I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.
I only know what I can do.
I remember a while back telling someone that what I wanted to do was to try to help businesses be more human. At the time I thought if anybody heard me say that, they’d probably think I was somewhat strange. But I guess we’re living in strange times now because more and more people are thinking it as well.
Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World is a book that covers this subject extremely well. While I’m still in the process of reading it, I’d have to say that this book comes the closest to synchronizing with my years of thought and research on trying to change the way organizations work. Above all else though, it’s an amazing feeling to know that you’re not alone and others are out there thinking and pursuing the same visionary things that you are.
That said though, that’s when reality returns and slaps you in the face again. That’s because while this is my life’s work (there’s no question of it now), what frustrates me the most is that even though there are a diverse variety of books on this subject now, I’m still not really seeing a change in the way businesses work locally within my own city.
The solutions we need to move forward, to grow, and adapt are not technological innovations, they are social innovations.
Don’t get me wrong though. Vancouver is booming as a digital tech hub and the game development scene is still thriving even with some closures and layoffs earlier this year. But that’s not what I’m talking about. The solutions we need to move forward, to grow, and adapt are not technological innovations, they are social innovations. And for that to happen, we need to rethink the very behaviours, values, and beliefs of our organizations and of ourselves.
But that’s exactly why things aren’t changing. As I told someone else a while back, many business owners and managers would rather let their company die than give up their centralized command and control way of working because they’ve habitually become accustomed to it. In effect, even though it’s slowly killing their company like a cancer, it’s still feels comforting and risk averse to them, so they still stick with it, grandly naval gazing off into the distance as they sail off the edge of the Old World to their doom.
What we need now aren’t people playing it safe. What we need now are courageous explorers. That’s the type of people I’m looking for and the type of people I want to work with in helping to navigate and reach this New World. The obvious question though is does such a company of people like this exist within Vancouver? Or at the very least, are there companies that do want to be this socially innovative in Vancouver but just don’t know where to start in transforming themselves?
A while back I read a highly insightful book by Bernard Stiegler entitled Taking Care of Youth and The Generations that discusses how current marketing practices today are impeding the social and cultural development of young people, thus preventing them from fully maturing as adults. What I find interesting is that I actually believe that we are undergoing a similar crisis within organizations today in that current business practices are impeding the social and cultural development of organizations, thus preventing them from also fully maturing as well.
To understand the cause of this problem though, I think we need to understand the developmental differences between a child and an adult. From my perspective, the goal of raising a child is to help them reach an adult state of freedom and responsibility whereby they are able to act independently on their own in a sustainable manner. In effect, to reach a point where they are no longer dependent upon their parents to support them but they can fend for themselves within the world on their own.
For the most part though, I’m not seeing this same sense of development being applied to organizations. If anything, instead of helping their organization to reach a state of independence, most entrepreneurs are doing the exact opposite, often micromanaging and maintaining their parental control, thus causing the organization to continually flounder in a dependent and child-like state, always needing the support and guidance of their founding birth parent.
We need to learn to let go and allow the organizations that we have founded and birthed to fully grow, mature, and think on their own.
Yet if we truly want to create innovative organizations of the 21st century then we can’t continue with this same approach. We need to learn to let go and allow the organizations that we have founded and birthed to fully grow, mature, and think on their own. Then and only then will they be able to take the next step and carry us into a new world and a more natural way of working together.
Once of my greatest frustrations in pursuing my passion, purpose, and vision in life is not being able to easily articulate what my passion, purpose, and vision is to others (even though I understand it clearly myself). By this, I mean easily encapsulating it with just a few words like a job title, that someone within the business sector will easily understand.
The reason I can’t easily do this is because what I’m pursuing doesn’t even exist yet as a defined job role, since it’s still in the process of emergence. But there in lies the conundrum, how can you market yourself and your abilities to others when you can’t easily articulate what it is you do?
To get around this issue, I’m continually scouring the Web and reading books to find information that might relate to what I’m trying to do. Luckily I have found a variety of books whose authors are all articulating the same thing but just in different ways. That being that we are in the process of change, of trying to figure out a new way of not just working but of learning as well. Why? Because our old ways of learning and working are failing us and at a rapidly increasing pace.
Yet again, even though all of these authors are effectively talking about the same thing, there isn’t a unifying word from any of them that I’ve found that clearly communicates what they are all trying to do (as words like “Chief Culture Officer” just didn’t cut it for me). Well that all changed today. In reading a Fast Company article describing social intrapreneurs, the word “systempreneur” came up and I realized that this was the simple word that I had been looking for all along.
What needs to be done is to change the entire system from the outside and inside, all at once.
Throughout my entire life, I’ve always strived to be an intrapreneur, trying to bring out a social change from within an organization or company. However, while sometimes I made a difference and brought about some good, for the most part, it really didn’t add up to much because the overriding corporate culture and societal system negated any sort of real substantial and permanent change.
More and more as time passed, I slowly realized that making these piecemeal attempts from within companies was a complete waste of time. What needs to be done is to change the entire system from the outside and inside, all at once. This, in a nutshell, is what a systempreneur does and what all of these authors have been simply trying to articulate. That there is a rising emergence of individuals who are striving to bring about a systematic change to our societal institutions, thus allowing us to learn and work in innovative new ways.
I‘ve been extremely busy over the past couple of months, working on a variety of things. What I’ve just realized this past week though is that I’m not where I want to be. And what’s even more frustrating is that I’ve been down this road a million times before, yet I still stupidly keep going down it, because the siren’s call from it is so alluring.
What I’m talking about is web design and how it plays a part in my life. Yes, I enjoy web design and have never ever regretted learning it. And yes, I believe that I’m fairly proficient with it as well, proficient enough to do it professionally. But just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should.
You see I didn’t learn web design to become a web designer. I learnt web design because I was fascinated with the Web and wanted to explore it, play with it, and learn about it. In doing so, I realized it was an open platform that could empower people greatly through social sharing and interaction. Thus I wasn’t fascinated by the technology so much as I was by what the Web could do for the people as an empowering platform of social interaction and collaboration.
I’m not learning a technical skill to master it and do it professionally. I’m learning and using it as a tool to help me to achieve my own greater passion, purpose, and vision in life.
What I’ve realized is that this same thing applies to any type of technical skill that I’ve come across and learnt. I’m not learning a technical skill to master it and do it professionally. I’m learning and using it as a tool to help me to achieve my own greater passion, purpose, and vision in life. Thus the technical skill is like a stepping stone that gets me to where I want to be and doing what I want to do.
For example, at the same time the Web was rising in prominence in the early nineties, so too were immersive online multiplayer games. Fascinated by these immersive 3D environments and the emergent collaborative nature of these games that required real teamwork to pull off, I jumped in head first to explore them. Again it was here that I used my newly learnt web skills not to build websites for others but to build them for myself. In effect, I used web design as one of my many technical skills to create the empowering community and cultural environments that I wanted to play and learn within.
So yes, web design is important to me, as it allows me to build the online communities which are a part of my passion, purpose, and vision in life but again I can’t focus on web design so much so that I lose myself within it trying to master it completely. Again, I must remember it is only a means to an end.
Illustration via Wikipedia
There’s an awesome article on systems thinking written by Pegasus Communications Inc. entitled What is Systems Thinking? that articulates the primary problem that so many companies face today in finding innovative solutions for their product or services. It helps us to understand the clear distinction and role of customer relations and product / service design and how these two seemingly separate teams can effectively work together as a cohesive whole alongside their customers.
Systems Thinking as a Perspective:
Events, Patterns, or System?
Systems thinking is a perspective because it helps us see the events and patterns in our lives in a new light—and respond to them in higher leverage ways. For example, suppose a fire breaks out in your town. This is an event. If you respond to it simply by putting the fire out, you’re reacting. (That is, you have done nothing to prevent new fires.) If you respond by putting out the fire and studying where fires tend to break out in your town, you’d be paying attention to patterns. For example, you might notice that certain neighborhoods seem to suffer more fires than others. If you locate more fire stations in those areas, you’re adapting. (You still haven’t done anything to prevent new fires.) Now suppose you look for the systems—such as smoke-detector distribution and building materials used—that influence the patterns of neighborhood-fire outbreaks. If you build new fire-alarm systems and establish fire and safety codes, you’re creating change. Finally, you’re doing something to prevent new fires!
This is why looking at the world through a systems thinking “lens” is so powerful: It lets you actually make the world a better place.
Today, many companies see the event and some even see the patterns. Very few see the system solution and even fewer execute that solution properly.
Customer Support as Firemen
In our digital world, there are many online products and services that we’re using today. In the process of using them, problems appear, just like a fire breaking out in a town. And who comes to our rescue like firemen but the customer support people of that product or service. This is the point though where many companies stop because of a lack of perspective and awareness. In effect, they see the event and may even see the greater pattern causing the event but they fail to see the greater systematic problem and how to fix it.
To clarify this further, especially in relation to customer support, imagine a town repeatedly having more and more fires within it and the townspeople asking the mayor “What are you doing about this problem?” His response? “What problem? Our firemen are addressing the fires very efficiently. We’ve even been awarded the best fire department in the region!” Again this is the typical mindset of most companies today in that they see Customer Support as the final solution to the problem. But it isn’t.
Customer support is about customer relations. It’s not about just solving singular “events”, because you can’t always solve them all, its about employing people who have the perspective and awareness to see both the events and the patterns arising from them, so they can relay this information back to the entire company, particularly the development team, where it can empower them to make the right choices for change.
Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe it was even Joel on Software, or was it 37 Signals, that emphasized this by indicating not to keep a feature list but instead to watch for patterns and when those patterns arise sufficiently to then deal with them in a systematic way. That’s great when you have a team of people who have the perspective and awareness to see the systematic patterns arising from those events. But most support teams don’t as they have been trained behaviorally from a corporate cultural standpoint to just to focus on the event only and to deal with it as quickly as possible.
Development Teams Help Prevent Fires
Thus the end result here is that we need companies to see customer support as not the final solution, because again they can’t solve all of the problems, but instead primarily as a liaison group to communicate information which in turn empowers the company to make the necessary changes internally via their development teams. That’s where the real problems are solved. By the development teams upgrading and innovating their products and services which in turn makes them more usable and functional, thus reducing the problems encountered.
The key emphasis here though is that for all of this to work, you need individuals in all areas of the company who have an understanding of systems thinking to help them see their work as not just a slice or component of the whole but rather an integral and interdependent part of it. Only then will get you customer relations teams and development teams working symbiotically together in unison with their customers as collaborative members of the design and development process as mentioned by John Thackara in his book entitled In The Bubble.
From Designing For to Designing With
The relationship of the Dutch to dikes demonstrates that looking after technology is as much a matter of social organization as it is of engineering. People are too often described and thought of by designers as users or consumers when we really need to think of them as actors.
Some companies, like Valve Software, are understanding this and are light years ahead of others, as not only are they designing their products in close collaboration with their customers but they are even giving their customers the tools to empower and extend their products in ways that the company can’t even conceive. Thus the customer evolves from just a consumer to a collaborative creator and essential participant in the design process of their products and services.
The following is a newer maxim of mine. “We must work at living what we have learnt through play.” What I’ve realized recently is that it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is and start living this maxim as it implies.
You see in my last post, I got really excited when I realized that there are many people out there all effectively working on the same thing as I am, that being figuring out the dynamics of this new emerging type of organization with its unique “natural culture” as I like to call it. Well with that high immediately came a low that slapped me abruptly in the face. If there are and have been a variety of notable people working on this (some for decades), why isn’t it more prominent within the business world today?
I mean there have been some companies who have integrated some of these new principles but for the most part, they are pretty unique. For example, people like Ricardo Semler have done amazing things in terms of changing the way we work, yet even when he openly shares this knowledge, even giving speeches to large corporations on the subject, it’s evident that it’s not making a noticeable impact within the typical business mindset. In effect, today when someone creates a new business, more than likely they’ll automatically create a hierarchical organizational structure and implement managers to “control” people without questioning or researching to see if there is a better way.
What I’ve come to realize now is that it’s pointless talking about this anymore. Why? Because words can only take you so far. What really changes hearts and minds are the visible actions of others, so that people can see these principles and culture put into practice itself which then can be utilized as an example to others. So I need to help create these new types of organizations so that people can see and understand how they work from the inside. Even more so, I need to try to create a variety of them in different areas of life, so that each individual can find one example that relates to their particular perspective of life, thus allowing them to understand it better.
While creating some of these living examples will be easy, because they will start as online communities, others that are more business-like will take more time because it means starting my own business or finding a business that is pliable and courageous enough in accepting this culture. Again while I have some business ideas that I could implement, they are going to take a lot of time to grow and I need work in the interim to sustain myself while I build up these examples.
Another major problem that I see is that the two initial examples that I’d like to start with, that I’ve already tested in the past, are going to be difficult to start because I don’t have the social object to build them around that I once had. For example, I’d like to use this natural culture in building a community around a video game and another one around a web development platform. Right now though, the MMO gaming scene is all but dead because there is nothing out there as yet that I’m excited about which is critical if you want to build a community around it. Same applies to a web platform. I used to love Squarespace but this is no longer the case, so I’m looking for another platform that I can get excited about again.
All said and done though, it’s time to go back into stealthy action mode and follow an “actions speak louder than words” mantra that I used to relay to newbies when teaching them online about Threewave Capture The Flag.
“Let your rocket do the talkin!”
Just viewed a couple of videos by Don Tapscott that are remarkable close to what I, myself, have perceived through my own systems thinking and observance of cultural patterns.
Institutions are failing. They can’t handle the weight of the complexity that is overloading them. We are effectively living in the past, utilizes approaches from many years ago that no longer work today. We’re at a turning point, a transition and transformation from the old world view to a new world view that is being born as we speak. We need to stop trying to iterate on the past and instead leap courageously into the future.
We’re not leaping blinding though. There are many people around the world with the foresight and vision to see this change and embrace it openly. They’ve been working for years to prepare this bridge, each in their own way, and to help people to navigate across it into this new world view.
I find it somewhat ironic that Don initially indicates that we’re creating this global machine or computer via the Web. Actually the reason that things have gotten so bad as they have is because things have become too machine-like. In effect, we’ve lost our humanity, our human nature, somewhere along the way, in exchange for efficiency and desired perfection that is failing us dramatically because of our inability to adapt and change our “programming”.
We’re not machines and we’re not perfect. And that, strangely enough, is a good thing because it our imperfections that make us human. It is our frailties, our vulnerabilities, that make us human to each other, thus making us want to reach out to one another and connect. But it’s apparent that Don himself even realizes this at the end when he indicates the emergence of a networked intelligence, a collective mind, that allows us to learn, grow, and adapt collaboratively in ways we’ve never dreamt possible before.
So what’s happening here though? What are the core components of this cultural DNA that is effectively changing mankind, helping it to evolve to its next stage of evolution? Open, sharing, and caring are the core trinity elements that I’ve seen, as Don seems to attest to as well. But it goes further than that. It’s how these elements are utilized together as a sort of cultural vaccine that rewires an organization, effectively transforming the people within it into a neural network for the emergence of a collective mind, thus allowing them to collaborate in an almost symbiotic nature. (And yes I’ve seen this level of collaboration within a team before using this same cultural DNA and it’s simply amazing to experience.)
But really what’s the composition of this cultural DNA? Well that’s what I’ve been working on for years and, yes, I believe I’ve finally cracked it. The hard part, as usual, is articulating what I intuitively know. What I can say though is that I’m calling it “Natural Culture” because from my perspective it’s a culture that restores the human nature within organizations and kickstarts it to life, transforming it from a machine into a living collective entity that can finally sustain the life within it.
I‘ve had some interesting conversations this last week with a variety of different people. In doing so, it’s made me realize something that I intuitively already knew. My vision isn’t to help empower people individually but instead to empower them within a collective environment. In effect, I shouldn’t be focusing on explaining how a person can figure out their individual passion and purpose so much as I should be focusing on explaining how an organization can naturally release the creative potential of the people within it, primarily through its culture.
What I’ve realized is that by avoiding the focus on the individual specifically, you create a more natural nurturing environment to release the potential from that individual. That’s because if you put too much focus on that individual then they almost want to automatically close themselves off from that targeted focus (i.e. turtling) which in turn makes it difficult for their potential to be released. But in working with others, they naturally want to feel useful and valued, so they naturally in turn try to better themselves which in turn releases their potential.
The interesting thing is that the focus of the group, why they are being brought together, is almost irrelevant. In effect, it is just the social object or community of practice that they gather around. What’s important is what is cultivated within the group and how it interacts. This in turn allows for the release of the potential within the individual.
That said though, the more meaningful the reason they have come together, I think the more possibility that their potential will be released. In effect, the more epic the challenge, the more likely their potential will rise and react to that challenge.
About a month back I was playing around with Workfu when I stumbled across a couple of patterns that made me laugh out loud when I saw how evident they were. You see when using Workfu, it asks you to enter in keywords that relate to your professional life. After entering in those keywords though, I felt like it would be better if they were organized in some way, rather than just being a jumbled display of keywords. When I started to organize them intuitively, I suddenly realized that the two repeating patterns that I was organizing them by were my passion and purpose in life!
Taking this into consideration, I realized that if someone actually didn’t know their passion and purpose in life, they could potentially figure them out using this exact same approach. That said, while this worked for me because of my insights and research within this field, it might obviously not work for someone else for a variety of reasons. That said though, I thought it was significant enough to share with others anyway.
Just a few words to set the baseline of understanding though. Your passion is your energy, your natural talent. Your purpose is the direction with which you release or express your passion. Your vision is that which you hope to become, your passion and purpose working in harmony to achieve your life’s calling within a specific scope and context. It’s important to realize though that you may not have enough knowledge or experience at this time to fully realize your ultimate vision in life but at the very least it will hopefully reveal the next step within it. In addition, feel free to use titles outside of your work as well, as they may reveal more of who you truly are since many of the jobs we do today are to just pay the bills rather than being something that we’re passionate about.
First off, list your job titles with your current job at the top and oldest at the bottom. Remove any descriptors, so as to achieve a title of just two words (i.e. senior web developer = web developer). In addition, if the meaning of the title doesn’t seem evident with a quick scan, try to summarize it down to its core meaning that feels right to you (i.e. clerical clerk = organization support)
Community Support (Customer Support)
Body Therapist (Massage Therapist)*
Organization Support (Clerical Clerk)
* Signifies a personal title outside of my professional life
Now look at the first word in your job titles and group them together, removing any duplicates if you want but at least make the duplicated keyword bigger or bolder so as to relay the importance of it. These are your passion keywords.
