What is a Hero?

Going beyond reframing leadership to reframing what is heroic.

Anti-Hero by Richard Wilson, a Director of Osca, is one of my most favourite books that I’ve read some years back (although unfortunately it appears you can no longer download it as a PDF). If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you do so (again unfortunately only online). Below is a four minute video giving a quick overview of the book.

Expanding Our Meaning

After reading the book though, I almost wish Richard had entitled it something else. Why? Because we still need heroes today. It’s just that the type of heroes we need are not the same kind of heroes that we had as yesterday. The meaning of what they were has changed, expanded, and become something more, just like how the meaning of everything else is changing as well.

To explain what I mean, here’s a quote from the book.

That’s why we must expand what it means to be a hero and a leader.

Richard Wilson, Anti-Hero

If you go to any website on leadership and organizational change (i.e. Harvard Business Review), they will reiterate over and over again that the words leader and leadership are being reframed and redefined today becoming something much more meaningful than what they used to be in the past. And yet no one is saying we should stop using these words and start using words like anti-leader and anti-leadership instead, even though the meaning of leader and leadership seem to be the opposite of what they used to be.

Expanding Our Selves

In fact, I would even say that by understanding what a true hero is, we can see how transformative learning is an integral aspect of being a hero. A perfect example of this is Joseph Campbell’s work on the Hero’s Journey, the Monomyth, that is a narrative of transformation that many cultures have used throughout history.

Actually if you look at the process of the Hero’s Journey, you’ll see that it embodies a radical paradigm shift that a person goes through—a sort of “U turn” in their life—that Richard mentions is necessary in his video overview above. Even more so, if you compare this to Otto Scharmer’s U Theory which embodies making a transformational U-turn, it mirrors it quite closely as well, describing it as a presencing “journey”.

So all said and done, it’s not new words (i.e anti-hero) that we need today but new meanings, like everything else (i.e. leadership, management, etc). In fact, even the meaning of creativity itself is being expanded, becoming so much more than it was before. And I think these “journeys” that we go through encapsulate this process of social creativity.


Falling Back into Oneself

In an email discussion I previously had with Richard Barrett, author of Evolutionary Coaching, he emphasized some words to me that stood out because I felt something intuitive with them, yet I couldn’t quite articulate their meaning clearly at the time.

Relax…Surrender to the soul and it will guide you.

Richard Barrett

Today, a few things jumped out at me, all at once, that reminded me of his words.

Provide Space to Listen to Yourself

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” — Dalai Lama

The first thing I was reminded of was the above quote by the Dalai Lama but specifically within the context of listening to oneself. In effect, if one is always talking about what one already knows (so as to hopefully sound like an “expert” who knows everything to others) then one isn’t leaving much space for listening to oneself and hearing something new emerging from oneself.

Thus this ability to pause and listen to oneself is critically essential for one’s growth. For me, the initial Connecting stage of social creativity encompasses this. One begins questioning things which causes one to pause and reflect about their life’s assumptions and beliefs which in turn starts a conversation with oneself which requires listening to oneself.

Weaving the Community Within

This in turn reminded of the core of social creativity as this capacity to weave a larger sense of self which begins within the Empowering stage, as different aspects of oneself start coming together and interacting with each other. A metaphor for it would be seeing yourself as a “multitude”, a community if you will, that is coming together for the first time around a common cause. In doing so, this community of you creates this feeling of greater space and freedom within you, thus in turn feeling like a larger sense of self.

I believe a similar experience of this would be holding space for oneself, where one begins to “trust their own intuition and wisdom” because one is “withholding judgement and shame” of oneself. In doing so, we begin to “feel empowered to make (our own) decisions” which is when this weaving between the silos of ourself begins to occur.

Following Self

This in turn reminded me of Dan Oestrich’s work on Following SELF. Dan believes that discovering oneself isn’t a process of “courageously stepping out into uncomfortable spaces” but rather learning to step into a deeper, comfortable space of one’s own Self.

The metaphor that best encapsulates this for me is seeing one’s Self as an expanded inner space, a wilderness. But not a wilderness of dangerous beasts but rather one where the wild unknown of you can roam freely and thus emerge safely from the darkness and shelter of the forest to roam openly on the plains, sharing your potential with the world around you.

Gravitating Towards Our Self

Actually now that I think about it, this also ties into John Hagel’s work with The Power of Pull. Rather than taking the conventional approach of trying to push our way into changing ourselves and others, often by trying to control the situation. We are letting go and letting ourselves be pulled toward our true selves.

In effect, by creating these open safe spaces both within ourselves and within our organizations, we create a vacuum which nature naturally wants to fill. In doing so, these unseen potentials, from both within ourselves and within our organizations, have the room to step forth and fill this void, finally revealing themselves in the process.

