How do You Know?

The bulk of our knowledge, if not all of it, depends on other people.
Most of us, are busy raising families, working, being active in our community, or merely trying to survive.
We make moderate attempts to squeeze in information, of any sort, during our morning commutes, rushed lunches, and for an hour or two during the evenings.
Therefore, most of us have grown accustomed to using three mental shortcuts that give us the illusion of being informed:
  1. Consensus: the idea that if everyone agrees on something it’s probably true. 
  2. Proximity: the belief that in order to get to the truth we must trust the person as close to the source as possible
  3. Good Faith: the belief that on the whole most people aren’t trying to deceive or defraud us
If you think about the things you “know”, chances are the means by which you acquired the knowledge falls into one of the above three buckets. The challenge is that each of these buckets are becoming less and less reliable over time. 
Consensus – The House of Representatives voted 420:1 (98:0 in the Senate) in favor of going to war in Afghanistan in search of “weapons of mass destruction”. Turns out there weren’t any…
Proximity: In the spring of 2007, seven weeks before Bear Stearns began its slide toward oblivion, Jim Cramer, one of the most “well-respected” market analysts and host of CNBC’s Mad Money, told his audience to “Buy Bear Stearns”. “I just think that this one has a very big upside, very limited downside”, he continued. Further, on July 16th Cramer proclaimed that the subprime “lending thing” was “completely meaningless”. Nearly a month later Bear Stearns failed and the US economy slid into its greatest recession ever, largely due to the subprime “lending thing”.
Good Faith:  The recent decade of scandals in the Catholic Church speak for themselves. 
The list goes on. The most recent is evidence that largely shows that the Standford Prison Experiment, the most famous experiment in the history of psychology, was a hoax.
You can’t trust consensus because it can be horribly and violently wrong.
You can’t trust those with the closest proximity to the issue in question because proximity can blind them as much, if not more, than the distance.  
You can’t simply assume good faith, particularly from our institutions and the powerful elites that run them. Progress is dependent on a productive and dynamic tension between institutions and insurrection. 
So what’s the solution?
A change in posture.
Recognizing that no one knows the answer and as such, every interaction should be approached with a generous heart and an open mind.
An empowerment to question authority, think independently and challenge the status quo.
Most importantly, humility.
The more we know, the less we realize how in the dark we truly are.
There’s a false clarity that comes from the amassing of knowledge. 

I Have a Question.

Inquiry, not imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

We are the questions we ask.

It’s how we connect.

It’s how we tell our stories.

Enduring relationships are impossible without inquiry.

The what, the how, and the why of our partners day is the glue that binds couples together.

Inquiry allows us to get in touch with our fears.

It’s how we realize that there is, in fact, nothing in the universe to fear.

Without inquiry, how would you know what you are interested in?

What you care about?

What your passions are?

How would you begin to understand morality?

Or realize that there really is no such thing as “right” or “wrong”.

How do you know who you are, without asking the question “who am I”?

Without it, it is impossible to figure out what we want to become or to realize that we already are that which we want to become.

Incomprehensible to understand where we and the stories that define us come from.

A lack of inquiry leaves your mind shacked by the illusion of duality.

You become a slave to the narrative and goals of our capitalist culture.

Without inquiry, there is no independent thinking.

Without independent thinking, there is no freedom.

But then again, what does freedom really mean?

On whose terms?

Under what circumstances?

In what location?

Are we really free?

Now that’s a question worth asking…

My First Spring.

Spring is beautiful but it helps fuel the illusion of “disruptive” change.
One day we look up and all of the trees have blossomed.
It’s green everywhere.
It’s an illusion because to most it appears as if the changes literally happened overnight.
In general, that tends to be the narrative around change in our culture.
The startup that disrupts an industry overnight.
The outbreak of crime in a certain area.
The [fill in the blank] epidemic, which appeared “out of nowhere”.
Yet, nothing changes overnight.
Often, we fail to realize that the flowers and trees have been blooming since the day the first leaf fell during that previous October.
Change happens drip by drip.
It’s gradual and it is literally always happening – you are changing ever so slightly as you read this post.
Change is typically so gradual that we are mostly oblivious to the changes happening to us and around us every day.
Instead, we wake up one day and we ask how did I get here?
How did this happen?
What happened to those relationships that were important?
What happened to my happiness?
What happened to my relationship with my wife?
What happened to my kids?
How did I gain this weight?
The only way to prevent this is to notice.
To learn how to see.
Learning how to see is our life’s task.
We must learn to see the change around us.
In order to do this, we must first slow down.
We must put the phone down.
Turn off the TV.
We must learn how to be present.
Present to those we care about.
Present to how our decisions are impacting ourselves and those around us.
Present to nature.
2018 is my first spring.
This spring I have personally been amazed by the beauty of nature.
Amazed how the tree in my backyard has gone from barren to full of life and beauty.
It’s led me to reflect on how many springs I have been blind to over the last 29 years.
I’ve spent the last 29 years barely noticing the changing of the seasons.
Only stopping to note the really hot or really cold day.
Ignoring the transparent foliage of the winter, that transforms into an impenetrable mass in the depths of the summer.
Missing out on so much beauty.
So much wonder.
So much of the unexplainable.
Yet, the beauty of learning to see is that once you see something, once you experience it for all that it is, you can never unsee it again.
Further, you realize that it’s been with you this entire time.
What can be said of nature, can also be said of life.
You can’t find and realize the greatness and beauty of your life if you aren’t looking for it.
And once you see it, once you experience it for all that it is, the essence and beauty of life never leaves you.
It has always been with you.
You merely just hadn’t noticed it yet.

There’s a Big Mac in my Milkshake

Systems by their nature seek consistency.
They seek to block the noise that may compromise the outcome that the system was built to produce.
They are developed to produce outputs that meet spec.
A continual turning of the ratchet to eliminate waste.
Ultimately, they are designed to produce outcomes or outputs that are average by their very definition.

Our culture has done a great job of optimizing and further optimizing systematic processes.
Lean six sigma.
Just in Time manufacturing.

However, the problem with this systematic industrial mindset occurs when we try to apply it in other contexts, without questioning if the system helps us achieve our desired outcome or an outcome that is in our best long-term interest, which often can also be two entirely different objectives in themselves.

Too many companies apply this systematic thinking to their talent development process.

They have systematic programs that create managers like a machine.
A formulaic approach to produce the desired outcome.
An approach not very different from Henry Ford’s assembly line.
And the reason this approach to talent development exist is that it’s easy.
It makes it easy for us to ignore people.
Easy to not care.
Easy to not have to make exceptions for someone that makes our life a little more difficult.
It allows us to ignore people.
Ignore the ones that are “better”.
Ignore the ones that don’t meet the “standard”.

You already know where this is going…
When you approach talent development like an assembly line, you get assembly line results.
You get consistency.
You minimize the variance.
You increase predictability.
You get AVERAGE employees and managers that produce AVERAGE results.

Want to see this in practice in today’s economy?
Go to a McDonald’s.
Buy a milkshake and a Big Mac.
Eat half of the Big Mac.
Drink half the milkshake.
Put the other half of the Big Mac in your milkshake.
Walk up to the counter and say to the employee behind the counter “I can’t drink this milkshake. There’s a Big Mac in it.”
He will give you your money back.
Why?
Because it’s easier for McDonald’s to give someone $3 than it is to train and trust the person at the cash register to be a manager.
To act like an owner.

If your default as a business leader in today’s market is to rely on the system or your companies leadership development program to produce the best talent, you’re setting your business up for mediocrity at best.
These formalized programs ignore the standouts.
Ignored standouts go to places where they won’t be ignored.
The underperformers get lost in the shuffle.
Leaving most organizations with an average group of people that will inherently produce average results.
If that’s your goal, great.

If not, instead, leaders must continually ask themselves, how am I making sure my best and worse employees are getting the optimal experience?
Leaders must be curious about how each employee defines their optimal experience.
How fast do they want to move?
What do they want to learn?

The key is to realize that everyone is on a spectrum.
Average or a systematic approach to talent development is an illusion and merely laziness.
To be effective one must embrace the fact that no one is average.
Systems built for the average only maintain the status quo.
They breed mediocrity.
They fuel the dog and pony show.
Worst of all, they give us the illusion that we are doing something.

However, as employees and individuals with aspirations to be managers and business leaders, if we want to insist that we are different.
That we are in fact not average.
That we are not just merely cogs in the wheel.
We must take ownership.
We must show up.
Show up and keep showing up.
We need to level up.
We need to bring a different voice, different thoughts.
We must choose to contribute.
The wanting to not be average part is easy.

What’s After Abundance?

Better.

Our culture doesn’t need more, we need better.

Better leaders,

teammates,

institutions,

language,

ideas,

myths,

heroes,

metrics,

data,

hobbies,

food,

incentives,

mental models,

ways to connect,

stories,

governance,

ways to contribute.

 

Not on the list 

Money

Status

Reality tv

Sports

Advertising

Material things

For most of us, every day begins with a quest for more. We’re all in pursuit of something—ways to amplify our reach, grow our influence or increase our wallets.

However, the pursuit of more often leads us down a blind hallway towards the dead ends we are trying to avoid.

In a world where it’s easy to be cheaper and faster than the competition, more is no longer a competitive advantage – affinity is.

We each have a choice in this matter. We don’t have to operate with the default setting that always, and without question, greedily pays homage to the metric of more.

In a world of abundance, our culture needs better, not more.