Life, Web, Community, Team, Business, Systems, Body, Culture, Guild, Organization
Now look at the second word in your job titles and group them together, again removing any duplicates but making the duplicated keyword bigger or bolder. These are your purpose keywords.
Researcher, Designer, Support, Developer, Leader, Architect, Advisor, Creator, Founder
Now this is where it starts to get really tricky because you need to see below the surface and understand the pattern as a thread that weaves through your life and these keywords. This is the point where you have to let go of logic and start to use your feelings more. For example, if you’ve been having positive or negative feelings throughout your life, particularly within work environments, try to draw on those. For example, I’ve notice throughput my life that I dislike corporate environments because they often have an unnatural culture that makes a person feel useless, disconnected, depressed, and machine-like at the end of the work day. Whereas I want to work within an environment that makes me feel valued, whole, happy, and alive like a human being.
Taking this in mind, I looked at my passion keywords and notice a pattern right off the bat. All of these keywords relate to systems, be they technical (i.e. computers, Web), organizational (i.e. business, community), or organic (i.e. body). Again this was much easier for me to see this pattern, as I had already figured this out earlier in my life. So based upon this though, my passion appears to be systems.
Looking at my purpose, most of the keywords related to building or creating something. So my purpose seems to be a creator which does relate to me as a cultural creative. Yet while I found this to be somewhat true, it didn’t feel perfectly right to me for some reason. To figure out why, let’s see if we can put this all together using my passion and purpose keywords, as well as my feelings, to come up with my visionary job title. One key thing to remember though is that your vision defines the specific scope and context of your passion and purpose at work. Put another way, it helps you figure out if you want to work on a large scale or a small scale. For example, some people prefer helping others one person at a time, while others prefer helping many people all at once.
For me, while I enjoy deep interactions with one person, I have this strong innate desire to help many people all at once. Thus in terms of the scope and context of my passion, it feels like its on an organizational scale or even on a societal scale. Thus in looking at the variety of system keywords that I used to figure out my systems passion, culture to me seemed like the best word that relates to the scope and context of my passion in detail. In effect, I believe my best systems approach is using culture to help change the world around me at a grand scale.
In terms of my purpose keywords, as I said before, none of my job titles seem to articulate what I’ve naturally been doing or wanting to do in my work with regards to my purpose. Being a creator is very close, as playful creativity is at the heart of my life, but it still doesn’t seem to be the perfect word. In looking back on my feelings, it almost feels like I want to help “heal” organizations and the people within them, so they they can release their full potential. While saying I’m a healer does feel right and even relates to my Keirsey personality profile (i.e. Healer), it just sounds too much like a New Age title. “Hi, I’m your organizations new Cultural Healer. Let’s have a big group hug!” Uh, I don’t think so. One word that did jump out though in my thoughts, and seemed more business-like, was an Integrator. Integration within systems is a common buzzword today so it felt much closer but still not perfect. For now, I’ll live with it though until something better emerges.
So all said and done, my visionary job title for what I want to be doing is a Cultural Integrator. If this seems to be a little far fetched at this time then you might want to read a book called Chief Culture Officer by Grant McCracken (or even another book entitled The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge). It describes a job title that is somewhat similar to what I’d be doing as a Cultural Integrator and what I’ve already been doing intuitively throughout my work life. But why not just use Chief Culture Officer for my job title then since it’s something that’s already emerging within the work force? Primarily because I dislike the corporate connotations it implies in its use which in turn could distance me from the type of non-corporate companies that I’d like to help.
In a future post though, I’ll try to explain how you can break down these patterns into even more specific details, thus allowing you to see the skills that got you where you are today and the skills that you will need to get you where you want to be in the future. Even more so, I’ll reiterate again the importance of scope and context to help you understand how your skills are like languages or lingo that help you to communicate your passion and purpose to others around you thus allowing you to interact and relate to them better, particularly within your work life.
Update June 21/2012: In thinking about this a bit more, I’m growing fond of the title Cultural Designer more and more. The word designer corresponds more closely within my purpose keyword of creator and it also probably seems much more human and familiar to most people as well. While the healing and integration connotations aren’t as noticeable, they are hopefully still implied deep within as great design both simplifies and empowers those whom interact with it. Best of all, Cultural Designer sounds much more grounded and accessible, particularly in comparison to a Chief Culture Officer which sounds very elitist and inaccessible.
Know thyself. For most people on the planet, this is easier said than done. The primary reason being is that we are so distracted today, not just by advertising that disempowers us, but by the basic need for survival which forces us to worker longer hours, thus giving us less time to focus and reflect on who we really are and what we are here to do. If you do find the time to reflect on this though, I think it’s important to fully understand passion, purpose, vision, and their relationship with one another first, as it will make it much easier in trying to figure out your identity as a whole.
Passion is your creative emotional energy that you must authentically and continually express within the world, so as to naturally feel alive. Think of it as your natural talent that energizes you through its use, that sustains you through life, and keeps you stabilized, as well as afloat. Put another way, it is your vehicle for expressing and moving through life. It is why I symbolize it as an intricately carved ship within my own life. Once you know your passion, you’ll start to feel more calm and stable inside, even when things seem chaotic around you. That’s because your passion is at your heart, deep inside you.
I don’t know where I am, but I’m not lost.
Emile Khadaji, The Man Who Never Missed
Purpose gives your life a sense of direction. Yes, knowing your passion can help stabilize you but you’ll still feel frustrated because even though you can weather many storms, you’ll still feel like a captain without a direction or bearing to sail by. For example, when I knew my passion, I started saying to myself “Ok, I know what I’m good at but how do I put this talent to use?” This is why I symbolize purpose as a star within my own life because it is something I can navigate by, a logical calculated bearing that makes sense to my mind.
Vision is the realization and identification of your life in context and harmony with the greater world around you. It is your passion and purpose put together, your heart and mind integrated as one. It is your life lived to its fullest. It is why I symbolize it as the destination that lies beneath the star that I sail towards with my ship. More importantly though, vision is seeing that destination in minute detail, scope, and complexity, like visualizing a magnificent city glowing along the coast of an as yet undiscovered new world.
In closing, I think Peter Senge’s quote below from his book The Fifth Discipline helps to clarify purpose and vision even better using a couple of historical examples.
But vision is different from purpose. Purpose is similar to a direction, a general heading. Vision is a specific destination, a picture of a desired future. Purpose is abstract. Vision is concrete. Purpose is “advancing man’s capability to explore the heavens.” Vision is “a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.” Purpose is “being the best I can be”, “excellence”. Vision is breaking the four minute mile.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the rise of the generalist. What’s important to realize though is that this isn’t a question about generalists being better than specialists but instead a question of what role is needed more at this time. In effect, both roles are essential but at certain times one is needed more than the other.
Right now, we are going through a huge transitional period, a paradigm shift from our old world view to a new world view. Everything we know, that allowed us to survive as long as we have, is starting to crumble and collapse around us due to the weight of complexity. To survive, we need to find a new world to live within and we need to find it soon.
What we need now at this time are explorers. These individuals are natural generalists, as they have the ability to quickly learn, adapt and survive on their own with their diverse skillsets. Even more than skills though, they require a certain emotional and spiritual attitude to survive and thrive under adverse and unknown conditions. Most important of all though, they require a natural intuitive ability, similar to systems thinking, to map out and translate an understanding of this new world when they find it and fully realize it in its entirety.
Thus the explorer travels out and after repeated landings from different locations they soon starts getting a visual map of what they have discovered as a whole. This is no different than what many generalists are striving to do now. They are looking at things from different perspectives to try to get a better understanding of the new world view that they are already encountering now, so as to be able to better communicate it to others.
Once the generalist explorer does fully comprehend what they have discovered and can articulate it back to others within the old world, they then become navigators to help others get safely across to this new world. In effect, the generalists role is to help bridge the gap between our old world view and our new world view, so that others can safely traverse it to their new home.
Once this transitional journey has been taken by others, then the next phase of the work begins which is where the specialist comes into play. Specialists are like the colonists and settlers that populate and build within the new world, once it is safe to do so. Unlike explorers, who need diverse skills to survive, specialists can focus on one particular skill because the diversity of the whole colonizing community is what allows them to survive.
So there you have it. Generalists aren’t better than specialists and specialists aren’t better than generalists. Each is integral to the cyclic evolution and emergence of our species as a whole. Generalists are better suited for transitional periods and specialists are better suited for safe stable periods.
Creativity is like a river. And like a river, at certain times of the year its flow will be strong and at other times of the year its flow will be weak. To maximize the effectiveness of this river you need to realize its daily, if not hourly, cycles and take advantage of it when its flow is strong and also when it’s weak.
My awareness of this naturalness of creativity arose when I was reading an article a couple months back on Ze Frank in which he discussed his own creative process.
What’s your creative process look like, with that in mind?
I have a general workflow, which is, if I have an idea I try to execute it as quickly and faithfully as possible. That means that if I have a number of ideas all at once, I’m gonna bundle them together. I don’t like sitting on an idea and squeezing it till every little last drop comes out. I’d rather get it out there and move on to the next thing. I don’t want to get too philosophical, but in a sense you’re given this gift, this sort of creative force in you, and I think everyone has it, and it’s completely unique to you. And you as a person have a little bit of a responsibility as its shepherd, if you choose to incorporate that into your life. The other thing I learned is it’s really good to be undeniable. So if you want to get into the creative world, you have to just keep flogging away even when nobody’s paying attention. Because then when somebody finally does pay attention, it’s certainly a lot more interesting when you have a ton of stuff to show.
Two natural aspects of creativity he talks about in the paragraph above are the importance of flow and the awareness of blockages. In effect, when your creativity is flowing, you need to take advantage of it and reap its rewards as quickly as possible while its flowing because it won’t last that long before it subsides to regenerate itself. In addition, if you ignore this flow of creativity within you, especially when it feels like it is flowing, it will feel like a river hitting a dam, building up under pressure until it eventually overflows or bursts the dam itself. I’ve noticed both aspects of this within my own life.
In terms of blockages and buildup, I’ve noticed in the past that if I don’t try to release my creative energy or tension in a constructive way, eventually it builds up until I feel like I’m going to explode (which in turns makes me grumpy and aggravated). To relate to this, imagine moments of your life where you’ve felt like you’ve wanted to communicate something but didn’t feel like you had to words to express what you’ve felt. This in a sense is creative tension within you building up and wanting to be released. It is for this very reason that I have both a personal journal as well as a public journal. My personal journal allows me to communicate things to myself that only I can fully understand thus allowing me to release my creative tension and energy on a daily basis.
In terms of flow, I’ve recently noticed the amazing power of maximizing this creativity in the moment and to its fullest potential. Like Ze Frank said, when creative inspiration strikes, I try to utilize it and savour every last ounce of it before it fades, so as to create something sustainable with it before it disappears. The hard part though is that inspiration often strikes at unexpected times. Thus tapping into this energy requires you be ready for it when it strikes. Things like keeping a notebook with you are critical because trying to remember what you were thinking and more importantly feeling is extremely difficult to do, especially if you get distracted by other aspects of your life.
What I’m finding interesting though is that after releasing this creative energy and capturing it down in some form, it almost becomes like latent creative energy that I can tap into again to re-energize myself and open up that creative valve again. I find it’s never as powerful as an “original flow” though but it still allows me to continue a creative flow that I’ve started early. That’s why it’s always best to maximize that original flow of creativity in the moment it occurs though. If you can delay other aspects of your daily life at that moment and constructively utilize that creativity, you’ll find yourself far more productive. It’s one reason why I find getting up earlier in the mornings to be more effective for me because it allows me to creatively release and record so much of this energy before my day even begins that I feel far more positive and productive for the rest of my day.
Do what works best for you though. For example, besides my personal journal, I also tap my creative energy into visual form using iPad apps like Paper and Inkpad. But in the spur of the moment, even finding a scrap of paper to tap your thoughts into can be a boon to you, thus allowing you to release that creative flow later when you’re ready to do so.
Belief is a powerful thing. It is one of the core aspects of my life that has changed it completely. The more that I believe in myself, the more that I find I can tackle larger and larger challenges that previously would have seemed insurmountable to me.
Like most of my life, my power of belief emerged playfully from my video game experiences online. While playing Counter-Strike, I curiously questioned what was possible within the game world by defining self-limits and seeing what I could achieve within those limits. My personal mantra for this is “Limit yourself to expand your possibilities.”
For example, I decided to consistently utilize the MP5 submachine gun so as to attain a mastery over it. For many within the game, the MP5 is a crap gun that has no penetration power. I, however, looked at its strengths (low cost, high stopping power) and maximized them to my advantage. At my peak, my mastery of the MP5 stunned many opponents as I had the capability of dropping them at long range with extreme accuracy, something that was normally reserved for an AK47.
The MP5 effectiveness was maximized at close range though so I continually practiced closing rapidly with an opponent. Again at my peak, I mastered the ability to use erratic maneuvers to out predict the targeting of many opponents. My favorite way of showing my effectiveness in this area was by closing with a sniper opponent who was continually firing me as I closed the distance with him and dropping him less than ten feet away.
The culmination of these abilities and the strength of my belief was in creating a maneuver which I named after my online character’s name, “Gentle Nova”. My goal wasn’t actually to drop an opponent but to “flow” and move through them so that I could hit their other teammates from behind after encircling the map. For this to work, it required a combination of techniques similar to jujutsu, whereby you’re using the opponents own firepower and crossfire to their disadvantage by “dancing” into the midst of them and through them.
Later in my life, I decided to take these same principles of belief and put them into practice within my work life. While doing freelance web design work utilizing the Squarespace web publishing system, I was severely frustrated by the lack of functionality of the system and continually blamed the company for its lack of vision. However, once I stopped blaming them and empowered myself into believing I could come up with a solution, it was as if walls starting dropping all around me and solutions starting revealing themselves almost overnight.
The greatest single use of belief in my life though was when I finally stopped looking at myself as being part of the problem (i.e. a victim of fate) and started looking at myself as part of the solution (i.e. a catalyst of change). You see, my entire life I had felt like I was out of place, an alien within a strange world. It wasn’t until I realized that in my youth I had felt normal and natural growing up within the countryside of Alberta that it dawned on me that I wasn’t the alien but the natural entity living within an unnatural societal system that sorely needed cultivating and balancing to bring it back to its roots of human nature.
All said and done, my advice to others in this area would be stop seeing yourself as a victim of fate, adrift on a chaotic sea with no sense of navigation or control. I realize this is extremely difficult to do within our world today especially with marketing and advertisements telling you that you aren’t a complete person unless you buy their product. You are naturally whole though. Everything you need for your journey is within you. Thus disregard the Sirens of Disempowerment and Distraction that continually call to you and believe in your self, your inner identity. Once you do, a momentum of belief and empowerment will build and emerge within your life like a great wave that you can ride upon.
You have the chance to become
a part of something
much bigger than yourself.
What do you know about me?
A new species is being born.
Help me guide it,
You have no idea what I’d give
to feel… normal.
You want society to accept you
but you can’t even accept yourself.
Should we have to hide?
You ready for this?
Let’s find out.
Just had a major epiphany. For the longest time, I was perplexed by a quote below from Margaret J. Wheatley’s book entitled Finding Our Way. Particularly my question was “Why do we have this innate desire for relationships and to be within groups or communities?”
Life takes form as individuals that immediately reach out to create systems of relationships. These individuals and systems arise from two seemingly conflicting forces: the absolute need for individual freedom, and the unequivocal need for relationships.
I obviously intuitively knew the answer but I wanted something that I could easily articulate to others. The answer to this question, strangely enough, lay within another book by Margaret Wheatley entitled Leadership and the New Science.
What occurs in these systems is contrary to our normal way of thinking. Openness to the environment over time spawns a stronger system, one that is less susceptible to externally induced change. What comes to dominate over time is not outside influences, but the self-organizing dynamics of the system itself. Because it partners with its environment, the system develops increasing autonomy from the environment and also develops new capacities that make it increasingly resourceful.
I say this is contrary thinking because we usually act from the reverse belief. We believe that in order to maintain ourselves and protect our individual freedom, we must defend ourselves from external forces. We tend to think that isolation, secrecy, and strong boundaries are the best way to preserve individuality.
Paradoxically, it is the system’s need to maintain itself that may lead it to be come something new and different. A living system changes in order to preserve itself.
Simply put, we are constantly seeking out and forming relationships around us so as to share and obtain information which allows us to flexibly change and preserve our identity in the process. This again is the trinity of natural self-organizing systems at work: relationships, information, and identity.
A living system changes in order to preserve itself.
What I find remarkable about this is how it compares to my earlier research on business culture and how it often differs from the culture of the Web. For example, anyone who has read The Cluetrain Manifesto can see this defensive stance that Margaret talks about mirrored perfectly with the internal culture of most corporate businesses today. And yet for anyone who has used the Web extensively, they can see the positive, almost natural, culture of the Web itself, whereby many of us self-organize around topics of interest to share information, so as to better ourselves. So through the simple invention of the hypertext page and its associating hypertext link, the Web itself gives us the ability to naturally self-organize in ways very similar to nature itself.
The thing that scares me the most about this though is that most businesses, particularly corporate minded ones, would probably rather die than give up their command and control culture in exchange for a more natural self-organizing one. Alas, if they don’t change with the times though then they will effectively be committing suicide by cutting off the blood or air that can literally support them and allow them to change, again eloquently put by Margaret Wheatley.
In classical thermodynamics, equilibrium is the end state in the evolution of closed systems, the point at which the system has exhausted all of its capacity for change, done its work, and dissipated its productive capacity into useless entropy.
Simply put, the system reaches a state of zero activity and thus ceases to exist. Man, does that bring back memories of the Dot-com bubble days.
Things seem to be falling into alignment. I picked up a revised edition of Margaret J. Wheatley’s book entitled Leadership and The New Science the other day and I’ve been devouring its contents with relish. There is so much in this book that relates to my research that it’s almost uncanny. In particular, one chapter entitled Change: Capacity of Life resonated with me quite deeply because the three critical areas of the system that she mentions seem to match with the three goals of my greater vision that I have laid out for myself.
My colleagues and I focus on helping a system develop greater self-knowledge in three critical areas. People need to be connected to the fundamental identity of the organization or community. Who are we? Who do we aspire to become? How shall we be together? And people need to be connected to new information. What else do we need to know? Where is this new information to be found? And people need to be able to reach past traditional boundaries and develop relationships with people anywhere in the system. Who else needs to be here to do this work with us?
As a system inquires into these three domains of identity, information, and relationships, it comes more self-aware. It has become more connected to the truth of who it is, more connected to its environment and customers, more connected to people everywhere in the system. These new connections develop greater capacity; the system becomes healthier.
Identity to me is the cornerstone of the system. It allows an individual or organization to know and stabilize itself in chaotic times. In effect, it defines your passion and purpose, the ship with which you sail upon and the star that guides you. It is the context within which all are choices are made. I feel like I need to help both individuals and organizations discover their true identities. What I’m finding surprising about this though is that figuring out individual identities is extremely difficult, probably because people have a hard time observing themselves from a third person perspective. Organizational identities, in comparison though, seem much easier to decipher, probably due to multiple perspectives within the group, which is why I’ll probably focus on them first initially.
Relationships are the foundation of life itself. In effect, the interaction of the parts is actually more important than the parts themselves. I feel I have the knowledge contained within me to help organizations run radically different and better than they do now. What’s more, I don’t even have to prove it because I’ve already seen it done elsewhere and I’ve seen aspects of it work with my own life, both online and off. What I do need to do is to simply document how this new way of working works and explain how it directly relates to relationship building. This of all three is the most clear to me, as I’m even using these principles within my own work life right now for my day job.
Information is what flows between the structured relationship of identities within these systems. Yet today, these information flows are completely inadequate due to them being all dumped out in a single bucket, rather than channeled into different filtered streams or orbits that can be more easily absorbed based upon the context within which they are viewed. I feel that I need to build something like a content management system that is much more than a content management system, yet at the same time something much more simpler than a content management system, giving it an almost playful yet powerful flexibility to it (i.e. a sandbox). It would be something that would both distribute and aggregate information, not only upon a single site but between sites, so as to relay distributed contextual awareness between all nodes of the system. At this point, I have started working on this conceptually and what I’m finding is that it almost has a fractal nature to it. The trick I’m finding is not to focus too much on the details themselves at this point but to understand them within the greater context and patterns of the system first.
So that’s where I’m standing right now with my vision and its three primary goals which woven together would hopefully provide a new way of self-organizing society, thus allowing us to do things collectively that would seem almost impossible to us now under our existing world view. Again it’s important to realize that no one single goal itself is sufficient to initiate the change but it requires all three working together as a trinity to kick start and be a catalyst for the change to occur. In effect, it is the interaction or relationship between the three goals that ignites things.
The world has changed.
We are hopelessly outgunned.
I still believe in heroes.
David Trubridge gets it. He has an essay on his site that talks about a type of designer called a Cultural Designer.
All of this means that a new type of design must be created. I call this Cultural Design — design as we have never known it, at least for a very long time. The cultural designer will primarily design abstract lifestyles and rituals that allow us to lead a sustainable life. For the few objects that are needed, they will have much less to do with the physical workings of objects, and more to do with their effect — how they nourish us.
In rereading the function and purpose of this type of designer (as I remember reading it a year or two ago), I’m struck by the similarities that I feel I need to express now in my own life and work. Not only is culture a foundational element of this work but there also seems to be a spiritual aspect to it as well when he talks about the need for these objects to “nourish” us. Even his points about “rituals” seems to touch home on Alain de Botton’s Athiesm 2.0 message about the need to create rituals in our own lives that gives us a sense of connectedness with each other and the world and universe around us.
There is no cultural dimension,
nothing that creates a sense of identity —
and above all there is no nourishment.
Most important of all though he talks about existing design lacking the ability to create a sense of identity which he believes cultural design can help with. This struck home very deeply for me because not only do I feel this within my own life but also I know of other people who feel this same very way. In effect, while technology is helping us to connect with one another, it’s not really helping us to connect with one another, if you get what I mean. We need something that goes deeper than just functionality. It has to have a purpose and cultivate something meaningful within our lives. Right now, a lot of the technology that we utilize seems empty and lifeless to me. It’s not connecting us at a level that we need to be.
That said though, imagine the depth, complexity, and understanding that a Cultural Designer would need in order to pull something like this off. It would definitely require a lot of time and couldn’t be done quickly because you have to observe and test for more than just a functional capability but also a cultural capability. While one could be observed quickly after each iterative test, the second would require at least moderate long term usage to fully see its effects.
Alain De Botton has some interesting ideas that I think touch upon similar thoughts of my own. Below is a video of his TED speech last year in which he talks about Atheism 2.0 and how it should try to utilize the methods of religion to be more effective.
When he speaks about how we should utilize arts to help cultivate our lives, I couldn’t agree more. I keep seeing all of this amazing and incredible talent out there, like on Dribbble, and yet most of it seems wasted on marketing things that don’t have much meaning or structure in our lives. It would be cool to see wealthly patrons, like in the times of the Renaissance, hire artists and designers to create works that cultivate and uplift us, reminding us of our true potential, as individuals and as a group.
Even our deep and spiritual connection to nature seems severed, as many of us live within cities where nature is almost all but hidden from view. Luckily living within Vancouver, the mountains and oceans around me are a constant reminder of nature that it always prominent. That said, I still feel dramatically disconnected compared to my youth when I was growing up on an acreage outside of Edmonton, Alberta. You were immersed within nature and the natural laws and beauty of it. You felt and knew the rhythms and cycles of the earth, seeing their importance all around you, especially during the autumn when the farmers collected their harvest. Again, I feel like I need to create something that reminds me of this natural connectivity within my home or work, so that the cycles and important events of nature aren’t lost from view.
Even in my own work relating to passion and purpose, I feel there is something deeper that I’m trying to help express universally for all. The best way of describing it would be the science of spirituality. In effect, I’m trying to make the nature of spirituality, this feeling of connectedness, something that is accessible and understandable to everyone in a simple yet profound way. Obviously as yet, it is still a mystery to me but I feel like the key has to do with our structured interaction with one another. In effect, once I understand this pattern or structure between each of us, I feel like I can create an interface that will help people both see and understand each other better within the context of the world we live within.
I think there might be something that may not be so evident to people who read my journal. When I say “you” within my posts, I’m primarily referring to myself. In effect, as a journal, I’m talking to myself. I’m basically trying to reinforce what I know through repetition (writing it out to myself), so that I’ll remember it later when I reflect upon my journal.
The problem with this tone of writing though is that when I talk to others about their struggles, it comes off as very preachy or commanding. “You need to do this” or “You need to do that.” This is a huge flaw in my communications that I’m fully aware of, yet I’m still trying to figure out how best to circumvent or correct. For example, within the writings of others, I notice they utilize words like “one” or “oneself”. “One needs to remember to play daily.” This removes the direction of the message and doesn’t put any command on the individual listening to it.
Other than that, my final option would be to completely change my writing so it is clearly evident that I’m writing to myself. So instead of saying to myself “You need to do this”, I instead would say “I need to do this.” This actually isn’t as bad as it seems because I know that in helping myself, I’m helping others. Thus by utilizing “I”, I’m making it evidently clear to even myself, that I am the one who needs to work on living what I already know. In effect, just knowing isn’t enough. To fully complete the circle (i.e. live to play, play to learn, learn to work, work to live), I need to be able to fully work on living what I have learnt through play. Only then will I be able to truly lead by my actions, rather than by my words.
There are two valuable attributes that I’ve found to be extremely helpful in my search for my passion and purpose. These two attributes are perspective and awareness.
Perspective, I believe, is the easier of the two to learn. It can be learnt by playing within your life on a daily basis. Put another way, strive to do something different daily. In doing so, you’re putting yourself within different situations which can give you new and unique perspectives to your life.
Some examples of daily play to get new perspectives would be as follows. Reading material outside of your normal field of interest. Walking different paths or visiting different places within your local neighborhood to see or encounter things that you might not normally. Whatever your creative method (i.e. writing, drawing, composing, etc), try to create something different daily, no matter how rough or crude it might seem.
Awareness, on the other hand, I’ve found to be much more difficult to learn, primarily because it almost implies a degree of wisdom to recognize what you are seeing. For example, just because you can see something, it doesn’t imply you understand what you’re seeing. And if you can’t understand what you’re seeing then it may as well be invisible to you because the understanding brings the awareness.
The thing to realize though is that there are different forms of understanding. Logical understanding means you are fully cognizant of what you are seeing to the point that you can easily express it verbally to others. Intuitive understanding is much more difficult however. You may feel you know something is important, yet you can’t logically explain why at that point in time. Nevertheless, one must realize that this intuitive awareness is just as important, even if you can’t explain the importance of what you’re seeing.
Awareness I’ve found isn’t so much learnt, as it is fostered or cultivated. To be aware, you must give yourself the time and space to allow it to manifest itself through reflection. If, however, you don’t give yourself time to reflect, to recognize what you’re looking at, even at an intuitive level, then there is less chance for awareness to occur.
Therefore to foster awareness, I’ve found it beneficial to have large periods of reflection. For example, if you have a journal, it’s important to not only give yourself time to write within it but also time to reflect upon it. Look back within it and see if you can see a pattern, connectivity, relationship, or interaction between the different individual events within your life, no matter how superficial they might seem at first. Above all else though, give yourself the time and space away from both input and output to digest what you are absorbing.
In effect, every so often ensure that you unplug from the external signals and noise around you, so that you can fully concentrate on the signals emanating from within you.
There’s an awesome scene from The Truman Show that’s a great metaphor for the moment of realization of your life’s passion and purpose. It’s the point in the movie when Truman fully understands who he is within the context of the “world” around him and what he needs to do to be truly happy (unbeknownst to his viewers). Even more poignant is his playful gesture of proclaiming “Trumania”, as though he had just discovered a new world of his own.
What I find interesting about this is how searching for your passion and purpose in life is exactly like searching for a new world. It’s not a single act (i.e. landing on a beach of a new continent) but instead a series of actions that fully map out and define the perimeter or parameters of it (i.e. numerous landings on the coast, numerous ventures up coastal rivers to map the interior of it) until you achieve a moment of realization at seeing the world in full. Yet this world you’re mapping and surveying doesn’t exist on any geographical map but instead exists within yourself, defining your existing world view of who you are within the context of the world around you and what you believe you can do within it.
I can’t tell you how many times I felt like my life was like being adrift on a river and not knowing where I was or where I was going. Even more so, when I looked back at where I had been, at places I had stopped alongside the river, they just seemed like random destinations with no sense of location, purpose, or meaning. I kept wanting to be able to fly high above where I was, so I could see things from a different perspective and get my bearings but I was never able to do this. Now I realize I didn’t need to do so. My journey itself was helping me to discover where I was and where I was going. I just needed the awareness and perspective to understand what I was looking at collectively.
You see the awareness and understanding doesn’t come from just looking at the individual waypoints of your life. It comes from looking at them as a whole and seeing how they relate and interact with one another collectively, no matter how remote and distant they may seem to be. Only then will all of the pieces connect and you’ll finally see the new world you’ve passionately known was there all along.
There’s an excellent rant post by a former Apple interface designer on Microsoft’s Vision of the Future that entails what a successful vision should be as described below. What I find interesting about it is how it has already been proven true within my own life.
This matters, because visions matter.
Visions give people a direction and inspire people to act,
and a group of inspired people is
the most powerful force in the world.
If you’re a young person setting off to realize a vision,
or an old person setting off to fund one,
I really want it to be something worthwhile.
Something that genuinely improves how we interact.
You see earlier in my life, I was like everyone else in that I believed that when you set goals, they should be realistic ones. While I still believe this to be true, what I now find more important though is to define a greater vision for your life that makes it worthwhile to live and work through those myriad of goals, thus unifying them in a meaningful way for yourself. Even more importantly, it gives you the persistence and faith to continue working towards your vision even when you aren’t fully sure of how to achieve it yet. Most important of all, I find that when you have a greater vision for your life, suddenly the little things that might have annoyed you before don’t bother you as much. Or while they may still bother you, you find you can get over them easier because your perspective is taken from a long view versus a short one.
For those who’ve played MMO games, you know the same principle applies. When you get excited about a new expansion, it isn’t so much about the individual questing goals that get you excited, as the endgame vision of what you are trying to achieve as a hero. Thus you may encounter boring quests or even extremely challenging ones, yet you persevere and overcome them because of the greater vision of what you hope to achieve (i.e. slay the massive dragon in the final endgame raid dungeon). Really the only thing stopping you or helping you to achieve your vision is your belief in yourself. Once you start cultivating your vision and your belief in yourself, everything changes, as you finally become what you know you truly should be (as eloquently put by Viktor Frankl paraphrasing Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the video below).
If we treat people as they are,
we make them worse.
If we treat people as they ought to be,
we help them become
what they are capable of becoming.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe