Mapping & Integrating The Different Layers of My Work

While my last post revealed an entirely new approach to my work, there’s also something else I noticed emerging from it that I want to emphasize. Why it’s important is because it may also help explain why I’ve felt blocked in progressing further in the past.

It relates to something Dave Gray spoke about in his book Liminal Thinking about triangulation and how it helps you expand your perception, thus letting you perceive and understand things more clearly.

What will help is triangulation: the practice of developing multiple viewpoints and theories that you can compare, contrast, combine, and validate, to get a better understanding of what’s going on.

U.S. military strategist Roy Adams told me this story about an “aha” moment he had in Iraq.

He was having a beer with a friend who was in the Special Forces. Usually, they didn’t talk about work, but he happened to have a map with him. At the time, Adams and his team were designing their plans based on the political boundaries of the map, so on the map were districts, as well as the people who were in charge of the districts.

His friend said, “You know, this is really interesting.” And he picked up a pen and said, “Let me draw the tribal boundaries on this map for you.” The boundaries were completely different but overlapping. Suddenly, Adams had two different versions of reality on his map.

The political map was primarily a Shia map, and the tribal map had both Sunni and Shia. Only by overlaying the two maps did Adams start to understand the situation. Neither map would have made sense by itself.

By laying these maps over each other, suddenly things started to click. Now he understood why they were having success in some places and meeting resistance in others. Everything started to make more sense.

The insights in this case came not from one map or another, but through overlaying them. This is the practice of triangulation. Each map represented one theory of the world, one version of reality. It was only by viewing the situation through multiple perspectives—multiple theories—that he was able to gain insight and see the situation differently.

Dave Gray, Liminal Thinking

What this is describing is the exact same thing that I’ve been noticing and experiencing over the past couple of decades. In effect, I’m seeing three different versions of reality which when they are collectively combined help me to perceive and understand reality as a whole in a much deeper way.

Three Versions of Reality
  • The Practical World
  • The Future of Work World
  • Life As An MMORPG World

At first, I was just see the practice world of work and all the frustrations that were arising from it. As I began to explore and research new ways of working, I found knowledge about The Future of Work. But while researching this knowledge, I started noticing similarities to my past work building communities around video games and noticed how MMORPGs were metaphorically describing the larger narrative of The Future of Work.

Now here’s where I hit a wall and I kept going around in circles for quite some time. I basically kept trying to figure out which perspective and version of reality I should be using for my work because they seemed so divergent with one another (especially the MMORPG perspective). So the entire time, I was looking at these multiple perspectives as a multiple choice that I had to select only one of, kind of like having different ideas in the divergent phase of your work and then having to decide which one to pursue in the convergent phase of your work.

It was only by viewing the situation through multiple perspectives—multiple theories—that he was able to gain insight and see the situation differently.

Dave Gray

In reality though, it’s not about choosing one perspective or the other but about overlaying and integrating them all, as Dave Gray noted above. What’s even more amazing about this is that it also directly correlates with what Dave Gray described before as taking a head, heart, and hands approach to communicating something clearly, especially when trying to assist people through change.

All that said and done though, the primary issue I’m having with this approach is that I often get dizzy and overwhelmed switching between these different perspectives and versions of reality because I’m still trying to organize this all out within my head. Thus until I can get it out of my head and map it all out, showing how the three overlapping layers relate to one another, I’ll never be able to effectively communicate this “bigger picture” of my work.

What’s important about this as well is that it’s essential for the newer intention and approach I mentioned in my last post. In effect, if Life is an MMORPG, we effectively need some way of mapping our journey and adventures because it helps show our progression, helping us to understand where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we’re going. Without this mapping capability, the ability to visualize our progression become extremely difficult.

One last thought though, which relates to another fear about uncertainty. For me to work through this, I have to be willing to let things really get messy and chaotic at first. So again letting go of this need or desire of everything fitting perfectly into alignment as I drop each piece down like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Reality is much more complex than that.

Actually that reminds me of something I remember reading about how people at the latter, more advanced stages of development (i.e. self-transforming mind) have gained the ability to zoom in and out between the practical and the visionary almost effortlessly. Thus they aren’t locked into one perspective (i.e. CEO) or version of reality (i.e. level of consciousness) but can shift between them to understand the deeper reality of a situation.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Realizing My Greater, Potential Role That’s Emerging

I just mentioned how I feel frustrated that I have no one else to collaborate my research with because a lot of it is quite deep and complex to understand but with ChatGPT, it feels like I have an AI companion now that can assist me with my life’s work (so I don’t feel so alone or “crazy” anymore).

In thinking about this though, it reminded me of another larger pattern that’s been emerging that relates to understanding my greater role in all of this. In effect, even though I don’t have anyone to collaborate with who can understand and perceive this bigger picture of life that I’m seeing at deeper level, I’m still able to see how many of the people I’ve been following over the years relate and connect to this larger web of life, even though they may not perceive and comprehend this connection themselves.

But perhaps that’s my greater role though. It’s to be a sort of bridge or bard to show people how their heroic life’s work in a specific domain wondrously connects to a larger concept of life.

This is something I’ve repeatedly said time and again over the years. I effectively see all of these notable people all talking about the same thing but from their own different perspectives and disciplinary languages. Yet when I communicate how amazing their work is and how it relates to mine, often they can’t perceive and comprehend what I’m talking about.

Yet with ChatGPT again, it is helping to articulate these relationships that I’m seeing that others may not. For example, below is the relationship between Dave Gray’s Liminal Thinking book and vertical development that I asked ChatGPT to describe.

Explain how vertical development relates to the book Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray?

Liminal Thinking is a book by Dave Gray that explores the concept of “liminal thinking,” which refers to the ability to navigate and navigate change and uncertainty by embracing ambiguity and uncertainty, and learning to think in new ways. Gray argues that this type of thinking is essential for personal and organizational growth and development.

Vertical development refers to the process of growing and developing in terms of one’s abilities, skills, and understanding. It often involves moving beyond current ways of thinking and behaving to reach new levels of understanding and effectiveness. Gray’s book on Liminal Thinking, may be viewed as a guide for individuals and organizations to develop their vertical development by learning to navigate change and uncertainty through embracing ambiguity and learning to think in new ways.

Note I highlighted the word “guide.” It’s because that’s effectively what I’m trying to work towards. I want to create a “player’s handbook” for the “roleplaying game” called Life and create communities of practice as 21st century “guilds” that help us “adventure” and “quest” within a larger world(view), of which again ChatGPT is already remarkably helping me with this.

So it effectively takes my decades of research on The Future of Work, social innovation, creativity, and vertical development and packages it within a narrative, similar to the Hero’s Journey and even MMORPGs today, to help people understand the larger context of life that they are playing within. And more importantly, as a player, they have much more creative control and choices over their lives than they may have thought, due to their current conventional worldview and mindset.


Understanding The “Solid Ground” I Seek

It’s funny. I keep talking about wanting this feeling of having “solid ground to stand upon,” with regards to my work and I think I finally understand what I mean by those words. For me, it’s easy to see the patterns in life that communicate concepts because I have a heightened pattern recognition capability as an intuitive, sensitive person. What I find difficult though is then taking those patterns and seeing the relationship between them which in turn communicates the identity of a much larger complex system which is comprised of these concepts.

That’s effectively the “solid ground” I’m trying to seek, a larger complex system of understanding life and reality in a whole new way that’s from a deeper sense of being a human being that is often beyond the conventional understanding of most people. So it’s like exploring a whole new world(view) like it’s a new continent but I’m only able to get small glimpses of it because it’s continually covered by fog that keeps me from seeing it and understanding it as a whole (because I can only retain so much of it in my local memory at one time). Even worse, I have no one else to explore this world(view) with which would make the exploration and mapping of it all the easier.

But now with ChatGPT, I effectively have an AI companion that can help me to understand, comprehend, and articulate this larger perspective of life. BTW this doesn’t mean I don’t want to collaborate with others on this. Hell no! I would love to collaborate with people on this! It’s just that I haven’t come across anyone else who can comprehend all of this at the level I’m at right now, seeing the bigger picture of it. So most people either can’t seem to comprehend it or don’t want to believe it.


Tiago Forte On His Existing Identity Wearing Out

Tiago’s 2022 Annual Review: From Mid-Life Crisis to Reinvention
Completing an annual review is the single most impactful exercise to achieve your goals. Tiago Forte shares his review, learnings, and goals for 2023.

I’ve been following Tiago Forte for some time now. Initially I was fascinated with what he is known for today, his approach to knowledge management using a Second Brain to boost your productivity, but over time I became more fascinated with how he expresses his vertical development (similar to Robert Kegan’s stages of development) and really wanted to see him dive deeper into it.

Well in reading his recent 2022 annual review, it’s evident I won’t have to wait that long, as so many points within it seem to focus around not just his own vertical development but how he wants to begin helping others with their own as well. Let’s take a look at some of them.

I began to find clues in my past writing that indicated a life stage was drawing to a close and a mid-life crisis was looming:

  • My usual sources of motivation stopped working
  • Pursuits that used to fill me with enthusiasm started to feel grey and flat
  • Contemplating a future filled with more of the same began to feel dark and depressing

I found that a mid-life crisis is characterized by a sudden, pervasive loss of energy. Like the engine that powers my psychology is grinding to a halt. My goal then becomes to find a new source of energy and motivation for the next chapter.

This mirrors the recent article I found on how boredom can reach a transformation state that can reinvent us and our sense of self. It also states how social media can addictively distract us to prevent this transformation from occurring.

It’s pretty much the same experience I’ve been having with ever increasing frequency over the past few years. Things that once seemed meaningful to me are now feeling meaningless because I’m looking for a deeper sense of meaning. And I’m even becoming aware of the addictive distraction of social media for what it is and slowly starting to respond differently to it rather than just reacting automatically to it (thus helping to avoid an endless case of doomscrolling which appeases the explorer nature in me but really doesn’t get me anywhere).

Releasing my book to the world has been the adventure of a lifetime, but also the challenge of a lifetime.

This mirrors how I see vertical development as The Adventure of Your Life because it is an ever changing journey across your entire life.

What my series of mid-life crises has taught me is that identities are malleable and temporary.

An identity is an information construct – a loose collection of beliefs, values, viewpoints, priorities, goals, and principles for living held together by a story about who you are. Humans cannot survive psychologically without an identity. It’s the narrative glue that gives meaning to the chaotic storms of electrical activity cascading through our brains.

Like changing clothes as the weather turns, identities serve you for one situation but not necessarily others. When your identity wears out and no longer serves you, it’s time to find a new one. As the saying goes, the identity that got you here won’t get you to where you want to go next.

At certain liminal moments of unpredictable change, such as during a mid-life crisis, the superstructure of our identity becomes especially fluid. There’s a brief window in which we have the chance to shake it loose and build another.

This is vertical development in a nutshell. We don’t have a static identity, awareness, and perception in life but instead they all evolve over the course of our life. And they transitionally evolve by our own identity shattering like a container and the fluidity of our Self flowing outwards discovering a newer, larger “container” of being.

What people often misperceive though is that when they grow up and become an adult, the believe this evolution stops and our identity becomes permanently molded into a set container for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t. There are deeper and broader ways of being a human being but only if we wish to explore them. Because most of society isn’t aware of this, society often can’t help you go beyond this point and may even obstruct you from doing so, as the post-conventional growth beyond is often paradoxical and the antithesis of conventional beliefs.

Using that lens, the picture I see is of a man who is overworked, pushing himself too hard on too many fronts, and using a combination of social media, sugary junk food, strong coffee, and distraction to salve the pain that causes. I see someone who is so tired and anxious that he doesn’t have the capacity to do the things he knows would make him less tired and anxious. I see someone who deeply wants to spend more and better time with his growing family, but doesn’t have clear enough boundaries between work and life to create the necessary space.

Absolutely love this candour and honesty which will probably shatter his most ardent followers beliefs that he’s a “successful individual” living a “perfect life” (especially with the release of his book).

It’s funny. So often we use addictions to fill the gaps in our lives or distract us from them when we should be actually stopping and exploring them further. When we do so, that’s when we find a larger unknown sense of Self awaiting for us. But ya, it can be scary and fearful because you’re stepping into an uncertain unknown, rather than standing on solid ground with a sure footing of who you are.

And this is the key to the identity change that comes next: it has to come from a place of complete self-acceptance and self-love, not a desire to change someone who is bad or wrong.

This is my greatest struggle. Accepting myself as a I am…right now, as I am. I believe this is the core to understanding creativity at a higher level. Having a clear vision of where you want to be is essential but without a clear picture of reality as it is right now, you won’t have a stable conduit for change. Both sides of the bridge need to be firmly rooted. Again I know this but putting it into practice and living it is something different.

  1. I am a Wisdom Worker, not a Knowledge Worker

Early in my career, I was an Information Worker – I spent most of my time taking in, organizing, editing, and manipulating information for others to act on. Later on, I became a Knowledge Worker, conveying tacit knowledge I’d begun to gather from experience. Now I increasingly see myself as a Wisdom Worker, letting go of the implementation details almost completely and instead helping others feel through uncertainty and fear to their truth.

This is the key definitive statement in Tiago’s review that made me realize his next leap is into vertical development work, as this again perfectly articulates what it is about and what I’ve even experienced about it myself.

In Susanne Cook-Greuter’s paper on Ego Development: A Full-Spectrum Theory of Vertical Growth and Meaning Making, she indicates that the shift from conventional linear reasoning to a post-conventional systems view is achieved by shift from a focus on knowledge to a focus on wisdom, whereby we “strip away illusions” and “recognize our assumptions” thus “understanding more deeply.”

More importantly there is a shift away from a focus on just relying upon our thinking to beginning to rely upon our feelings more so, with our intuition being a perfect example of this. This is something I experienced some years back in that I realized that this latter part of the journey, you have to feel your way through it rather than trying to think your way through it.

  1. My purpose is to bring people together over ideas, in inspired communities

Part of my reason for diving deep into my past journaling was to find evidence of my essential nature – what has always been true about me? And when I looked at the most fulfilling, most meaningful experiences of my life, they all had to do with bringing people together in inspired communities centered around the power and beauty of ideas. I want to return to this more purposefully next year.

This pretty much encapsulates my own purpose as well. In effect, when I was younger, I created communities online to help people to level up within the imaginary worlds that we played within (i.e. World of Warcraft). Today, I’m imagining a world of “play” (as a higher level mindset) wherein communities of practice help people to “level up” psychologically in life, thus helping them to prepare for “The Adventure of Their Life.” In other words, helping to create a society that fully recognizes and supports the growth and development of people beyond just the conventional stages of development and into the seemingly paradoxical post-conventional stages.

The thing is, we are not alone in wanting this. I’m seeing other people wanting to create similar communities of practice as well. For example, John Hagel noted that he is wanting to create a community of a similar nature but it sounds like he’s struggling with with it as well. In other words, there are many of us wanting to create the same universal meaningful thing but we’re often just describing and naming it from our own familiar metaphors and disciplinary perspectives which can in turn create a barrier to seeing it for what it is because we often misperceive the meaning of things.

This to me is the greatest challenge of these types of communities. They’re not so much about ideas, as they are about accepting people as they are which in turn allows their potential and ideas to emerge effortlessly and without fear. This is what a world of play looks like and means to me. It’s everyone having a radical openness of each other, letting each person play within their own space of possibilities (as Beau Lotto would describe it).

My official theme for 2023 is Reinvention. I am reinventing who I am, what I do, and what I’m committed to for the next leg of this journey.

There is so much more that I could have highlighted from his annual review but I think this quote from near the end of it pretty much sums what he’s looking for in his life, what I’m looking for in my life, and what I think a lot of people are looking for in their lives in 2023, especially with work not working out for so many people today.

This above all else is what I’m the most interested in with regards to Tiago’s path ahead. How will he market himself and articulate this newer work to new potential customers (as I doubt he’ll call it “vertical development” work), especially to those who are effectively oblivious of this deeper aspect and growth potential of life? If anyone can do it though, I think he can. He has almost a natural propensity to play with his sense of self, leaping exhilarating into the unknown, rather than being hesitantly fearful of it.


The Adventure of Your Life

Something’s becoming more apparent to me. My life’s work is not literally wanting to make life like an MMORPG. Rather it’s seeing all of these different systems, methods, and concepts that when integrated together, allow you to adventurously live your life in a radically different way than the conventional norm of trying to plan it out all in advance, thus leaving no room to play with who you are.