Establishing The Pillars of Your World

Articulating what is known, so that you can step into the unknown.

While I was aware of Otto Scharmer and his book Theory U, I finally was able to watch his TED Talk from 2016 and within the latter half of it a couple of things he said really stood out for me, as they directly relate to what I’m struggling with at the moment.

Dialogue is the capacity of a system to see itself.

…what it takes is to cultivate the soil of the social field by transforming how we relate to each other, to the planet, and to ourselves, which basically is awakening a movement that’s already in the ware and making that movement aware of itself. 

Otto Scharmer

First off, I found it remarkable because it reminded me of a school motto mentioned in one of Margaret Wheatley’s books that was “Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Take care of this place.” These words perfectly embody how we can transform our relationship with ourselves, each other, and this planet.

This in turn really made me stop and reflect on my relationship with myself. A long time ago I said that my blog was first and foremost a means of having a intrapersonal relationship and dialogue with myself. On reflecting upon that, I’m not sure that’s as true as it once was. A lot of what I’m writing about now is primarily focused on trying to get others to listen to me so that they can change themselves to make the world better, when really it should be about listening to myself so that I can change myself and make my world-view better.

Stepping to my next thought, I asked myself “Am I even aware of what I know?” And answering honestly, I told myself a definitive “No!” Sure I’ve been speaking about The Future of Work, Social Innovation, and Creativity for a long while now on my blog here (and previously on Google+) but I’ve really only touched upon the edges of what I know, rather than encapsulating the core essence of it as a whole.

As I’ve also noted before though, the primary reason for this failure is because what I’m seeking and discovering seems to be within the liminal space in between the domains of knowledge I know, so it’s hard to articulate it. That’s fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that because exploring an unknown space can naturally be hard to articulate. But what’s clearly evident to me is that I’m not even articulating what I clearly know in these known domains of knowledge and there’s no excuse for that.

And if anything, the more clearly I can articulate this known domain knowledge that I do know, the clearer this unknown liminal knowledge will probably reveal itself. Why? Because as I’ve mentioned before, the creative process is seeing the patterns, seeing the relationships between the patterns, and then seeing the system as a whole.

So “seeing the patterns” is seeing the existing known domains which is fairly easy. Seeing the “relationships between the patterns” is starting to see these often unknown, invisible, liminal connections between them, thus networking them together in a deeper sense. Finally seeing the system as a whole is really seeing the patterns and their relationship to one another as a larger unified narrative that clearly helps you see and make sense of the reality of everything as a whole.

Illustration from Margaret Wheatley’s “Using Emergence To Take Social Innovations To Scale”

Now here’s the big catch though. I said that seeing these patterns is “easy”. It is. I see them everywhere now (ie keywords in things I read), like signposts guiding my way and reinforcing that what I’m seeing is very real. But the problem is that I myself am not making my own self aware of this by externalizing them objectively from my mind in some way, so that I can then start actually managing them and working with them at more complex levels, as Robert Kegan mentions one has to do to psychologically mature.

So effectively, by not clearly externalizing what I know of my known domain knowledge, I’m directly standing in the way of my own self in taking the next leap into the unknown because I basically don’t have a map of my known knowledge. So how can I navigate between the known and unknown when my very known territory is actually an unknown space to me as well. It’s like a surveyor who is supposed to map a terrain but decides to only do it in their head and then wonders why they can only recall separate perspectives of it rather than the terrain as a whole.

It’s funny because you can look at this like you’re building a bridge or even a building. If you don’t build the foundational cornerstones in the present, you have no way of supporting the rest of what you’re creatively trying to build within the empty space between them all in the future. All said and done, this is something I need to seriously focus on resolving this year, in some form or another, because it’s probably the main reason why I feel like I’m not achieving substantial momentum within my work and my life as a whole.

It’s because I’m not visually and objectively seeing my own progression which helps me to creatively navigate from where I’m clearly at now and where I clearly need to take the next step.


“Free Lances” of The Future

At the end of another great period of collective effort called The Crusades, the social institutions and cultural forces that had coordinated and contained individual energies collapsed. Whole armies disintegrated into their component individuals and sub-groupings. Knights who had ridden forth under the banner of this leader or that rode back on their own. They were the “free lances” who made the late medieval world such a dangerous yet dynamic place.

It’s no accident that today we’re surrounded once again by free lances. The old rules are gone, and the old rules aren’t clear. Security—so far as there is any—is largely something that we must build for ourselves. Identities are confused and changing. We know that ultimately we are on our own, and so we are ready to learn a new way of doing and being. We know that our organizations were designed to serve the needs of another world, so we busy redesigning them.

But we also need a social order that provides for our new needs and doesn’t try to impose archaic obligations on us. We need new laws. We need new leaders. We need a new social principle, an alternative to both selfishness and selflessness. We need a new sense of the common good to justify the sacrifices we’ll need to make to help those who find the new world the most difficult. To create these things, we must begin by remembering that we are all in this together.

William Bridges, JobShift

Changing Our Perspective of Change

Changing the way we perceive our world and our selves.

Our society, as a whole, is largely unable to cope with change, let alone embrace it. Because of this, we are undergoing a crisis of epic proportions, that is only just beginning to effect us but will only get worse.

Change is causing massive mental health issues within our population who do not have the mental resilience training or experience to deal with change on this level of magnitude.

Change is causing massive shifts in the way we work as well and most people do not have the necessary skills to be able to effectively understand this new world of work, let alone function within it, because it again requires one to not just survive in a rapidly changing environment but thrive within it.

Change is causing massive problems within our world (often referred to as “wicked problems”) because they are seemly impossible problems to solve since they can’t be solved by just learning new knowledge but actually require us to transform our relationship with our existing knowledge, changing the way we actually perceive our selves and our world as a whole.

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Albert Einstein

While people are rushing around trying to tackle each of these problems arising from change separately, it’s evidently apparent to me that the most effective way to tackle all of these problems at once is by helping people to psychologically develop themselves so that they can level up not only their thinking but also transform the way they see themselves and their world as well.

This is essentially necessary as apathy is becoming more widespread due to people’s inability to see their own potential capacity to help with these problems because they see them as overwhelming impossible to overcome from their relative perspective. But that’s only because their current perception of their world and their very self is limiting their ability to see their own potential. Yet when one is able to level themselves up, suddenly their relationship to change, and the ambiguity that arises from it, changes as well, empowering them in the process.

She found that, unlike people at conventional action-logics who tend to try to avoid ambiguity, all of her postconventional sample saw creative potential in ambiguity. But within this broad similarity, she found four distinctive responses to ambiguity: the Individualist endured it; the Strategists tolerated it; the Alchemists surrendered to it; and the Ironist generated it. More generally, Nicolaides found that the Individualist and the Strategists worked with ambiguity on particular occasions for particular ends; whereas, in a figure/ground shift, the Alchemists and the Ironist experienced ambiguity as the creative, ongoing element of all experience.

William R. Torbert, Developmental Action Inquiry

Leaders Need To Live Within The Same Reality

Undark, a non-profit digital magazine focusing on the intersection between science and society, has an interesting article entitled The Science That Explains Trump’s Grip on White Males. It reinforces what I mentioned the other day about how people with Socialized Minds will defend any threat to their perceived reality (through the “lens” of their worldview), thus avoiding change at any cost, as noted in the first quote below.

Different groups can perceive the same risk through vastly different lenses. And in the case of White men, it is often a lens that seeks to preserve institutionalized cultural identity and societal status.

What the science seems to clearly suggest — and what people like Paul Slovic have observed for decades — is that society’s multiple overlapping crises can’t be solved when governing bodies composed primarily of White men, who are outliers in terms of risk perception, are tasked with making decisions about risks for the entire population. The individuals who hold power over decisions about what’s risky and what’s not should be representative of the community at large, and those individuals should have the agency and authority to be part of the final decision-making.

Now the second quote from the article above really encapsulates what’s wrong with our society on so many levels because I’m sure everyone has experienced this frustration in their work at one time or another. For example, I know my wife, as a teacher, experiences this at least a few times each year, when people making decisions regarding educational policy have zero actual experience teaching or, at the very least, have recent teaching experience.

This has to change. Leadership needs to be about bringing people together which means leaders need to have broader lenses and perspectives that help them empathize and understand the needs of the people they are supposedly trying to help because they have the wisdom of actually experiencing the same frustrations themselves. Yet continually we see so many leaders failing and people not trusting them because they are often completely detached from the same realities as the people they’re supposed to be leading.

Yet how can these so called “leaders” actually embrace change and initiate transformative action, if they are detached from the same reality as those they’re supposed to be leading and thus they can’t even perceive the same issues as them?


The Illusion of One-Way Bargains

How the larger narratives in our lives, such as the American Dream, drive our expectations from life.