In comparison, the typical conventional approach is one where the internal space within ourselves or within our organizations is filled to capacity, constantly busy and micromanaged distractedly, allowing little to no room for anything new or potentially wondrous to emerge because of it.

A Beacon of Change

All said and done, I get the feeling that I’m trying to push things too hard by talking too much about what I already know to try to get people to notice me. This of course means that I’m not spending that time listening to myself and thus seeing and noticing my own Self. So I just need to let go more, “surrendering”, allowing more reflective space for my own True Self to emerge.

Most important of all, if I’m still interacting with others to “get people to notice me”, it means my lower stages of development (as noted in Richard Barrett’s work) are still “deficient” and “dependent” upon society. Until I can let go of being dependent upon society (in terms of conventional beliefs), not much will change with me and I won’t evolve fully (aka “level up”) to the next stage.

It’s funny. I’m reminded of a vision I had some years back. It was feeling like I was lost in the fog alone. When I heard someone else in the distance, I realized I could project a light from within myself towards them. But when I started yelling, “Hello, can you see me? I’m over here!”, my light went out. What this vision was telling me is that our “light” within us is meant to be used to light up others or light the way for others. If we try to selfishly light ourselves instead (i.e Hey, look at me, I’m great!), the light falters and dims.

Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski

Right now, I’m trying to selfishly light up and put the spotlight on myself for my own gains. This doesn’t work and only darkens myself. I need to instead put the spotlight on others even more so which in turns lights up my life’s work in an indirect, paradoxical, zen sort of way (i.e Tao Te Ching).


Deconstructing Oneself for Flexibility

I never would have imagined finding insights on The Future of Work from someone invested in helping people find jobs in the conventional world of work but the core of what’s being said here by Dick Bolles is pure gold, as it relates to becoming flexible.

In the old model, that was one place for a career, an entire lifetime, and you got a gold watch at the end. In the new era, the era that is much more entrepreneurial, your skills and interests and values can be used in dozens or hundreds of different combinations.

When the purpose driven person is ready, the network appears.

You cannot plan, but you can design.

So what we need to do, if we’re going to start to think about what is going to happen with our lives five years from now, is to watch for what keywords have to command our attention.

How I often see seemingly “invisible” connections between things.

You need to have a refuge from the concepts and pictures of yourself you’ve been living with thus far. If you’re going to learn, you first have to unlearn. Very few schools talk about that.

There are so many nutty ideas floating around that we are exposed to since we were tiny kids, that we have to unlearn. And one of them is ourselves.

What’s your picture of yourself? If we’re locked into the idea I am this or I am that, that inhibits us from being able to be creative about what we’re going to do with our lives one year from now, never mind five.

Indeed, we need to learn to Be Real Creative.

The first thing you need most is rethinking who you are.

Because what you’re going to do flows from who you are, especially if it’s appropriate work and meaningful work for you.

Because the further down toward the atomic level in the understanding of yourself that you go—the further down you go—the more flexibility you have.

Your identity of your self is formed from a relationship of information. Keep the info, shatter the relationship.

This is creative destruction applied to oneself, more commonly called “unpacking” or “unbundling” oneself. You’re breaking down your life to it’s basic “building blocks”, so you can reconstruct your sense of identity in newer, broader ways.

…most training programs. You’ve done one thing, it’s sort of not demanded by culture and society anymore, so you learn one new thing. No. That is a horrible way to go about retraining. What you want to have is flexibility.

How do you like to use your brain? What parts of the different skill sets that a brain has, just looking at it as a model. What are the different things a brain can do, and which of those do you love to do?

So if you’re going to design how you’re going to figure out what you’re going to be doing five years from now, you need have an inventory of yourself.

That inventory needs to depend upon stories. You need to break those stories down to as close to the atomic level of braindom as you can. And that means skills.

What are your favourite, favourite, favourite, favourite skills? Never mind what the marketplace wants. Who cares? You can always find ways to persuade people to give you work that lets you use your skills if you are enthusiastic about them.

…you will always end up hiring the one who has a lot of enthusiasm and passion for what they’re doing. They didn’t just choose this because they can do it—they choose this because they love to do it.

What do you love to do?

This “inventory” reminds me so much of what a Second Brain can help you with.

And your Passion is a collective emergent description of your “favourite skills” that reveals itself over time. Like if your favourite skills were people “networked” into a singular “community”.

This is the “indestructible” essence of who you are (as noted by Pema Chödrön) that gives you a sense of fluidity over time.

And as I noted the other day, this reinforces that The Future of Work isn’t so much learning “new” skills, as it is learning “who you already are”.


Articulating Yourself Through What You Read

One of the things I’ve found essential to having a second brain is because it helps you understand and articulate these things that are interesting and have meaning for you, revealing yourself at a deeper level in turn.

For example, in observing people over the years on blogs and social media networks, you usually see a pattern of evolution with what they’re sharing.

Initially the person may share something they find as a simple bookmark or link, maybe saying something like “This is amazing!” In effect, the person feels something of importance with what they found and shared big they can’t put it into words.

Next the person may evolve to sharing the article and including a key quote from it. This indicates they are honing in on something that has meaning within the article for them but still may not how best describe it in their own words.

After that, the person may evolve finally evolve to not only quoting multiple aspects of the article but also indicating the meaning of why beside each quote and even giving a summarization about the article as whole, relating how it relates to their work or life in some way.

Now how you can evolve yourself in this way is by progressively summarizing what you read.

At its basics, your just highlighting sentences that seem to stand out to you (but may not initially understand why at first). After that, if you’re reading a PDF, you could start using different colours to represent different levels of importance. And then you may start annotating them with a few words to explain why they have important meaning to you. And over time, you’ll start seeing repeating patterns between these things highlighted that will reveal even more meaning to you.

The beauty of this approach is that this meaning not only bubbles up from what you read, revealing itself to you, but it also reveals who you are deep down inside, your True Self. Over time, like myself, it may pull you in directions you may not have even imagined at first but in time you’ll understand how and why this meaning is weaving itself through your life, revealing a larger tapestry of your Self.


Working Towards Inspiration, Rather Than From It

Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings has a wondrous post on inspiration and the “generative power of not-knowing” as relayed by Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska.

What I find wondrous about it is that it reveals inspiration, not as a starting point for one’s work but as a culmination of it that both expands one’s sense of self and allows space for more unknown possibilities.

This is revealed by a quote by Ann Hamilton who emphasizes we work from “what we know to what we don’t know.”

One doesn’t arrive — in words or in art — by necessarily knowing where one is going. In every work of art something appears that does not previously exist, and so, by default, you work from what you know to what you don’t know.

Ann Hamilton

And Wisława Szymborska indicates inspiration is a continuous “I don’t know” which coupled with Ann’s earlier quote means we’re working towards inspiration.

A swarm of new questions emerges from every problem they solve. Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.”

Wisława Szymborska

And it is this inspiration—which we are working towards—that expands our sense of self and life as a whole.

This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended.

Wisława Szymborska

This mirrors as a whole with why I’ve placed inspiration at the end of the process of social creativity (ie connecting, empowering, inspiring) rather than at the start of it. It is because it is the inspiration you are creatively working towards with regards to your work.

And it is the completed inspiration which inspires and connects with someone else, starting the creative process within them which can only be completed when they themselves complete the inspiration of their own work they are working towards.


Barbarian Pioneers

In Margaret Wheatley’s book “Who Do You Choose To Be?“, she talks about pioneers in the first stage of a civilization & barbarians in the final stage.

They are actually one & the same.

You will always seem to be a barbarian if your own pioneering disrupts someone else’s world(view).

I think this is what it probably feels like today to be a digital nomad. To others, your life may seem “foreign and strange”, finding such freedom in a lifestyle that seems so uncertain and unpredictable. And yet therein lies the wondrous possibilities of it. 


A Tsunami of Change

This is what it means to learn, to work and to succeed, I think, in the modern digital age. It is just to know your knowledge, to really in some way know yourself.

Tiago Forte, Building a Second Brain

I believe that these words hold the foundation for a whole New World that is emerging in front of us right now. A New World that radically redefines and reframes everything we think we know.

Forget jobs. Forget organizations.

Something new is emerging. A tsunami of change.

Fuck what you know. You need to forget about what you know, that’s your problem.

Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Your Too Smart for Your Own Good

Just remembering something my wife said to me years back.

“Your problem is that you’re too smart.”

She’s right. Sometimes when you’re too smart, you seek out solutions to problems that are way more complex than they need to be.

And if anything, often times the best ways to create something complex is by building it or cultivating it slowly and simply over time, one step at a time.

In this way, the complexity you need arises naturally, with very little effort, as an emergent outcome.


Second Brain or Second Self?

There’s something about using the word Second Brain that doesn’t jive with me fully though. It feels limiting in some way. To me, it’s more like you’re creating a Second Self or a Reflected Self that helps you reveal your True Self.

For now though, I’ll probably keep using Second Brain to describe this, as it has taken on a life of its own, become more and more know.


Site Purposes

I’m realizing that going forward, Be Real Creative will become my business site, articulating the overarching vision of how I wish to simply help others by revealing their unique and authentic leadership of their identity through creativity. Even this falls into alignment, as I’ve always seen myself metaphorically as a Bard. But instead of telling heroic tales of others, I’m helping others to reveal the heroic (aka leadership) aspects of themselves on their own.

And Nollind Whachell, as this website entity, will become a living example of a web-based Second Brain.