Transforming desires to eliminate baggage

When our desires get blocked or sabotaged by our emotional baggage, we assume our desires are right. We make our baggage wrong for opposing our "noble and highly respectable" desires. We figure there can be nothing wrong with our desires that will improve our image, get more approval from others and even help out somebody else. It makes no sense how our baggage seeks to trash our image, get more disapproval from others or act completely selfish. Our baggage appears irrational. illogical and anti-social.

Once we get where our baggage is coming from, this self-righteous outlook toward our desires gets transformed. We realized our baggage compensates for tainted desires. We see how what we want is as twisted as our sabotaging of it. We recognize patterns in our desires that were hidden from view when we took those desires at face value. Some of the patterns we may identify include:
  • Trying to meet perfectionistic standards to avoid any criticism at all
  • Idealizing a particular outcome to take flight from a disgraceful reputation
  • Putting someone on a pedestal to appear much better than the lowly worm we identify ourselves as
  • Seeking to become the showy center of attention to avoid getting ignored, dismissed or overlooked
  • Taking pot shots at others to mask personal insecurities and to build up faltering confidence
  • Creating evidence of superiority to look down upon the less fortunate, privileged or experienced
  • Exalting some accomplishment in order to justify scandalous neglect of something more crucial
With patterns like these in minds, it becomes clear how the solution will be two sided. Our baggage will disappear when we change our desires. We cannot fix our baggage without fixing what we want as well. It's one of those "chicken and egg" problems with no beginning or end. We make the switch from trying to win at our baggage's expense to a paradoxical win/win solution.


Making do with a dilemma

When we've let go of our conscious desire as the only right answer, we're in a place to embrace the dilemma. We anticipate there are going to be two valid sides to the inner conflict. We can foresee another side that makes sense with a different frame of reference. We stop hoping to get rid of our emotional baggage and start expecting to transform both the bozo and the baggage.

Seen through a structural lens, dilemmas are designed to oscillate. They are structurally indeterminate and prone to perpetual pendulum swings. Problem solving makes a dilemma worse by playing one side off the other. Dilemmas tempt us to manipulate our motivations and justify our intentions. We try to make ourselves want something we really don't desire. We hope to get over some feeling without feeling like that's a good idea. We fall into too much thinking about the dilemma which merely feeds it's persistence.

Dilemmas offer no solution at the level of the opposing sides. The components of a dilemma are positional stances that cannot both be right. The positions are formulated to be irresolvable and irreconcilable when taken superficially. There appears to be no way to bridge the distance between the polarized differences until their appearances seem misleading.

Dilemmas get resolved by stepping into a different frame. Coming from a place that transcends the opposing positions offers a vantage point where mutual satisfaction becomes available. Here are some ways to imagine that transformational possibility with any dilemma:
  • Neither can get want they want when taken literally, and both get be satisfied by getting what they want in essence.
  • Both are frustrated by the other's opposing demands and both can be gratified by getting lent a hand by the opposition.
  • Neither can work a deal by finding fault in their opponent and both can reach agreement by showing each other genuine respect.
  • Both pay a price for their misunderstanding and both can clear up the confusion by understanding each other's concerns.

Rather than trying to succeed at getting something to change, it's more effective to work on giving something to baggage it's gone without until now.


Bozo vs. Baggage

We usually discover we must have some baggage hidden in our psyches when we've formulated a particular desire. We may want to do something and find we can't get the feeling, motivation or inner commitment to do it. We might want to stop reacting the same way and discover the urges, moods or fits won't leave us alone. We then suspect we have some unresolved issues that won't come to mind. We wonder what our hang-up amounts to that consistently refuses to reveal itself. We cannot determine what lurking inhibition interferes with our admirable and respectable desire. All we know is that we've got some emotional baggage.

Our emotional baggage opposes our conscious desires. It's coming from a different place and sees those desires with a very different frame of reference. What looks like a problem to our desires appears as a solution to our baggage. When we want to do something differently, our baggage perceives us cluelessly wanting a bigger problem and abandoning a viable solution that's already in use. We don't get what we're implying because our conscious frame of reference is contemporary. Our baggage has our long personal history on its side. We trying to change when our baggage is convinced that nothing has changed that could make any new adventures possible.

Our baggage maintains these incessant inner conflicts. Our conscious desires appear to be conceived by a real idiot. There's no end to the struggles between Bozo vs. Baggage. The two go round and round in a vicious cycle while maintaining their irreconcilable differences. Neither tries to understand the other's frame of reference. Trying to overcome the other is doomed to fail. The only way out of the vicious cycle is to "try smarter" to understand both frames of reference.

As I've progressed at formulating the workbook for resolving baggage, it's become clear that our conscious desires are "set-ups to fail". In order to set ourselves up to succeed at changing, it works to want a dilemma. When we expect to start with a Catch-22, a no win situation, we're off to a good start. Our expectation that the differences are irreconcilable is a good place to begin. When we perceive that we don't see eye to eye, Bozo vs. Baggage can begin to settle their differences.


Derailed by emotional baggage

When a train of thought moves down a line of reasoning, we can get to a better place. We leave the past behind us and feel better right now. Our mind is clear to receive leaps of insight, intuitions and ingenious next steps. We face the future with a fresh perspective and look forward to new adventures. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig tells us this train can only move forward when we lead with unconditioned awareness. The trainloads of conditioning disrupt the progress if they take the lead. He says our thinking ends up in the fields alongside the right of way. I played with his metaphor some more this morning and came up with what follows.

The engine that pulls a train of thought is fueled by curiosity, wonder and innocence. It proceeds by not knowing what to make of whatever lies ahead. The engine remains open to new possibilities and adventures. The engine pulls trainloads of past experience, familiarity and knowledge without the past getting in the way of making progress down the line of reasoning. The train of thought is heading into a terrain of unknowns, uncertainties and mysteries. There's no conclusive evidence to limit what can happen, change easily, or work out for the best.

