Category Archives: Relationships

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson

Last week someone shared with me a wonderful poem, “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson.

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

Context: We were discussing a phenomenon that I call the “willful confusion mindset,” which is a kind of cognitive learned helplessness where a person seems to deliberately seek obstacles to comprehension when it comes to a particular matter. This is something that workshop facilitators can face due to external factors beyond their control — politics, personalities, etc. — in and among the participants that they work with. Facilitators are also capable of triggering this state in participants if they push the wrong psychological threat/reward buttons. That’s the part I was trying to figure out.

Hence the poem.

I loved the poem so much I decided to share it with others.

One person asked, “I don’t understand this poem. Why don’t they just cover up the hole?”

Why, indeed.

What purpose does the hole serve, especially for those who seem to be stuck in chapter two?

Postscript

There are other people walking down the street, too.  Some are moving in different directions, some are operating in a later chapter, some in an earlier chapter. Some are repeating a lesson previously learned and some are just taking a break, reflecting in a private space of their own making.

All of these people have the potential to help or hinder each other as individuals… and also have the potential to coalesce or disband as an impromptu collective that will work (or not) through its own series of chapters, at a larger scale.

Not only does the sidewalk provide more than one path from A to B., but it is also a dynamic, fractal landscape.

 

Adam Grant: A Giver and an Original… and a Generalist?

Adam Grant OriginalsAdam Grant’s new book is coming out this month and it already looks like a best seller… and not just because of the amazing marketing machine that is already in place.  This guy is on fire.
Grant’s style combines the rigor of research with a semi-autobiographical tone that is compelling and enlightening. On a more personal level, Grant is teaching me important lessons in my exploration of the generalist mindset and how it relates to patterns of success or failure in the contemporary economy.

 

Adam Grant Give and TakeHis previous book, Give and Take  looked at different reciprocity styles and strategies.  His new book, Originals  discusses themes of creativity and nonconformity… with perhaps a dash of novelty-seeking / openness-to-experience traits. Grant is plumbing the depths of under-appreciated aspects of human personality — more technical details on that below.

Givers in a Taker’s World, Generalists in a Specialist’s World

Adam Grant is a Giver, an Original, and a Generalist.  He seems to live the values (and struggles) of the Givers he describes in his earlier book, and very likely, exhibits many of the tendencies of the Originals showcased in his new book. Certainly the being a magician part. He also seems to characterize the mindset and skillset of a highly successful generalist.

Back in late 2008, during the long tail of the global financial crisis, I was talking to an investment banker named Fred.  I told him I was researching the subject of “the relative career success of generalists versus specialists” in a world of hyper-specialization and rapid change (a long-standing fascination – nay, obsession — of mine).

Here’s what Fred said:

“Yes, we live in a hyperspecialist age, but as a result, generalists can be overpaid or underpaid.”

Fred elaborated that there are circumstances where it’s not good to be a specialist. He asserted that being a generalist is a matter of disposition… and therefore inescapable. He later noted that having a generalist mindset can also be the result of one’s education style.

Fred’s language of “overpaid or underpaid” struck a chord in me at the time.

What separates unsuccessful generalists from successful generalists?  Especially in an economy that seeks to perfectly compensate “perfect fit” specialists for each and every function?

Another way of phrasing the question: What’s the difference between a wannabe Malcolm Gladwell from an actual Malcolm Gladwell?

…apart from Outlier circumstances and the embracing of a specialty (aka the 10,000 hour rule)?

Short answer:  It’s about having the right mix of Conscientiousness and Openness to Experience.

Longer answer:  It’s kind of like Adam Grant’s successful versus unsuccessful Givers… and very likely something to do with his Originals.

Personal Tendencies + Adaptive Strategies

In Givers & Takers, after giving props to Robert Benchley and his Law of Distinction, Grant proceeds to define a proposed “reciprocity style” spectrum between “giving” and “taking,” with “matching” somewhere in between.   He then goes on to show how the Givers occupy the bottom and the top of the career ladder.

