved one, or the anger that accompanies being the victim of another person’s cruelty can become a source of strength for greatness, if we let it. We see this in Harry. Can we see it in ourselves? I hope so.

 


The End and The Beginning Redux

Originally published November 29,2011.

*****

In March of 2011, I wrote a post called The End and The Beginning.  Here's an excerpt.

What I see is:

    The Beginning of the End of the Progressive ideal.

     The  End of the Beginning of the Capitalist model.

     The Emergence of freedom and democracy on a global scale.

The first two, Progressivism and Capitalism, along with modern Science, are the principal products of the age of Enlightenment.

The Progressive ideal believed, and still does by many of its advocates, that through government control of science and industry a free, equitable and peaceful world could be achieved. Conceived during the 19th century as a belief that society could be perfected, and as a counter-balance to the industrialization taking place in Europe and the United States, it was an utopian belief in a well-order, controlled, uniform world.

The Capitalist model was born in a belief that each individual should be free to pursue their own economic welfare, and not be forced by government rules or economic servitude to do that which they choose not to do. It was the ideology that provided the basis of the industrialization out which has come prosperity for more people in history and the rise of the modern middle class.

Both the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have brought great benefits and liabilities to society. They form the two sides of virtually every divisive issue confronting the world today. They are quite similar, yet in very different ways. Both are organized around the control of power and wealth. Both have been institutionalized in the large, hierarchical organizations in Washington and on Wall Street, and in similar institutions throughout the world.

Over the past decade, the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have begun to show their age. The assumptions that underlie these ideologies are being challenged by forces of change that are beyond their control. Because the control of global forces of change is problematic and less realistic.

I wrote this before the Occupy Wall Street movement began.

I have thought for a long time that there was an evolutionary cycle of institutional decline taking place. Some of this change was the result of out-dated organizational and leadership philosophies, and some of it the emergence of technologies that provide for a more boundary-less environment for communication and collaboration.

This change is an organic process that will ultimately transform or replace most organizations. While I still believe this to be true, I also see that there is a revolutionary cycle of institutional destruction taking place as well.

Read these two different views of the Occupy Wall Street movement. First, Naomi Wolfe's The Guardian article, The Shocking Truth about the Crackdown on Occupy. Then read Matthew Continetti's The Weekly Standard editorial, Anarchy in the USA.

If both are right, then what we are seeing is the rise of political violence on a broader scale in America than we have seen since the late 1960's / early 1970's.  I see parallels from my youth in this generation of young people who rush to join the protests, without really knowing what they hope to change. Their frustration is shared broadly.

A few times over the past few months, I have heard business people in differing contexts say something like, "I'm not making any investments in equipment, no acquisitions of companies, and no hiring until after next year's election."  The reason, instability, a lack of clarity about the rules. In effect, they don't know how their investments will be taxed. As a result, they are forced to sit and wait, contributing to a further erosion of jobs and economic sustainability for families and communities.

This fits with the trends picture presented by Charles Hugh Smith in his post The Future of Jobs. Look closely at the 5Ds at the end of this list.

Most cultural and economic trend changes begin on the margin and then spread slowly to the core, triggering waves of wider recognition along the way. Thus some of these long-wave trends may not yet be visible to the mainstream, and may remain on the margins for many years. Others are so mature that they may be primed for reversal.

The key here is to be aware of each of these, think on which are most likely to impact your current profession and how, and estimate when that impact is likely to be expressed so that you can position yourself wisely in advance:

  1. Automation enabled by the Web…
  2. The cost structure of the US economy—the system-wide cost of housing, food, energy, transport, education, health care, finance, debt, government, and defense/national security--is high and rising, even as productivity is lagging. …
  3. The stress of operating a small business in a stagnant, over-indebted, high-cost basis economy is high, and owners find relief only by opting out and closing their doors. …
  4. The Central State has been co-opted or captured by concentrations of private wealth and power to limit competition and divert the nation’s surplus to Elites within the key industries of finance, health care, education, government, and national security. ….
  5. Financialization of the economy has incentivized unproductive speculation and malinvestment at the expense of productive investment. …
  6. The U.S. economy has bifurcated into a two-tiered regulatory structure. Politically powerful industries such as finance, education, health care, oil/natural gas, and defense benefit from either loophole-riddled regulation or regulation that effectively erects walls that limit smaller competitors from challenging the dominant players. …
  7. Selective globalization and political protection has created a two-tiered labor market in the US. …
  8. Financialization and the two-tiered labor market have led to a two-tiered wealth structure in which the top 10%'s share of the nation’s wealth has outstripped not just the stagnant income and wealth of the lower 90%, but of productivity, the ultimate driver of national wealth.
  9. … Looking farther out, there are emerging trends I call “the five Ds:” definancialization, delegitimization, deglobalization, decentralization and deceleration. …
  10. Definancialization. Resistance to the political dominance of banks and Wall Street is rising, and the financial industry that thrived for the past three decades may contract to a much smaller footprint in the economy.
  11. Delegitimization. The politically protected industries of government, education, health care, and national security are increasingly viewed as needlessly costly, top-heavy, inefficient, or failing. Supporting them with ever-increasing debt is widely viewed as irresponsible. Cultural faith in large-scale institutions as “solutions” is eroding, as is the confidence that a four-year college education is a key to financial security. 
  12. Deglobalization. Though it appears that globalization reigns supreme, we can anticipate protectionism will increasingly be viewed as a just and practical bulwark against high unemployment and withering domestic industries. We can also anticipate global supply chains being disrupted by political turmoil or dislocations in the global energy supply chain; domestic suppliers will be increasingly valued as more trustworthy and secure than distant suppliers.
  13. Decentralization. As faith in Federal and State policy erodes, local community institutions and enterprise will increasingly be viewed as more effective, responsive, adaptable, and less dysfunctional and parasitic than Federal and State institutions.
  14. Deceleration. As debt and financialization cease being drivers of the economy and begin contracting, the entire economy will decelerate as over-indebtedness, systemic friction, institutional resistance to contraction (“the ratchet effect”), and political disunity are “sticky” and contentious.

So, a picture emerges that promises the economic and political environment to be more unstable and volatile over the coming year. I believe this requires us to make a change in our perspective about the way we view the evolutionary changes that are working in tandem and at time against the revolutionary changes of the past few months.

Understanding the Transition

Many of the people I am with on a daily basis feel a strong ambiguity towards institutions, like government, business and religion. Many of these institutions are failing, declining, or evaporating before our eyes. I don't need to go into the reasons why. It really doesn't matter that much because to a great degree, it is a function of the transition from one era to the next. I don't believe we can stop those changes. Our course of action is to be different. Here are some of the ways we can adapt to this changing social landscape.

1. Develop Parallel Structures that provide a buffer against the disintegration of legacy institutions. Creating parallel and redundant structures provides a greater margin of security against the shifts that are taking place. The thinking process behind this is to define the four Connecting Ideas of Mission, Values, Vision and Impact for your organization, and then answer, How do we create the structures that can fulfill the potential that resides in this ideas?

2. Develop Networks of Trust that provide a community of collaborators who stand with one another as economic conditions worsen. If society moves towards a more anarchic, violent place, then having a network of trust is essential for security and safety.

3. Develop a Long View / Big Picture that projects out how new ways of working can become sustainable.  Right now, using traditional plannng methods, it is very difficult to create a long range plan for development. Yet, without some clarity about the Big Picture, we are at the mercy of the current fashionable idea. Build a Long View / Big Picture around the Values that are most important to you and to those who are in your network of relationships. Strong values lived out in our relationships are an essential strength for being more adaptible in the face of revolutionary change.

4. Develop an Independent, Adaptable Mind that is able to discern the Big Picture in the moment of decision. Don't let someone else tell you what to think. Think for yourself. Do your own research. Read broadly. Think critically, with a view to understanding context, trends and what the Big Picture is. Engage in conversation, ask questions, change your mind, and build a network of people who are just as independently like minded.

5. Develop the Character of Resiliency that refuses to quit or fail, but continues to adapt and learn. This resiliency comes from an inner strength of courage and confidence that we can go through any difficult situation and remain true to ourselves. To be resilient requires us to see ourselves as more than the victim of current circumstances, but able to adapt and change to create the structures and relationships needed to advance forward.

6. Develop Traditions that Celebrate Values that unite people together as communities of shared mission and responsibility.  Of the four Connecting Ideas, Values is the only one that does not change. Our values are the glue that holds us together in times of crisis and stress. It is the core strength of every lasting institution. Those people and institutiosn that are able to change are the ones whose values are greater than its organizational structure.

7. Develop the Leadership of Personal Initiative in every social and organizational setting you touch. The attitudes and behaviors of entitlement and dependence, which have been nurtured by the institutions that are declining will not sustain society in the future. The freedom of the individual is the freedom to lead through their own personal initiative. The key is understanding that this initiative is the leadership of the future, as person who are free to act, join with others to create the parallel structures that are needed to replace the structures in decline.

The End and The Beginning Redux

I'm still convinced that we are witnessing the decline of Progressivism as a viable system for society. I'm also convinced that Capitalism as it has developed in the late 20th / early 21st century is not sustainable. I am more convinced than ever that individual freedom and the liberty of democracy are the trends that will carry us through the violence of the next generation. I say so because the era that is passing away before us will not go quietly. But go away, it will. That too I am firmly convinced.


The End and the Beginning

Originally Published March 14, 2011

*****

 

Seeing what's coming

What if our past experience instead of illuminating the future, obscures it? What if the way we have always approached a problem, or the conduct of a single day, or the organization of our work makes it more likely that we end up not accomplishing what we envision?

Working in planning processes over the years, I've concluded that people can see what they want, but fail to reach it because of how they go about it.  We can imagine the future, but not see the path that will take us there. This gap in our abilities is becoming more acute as the ways we have worked are becoming less effective.

From another perspective, we rarely see the end of something coming, or the beginning of the next thing. We tend to see in retrospect.  Our aversion to change, I believe, is largely because we don't like surprises. We defend the past hoping that it is sustainable into the future, even if we see a better, different one.The past, even less than ideal, at least seems known and more certain, more secure, more stable, more predictable, more comfortable, at one level.  It does not mean that it is satisfying or fulfilling, but it seems safer. 

As a result, instead of providing us a sound basis for change, the past can inhibit us from achieving the vision that we see. Instead, we live by a set of cultural forms that must be defended against change. In other words, the form of the way we live and work remains the same even after its vitality has gone. 

Change that has come

What impresses me about our time is how fast change is happening, and how quickly things we thought were normative seem less relevant.

Ten years ago, websites were the rage. You weren't on the cutting edge of business without one. Today, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a host of other social media platforms are the norm for a business. Twenty years ago, CDs were the norm. Now, digital I-Tunes downloads. Thirty years ago, the Soviet Union was the West's nemesis, now militant Islam. Forty years ago, Vietnam and racial equality were the dominant issues of our time. Now we have an African-American President, and Howard Schultz wants Starbucks in Vietnam. Fifty years ago, President Kennedy was challenging the nation to go to the Moon within the decade. Today, the government is putting space exploration on the back burner as space travel is becoming privatized.

Could we have imagined these changes?  Possibly. We'd probably not be able to see how they'd happen. That is the curious thing about visions and visioning. We can imagine the end, but not the means.  The pathway to the future goes through today and tomorrow. Yet, we are captives of our past thinking and experiences.  They are the measure of what is possible and what can be done.

The End and the Beginning

I have been reflecting, in particular, on these thoughts over the past several months.  I've tried to step back without prejudice and identify what I see without reducing it down to a few simple categories. What I do see are the markers of change in three broad areas.

For one it is the The Beginning of the End, for another The End of the Beginning, and for another, surprisingly, The Beginning of a long delayed Beginning.

Some of this reflection was prompted by a conversation about a project event to take place later this year. It was a discussion about how businesses function. The contrast was between a focus of work as a set of tasks to be done and the importance of human interaction in meeting organizational goals. I realized coming out of that conversation that this project, for me, represented a turning point in human and organizational development. It provided a picture of the past and the future. The past as the Industrial model of business organization and the future of organizations as communities of leaders. That last phrase was what I envisioned a decade and a half ago when I began my consulting business. Only now, after all these years, do I see that simple idea beginning to have relevance for the way we live, work, organize and lead organizations.

What I see is:

The Beginning of the End of the Progressive ideal.

The  Endof the Beginning of the Capitalist model.

The Emergence of freedom and democracy on a global scale.

The first two, Progressivism and Capitalism, along with modern Science, are the principal products of the Age of Enlightenment.

The Progressive ideal believed, and still does by many of its advocates, that through government control of science and industry a free, equitable and peaceful world could be achieved. Conceived during the 19th century as a belief that society could be perfected, and as a counter-balance to the industrialization taking place in Europe and the United States, it was an utopian belief in a well-order, controlled, uniform world.

The Capitalist model was born in a belief that each individual should be free to pursue their own economic welfare, and not be forced by government rules or economic servitude to do that which they choose not to do. It was the ideology that provided the basis of the industrialization out which has come prosperity for more people in history and the rise of the modern middle class.

Both the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have brought great benefits and liabilities to society. They form the two sides of virtually every divisive issue confronting the world today. They are quite similar, yet in very different ways. Both are organized around the control of power and wealth. Both have been institutionalized in the large, hierarchical organizations in Washington and on Wall Street, and in similar institutions throughout the world.

Over the past decade, the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model have begun to show their age. The assumptions that underlie these ideologies are being challenged by forces of change that are beyond their control. Because the control of global forces of change is problematic and less realistic.

A principal assumption of the Enlightenment is that we can know what we need to know by analytical decision making. In other words, by identifying the parts of a situation, we understand it, and therefore can design a strategic mechanism for controling the outcome.  This analytical process works very well in the realm of the natural sciences, less so in the realm of the social sciences. To paraphrase novelist Walker Percy, "Science can tell us how the brain functions, but not about the functioning of the mind."

At the beginning of this essay, I wrote of what I was seeing The Beginning of The  End of the Progressive ideal and The End of the Beginning of the Capitalist model. Neither of these observations are political statements. I am not a Democrat, nor a Republican. I am not a Progressive nor a Libertarian. I find none of the current choices of political affiliation representative of my own perspective and values. I speak as an outlier, not an antagonist. 

I see these ideological movements as products of a different time in history. The assumptions and the way of thinking that brought these ideologies into prominence are now receding in appropriateness. The conditions that gave rise to these ideas over the past three hundred years are now giving way to new conditions.  If progressivism and capitalism are to survive, then their proponents must change.

Emergent connection

These ideologies born in the age of Enlightenment share a reductive approach to knowledge. In other words, we gain knowledge and understanding by breaking things into parts. The assumption is that things are collections of discrete parts.  Yet, we know that in the natural sciences, the mixing of different chemical elements creates something new and different that cannot exist in any other way. Water being the most obvious example.

However, in the social realm, there is a shift toward emergent knowledge as the basis for understanding what is.  The emergent perspective sees connections and wholes rather than just parts. In a network of relationships, the value isn't one person, but rather the connections that one person has to other persons. 

List-NetworkThink of it as the difference between those radio ads selling lists of sales leads, and knowing the person who has a relationship with 100 of those buyers. The former is a list of contacts, of names and addresses. It is a parts list.  The other is a picture of a network of connections that one person has. This second picture is the picture of the future, for it is a picture of relationships.

We see emerging forces all around us. Again, this is not a political statement, but an observation. One difference between the Tea Party demonstrations and the Union demonstrations of the past year is the difference between an emergent organization and a traditional hierarchical one. The Tea Party organization is intentionally decentralized in local communities. Unions are designed as centralized concentrations of power.  One body speaking for a host of organizations.

 The difference here is between a centralized and decentralized organizational structure, like that described in Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom's book, The Starfish and The Spider. The centralized structure (the spider) is vulnerable at the top. Take down the leader, and the organization suffers significant loss of prestige and power. The decentralized system (the starfish) is not vulnerable at the top, because there is none. In a decentralized system, no one expression controls the fortunes of the whole. The centralized is the industrialized model, and the decentralized, an emergent one. The system that the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model share is one of centralization. Operating separate from both are independents and small business entrepreneurs. The difference is between a hierarchy of control and a network of collaborative relationships.

The recent rebellions in the Middle East are also examples of this emergent model. The use of cell phone and internet technology to connect people in agile, less structured ways make these rebellions possible, not necessarily successful, but possible.Their desire is for a freedom that they see provided and secured by democracy. When thousands of demonstrators fill the streets of Cairo seeking the end of a repressive regime, their impact is far greater than their numbers. We see a visual counterpoint of the difference between being a nation of free people and one living under an authoritarian government.

Even as the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model decline, the impetus towards freedom and democracy grows. I heard recently that there are now more nations with democratic governments than at any time in history.  Democracy that grows from a grassroots base is an emergent model. The impact is greater than the sum of its individual parts. In an emergent context, one person's actions can serve as a catalyst for thousands more. For example, the recent uprising in Tunisia was started  when a street merchant Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the abusive treatment by police of his vegetable cart business.

The Network is Emergent

In business, the emergent model has relevance. When a business perceives itself to be a structure of parts, processes and outcomes, following upon the centralized industrial model, then it has a much more difficult time seeing the value that exists in the relational connections that exist both between people and within the structure itself. It is why so many businesses become siloed and turf battles insue.

Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy

However, when a business sees itself as a network of interactive individuals, then the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The result is higher levels of communication, collaboration and coordination.

While the Progressive ideal and the Capitalist model are products of the age of Enlightenment, emergence, freedom and democracy are even older ideas finding new ground and relevance.  In the traditional business organization, their relevance can be seen in two ways.

First, in the freedom of the individual to take responsibility through their own initiative. This perspective harkens back to the ancient Greek democracies where Greek farmers and small business owners participated in the governance and protection of their city-state. For businesses to replicate such an ethos requires a shift in perspective from employees as functionaries of the tasks of the company to a recognition of the potential contribution that each person offers. It is in this sense that each person leads out of their own personal initiative to give their best to the company.

Second, in the emergence of businesses as human communities of shared responsibility. The traditional approach has been to break down the organizational structures into discrete parts of tasks and responsibilities, and to staff to that conception of the organization. This traditional hierarchical approach worked in simpler times when businesses were less global, more homogeneous, and employees less well trained, and had the technology to advance their contributions beyond their individual position in the company.

Today, the environment of business has changed, as the context becomes more complex and change accelerates. Agility and responsiveness are not embedded in structure, but in human choice and in relationships that amplify those shared choices to make a difference. It is the freedom to take initiative to act in concert with others that creates the conditions of successfully managing the challenging environment of business today. The result of a greater emphasis on relationship, interaction and personal initiative is a shift in culture. One only has to select any page in the Zappos.com Culture Book to see the influence of genuine community upon the attitudes and behaviors of the company's workforce.

The Keys to Change

I began this post by saying that we rarely see the end of something coming or the beginning of something new. What I offer here has been germinating in my mind for the past three years. It is still not yet fully formed, and may never be. Yet, I am convinced that the changes that I see happening mean that there is no going back to the halcyon days of the 1990's or even the 1950's.  Business organizations will not long succeed as mechanistic structures of human parts. Rather they must emerge into being communities of leaders, where individual initiative, community and freedom are fundamental aspects of the company's culture

The keys to the future, in my mind, are fairly simple.

1. Leadership starts with individual employees' own personal initiative to make a difference. Create space and grant permission for individual employees to take initiative to create new ways of working, new collaborative partnerships and solve problems before that reach a crisis level.

2. Relationships are central to every organizational endeavor. Create space for relationships to grow, and the fruit will be better communication, more collaboration between people and groups, and a more efficient coordination of the work of the organization.

 3. Open the organization to new ideas about its mission. Identify the values that give purpose and meaning to the company's mission.  Organize around those values that unite people around a common purpose, that give them the motivation to want to communicate better, collaborate more, and coordinate their work with others.  Openness is a form of freedom that releases the hidden and constrained potential that exists within every company.

We are now at the End of an era that is unprecedented in human history. The next era is Beginning, and each of us has the privilege and the opportunity to share in its development. It requires adapting to new ideas, new ways of thinking, living and working. I welcome the change that is emerging, because I find hope that a better world can be gained through its development.


The Social Space of Situational Awareness

WP_20130919_18_36_25_Pro

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

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

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

Situational awareness functions in real time and in real places. Think of it as a relationship, as a connection, to people, places, ideas, structures, institutions and to one's self. The space is a kind of gap, a discernable distance, between me and the other. This space is a situation that calls upon us to think, to engage, to decide and to act in a way that reduces the distance that exists between me and the people and situations that stand apart from me.

Situational Awareness is the skill that enables a person to establish community, peace and reconciliation in places that are fragmented, broken and in transition from what they once were to what they will be in the future.

These social relationships are varied and inter-mingled in time. They follow patterns of attitudes and behaviors, but not always in a predictable fashion. To be socially aware is to observe all that is taking place in a space, and, then, understanding how to respond appropriately.

Here's an example.

Walking into a coffee shop on the way to work, you are talking on the phone. You acknowledge the server, see your best friend in a business meeting in the corner, nod an acknowledgement, and, read an ad on the community bulletin board for a local theater group's play to be performed this coming weekend. The phone call ends. The order is placed. An introduction is made to the friend's business contact, and, order for tickets to the play made from the smart phone all within a matter of just a few minutes.

However, what if this typical busy, non-stressed moment in your morning, randomly includes the following. After you've order your coffee, the person next to you picks up their coffee, the lid pops off, and the hot liquid goes all over her and the floor at your feet. As you turn to find some napkins, you see that your ex-mother-in-law is standing in line behind you with your ex-husband's new wife. Then a text message buzzes, and it is your son letting you know that he has been in an auto accident on the way to school, and that he is okay. 

We move through situational spaces that require us to observe, engage and act. If however, we personalize all these situations, we then demand that each of these situations function for our benefit.To personalize a situation is to make it about ME, and, to narrow and confine the possibilities for interaction and impact.

To practice situation awareness is to see a larger picture, where my needs, wants, desires and demands, are not at the center, but just another set of considerations to be addressed in that moment of decision.

To treat this moment from a socially and situationally aware perspective is to take the initiative to help the woman whose coffee has just spilled, by reaching for some napkins, and to begin to help clean up the mess on the floor. At some point, you wipe coffee off of your own shoes. Instead of ignoring your ex-mother-in-law, you go over say hello, and introduce yourself to your ex-husband's new wife. Then you pick up your coffee, step aside, and text your son asking whether he needs you right now.

If, in each of these situations, we are unsure of ourselves, lacking the confidence to know what to do because we are unsure of who we are, then we avoid having to make these choices. We may stay hunkered over our smartphone, reading email as if no one else in the shop matters. We present an image of strength and detachment in order to block out intrusion.

Charles Taylor speaks about these spaces as a moral space, as "a space of questions" that require us to make distinctions. These distinctions that we make in these situational moments are answers to the fundamental question of who am I in this particular setting at this moment in time. If everything is personalized, or, if we lack the confidence to make those decisions, or, if we have no clear idea of what we believe or value, then these situations fill us with fear and anxiety. What happens in situational space reveals who we are at our most basic level.

This is why living in the world of The Spectacle of the Real can be so attractive. We vicariously live through the lives of others, transferring responsibility for acting as a person onto the celebrity or the news opinion reader, instead of discovering the life that is available to us to live. The development of Situational Awareness is a path towards understanding who we are, finding our identity, and with humility and confidence, understanding how we are to fit into all the social situations that we find ourselves in every day.


Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

  SocialConformity

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

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

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

One of the most challenging aspects of being situationally aware is learning how to deal with the social conformity that lies at the root of all social environments.

Social Conformity and Self-knowledge

Much of our socialization as children and adolescents were not intentionally focused on developing situational awareness as I describe it. Rather, we were taught various ways of conforming to the social requirements of a particular situation.

Social conformity breaks down situational awareness by suppressing individual initiative.

The institutional form of social conformity requires us to think less for ourselves by operating according to a set of prescribed codes and processes. Ironically, the "expressive individualism" as Charles Taylor describes in his book, A Secular Age is at the same time conformity to a wider consumer culture.

I believe ... that our North Atlantic civilization has been undergoing a cultural revolution in recent decades. The 60s provide perhaps the hinge moment, at least symbolically. It is on one hand an individuating revolution, which may sound strange, because our modern age was already based on a certain individualism. But this has shifted on to a new axis, without deserting the others. As well as as moral/spiritual and instrumental individualism, we now have a widespread "expressive" individualism. This is, of course, not totally new. ... What is new is that this kind of self-orientation seems to have become a mass phenomenon.

... With post-war affluence, and the diffusion of what many had considered luxuries before, came a new concentration on private space, and the means to fill it, ... And in this newly individuated space, the customer was encouraged more and more to express her taste, furnishing her space according to her own needs and affinities, as only the rich had been able to do so in previous eras.

While we perceive ourselves as individuals, we still make choices that are motivated by the fear of rejection or retribution for standing outside the circle of conformity. To think for ourselves in a situationally aware context requires us to have the self-knowledge that enables us to see social situations more objectively, to engage people without personalizing the interaction, and to discern what is in the best interests of the group.

Social conformity produces a personal identity that is formed by external conditions governed by institutional rules and defined by objects that provide us our identity.

Consider all the groups a person experiences from kindergarten through high school. Family, academic, sports, arts, religious, and community organizations each have a set of guiding values. From place to place, town to town, organization to organization, each one provides a developmental experience that may or may not have the intention of creating stronger, mature, life-ready individuals.  Each institutional situation does require some sort of accountability to the goals and values of the group. An overriding concern, therefore, is when social conformity is accomplished by cohesion, threat, and fear. An extreme example of this would be the practice of hazing as an initiation rite into membership of a social organization.

Group-oriented organizations can provide lessons in how to fit in, to play the game that others control, and how to win or excel as a group. One of the realities of this situation is that some people are better at whatever the purpose of the group is. Whether it is math class, football, or band, there emerges a recognition that every group is ordered according to those who are the elite players and those who are the support ones. Every kid knows who the cool, the key, the elite members of their school or group are. It is a part of the process of social organization and conformity.

This kind of institutional social control is a product of a time when our society was based upon people working within large institutional organizations. If you are going to grow up, work in a factory, in a corporate environment or any large complex organization, knowing how to play the game of social conformity is essential to success. There are multiple boundaries that a person must learn to negotiate to function well in those complex settings.

However, this kind of social conformity is becoming less and less beneficial in society. Institutions are no longer capable of sustaining life-long employment where the benefits of fitting in are rewarded. Instead, in today's world, advancement comes through not fitting in, of moving from one organizational setting to the next, as a means of finding the most advantageous place for ones' gifts and talents to be expressed. In effect, advancement is "expressive individualism" as a life strategy.

As a society, social conformity works less and less for more and more people. A recovery of genuine identity is essential. Today, we need to develop self-knowledge that provides skills of objectivity, engagement, and discernment.

The virtue of self-knowledge is that it provides us the foundation upon which we can develop the social awareness that is necessary to be effective in a global world of connection.

As I have explored this aspect of our lives, I believe we can say this much.

Situational awareness begins with self-knowledge.

I can stand apart; I can see what is going on; I can empathize with a person; I can avoid compromising situations.

With self-knowledge I grow out of the need for every situation to be about me, and I lose the fear of what happens when I do not fit in.

When I am able to be myself, without losing myself, then I am able to see how to build relationships of understanding and collaboration that create strong families, organizations and communities.


In the Moment of Situational Awareness

  WP_20140918_22_36_51_Pro

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

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

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

From this place, situational awareness enables us to discern the influences that affect us both internally and externally. From those perceptions, we gain perspective. We can because we see the distinction between external realities and inner strengths. The external realities of the situation we are in seeks to control and absorb our attention. Our inner strengths are those qualities, so may say character, that enables us to move into a wide variety of settings without losing our sense of who were are.

External Realities - Inner Strengths 

Here's a depiction of this perspective that resulted from my engagement with a group of young women who are each in the midst of a dramatic life change.

ExternalRealitiesInternalStrengths
They identified the six eternal realities that they must address in their lives. Then from our exploration of them, we came up the ten inner strengths that would be most helpful for adapting to those realities with the greatest benefit.

The conclusion is that we need "tools" for coping with challenging situations. This is why situational awareness is a skills-based capacity, and, not just a tactic or an idea.

Here's an example of what I mean.

Like many of us, I often encounter people who are panhandlers, asking for some spare change for various reasons. They may or may not be homeless. They may or may not be telling me the truth about why they need the money. Their reasons don't really matter. What matters is the interaction we have at the precise moment of our encounter.

My values tell me that each person, regardless of their life situation, should be treated with dignity as a human being. That doesn't mean that I have to approve of their life choices, or whether they have the self-respect that should accompany that sense of dignity, or that I should even trust them. It is that without a belief in the inherent dignity of each individual, we do not have a foundation for a relationship that allows us to honestly explore what is possible between us.

If a person on the street, who asks me for help, is clearly not high or drunk, then I will do something to help him or her. If they say they are hungry, I will take the time and buy them a meal. If they say they are hungry, yet do not want the meal, but the money, then I know that there is an ulterior motive in their request to me.

I tell them that is all I am willing to do. (This reflects the boundaries that I have set for my interaction with this person.)

If they say they need a bus ticket, I may drive them to the bus station. If I am convinced that this is a legitimate request. I will ask them lots of questions to determine whether the story is legitimate. If I'm satisfied that it is, then I will help them.

If they are drunk or smell of alcohol, I'll send them to the local agency that works with people in need.

I hope you see by this scenario that I have constructed a way of being situationally aware that does not place me in conflict with the external realities that are clearly designed to do so. Many of our interactions with people are intended to put us in a compromised position so that we give against our wishes and our own interests. The key is being prepared to relate to the person or group as they present themselves to us right now, at this moment, not historically, or as may happen in the future.

I have decided that to treat people with dignity, who lack self-respect and feel no reciprocal dignity towards me, requires the kind of internal strengths identified above. 

To learn to do this brings freedom and peace of mind to our relationships, both those with whom we live and work every day, and, those who are strangers that we encounter outside of our normal environments.

Situation awareness is a type of intuition into a particular situation.

We see into it, connecting different observations, sensations with logic and past experience.

We see into the situation as a result.

Let's take this interaction a step further.

The dignity I offer to a person asking for help is to believe what they tell me. To respect them as a human being, and to establish a relationship of trust. Even if this is for a minute or two, it is important to do this.

Social conformity, which I wrote about in my previous post, is derived from the need for secure external circumstances. The goal is to minimize the internal discomfort that we may feel as we encounter all kinds of people every day. These feelings of discomfort are the ground upon which we build the inner strengths that we need for situational awareness.

There is a kind of natural co-dependency that occurs when social conditions are secure and constant. It is the picture of happy families and homogeneous communities in movies.

Times of social and economic disruption is more traumatic for people. Their emotional health and sense of self-worth become dependent upon the support and constancy of external circumstances. In other words, when personal security is found in conforming to some social expectation, we lose the best parts of our individualism, and become more resistant to change and social difference.

When a person goes through a divorce, loses their job, finds their children are disabled in some manner, or the nation goes to war, the community experiences a catastrophic natural disaster, or at a more superficial level, their favorite sports team fails to win the championships that everyone expected them to do, then these are not simply emotional blows to be weathered as better times return. Instead, these changes may be threats to one's own sense of self, or identity.

Returning to my scenario of the panhandler, if I give her or him, I then tell them the following.

"I am giving you this money trusting that you are telling me the truth. I have no way of knowing this. But you do. This money is a gift to you. In response, I only ask you that when you are given the opportunity, that you do the same for someone else. I am asking you to give to someone as an act of thanks for the gift that I am giving you right now."

The money is not the point. Establishing a rapport of trust, dignity and mutuality are.

To act in this way requires discernment that is learned at a deep level. It requires of us to be able to listen to the story behind the story, to ask questions that get to that story, and from that awareness, determine whether there is a possibility of establishing, even for a moment in time, an open, trusting relationship. If we can do this once, we can do it again and again.

The risk is that I may have totally misread the situation, and I have squandered the price of a bus ticket or meal on someone who is simply using me. That is the price I pay for treating people with dignity. I accept that and am willing to take the risk because of the times when the response is one of deep gratitude.

The point is not the money, but the story we tell ourselves about who we are in social situations. My story is about dignity, trust, and generosity.

 


The Story We Tell Ourselves

  IMG_6362

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing the Situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I sell insurance."

I'd respond with,

"What kind?"

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

"How do your new customers find you?"

Or,

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

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

Another Approach

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

3dLeadership - Purpose-Vision-Values

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

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

Values:

I ask:

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

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

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

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

Purpose:

I ask:

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

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

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

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

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

Impact:

I ask:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vision:

I ask:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Horizon for Self-Reliance

IMG_1998

Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence. Wherever a man separates from the multitude and goes his own way, there is a fork in the road, though the travelers along the highway see only a gap in the paling.

Henry David Thoreau
Journal, 18 October 1855

Wallace Stegner in his collection of essays, Marking The Sparrow's Fall, writes on American self-reliance.

"Henry David Thoreau was a philosopher not unwilling to criticize his country and his countrymen, but when he wrote the essay entitled 'Walking' in 1862 ... He spoke America's stoutest self-confidence and most optimistic expectations. ...

(Christopher Lasch in The Culture of Narcissism) reports 'a way of life that is dying - the culture of competitive individualism, which in its decadence has carried the logic of individualism to the extreme of a way of all against all, the pursuit of happiness to the dead end of a narcissistic preoccupation with the self.' ...

Assuming that Thoreau spoke for his time ... and that Christopher Lasch speaks for at least elements and aspects of his, how did we get from there to here in little more than a century? Have the sturdiness of the American character and the faith in America's destiny that Thoreau took for granted been eroded entirely away? What happened to confidence, what happened to high purpose, what happened to hope? Are they gone ... ?"

The American virtue of self-reliance sounds archaic compared to the modern conventions of self-improvement and self-help. The difference is worth noting.

We think, possibly, that Thoreau's time was much simpler, and being self-reliant was easier to achieve. Today, everything is so complex. We may wonder whether being self-reliant is possible? 

Self-reliance today as compared to Thoreau's day is quite different. As the world has become increasingly complex, to think that we can do all that we need to do on own is a recipe for frustration and aggravation. Unlike in Thoreau's day, today, we interface with so many organizational structures. Independence as described by Wallace Stegner is no longer really possible. As a result, self-reliance has to be understood in the context of living and working  in organizations. There we must related to a widely diverse set of people. Self-reliance and people skills go hand in hand today. 

Self-reliance is not narcissistic self-centeredness. It is rather the ability to know that we can walk into any situation and know that we can figure out how to function well in it, making a difference that matters because of who we are and what we desire.

My series of blog posts Situational Awareness gets at this reality.

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

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

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

This is a core skill of self-reliance.

The Horizon of Self-reliance is not independence but freedom. Our freedom to adapt to situations, to connect with people in meaningful ways, and, to take initiative to make a difference that matters.

 

To find out more about this way of approaching our lives, sign up for my email list.


Three Keys to Situational Awareness

First published August 25, 2014


IMG_0596

Recently I began to work with a group of young women who are in an addiction recovery program. I meet with them each week to work on the life skills they will need once they graduate.

One of the skills we work on just about every week is situational awareness.

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

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

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

This is where I begin in describing situational awareness.

A friend invites you to a business-after-hours event or a presentation at the local community college. You arrive. Walk into the room. Don't see your friend. The room is filled with people that you do not know. They are mingling around talking with one another. What do you do?

There are two choices.

You find a wall, or the corner of the room, and hope no one sees you.

Or, you begin to introduce yourself to people.

Situational awareness is a missing element in many people's lives. The rapid deterioration of relational and social skills needed for a healthy society is a result.

The lack of this skill is manifested in making every situation about me, instead of about the group or the other person. This is either out of fear or by forcing one's own personality upon a group. In either case, this is a product of the weakness of individual self-perception.

Situational Awareness is a skill, not a cultural condition outside of us.

It is a capacity to see, to engage, and discern what I am to do.

Because situational awareness is a skill, it requires preparation, practice and the mastery of those skills. Anyone can learn them. Even the most introverted person can learn how to walk into a room, function well in that social environment, and walk out having accomplished a specific goal for their time at the event.

In addition, I know no skill that is more valuable than being able to function well in situations that are uncomfortable and alien to our past experience.

Three Keys for Situational Awareness

I have found situational awareness one of the most important skills for individuals and groups who are in the midst of change. There are three keys to developing the skill of situational awareness: Objectivity, Engagement and Discernment.

Objectivity

The key of objectivity helps us see things from a detached perspective. We can, in effect, stand apart from the crowd, read it, and know what we are do in response.

It is virtually impossible to be absolutely objective. Absolute detachment is a mental disorder requiring a total loss of empathy, or the inability to emotionally connect with people. That is not the kind of detachment I see.

The kind of detachment that I am describing is the ability to stand apart, and see the various facets of a situation. It is the ability to not personalize the situation as being about me. When we make a situation about me, we are unable to see the range of motivations that may be affecting the attitudes and emotions of people.

To personalize is to narrow our situational awareness, and make it more likely that we won't understand what is going on.

Walk into a crowded room of strangers. What are the power dynamics of the room? Can you see who is comfortable, who is shy, who likes to draw attention to themselves, and how long to spend with each person that you meet. This kind of detachment identifies why we want to meet someone, what we'd like to see happen in the encounter, and how to structure the beginnings of a new relationship.

This is more than making connections, telling my story, picking up some business cards and leaving. It is about seeing the opportunities to make a difference in the room at that very moment.

To be objective in this way is to see time suspended, so to speak, in the moment. With this person, I am fully present, attentive to what they are saying. I'm listening to connect. I am not looking at my phone, thinking about my next appointment, or observing the person that I see over her left shoulder. I am right there in the moment, not thinking about myself, but about the person before me.

Objectivity, therefore, is the ability to connect with another person in such a way that we understand who they are and how we might contribute to their life or work. This is an essential ingredient in every sales call and every service encounter that we may have.

Engagement

For this kind of detached objectivity to work, we need engagement. It seems counter-intuitive to say that being detached requires us to be engaged.

To be engaged is to emotionally connect with the people we meet in the room.

We are detaching ourselves from making our interactions all about us, about validating some perception about ourselves by other people.

Engagement requires a kind of empathy that sees into the life that this person is leading. As social settings and communities become more culturally diverse, less homogeneous, we need the ability to engage people as people, as individuals, rather than as objects of interest, a point of sale transaction or out of fear. Doing so, as well, with respect towards the social and cultural differences that distinguish us one from the other.

The portal for engagement, the path into an engaged relationship begins with the ability to listen. Every person's story is a set of cues about who they are. Even those statements and stories that the other person uses to hide themselves, or present themselves in a stronger position than they actually are, or, simply to lie to us, reveals who this person is. We are the same way.

We want to manage other people's perception of who we are as if that perception is a brand. However, the more manufactured that perception, the less engaged we are. The pathway to engagement is through the kind of vulnerability that Brene' Brown describes.

Engagement, as a result, is how we establish ourselves as authentic people. Not by showing authenticity, but by being authentic. By this, we must learn to be transparent (vulnerable), open, listening, while at the same respecting boundaries. The boundaries are ours, not the other person's. For essentially what we are doing by enagaging the other person is establishing the ground for trust.

Discernment

In the social context of a room of strangers, we need to discern who people are and know what I have to offer in that situation. 

Recently I attended a celebration event for some friends. As I walked into the living room of the home, I saw that I was the only male in a room with 35 women, two-thirds of them I did not know. I immediately realized that my presence could create an awkwardness in the room. I didn't go hide in the corner. I didn't pay my respects to the host, and quietly leave. Instead, I went around the room and introduced myself to every one present. I did so to create an individual comfort level between me and each person in the room. The event was a great celebration and I came to know some new people whom I respect for their support of the cause we were celebrating.

Discernment is a process of seeking answers to the questions we have about people and situations. I'm trying to answer, for example. Do I know this person from another context? Do we have any mutual friendship? Are we Facebook or LinkedIn friends? Is he trustworthy? What is she interested in? Am I am being trustworthy? How far can I go in being transparent with this person? Do we share some value or commitment that gives reason for us to develop a relationship or a friendship?

This is why discernment is the third leg of the stool. It helps us answer the questions that flow through our minds in new or dynamic social situations.

The goal of engagement is to determine whether there is a possibility for a relationship. For a relationship to work, or be healthy, or, happy, requires each person to be open and trustworthy. It is important to understand that our responsibility is to be open and trusting, not really to determine whether the other person is. The engagement and interaction will bear this out in time.

Establishing clear boundaries for our relationships is so important. These boundaries must first be my boundaries. Without an understanding of how far I'm willing to go in being transparent and vulnerable, I cannot see or discern to what extent the other person or persons are open, trusting, and, whether they have an understanding for what is appropriate for the situation in which our relationship is being formed.

Discernment, therefore, is a skill that understands how to translate the values that guide our lives into decisions that affirm those values in action.

This is how learning to be situationally aware can lead us to find strength for our lives and build relationships of openness and trust, so that in any situation we can make a difference that matters.


Harry Potter - 21st century Leader

image from external-content.duckduckgo.com

This post originally appeared on March 18, 2008, on the Leading Questions blog.

 

Over the past three months, I have read the entire Harry Potter series. I just finished Deathly Hallows, and I must say that it is delightful to read a series of books that ends well. I don't mean a happy ending, though it is, but rather, a well concluded ending.

Here are a few of my reflections on Harry as a 21st century leader.

1. Team Harry leads.  Ron and Hermione are his partners in leadership. Their communication is a fine example of how a group of people needs to interact and care for one another. Caring is important because it is the basis of trust and honesty.  It isn't always easy. However, at the core of their friendship are values of love and belief in one another. This is how they are able to weather the ups and downs that all relationships face.

2. Character is more important than his skills.  The whole series is about the development of Harry's character. I won't give away any of the story. But there is a point near the end of the seventh novel where the choice he makes is emblematic of his character. It frees him to face his arch-nemesis, Lord Voldemort, without fear. It doesn't mean he isn't afraid of the danger. It means that he is prepared for whatever outcome results. He is at peace with himself and the world. The character emphasis is important to J.K. Rowling the author because throughout the series she shows Harry to be a rather indifferent student.  Yet, in the heat of battle, he is the one above all the rest who is capable leading.

One of the subthemes running through the series is the interplay between good and evil, and their connection to human community and human institutions. The triangular relationship between the Ministry of Magic, Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and the Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore and his Dumbledore Army is a commentary on modern Western society. There are those who treat people, communities and institutions as subjects of their own will to power. There are those within those institutions who believe that the institutions represent an end in themselves, and all those outside the boundaries of the institutions are threats to its continued existence. And there are those for whom friendship and personal endeavor are what make a community worth investing in.

What Rowling shows in her seven-part story is that evil and institutionalism fail because of a lack of love. At the heart of character is sacrificial love. Harry's leadership is authenticated by his willingness to die for those whom he cares about. For Voldemort and the administrators of the Ministry, manipulation and control are the heart of leadership. These inadequate, destructive human motivations are shown in the story to be weaker than the power of the love of friends. 

3. Leadership greatness is born in suffering.  We live in an era where all pain and suffering are viewed as bad and without value. Pleasure and self-aggrandizement rule. However, the picture we have of Harry is of a young man who turns suffering, pain, and loss into the motivations to create goodness and friendship. The loss of his parents, the loss of his godfather, the loss of friends, the suffering at the hands of the Ministry, and ultimately the loss of his mentor are not experiences that have broken him as a person. They have strengthened him to be the kind of leader that communities and organizations in crisis need. His hard life instills in him a drive for a depth in human friendship that is the very strength that overcomes the power of evil.  

I wrote about this earlier in Harry Potter, the heroic sufferer

4. Be a learner, not a student. In every instance, Harry looks deeply into his experience to understand it. He has no impulse toward academic abstract reflection. Instead, he is the Aristotlean everyman whose greatness comes in action, not in ideas.  His courage, his insightfulness, his decisiveness in battle are all characteristics of a man of action. Harry doesn't turn to books to find his answers. He depends on Herminone to do that. Harry rather turns to contemplation in action to learn what he must do. He absorbs the learning and it becomes the basis for his ability to lead successfully.

5. Understand that leaders develop leaders. This overworked idea operates in the series as Harry's preparation of Hogwarts students for battle against the forces of Voldemort. Their preparation does not disappoint as they take the lead when he is separated from them in every respect. They have taken his courage and embedded it in their own hearts. How did this happen? It happens as Harry trains and mentors them. He did not do this as their superior, but rather as their able peer and friend whose care for them extended to their preparation for battle.

The world that J.K. Rowling has created is not parallel to ours. It is perpendicular. There is really very little one-to-one correspondence between the world of wizards and our world. What connection does exist is different enough so that we can see our world in new ways. This is true of the picture of leadership that she gives us in the person of Harry Potter. I recommend reading the entire series in as short a period of time as possible. You'll gain a picture of what is possible in our world if we only choose to put character instead of power and position at the heart of organizational leadership.

 


Sailing with a World Class Leadership Team

First Posted September 1, 2007.

PeterGrimm1

In 1987, for a period of about two weeks, I stayed up most of the night watching big 12 meter yachts compete in the America’s Cup race. ESPN, in its first decade of life, broadcast the series live from Freemantle, Australia. I couldn’t get enough of it.  The energy, the danger, the team work, the margins of error and success, all contributed to an impression of yacht racing that has stayed with me ‘til this day.


PeterGrimm2
What captivated me about these yachts was the ability of their crews to push them to the edge of their capacity. Because of the cameras on board, viewers could get a really close up view of what goes on during a race. It was teamwork on the edge of chaos, at the edge of disaster, and at the edge of the physical limitations of man and technology.  The boats would tact to gain wind advantage, and cross by the stern just feet away from another boat. Here's a video of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Recently, I spent some time with a sailor who is the chief of a crew that competes in the SuperYacht class. Peter Grimm of Doyle Sails in Ft. Lauderdale is a family friend. Peter sails in 100 races a year, all over the world. The accompanying pictures were taken of the boat that his team sailed called Perseus. I asked Peter about what leading a competitive team in the Super Yacht category is like. There is a crew of 27 divided into three teams. Each team has a team leader who stays in constant contact with Peter. A boat like the Perseus will have a staff of six who maintain the boat and serve guests. During the competition, the owner and a few guests will sail along with the racing crew.

 

PeterGrimm3
I asked Peter about his role as leader of the crew. He quickly knew exactly what to say. There is no ambiguity in his mind about what it takes to be a world class sailing team. Here’s his description of the leadership qualities that he looks for from his team leaders.

Anticipation. When they are sailing in the chaos of competition, there is little room for error and no time to reflect on what is the best option at that moment. So, Peter expects his team leaders to anticipate his next move. Most of his team have been with him for 15 years. They know one another and his team leaders know how he thinks. For example, he wants his team leaders to anticipate when they will tack (make a turn) and prepare his team for that moment when Peter gives his command to tack.  Anticipating that decision saves precious time, and may be the difference between winning and losing.

PeterGrimm4

Calm under fire. Peter wants his team leaders to have a cool head in the heat of competition. If his team leader gets overly excited, that surge of adrenaline gets translated to his team, and the team’s edge is lost. Adrenline-rush impacts brain functioning. This is a physiological phenomenon that performers in other fields, like law enforcement and combat, experience, where fear and exhilaration accompany a situation of crisis and chaos. So, team leaders with cool heads keep their teams cool, that way the can communicate better, work in a tighter, more coordinated fashion.

Follow through on assignments without question. When Peter told me this, my first thought was of blind obedience. He explained that there is no time for discussion during competition. When he makes a decision, and he tells his team leaders to implement it, he wants guys who will do just that. In other words, on a sailing team, the roles are clearly defined, and the crew chief is the decision maker.

Tenacity.  Peter’s team leaders need to have a mindset that no problem or obstacle is insurmountable. The challenge on a sailing yacht is never let the difficulty of the race to persuade your team to believe that all is lost.

PeterGrimm5
Humility.  Odd that humility be paired with tenacity, but this is what Peter says is essential. He says, that on a racing yacht, “losing is normal; tomorrow, no one will remember who lost or won.” Humility in this context is the recognition that perfect is the goal that is never achieved. There are too many variables that make absolute perfection possible. So, it is important for team leaders to realize that they will make mistakes, and have the humility not to let that failure affect their performance.

Preparation and Planning.  One of the aspects of leadership Peter and I discussed was how his team prepares for a race. As the crew chief, he says that he has to care about his crew. He needs to know them, understand their personalities, know their life situation, and be able to adjust to their individual situations. As his crew begins their preparations for a race, he discusses with them goals and PeterGrimm6
expectations. He told me that it is important to be realistic. If it is realistic to expect to be finish in the top ten out of a hundred boats, then that is their goal. They set a realistic goal, and then plan for how they will achieve it. They discuss all aspects of what takes place during a race. 

As stated above, he expects his team leaders to follow his commands because there is no time for discussion in the midst of a race. However, he does expect his crew to be honest and forthright. He told me of one crewmember who was not going to race in a particular competition because of the birth of a child. This guy though kept up from home on what was happening, even reading thoroughly the competition rules that were posted online. He emailed Peter to check a specific phrasing of a rule because it was a bit different than what they expected. Suggestions and performance critique are expected, but typically are given following training runs and competitions.

PeterGrimm7
Here’s what I take away from Peter Grimm’s description of what it means to be a world-class sailing crew leader. High performing teams need to incorporate two seemingly contrary characteristics.

First, each member must perform at the highest possible level within their assigned role and responsibilities. A crewmember who is distracted is a danger to the whole boat, and possibly the other boats in the race.

Second, each member has to take the personal initiative to make the team the best it can be. They do this by observing and offering comments to improve team performance. The reality is that leadership as initiative is required of all members of a team. The crew leader’s job is one of preparation, coordination and execution.


Peter Drucker and the New World of Economics, Society and the Individual

Original_510602899

The following was first posted November 19, 2008. It looks at some of the work of Peter Drucker. His prescient ability to see global change should draw us back to his writings as insightful for our time. 

Reflecting on what I wrote ten years ago, I am more convinced than ever that our past, whether capitalist or socialist, is inadequate to the task of informing us as to what our future will be. We are at a transition point in human history that is unprecedented because there is an opportunity to create new institutions and new ways of functioning as a global society. 

What does this future look like? I cannot say with any confidence. However, my conviction is that the political and economic systems that have been dominant for the past one hundred years have reached a point of exhaustion and growing impotence. What follows? That is the question that should be the center of our conversations going forward. The writings of Peter Drucker would be a good place to start this conversation.

++++++++++++++

A couple days ago, I was compelled to pull off my book shelf a couple of books that I read in the early 1990's by Peter Drucker.  I wanted to see what he had to say about economics, globalism and entrepreneurialism that may be relevant to what has been taking place recently.

Peter Drucker, who died at the age of 95 in 2005, was an Austrian born journalist, lawyer, and academic, who came to America in the late 1930's and became known as the father of modern management. His writings on leadership and management helped to frame how we understand business and a changing global social context. The impetus to start my own business came from reading his Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the mid-1980's. To get a good idea of the range and power of Peter Drucker's mind, download his 1994 The Atlantic Monthly article, The Age of Social Transformation.  I'm indebted to Peter Drucker as one of my intellectual mentors. I hope you will find insight and inspiration in these selections of his writing.

Two books I pulled off the shelf to revisit are The New Realities (1989) and The Post-Capitalist Society (1993). I'l quote from the books and then comment.  

Keynes, the post-Keynesians, and the neoclassicists alike cast the economy in a model in which a few constants drive the entire machinery. The model we now need would have to see the economy as "ecology," "environment," "configuration," and as composed of several interacting spheres: a "microeconomy of individuals and firms, especially transnational ones; a "macroeconomy" of national governments; and a world economy.  Every earlier economic theory postulated that one such economy totally controls; all others are dependent and "functions."  In the marginal-utility world of the neoclassicists, the microeconomy of individuals and firms controls the macroeconomy of government.  In the Keynesian and post-Keynesian worlds, the macroeconomy of national money and credit controls the microeconomy of individuals and firms.  But economic reality now is one of three such economies. And soon the economic region (as in the European Economic Community), may become a fourth semi-dependent economy. Each, to use a mathematician's term, is a partially dependent variable. None totally controls the other three; none is totally controlled by the others . Yet none is fully independent from the others, either.  Such complexity can barely be described.  It cannot be analyzed since it allows of no prediction.

To give us a functioning economic theory, we thus need a new synthesis that simplifies - but so far there is no sign of it. And if no such synthesis emerges, we may be at the end of economic theory. There may then be only economic theorems, that is formulae and formulations that describe or explain this or that phenomenon and solve this or that problem rather than presenting economics as a coherent system.  But there also then would be no "economic policy" as the term is now understood, that is, no foundation for governmental action to manage the business cycle and economic conditions altogether.

Economic policy requires that lay people such as politicians understand the key concepts of economic theory, but economic reality is much too complex for that.  It is already difficult, if not impossible, to give answers understandable to a lay person to the simplest economic question.  If there is not again a simple economic theory - or at least one capable of simplification - then there can be only "economic policies" aimed at a specific problem, such as an inadequate savings rate.  There can be only what might be called "economic hygiene" or "preventive economics." These would aim at strengthening the basic health of an economy so that it could resist even severe bouts of economic crisis rather than at curing a crisis or managing it.  (The New Realities, 156-158.)

Those words were written during 1986-87, over twenty years ago, and well describe the economic situation that we now find ourselves in today. A complex global economic environment that does not yield to simple, completely integrated theories. And yet, these different spheres of economic activity - the individual, the firm, the nation-state, the transnational or global corporation and the economic region - are integrated in such a way that a failed bank in the US or a natural disaster in eastern Europe can impact an Indian entrepreneur or a Japanese merchant.

A half decade later, Drucker wrote.

Only a few short decades ago, everybody "knew" that a post-capitalist society would surely be a Marxist one.  Now we all know that a Marxist society is the one thing that the next society is not going to be.  But most us also know - or at least sense - that developed countries are moving out of anything that could be called "capitalism." The market will surely remain the effective integrator of economic activity. But as a society, the developed countries have also already moved into post-capitalism. It is fast becoming a society of new "classes," with a new central resource at its core. ... the real, controlling resource and the absolutely decisive "factor of production" is now neither capital nor land nor labor.  It is knowledge.  Instead of capitalists and proletarians, the classes of the post-capitalist society are knowledge workers and service workers. (Post-Capitalist Society, 5-6.)

Political and social theory, since Plato and Aristotle, has focused on power.  But responsibility must be the principle which informs and organizes the post-capitalist society. The society of organizations, the knowledge society, demands a responsibility-based organization.

Organizations must take responsibility for the limit of their power, that is, for the point at which exercising their function ceases to be legitimate.

Organizations have to take "social responsibility."  There is no one else around in the society of organizations to take care of society itself.  Yet they must do so responsibly, within the limits of their competence, and without endangering their performance capacity.

Organizations, in order to function, have to have considerable power. What is legitimate power? What are its limits? What should they be?

Finally, organizations themselves must be on responsibility from within, rather than on power or on command and control. (Post-Capitalist Society, 97.)


As I have tried to understand the political and economic developments of the past two months, I've talked with many people about what they think and are experiencing.  The one constant is the sense of having no power or control over their circumstances. They feel at the mercy of forces beyond their reach. This certainly means that we have fully arrived at the world Peter Drucker saw forming twenty plus years ago.

What are we to do?  I believe we need a shift in perspective about who we are individually, about the nature and responsibility of the leadership of organizations, and what is within our power to achieve in a realistic sense.

First, we need to think of ourselves as personally responsible for our lives, even if we feel that we've lost control of the environment of our lives. Only by accepting responsibility for our lives will we make the necessary changes to create the climate in which we can succeed. A decade ago, Daniel Pink wrote a provocative article in FastCompany magazine, followed by a book, called Free Agent Nation. His singular idea is that regardless of what we do, who we work for or with, that we must think of ourselves as "free agents" responsible for our vocational lives.  We must take charge of our life situation, and not transfer authority and responsibility for it over to some other person or organization. Only by taking personal responsibility will we find solutions to our immediate problems. This requires that we must become more open to new possibilities, new relationships, new directions and new challenges to meet.

More than ever this means that each of us must become learners. If you are bored by reading, try one of the books that offers short selections by Drucker. Stimulate your mind to think about ideas and their application. Begin to write down your thoughts in response to what you read. Think of reading as a conversation with an author. Find someone to share you thoughts, or better, share them on a weblog. It is not enough to read widely, but to think widely by learning to express what we feel in our hearts about what we read and see.

To prepare ourselves to lead in this new world that Drucker describes, we must discipline ourselves to begin to ask questions that lead us to people who can help us learn. If you need help, go to your local community college, sign up for continuing education courses, work on a new degree, learn a whole new field of knowledge, before you need it.  No one is going to come invite you to read and expand your education, even though I am doing that very thing at this moment. We must take responsibility to do it for ourselves. As President Eisenhower said, "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers." Learn to be an effective reader. If you need advice, just ask.

Ultimately this leads to the conclusion that I've been writing about for many years, that leadership begins with personal initiative. It is the initiative of taking personal responsibility for the environment you are in. Whether you are a CEO, a manager, a sales person, or a line worker, leadership emerges from the initiative of the individual to do what is needed to make a difference right now for the right reasons and in the right way.

Second, I suggest that each of us begin to think of ourselves as knowledge workers. Again, here's Peter Drucker.

Post-Capitalist Society deals with the environment in which human beings live and work and learn.  It does not deal with the person.  But in the knowledge society into which we are moving, individuals are central.  Knowledge is not impersonal, like money.  Knowledge does not reside in a book, a database, a software program; they contain only information. Knowledge is always embodied in a person; applied by a person; taught and passed on by a person; used or misused by a person. The shift to the knowledge society there puts the person in the center.  In so doing it raises new challenges, new issues, new and quite unprecedented questions about the knowledge society representative, the educated person. (Post-Capitalist Society, 210.)


This means that we have to understand what we know and its value in the context of where we live and work.  These are the assets that each of us can develop and use to great effect in organizations and our communities.

Lastly, we need to think of economics as not only the complex set of interconnected spheres, but also as a bottom-up phenomenon driven by entrepreneurs who create new enterprises that form the economic foundation of communities.

Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity for a different business or a different service. It is capable of being presented as a discipline, capable of being learned, capable of being practiced. Entrepreneurs need to search purposefully for the sources of innovation, the changes and their symptoms that indicated opportunities for successful innovation. And they need to know and to apply the principles of successful innovation.


But everyone who can face up to decision making can learn to be an entrepreneur and to behave entrepreneurially. Entrepreneurship, then, is behavior rather than personality trait. And its foundation lies in concept and theory rather than in intuition.

Every practice rests on theory, even if the practitioners themselves are unaware of it. Entrepreneurship rests on a theory of economy and society. The theory sees change as normal and indeed as healthy. And it sees the major task in society – and especially in the economy – as doing something different rather than doing better what is already being done.

Entrepreneurs see change as the norm and as healthy. Usually, they do not bring about the change themselves. But – and this defines entrepreneur and entrepreneurship – the entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.

Entrepreneurs innovate. Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship. It is the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth. Innovation, indeed, creates a resource. There is not such thing as a “resource” until man finds a use for something in nature and thus endows it with economic value.

Entrepreneurs will have to learn to practice systematic innovation. Successful entrepreneurs do not wait until “the Muse kisses them” and gives them a “bright idea”; they go to work. Altogether, they do not look for the “biggie,” the innovation that will “revolutionize the industry, “ create a “billion–dollar business,” or “make one rich overnight.” Those entrepreneurs who start out with the idea that they’ll make it big – and in a hurry – can be guaranteed failure. They are almost bound to do the wrong things. An innovation that looks very big may turn out to be nothing but technical virtuosity; and innovations with a modest intellectual pretensions ... may turn into gigantic, highly
profitable businesses. The same applies to nonbusiness, public–service innovations.

Systematic innovation therefore consists in the purposeful and organized search for changes, and in the systematic analysis of the opportunities such changes might offer for economic or social innovation. (Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 19, 26, 27,30, 34-35.)


At the heart of my own perspective of leadership is this notion of the entrepreneur. Most of us are "leading from the middle" and are caught in the vise of expectations that are all around us. The only way to "escape" and thrive in an environment like this is to take responsibility for our own development, know our value in the marketplace of organizations, and develop the disciplines of innovation and entrepreneurship that enable us to be effective people of impact in any and every situation.

++++++++++++++

Peter Drucker describes a future that elevates the individual in society to a level of responsibility and influence that has not been known in our life times. He calls us knowledge workers. This insight is a foundation perspective for my Circle of Impact model of leadership. Today, because of these changes, and the emergence of technologies that very few could have anticipated when Drucker wrote, the opportunity for individuals to make a difference in the world is greater than every before. The challenge that is now before us is one where the structures of the world are stuck in seeking to sustain their past into the future, as their performance declines, and their organization become increasingly starved for leadership of the kind that Peter Drucker describes. This is part of what I mean when I say, "We are ALL in transition."


From Fragmentation to Wholeness

 Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy

To create order is to create a structure for control. To release control creates a opening for initiative and collaboration. This is the transition point that modern organizations are passing through from hierarchy to the network.

If you know me, you know that meeting people from diverse walks of life is a passion for me. I find people infinitely interesting, their background, their thinking, how they found themselves doing what they do, their hopes and dreams, and their perception of their strengths and potential.

There is a reality that I see in many of them that is equally interesting.  Many of them are unfulfilled in their life and work. It isn't that they don't have a passion for something, or don't know enough about themselves to know what their strengths and gifts are. No, it is that most have never found themselves in either the social or organizational setting where they could flourish as human beings.

As I write this I'm mentally scrolling through the places where I live and work. I'm thinking about the people whom I've met and known over the years. Thinking about common characteristics that distinguish them and united them together.

What are the common characteristics of non-fulfillment and of life fulfillment.

Here are three.

Do you have a purpose, a mission, or a calling? Can you define this as something more than what you do as an activity, and more as something you create and achieve?

Do you have a supportive, encouraging, open and honest network of family and friends? Are there people who understand you, who stand by through thick and thin, who believe in you, your mission and the impact  you want to achieve?

Does your workplace and home life provide a context where your purpose and your relationships can flourish? Are you constrained by the structures that frame your life? Or, does the lack of order within your calling mean that there are opportunities that you fail to achieve?

My observation is that these characteristics are in descending order of occurrence. More people have a sense of purpose, fewer people have a truly healthy social network, and by a large margin, the fewest people work and live in social and organizational contexts where they can flourish.

The Circle of Impact


Circle of Impact- simple
For a decade, I've been using this diagram as a conversation / thinking tool to help leaders and their organizations understand where the gaps are in their business.  Here's a simple description of what I see.

Leadership is a function that every person can perfom to take "personal inititative to create impact." 

I am not defining leadership as a role or an organizational postion. Like many leadership theorists, I see these roles as management, rather than leadership.

Therefore, the Three Dimensions of Leadership that every leader must address are Ideas, Relationships and Social & Organizational Structure. Ideally, every person within an organization takes personal initiative through their ideas and relationships, within social and organizational structures to create impact. As a result, a company becomes a leader-filled organization, rather than one starved for leadership.

The four Connecting Ideas of Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact provide the glue, the ligaments and tendons that create the wholeness of an organization.

Each of the three leadership dimensions must be aligned with one or more of the Connecting Ideas. Here's how.

The social and organizational structures are aligned with the organization's purpose. If these structures aren't, there is conflict and fragmentation.

The relationships within an organization are aligned with the values that create a common identity and character as a community of people.

However, it is not enough, to have values. Many organizations have a strong value system, but lack purpose. A community of people need a vision for how their purpose that makes a difference that matters.  It must challenge them to grow, to remain open, and to inspire leadership initiative all with their community. 

The Connecting Ideas permeate all aspects of an organization. Every person, every unit, office, group, committee, or board needs purpose that guides, values that unite, a vision that inspires, and an understanding of impact that defines the future of their organization.

The Structure Dilemma

Having been working with this perspective for over a decade, I've come to a challenging conclusion.

The problem in most organizations isn't the attitudes and behaviors of people. The reality is that people are products of their environment, or the social and organization structure of your business dictates what attitudes and behaviors fit within that system.

Most organizations work from a hierarchical stance. There are bosses and managers who direct employees work. This industrial model of management worked well when the tasks of work were non-creative, repetitive and mechanical skills based. Today, we live in a world of creativity, information and the skills require are for human interaction, communication and collaboration. The old structure doesn't align well with this new reality. Network

As I wrote in The End and The Beginning, this shift from hierarchy is an epic one. As I said recently, "Imagine Proctor & Gamble without bosses and managers, just leaders."

The emerging structure for organizations is the network. Each person participates by their own initiative. Each person contributes through their own unique offering to the network.

I call this "leading by vacuum," which simply means that people do what they are gifted or able to do, which opens up the environment for people with different talents and skills to contribute.

In an hierarchical structure, the efficient ordering of the parts and their compliance are primary. This structure is highly susceptible to fragmentation, compartmentalization and corruption through concentrations of power.

In the network, personal initiative, collaboration and communication make human relationships central.  This is an emergent reality, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The power resides in the network and those who know how to engage more people to contribute. It is a leadership of facilitation and ingenuity, rather than control.

I first saw this reality in mid-1970's when I heard the Modern Jazz Quartet in concert. Sitting in a large concert hall with these quiet instruments I saw these four musicians communicating through them. Here is MJQ playing one of the signature tunes, Django. Watch for how their unspoken communication and timing work together.

 

Each person in the band is essential. Each person has their part to play. The impact is a sound which transcends one instrument, and blends the four into something evocative.

The Quest for Wholeness

If you know that your business or organization is fragmented, splintering apart, difficult to hold together, then what you are experiencing is the end of the viability of a traditional hierarchical structure. You feel it before you can truly see it. By feeling it, you know that others do too.

Bringing wholeness to your structure begins with the Connecting Ideas.

Reaffirm your purpose.

Identify the values that build connections between people.

Create a vision that inspires personal initiative.

Define the difference you seek to create so that you and everyone else can be absolutely clear as to what your impact is.

Begin this process in conversation. Use the Circle of Impact Conversation Guides. Hire me to come facilitate the conversation, if necessary. I'd welcome the opportunity to work with you and your leaders.

Creating a network business structure starts with establishing relationships of respect, trust and mutual reciprocity. Out of those healthy relationships, the network emerges to provide a platform for leadership initiative to create impact.

As the network grows, allow it to establish the organizational structural components that it needs. Remain open to change. Stay vigilant in affirming and acting on the Connecting Ideas.

The future is the network. And the future is now.

Creating a Network of Relationships

Here are some additional conversation guides that can help you understand how to create your own network of relationships.

How Social Networks Work
How To Expand Your Social Network
How Information Flows Through a Social Network


Change: No Lines, No Waiting - A Personal View

IMG_0371

Last spring, when I was plunged head first into the bottom of the recession, I thought I understood what change was about. I did and I didn't.

Let me put it another way.

When we enter an unknown territory, we tend to rely on past experience to guide us through.

Take the above picture for example. You are walking up this hill for the first time. You may assume that what is on the other side is just like this side, but it isn't.

What if the other side looked like this.

IMG_0362

If it was, you would be ill-prepared to face it. For many people this is what they have experienced with this recession. Increasing, but manageable hardship, then, boom, the bottom drops out, and you have to descend in order to reach the bottom so you can begin to move up.

I'm beginning to think that very little of my past experience prepared me for what I've experienced. The degree and kind of change required of me were not what I expected.

I thought change was about looking for new markets as I "re-invented myself." In retrospect, what my best efforts did was delay the inevitable. We think that change is about markets, programs, branding, and organizational structure. Those are just tactics that follow something else.

What I discovered is that I had to change as a person.

Even saying that doesn't capture what I've learned. It doesn't because it isn't about me.

Whether you are 25, 50, or 75, dealing with change isn't about who you are or what you do. It is rather about putting yourself in the position to make a difference, to make a contribution, to create impact. This idea has been part of my methodology, embedded in my Circle of Impact materials, for over five years. But how I dealt with change was too abstract, logical, rational. It didn't deal with reality.

I'm been thinking about the speed of change.

A lot of people want to slow change down. They want time to adapt to it. I've become convinced that we need to speed up change. We do because it forces us to simplify our life and work. Squeeze out the non-essentials and a higher level of productivity results.

I know. It is all very counter-intuitive. The faster you change, the slower life becomes. I know it sounds like something out of the Matrix. But, it is true.

Therefore, here's my recommendation. Ask the following questions. Write down your answers.

1. What do I do right now that has the greatest impact upon other people?

How do I make a difference that matters?

Now, increase the amount of time that you spend doing that.

 

2. What am I doing right now that seems like nothing more than an obligation?

Begin to plan now for ending it as soon as possible.

 

3. Pay off as much debt as soon as possible.

Build your cash reserves so that you'll have the freedom to stop and start again.

 

4. Create a list of the assumptions upon which you make your major decisions. Write them down.

Be skeptical of each assumption.

Make sure that each is valid, not simply a good sounding idea.

 

5. Be patient, persistent, and light-hearted.

I call this Resourceful Optimism.

Practice it and you'll get through.

Change is going to happen regardless of what happens. it is best to be prepared for it when it comes.


The Speed of Change

PuuWaveBreak1

 

In 2010, I wrote a post, Change: No Lines, No Waiting, where I stated the following.

Whether you are 25, 50 or 75, dealing with change isn't about who you are or what you do. It is rather about putting yourself in the position to make a difference, to make a contribution, to create impact. ... (I learned that) how I dealt with change was too abstract, logical, rational. It didn't deal with reality.

I'm been thinking about the speed of change.

A lot of people want to slow change down. They want time to adapt to it. I've become convinced that we need to speed up change. We do because it forces us to simplify our life and work. Squeeze out the non-essentials and a higher level of productivity results.

I know. It is all very counter-intuitive. The faster you change, the slower life becomes. I know it sounds like something out of the Matrix. But, it is true.

As I edited and republished that post last night, I began to think about the "speed of change" phrase.

Two images come to mind.

Image One.

Change is like a wave.

PuuWaveBreak2

A large wave. It comes at you, and if you are standing still it hits you - Whappp! - then drags you in its wake until it has moved on, and you are left gasping for air. Then the next wave of change comes along, hits you, and instead of being the master of change, you are hanging on for survival.

Instead of standing still and being hit each time by change, you have to climb on top of it and ride it until it begins to run out of steam, you curl off of it, to prepare for the next wave.

This is the kind of change we are all in today.

I'm no different than the rest of those who have been run over by a wave of change that came out of nowhere, doesn't even have a name, and is gone.

I am fast coming to the conclusion that what we once thought of as stability, consistency, and continuity in life was just our experience of the slowness of change. There has always been change, but it just never reached the level of a hurricane storm surge. Until now.

What is it about us as human beings that we want to remain where we are?

Why is change what we resist instead of boredom and unfulfillment?

Why are we willing to make our world small and confined just so we can feel in control?

If it sounds like I'm calling for us to give up on our commitments and do whatever is before us, that would be wrong. That is not the point, at all. Instead, it is questioning what we mean by commitment, focus and staying the course through to the end. It is questioning what we think it means to be effective and successful.

Life today is not a placid pond where we can gently float through our days.

IMG_0357

Instead, life has become an endless series of big waves, roaring down a mountain river full of rocks, whirlpools, massive amounts of water in your face, with no place to escape, it seems.

One after another we are seeing changes happening in our world that are totally disruptive to everything we have told ourselves is the way the world is.

Change forces us to simplify. We simplify by being clear about our values, and clear about the impact we want to have. Too many of us are more committed to the processes of our work than we are to the impact. When process takes precedence, we become disconnected from the outcome of the process. I know I live in a world where process is everything, and hardly anyone can say what the outcome of our work is.

The speed of change magnifies the problem because an overly process-centric organization cannot maintain former process levels when things speed up. The wave of change crushes processes. Instead, we need to know how to trim back the process, and move to knowing how to create impact in the moment as the opportunity presents itself. That is how to ride the wave of change.

Image Two.

Change is a door, a threshold, to what is next.

IMG_0234

Showing you a door is misleading. It suggests that we enter, and we stay awhile, but that doesn't get at the real issue at the heart of the speed of change.

Instead, let's see change as a series of doors in an endless progression, coming at us an increasingly level of speed.

Between each door, we enter a specific context or situation that demands that we perform at our best. As I was thinking about this, this scene from Monsters, Inc came to mind.

This is what change is like. Moving from one context to the next, without continuity, and, at a pace that does not allow us time to think through every single possible option.

The speed of change requires us to think fast, decide fast, act fast and move on fast. 

It means that we need to have more than tactical skills for change, and, more than a long-range strategy for impact. It means we have to be prepared to be the person who can walk into the room and know what we have to offer to whoever is there.

This means that we have to simplify our lives, become more clear about who we are, who we are not, and, what we want from the life and work that gets offered to us on the other side of every door.

Even this picture doesn't fully get at the real issue we face with the increasing speed of change. There is something deeper, more personal at work in this context of change.

The modern world has robbed most of us of the confidence that former eras had from doing, making, creating and crafting things. Today, we are manipulators of objects, processes, financial resources and people. We do one thing, but we rarely see the outcome of that one act of work. The result is a vague sense of accomplishment, or, none at all.

Today, we find our confidence in our affinity towards ideas or symbols. For example, most people I know who are die hard Democrats or Republicans find it easier to tell you why they are not members of the other party, than their own. Their affinity is not to the outcome of the party's policies, but to the culture of symbols that the party claims as their distinctive value.

Same with sports teams. I have been a Boston Red Sox fan all my life. Not because they won, but because I started following them as a kid, and still do. People follow the Dallas Cowboys, America's Team, because they symbolize something specifically American in the minds of many fans. 

The confidence that we find in these associations is not the kind of confidence that makes it easy for us to deal with an increasing speed of change. We look for strength and security in our affinity associations. It is why fans are fickle, faithful until a rainy day spoils the parade to the championship or election.

To gain the confidence that we need, we have to be able to quickly move into a new space, and, know what our contribution can be.

This is what I mean by having a story that we tell ourselves.

We enter a room. We don't know these people. They may be Yankee fans or hate football. There's no affinity. Yet, we have to deal with the situation as it is presented to us. The story we tell ourselves is of the impact that I can have with at least one person. Just one person is enough. Maybe two is better, but one is enough. Because one can lead to more.

We are not thinking about how to fit in the group. We are thinking about how I can connect with these people so I can make a difference in their lives right now. Making that connection is essential to finding what it is that we can do to create some good in the moment that we are there.

There are three things we need to recognize every time we pass through a new door.

Context: We need to be able to see the social, relational, cultural and organizational context quickly.

We need to be able to assess what is going on, so we can move into action. We cannot assume that what is on the other side of the next door will be the same as the last two or ten doors. We must develop the capacity to understand what is going on as quickly as possible so we can move to begin to make a difference.

Content: We need to have something to offer people.

This is the content of our thoughts and character as a person. We enter into these situations confident that we have the substance to make a contribution that means something to someone or the group.

This content is best presented as a story. It isn't the story I'm telling myself, but the one that I've prepared to tell others. To not have a story is a lack of confidence. To have a story is not egocentric or arrogant. It is rather being prepared to connect with people at a deeper level than is typically happening at the moment of introduction.

Connection: We establish connections with the people because it will be these relationships that move with us through the change we experience.

As we encounter the speed of change, we need to move more quickly than we have in the past. We will find when we do, that much of what we are now doing is adapting to changing circumstances. The quicker we do so, the better off we will be.

This is what I've learned. I no longer fret over change. If anything, when I see the change that needs to be made, I'll become more impatient, ready to move through the door and catch the wave as it moves forward.

Resistance to change has as much to do with our lack of confidence as it does with the change itself. Fight the resistance. Be clear about what you stand for as a person. Keep telling yourself your story.

Look for the opportunities to make a difference, do it, and move on. What we'll find is a new set of patterns in our life and work will emerge. This is the truth I have found, and so can each of you.

Many thanks to David Pu'u for the wave pictures. Check out his pictures, videos, and blog at www.davidpuu.com.


When the Souvenir Becomes the Social Object

UPDATED!

ThisMightWorkCover WP_001368

"A book is a souvenir of an idea" - Seth Godin

"The term, "Social Object" can be a bit heady for some people. So often I'll use the term, "Sharing Device" instead." - Hugh McLeod / Gaping Void

Seen in these pictures is the 19 lb Behemoth - This Might Work - compilation of Seth Godin's blog posts for the past seven years.

I'm sure many of those who received it, have it sitting on youre desk or office coffee table.

I'm using it, not as a souvenir of Seth's blog posting, but as a social object, "a sharing device" as Hugh McLeod suggests.

How a Social Object Works

ChangeSurvivalWP_001336

 

Open up the book, and people want to look at it. 

Open to a page like either of these, and it provides a prime opportunity to begin to talk about change.

I've carried the Behemoth into several different settings this week, knowing that virtually no one there will know who Seth God is.

The intense interest that these pages foster demand conversation and exploration of the ideas in it.

My recommendation is find a way to take it with you, and when you have a few moments, take it out, and begin to read it. Share it with people, and talk about the ideas that have made a difference in your life and work.

I bought a copy of Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?, the abridged version of It Might Work. I'm using it as a loaner. You can too.

Using It Might Work as a Source for Social Objects

The design of It Might Work provides opportunities for using the images as conversation starters. That essentially what a Social Object provides. A way to start a conversation that can lead to a relationship, and maybe tomorrow, change the world.

Take pictures of the large format ideas pages like I have done here. Post them on your blog or Facebook page with your own insights into Seth's ideas. Make it a conversation.

Just look at these images. If you posted one a week in your office by the coffee machine, what kind of conversations are possible.

  LizardShutUp Passion AbundanceScarcity  PeopleNotOrganizations TrueFans LazinessEmotionalLabor LastForever Soon Ideas1-2

Ultimately, the Behemoth is not a depository of past ideas from Seth Godin. It isn't a relic, or souvenir. It is a tool for sparking conversations about ideas.

SocialObject02

As a creative compilation of ideas, it fascinates people, just as it did my friend, Jina Hong, seen here.  As an artist, she was inspired by what she saw.

Books are great to share. But it is rare that a book can be utilized in quite the same way It Might Work can be.

If this still seems a bit weird, try this.

Take the book to a public place, and begin leafing through it. When a page captures a person's imagination, take her picture, and posted at your blog or on Facebook or Twitter. Get her email, and send her the picture.

You've not only made some new friends, but have made a difference in their lives by inspiring them with one of Seth's ideas.

This takes effort, but I'm certain it is worth it.

Thanks.


Five Steps to Get the Best From Your People

 

Team

Whether you are a small business person or a corporate executive, getting the best work out of your people is one of the most challenging aspects of leadership. It takes more than attractive compensation packages and inspirational pep talks. It takes creating a culture of trust that unites people together around a common desire to give their best. Here are five steps any leader can take to build a relationship of trust with their team.

  1. Believe in them, so they will believe in themselves

Every person that works for you has something to teach you. If you are open to learning from them they will gain the confidence to do their best work as partners with you.

  1. Free them to do their best work

Don't micro-manage them. To do so sends two messages. Your lack of confidence in them. And, your lack of confidence in yourself. Remember people can smell the fear in leaders, and will respond accordingly. Be clear in expectations. Let them do it.

  1. Trust them

Trust is hard to win, easy to lose. Trust everyone until you have a real reason not to. Be constant and consistent in trusting them. Train and supervise with trust in mind and a culture of trust will grow.

  1. Thank them personally

Gratitude is not a reward. It is appreciation. It is hard to be grateful if you don't know them personally, by name, and what their work for the company is. Gratitude has its greatest impact when it is least expected. Making it personal, makes it real.

  1. Honor them

This is part gratitude, but more the way you treat both individuals and teams with dignity and respect. Remember, they don't work for you, but for your customers. You work for them to create an environment of belief, freedom, trust and gratitude that enables them to do their best work. This is what leaders do.

---

For more insight on how to inspire leadership for a change that matters visit EdBrenegar.com.


The Spectacle of the Real

3685664785_4f4421fbcf_b

Afghan Mujahideen camp

Afghan / Soviet War

Chitral, NWFP, Pakistan

July, 1981

We live in a time of images. They form our understanding of history and engage us in the present. These faces of Afghan freedom fighters from three decades ago sustain a memory of an encounter that I had with them as a young refugee worker. This image helps me understand the continuity of history in the region.

But without that direct engagement, this image maybe more surreal than real. For there is no life context in which to interpret what was taking place when the picture was taken.

Just a few days after the above photograph was taken, this man, an Afghan refugee, honored me with an expression of thanks after our team of refugee workers brought food, clothing and shelter to his refugee village on the desert plain outside of Peshawar, Pakistan.

Afghan man - Peshawar desert camp

Images influence our sense of what is real. Without direct engagement, however, they can deceive us.

Simulating the "Real" Story?

The Boston Marathon bombings (April 15, 2013) were watched by millions on television and discussed across all social media platforms and in online communities. The event, though, was mostly absorbed through pictures. The bomb at the finish line exploding over and over again. The pictures of the injured and maimed being wheeled away to rescue workers and hospitals. The faces of the two brothers as they became known as the bombers. Facts were few in number; reporting rich in conjecture, and all born through images that touched our emotions.

Fueled by a 24/7 news cycle, actual news - a statement of "facts" that an event, an accident, a death, an agreement, a visit or something has taken place, described in the traditional journalistic parlance of "who, what, when and where" - is transformed into a spectacle of opinion and virtual reality driven by the images of faces speaking words of crisis, fear, and self-righteous anger. Televised analysis - more important than the "facts" of the story- drives the news through the ambiguity of the visual image and is its source of validation.

Imagine a gathering with family and friends, catching up on the news of each other's lives, and the conversation is like the panels of "experts" who fill televised news each day. No one intentionally chooses their backyard barbeque guests to mirror the political divisions of the nation. That would be boring, tedious, and just inhospitable and unwelcoming.

These televised events aren't conversations seeking truth, but, rather, people talking at and past one another in a game of leveraging images for social and political influence. We are drawn to the image on the screen of these "experts" having something to say that is meaningful, hoping that at some point some sense of the moment will be revealed, bringing reality into view.

Political Speculation.

Politics has degenerated into an unreal media-driven spectacle of dissimulation and simulation.  What we are given is not a story about what is real because to do so, the experts and our politicians would have to admit to their own limitations of insight and foresight.

Rather, we are given a simulacrum, a virtual story whose narrative appearance conceals a different purpose, enveloping the listener, the viewer, in an alternative world of meaning. Politics is a game of deflected attention, a sleight of hand, an allusion to the real that is an illusion. Get the public to focus on what inflames their passions, isolating them into their defensive enclaves, then we can go about the real purpose for which we were elected, to secure the next election and pass legislation that the public would not approve if they really knew. This is what the modern practice of politics has become.

French theorist Jean Baudrillard, in Simulacra and Simulation, describes how the portrayal of what is real has become the hyper-real.

To dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn't have. One implies a presence, the other an absence. But it is more complicated than that because simulating is not pretending. "Whoever fakes an illness can simply stay in bed and make everyone believe he is ill. Whoever simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms" (Littre'). Therefore, pretending or dissimulating, leaves the principle of reality intact: the difference is always clear, it is simply masked, whereas simulation threatens the difference between the "true" and the "false," the "real" and the "imaginary." Is the simulator sick or not, given that he produces "true" symptoms? (emphasis mine)

This is the game of appearances. In one instance, it is like the child pretending not to have the pilfered cookie that is in his pocket. Dissimulation is the lie that we learn as children where we hide what we have. It is a denial of reality, based on what everyone knows is true.

Simulation, on the other hand, is an imitation of the real.  Some simulators, like those that train pilots, are meant to mirror the real world as closely as possible. Other simulations are intended for the exact opposite, to create an alternative reality.

The Main Street of DisneyWorld is a simulated image of a typical American small town. Umberto Eco, the Italian novelist, and linguist, writes about this in Travels in Hyperreality,  

"... the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake."

"The Main Street facades are presented to us as toy houses and invite us to enter them, but their interior is always a disguised supermarket, where you buy obsessively, believing that you are still playing,".

This is a simulacrum of a small town. It looks, on appearances, that it is a small town. But instead, it is a place of commerce hidden behind the image.

Simulations Abound

Patriotism is a common theme to simulate. Particularly in the use of the American flag as an icon of all things good about America. Print the flag on a can of beer, a bikini, a holiday table cloth, woven as a blanket, painted on motorcycle gas tank, flown in a church, and in massive numbers on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and on Flag Day, and you have attached the greatness of America to your consumer product. The image on the product distracts from the real purpose of the flag and its history in the founding of the American republic. The flag has become a commercial icon attaching itself to a powerful emotion - love of country - by simulating the perspective that buying is patriotic.

Pornography, in a similar way, is a simulation of love and intimacy. Televised sex is a provocative restatement of social relations for the purpose of advocating the primacy of sexual expression and pleasure for modern human beings. Pornography is a simulacrum that defines human beings, not as social beings, but as sexual ones. The erotic power of sex fills a person with intense sensory feeling, and by it, alters how a person views their relationships with others. The logical outcome is the practice of having friends with benefits.

Human beings may be animals, but we are not just animals. We are human animals for whom human fulfillment is more than intense sensory release. We desire to be known in the realness of our lives. We are not fulfilled by "playing" a part, but by finding relationships of openness and mutuality. The mutuality of human love, of giving, receiving, sharing, is at the heart of the sexual intimacy that is so key to human flourishing.  The lie of pornography is that sex = love and love = sex. It is a simulacrum of the appearance of intimacy, though without the other conditions that drive human communion.

Spectacle as Simulated Reality  

Simulations can become a simulacrum, a virtual reality, a hyper-reality, a replacement reality of the world of meaning. They are a kind of diversion, a deflection from reality that commands our attention. This is the nature of the spectacular event.

The culture of the spectacle, of the event that captures our attention for the moment, has become the driving force in the culture of news, entertainment, sports, and consumerism. The spectacle deflects us from the real toward the hyper-real through the intensification of the historical moment as beyond history, as a singular moment in time that we must become immersed in to be alive or to be "informed." Not just a different version of the story, or different narrative, or a different perspective; but a different reality. This spectacle is a simulacrum. An iconic image event that simulates a representation of values or meaning, regardless of whether the reality of the event was about the moment being represented.

Reporting on the Boston Marathon bombing became a platform for speculation and conjecture based not on what was known about the bombing, but a projection of individual bias as expert opinion. The nature of the spectacle requires linkage to other spectacles to establish a pattern that validates credibility. This is now the nature of the news as presented throughout the day. Every day, every event, is a spectacle for drawing attention to the screen.

As news became an entertainment medium, entertainment lost much of its distinctive appeal. The "news" isn't about the news, but a sensationalization of opinions about the news for the purpose of ratings and increased advertising revenue. On-air time space must be filled, and be paid for by ads. Without the sensationalism of the daily spectacle, no one would watch. The entertainment value of the news is the hook to tie us into a consumer culture of serial exhilaration and boredom. The difference between CNN or Fox and TMZ is one of degree, not of the difference between news and entertainment. The difference between the reality TV of news and entertainment and the actual lives that people experience is the difference between the simulacrum and reality.

The Game of Entertainment

Professional sports is a televised entertainment spectacle, less a sport, no longer simply a game to be played by talented athletes. It is the business of entertainment. The game is just the hook. The simulacra of professional sports have permeated the games that children once played, so that now, play is an adult-managed hyper-organized simulation of college and professional athletic competitions. No longer do children just play on their own initiative, but are socialized into the developmental system of organized sports, essentially trained to become part of the entertainment spectacle of modern sports. 

The NFL is the master of the weekly sports spectacle.  Fantasy sports leagues now provide an outlet for filling the attention gap when games are not on. It is real only in the sense that the contest happens. But it is unreal because, as a spectacle, it exists less as pure sport, and more as a collection of one-off entertainment events.

Winning a championship has meaning for the moment. By the next day, the thrill is gone and the addictive pull of the next spectacle returns. The spectacle isn't the event itself, but rather all that precedes it.  College basketball's March Madness has turned what was a locally focused, end-of-season tournament by regional conferences into a national three week spectacle, where even the President's "bracket" makes news. The entertainment pull is to analysis and the set up for the next spectacle. It is a consumer culture of diversion and hyper-reality.

Living in a world of impermanence.

The simulation of reality, the game of appearances, a hyper-real experience, diverts us from the mundaneness of daily existence, towards more pleasurable diversions that take us out of the real world.  Watching news, sports or entertainment programming are diversions of the type that scientist / philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote about in the mid-17th century.

Sometimes, when I set to thinking about the various activities of men, the dangers and troubles which they face at Court, or in war, giving rise to so many quarrels and passions, daring and often wicked enterprises and so on, I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to be quiet in his room.  A man wealthy enough for life’s needs would never leave home to go to sea or besiege some fortress if he knew how to stay at home and enjoy it.  Men would never spend so much on a commission in the army if they could bear living in town all their lives, and they only seek after the company and diversion of gambling because they do not enjoy staying at home.  ...

The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion.

The triumph of the culture of simulation is that it replaces the reality that we don't want with a hyper-reality that simulates what we do. But the simulation is not the same as reality. As Baudrillard wrote, "To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn't have." This is the power of a world that exists increasingly like an immersive video game, where I can "play" a role, a character, and live a fuller, more complete life in a Sim-ulated world, than in the real world of home and work.

MIT professor Sherry Turkle describes this simulated reality in her book Alone Together.

"After an evening of avatar-to avatar talk in a networked game, we feel, at one moment, in possession of a full social life and, in the next, curiously isolated, in tenuous complicity with strangers. We build a following on Facebook or MySpace and wonder to what degree our followers are friends. We recreate ourselves as online personae and give ourselves new bodies, homes, jobs, and romances. Yet, suddenly, in the half-light of virtual community, we may feel utterly alone. As we distribute ourselves, we may abandon ourselves. Sometimes people experience no sense of having communicated after hours of connection. And they report feelings of closeness when they are paying little attention. In all of this, there is a nagging question: Does virtual intimacy degrade our experience of the other kind and, indeed, of all encounters, of any kind?”

Simulation is not real life, but an artificial one. The result is that life becomes a series of spectacles, events that command our attention, one or more at a time in serial progression without continuity. The diversion works if we do not think too deeply.

French Marxist philosopher Guy Debord in his book, Society of the Spectacle, was one of the first to explore the spectacle nature of the modern world.

In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. ...

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images. ...

The concept of "spectacle" unifies and explains a great diversity of apparent phenomena. The diversity and the contrasts are appearances of a socially organized appearance, the general truth of which must itself be recognized. Considered in its own terms, the spectacle is affirmation of appearance and affirmation of all human life, namely social life, as mere appearance. But the critique which reaches the truth of the spectacle exposes it as the visible negation of life, as a negation of life which has become visible.

The life of the spectacle, therefore, is a hyper-reality lived through the images of the event. During the 9/11 attacks, the images of the Twin Towers burning, then collapsing, became a reference point for people to share their shock, their sadness, their anger, and ultimately their compassion for those who lost love ones.

But the nature of the spectacle is that it is too intermittent an experience to foster a life of continuity. Moving from one self-contained event to the next is not a sufficient ground for a society or community to find a common life together.  Something else must provide that glue that makes civic life work.

Recovering Reality

Living in the world of the image and the spectacle is a world where reality is an appearance and beyond our capacity to determine is this real, true and the way things actually are. This is a hyper-real world which turns reality on its head.

The dilemma we face is not directly with the spectacular or simulated realities. Rather it is not having a ground upon which to distinguish between the real and the hyper-real. Some people may choose to believe in the reality of the hyper-real world, which leads further into the world of spectacle and its consumer driven nature. But reality has a way of confronting such an artificial world with economic collapses, environment catastrophes, and the experience of disease, brokenness and loss.

To recover reality is not to challenge the simulacrums of our time. But rather seek to understand the larger context in which these simulations / spectacles function.

The ancients would describe this capacity to discern reality as wisdom. While wisdom is certainly in short supply and in great demand, it is only one piece of a wider fabric of reality that is needed.

One of the results of the world of simulation and spectacle is the loss of the capacity for open, trustworthy, mutually caring relationships. Instead, we have connections with people. We have "friends" whom we've never met, had coffee or seen face to face.

I am convinced that the recovery of reality comes through the establishment of relationships of genuine meaning and love.

For to love another person requires a kind of reality that allows for honesty, emotional intimacy and commitment to the care and nurture of the relationship.

There is a choice we can make here. Live in the midst of the spectacle of the real or step back and try to understand how we can begin to live in ways that make a tangible difference in the way the world we live works. 

*Originally published May 2013.