Shifting Intentions To Allow For Newer Possibilities

Unlearning my expert mindset which allows me to “lead to learn” instead.

I’ve been reflecting on my last post about trying to recognize and face some of my fears and I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve missed the mark or perhaps more appropriately, I’m missing the mark on seeing a much larger fear that’s hiding behind these other ones.

Walking On The Edge

In a sense, what these feels like is like I’m “testing the waters” at the edge of my worldview to see if there is shallow solid footing below the surface that I can walk out upon and, even more appropriately, raise to the surface so that others can walk on it as well.

When I begin to talk, express, and articulate these previously thought of fears, relating to the foundational elements of my work that are probably going to be hard for people to believe, I find that, “Ok, I can find some solid footing here and I can walk out further on this edge” (especially when you have notable people behind you backing you up).

So if I can do this though, the question arises again, “What’s holding me back?” Thinking about this, my natural response would be to revert to my age old excuse of, “This is all very hard for me to articulate.”

But then the follow-up response to that would be, “What do I mean by that?”

Articulating Connections & Insights

If I reflect back on the past two decades of my life, I would say that I see connections between the different disciplinary domains of knowledge that I’ve researched over the past two decades and these connections help me to intuitively see a bigger picture of life which I want to share with others in turn.

Describing this in more detail, while reading about something, I usually come across a quote that sparks a feeling, an emotional connection, within me because I see how it relates to something else I’ve read in the past. In other words, I’m getting an insight into something deeper that’s hidden within the invisible gap between domains.

And when I say I “see” this, I mean that the experience causes me to visualize an imaginary hyperlink in my mind (like a golden thread) between this quote and another previously read quote that I somehow see a hidden relationship between that somehow wants to fully emerge and reveal itself to me.

When I first started my research two decades ago, these insightful connections occurred only once a month or so if I was lucky. Today they almost occur daily.

Seeing The System Emerging

So what this feels like is like I’m getting all of these insights almost daily and often they are repetitions of insights that I’ve already seen which means they are producing solidifying, recognizable patterns.

Yet at the same time, from these patterns I’m starting to intuitively see relationships between them and they are in turn allowing me to intuitively see a larger bigger picture, a system, emerging from them.

This is basically where everything falls apart for me and where I reach a point where I often give up in frustration, even avoiding my research at times, because I feel unable to move past this point.

If I could describe it another way, it would be like seeing all of these building blocks and realizing they connect into something larger that you can actually envision what the end result will be but when you try bringing the pieces together, you can never get them to fit together properly.

Another way of thinking about this is like getting a random page of book every day until finally you know you have all of the pages but try as you might, you can’t put the pages together in the right order.

It’s funny. In mentioning this, I’m reminded of a few notable people who I’ve followed over the years who’ve actually produced books somewhat like this. What I mean is that instead of create a fully structured and ordered book, they instead take the best of their blog posts and compile them into a book. So their book reveals a variety of important insights that have a loose association with each other but they don’t fully come together into a cohesive narrative that relays a bigger picture and overarching insight of life.

Hmmm, there’s something deeper here. Something important.

Seeking Order in Uncertain Times

It has to do with this inherent need to make sense of your life, so that it feels structured and ordered, thus giving it meaning. But also it’s this inherent realization that life isn’t actually like this most of the time, especially within the rapid changing world that is emerging today. We often don’t make sense of things and their deeper meaning until much later after spending much time reflecting back upon it. Yet our entire society isn’t optimized for this way of thinking…and apparently neither am I fully.

Perhaps this all has to do with uncertainty and this inherent need to remove it from our lives. Yet for the world that’s emerging, we have to learn to sit with uncertainty and even intentionally hold space, so as to let things emerge on their own, rather than just forcing things to resolution which often causes us to misinterpret what we’re trying to understand.

And often times that thing we’re trying to understand and make sense of is our very selves.

If I could step back from this all and reflect how this relates to the bigger picture that I’m trying to communicate, I would say that because the world is rapidly changing and feeling uncertain more often than not, it means we require a whole new way of operating for this new world emerging before us. And the simplest way I could describe this new mindset is one of adventuring because it requires us to radically change and unlearn our old mindset and step into something completely new and unknown.