Grant notes that while Givers at the bottom get walked over, there are a few things they can do to enable themselves to make it to the top without sacrificing their natural tendency to give. As they approach the top of the ladder, people will tend to root for them and push them even higher.  Structurally this resembles the following:

(values-or-temperament-based trait) + (skill-based behavior) = (outcome)

or

PERSONALITY + STRATEGY = WIN

Thank you Adam.    This potentially answers my conundrum about generalists vs. specialists which Fred characterized as “overpaid or underpaid.”

It’s more than just luck, circumstances, talent or IQ. My hypothesis is that, just like Grant’s Givers, generalists have a temperament at keeps them at the bottom due to the often unforgiving nature of business.

However, generalists can also occupy the top tier of organizations, especially when they adopt the right strategies and develop certain skills.  Also, part of it is about moving across the generalist-specialist spectrum and becoming an Eclectic.

I suspect some of the winning skills and strategies for generalists will be mentioned in Grant’s about-to-be released book, Originals. I also suspect that his notion of an “Original” may be a closely related concept to my beloved “Eclectic” type. We shall see.

Finally, according to some personality research studies there is a troubled relationship between high Conscientiousness and high Openness-to-Experience.  My view is that learning to turn on or off obsessive focus by pairing it (or decoupling it, as needed) with distracted curiosity is the key to building an eclectic and useful portfolio of expertise.

For those who identify with being an Original, an Eclectic, an Eccentric, or even just a run-of-the-mill Creative, understanding and mitigating these personality and behavioral distinctions can make all the difference between frustration and fulfillment.

 Adam Grant vs. the BFF (Big Five Factors)

From a bigger picture perspective, Grant is a high functioning generalist who is exploring a series of under-appreciated aspects of human personality.

To phrase it in Five Factor Model of human personality terms, his first book  and related stories of “Powerless Communication” describe behavioral strategies characterized by high levels of Agreeableness. His recent New York Times article, “Why I Taught Myself to Procrastinate,”(cf.  wandering and letting things stew), draws out the relative merits of low Conscientiousness… and provides a direct lead-in to his new book that pokes around some corners of the domain of Openness to Experience.

As of this moment, Adam Grant’s marketing bio says he “specializes in building productive cultures of generosity and originality.” Let’s wait and see his niche expand further. Will the book he writes in about 2-3 years shine a light into the adaptive goldmines of low Extroversion and high Neuroticism? Or have those mountains been stripped bare already by others? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, it’s wonderful to read and be inspired by this arch-generalist who has mastered and braided for himself an eclectic and intertwining set of skills, interests and domains of expertise.

Photo essay: Breaking the Dam

1-IceDam-Roof-Gutter-Mansard-Dormer

Underneath the dreamy pleasure of sunny freeze-thaw icicles trimming a snow-laden roof, there lays the nightmarish pain of ice dams and massive interior water damage.

2-Ice-Damage

Sharp, sparkling rows of glass stalactites may look ornate and perfect, but to be managed well, they require a firm hand. The dam must be broken.

3-1-Icicle-Trim-Strip

3-2-Ice-Damage-Strip

Dam –  n. – A large reservoir of stuff trapped inside a person’s psyche: ideas, energy, and aspirations; concerns, criteria and conditions; wants, desires and passions. Normally these feed in and flow out reliably. However from time to time the floodgate gets frozen shut and a self-reinforcing build-up occurs. As the blockage persists, intervention becomes increasingly necessary.

4-Ice-Dam-Corner

The first rule of being an Ice Dam Master (or Mistress):  At first, you will fail.  You will not completely subdue the ice dam. You will also cause physical damage to the building and possibly to yourself as the intervener.

6-Hammer-Dont-Hurt-Em

This does not diminish you – in fact it provides you with the starting point of your credibility. Know that the vast majority of people won’t even step up and try their hand. They’ll call you crazy, but pay them no heed. The title ‘Master’ is one that is continually earned, continually improved upon.

5-Ice-Hammer

There is a difference between being ‘dominant’ and being ‘domineering.’   The icy core of confidence is a deep sense of humility and fearlessness. True confidence is a big part of that difference.

There is also the critical difference of having compassion and a purpose that is greater than yourself. A compassionate, purposeful focus on others makes (almost) all the difference.

8-Hammered-Ice-Dam

As you sculpt the ice and strip away its unnecessary blockages,

know that it does those things for you, too.

9-Ice-Dan

Dear Internet — Six Things I Admire (and Dislike) About You

(#25 and #26 of 27 — a synthesis of two posts: one was overly ironic, one was overly vague, but both had excellent visuals)

Sandstone-PhotoEssayPepTalk-2

Dear Internet,

We’ve been together in this relationship for quite a while and let’s face it, it’s complicated.

I’m writing this letter to let you know how much appreciate everything you do for me — both the good and the bad — and what I intend to do about it.

1. You provide endless resources and support to my quest of constant learning. Sometimes this is a distraction but mostly it is a good thing. By putting undiscovered worlds of knowledge at my fingertips, you help me think and work like a polymath. As I integrate and extend my central nervous system into you, the extent of my repertoire becomes limited only by my imagination. I want to further improve the quality of my integration with you.

Instant-Learning-Gratification

2. You provide endless streams of inane and meaningless novelty and tempt me constantly with click-bait designed to rob me of my precious time and attention. This is a useless distraction. That said, nobody is immune from stodgy comfortable thinking habits and you offer a source of fresh ideas and perspectives. I will choose to see this aspect of you as just another way to keep myself young in spirit, and to keep my repertoire dynamic and relevant. But I will sip sparingly from your ocean of distracted drivel.

shark jump

3. You enable me to move and sift more quickly through vast amounts of information. In a span of mere minutes, I can go from having understanding to achieving insight, and from achieving insight to unlocking foresight. As I do this however, my mammalian pack rat habits cause me accumulate a cluttered landscape of open browser tabs on my screens and in my subconscious. I become bloated with unresolved notes and suspended ideas. This is not your problem — it’s mine. Every day I’m getting better at managing the vital balance of creative clutter and zen-like simplicity.

fat cat on couch

4. You hamper me with vast amount of misinformation and dubious content. I  can waste hours trying to sort the signal from the noise, and more of than not I just don’t bother trying. I will choose to see this as a reminder and test  to maintain my critical thinking skills, and to guard against the temptation of lazy thinking. As much as I’ve outsourced parts of my brain to the cloud, I can’t ever delegate my faculty for judgement and discernment.

liar

5. You are on all the time — 24x7x365.25 — and tempt me to be on with you. This pulls me away from being present with the people are important to me, the people who I love. Since that is unacceptable, I’ve already limited how much of my life you get to be a part of. I also ignore you for days at a stretch. In fairness, you do ask me about my friends and loved ones and even provide opportunities for me to interactive with them, but it’s on your terms and in your space. I would trust you more if you encouraged me to spend time with them in the real world. There are parts of you, Internet, that are more aligned with my interests and I will seek to connect with those parts.

maya and kristen dancingI know that we’re both still growing and evolving. Even as I’ve barely scratched the surface of your being, I see how rapidly you are changing. This is a source of inspiration and provides some of the fuel for my own continued development.

Thank you, Internet… and ttyl,

D

Timing is anything

(#22 of 27, a collage and re-assembly of elements from a post from last year on the importance of choosing the right timing to make a strong effort, and the importance of a strong effort to making the timing right)

Yesterday I wrote about bluffing, bourbon and brotherly love. Today under the blanket of a blizzard I’ll briefly continue with the love theme, tie it back to the concept of time and add in a dash of mysticism…

Blizzard Window Triptych

Falling in love — love of any kind, being, thing, idea or person — is a conscious effort.*

The exertion of love creates something like a field of gravity or energy. When delivered with just the right amount of effort, it’s a force that seems to slow down time… and bend space.

Blizzard Sliding Door Glare 1

A strong effort driven by love will, all by itself, open up tiny windows of opportunity and turn them into doorways of fortune.

Blizzard Sliding Door Glare

It’s never too late and it’s never too early.  It’s just a matter of focusing the energy into those little blips of timing that keep presenting themselves.  Blip.  There goes one.  Blip. Nearly missed it.

Blizzard Window Horiz Blinds

By seeing the available window and leaping through it, the Wizard arrives precisely when he means to.

%d bloggers like this: