Archive for April, 2014

Breaking Point


This woman jumped to her death. Look at her. Beautiful. And dead. The pain quieted for good. Now just a statistic. What sort of loss or strife could have caused this? Was anyone around who could recognize it and try to help? Did someone assume she’d work it out?

Some things are more fragile than we know. We can push and pull. We can ignore or assume. But if taken too far a thing can crumble beneath us. A person can crumble. It doesn’t always manifest like this. There are wrecked people walking around, too.


Vicious Cycle

PinewoodDerbyIn any endeavor it’s good to be clear about the true objective. The best objective.

If you sell your kid’s Girl Scout Cookies at work in a misguided attempt to raise money for the troop, you are missing the point. It undermines the very reason for the exercise, and you’d probably raise more money if you did some freelance work instead. Access to cookies isn’t the point, teaching the Scouts to be confident salespeople is.

What is the purpose of the Pinewood Derby, and why do so many dads build the cars for their kids? How many parents get too involved in the school science experiment out of the all too palpable discomfort of facing the struggle, and even potential failure, of the kid?

Kids are all too willing to take the back seat, and let the adult drive…which is the opposite of the desired effect. For the most part the kid doesn’t even care about winning. They just want to make it through without standing out too much or feeling too different from the other kids.

I am in no way suggesting that parents shouldn’t be involved in these things. They absolutely should. A big part of it is the win of having parent and child working together toward an outcome. Priceless. But when the parent takes over, or guides too forcefully the young person is robbed of the best part of the experience. Instead it is communicated that ‘you’re not doing it right (not good enough)’ or the goal is to win, whatever it takes.

Worse things have happened to kids, but it’s a shame when the young person loses interest in something that can be such a character builder because the parent doesn’t muster the skill to guide and assist in a way that builds…which gets us to the hard part. It’s not that most parents really want to take over these projects. It’s because they lack the skill to get and keep their kids engaged in the first place, so they feel they have to…in order to protect them from…themselves?

It’s a vicious cycle.

Cause and Effect


In sorting out the various successes and difficulties in our lives or businesses we often think about correlations. Whenever something happens, what else is going on that may have triggered it? These relationships are often more complicated than they appear and we are sometimes too eager to take the obvious answer, especially if it seems reasonably logical. Or, if it’s an answer we don’t want, we may choose to put more attention on some other logical or comfortable sounding alternative. Either way, by chasing the wrong thing we invariably end up befuddled that we aren’t able to control it like we feel we should, and all the while we’re going down with the ship we’ve placed ourselves in.

It’s important to remember that correlation isn’t the same as causation. And we must grow up and accept that WE control ourselves. We do not have to remain victim to the circumstances that happen to us.

Let’s say there is a difficult situation you are trying to manage. You’ve added up the components of it, but which if any of those components is really the root cause? If it’s a personal dilemma you didn’t solve quickly then you can almost bet that at least part of the root cause lies within. Until and unless you address yourself you will continue to find yourself in thought processes that exacerbate the problem. That’s not to say others aren’t doing things to you, or aren’t neglecting your needs in some way. The question is…what do you DO about it? You may have to address those issues by making a change. But change what?

My point is that you got yourself into it in the first place through some internal process or need that was not being addressed. You were open and vulnerable. Maybe even needy. So here you are. What do you do? ARE you willing to make a change? And do you impose external or internal limits on what those changes can be? If you do then your thought process is inherently biased, which is not going to help lead to the best answer (more on this another time).

Find a way to fill that need, and the process will change. Soon your whole thinking will open up. If something is lacking, consider whether that feeling of lacking is just the symptom. This looks like…”when this (something) happens it triggers my feelings, which then triggers my behavior.” That’s a good thing to look at. It puts you on track to figuring it out, but it’s not enough. The question really is, WHY ARE YOU OPEN to have these things trigger your feelings in a way that triggers the behavior?

This is not to say it is your fault. This is to say that something (probably from your past living on) within you has led you to a place, to circumstances where you remain vulnerable rather than fortified. The vulnerability itself isn’t the problem and you need not cure it. Dare I say you can’t cure it, as it is just a symptom itself. The thing(s) that led you to the vulnerability and (worse) hold you there are what you’re looking for. You can’t blame the triggers either. They have merely exposed the vulnerability. You can try to remove them, but you haven’t cured anything. New triggers can come along to take their place because what’s going on is deeper. In fact, the triggers may actually be leading you to the solution — to what will fill the void and provide the needed fortifications (also maybe not, it depends). You have to really dig, and that may mean a certain amount of flailing around in the process. It’s good to experiment. Take a journey. The more you flail without results the more you can bet that the problem is deep within. The more you know it will take some pretty big steps to move beyond it. Shake things up. Think BIG.

On to the business side. Again, the first step to sorting out the issues is to look within. And guess what? Businesses and partnerships are run by people. The same flawed people who have their own issues and demons they are sorting out. Look within the individuals making the decisions and implementing them. There’s a very good chance that’s where the trouble lies. Given that you can’t always dig into the people enough to help, you may just have to discard them and move on. Tough decision, but if not addressed at the source you will always be vulnerable.

Make sure you get the real point here. With the biases and limits in place that got you where you are you probably won’t be able to manufacture a set of conditions that will ultimately protect you from yourself (or your business from itself). The more you try the more frustrated you will get. You have to go to the source. That may mean making some difficult changes. Be careful about attacking only the symptoms.

Sometimes the forrest has to burn to be able to grow.






Conventional Wisdom


Do you know who this is? If not, just look at him. How much of a role did conventional wisdom play in his life?

In some ways the phrase “conventional wisdom” is an oxymoron.

Wisdom is very important in guiding us to useful outcomes. Calling upon the wisdom of others allows us to stand on the shoulders of their discoveries and potentially rise to new heights.

Then there is conventional wisdom. Not so cut and dried. There can be value in a consensus. If the vast majority of experts assert that we are doing potentially irreparable environmental damage to our planet, or that natural selection and evolution are the way of things, then it logically makes sense to listen, in spite of what we may want or have been trained to believe. Keep in mind those tend to be big, systematic things.

There are many examples where conventional wisdom may not be as useful. One of the more obvious is when it comes to personal matters. The conventional wisdom (i.e. what most people — even experts — think you should do) is useful to look at. There’s always a good chance you’re too close to it to see with enough objectivity.

But the kicker is whether or not you’re conventional, or want to be conventional. If you’re self-aware enough to know that you sometimes yearn to just be normal then there is a good chance you aren’t. And I don’t mean it in a ‘we’re all unique snowflakes’ way. I mean there may be a significant uniqueness in the way you process things. The more out of bounds you are the less likely it is conventional wisdom will be effective with you in a particular area. Listen to it. Consider it. But you have to find/invent your own path.

This is not a bad thing, or at least it doesn’t have to be bad. Names like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Lee Iacocca, Ghandi, Oprah, Nelson Mandela, Pope Francis, and even Vladamir Putin do not conjure images of ‘conventional.’ (Not equating myself or anyone I know with those folks. It’s just some extreme examples for illustration.) Sometimes being extraordinary finds us, whether we set out with that in mind or not. It can be a burden to be sure, but it’s best viewed as a gift. You can squander it or use it.

Trying to make sense out of and working too hard to apply conventional wisdom is to potentially squander it. And in so doing you do not live up to anywhere near your potential. A betrayal of your true self, and of mankind. All for the sake of selfish comfort. And in the ultimate irony, you will not even be comfortable with it in the long run. There is no true escape unless you’re really good at lying to yourself.

True wisdom, for many of us, is anything but conventional. And nobody promised it would be easy.

(More to come on this.)

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