To put this another way, we need an entirely new societal system and way of operating that focuses on open ended development and progression, one in which we have to be comfortable with not knowing where we’re actually going in terms of the outcome until we actually get there and realize what that outcome is. More simply put, a system built for emergence.

Ok, wait a minute. This just sparked something.

Shifting Intentions & Mindsets

Right now, I’ve basically set the intention to create a Player’s Handbook to encapsulate my work, since the metaphor I’m using is seeing life as a massively multiplayer roleplaying game (i.e. we don’t see reality, we effectively see a video game interface instead, with vertical development helping us to level up our interface, etc).

What this means is that I’m effectively trying to force my knowledge into this metaphoric container, even though it may not be the right nuanced outcome.

To put this another way, I’m effectively adventuring, yet at the same time I’m writing a guidebook on how to adventure but I haven’t even completed my adventures yet to reflect back and understand them fully in a meaningful way. I somehow feel like the Ship of Theseus.

But why am I doing this all? Why am I even writing about this right now?

It’s because I want to share what I’m learning as I undergo the process of it. And more importantly, I think sharing the experience of it, including the frustrations and challenges one encounters on that adventure of learning is important in understanding the deeper meaning of it correctly.

In reflecting upon what I’m doing though, my current intention is writing something as though I’m a master of it already which is evidently not true. I’m not a master of it at all. I’m still struggling through it.

Ok, so what if I change my intention to something that feels closer to what I envision this future to be and what I want to be (i.e. not seen as an “expert”)?

Being A Learner, Not An Expert

What if instead of creating a Player’s Handbook for the larger MMORPG of Life that I haven’t fully understood in detail yet, because I haven’t fully played it out, what if I set an intention as a player playing the larger MMORPG of Life and sharing what I’m learning about it, as I’m playing it. In effect, the very thing most Twitch or YouTube streamers do when they’re playing a new game and sharing the information they’re discovering about it.

Whoa! Ok, that’s actually pretty hilarious when I think about it because it also correlates with what John Seely Brown described as happening within guilds like in World of Warcraft. And in fact, he also describes why guilds are so critical in this process as well which would also explain why I feel so overwhelmed doing my work alone.

And one of the reasons why these guilds are so important is there’s so much knowledge being produced every single day. That without the guild structure to help you process this kind of knowledge, you would simply be overwhelmed, end of story, in terms of how do you really want to get a high performance capability out of this.

John Seely Brown

Holy shit! I just realized what a “guild” is in rewatching this part of the video. It’s effectively a collective system for converging many divergent exploratory ideas down into a few that can be then exploited and put into practical use.

Leading With Collective Learning

This is effectively what I need for my own work. So it’s not about trying to create a Player’s Handbook alone first and then creating a guild afterwards to just regurgitate and share what I already know (so the typical old school “expert’s” approach). It’s about creating a guild that adventurously explores, discovers, and plays with these practical ideas first which in turn helps craft this Player’s Handbook afterwards.

I need to reflect upon this some more but it’s interesting to see what happens when you let go of older mindsets (i.e. you need to be an “expert”) and set a different nuanced attention with your work, thus letting it take an unexpected path of emergence that differs from your original expected path. In doing so, this also remarkably sounds like the self-transforming mind approach whereby a “leader leads to learn.”

Oh, I almost didn’t realize the obviousness of this all as well and how it relates to my fears. One of my fears that I’ve mentioned in the past is not feeling like I’m knowledgeable enough with this all to take a leadership stance with it, so as to be seen as an “expert” with it. Yet if you let go of trying to be an expert and just focusing on learning, that’s where the leadership stance can be taken from instead.

Again, if you watch most video game streamers, especially when they’re exploring a new game, that’s how they become recognized as leaders in the community because they’re discovering and sharing new information and knowledge, bit by bit, that collectively helps the community as a whole.


Confronting Our Fearsome Dragons

Learning to recognize our fears that stand in our way.

This morning I arose quite early before dawn because I couldn’t sleep. Lying in the living room, something slowly emerged within the back of my mind as I read the morning news and it revealed something that I’ve been struggling with for quite some time.

For a while now, I’ve emphasized time and again that I don’t feel like I’ve been able to create some sense of “solid ground” to build my work off of. My main excuse for this has basically been that I don’t have an elaborate and complex enough system to “map out” all of my thoughts and if I could create such a system (using concepts maps or AI to do it for me), then suddenly everything would be easier.

This morning I realized that was a lie I had been telling myself to hide the fear that was actually holding me back and standing in the way of any real progression in my work.

You see my thoughts aren’t complex as a whole, they’re actually fairly easy to grasp once you understand the metaphoric narrative encompassing them all. What’s complex is believing the basic foundational elements of them. And that’s where my fear lies. I’m afraid of what people will think of me when I communicate these foundational elements.

What this is telling me is that I’ve got unresolved issues with belonging and potentially even my self-esteem as well. And until I can get over these fears and step into my own wilderness within myself (as Brené Brown refers to it in her book about True Belonging), I’ll never fully accept myself and be able to progress any further with my work.

So what is my basic fear that’s holding me back here? It’s that people will think I’m crazy (which I’ve mentioned in the past).

Why will people think I’m crazy? Because the first foundational element is realizing that we don’t see reality directly as it is but instead we perceive a mental map of reality, aka worldview, which acts like a game interface to help us interact with it and navigate our lives.

But wait! It doesn’t end there! It get’s crazier! The next foundational element is that we can level up this game interface as we progress through our lives which means everyone is perceiving life and reality from different levels of consciousness and awareness. So if you find it hard to believe that we don’t see reality directly, you’ll probably take even more offence that people somehow perceive reality at different levels, implying some sort of superiority for people at higher levels (which actually isn’t the case once you understand the paradox and deeper meaning of it).

But what’s hilarious about this all is that I actually communicated these things years ago when I was on Twitter (see quote below) but I basically haven’t really progressed any farther in publicly communicating my work beyond this point. Well, other than saying “Life is an MMORPG” which really doesn’t go into much detail so you can understand it as whole.

Again, until I can step past these fears and communicate the foundation of my work in greater detail, I will not be able to progress forward with it and scaffold on the rest of it on top of it. As Joseph Campbell would say, I need to slay my dragons if I want to progress further on my inner journey and adventure.

How Creativity Fits Into The “Big Picture”

1) We don’t see reality. We see a mental map of reality called a worldview.

2) Throughout our lives we evolve in stages of expanding world views.

3) Creativity is how we transition and transform ourselves between these stages.

1) We don’t see reality. We see a mental map of reality called a worldview.” Check out the latest books by @davegray and @rbeaulotto to make sense of the seemingly unbelievable.

2) Throughout our lives we evolve in stages of expanding world views.” Check out the latest book by @fred_laloux to learn more of how evolving through these stages increases our capacity to embrace more and more complexity.

Think of all stages, achieved through the process of Creativity, as Social Innovation and the current stage we’re collectively working on as more commonly known as The Future of Work. This is how I make sense of my work and the context with which I pursue it.

An Old Tweet of Mine From Twitter
Computer Technology

Bear 2.0 Beta Released

Wow! What a nice surprise. The Bear 2.0 beta (previously codenamed Panda while in alpha testing) has been released today.

I can remember asking the development team years back if they could update Bear 1.0 at the time so that its default view, when not writing or editing, was a preview mode. The reason for this is that when you’re keeping a knowledge base, you’re not just creating / writing within it but you’re also reflecting back upon it and reading it as well.

Not only did the Bear development think this was a decent idea but they expanded and improved upon the idea much more so than I could ever imagined. In effect, the entire default view of your notes are like a beautiful preview mode and only when you edit a particular part of a note, like a bolded word, does the markdown appear so that it can be edited but only for the specific words that you’re editing.

Needless to say, it’s fricken amazing and without a doubt I believe it will set a completely new precedent for Markdown editors in the years to come.

Vertical Development

Investing In Time & Space for Self-Development

Tiago Forte gives an excellent and extensive overview of his work on Building A Second Brain in the video above but what I found the most revealing was the latter part talking about the benefits of it (starting around the 1:33:00 minute mark in the video), particularly these two quotes.

In order for you to self-develop, you need free time.

You need an open space to explore yourself, to explore your psyche, to explore your emotions, your relationships. 

It’s interesting because earlier in the video, he indicated how there was some economic impedances to achieving this but near the end he indicated how professionals (who are obviously financially well off) seem to be the main people lacking in mental bandwidth to develop themselves nowadays because they have no free time.

Therefore to me, the primary impedance isn’t so much a lack of economic resources but rather a lack of mental resources. Self-development requires time and space which in turn gives you the ability to focus your attention and increase your awareness.

The number one problem with this though is that our current conventional way of working takes most of our time and space. And today, as many people will attest, it’s even worse than it used to be. For example, my wife as a school teacher has said her workload has increased dramatically compared to before the pandemic. Yet she knows of other teachers whose workloads have increased even more than hers, whereby sometimes they have to work till 9PM in the evening before they can return to their families and deal with their responsibilities at home.

Therefore, one of the quickest ways to increase our mental resources would be to stop working conventionally and start working more “productively” (as per the way Tiago sees it using a “second brain”) which is almost counter-intuitive to how people conventionally approach their work. In doing so though, our life’s work naturally arises and emerges from our ongoing learning and self-development, with the potentiality of who we are being released like a building tsunami in the process.


Betwixt: The Adventure Awaits

While researching self-awareness and inattentional blindness this morning in trying to discover a way to articulate to others how we cannot perceive and see what we are not aware of, I stumbled across a post on self-awareness by Elitsa Dermendzhiyska as well. What blew my mind, while reading it through, was her mentioning of a choose-your-own-adventure game that her and Hazel Gale have developed together.

After two years in R&D, we recently debuted Betwixt: The Story of You: a choose-your-own-adventure app that helps you find clarity, courage and self-insight. The app takes you on a journey of self-discovery that some of our users have described as a safe psychedelic trip from your smartphone.

Following the link to the Betwixt website, I was dumbfounded to discover something extremely similar to what I’ve been struggling to articulate and create myself, a way to help people understand themselves and their world at a deeper level, specifically using the Hero’s Journey to do so.


Your mind is an adventure waiting to be explored

Become the hero of an interactive story that takes you on an epic journey to clarity, resilience and self-insight

However, whereas Betwixt uses a narrative inquiry-based gaming app to achieve this, my approach strives to make Life itself the metaphorical game we are already roleplaying within and would eventually see “players” coming together to “adventure” and “role play” in groups to assist each other in their psychological (vertical) development.

Be Real Creative

The Adventure of Your Life

Everything a player needs to heroically level up their character within the roleplaying game called Life.

What blows my mind the most about this all though is that 1) they actually have a working alpha of their game, and 2) that people are actually grasping the significance of what they’re working towards.

This above all else is the monster or perhaps monsters that stand in my own way. I believe that most people won’t be able to comprehend this psychological depth and, in doing so, they will in turn think that people doing such work are crazy. It is therefore these beliefs (of my own creation) which tower and block my own path forward, that make me fearful of moving forward with my own work.

Perhaps seeing the reality of the work Elitsa and Hazel have achieved already will help me to shatter these limiting beliefs of mine and make me believe the seemingly impossible is possible in my own life, thus letting me to finally step forward and begin to crystallize the essence of my work.


A New Plato’s Cave?

I just had the strangest thought. What if what I’m struggle to communicate is effectively just a Plato’s Cave for the 21st century? In effect, a fictional imagination that strives to communicate the realities and truths about life that most people are completely oblivious and unaware of.

Vertical Development

Understanding The Deeper Connection of This “Thing” Called Vertical Development

Something has happened in the last 24 hours, due to a serendipitous collection of articles read (both old and new), that has made me step back, reflect, and realize something that I’ve known for a long time but have not really “known” in terms of deeply understanding it. Well, that is until now.

I’ve repeatedly said over the years that there are number of notable people all talking about the same thing but from different disciplinary perspectives and languages. This “thing” I’m talking about is vertical development.

And what’s important to realize about this though, because of the complexity of understanding what vertical development actually means, is that many of these notable people talking about it, may not even be aware that they are talking about it.

The reason for this is that vertical development is like a narrative which has many elements to it. One notable person may be talking about one aspect of it (i.e. creativity), while another person may be talking about another aspect of it (i.e. social innovation). The thing is though is that if you go below the surface of all of the different words used from all of the different disciplinary languages, a deeper unified meaning will reveal itself, that is an undercurrent to everything these people are talking about.

David Suzuki

In reading some recent articles by David Suzuki, I’ve realized that he is finally begin to understand the deeper problem with his work in environmentalism. That being that he has to go beyond environmentalism into the realm of vertical development to actually make an impact in his work.

Global conferences and agreements are necessary, but we need far more ambition and action — and humility. To fulfil our potential as a species, we need a paradigm shift, from an archaic consumer mindset to a wider vision that encompasses nature and recognizes the values and connections that will help us live well.

Paradigm Shift Needed To Halt & Reverse Biodiversity Loss

What interesting about this is that I actually applied for a job with the David Suzuki Foundation a decade or more ago but never got the job. I was actually something thankful that I didn’t get it though because I realized I probably would have been frustrated within the position. That’s because I knew back then that they needed to widen their scope as an organization but I didn’t have the capacity to articulate this clearly at the time and thus I’m not sure if they would have comprehended the bigger picture at the time.

Today, I would have described to them that until they can help people understand and see the deeper human nature within themselves (which our current society’s culture is alienating us from), they will continue to have a hard time making people see how humanity is embedded and integrated with nature.

Gabor Mate

This also directly relates to Gabor Mate’s tireless and amazing work on trauma, addiction, stress, and childhood development which his website encapsulates as “human development through the lens of science and compassion.”

Therefore our true nature is to love, and love is required for our species to exist. If we live in a society that does not provide or support our most basic needs then our society will adapt and our behavior will not reflect our true nature. Today’s modern societies are incredible and it’s amazing to witness our innovation, ability to control our environment, and experience advances in medicine; just to name a few. However, it’s evident that our innovation and focus on material resources has out paced our biology and basic needs. Therefore, despite many advances, we will see illness, dysfunction, and trauma persist until we are able to truly understand what our most basic needs are and how to provide them to one another.

Human Nature

In effect, because our base needs are not being met as children and, even more so, as adults, we are experiencing widespread trauma and addiction in our society today. To put it another way, due to our basic needs often being unmet, especially in our workplaces, we are addicted to trying to meet them in any way we can.

And until we can create a society and a cultural environment where meeting people’s needs is a basic human right of their well-being, people, organizations, and society will be unable to experience any vertical development growth in the process. Something that is essential if we want to psychologically adapt and meet the wickedly complex challenges of our world today which are actually caused by our own existing systemic behaviours and mindsets.

Brené Brown

And a way we often get stuck focused on our basic needs is the subject of Brené Brown’s foundational work on shame. Once we can get past beating our selves up and giving ourselves some space just to be, we can connect with the vulnerability of who we are which can help us to take leadership over our lives.

And this is something that relates to vertical development intimately, as Brené herself discovered within her recent podcast with Lisa Lahey, the co-author of the book Immunity To Change with Robert Kegan. During the podcast, Lisa actually stepped Brené through the process of making invisible assumptions and beliefs in her own life visible. In doing so, she helped her to objectively see and relate to how her past identity was competing and conflicting with a larger identity of herself that was trying to emerge, mainly due to these assumptions she believed.

In particular, two quotes by Lisa Lahey really stood out for me because they relate to my metaphor of vertical development being a roleplaying game which involves not only adventuring within the dungeons of yourself to levelling up but also participating within guilds to get the support to do so. These guilds of the 21st century though will be one’s where we can “craft a different possibility of reality”, letting us to “play” a larger “role” beyond the identity of the one’s we’ve been conventionally expected to fulfill by society. So just like Brené needs to role-play and test out a newer, larger sense of Self with her team, others will be able to do so within these 21st guilds as communities of practice as well.

LISA LAHEY: But if I don’t, if I can change that assumption to see where its edges are, and I can explore the possibility that the world is not so black and white.  Where’s the gray? Then I’m in a position where I can begin to craft a different possibility of a reality where it’s possible to be both disciplined and be a creator. And that’s what the work ahead would be. How do you test out that big assumption? And for me, the way to go about testing any assumption is try to really stack the deck in the direction that shows you the ways your big assumption may not be correct. Because it’s very easy to show how it’s correct. It’s way harder to show yourself how it isn’t incomplete. It’s just not seeing all of the way the world can be.

BRENÉ BROWN: God, Lisa, this is hard. It’s a lot of excavating. But it’s also really powerful to understand that there are legitimate important commitments that are working against the change that I know is also an important thing and having to understand what the assumptions are behind those existing commitments and challenge those. I mean, would you tell the folks listening that this is the heart of the process?

LISA LAHEY: I would say the heart of the process is to start with that map, those four columns, and to be in it in the way that I’ve experienced you today, which is to let yourself go to places that don’t feel very comfortable. They feel uncomfortable, but they feel real. They feel true. And if you can let yourself just see what is and work at the not judging yourself to just allow yourself the humanity of… This is what we all do. Every single person’s got an “immunity to change” map. If they want to take on some really good reach goal for themselves, we all have this stuff going on. So, if you could let yourself just be with that, and that’s one big step that has to happen because it gives you a map in some way around what you do need to actually address in this deeper landscape that’s going on inside in order to change your external behaviors. And then the next big heart of it all is to actually engage in some pretty active testing of your big assumptions so that you can learn the ways in which it isn’t accurate or there may be times it is accurate, but you’re having a much more rich data informed understanding of how the world works and how you also work in the world. And you let your bigger self actually be more in charge of seeing that world and not the self-protective, more scared part of us, which tends to more often be in control.

Harold Jarche

These communities of practice are something I’d like to see more people doing but specifically in the sense of delving deeper into our selves. For example, Harold Jarche has his own community of practice which he indicates is a “trusted space” but I’m unsure if they go that deep in their sessions, trying to put into practice and work on living what they are learning.

It would be interesting to find out because the deeper intention of Harold’s work again touches upon vertical development at its core, as this older post of his reveals.

The job was the way we redistributed wealth and protected workers from the negative aspects of capitalism. As the knowledge economy disappears, we need to re-think our concepts of work, income, employment, and most importantly education. If we do not find ways to help citizens lead productive lives, our society will face destabilization. This is a challenge for government, as our institutions are premised on many assumptions that are no longer valid. Changing the worldview of politicians, public servants, and citizens will be a key part of addressing the issue of wealth redistribution. Old mental models will not help us much.

Democratizing Distribution

I could go on and on describing many more people who are all talking about vertical development but probably aren’t aware that they are actually doing so. The important point I’m trying to make here though is that there is a collective movement of people striving for change but this movement probably won’t achieve any traction and serious momentum transforming society until they can begin to start seeing each other and connecting up the different aspects of their work collectively. When that happens, that’s when we’ll start seeing massive change.

In effect, the potential is already there and already in process, it’s just not being seen and recognized. Pretty much the same thing that’s happening with the potential of people not being seen and recognized within organizations and society as a whole.

If these “walk-outs” remain isolated from one another, nothing happens. The dominant system will crush, absorb, or coopt the pioneers because every living system is inclined towards self-preservation. But if they get connected to one another, exchanging information and learning, then their separate efforts can suddenly emerge as a powerful system capable of disrupting the old order and giving birth to something new.

Deborah Frieze

Articulating The Practical Ground My Epic Vision Rests Upon

I was playing around with Apple’s new app Freeform recently, trying to discover the potential of it by viewing what other people were doing with it on YouTube, when I was reminded of Dave Gray’s amazing work on visual thinking with his company XPLANE.

How To Be An Engaging Practical Visionary

Doing a quick search, I found this awesome interview below with Dave, where he explains the importance of visual thinking in business, especially in the capacity of assisting people through change. Around the three minute mark, he begins to go into detail on the “head, heart, and hands” communication approach which was created by the Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi.

One thing that was very different was in the old way of rolling out the strategy, there wasn’t a lot of dialogue between the managers and the employees about how to implement the strategy because they weren’t speaking the same language.

The managers were talking about the strategy in a very abstract, logical way. People didn’t understand why they should get excited about it. Why they should be motivated and engaged about it. They didn’t understand practically how that would apply in their daily work. How to translate that into action.

Dave Gray
“Head, Heart, Hands”, Dave Gray, Flickr

What’s Practically Missing?

What amazed me about this, while later reflecting upon it, is that this is the struggle I’ve been having with articulating my own work. In effect, I’ve been realizing that just trying to communicate my knowledge in a logical “head” way is insufficient for me because I’m more optimized for feelings. I would even say that this type of approach alone feels “empty and hollow”to me, as you are just regurgitating pieces of knowledge without it having any meaningful sense within a larger context or narrative.

Over time though, as I was learning this knowledge, keywords jumped out at me that related to my past work building communities online around video games and I realized that a lot of the knowledge metaphorically related to both Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and the heroic narrative of growth and progression found within MMORPGs like World of Warcraft.

But even though I didn’t need to find this metaphor, as it was emerging and taking on a life of its own, I still felt like when I interwove it with the knowledge relating to it, something still felt like it was missing. Perhaps what was missing is this practical “hands” perspective which makes one question, “Well this is a pretty epic, emotional vision you’ve shown me here but how does it relate to the experiences and challenges within my own life right now?”

In effect, the knowledge I was sharing most definitely embodied what was being communicated about The Future of Work and the metaphor embodied an emotional narrative of how similar it was to the playful adventure of the hero’s quest. But if you can’t connect these things to the typical challenges a person is experiencing in their own life right now, they’re not going to go along on the journey with you because it’s not going to feel relatable to them. It’s no different than beginning to read a story and not relating to the protagonist, thus the story doesn’t gain traction for you, so you give up reading it.

What’s The Question That Starts Your Quest?

What’s interesting about this is that last year, I sat down with my nephew and gave him an overview of what I was trying to do, because he has experience with game development and business development and I thought he might have some insights to assist me. After speaking at length, what kept revealing itself over and over to him (and finally to me near the end) is something similar. In effect, I had this epic, emotional, amazing vision which contained a lot of knowledge that could help people immensely but to use a gaming metaphor, I didn’t have my “kill ten rats” yet and I needed to figure that out.

In MMORPGs, typically when starting the game, you’re giving a really simple quest for your starting level, something the equivalent of kill ten giants rats say in the basement of a building within your starting city. This starting quest is designed as part of the onboarding experience to get you orientated with understanding the game mechanics and the class you’ve chosen (similar to how onboarding and orienteering are essential for a new employee to understand their new job within an organization).

More important than understanding what and how “kill ten rats” is though is the deeper why of it, specifically within the context of the character you’re playing as a player within the roleplaying game. If you imagine yourself as actually this character, you have to ask yourself, “What is inspiring them to step outside the norms of their life and become an adventurer, doing things within this first quest that previously seemed impossible to them, perhaps due to the fears involved with it?”

The Hero’s Journey: Stepping Outside Ourselves

To put this another way, prior to adventuring as a player character, you could think of the person as a non-player character who just lived their life by doing what they were told to do based upon their societal programming. So they never really questioned their world or their role within it, similar to Ryan Reynolds character at the beginning of the movie Free Guy. But then one day, something clicks and the person begins to question their life and playfully begins to learn to step out of it into a larger sense of self-identity that previously might have seemed impossible to them before.

Again, I can communicate this all in an epic, emotional way but what’s missing here is the practical perspective from the individual themselves which really creates and solidifies the connection, making the knowledge and metaphor truly come to life in a way that finally makes sense. To me, right now, the best things that articulate this practical perspective are the experiences I encountered two decades ago when the Dot-com Bubble burst and similarly with what people are experiencing today with the Great Resignation.

In effect, something is challenging and shattering the worldview of people (the way they look at themselves and their world), causing them begin to question it and thus begin a quest that causes them to step out of it and understand it better objectively, so that they can step into a newer, larger worldview of their own creation (which is the journey towards self-actualization). As Beau Lotto notes in his book Deviate, to go from A to B, you actually have to go from A to not-A first.

So many people today are going from A to not-A and they’re experiencing a lot of fear and doubt because of it, as the previously perceived stability of their old, outdated worldview is no longer stable in reality. William Bridges, the author of JobShift, describes this transition in three stages (ending, neutral zone, new beginning) and it is remarkably similar to the three stages of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (departure, initiation, return). In effect, we leave the old world, travel to a limbo world, and then return to a new world but in reality, we’re not really physically travelling anywhere, instead it’s our worldview that’s being reconstructed within us through the psychological inner journey itself (which explains why our mental health is so critical right now, as we struggle with this inner journey).

How To Catalyze Your Quest(ion)

I could end this here but something else popped into my head that relates to this all, especially in terms of what actually starts this adventure (i.e. kill ten rats) and begins your quest of questioning your worldview.

It was something that Carol Sanford reiterated over and over again in her new book Indirect Work. She indicated that people, when absorbing new information, often try to relate it to what they already know. This seems logical as they’re trying to relate to it and make sense of it. But the problem with this approach is that they then end up assuming they understand what you’re communicating, even if what you’re communicating is much deeper than what they currently understand at their level of consciousness (which relates to their worldview).

I encountered this exact very thing while reading the book myself. On my first pass, all I saw was what I wanted to see, making it relate to what I already knew in terms of the knowledge I had acquired over the years. But upon rereading the book in greater detail, I quickly realized that I had missed a lot of what she was trying to say on a deeper level and I actually began to learn and understand things at a deeper level as well.

This got me wondering though. Is there a way to communicate to others in such a way that it immediately challenges their way of thinking and worldview in a more evident fashion? After thinking about this for a while, the only way I could conceive of doing this was by using paradoxes, as they immediately cause a person to stop and question what they are reading, rather than automatically just absorbing it and assuming they know what they are reading.

You are only free when you realize you belong no place—­you belong every place—­no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

Maya Angelou

And finally, a perfect example of this is told as a story by Brené Brown in her book Braving The Wilderness, as she describes something her hero Maya Angelou said about belonging that made no sense to Brené at first and really got her angry, almost shattering her perspective of her hero initially. But because the quote made her immediately stop and question her hero, she questioned her own knowledge about belonging herself and thus was able to understand it at a much deeper level than she could have previously perceived which she calls true belonging as noted in her book’s subtitle (i.e. Braving The Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone).

All said and done though, what feels like is missing from the identity of my own work is a personal and practical perspective that provides a grounded cornerstone for people to relate to, thus allowing me to build a stable bridge from where they are at in their own daily lives right now to where they could be in a future vision of a better world(view). So in a sense, it creates a metaphorical map showing them where they are in relation to the larger context of changes occurring within the world right now, thus helping them to realize that they can actually navigate beyond the horizons of their mind without the fear of falling off the edge of it.


Getting Out of Our Way

We have to trust these feelings. We have to trust the invisible gauges we carry within us.
We have to realize that a creative being lives within ourselves, whether we like it or not, and that we must get out of its way, for it will give us no peace until we do.

Mary Caroline Richards

Life As An MMORPG? Or An MMORPG as Life?

For the longest time, I’ve continually said that MMORPGs are the perfect metaphor for Life, as they can help us to understand the steps we need to reach The Future of Work and how vertical development plays an integral part of this. The problem with this thought though is that even though I understand this within my head, trying to express it seems difficult, as I can never find the right context or voice to describe it within. The last few days though, I’ve had the most hilarious thought. Perhaps my goal isn’t to describe how MMORPGs are the perfect metaphor for Life but rather my goal is to describe an MMORPG as though it were Life.

When I make this subtle shift, suddenly things seem easier to communicate. I can say that in this MMORPG called Life, you don’t create a character at the start but rather it’s created for you. And you don’t choose your class, so much as you discover it from the experience of playing the game itself.

Even more so, even though each of these statements reflects a deeper understanding of vertical development and how it applies to life, I’m not having to describe the verbose and sometimes confusing details of it at all. Instead by describing the mechanics of the MMORPG as Life and more specifically the relationship between these mechanics, it helps one to understand Life on a deeper level (especially if you’re a gamer and understand the mechanics of MMORPGs).

Anyways, something to play with going forward and seeing how far it can take me versus my previous reversed approach.