I’ve been reflecting upon how we got here, in this terrible mess, not just looking at the events of yesterday, but with the events that have been building up to this moment over the past couple of decades. Without a doubt, one thing I keep hearing, regardless of who is saying it, is that “you can’t ignore” the millions of people who are openly supporting these aggressive, reactionary views that have culminated in this moment yesterday.

People are in pain. And they have been for some time. They’ve been slowly watching their world, that they know and love, crumble and collapse around them for a while now. The pandemic, if anything, has sped up this crisis and made it even more evident, making them feel like they have almost completely lost control of their world and even themselves, their identity. They don’t know how to live in this scary, uncertain New World that is emerging and all they want to do is return to the safety and certainty of the Old World that they once knew.

I think what people need to realize right now is that what they are experiencing, this feeling of a loss of control, is completely normal. It will feel like the ground has been pulled out from under you and you no longer have an external reference point to directionally ground and stabilize yourself and your life because you’re navigating newer, rougher waters that seem completely foreign, unfamiliar, and uncertain to you, thus things won’t make any sense. Again this is a completely normal feeling to have, especially when one is facing a major life challenge that will dramatically change their view of the world and themselves as well.

Now in a world that had prepared us for these epic challenges as a normal experience of life, we would then openly share these experiences with each other and try to work and “walk through them” together, making the transition and learning to make sense of our new world and our new selves in a healthy, constructive way. Unfortunately we don’t live in that kind of world but one in which we’ve been misguided into believing that reality is permanent and stable. It’s not. Life is constant change. Therefore we often have to grieve at realizing the impermanence of our world, undergoing stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and meaning to finally make this transition and grow beyond it.

While I could probably talk about the feelings around this all day, I specifically want to talk about the initial stages of denial, anger, and bargaining which cause people to naturally regress inwardly when they encounter major life challenges and changes. Specifically I’d like to refer to something Robert Fritz called One-Way Bargains within his book The Path of Least Resistance that really gets to the heart of why people become so angry and feel like they’ve been “cheated” by life (or more specifically in their mind, by some external force that they can then point their finger at and blame for the troubles in their life).

One-Way Bargains

In order to have the return of the prodigal complete and whole, the two sons needed to reconcile. However, there was a twist in the story. In the beginning of the parable the father and the son who stayed at home were aligned whereas the prodigal son was misaligned. When the prodigal returned home, however, he and his father became aligned, but the good son became misaligned. How did this change come about?

The good son had made what may be called a “one-way bargain” with the father. In a typically reactive-responsive way, he assumed that if he did all of the “right things” and adhered to the “right standards” and followed the “right precepts,” he would be rewarded by his father. He was shocked to see his brother, who had not followed the “right path,” being welcomed, honored, and celebrated.

Many people make similar one-way bargains. Typically in this unilateral bargain, one person assumes that if he or she follows certain practices, others (or perhaps even the universe itself) must reciprocate in some way.

In a one-way bargain the other party never really agrees to the bargain and often does not even know of it.

A classic example of a one-way bargain is found in the early stages of many relationships, when one person unilaterally decides not to date any other people, with the implicit demand that the other person in the relationship do likewise. This is a one-way bargain if the other person never makes that agreement.

There are those who attempt to live “good” lives as a one-way bargain with the universe. They decide that if they are “good,” the universe must reciprocate and be good to them.

The trouble is, the universe did not make that agreement with them. In the parable of the prodigal son, the good son’s actions were part of a one-way bargain, tied to the rewards he expected from his father. But that was not an agreement the father had made with him.

If the good son had been righteous because he wanted to be, rather than for the reward he expected from his father, his actions would have been their own reward. The parable implies, however, that the good son was good for an ulterior motive. In a typically reactive-responsive way, the good son did what he thought he had to do, not what he truly wanted to do.

The Path of Least Resistance, Robert Fritz

For anyone who is familiar with Robert Kegan’s work on psychological development, the difference between the good son and the prodigal son within the above parable perfectly describes the difference between the Socialized Mind and the Self-Authoring Mind (and the father could even be seen as the more evolved Self-Transforming Mind). The key emphasis here is how the good son (as a representation of the Socialized Mind) perfectly embodies how most people are feeling right now (since Socialized Minds comprise most of the population). They feel cheated by life because in their minds, they’ve followed all of the rules of the American Dream but life isn’t keeping its “part of the bargain” and thus it’s cheating them (or least someone out there is).

In reality though, people with Socialized Minds are cheating themselves. Why? Because they’re believing in a narrative that, while once it may have been true, is no longer the case. But they don’t question the narrative or their reality, they just defend them. They will most definitely question and attack anyone who threatens the stability of their reality though. Why? Because they believe their reality is true and will always be true because they accept the truth of what they’ve been told by a higher authority and do what they’re told. That’s why Social Minds are good followers because when you mobilize them (especially against an external threat, such as in World War II when American values were threatened), they can put their heads down, get to work, and achieve amazing things.

In comparison though, people with Self-Authoring Minds continually strive to question the assumptions and beliefs of their reality to further help clarify and crystallize who they are within it, so as to transform and change themselves externally. So they go beyond just trying to fit in and strive to understand how they stand out uniquely, thus individuating themselves psychologically speaking. But to do so, they need to question the authority of others and therefore must self-author the authority of their own life, a sort of self-governance if you will. This is why Self-Authoring Minds (who form a smaller portion of the population) often make good leaders because they help others see a different and larger, empowering vision of the world beyond what they are currently seeing (and by “empowering”, I mean it can’t be a negative, fearful vision that emphasizes blame on others but one that instead focuses on taking responsibility for oneself).

The reason the world seems to be “going to hell in a hand basket” right now, as the expression goes, is because the world is changing at a pace we’ve never experienced or comprehended before in our lifetimes or even in the lifetimes of previously known generations. Thus the stability and certainty of the follower-leader relationship between Socialized Minds and Self-Authoring Minds, which worked in overcoming simple and even complicated problems in our past, is no longer equipped to handle the emerging complexity of our world today. Therefore, all of us, not just people with Socialized Minds, need to evolve, grow, and adapt psychologically to the changing world around us, because a greater, more complex follower-leader relationship, comprised mainly of Self-Authoring Minds as followers and Self-Transforming Minds as leaders, is needed for us to be able to survive the complex wicked problems emerging before us.

Simply put, we need to help people “level up”, transforming their minds and their perception of reality, so that we can responsibly embrace change together, seeing possibilities and potential both around us and within us, rather than defensively fearing it. To do so though, we need to see these challenges in our lives, such as the epic ones were facing now, as an opportunity for growth and development, thus rising to the occasion, rather than running and regressing from them into the safety and reality of our past which no longer exists today, no matter how much we wish it or dream it.

To put this another way, we need to be like our parents and grandparents before us, who faced major challenges in their own times. But even though today we now known with some certainty what they went through back then because we are able to reflectively look back upon that time and make sense of it, we must realize that at that time they only saw the uncertain unknown before them in that moment, just as today we must face the uncertain unknown before us in this moment. Even more so because we can’t use their thinking that solved their complicated problems in their time, since we are dealing with exceedingly more complex problems that are emerging only now within our time. Therefore, we must not only use different thinking and different actions today, we must see ourselves in a much larger capacity and potential than we’ve ever imagined before.


The Need for Conspiracy Theories

Empathizing with the psychological need for conspiracies.

Over the last year, especially with the coronavirus turning our world upside down, I’ve noticed family members buying into conspiracy theories more and more. Yesterday, having had enough of it, I tried to call them out on it. Afterwards, feeling somewhat smug with myself, I thought that would make them think twice about “sharing this crap again with me”.

Later that evening though, I was drawn to understanding why people are drawn to conspiracy theories in the first place and after reading a variety of articles, what I found rocked my world and made me have a much deeper sense of empathy for them. It turns out that people are drawn to conspiracy theories because they help them address their basic psychological needs of control, understanding, and belonging, thus helping them to create a coping mechanism that actually protects their mental health.

Why this is mind blowing to me is because this directly relates with my life’s work which is about “levelling up” to creatively adapt to the times we’re living within. What I’m talking about here is our psychological development and increasing our level of consciousness which directly correlates with our ability to go beyond just our lower level needs and begin to address our higher level ones. When we are able to achieve this, we’re more and more able to let go of our fears and thrive within a “wilderness” of change that previously seemed scary and uncertain to us but with a broader perspective can hold newer possibilities and potentials for us.

So what my family members are going through right now is similar to what I experienced two decades ago when my world was shattered by the Dot-com Bubble bursting, leaving me unemployed and angry at the world for what it had did to me as a victim of it. In their case though, their experience is amplified even more so because their basic ability to feel safe and connected with others physically (especially if you’re extroverted) has been ripped away which is why they’re effectively grasping at anything to try to make sense of it and give them back a sense of control in their lives. In this case, feeling like they are at least controlling the narrative by communicating how they are being victimized by “outside forces intent on doing harm to them”.

While I find this all amazingly remarkable and gives me another reason to try to package everything I’m learning and sharing it with others in a simpler way that can actually make sense to them from their perspective and level of consciousness, what still perplexes me about this all is why haven’t there been any external signs of extreme psychological duress from them prior to this? I mean my one sister did indicates stresses before but nothing that seemed extreme from the way she was describing them. In comparison, I’m quite vivid in describing the experiences of stress on my own journey, as they can feel like you’re “being torn apart from the inside” (because your identity is metaphorically “dying and being born again” in a larger sense, often referred to as creative destruction).

Is this just another way our culture and society puts expectations on us to just carry through and persevere, keeping a stiff upper lip and not complaining about the stresses we’re going through? If so, it’s a bullshit expectation. People need to express what their going through and be able to share their experiences, describing the feelings they’re going through, so that they can work and “walk through” these experiences, making sense of them in a positive way. If they just bury them, it doesn’t help. It just makes things much worse in the long run, as years of progressing and regressing, back and forth, have proven in my own life because I rarely had someone to talk to who could actually relate and help me understand the experiences I was going through in my own life.

In fact, if you look at the patterns and why people are attracted to conspiracy theories, my life follows a very similar path that rides the razors edge of this. For example, if I tell someone I just met that “they don’t see reality but instead a mental map of it”, they’re going to think I’m crazy because their perceived reality, based upon their beliefs, is going to seem very real to them. That’s because people don’t start realizing most of what they consider their reality is actually a social construct until they evolve to a high enough level of consciousness to realize it. Science is even proving this now via neuroscience, explaining that we don’t see reality directly.

And that I can show someone a bunch of facts to prove this makes no difference to the person. The individual themselves needs to be psychologically ready and primed before they can actually make that developmental leap and make sense of what this means in their own life and how it transforms it as a whole, especially their identity. And reflecting upon this, if you look at Robert Kegan’s perspective on this, as the individual evolves from a Socialized Mind to a Self-Authoring Mind, they are effectively crafting their own narrative for their life which is exactly what a conspiracy theorist is trying to do to overcome the challenges in their life. But in their case with conspiracies, their narrative is a negative one of victimhood and outward blame at others for “enslaving” them, instead of a positive narrative of empowerment, independent growth, and autonomy.


Play Becomes Developmental Work

We are often so focused on trying to meet our basic survival, belonging, and self-esteem needs to try to fit into society, that we rarely get the opportunity in our lives to go beyond them and explore our higher level needs of autonomy and creativity to truly figure out how we want to stand out in our lives in a unique way.

Only by truly playing in a deeper, meaningful, developmental sense can we go beyond that which is known to us and explore the unknown of ourselves, discovering and releasing the untapped potential within us that’s dying to be lived.

All too often we pass on what is unfinished in ourselves to be lived out by our children.

The psychological work lies in coming to terms with the ghosts of our unlived lives. Not our grief for what we wanted and have missed for ourselves. Not a laying to rest of adolescent ambitions. The mystery of the psyche is that we are haunted not by what we want out of life, but by what life wants out of us. We can never lay these unlived potentials to rest. Relentlessly they seek to be lived out, regardless of how deeply we bury them. Working nine to five may be an essential adaptation for working in an urban culture, but just how well does it suit us to the instinctual energies patterned in the psyche? Learning to live out only what our parents could tolerate may have been an essential relationship to our families growing up, but just how well does it suit us to the yearnings still waiting to be played out deep within?

What backs up is our unlived life—the life energy that is unspent, the possibilities left unexplored. That’s what haunts us. In the shadow of our daylight preoccupations, the ghosts of our unlived life huddle, caged like prisoners rattling their chains. They strain and push and clamor to be released. Not only the ghosts of what could have been in our life, but the spirit of what may be. And it’s inconvenient; inconvenient to always be making room for the ghosts, always to be making room for more. You settle into a career, only to confront a restless urge for pottery. You settle into a predictable attitude about life and what it’s about, only to find yourself pushed from every side to think again. You arrange the psychological furniture in your personality the way you want it, but wake up in the morning to find the ghosts have rearranged it yet again. Always something more wants to emerge.

What we’re encountering with these “ghosts” are patterns of psychic energy—patterns that want to be lived out, enacted, brought into life. “Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions and to experience itself as a whole.” These patterns yearn to be set in motion and fulfilled.

It is the yearning for development, for evolution. What emerges in play wants to go somewhere. Play becomes developmental work.

Living Myth: Personal Meaning as a Way of Life