COMPLICATED VERSUS COMPLEX
You Don’t Need To Be A Brainiac To Spot the Difference
I think we can agree that the world became a more complex place in 2020. The grand irony is that I chose “simplify” as one of my guiding themes for this year. Little did I know that enforced simplicity was headed my way. Lots of things became more simple (i.e. staycations) while other things accelerated towards complicated.
Rapidly evolving circumstances pushed even more things beyond complicated, into the complexity zone.
Most of us think of degrees of complication. The first is simple, the second is complicated and the third is complex. Many leaders I know mistakenly believe complexity is just a higher order of complicatedness as if there is some sort of continuum. Umm…. Not so!
I’m an ardent fan of straight-forward simple. Simple never really equates with “easy”, but once achieved, simple is elegant and functional.
Decision-makers commonly mistake complex systems for simply complicated ones and look for solutions without realizing that ‘learning to dance’ with a complex system is definitely different from ‘solving’ the problems arising from it. — Roberto Poli
I’m borrowing heavily from the work of European scholar Roberto Poli, `who writes about Anticipatory Futures and Systems Theories.
Most complicated situations can be compartmentalized, reverse engineered, and put back together in a workable fashion.
Complexity on the other hand is a whole different animal.
And This Is Important Why?
Leaders and decision-makers who try to tackle complexity the same way as they deal with complications, soon find themselves mired in futility. It’s much like trying to brush your hair with a toothbrush or nail Jell-O to the wall. It takes an entirely different approach to mindset, skillset, and toolset.
As a coach and consultant, I often get asked to provide a “once and for all” solution to intractable problems that are mislabeled as complicated, when they really are complex.
While much of my life as an executive was in the context of complex issues, I can’t say I’ve always been super successful at it. After a while, the characteristics that differentiate merely complicated scenarios from complex ones become evident.
Being able to identify these quite often is the key determining factor in good outcomes.
Here are five differentiators to help sort things out.
1. Identifying Root Causes
Complicated: Has a fairly linear cause-and-effect trajectory where you can pinpoint the individual cause and observe its effects.
Complex: Characterized by patterns of multiple intertwining and overlapping causes. Root causes may be disguised as other things. There’s no real straight line cause-to-effect relationship.
Takeaway: Much time can be squandered trying to analyze root causes in a complex situation. Usually, complex situations in organizations evolve from a host of combined factors over extended time and aren’t quickly or easily reversed.
2. Knowing if there’s a Timeline
Complicated: Has a finite timeline where you can reasonably predict outcomes. Every output of the system has a commensurate input.
Complex: There isn’t an easily predictable timeline. Outputs in the organizational eco-system aren’t necessarily proportional or linearly related to inputs. Small changes in one part of the system can cause sudden and unexpected outputs in other parts of the system.
Takeaway: Large and costly initiatives can have zero impact, while one misspeak in an email can lead to a chain reaction of revolt. Small “safe-to-fail” experiments are more informative and useful than large projects designed to be fail-safe.
3. Can it be reduced to it’s simplest parts?
Complicated: We can break things down and isolate structural components to better comprehend how things work between the various parts.
Complex: We can’t presume to fully comprehend all the moving parts. Because complexity is a shifting target, conventional approaches and familiar change tools have little or no effect.
Takeaway: Complex systems are emergent, they are greater than the sum of their parts … we need to interact or “dance” with the system in order to influence it. We also need to understand that our mere presence is already changing things.
4. Is it Controllable?
Complicated: You have a bit of a framework or structure to contain and control problems while they get diagnosed and solved.
Complex: Complex problems emerge from multiple random moving parts in an unstructured way, so it’s difficult to distinguish the combination of real problems. Even the smallest well-intentioned interventions may result in disproportionate and unintended consequences.
Takeaways: Fluid complexity is prone to bring surprises and uncertainty. Knee jerk interventions can bring unexpected changes and even new or worse challenges. Leaders need to shift the “problem/solution” thinking to “evolving patterns” thinking.
5. Are There Constraints? (Boundaries or Guardrails)
Complicated: Complicated can usually be defined by some kind of sandbox or context.
Complex: Complex systems are more open, to the extent that it is often difficult to determine where the system ends and another start. Complex systems are can also be nested part of larger trends, ideology, or movement. It can become hard to separate the system from its context.
Takeaway: Context matters, ignore it at your peril. As soon as organizations become too internally focused, the naval-gazing makes them vulnerable. Making sure that adequate and diverse feedback mechanisms are in place is a key strategic imperative.
When dealing with complexity, keep expectations realistic. Getting to “maybe” might just be as good as it gets.
It will always take longer than you thought, and the end results may not be what you expected. From experience, it’ll always be worth the journey.
Complexity does demand a new breed of leadership. Today’s successful leader is relational vs. organizational, permission-giving vs.command & control. He or she works in overlapping circles vs. being linear and hierarchical.
Me – I’m still working on it.
Until next time,
References: A Note on the Difference Between Complicated and Complex Social Systems, Roberto Poli, 2013
THE CURSE of “INTERESTING TIMES” and A FEW ANTIDOTES
“May you live in interesting times”- Unknown
This Confucius-style saying poses as a blessing while delivering an underhanded curse.
If received as a “curse”, it wishes that your times be filled with turmoil and difficulty.
BTW- There are way more history books written about war and famine, than about peace and plenty.
If the saying is received as an affirmation or blessing, the ferment of change always opens the door to exciting new possibilities.
Certainly, we can agree that our current pickle, being in the middle of a full-throttle, global pandemic qualifies as “interesting”. With the first psychological shock waves subsiding, we’re in a pervasive, collective reality that adversely impacts us all.
Maybe it’s Murphy’s Law gone wild, or maybe we’re at the bottom of a big honking learning curve with a very steep upside.
As the COVID-19 crisis persists, no training or experience in previous downturns has prepared us for it.
Governments, businesses, schools, hospitals, churches, and families are all scrambling to cope with the insidious nature of our current era.
Over the past months, I’ve had numerous personal conversations with fellow leaders about the current situation and its greatest challenges. The current over-all toughest challenge is the mind-numbing complexity brought about by uncertainty.
“It seems that every way I turn these days, I’m facing a no-win-situation” Young CEO in the Charity Sector.
“ It’s like I really have four jobs. There’s the one I signed up for, you know, the job description. Then there’s the job my board expects me to do. My staff has high expectations of me to help them do their job while keeping them safe. Finally, there are the expectations of stakeholders and investors. The pandemic has really complicated all of this”. CEO in the Housing and Community Services Sector.
I launched these conversations to research an online leadership development project that I’m working on. The results were much broader and richer than I anticipated. It will inform my work for some time to come.
If we take a good news/bad news approach, the bad news is that uncertainty is non-negotiable. It’s the X factor that seems to lurk around every corner.
It’s just that recently there’s been so much of it.
The addendum to this is that “Our brains perceive ambiguity as a threat, and they try to protect us by diminishing our ability to focus on anything other than creating certainty,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., a Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center.
If we are in a state of perpetual high alert, preparing for potential bad events, this results in a chronic stress pattern build-up. Physiological symptoms are mental churning, random anger at the slightest of provocations, being perma-cranky,
On the flip side, the good news is that there’s a trail forward. There’s always a way forward. It’s just that it’s not always real obvious.
The trailhead is the realization that you can take charge of everything within your control and be intentional or mindful about not worrying about the things you can’t.
This valuable principle has been around for centuries.
Epictetus, the Greek philosopher from the early 2nd century observed that things are either under our control or not under our control.
His Enchiridion (The Good Life Handbook) begins with this basic idea.
“Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” Epictetus
This truth-powered concept is echoed in the well-known 20th century Christian Serenity Prayer;
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference. – Reinhold Nieburh 1934.
Regardless of your worldview, the idea of focusing on the actions and experiences within your control has been around for centuries. It’s as valid and effective today as it was back then.
Another Approach I’ve Been Thinking About…
Minimum Viable Outcomes
Another approach for tackling the complexities of uncertainty is the idea of a Minimum Viable Outcome combined with small wins.
Protect the main thing!
Minimum Viable Outcome (MVO) refers to those core activities that you do best while paying attention to the small margins between success or failure.
Set realistic expectations!
It doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfect almost never is.
Find your trail!
It’s hard to steer a parked car. Things work so much better if you generate some forward momentum.
Like you, I have good days and bad days that toggle between optimism and pessimism. I can go from seeing optimistic signs of progress in the morning to feeling doomed by dinner. (watching the news cycle doesn’t help)
On the whole, I’m confident we’ll get through this. Trying to figure out what “this” is and what it means, can be exhausting.
If you’ll pardon me, I have to go decide which shirt to wear on my next Zoom call.
Until next time,
The First Time I Got Fired
One of my first summer jobs in high school was working on a concrete forming crew. It was grueling, sometimes dangerous work setting up heavy oil-soaked panels in the hot sun, but I kind of liked it. I took pride in building the forms straight, strong, and true.
Being quite young, I didn’t know much about leading people.
My boss was one of the partners and he was always in a big rush. He had a furious temper and would unleash a stream of expletives at the slightest provocation. On top of that, he had a pronounced stutter which only got worse as his emotions flared.
One time he and I were working together setting up big panels on a windy day. It was a struggle as wind gusts kept pushing over the panels.
Even back then I had a problem-solving, “make it better“ mindset.
I tactfully suggested that if we slowed down a bit and set up bracing as we went, it would prevent the blow-overs.
He declined, and we forged ahead with the setup as if going harder would solve the problem. The second time the whole wall blew over, he cut loose with the predictable torrent of non-stop cussing.
I stifled a snicker.
By the third time it blew over, the absurdity of the situation overcame me, and I started laughing. Couldn’t stop.
Beside himself with rage, he turned purple and cut loose with a tirade of unfiltered, stuttering wrath.
Only this time it was aimed at me.
His crescendo ended with him screaming “you’re f-ff-f-f- ff f-f fired! *
Confidence Can Be Taught
Since then, I’ve been on the receiving end of a few firings. In retrospect, it was always for the better.
Each time it was a learning experience that matured me, made me smarter, and grew my self-confidence.
Since those days, I’ve gained even more confidence in accurately reading situations, and working with all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations.
Let’s face it. As leaders in this mid- pandemic era, we could all use an extra shot of realistic confidence.
Gaining confidence in leadership is a learned process.
The same goes for competence.
In fact, confidence and competence go hand in hand.
Join me for LeaderLab, a 6-week online learning experience beginning on October 5.
It contains straightforward and practical ideas on how to build your own confidence and competence as a leader and how to strengthen and develop your efforts going forward.
This training comes from decades of earned experience paired with lessons the wisdom of others.
This is immediately applicable to you, no matter if you lead a team of hundreds, or only yourself.
“My personal mission is to offer you the tools, programs, and strategies to enhance your leadership competence and confidence” LE
Peek at the agenda and see if it resonates.
• Working with Yourself
• How the COVID Era has Changed Leadership
• Leading When You’re Not In Charge
• Leading and Managing Change
• Making Tough Decisions
• Working Effectively in Teams
• Understanding & Improving Systems
• Thinking Critically (Without being Critical)
• How People Think/Organizational Culture
• Effective Communication/The Feedback Loop
• Six weekly sessions live group learning sessions via Zoom (recorded)
• Email and phone support with scheduled check-ins
• Two 30 minute 1-1 personal coaching sessions with Lorne.
(ICF Certified Leadership Coach)
• Highly interactive co-creating approach.
• Course materials adapted to your specific needs.
• Weekly sessions begin Monday evenings October 5 through November 2
• Start time 6:30 pm Pacific Time
• Each session 60 -90 minutes in length with lots of time for Q &A
. My results-oriented guarantee
Space is limited to10 participants and spots are beginning to fill, so if you’re thinking about it, or have further questions let me know.
Web Link for LeaderLab
Until next time,
*PS I was invited back to work one week later, but by then I had found something else.
Hang in there with me for a bit. This is Part 1 of a 2 Part-er
I’m trying to capture the prevailing mood of what’s happening these days.
We’re navigating the vague ambiguities of just about everything, and I’ve got
to admit, I’m struggling to come up with the words.
There’s a new kind of antsy with the current “half normal” weirdness we find ourselves in. It’s distinctly different from the zombie apocalypse weirdness of the total lockdown. It’s distinctly different from the zombie apocalypse weirdness of the total lockdown.
The best descriptor is the secret phrase that got me through French in high school.
“Je ne sais pas.” ~ Simply “I dunno.”
August usually signals one of the more carefree months.
“Normal” means barbecues and beaches, a buffer time to ease off a bit, and recharge.
Later on, comes that creeping back-to-school, back-to-work, Sunday-night feeling.
But in August 2020? What kind of school? What kind of work?
What this will mean for many of us is a return to the home office (or couch) where we’ve been Zooming in varying degrees of casual since March.
“Take a simple idea and take it seriously.”
This pithy quote stuck with me and served as a visceral kick-starter.
The Idea: What if I start talking with fellow leaders about the toughest challenges that they are facing right now in our COVID-impacted world?
One of my projects over June and July was to invite 40 Leadership Conversations with leaders I know.
A huge “thanks” to those of you who participated in this.
I started personally inviting leaders to a focussed 15-20minute conversation with me around”
What is the toughest leadership challenge facing emerging and existing leaders in your sector today?”
The conversations have been rich and varied.
I’m still wrapping up, collating, and compiling results.
Why 40 Conversations?
Well, that seemed like a nice round sample number.
A bit of a stretch for me, but doable if I buckled down
(BTW, if you’re wondering “why didn’t I get a call on this?”, there’s still time.
More is better and I’d love to hear your story, so just hop on my scheduler, pick a time, and we’ll make it happen.)
Why now? We all have a bit more time.
Bigger Picture Why?
I need help articulating current realities for an Executive Leadership course I’ll be offering in October.
Leadership realities are often way more fluid than can be captured in the latest business bestseller. LE
Our Topic? What is the toughest leadership challenge facing emerging leaders in your sector today?
Here at HeyWhat’sNext? HQ, I like to ask the hard questions, keep us on our toes, mix things up, try new things.
This month is no different.
Most leadership newsletters give you a litany of best practices.
How many give you an opportunity for real-time feedback on leadership issues?
Here’s “40 Conversations” Part 1 Let’s get to it.
Today’s Toughest Leadership Challenge: Tackling Uncertainty
THE Bigee: Dealing With Uncertainty
The one thing that was top of mind for most everyone I spoke with was the topic of “uncertainty”. Most leaders I know are Ok leaning into a certain amount of the unknown. COVID has ratcheted this up to a whole new level.
Privately, it has everyone a bit freaked out. It casts a pall over everything.
A trusted friend, who is always a good bellwether on all things leadership says, “Yeah it’s very weird. Usually, I have a sense of plans and direction, but suddenly all my reference points have been wiped out. It’s hard to know if we’re even moving in the right direction.”
When we come up against situations that are charged with anxiety and ambiguity — a pandemic, a recession, a job loss, an unwanted family change — most of us have trouble thinking about an upside. We can easily become paralyzed by circumstances. It’s tough to see the bigger picture let alone figure a way forward. Scientists call this a status quo bias.
There’s Always Options
The key here is not to get stuck in “paralysis by uncertainty” It easy to be overwhelmed by the array of possible negative outcomes. Start rethinking things in the broader context.
To my way of thinking there are three distinct mental models that are clear options when thinking through the chaos of uncertainty.
One is that of defeatism and victim mentality. “Nobody ever tells us anything” and “They’re doing it to us again” are some of the common narratives of this mindset. It’s surprising to me how many “progressive” organizations, actually have little open and transparent communication. So “us against them” rumors are an easy way to explain what’s going on and why.
It comes quite naturally. Most people can quickly identify what’s wrong. It’s less instinctive to focus on what’s right and build upon that. It takes much more courage to correct a problem than to point and complain about the problem while waiting for somebody else to fix it. For some, it brings on personal existential crises.
Left unattended, cynics and naysayers can easily hijack our emotional well-being. You might need to point out that raising complaints without possible solutions can be unproductive and even harmful. If team members or co-workers insist on remaining a victim, I’ve gone so far as to encourage, or even help them to find another work setting. Unfortunately, with this mindset, things aren’t that different in a new job,
The second mindset is that of a survivor. These are the “let’s just get by” folks. Imagine a body of water where the surface is the status quo. Survivor mentality says “let’s just wait and see what happens” while furiously treading water. Sooner or later survivor mentality succumbs to victimhood or eventually “gets it” that change is necessary and either adapts or looks elsewhere.
The third mindset is that of a navigator. These folks look at an upcoming change and say “Hmm, this is really happening. How can I make this work for me and others on my team?”
Leaders who foster a climate of openness and welcome genuine dialogue about what’s happening earn a whole lot more respect and trust. It’s been my experience that with the right leadership coaching approach, staff colleagues and even family members can unlearn victim and survivor mindsets and actually become navigators.
Challenging the fear-based narratives by weighing objective evidence against imaginary outcomes needs to be on-going. Keep desirable alternatives or what you would prefer to happen front and center. Harness the power of imagery —you have a clear picture of what outcome you want from this situation. Ask yourself, what would a successful outcome look like? What would you be doing with the key players involved? How would you be feeling? What mindset have you adapted to rise above the difficulties and problems?
If anything, over-communicate and be very “present” during times of high uncertainty. Make the vision of the future, the picture, a very real presence in your communication. If they see a vision that you have, they will find new ways there. If they don’t see your vision, they will only find ways to do the tasks.
My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”
French philosopher Michel de Montaigne
During times of necessary, non-productive downtime, we often get stuck imagining extreme either/or outcomes.
Creative leaders who are adept at managing uncertainty think realistically in terms of probabilities.
I.E. It’s possible that a meteor can land directly on your house, BUT it’s much more probable that it won’t.
They also think in non- binary terms that include “both /and”.
If we can remember there is a context vaster than we might initially have thought, filled with more options than we might have envisioned,
we are much more likely to find what I call the best minimum viable outcome.
(A Minimum Viable Outcome is the most basic outcome you want to achieve)
Most importantly, with that broader mindset, we can weather the discomfort of unproductive uncertainty with greater optimism and calm.
Remember Those Options?
I recently reread Victor Frankl’s account of his years in concentration camps. I was struck by his observation of how critical it was to their
survival that his fellow prisoners could find meaning in their lives, even with their suffering.
His conclusion is a powerful testament to the potential for growth even in unthinkable circumstances.
He wrote: “Everything can be taken [from a person] but one thing: the last of human freedoms
— to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The opportunity to exercise that freedom is available to all of us — and it is key to finding a way forward in uncertain times.
Stay safe! Stay strong!
Until next time.
Yup. I’ve had that holed-up feelin’ for about the last 8 weeks now.
Finally, it’s semi-safe to pop my head out and have a look around. (appropriately masked, gloved, and socially distanced of course)
Much like the fierce rabbit characters in “Watership Down” (a tale of survival and adventure) we all had to scurry to our respective warrens and hole up ‘til the outside threats of danger subside. The pandemic has upended things with breathtaking speed.
Our hopes and plans for the future have been compressed to almost nothing. We’re flying blind into a foggy future. If we make plans or draw assumptions that don’t embrace uncertainty as an all-encompassing factor, we’ll get messed for sure.
Side Note Rant Re: Uncertain Times
The ubiquitous phrase “these uncertain times” bothers me in several ways.
It dismisses the pain and disruption that many people are experiencing right now.
Yeah, we’re feeling uncertainty alright. But many are feeling far worse as well. Some are dealing with the certainty of being painfully sick. Others are worried sick about their loved ones. Millions are grieving the certainty of loss, while others are living in fear of layoffs that are certainly coming. Hordes of people are feeling intense loneliness, confusing disruption, or getting squirrely with cabin fever. So, these are not just “uncertain times.” They are also painful times, distressing times, sad times, frightening times, and so much more. “Uncertain times” seems like such a woefully inadequate description.
It also feels like a phrase coming from a position of considerable privilege, people who haven’t lost their jobs, who aren’t worried about their health, whose loved ones are well, and who are relatively comfortable during this pandemic. The worst thing in their lives is right now is the inconvenience of uncertainty.
Truth slap! I’m probably one of these people, at least so far. My angst these days is mostly due to uncertainty related inconveniences. My decades in the housing and health sector taught me that there are those around us who are poor or powerless, people whose lives are regularly disrupted or devastated by things beyond their control. They live with a measure of uncertainty that—honestly—is rare in my life. I need to remember that millions of others are struggling with much worse.
I’m thinking of those, and I want to be compassionate and helpful in tangible ways.
Realize this. Our generation has never had to face a world event of this magnitude. My pattern-seeking, data gathering brain immediately goes into hyperdrive to make some sense of it all.
Just one hundred short years ago, the civilized world was reeling from the effects of WWI.
By the end of 1918, twenty-million people had been killed. In that same year, 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic broke out. Combined these two world events killed approximately 50 million people, which included mostly young, healthy people.
Then came the roaring 1920’s and people felt good for a while. That is until the Great Depression began, putting 15% to 25% of people out of work for years. And what was it that ended the Great Depression? World War II, which caused the deaths of about 70 million people between 1939 and 1945.
For almost the first half of the 20th century, the world was slogging through one big honkin’ disaster after another. Those were hard times, but people got through them, and later prospered like never before.
COVID-19 is a big problem, but in hard comparison to past world-shaping events, it’s not quite as catastrophic.
Our familial grandparents and great grandparents had to walk through all this stuff. Both world wars, a global depression multiple economic collapses, political revolutions, and much more.
Each time, they didn’t acquiesce and say “well, I guess this is the new normal… we’ll be at war or depressed forever.” Yes, those events shaped them and changed their worldview, but it wasn’t like they emerged into a completely new way of living.
They adapted and moved on. They innovated.
I suggest we’ll do the same.
The takeaway? Own your mindset. Protect it
“It’s entirely possible to be both realistic and optimistic at the same time.”
Yes, it’s a tough time, and there’s a chance of more difficulty before it gets better. It’s important during this time to stay clear-headed and acknowledge the challenges while maintaining a sense of hope in the midst of it all.
Hope is not just a feeling. It can also be a plan.
Of course, the immediate future presents a difficult set of problems.
All the easy ones are already solved.
Difficult problems are precisely what we as leaders sign up for, right?
Here, in no particular order, are a few emerging trends that I think will become more mainstream.
URL (virtual connecting) AND IRL (in real life)
It’s like these two very different things got popped into a high-speed blender and totally homogenized. Can’t say I’m totally used to this yet, but adapting.
Touchless – I love hugs and handshakes. This won’t be okay, at least for a while now. On another front, public touch screens and keypads will still be the enemy, too. Touchless payments and digital transactions will be a big part of the new normal.
Concise and to the point- We’re in attention overload. Alvin Toffler’s book, Future Shock, pointed to the overall mental state brought on by unrelenting change.
This pandemic has been the tipping point factor that’s caused a lot of people and situations to hit a wall. The result is that people will begin to need everything to be brief, compact, and repeated. More prompting and instruction could be the new protocol.
Green(er) – It’s hard to want to go back to driving my car everywhere when I see satellite images of how air pollution has dropped since we all were forced to stay home. Luxury travel and exotic vacations via planes and boats all are going to get a serious re-think.
Different /Better Work – Work colleagues have seen us in our jeans and a hoodie now. Kids and dogs are increasingly a part of Zoom business meetings. Why do we have to stay so formal? And why waste so much time? Meetings for the sake of meetings has never been my thing! Learning to teach, lead, and manage remotely just became the new must-have skillset.
Gig Economy – and work from home. Job monogamy has been in decline for some time now It appears we’re going deeper on this one. Big corporations are taking notice and following.
We have a capacity for more fluid interactions. More than one boss. More than one team.
Creative Renaissance – What’s happened during quarantine? A lot more art. More music.
A lot more business creativity. It seems forced downtime gets the creative juices flowing.
Take a moment to think about whichever ones resonate with you.
Better yet, shoot me a note or book a “let’s just talk” time. I’d love to hear
your thoughts and ideas around this.
Generations of writers have used the “peaks and valleys” of life analogy, so let’s go with that for a bit.
Each successive change in life comes with its own built-in dip. You know – a downside, a trough, and an upside. Change management researchers tell us we can’t avoid the dip. We just have to find our way through it.
This infographic courtesy of J.M.Fischer explains it beautifully.
On the downside of the curve, we experience a whole range of seemingly unrelated random negative emotions (of fear, anger, denial)
At the bottom, or the trough is where the existential questions arise. Who am I? where am I going?
The trough is the fertile zone for finding resilience. Bill George in his book True North calls these times “crucible moments”
This is where we re-prioritize, rediscover, or perhaps reconnect with a personal faith tradition. We human beings are after all spiritual beings with intellect, creativity, will, and purpose. (not just a bunch of sophisticated bio plumbing with a survival instinct)
Other sample questions might be:
What brings me meaning and joy? What do I really want?
Where do I want to be? What do I want to build?
What do I have control over/absolutely no control over?
Where do I need to fight?
What do I need to surrender?
By processing the negative emotions that come on the downhill side and digging deep on personal meaning, goals, and direction, then and only then, can we begin to contemplate processing forward and looking up. Here’s where individuals find their resilience factors
If you can find your way past “the trough” then there’s really nowhere to start looking other than up.
Face it. Everything just became so different. Life and work just got more intertwined than ever, and really, none of us have enough time left on the planet to hide and worry.
The pace of change in and of itself can be mentally exhausting and physically draining.
There’s an additional undercurrent of anxiety and It doesn’t take much to set people off or get a little bonkers. I’ll pick up on that thought next time.
Meanwhile, stay safe and strong.
Until next time,
Are there “stages of? ….building blocks for?…. formulas or recipes?
I recently ran into a business friend from many years ago.
We’d known each other when we were both grinding it out through a dismal time in the construction industry.
We’d agreed to catch up over a Starbucks. Now here we were.
Phil is a burly guy with a kind of brusque manner and voice that is permanently set on “outdoor” volume.
After some opening banter, he pauses and then declares (outside voice).
“I googled you man. You’re a freaking 40-year overnight success!”
The conversations around us fell silent. I could feel multiple laser stares aimed right at me.
His spontaneous outburst and the absurd hilarity of it all caught me off guard. Something welled up and I bust out laughing and couldn’t stop.
He joined in full volume, enjoying the dramatic effects of his own comedic delivery. When our moment of mirth subsided, the surrounding conversations came back to the normal Starbucks level.
As with any honest humor, it’s usually wrapped around a nugget of truth. This was no different.
Examples of “success” in any field if examined, come after a ton of hard work, sacrifices made and obstacles overcome over extended periods of time.
When you talk “success” and how you actually define or quantify it, the definition tends to vary.
A quick G search of the word renders 210 million hits in .64 seconds so it’s obviously top of mind for lots of people.
For some folks, it’s about money. Ok, probably for most folks that’s the measuring stick for comparison.
For others, it might be house size or being able to travel to faraway places. For others, it’s about a relationship to their family; for some it’s faith, and for many, it’s honestly just staying alive another month. The definition of the term will change relative to where you’re at in life, probably dozens of times.
The part I love most about my work is helping clients figure out what success looks like for them. Then we start navigating obstacles, achieving more or getting better at something – a.k.a. becoming “successful.”
Because most of us spend on average 1/3 of our life (about half of our waking hours) pursuing a livelihood to make ends meet, it’s important to have some sort of scaffolding or contextual framework around how to think about this concept.
From observation and experience, there are some underlying factors to success in any realm.
Wealth is definitely an easily understood way of keeping score, but if that‘s the only way then look out!
Ok – back to the point.
Because the wealth/success thing has such an overshadowing effect, I’ll get it out of the way in this months’ post.
We’ll deal with the other success factors in future posts.
I love it when someone else writes a brilliant article around something I’ve been thinking. Moreover, they absolutely nail it.
In this instance, kudos to American venture capitalist Morgan Housel who has provided a remarkable essay ranking every type of wealth and poverty.
It’s equal parts enlightening, entertaining, surprising and useful for perspective.
Stage one of 19 on the wealth spectrum begins where you would expect – complete dependence on others for sustenance – but quickly jumps to people who have money and assets but are impoverished in other ways.
Stage four is a cautionary tale, “Your lifestyle expectations consistently grow faster than your income and assets. Adaptive poverty.” Stage seven is too: “Your entire personality is built upon the appearance of being wealthy, attracting a predatory social group that will abandon you.”
The stages of wealth start looking attractive around number 13, where you love your job enough that it feels like a hobby and pays more than you ever expected.
I’ll let you go on to discover the highest stage of wealth – the psychological equivalent of the Forbes billionaires list.
The overriding revelation in the piece is that wealth is often as much a matter of perspective as it is a sum of money.
Folks who are deeply envious and generally insecure are unlikely to feel wealthy no matter how big their investment account becomes.
Those with close family ties and social connections can feel content with far less.
Another poignant revelation of this innovative list is that we often fail to recognize the wealth of all types that we already have.
Phil’s perception of my alleged success was that somehow I had “arrived”.
My read on the same scenario was that I was merely “staying on track and keeping going.”
Huh! Guess that’s the kind of stuff that makes life interesting.
Like Abe, I had some friends who believed in me. I didn’t want to let them down.
Until next time!
Note to Reader: This “Success” article will probably wind up being one of a three-part series into 2020, so stay tuned.
Ok I made that up, but I’m pretty sure it’s a thing.
It has to do with your personal leadership credibility.
We all know about IQ. It’s your Intelligence quotient score derived from some standardized tests.
So if we can quantify that, it’s not too big a leap to apply “quotient” to other important things
Like FQ – Frustration Quotient. How frustrated am I ?
Or TQ – What’s the level of Truth in this situation?
Or B.S.Q -What’s the level of …well you know.
There are many other Q’s and I could go on, but will resist.
I’m Talking About “Authenticity Quotient”
It’s like your personal credibility rating, or integrity score but so much more.
I’m surprised at how many leaders have a specific work persona and a whole different person shows up elsewhere. And it surprises me when these same leaders seem shocked or confused when their employees don’t trust them, don’t like them, and can’t really wait to work elsewhere.
Authenticity in leadership is one of those things everybody declares to be super important. Many groups and organizations I work with have an “authenticity lingo” baked in to their core values (I.E. authentic culture, authentic relationships etc.)
To me, when someone self-references the word in anything other than an aspirational context, they’ve broken some sort of spell. The moment you have to self -declare a trait like this, you’re probably not a representative of that trait. It’s something you either are or you ain’t. At its essence, it’s one of those rare know-it-when-you-see-it qualities that if you have to spend a lot of time talking about it or trying to analyze it, it simply evaporates. Like wind, you can’t see it, but you’re highly aware when you see its effects.
Before diving in, I’ll offer a soft disclaimer. Nobody’s appointed me official spokesperson on “authenticity”. But if that job existed– how cool would that be? I can speak for myself and offer some good examples of authenticity that I’ve observed.
I firmly believe that leadership is more important than ever before, yet true leaders are in short supply. There’s also a huge crisis of confidence in leaders.
I firmly believe that leadership is more important than ever before, yet true leaders are in short supply. There’s also a huge crisis of confidence in leaders. Something weird happened with the rise of the internet. Our humanness, relationships and accountability got reduced to a bunch of 0’s and 1’s, making sketchy leadership all the more possible. With multi-media bombardment and the rise of “truthiness” (thanks Stephen Colbert), we find ourselves increasingly attracted to the wrong type of charismatic leaders.
“I know of nothing more valuable, when it comes to the all-important virtue of authenticity, than simply being who you are.” Charles R. Swindoll
Here are some hallmark characteristics of authentic leadership at work:
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” ― Brene Brown
Being authentic is a work in progress and an endless process of growth.
It always starts with a critical and honest look in the mirror. Authentic leaders believe that there is always room for improvement and never stop.
Building and maintaining your AQ is hard work, but it pays off in the long term. It is like exercising: While you are training, you feel tired, but you know it is good for your body. Staying authentic in leadership and life is not easy, but it can be observed, measured and learned.
Until next time!
Here for you.
(Don’t Try This Alone)
“As humans, we’re hardwired to connect with others. Direct contact matters: tight bonds of friendship and love heal us, help children learn, extend our lives and make us happy. -Susan Pinker
It felt like I had won the lottery. At least what I imagined that would feel like.
An unexpected windfall of riches and resources suddenly deposited on my side of the ledger.
Work friends threw a farewell party for me and quite the party it was! The venue was stunning. The food was exceptional. The memories flowed in animated conversations.
We were major shareholders celebrating a long- term investment of time, effort and relationship that had gone well.
I had given leadership to a bunch of ordinary radicals and visionary misfits who like me were determined to make a difference in this world in the housing and healthcare sector.
While It was about me and our time together, in so many ways it wasn’t.
Most of us had worked side by side for many years. Others were newer to the scene. Through it all, we enjoyed fights, jealousies, pettiness, arguments, faith, tears and tragedy, laughter and joy. You know, – all that confounding pile of human-ness that comprises genuine community.
Some of us watched each other’s kids grow up. At times, we vexed each other beyond words, then managed to pull it from the brink, forgive, reconcile, hug it out, and refocus.
In the end, it was a celebration of compound interest in invested lives.
Here’s the Math Part
As a kid, I disliked math. It didn’t help that I never had a good math teacher.
Besides, my active juvenile brain was saying “way too boring!”
The irony is that now I work with math every day. I appreciate the unyielding inerrancy of good math.
Whether you’re arguing a parking ticket, buying truckloads of concrete, or convincing a board of directors these budget numbers really work, you’ve got have the math right or you’re dead in the water.
Math done right doesn’t lie!
One of my favorite math formulas is the one for exponential growth:
Here’s the Standard Compound Interest Formula
“A” is the ending amount, “P” is the beginning amount (or “principal”), “r” is the interest rate (expressed as a decimal), “n” is the number of times compounded in a year, and “t” is the total number of years.
It’s the formula for the compound interest that savvy investors have employed for centuries. Some have called it the eighth wonder of the world.
Let me explain it this way:
There’s a picturesque pond with a small patch of lily pads. The little lily patch doubles every day.
If it takes forty-eight days to cover the whole pond, how many days to cover half of the pond?
Our linear way of thinking screams twenty-four. Wrong!
The answer is forty-seven days.
Compound interest is difficult to grasp because it is difficult to think exponentially. In other words, we think by 1 + 1 + 1 = 3.
The compound interest principal uses exponential thinking. Just like the lily pad, it takes forty-seven days to cover half of the pond and BAM!
Only one more day to accomplish what was done in the previous forty-seven.
What if we applied the same mathematical law to the social currency of our relationships?
Here’s the Relationship Part
In her 2014 book “The Village Effect” psychologist Susan Pinker provides compelling evidence of our need to invest in face to face human relationships.
From the flap: “As humans, we’re hardwired to connect with others. Direct contact matters: tight bonds of friendship and love heal us, help children learn, extend our lives and make us happy. Not just any social networks will do: we need real in-the-flesh encounters that tie human families, groups of friends, and communities together.
In one of the lengthiest longitudinal studies ever, Harvard researchers undertook a multi-generational 75-year study. The Grant and Glueck study tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two socio-economic groups: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (the Glueck study). You can read all about the 1 Secret To Leading A fulfilling Life.
You guessed it.
The clear message that we get from this 75-year study is this:
Good relationships matter, Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Being a world-beater in a chosen field, or having tons of money just plain doesn’t matter in the long run.
Begs the question: Can a precise law of math be applied to the social currency of relationships?
From lived experience, I’d say a resounding “yes”!
Only one minor caveat. Our flawed human nature messes the variables somewhat, but in general, the principle still works fine.
Author James Clear in his book “Atomic Habits” says
“Time will multiply and compound whatever you feed it.”
That goes for regular deposits in our portfolio of relational investments.
Something to Think About.
What if we asked investment type questions around our relationships?
What is my investment timeline? Am I prepared to be patient?
What is my tolerance for risk here?
Does this investment pay dividends? Am I happy with the results?
Can I ride out a reversal?
Am I comfortable with the costs associated? (time, effort, emotional energy)
What is my strategy for allocation? One-time invest? Regular deposits? Both?
Do I double down, reinvest, buy and hold, or cash out?
Something to Do
Check your list.
See who matters
Do the math
Invest regularly and often
The windfall of rich benefits will astound you!
PS. A deep heartfelt thank-you to all of you who made my farewell bash such a memorable time. I’ll cherish your kindness forever.
As usual, I’m thrilled if you check in with me.
Call, text, email, smoke signals.
Here to help.
Until next time
Hi there !
If you’re new to our tribe, (even if you’re not) here’s the deal.
My name is Lorne and top of each month I’ll send you my very best ideas and truth powered concepts.
I’m a slightly irreverent, non conforming, modern day elder with a strong bent to make a dent in today’s messed up world.
One of the best ways I do this is by helping us become better servant leaders and difference-makers right where we’re at.
I write about the business of life, leadership, community and relationships and how that all intersects with our quirky human nature.
Basically, I’ll tackle anything that gets us down the road toward our vision of service to others.
Hopefully this is a bit of “leadership jet fuel” that serves to inform, inspire and focus us for the month ahead.
BTW. Did I mention I like coffee? I’m still working my way through that monster bag of Torrefaction Foncee’ espresso beans that Margaret brought home last month. It brews up nicely with “crema”. It’s that tawny, caramel-y layer of micro foam that occurs when you get the just right amount of super heated hydraulic pressure forced through roasted and ground-to-perfection beans. It’s a sort of holy grail for true espresso lovers.
My tastebuds are doing the mamba right there in my mouth.
Stop it guys!
Ok. Take a moment and get yourself a cuppa whatever you love. I’ll wait right here and enjoy mine.
Once you’re back, we can walk through some important ideas together.
I love this story.
It’s about four people on an aircraft that has only three parachutes.
There was a genius, a minister (rabbi, imam, priest, spiritual advisor of your choice) a Boy Scout and of course, the pilot.
Sure enough, about an hour into the flight, the engine catches fire.
The pilot, highly trained in emergencies, promptly locks the controls, grabs one of the parachutes, says “follow me” and bails out.
The genius stands up and says, “I’m the world’s smartest man! The world really needs me”
He grabs one and jumps out leaving the minister and the scout.
The minister looks at the boy and says, “Son– you have your whole life before you. You take the last parachute.”
The scout answers “Don’t sweat it, mister. The world’s smartest man just bailed out with my backpack!”
There are emergencies happening all around us. We often stake our entire future on the survival gear that we’re carrying. These could include good works, possessions, faith, money, education, training, grit, merit or status.
Fact is, we all go through life carrying stuff around with us. Not all of it is useful or good.
There’s the stuff we’ve latched on to that we can’t seem to let go of.
Other stuff we hang onto because we think it defines us and somehow or make us cool or special.
There are experiences and traumas that leave an indelible mark. Memories are very real. They can linger in the pathways of our brain for years, sometimes decades. When triggered, they can unleash a flood of cortisol- fuelled “fight or flight” emotions.
At age eighteen, I was involved in a horrific car crash. My friends and I were able to walk away with only stitches, a broken ankle, and deep bruises. That didn’t lessen the emotional impact.
Huddling dazed and shaken beside the road, we watched as the grotesquely twisted, pancaked pile of metal erupted into a flaming fireball, lighting up the rainy night sky. We could have been in there.
I relived the moments of the crash in slow motion again and again in the form of nightmares for years to follow.
It was an event that left me profoundly changed in ways I didn’t immediately understand. It infused me with an awareness of the fragile preciousness of life.
The dawn of each new day, every pleasure, every pain, every second is a gift.
Each relationship and each human interaction no matter how fleeting has eternal value. It left me with a fierce, deep-down resolve to fully live each day with intent, meaning, and purpose.
I mention this as an example. It’s now a distant memory and I rarely think of it anymore. It just became a part of me. It’s part of the everyday survival gear I carry,
On a side note, to this day this experience informs my engrained defensive driving habits You never know how fast you’re really going until you leave the road and start crashing into stuff.
Trust me on that one.
When it comes to real life backpacks, I’m a huge fan.
It’s my favorite aisle at Mountain Equipment Co-op.
Being fairly active, I have a dedicated “go-bag“ that keeps me organized and ready for just about everything I do. My video gear bag has everything I need to capture great stories. My fishing backpack has entirely different stuff than my hiking bag. My book bag of dog-eared reads and my Kindle is always nearby. My work backpack has everything I’ll need for that particular workday. Daypacks, overnighters, weekenders. The list goes on.
There comes a point when I need to get down and dirty, dump everything out and re-assess my stock of baggage items I carry.
Is this still useful? Does it bring me joy or cause anxiety? Is this essential for my well-being or survival?
Does it help me help others?
If you ever meet my friend, Nita, there’s a couple of things that’ll stand out. You’ll note she is smallish and compact with a cheery disposition and a winsome smile. The other thing you’ll note is her ginormous backpack that she packs around like some kind of urban Sherpa.
When I ask her “Nita, what all do you have in there?”, she smiles mysteriously and says “oh, …many important things.“
Every time she heaves it up and slings it on, there’s a moment of teetering uncertainty until the load centers, balance is regained, and off she goes.
She recently admitted- “Sometimes, when I can’t find something in the house, I just have to remember to check in my backpack and quite often, there it is.“
I may never know what’s in Nita’s bag.
I do know whatever it is, it’s definitely working for her.
What kind of baggage do you carry?
When it comes to life’s baggage, each of us carries something different.
If you’ve ever been wrongly accused, cheated or abandoned, you might have trouble trusting.
If you ever were made to feel ridiculed or put down, you might have trouble feeling acceptance or worth.
The more you know about your own personal baggage, the better equipped you are to handle situations that arise.
Life can certainly become burdensome at times. We all know this is true. Carrying the dead weight of the wrong kind of baggage just makes matters worse. Have the right stuff in your backpack for life. Recognize what needs to stay behind.
Something to think about.
Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough. -Charles Dudley Warner
Have a great month of October!
Until next time.
Subscribe today and I'll send you my complimentary e-book on navigating change and a monthly support article on effective leadership. See you on the other side of this annoying pop-up! Lorne