Emotional baggage puts explosive fuel into the locomotive. The engine gets derailed as it blows up with frustrations, anger, hatred, envy, fears, guilt, self pity or resentments. The trainloads of experience come to a standstill. The carloads of familiarity look down the line of reasoning with convictions, certainties and stereotypes. When another engine comes from behind to clear the line of reasoning, the train of thought gets sidetracked into a foregone conclusion. The reasoning furiously runs in circles and goes nowhere. Pushing a trainload of past experience fails to advance into the future.

Any train of thought can get back on track by restoring our curiosity. When we can proceed with curiosity, innocence and wonder, we're headed down the line of reasoning. We can get to that better place without knowing how to get there or what lies ahead. We simply stay on the track that takes us there.


Sabotaging disruptive innovation

This morning I realized how many of the problems involved with disruptive innovation can be explained by the effects of emotional baggage. I've been wondering why the model that Clayton Christensen and his team has not caught on like wildfire as I watch my Google Alerts subscriptions. The model seems comprehensive and reliable to me. It's based on objective research, not intuitive speculation. Their innovation model provides a valuable escape from the predictable failure of incumbent enterprises poised to be obsolesced by new substitution curves. The disruption framework includes the dynamics of incumbents who cannot disrupt their business model, change their value proposition or cannibalize their current revenue streams. What the lens of emotional baggage offers is WHY the incumbents cannot improve their chances of survival. Here's some facets of that explanation:
  • Our emotional baggage runs a safety program that steers clear of danger. Entering the disruptive space appears unquestionably dangerous to incumbents. Emotional baggage would predictably distort perceptions, evaluations and decisions related to innovation.
  • Our baggage seeks safety in numbers as if its run by a herding instinct. It can stick together, stick to it's own kind and stick to the plan that's already working. It cannot get unstuck from collusion about legacy practices or consensus to current successes to deploy tools of separation and disruption.
  • Baggage corrupts our ability to really relate to colleagues and reach out to related disciplines. Our baggage gives us the inclinations to form silos, wage turf battles and escalate office politics. These urges sabotage the kinds of cooperation and collaboration that facilitate internal processes of innovation.
  • Baggage frames the present situation through historical precedents. It moves down the highway by watching the rear view mirror. It cannot foresee the value of serving nonconsumers when it has not been done before. It appears there are too many risks, unknowns, pitfalls and booby traps to move in that direction.
  • Baggage immerses us in a story where we are the main character. We cannot begin to understand others when we are consumed with what happened to us, how awful it felt, and how it continues to effect us. When baggage is activated, there's no way to grasp the job the customer is getting done or the ways some customers are over/under served by the current value proposition.
  • Baggage encrypts our budding psychological resources for safekeeping from toxic influences. This has the effect of reversing what we can and cannot do. Under the influence of emotional baggage, we usually cannot be creative, strategic, or empathetic. We lack what it takes to succeed at launching new ventures, enterprises and business models.
  • Baggage jumps to conclusions about past mistakes and failed predictions. These snap judgments can make us adverse to risk, fixated on current success routines and reduced to creatures of habit.
  • We instinctively camouflage our baggage so as to not appear vulnerable to further attacks. These pretenses of competency, confidence and compatibility know no limit. They give us the urge to oversell what we offer and then under-deliver the product/service mix. Our baggage books seats for us on the hype cycle for a new technology that ends up in the chasm, dip or shakeout phase. It cannot support the slow adoption phase that requires many sustaining innovations and progress toward more delivering precise results.
This explanation suggests that the underlying reasons incumbents cannot disrupt themselves run very deep. Start-ups with less baggage on board can count on the incumbents passing up the opportunities for disruptive innovations in value propositions and business models. This use of emotional baggage as a lens also offers a possible explanation for the staggering failure rate of new products and enterprises.


Authoring a new story

Our baggage gives us a victim story where we feel powerless or a conquest story where we're driven to act like a bully. In either case, our baggage gives us no sense of being free to create a new narrative. It's only when we can separate ourselves from those habits and admit that we have baggage -- that we become capable of authoring a new story. Following the order of the bullet points I explored yesterday, here's how we can rewrite our lives and leave our baggage behind us.
  • We can get out of being the main character in the new story. Our new tale can tell of other lives, journeys and relationships. It can put our character in contexts that compare and contrast us to others. We can join with others and create healthy boundaries from being taken hostage by their desperation, neediness or clinging.
  • We can put our back story into a larger perspective by developing appreciation for our present circumstances and visions for our future. Our story can characterize how we've outgrown our past, changed our abilities and updated our outlook. We can look forward to being a different person, facing new challenges and looking back on our past with different perspectives.
  • We can change tribes and leave their world that seemed inescapable for so long. By exploring what-if questions, we will realize new ways to act as-if something else is true. We can see where definitions of problems and possibilities are up to us. We can change the labels, categories and frames of reference we had assumed were facts of life. In the process, we will have changed our cursed fate and recurring bad luck.
  • We can value our antagonist as a provocation to rethink our self concept. We can conceive of ourselves in different ways than others see us. We can claim to be unknown to them, capable of traits they never predicted and hiding talents from their cynical view. We can be glad we've have encrypted our best qualities while they were under siege. Now we can begin to try them out, put them on display and think of ourselves differently as we succeed with these new abilities.
  • We can heighten the suspense for those watching us evolve. We can wonder out loud what will become of us now that we're in the midst of changing. We can play with uncertainties, unknowns and those unexpected black swans. We can disrupt the expectations, second guessing and assumptions that others have been sticking to us.
  • We can introduce variety into our day-to-day existence. We can seem more interesting to follow by being more interested in exploring unfamiliar avenues. We can let others know what new things we've done, learned, thought about and tied together in our minds. We can stop depressing ourselves with inhibitions and start expressing ourselves with new convictions.
  • We can circle back around to previous recollections with new frames of reference. The next time around, we can take our outlook to a higher ground. We can transcend our long-standing grudges with more empathy, compassion and forgiveness for those who did us wrong. We can see the horror with more detachment, perspective and parallel tales to tell. We can travel on an ascending spiral that revisits our past in new and better ways.

When we author a new story like this, our baggage is put to rest. We no longer feel haunted by our past or trapped by our previous adaptations to others baggage. We see our future as full of yet-unrealized potentials. We see where we're headed in a forward direction with a delightful tailwind at our backs.


Trapped inside a story

When our baggage has been activated by a dreadfully familiar circumstance, it's helpful to look at this through the lens of storytelling. At that moment, we are trapped inside a very strange story that offers no escape. Here's how it looks from a storytelling vantage point:
  • Our baggage features us as the main character in the story. Everything that happens revolves around us. The point of anything that happens refers to how it affects us. We are the protagonist in the story that moves the narrative forward or holds up its progress.
  • Our back story dominates the storytelling. Most of the scenes are flashbacks to what happened previously to us. Our motivation is clearly connected to our past history. The dialogue dwells on retelling the back story rather than exploring the domains of the present, future or meaning.
  • The prior incident not only defined our character, it defined our world. What happens inside this story is limited to a tribe of other characters who share this damage. Together a microcosm is maintained where the same old problems reoccur like an invisible copier is making duplicate episodes.
  • We're faced with an antagonist who opposes our existence, shoots down our ambitions and blocks our progress. When our baggage has us living in our past, feeling victimized and stuck in a pattern, our antagonist defies our stagnation. When our baggage keeps us in a panic, driven to mad pursuits and hysterical, our antagonist squashes our ambitions.
  • The story never reaches a climax where the protagonist gets provoked to change character, outlook and self concept. What's been defined by the past remains the set in cement. The story goes nowhere and kills any suspense about how it will turn out in the end.
  • The story bores others to tears and wears out the welcome where interest had been shown. Others try to pay polite attention unsuccessfully while keeping their distance. There's no hooks to capture interest or ambitions to identify with.
  • The story has no ending. The plot movement goes in circles. The return to the beginning of the story fails to spiral up or down with new developments. The level playing field levels any hope of growing, changing, learning or creating.

When we apply a storytelling lens like I have just done, we have reframed the problem posed by baggage. We can create an escape and a new life. We become the author of a preferred narrative that reveals in a different character in a changed world. I'll explore that possibility tomorrow.


Underdeveloped regions of experience

Emotional baggage dwells on past history. Like the Wall Street banks, baggage gets too big to fail. It expands with attention paid to it and then demands too much attention from us. It cannot be kept in proportion with other regions of experience when it outgrows it's usefulness. It becomes a burden that is stuck in the past and showing familiar signs of bureaucratic stagnation. It says "no" to progress, creativity and responsiveness to other's interests. It obstructs innovation and defeats inspired initiatives.

To put our baggage in its proper perspective, it's helpful to consider three other regions of experience: the future, the present moment and the realm of meaning.
  • In our future, we explore new possibilities, imagine improved versions of our current lifestyle and maintain goals to achieve. Whenever we experience our future, we are anticipating changes, looking forward to surprises, and welcoming unforeseen challenges. These experiences require confidence in our abilities, freedom from reliving past setbacks and courage to face unfamiliar situations.
  • In our present moment, we explore our five senses. We notice what we're looking at with greater powers of observation. We listen to nuances in the sounds we hear and touch with greater awareness. We taste and smell with heightened sensitivity. These experiences require inner stillness, freedom from categorizing everything and an outlook of innocence.
  • In the realm of meaning, we explore different ways to frame the past, present and future. We try out different points of view, theories and rationales. We wonder about the symbolic significance of what happens, a possible lesson for us in it and connections we can make to other issues. These experiences require a feeling of playfulness, freedom from literal interpretations and creativity to redefine the established facts.

Emotional baggage dominates our experience when we neglect the other three regions. It becomes overdeveloped while experiences of the future, present moment and realm of meaning fall behind. We can reduce and eliminate the costly effects of baggage by taking attention off of our past history and putting it on these underdeveloped regions of experience.


10th anniversary of the Columbine Tragedy

Over the weekend, I read Dave Cullen's new book: Columbine. I had reserved it at my local library months ago, before it was published. The county ordered 31 copies of the book. A copy for me to read fortuitously came in during this tenth anniversary of the Columbine Tragedy. I picked up the book at the Columbine Library which is within walking distance of the Columbine High School where it all happened a decade ago. I live less than two miles from the high school.

The book is very well researched and written. Cullen's analysis of the contrasting motives of the two shooters and the synergy between them was exactly what I was hoping to find in the book. The excursion through the many individual experiences deepened my empathy for many people's pain. Reading the book was emotionally immersive and exhausting. The ups and downs I went through as a reader is a smaller scale version of the journey taken by those directly impacted.

Of course I was considering the role of emotional baggage as I read the book. Obviously everyone who lost someone in their lives acquired some baggage that began as symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and survivor guilt. Many parents around the world acquired some baggage that views sending their children to school as dangerous. The school teachers, law enforcement professionals and court administrators who all failed to address three years of early warning signs in the two shooters -- may also be burdened by a heavy load of baggage. The subsequent conflicts , litigation, expressions of hatred and inability to move on are all indications of robust baggage on board.

The story of Patrick Ireland in the book, provides us with an view of how to acquire a minimum of baggage following a massive tragedy. He's the student who escaped the shooting by falling out of a second story window in the school. He immediately let go of what happened and encouraged his parents to forgive the shooters once he could speak again. He focused on the challenge it created for him to engage the plasticity of his brain to create new connections to his muscles and short term memory. He was walking without crutches when the school reopened the following fall and lead the students into the building. When we worked at getting back to water skiing, there was a time where the struggle, frustration and losses got to him. He cried his eyes out to get it out of his system. He is an icon of "feeling the feelings, letting past history go and moving on".

The story of Eric Harris provides us with a view of how some "acting out" runs deeper than emotional baggage. The top FBI negotiator for hostage standoff situations had a son enrolled in Columbine High School. He brought his expertise to the case in order to develop a psychological profile of the shooters. He determined that Eric fit the diagnosis of a psychopath almost verbatim. The only missing trait was cruelty to animals. Brain scans of the psychopaths show the emotional processing function of their brains (amygdala) does not respond to stimulation from danger or other's emotions. They are incapable of empathy, compassion, or consideration of other's experiences. They are superb con artists who fool all but the most experienced with psychopaths. This appears to be a condition people are born with, like a birth defect. There are no correlations with how they are raised, living situations, or peer pressures. The only correlation is gender: 80% are male. In other words, this form of cruelty is not acquired from life experiences. It's the result of nature, not nurture. It's not a symptom of emotional baggage. It's a birth defect that goes undetected in most people with this condition.

These added perspectives have given me much to ponder as I continue to create the workbook for resolving emotional baggage.


Scatterbrained following an explosion

When our emotional baggage has been activated by in incident, we have no idea how others are feeling. Our baggage regards other people as things. It automatically depersonalizes, dehumanizes and marginalizes individuals. It can only handle others as objects to manipulate, control and deceive. People cannot be understood, empathized with or shown compassion. We are too scatterbrained at the time to handle the complexity of considerations involved with people seeming real to us. Their point of view, feelings, needs or way of seeing us is too much to ask us to process. We simplify the complexity by regarding people as things.

As I've been developing the workbook to resolve baggage issues, the metaphor of becoming "scatterbrained" has proven useful. The original negative experience can be imagined as an explosion in our minds. We cannot keep it together because the incident was so alarming, upsetting and disorienting. We know what happened and little else. We fail to gather up the pieces through reflection on what occurred to understand how it happened, why or what to make of it . We stick with the original story that threw us for a loop and shattered our illusions. We are left scatterbrained by the explosion in our minds.

When we handle a crisis situation calmly and competently, we come to know a lot more about the situation. We cultivate a sequential picture of how it happened, what led up to it and what was missing to prevent its occurrence. We develop a theory about why it happened, what cycles connected the components and what patterns played out in the situation. We may even come around to value the experience as a lesson we learned, as expanded awareness we gained or as a provocation to make some changes ourselves.

One way to resolve our baggage is to fill in this missing knowledge. We can get a better picture, theory and basis for valuing the experience of what happened. We see the same facts about the incident with far more depth and insight. We then contain the previous explosion. We stop becoming scatterbrained when something reminds us of what happened back then.


Taking things too personally

Another symptom of our emotional baggage is taking an upsetting occurrence too personally. We cannot prevent ourselves from over-reacting and making "a mountain out of a molehill". Our baggage regards the small stuff as a big, unresolved issue that induces panic, paranoia and petulance. In an instant, we feel powerless, victimized and very vulnerable. It feels like our defenses have vanished, our mask has been ripped off and our hurt feelings have been left out in the open. We are poised to fight or take flight.

When we are taking something too personally, our minds are "outer directed". Our experience starts on the outside and leaves us no choice but to react to the facts that present themselves. We are hard-wired to whatever happens. We are a victim of our circumstances until we "get over it". We cannot let it go, get a grip or simmer down while it obviously remains upsetting, out of control and unacceptable. Until something changes on the outside, our mood is miserable and our worries appear to be making accurate assessments of the possibilities.

When we succeed at getting over it, we've switched to being "inner directed". Our experience begins on the inside where we choose what to perceive and what meaning to give everything. We can see the incident, people and repercussions as "half empty or half full". It's not clearly one thing, easily labeled or meant to be taken literally. What it means is up for grabs and available for playing around with interpretations, frames of reference and points of view.

We're only free to be inner directed when the current occurrence is not really the same as before in our minds. Something has changed about us, the people involved or the exact circumstances involved. Our routine reactions seem inappropriate given these recent variations. The latest version of provocations is somewhat mysterious, unfamiliar and worthy of further investigation. We feel the inclination to wonder about the details, consider new questions and explore unforeseen possibilities. We return to a state of innocence with it's companion peace of mind. We observe what is outside of us with no immediate sense of how to perceive it, interpret its significance or react to what has happened.

This suggests that sometimes we can disrupt an over-reaction as it's occurring by talking to ourselves. We can remember that we don't really know what this means. We can tell ourselves there's more than one way to see this. We can deliberately choose to see it differently than our panic and paranoia advise. We can simply chill out without deciding what to see, explain or do about it. We can dismantle the strong urges and restore a feeling of calm before anything significant has changed on the outside.


Stockpiling negative experiences

One way to handle a negative experience is to let it go. Once it's over, it's regarded as"water under the bridge" of no further consequence. It's "over and done with". It's merely "something that happens". We lighten up and move on with no regrets.

The opposite way to handle a negative experience is to cling to it. It's never over and always lingers around in memories, dreams, emotions and outlooks. It proves to be a life-defining incident with unforgettable qualities. It makes the future look different than it did prior to whatever happened. It makes life a drag where we carry around a heavier burden than before. The prior negative experience fuels an ongoing stream of equally dark emotions (hatred, anger, revenge, self-pity, shame, fear).

When we choose to cling to a negative experience, we're usually certain that we have no choice in the matter. It seems like the clinging choses us, not the other way around. It appears we're haunted by by the negative experience, stuck with and paying an endless penalty for what sucked in the first place. Letting go is not an option on the menu we're looking at. Stockpiling negative experiences happens automatically for some hidden reason.

As I've pondered for years why we stockpile our negative experiences, it's become clear to me that it's good for survival. While our conscious reasoning is taking care of business, maintaining relationships and solving problems, our autopilot navigation is constantly looking out for danger. We transcribe negative experiences in indelible ink to not get into the same troubles again. We memorize what didn't work, what to avoid and what to to reject the next time around. We assume it would be far more dangerous to forget our negative experiences.

If our stockpiling only kept us safe, we'd appreciate this automatic approach to vigilance. However, it runs deeper and takes effect in other ways. The stockpile produces the stream of negative emotions I've already mentioned. This inner storm occasionally results in flipping our lid and giving others negative experiences. Our need to justify what happened to us produces a world view we accept without question. We over-generalize the negative experiences into our facts of life, bad luck, curse or particular misfortune. We imagine how we must live in a world where these experiences are always present, threatening and posed to waylay us. We stand guard against these negative experiences while they continue to occur and prove us right about their inevitability.

Losing our luggage is as much a life-defining experience as getting it was originally. We not only let go of what happened to us, we feel liberated from the world view that justified its occurrence. We no longer feel trapped by some wicked curse, bad luck or cruel fate. We experience freedom from our long standing captivity. We put down the heavy burden and lighten up considerably. The stream of negative emotions disappears. Our outlook sees more mysteries to wonder about, opportunities to explore and changes to work on. A new day has dawned when our baggage gets left behind.


Baggage as set in cement

Another rich metaphor dawned on me this morning to playfully capture some of the dynamics of emotional baggage. What if our baggage is "set in cement"?

  1. Then our hidden potentials and latent powers look like motionless statues that parody authentic prowess.
  2. Then baggage makes our life hard to endure, hard to handle and hard for others when they smack into it.
  3. Then resolving our baggage calls for breaking it apart and creating cracks in it's certainty, rigidity and fixations.
  4. Then the experience of get beyond our baggage can be expected to be shattering of our preconceptions and convenient rationalizations
  5. Then it appears the process of working on our baggage calls for more toughness, endurance and resolve.
  6. Then no amount of tender loving care for our baggage will soften it, loosen it or move it out of its stuck place.
  7. Then it will take a breakdown for breakthrough of our natural resources to sprout up like weeds in the cracks of cement.

Messing with what has been "set in cement "will feel like a tragic loss of pride, certainty, convictions, familiarity, meaning, purpose and control. It will involve a disorienting experience where nothing looks the same and familiar responses seem to be unavailable. The break up of this established, fortified mindset will create the space for unforeseen possibilities to emerge in our abilities, outlook and relationships.


Baggage as unfinished business

Our baggage gives us a job to do at a time when we're in no shape to handle it. We are typically stressed "out of our gourd" at the moment when we getting burdened with some baggage. We may be young or simply inexperienced, unfamiliar and incapable of resolving the situation at the time. From this perspective, our baggage sticks around as unfinished business. We've set the job aside for later, in hopes of becoming more resourceful down the road.

In the meantime, the job is left hanging around. We get hung up by it on occasion when we experience ugly reminders of our unfinished business. We admit to having hang-ups, but continue to procrastinate about resolving them. We hope "it won't happen again" even though it has before and will happen repeatedly. Our unfinished business insists on getting put to rest by giving us no peace of mind until it gets done.

Our unfinished business is kept in its original form until we get back to it and work on it. Here's some of the "mint condition" features of our unfinished business:
  • The issues that got defined at the time are framed, black and white pictures. There are no colors or shades of gray to soften the stark image. There's "no two ways" and "no ifs ands or buts" about those contentious issues. There's no added considerations that could change the picture frame. The mental snapshot fixates on labels, done deals and final judgments.
  • The relationships with the people involved are unforgiving. Our unfinished business yields a steady stream of attack thoughts, revenge plots and resentments. The people are imagined to be conspiring against us, out to make us look bad and poised to reject us again. There appears to be no way to finish this business since we've been finished off, set aside and locked into an endless conflict.
  • The outlook on others is devoid of compassion or empathy for their condition. We don't see their baggage, painful past history or unfinished business that haunts them. We deny we share any "matching luggage" with them. We refuse to consider them as mirrors of our own condition and object lessons to learn about ourselves. Our story excludes their viewpoint and rejects their way of seeing us. We cannot look through their eyes or walk in their moccasins while our own unfinished business remains on hold.
  • We cling to our side of the story. We cannot let go or give in to others who have wronged us, terrified us or cut us down. We insist on being right at all cost to ourselves, our happiness and our growth. We have no questions to consider, changes to work on or choices to make. We are dead set against opening our minds and changing our attitude.

When we set our mind to finishing this business, the work undoes the "mint condition" stances from our past history: The picture morphs into a movie in living color. The people are forgiven for hurting our feelings, giving us baggage and changing our lives. The lessons are learned and responsibility taken for our part in the experience. We see others with deeper understanding of what they were going through at the time. We let go of our resentments and let ourselves outgrow our past history. We experience peace of mind


Learning to solve problems by example

When we're focused on problem solving methods, books and expertise, we forget how we've all learned most of our problem solving skills by example. We teach others as if we are not providing an example to learn from. We assume others need to be taught by delivering new content. We prepare others to talk about problem solving more authoritatively without changing how well they will solve their problems or which kinds of problems they're capable of solving.

The teaching-learning thing often creates lots of problems for everyone involved. For students it's problems with their loss of comprehension, curiosity, motivation, personal reflection, follow-thru, and cooperation with other learners. This is an immediate set-up for the students to learn from the example of how the instructor handles these problems with learning from the instruction. The students' problems usually give the instructor his/her own problems with covering the material, maintaining the pace, steering clear of distractions, completing the exercises, generating discussions and evaluating contributions fairly.

The instructor may also acquire a mirror-image set of problems with learning from the students' problems. The teacher may experience a loss of: comprehension of the students' problems, curiosity about the causes of the students' problems, motivation to accurately diagnose and resolve those problems, reflection on personally contributing to the problems, follow through with individual students and cooperation with the students' contrary outlooks. When the instructor acquires this mirror-image set of problems, the problems go unsolved. A profound lesson is taught by example: problems with learning cannot be solved and take too much time out of formal instruction. Students get the message that's their situation calls for pretending to learn and sweeping their troublesome problems under the rug. Learning to not solve problems becomes the takeaway lesson.

When an instructor takes responsibility for the students' problems with learning, a very different lesson gets taught. The instructor diagnoses those particular problems accurately, and ultimately solves those problems with the students active participation. The students get shown how problems with learning can be solved, dealt with intentionally, and utilized as the most important lesson to be learned. The instructor's approach to the students' problems with learning becomes a positive, self-fulfilling prophesy. It becomes obvious to the students how versatile and competent that teacher's problem solving skills appear to be. Students learn how to solve lots of other problems (a.k.a. metacognitive strategies, skill generalization, self-efficacy) from the teacher who solves the immediate problems both the students and teacher are having with each other.

These occasions of learning to solve problems by example are so rare because problems with learning appear to offer no solution. Instructors do not leap at the constant opportunities to solve problems of comprehension, curiosity, motivation, etc. The nature of these problems defy conventional problem solving techniques. they give us emotional baggage, not confidence, efficacy or freedom from our past history. More specifically, these problems are:
  • organic, not mechanistic or easily fixed
  • reciprocal exchanges, not one person's doing
  • maintained by an underlying system, not an isolated phenomena
  • symptomatic of a deeper problem, not obvious or revealed by evidence
  • deceptive, not straightforward or easily uncovered
  • perceptual, not objective or independent of prophetic influences
  • baggage related, not an indication of knowledge or skill deficiencies

When these problems get addressed as problems with baggage, not with solving problems, the diagnose clears up everyone's frustrations. Attempts to fix each other get dropped. Labeling each other as incompetent, threatening or wicked no longer fits the evidence. Patterns of taking excessive blame or dishing out abuse get interrupted. Resolving the baggage issues solves the problems with learning.


In lieu of going postal

Emotional baggage gets formed whenever we experience a tragic loss. There appears to be no other narrative than a victim story that tells us how powerless, helpless and persecuted "we really are". The painful separation from what was once ours gives us a hot button issue. We get easily provoked by reminders of our loss that stirs up the ache in an instant. We then retaliate by "acting out" our frustrations and taking them out on others. The shootings last week in two places I've lived: Binghamton New York and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, may prove to be the preview of many more people "going postal" during this recession.

The global recession is giving our planet a massive, worldwide production of emotional baggage. Staggering numbers of respectable, reliable citizens are losing:
  • their cash flow from employment, investments or their own business sales
  • their ability to make payments and to keep current on debt obligations
  • their possessions forfeited in a house foreclosure or consumer debt repossession
  • their protections from theft, criminal assault, gun violence
  • their resale value on vehicles and mortgaged properties
  • their equity invested in real estate, stocks, or mutual funds
  • their established credit ratings and access to future leverage
  • their ability to attend pricey social engagements and sporting events
  • their reputation, control of rumors, freedom from sneering by others
  • their self respect, identification with success, pride in accomplishments

With so much being lost by so many people, negative emotions are stewing at a grand scale. Thousands of people are seething with resentments, hatreds, vengeance and callousness. Their abilities to keep a lid on their frustrations may be getting compromised by deteriorating situations and a growing consensus among victim stories.

If this problem gets alleviated before it explodes, the baggage needs to be resolved all over the planet. The outlook on the tragic losses needs to transition FROM "I cannot reconsider, change my outlook, rethink my reactions, move beyond, or learn from the losses" TO:
  • "I can forgive others and let go of my grudges over what happened"
  • "I can take this as an opportunity to outgrow my previous ambitions and ideals"
  • "I can stop commiserating with those who share my misfortune and victim stances"
  • "I can revise my story of what happened to include some purpose, lessons and empathy for others"
  • "I can beware of the dangers of becoming paranoid, totally risk averse and withdrawn"
  • "I can get that seething rage of out my system in ways that are harmless to others and myself"
  • "I can help some others out of their predicaments while I have time on my hands"

Whenever we get to the other side of a painful setback, our tragic loss is no longer the boss of our lives. We take control of our conduct in ways that change what we're feeling. We find new ways to respond to the challenges and think about other people. We access our human intelligence while others are behaving badly again.


Reworking our baggage at work

As the entrepreneurs in Colorado that I've mentored already know, I've been fascinated for years by the possibility of employment as the place to resolve emotional baggage. Business models that fail to recognize the drag on success created by everyone's baggage, undermine their own survival. Baggage in the minds of the founding partners and new hires is bad for business, customers and the developing brand name. It clouds individual's minds, distorts their thinking, skews judgment, and serves up strong inclinations to make things worse. It results in poor investments, bad decisions and deficient customer service. As the baggage-laden reputation spreads, the enterprise will attract "customers from hell", investigative reporters, and governmental audits that turn those jobs into nightmares.

Having deepened my understanding of baggage this past month by writing about it so extensively, I now see that possibility in a new light. Here are some of the components of how it might function to rework baggage at work:

Everyone at work has a job that requires particular skill-sets and less defined capabilities. In that context, there are always additional responsibilities that could take a job-holder's game up a level. Those responsibilities offer particular rewards that function as incentives to advance in skill-sets and capabilities. This creates an ideal context to rework some baggage.

The job holder's baggage will usually interfere with taking on the additional responsibilities and earning the additional rewards. The interference may take many different forms including:
  • mental blocks that inhibit communicating with others, expressing oneself, getting creative, etc.
  • fear of getting known by others, exposed as flawed, understood as underdeveloped, etc.
  • emotional instability, inclinations to overreact, propensity toward outbursts, etc.
  • patterns of avoidance, making excuses, shirking responsibility, lying about misdeeds, etc.
  • urges to retaliate against mismanagement, sabotage work in progress, steal supplies, etc.
  • misreading individual character, problematic situations, unexpected opportunities, etc.
  • ineffective efforts to change policies, reformulate strategies, improve team dynamics, etc.

In typical work settings, baggage like this does not get discussed. It's considered too psychological, subjective and complex to handle at work. When baggage interferes with job performance, the situation gets diagnosed as a lack of ability, motivation, management attention or training. The baggage continues to interfere with performance in spite of well-intentioned improvement efforts.

When baggage is explored as a possible explanation and area to rework, the interference can be put into remission. The rewards attached to additional responsibility incentivise the rework of the baggage. The accountability for changed behavior, demonstrated capabilities and reliable skill-sets insures that mere talk of changes is not good enough. The work-related context sets up expectations of significant and lasting changes in mindsets, outlooks, thought processes, emotions and conduct.

How the actual rework will get done is something I'm currently developing. Stayed tuned!


Baggage inteferes with business modeling

The past decade has provided us with staggering advances in business model innovations. We're now twice as smart as we're acting when we develop value propositions, delivery systems and revenue streams. Our emotional baggage continues to hang us up and sabotage innovations. We opt for misguided business model innovations instead of upgrades that would prove to be effective, valuable and revenue enhancing. Here's four ways that our baggage interferes with our creativity when considering recent advances in business models:
  1. Cultivating unique resources: When we invest in core competencies that make new innovations possible, we develop the momentum to create an envisioned future. Our baggage advises us to divest burdensome assets, streamline processes and cut costs. Baggage predicts how we're in too much familiar danger to risk investing in long shots that push the envelope into unfamiliar ground.
  2. Learning from customers: When we discover how customers are using what we sell in their own situations, we develop innovations to better serve their interests, solve their problems and produce desired outcomes. Our baggage refutes the idiosyncratic uses, perceptions and value constructs of the customers. The value of the product/service mix gets taken literally: it is what it says on the label and the same for everyone who buys it off the shelf.
  3. Discovering uncontested market space: When we identify the overlooked needs of over/under-served non-consumers, we've created an opportunity to reinvent our value proposition and business model. Our baggage seeks to protect our profit margins, sales incentives and work flows by continuing to serve the high paying customers. Those cheap, whining, unappreciative non-consumers are too disaggregated, disinterested and demanding to consider as a potential market.
  4. Creating a platform for a community of users: When we open our business model to crowdsourced motive power, our enterprise rapidly evolves in sync with it's market of creative customers. Our baggage cannot let go of its control of content, quality standards and status quo that gets messed up severely by groundswells and wikinomic contributions.

When considering all these ways that baggage can interfere with innovative business modeling, it appears the real challenge is psychological, rather than methodological. Until we clean up our acts, we will act against the best interests of our start-ups, customers and employees.


This baggage induced recession

The clearer I get about the dynamics of emotional baggage by writing this series of posts, the more useful it appears as an explanation. What got us into the current global recession now looks to me like baggage. Here's how I'd explain how widespread emotional baggage got us into this mess.
  • The kind of work done inside big investment banks in financial centers around the world is ideal for people carrying lots of emotional baggage. The analysts, quants, traders and executives work with numbers all day. Their quantity of baggage would disqualify them for more demanding jobs that required them to serve clients with high quality relationships or to upgrade financial products with increased reliability, transparency and solidity. Their baggage made their being recklessly greedy into a big "can-do" and their secretive, off-the-books deceptions equally urgent.
  • The kind of management called for in bygone industries (automobile manufacturing, print journalism, etc) is survival based. Their markets appear dangerous and ideal for baggage to take control of decisions, plans and projects. Their skewed judgment of changing demand, technologies and disruptive innovators would throw money at problems with no solution and miss opportunities to reinvent their business models. The activation of their baggage amidst so much danger would pre-empt their creativity, human intelligence and ability to really relate to their constituencies. They could only assist dying industries in achieving rigor mortis.
  • The kind of employees getting laid off in droves might even by labeled "excess baggage" by their former employers. Their chronic over-reactions to workplace challenges would fail to contribute value, solutions or teamwork. They would feed their own victim stories, justify attacks on other employees, blame higher ups for problems and shirk responsibility for cleaning up their own messes. Their baggage from painful past histories would pre-empt their functioning like valuable employees that deserved respect, tenure and some job security.
  • The broadcast and print media covering the recession could only make it worse by reporting on it "accurately". The journalists constantly feel the urge to catastrophize the latest setback, over-dramatize the newest numbers and dwell on the deepening recession. Baggage makes us feel like our misery loves company. These reporters could not halt their feeding a self-fulfilling prophesy because their own baggage keeps them inside deteriorating, vicious cycles. The bad news leaves them with no alternative but to fear it, to worry about it constantly and to forewarn others about it worsening.

Add these four factors together on a global scale and we get what we've got: a deepening recession.


Baggage as a cognitive hierarchy

The clearer I get in my own mind about the complexity of our emotional baggage, the more I can use "baggage" as a lens to see other phenomena. The conceptual structure of baggage gives me a frame of reference, a new set of questions and a different outlook to consider other puzzling issues. One of those issues is hierarchical organizations that have served as impediments to educational reform, pillars of the old economy and obstacles to PLE's (personal learning environments).

I first saw through this lens how bureaucrats appear to have more emotional baggage than entrepreneurs, free lancers, cultural creatives and self starters. Their baggage makes the top-down authority structure appealing to them. Their blockage to being more self expressive, creative and resourceful would find a home in large organizations where conformity gets rewarded and incompetence gets overlooked.

Then, I later realized that our emotional baggage is also structured in hierarchical form. The baggage in our minds appears a microcosm of the large hierarchies that employ thousands of people as government agencies, public utilities and multinational corporations.. Their parallel form at dramatically different scales resembles fractal structures and shards of holographic plates. The pattern at a small scale repeats itself at a much larger scale with more nuanced detail.

This suggests that employment experiences in hierarchies would feel very congruent, comforting and meaningful to those of us with a commensurate amount of emotional baggage. Their matching luggage with each other also explains the enduring compatibility among the employees seeking lifetime tenure, their tolerance for the internal office politics and the gratuitous respect shown to higher ups. Those of us bloggers, visionaries and entrepreneurs who find fault with most hierarchies don't carry the right kind and amount of emotional baggage to silence our misgivings, blind ourselves to the shortcomings of hierarchies or accept the working conditions as normal.

So then, how does emotional baggage resemble hierarchies in its cognitive structure?
  1. The half of our baggage (that I've characterized as a lid we try not to flip or the clever prediction we make to disguise our baggage) provides top-down authority over the other half. There is no listening to our dark side or any expecting to learn from our pain. The lid sits over the problematic urges with executive control, strict oversight and rigid enforcement of standards for respectability. There is no bottom-up communication, suggestion boxes or focus groups in our minds to address our unresolved issues, emotions and urges.
  2. Baggage is self-serving, self-preserving and self contained like hierarchies. It does not serve others as customers, valued relationships or significant constituencies. Dealing with other's baggage is like fighting city hall, getting shuttled around between departments or getting buried in paperwork when trying to file a complaint. Responsiveness to others is unavailable from baggage or stagnant bureaucracies.
  3. The light side of baggage resembles a policy enforcement framework. There are lots of loop holes and hiding places for the dark side to lurk undetected. The only trouble comes when the lowly side sticks it's neck out, rocks the boat, calls attention to itself or raises a ruckus. So long as the dark side takes a "don't ask- don't tell", "no news is good news" and a "limited to a strictly need to know" approach, the lid stays on the hornet's nest of lurking hostilities. Nothing ever gets resolved. Every issue that goes into committee never comes out as a decision, change or clarification.

By seeing emotional baggage structured as hierarchies like this, yet another approach to its resolution becomes clear. Baggage requires internal, two-way communication to get resolved. Authority over the under dogs needs to be weakened by the validation of those lacking in authority. The big head needs to be sensitive to the little fingertips that appear from a distance to over-react, misconstrue and whine about troublesome issues. Centralized power needs to get reconfigured as distributed control to handle varying situations. The baggage needs to be flattened in order to tie into horizontal spaces, outreach efforts and connectivity with responsive communities of practice.


Becoming more aware of our baggage

When we first realize we've got some emotional baggage, we make a thing of it. It's a thing that interferes with our composure, plans, commitments, reputation, progress, accomplishments and much more. Baggage is the thing that gives us an awful feeling, puts us on shaky ground, embarrasses us in front of others and makes us dread the future. There's no question it's a real thing to be taken literally and dealt with as it appears.

With more experience, familiarity and repetition, we realize our baggage exhibits routine procedures. We come to eventually "know the drill". We perceive what provokes it to take over control of our conduct, emotions and perceptions. We see how it follows a sequence of reactions that succeed at it's unwelcome intentions every time. We identify our baggage as a process that occurs rather than merely a thing that troubles us.

As we acquire even more awareness of our baggage, we realize it's functionality is a result of what's missing. It's really not a thing or a process, but an absence. It's what happens in our experience when we have yet to fully develop the thing and the process into valuable narratives. Here's some of what's overlooked that then gives us "baggage experiences":
  • the important purpose to us of being in the situation
  • the particular meaning for us of the changes occurring out of our control
  • the significant lesson for us in what is undesirable about the situation
  • the deepening of the relationship with the person who appears to have upset us
  • the broader understanding of the reciprocal dynamics between the people involved
  • the openness to creative possibilities within the imposing limitations
  • the release of past history and habitual reactions to the latest opportunities

As we gain practice at identifying what's exactly missing that induces "baggage experiences", we welcome the experiences to develop what's needed. We gain easy access to all that is called for when a baggage episode unfolds. We equate baggage experiences with all experiences. We take the bad with the good. Those experiences are simply something that happens to us, with us and for us.


Speaking the language of luggage

Emotional baggage not only thinks differently, it learns from different approaches. It gets nothing out of words spoken or written. Yet it's a very fast learner with a great memory when the message gets conveyed on its terms. Here's some of the ways our baggage picks up on what's going down:

  • Our baggage gets the point when its given convincing evidence. It learns from irrefutable proof of its own or others' safety, success, control or power in a situation. It assumes talk is cheap, useless, deceitful and misleading. It's made a believer when others act like their actions speak louder than their words. It pays to walk our talk and be a living example of what we're saying when we're trying to make an impression on anyone's baggage.
  • Our baggage can learn from its own mistakes. Its constant predictions about what will happen next get revised when they are proven wrong, exaggerated or over-simplified. The baggage needs to be right and adjusts it's model of danger and opportunities whenever it's shown to not be right. It's quick to stop looking like an idiot, lost sheep or easy prey for some predator.
  • Our baggage needs a clear picture of what to expect. It can get the message from stained glass windows, picture books, movies, and simulations. Our baggage is very big on symbols, icons, totems and bling. It gets a good feeling when the trappings of power, control, superiority, advantage and protection are on display. It relies on a show of agreement, conformity and commonalty to show up and show off in ways that handles the dangers and opportunities in the right way.
  • Our baggage learns from what happens like it's some kind of zero sum game to take advantage of. It plays "winner takes all" by beating the odds, finding the loopholes and fixing things for the next round. It's wary of getting tricked, misled, ambushed or deceived. It's on the lookout for easy outs, gimmes and hiding places. It wants an unfair advantage while disregarding others wanting the same things.

Our baggage cannot learn from sitting in classrooms, reading text or listening to lectures. It needs action to learn from. It needs to make mistakes to upgrade its own positions. It needs to express itself to see what happens next. It needs what happens when educators think nothing useful is occurring.


Baggage has a mind of its own

We have all learned from countless experiences that our emotional baggage does not listen to reason. It insists on persisting with its irrational, unresponsive, poorly adapted approach to our current situations. It apparently cannot change by our trying to fix it, oppose it or defy it's continuing interference. Our baggage takes on a life of its own that seems to be sustainable, resilient and enduring.

One way to understand this remarkable resilience is the systemic complexity of baggage that I explored yesterday. Emotional baggage "covers all the bases" of dangers and opportunities while keeping a lot of different issues in balance. Any change in that would upset the delicate balance and spawn neglect of some essential considerations.

Another way to comprehend how baggage appears so enduring considers how it thinks and has a mind of it's own. Baggage reveals the kind of thinking our mammalian brain performs. We literally "go to the dogs" when our baggage thought processes kick in. We regress to animal logic that cannot evolve into civilized conduct, human intelligence or higher states of reasoning. Here's some of what our baggage thinking can and cannot do:
  • It cannot understand or get convinced by the meaning of written or spoken languages / It can get convinced to change by irrefutable experiences, consequences and encounters
  • It cannot learn abstractions, conceptualizations or guiding principles / It can learn to avoid dangers and seize opportunities like there is no tomorrow
  • It cannot stop living in fear, fighting for survival or defending itself from attacks / It can appear fearless by becoming reckless and indifferent to long term consequences
  • It cannot find a middle ground, formulate a combination of contrary positions or identify the gray area between extremes / It can form strong opinions and lasting grudges
  • It cannot make decisions based on conflicting considerations, delayed gratification or complex tradeoffs / It can jump to conclusions, act out of desperation and zero in on the immediate payoff
  • It cannot get creative, redefine the problem or apply metaphors to the situation / It can take things at face value and dwell on literal evidence to know how to react
  • It cannot relate to other's outlooks, give them the feeling of getting understood or consider opposing interests / It can seek to control others, overpower their defiance and curtail their dissension

We merely prolong our misery when we expect our baggage to listen to reason. We dealing with the mind of every four legged mammal that sits on top of our reptile brain. It's good for survival, reproduction and safety in a wide variety of situations. When we understand what we're dealing with, how it's limited and what works to convince it to change, we've established a basis to make some real headway.