During the past month, the entrepreneurs I mentor have each reported on, or have partaken in, "interpersonal meltdowns". Conversations broke down into outrage, hysterical intolerance and vicious attacks on other reasonable positions. These encounters appeared to have been arranged by fate, rather than personal decisions. There is a hidden lesson in these for the participants. They have given me much to ponder of late. Here's some of my reflections.
The ways we succeed in life are done without thinking. We're so good at our routines we can 'fly our sorties on autopilot". We internalize what worked repeatedly and stick to them without question. We assume from experience that any better idea is not really better. We are certain that any alternative must be less practical, not as effective, more costly, or more problematic. We know we're right about this because of our track record with succeeding.
These success routines target other people. We need some people to play our game. We find out early on that it takes a certain kind of person to play along. We develop a sixth sense about the condition of others that makes them ripe candidates for running our number on them. We figure out that those who don't play along are irrelevant to us.
Some of our success templates are designed to avoid failures. We get very good at not getting rejected, not looking incompetent, not getting blamed, not subjecting ourselves to domination or not being wrong. When running these routines, we are very compatible with others who are also avoiding failures in different ways. We feel equally plagued by adversity, under pressure to take more control of our lives and equally tormented by critics. We get along on the basis of this common feeling and different things to avoid. We sympathize and collude with others who face the world with similar stances and different aims.
"Succeeding at avoiding failure" is a survival strategy. It keeps us out of trouble but does not get us into good fortune. We limit ourselves to staying out of trouble, not getting into unfamiliar, but highly appropriate, opportunities. When it's time to break out of "playing it safe", "running from danger" and "merely surviving", all hell breaks loose. A meltdown occurs for our benefit.
I've become suspicious that the fateful encounter occurs with someone running the same routine. Both are avoiding the exact same thing (rejection, blame, appearing incompetent, etc.). Alarms are set off and hot buttons pushed by being so much alike. Having too much in common eliminates the balance. There's no way to compensate for each other's extremes because the inclination toward excess goes for the same goal in both.
Out of meltdowns come several better ideas that could not come to mind when survival strategies were succeeding just fine. There are ideas for succeeding in different ways, creating different games and targeting different people to play along. There are possibilities for turning to face what was being avoided by transforming the apparent threats into opportunities. There are also the realizations I shared yesterday about how success is always a given.