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

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

Alvin Toffler on Embracing Change

Below are some of the most notable quotes by Alvin Toffler, one of the world’s outstanding futurists and author of the books Futureshock in 1970 and the Third Wave in 1980.

What is apparent about these quotes is how relevant they are to our world today. We are undergoing increasingly rapid change and denying the reality of it only makes it hit us all the harder. Instead we need to learn to accept this reality which requires us to unlearn and untether ourselves from the foundations of our Old World, which are already breaking beneath our feet, and learn a new way of stabilizing ourselves within a much more fluid New World.

Only then will we be able to embrace this change, going more gently with the flow of it, rather than against it, thus allowing us to transition into this future less harshly than if we persist in ignoring the apparent reality of it.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Nobody knows the future with certainty. We can, however, identify ongoing patterns of change.

Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.

Change is not merely necessary to life – it is life.

A new civilization is emerging in our lives, and blind men everywhere are trying to suppress it.

The first rule of survival is clear: Nothing is more dangerous than yesterday’s success.

The responsibility for change…lies within us. We must begin with ourselves, teaching ourselves not to close our minds prematurely to the novel, the surprising, the seemingly radical.

Humanity faces a quantum leap forward. It faces the deepest social upheaval and creative restructuring of all time. Without clearly recognizing it, we are engaged in building a remarkable new civilization from the ground up. This is the meaning of the Third Wave.

Our moral responsibility is not to stop the future, but to shape it…to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma of transition.

Individuals need life structure. A life lacking in comprehensible structure is an aimless wreck. The absence of structure breeds breakdown. Structure provides the relatively fixed points of reference we need. That is why, for many people, a job is crucial psychologically, over and above the paycheck. By making clear demands on their time and energy, it provides an element of structure around which the rest of their lives can be organized. The absolute demands imposed on a parent by an infant, the responsibility to care for an invalid, the tight discipline demanded by membership in a church or, in some countries, a political party — all these may also impose a simple structure on life.

To survive, to avert what we have termed future shock, the individual must become infinitely more adaptable and capable than ever before. We must search out totally new ways to anchor ourselves, for all the old roots – religion, nation, community, family, or profession – are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust.

The most important thing is to understand the general outlines of where we’re going.


Shore Watching

Helping weary immigrants out of the waves of change.

I’ve recently realized something fairly profound and it ties into a metaphor that I’ve been using over the years to try to make sense of my life as a whole. All of us are effectively immigrants now and are travelling to a New World, whether we like it or not. I’ve been fortunate, if you want to even call it that, in that I’ve been introduced to these changes far sooner than others have and thus I’ve become aware of these bigger changes that are profoundly affecting all of our lives but for the most part are invisible to most people.

The more I understood these changes and how we had to adapt to them, changing the way we not only perceive our society but our very selves, the more invigorated I felt because I felt like I could truly help people on a massive scale. There was only one obstacle in my way though. How do you communicate and persuade people of these massive changes occurring invisibly all around them, so that they can initiate their journey and be more capable of adapting to them?

For the longest time, I envisioned in my mind two worlds, our Old World which most of us still live within and our New World, of which few have found its shores. I have been to this New World and for the most part have travelled across it, visiting different places to try to understand its culture and its language, which is paradoxically different than our Old World.

Travelling back to the Old World with this knowledge of the New World, I have for the most part been accepted with confusion or derision at what I communicate of it. Even more so, I often get uncomfortable and somewhat angry stares at explaining the shortcomings of our Old World and how they can be alleviated in the New World.

So for the longest time, I’ve felt stuck between these two worlds, since people within the Old World, who I want to help, are evidently not ready to leave it. So no matter what you say, you are not going to get them to accept or believe in what you have to say…until they are ready and primed for this shift and change themselves.

Thus the feeling I’ve had for myself (and actually the change agent community online as a whole) is one in which we are continually travelling back and forth between these worlds but we haven’t been very successful in helping ferry people across to it, so as to help them avoid a painful journey.

Photo by Ricardo Resende on Unsplash.

Today I realized why. Today I realized that the obstacle isn’t out there, it’s within me. I’m the obstacle. Trying to persuade and convince people to change doesn’t solve anything. All it does is make them more resistant and adverse to change. So my actions are not only not helping others, they are not helping myself in trying to achieve my life’s work.

So what’s the answer to my dilemma then? It’s obvious, isn’t it, now that I actually see it. If I just stop rushing around and trying to “convert and save people” in the Old World, sounding like some “The End of the World is Here!” crazy person on the street, I’d see that over in the New World, if I just remain patient and observant, there are already people washing up upon its shores confused and alone.

These are the people I need to be helping because they don’t need convincing or persuading. There lives have already changed and are already still changing and they know it. They just can’t figure out what to do next because the common sense that they used within the Old World no longer works and makes sense within this New World. In effect, they now have to go through an arduous sense making process of figuring out how this New World works, just like I did.

So I need to be the very person that I was looking for when I first washed up upon the shores of this New World confused and alone so many years ago myself. What help and answers was I looking for then? What reassurances was I looking for? “No, you haven’t gone crazy. Yes, the world has changed. Yes, most people aren’t aware that it has changed. Yes, what you’re experiencing is completely normal even though it feels completely abnormal.”

So all said and done, it’s not about being in the Old World and trying to aggressively push people through The Portal to this New World. It’s about being patient within the New World and helping to pull people out of the waters upon the shores of it. In effect, I really don’t have to do anything. I just need to let nature takes its course and be aware of the signs of when someone “arrives” on its shores.


Thanking Our Self vs Fighting Our Self

This morning, while reading parts of Lisa Laskow Lahey and Robert Kegan’s Immunity to Change book, I was surprised by how it’s approach is remarkably similar to the Two Loops Model which is a theory of change by the Berkana Institute. What I mean by this is that there isn’t an emphasis on creating a conflict between the old and new system (i.e. seeing one as “bad” and the other “good”) but rather it’s about seeing each system as a natural part of a larger dynamic.

For example, in Immunity to Change, when one realizes that one’s “bad” behaviours are arising out a previous “good” (albeit now archaic) system which is trying defend and protect you (ie “save your life”), one’s perception suddenly changes towards these behaviours, recognizing and valuing them now for their previous “brilliant and highly effective” service.

So it’s not so much that we want to get rid of and discard the “valued service” of our previous identity and sense of self, which has helped us grow and evolve to where we are now, but rather we want to recode it, so it’s no longer working against us and impeding our further growth. Note that this directly correlates with what happens when one evolves to a higher stage of development. It’s not about getting rid of and discarding a previous stage but recoding it so that all attained stages to date can be maintained in a spectrum, allowing us to maintain different needs at different stages, while being open to further growth at the same time.

However, in some instances an immune system can threaten our continued good health. When it rejects new material, internal or external to the body, that the body needs to heal itself or to thrive, the immune system can put us in danger. In these instances the immune system is no less focused on protecting us. It is just making a mistake. It does not understand that it must alter its code. It does not understand that, ironically, in working to protect us, it is actually putting us at serious risk.

Immunity to Change

Actually now that I think about, this also remarkably reminds me of a Tiago Forte’s article on leveraging constraints, in particular this quote below.

The difficulty in applying this concept to individual learning is that, in this case, you are the system. It’s a little disconcerting being accelerated, turned inside out, and then sucked into an alternate dimension where everything you were sure was true is wrong. Or worse, irrelevant.

Tiago Forte, The Throughout of Learning


From Finding Answers To Finding Questions

Finding the questionable source of our creative ocean within our streams of thought.

For many years, I’ve kept reiterating that what brings people purposefully together aren’t answers but questions. That’s because these questions are like quests that bring a “company“ of people together, all adventuring for the same thing.

While reading more of How To Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens, it’s becoming more and more evident to me that this intuition I’ve had about questions forms the basis of one’s research or work, as described in the book.

In effect, most of what we connect with in our daily lives usually ties into an open question in our life that we’re trying to answer. Thus, when we bump into something during our journey, we compare it with one of these overarching questions (as Richard Feynman describes) to see if what we’ve found is meaningful and matters in trying to answer this specific question.

If what we’ve found is meaningful then we collect it as a step in our larger journey of trying to answer this question. What I’ve just described here is described as a sequence in terms of note taking within Sönke Ahrens’ book. In effect, it’s a stream or clustering of notes that all relate to something meaningfully important to you.

But the thing that is becoming so very evident to me is that instead of just doing the obvious which is getting excited when we find new information and knowledge that we can add to this stream, we need to also step back and immediately go beyond this as well.

Why? Because the thing to realize is that more often than not, a lot of these things we’re connecting with and collecting aren’t completely self-evident to us at first. More often than not, especially within my own life, they’ve just been a feeling or an intuition to follow. It’s only after I’ve explored them for a while, which requires trusting myself that this feeling will lead somewhere, that they finally reveal themselves to me (i.e. I never fully realized I was researching creativity until almost a decade after research “it”).

So all said and done, more and more I’m realizing that instead of continually looking downstream of my thoughts to see and find what will emerge as an answer, the greater importance is more to look upstream at its source to see and find what is the question that is producing this stream of thought in the first place.

Because more and more it feels like when I collectively understand these key questions that are producing these creative flows within my life, it will in turn help me understand how all of these streams of thought are connecting up and becoming an empowering larger river that eventually leads to an inspiring ocean and a new world of possibilities beyond it.


Understanding Yourself To Understand Others

How to evolve beyond our basic human fundamental needs and discover a whole new way of being.

Once you understand yourself, it’s very easy to understand everyone else. So easy because we’re actually not that different. We’re actually painfully quite ordinary. How our ordinariness and our trauma and our pain manifests is very different. But the root causes to why we act in the ways that we act often is insecurity. We want belonging. We want acceptance. Fundamental things to a human. If we are more understanding of at least ourselves, you know, it’s so hard to judge other people. 

Ayishat Akanbi, The Problem with Wokeness

BTW these basic “human fundamentals” she’s talking about mirror with what both Richard Barrett has been talking about for decades as The Values of Humanity and what Scott Barry Kaufman is now providing another perspective of (using a newer metaphor to help describe it to others, so they can relate to it more easily). What they’re talking about here are deficiency needs which were first revealed by Abraham Maslow. And if we can “rise above them“, we can finally have the opportunity to “open ourselves up” to our growth needs.

Maslow argued that all the needs can be grouped into two main classes of needs, which must be integrated for wholeness: deficiency and growth.

Deficiency needs, which Maslow referred to as “D-needs,” are motivated by a lack of satisfaction, whether it’s the lack of food, safety, affection, belonging, or self-esteem. The “D-realm” of existence colors all of our perceptions and distorts reality, making demands on a person’s whole being: “Feed me! Love me! Respect me!” The greater the deficiency of these needs, the more we distort reality to fit our expectations and treat others in accordance with their usefulness in helping us satisfy our most deficient needs. In the D-realm, we are also more likely to use a variety of defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from the pain of having such deficiency in our lives. Our defenses are quite “wise” in the sense that they can help us to avoid unbearable pain that can feel like too much to bear at the moment.

Nevertheless, Maslow argued that the growth needs—such as self-actualization and transcendence—have a very different sort of wisdom associated with them. Distinguishing between “defensive-wisdom” and “growth-wisdom,” Maslow argued that the Being-Realm of existence (or B-realm, for short) is like replacing a clouded lens with a clear one. Instead of being driven by fears, anxieties, suspicions, and the constant need to make demands on reality, one is more accepting and loving of oneself and others. Seeing reality more clearly, growth-wisdom is more about “What choices will lead me to greater integration and wholeness?” rather than “How can I defend myself so that I can feel safe and secure?”

Scott Barry Kaufman, Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization