Demand-driven learning

The online and hand-held worlds of digital content has brought us demand-driven listening, viewing and gaming. Shopping has become more demand-driven as we escaping the shackles of store hours and stock-on-hand inventories. All this has me wondering when demand-driven learning will take hold?

To help answer my question, this morning I pondered what drives us to learn the next thing. Here's the list I generated to explain why we seek what we want to learn:

  1. what we're trying to accomplish beyond the learning that may solve a problem or otherwise put the new learning to immediate use
  2. what we've just learned that invites us to go deeper in the same pursuit or explore an adjacent expertise
  3. what others are learning in our surroundings which sets us wanting to emulate them and fit in by sharing their progress
  4. what's immediately available to learn from a scheduled, or otherwise restricted, resource
  5. what seems to be challenging, rewarding, fun and/or immersive to pursue
  6. what we're already good at the process of learning which increases our odds of a success
  7. what needs remediation in our repertoire to become functional, reliable and/or accurate

The delivery of entertainment media is nearly this complex. Our motives to want to listen to a tune, watch a video or play a game can involve our situation and surroundings. We come under lots of varied influences. What's different is how diverse the range of what we might learn can be, compared to the number of songs, videos and games we enjoy.

Another dimension which complicates demand-driven learning is the problem of "not wanting to learn" what others are learning. There's much less of a problem when we don't want to listen, watch or play what others are enjoying. These problems open up another breed of demand for immediate learning - demand for solutions to a lack of demand. These problems include:

  1. making the learning useful in a personal context where it can be applied convincingly
  2. making connections between the unfamiliar new thing and recent momentum and successes
  3. cultivating autonomy and self confidence to defy peer pressure that opposes or dismisses the new learning
  4. providing tools and privileges to access the resources more easily
  5. changing the instructional design to make the process less boring, menial, punitive and/or overwhelming
  6. transforming patterns of personal failure or self-sabotage of independent learning
  7. revising the diagnosis of chronic disabilities with motivation, comprehension or retention

Solving these problems involves a much bigger investment than tagging digital files for easier access. Fortunately the work involves learning rather than downtime to prepare to listening, viewing or gaming. The possibility that demand-driven learning could emerge sooner rather than later seems more real to me after considering all this.


Patterns of failed implementation

During the many times I've taught Strategic Management to college seniors, my favorite topic to explore was this: the patterns of failed implementation. Every textbook I've seen goes overboard at strategy formulation as if there was no danger of analysis paralysis. I presume the textbooks take this approach because academics pride themselves on empirically accurate analyses. These textbooks also devoted only one chapter to strategy implementation, as if the full adoption of a strategy change will occur if the formulation is well-conceived. I presume implementation gets shortchanged because the topic is too messy for precise empirical analysis and verification. Here's some of the complexity that entangles the failed implementation of strategy changes:

Blame Games: When strategies fail, there's usually a question of whether the strategy failed in planning or execution. If the planning was done by higher ups, they will often blame the implementers. If the implementers had no say in the formulation, they will feel better by blaming the planners. A blame game will emerge fought with emails of rumors and false accusations. Fingers will be pointed at others while none point back at the accusers. All this takes away from the strategy questions that need to be reexamined.

Inbred cynicism: When strategies get formulated by big brains at the top of tall hierarchies, the low ranking members often become cynical, disheartened and defensive. They're not getting listened to when they can see familiar problems before they occur and unexpected trouble on the horizon. When things go from bad to worse, they're saying "I told you so". They cannot get an audience with higher ups because their "bad news" looks like whining, cynicism and weak excuses. The top shoots the messengers rather than assimilate their messages. When new strategies get announced, the lower ranks erupt with "here we go again", "this too shall pass" or "put on your boots - it's getting deep in here".

Preordained failures: When a strategy has failed in the past, the next one is likely to fail in the future. The system that generated the flawed strategy is functioning as before. The structure remains in place that dictates what gets seen, how it gets interpreted and why it seems reasonable. The questions are not getting asked that could disrupt the pattern of flawed inputs, outlooks, criteria and evaluations. The systems and structure are taken for granted. The failures yield "all the more reason" to try harder, to try again and to never stop trying. Tactical thinking is presumed to be strategic.

Pain Mismanagement: When flawed strategies take effect, those close to the customers, production or internal problems get burned. They are learning to avoid getting toasted like that again. Those in the executive suites are usually feeling no pain. They are learning to go for more conquests, quick fixes or boondoggles. A stalemate emerges between those running from the pain and those in pursuit of more pain. The masochists have been paired with the sadists.  Those trying to minimize their pain will get very creative at sabotaging all reckless, insensitive and clueless changes in strategy. They're not opposed to further employment or their employers continued success. They are seeking relief from their continued psychological pain.

These patterns are highly captivating and addicting. When they take hold, it's unlikely the enterprise will rebound from their failed implementation of strategic changes. The complexity defies reductionist problem solving and quick fixes. The debilitating effects in these patterns will weaken the enterprise beyond it's ability to survive.


Escaping vicious cycles

When we're deploying an effective strategy, we get energized by how well the strategy is working. We're appreciating the timing, the approach and the outcomes. We're seeing others benefit from how effective our strategy has become. All this gets us thinking how we might take this game up a level or fine tune the strategy. We're continuing to rely on our strategic thinking and explore more possibilities.

When we're deploying an ineffective strategy, none of this occurs. We go into a vicious cycle instead. There seems to be no escape from the nightmare scenario spawned by the ineffective strategy. The vicious cycle convinces us to:

  1. rely exclusively on our tactical thinking
  2. worry constantly about what can go wrong next
  3. mistrust higher ups and other outsiders who we blame for the strategy mistakes
  4. stop trying to improve, change or revise what's not working
  5. assume that any creative possibility is too weird, inapplicable or costly to help out
  6. lose all sense of purpose and self motivation 
  7. become entirely dependent on extrinsic rewards
  8. feed the array of problems with neglect, over-reacting and half-efforts
  9. struggle with apathy, depression, paranoia and sleeplessness
  10. put on show of complacency to hide all this inner turmoil

As you can see from this list, when we're caught up in deploying an ineffective strategy, we're in no shape to shape up. It's as if we're stuck in a hole where our only options are to dig deeper or to do nothing. The way out begins with letting go of trying to get out of the vicious cycle. It helps to not-know what to see, think and do. Progress occurs by seeing the repeating patterns with detachment, where they can be critiqued, challenged and dismissed. The exit is found when we switch to our strategic thinking.


Formerly effective strategies

When we're formulating new strategies, our minds are full of questions. We're exploring different possibilities and experimenting to uncover an approach that works. We're comparing different strategies to discern which is more effective at realizing desired outcomes at the least cost. We're trusting a process that leads to an unknown outcome, rather than following a recipe to replicate results. We're taking the time to get it right, rather than jumping to premature conclusions.

This pursuit of effective strategies occurs with the most mundane and the most global issues. We can be puzzling how best to prevent a drain from clogging at home or pondering how to reduce atmospheric carbon levels around the globe. Bigger scales may take more time, expertise and exploration than smaller, but the state of mind is the same.

Once we hit upon an effective strategy, our minds typically think "enough of that!". Our minds are eager to switch back to tactical thinking. It seems like it's time to stop asking so many questions, exploring so many possibilities and conducting so many experiments. We want to simply know what to do and get it done without hesitation.

At this point, our effective strategy is about to become institutionalized. It may become a simple habit or routine. It may get formalized in policy manuals or procedural requirements. It will likely become reinforced by evaluation and reward schema which incentivize sticking with the strategy. It may even become immortalized in a cultural narrative or taboo which enforces conformity with social pressures. From now on, we can only do what's been done in the past, whether or not it remains effective. It's been "set in stone" and not easily chiseled away.

There's no way out of this pitfall with recognizing what kind of thinking is missing. Without knowing the difference between strategic and tactical thinking, there's no way to formulate a new effective strategy. There's only too much talking about explicit change, possibilities and improvements, while the formerly effective strategy persists ad infinitum.


Explicit and implicit strategies

When we're acting as if something is true, we're enacting our implicit strategy. We're walking the talk of the real deal. When we're saying something is true, we're enacting our explicit strategy. We're talking the talk of some deal we want others to think is true. If these two kinds of strategy get disconnected, we don't know our own implicit strategy. We believe our explicit strategy and get haunted by our contradictory implicit strategy. We say one thing and do another like any garden-variety hypocrite. We cannot get it together because we cannot admit to ourselves how our actions say something different from our pronouncements. We cannot change our strategy while working at cross purposes like this.

Here are some examples of contrasting explicit and implicit strategies:

  1. When we're pushing the same product onto everyone, we're saying that we're meeting needs and providing value. We're acting as if there is no need to listen to customers, to cultivate relationships or to discover what beauty is in the "eyes of the beholder".
  2. When we're studying hard and getting good grades, we're saying that we're learning a lot and getting a quality education. We're acting as if there is no need to follow our intrinsic motivation, to tie in new information to our personal experiences or to learn something only when the time is right for us.
  3. When we're spending big bucks on prosecuting and punishing deviants, we're saying that we're protecting ordinary citizens and improving public safety. We're acting as if there is no point in rehabilitation or remediation for those who are caught up in cycles of abuse. 
  4. When we're trying to control what others do, we're saying that we're in charge and exercising our authority in the situation. We're acting as if we've got nothing to lose and we have no influence to change others' conduct indirectly.
  5. When we win at others' expense and succeed at "winner takes all" games, we're saying we're victorious, superior and newsworthy. We're acting as if there's no long term cost to winning this way and no context getting trashed by our one-sided conquests. 
  6. When we're fixing what's broken and alleviating symptoms, we're saying that we're solving problems and getting our job done. We're acting as if there's no way that we're feeding the problems, we're failing to prevent them or we're misdiagnosing the deeper dynamics in play. 
  7. When we're acquiring more possession, we're saying we're feeling abundant, looking prosperous and improving our quality of living. We're acting as if there's no way we're implicitly unsustainable and overly-materialistic.

Our rivals can trump these explicit strategies by taking up the challenges posed by our implicit strategies. While we act as if we cannot go there, they can act as if they can. As we deny the possibility, they explore and exploit it. While we assume it doesn't work that way, they will get it working in their favor. Failing to integrate implicit strategies with explicit strategies gives away leverage to rivals.


Psyching out rivals' thinking

It's far easier to psych out rivals' thinking when they are limiting themselves by tactical thinking. When rivals are deploying strategic thinking, our perceiving their implicit strategies becomes far more subtle and complex. It's only possible to psych out rivals' thinking accurately when we know our own minds comprehensively. When we don't know our own minds, we will only see what we want to see and filter out what's really occurring. An accurate reading of others' strategies requires a highly evolved state of mind. Here are two challenges along the way of realizing what rivals are really thinking.

Embracing our inner enemies
We all get pressured to fit in, act "normal" and meet others' expectations of us. We develop a pretentious mask to avoid their censure, rejection and constant hassles. This mask hides what others' find objectionable within our inner panorama of contrary passions, urges, fascinations and longings. We make enemies of all our inner treasures that cause problems when they show up in our intolerant social context. Those components of our total psyche become adversarial, dark and devious. They seek to sabotage our pretentious mask which frames our inner treasures as enemies. The mask handles this "house divided" dynamic by projecting its inner enemies onto outside rivals. The mask shoots messengers and point fingers at anyone who resembles its inner enemies. It cannot see others for what they really are while embroiled in this chronic war with oneself. Embracing our inner enemies requires going within, listening to the inner enemies, realizing how they've been wronged by the mask, discovering what treasures they can become when framed as valuable and cultivating their enlivening contributions to our self motivation, self confidence and creative self expression.

Seeing the familiar as unfamiliar
Our minds are creatures of habit. They conserve energy (glucose) by making as much as possible seem familiar. Complex situations get categorized, labeled and stereotyped. This creates a comfort zone which can easily become a fortress against imposed changes, unexpected occurrences and incomprenehsible evidence. Our minds become biased, bigoted and belligerent when its reliable opinions get challenged. We are operating with "no further questions your Honor". Our minds our made up against asking better questions, restoring our childlike curiosity or enjoying life as a mystery. When we change our minds to see the familiar as unfamiliar, we have stopped conserving energy. We're taking the time and mental horsepower to ponder alternatives and pose new possibilities. We're valuing our questions more than our answers. We take off the blinders and open our eyes to what we're being shown that contradicts our preconceptions. We take evidence and opinions about what is apparent as highly questionable. We look deeper and more panoramically at the small thing that captures our attention. We see things through many lenses and from a variety of different perspectives.

When we've transformed our minds in these ways, our rivals are not our enemies which necessitated defending ourselves against them. They are our teachers and challengers who bring out our best. They show us what we've not been seeing, considering, questioning or utilizing. They give us wake up calls, fresh perspectives and challenges to our preconceptions. They invite us to become more creative, resourceful and passionate. They define a game worth playing where the outcome will transform the initial rivalry into viable solutions for everyone involved.


Cruising for a bruising

Strategic thinking trumps tactical thinking whenever there is a conflict. Strategic thinking can recognize when the other side is relying on tactical thinking. The patterns are obvious to strategic thinking while tactical thinking is totally unaware of how it's thinking. Tactical thinking only know what's it's thinking, not which kind of thinking or what's missing in its thinking.

Here's some of what's obvious to strategic thinking about the patterns of tactical thinking which can be exploited easily:

  1. Tactical thinking can only try harder, not try smarter. It will pursue the conflict with dogged determination at all cost.
  2. Tactical thinking can only function like a shark, not a dolphin. It pursues direct approaches and frontal attacks with the subtlety of a bulldozer.
  3. Tactical thinking must handle danger categorically, not complexly. Danger can only mean one thing as if it's a either/or, black & white issue.
  4. Tactical thinking clings to losing battles, not giving in or giving up. It cannot let go when it's the wisest choice.
  5. Tactical thinking is limited to fight, flight or freeze when confronted by a threat. It cannot become clever enough to mess with others' minds, perceptions and intentions.
  6. Tactical thinking gets locked in a loop, not finding a way out. It experiences problems as chronic, relentless and infuriating. 
  7. Tactical thinking can only pursue more tactical thinking, not switch to strategic thinking. It must react to others' reactions which pours more gasoline on the fire.

From these patterns, you may be able to perceive how easy it is to set up others' tactical thinking to be their own worst enemy. Anyone deploying tactical thinking in a conflict is cruising for a bruising. Tactical thinkers can be baited to deplete all their resources by pursuing an endless conflict. They can be convinced to never back down or appear weak in spite of the enormous strategic advantages offered by less rivalry.  Tactical thinking takes pride in determination in spite of sabotaging it's own surviving and thriving in the future. Fortunately, we can cultivate our strategic thinking to avoid these traps.


Getting things done

Our tactical thinking is good for getting things done. Right now, you're probably using your tactical thinking to get this read from start to finish. I used my tactical thinking to get this typed and published. Our tactical thinking enables us to be productive and become more proficient. It's good for completing tasks, applying methods and complying with requirements. If we didn't have tactical thinking, we could not use tools or stay focused long enough to get anything accomplished.

Our tactical thinking is easily provoked by others to argue, fight, oppose or retaliate without question. We react as if we already know what we're dealing with and what to do about it. We dismiss questions of strategy for fear it will weaken our resolve, distract our focus or delay our reaction. Our tactical thinking assumes our strategic thinking makes us look weak, vulnerable or uncommitted. We'd rather do too much and come on too strong than to find the right balance or use the right touch.

We can recognize that we're using our tactical thinking whenever we're getting something done without question. We already know what to do and are doing it by giving it our attention and determination.  We're dismissing questions like:

  1. how to do it differently? 
  2. how long to do it? 
  3. how often to do it? 
  4. how much of it to do?
  5. when to do it? 
  6. how to measure how well it got done?
  7. how to learn from what did not happen yet?
  8. how to do better next time?

When we're consider those questions, we've switched to strategic thinking. We've improved our odds of being effective. We've changed our thinking from dogged determination to pensive considerations. We've become more complex and responsive to variations in the situation we're facing.


Strategic and tactical thinking

What are you thinking? More importantly, how are you thinking? There's a big difference between strategic and tactical thinking that I'll explore in this next series of blog posts. I find that difference to give us a great explanation for why so much teaching, preaching, telling and selling usually backfires. When we use our tactical thinking, there's a slim chance our efforts will prove to be effective. When we deploy our strategic thinking, we've greatly improved our chances for a success.

At a first glance, strategy is concerned with strengths and weaknesses applied to opportunities and threats. When we ponder those with our tactical thinking, we assume:

  • strengths are obvious and best used to intimidate others
  • weaknesses are unfortunate and best kept hidden
  • opportunities are advantageous and best exploited
  • threats are provocative and best confronted

When we consider strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats with our strategic thinking, we can see how tactical thinking is predictable and flawed. We can rely on others' tactical thinking to take things extremely literally: "a strength is a strength without question". We can see how tactical thinking provides captivating self-imposed limitations which rule out superior possibilities. We can suspect the practitioners of tactical thinking are being pretentious, hypocritical and vulnerable to our own strategic maneuvers.

Through a strategic lens:

  • a show of strength may be a sign of hidden weakness or underlying insecurities
  • a show of weakness may be an indication of hidden strength or quiet confidence
  • an obvious opportunity may be a baited trapped or offer that's too good to be true
  • a provocative threat may be a potential ally or a cry for help 

Our strategic thinking can take something literally or imaginatively. It can react to face value evidence or read between the lines. It can polarize a distinction and see how the either/or can become a  both/and combination. This flexibility makes for enhanced effectiveness when we're teaching, preaching, telling or selling.


The trouble with the 1%

There are lots of wealthy people who are being negatively impacted by the consolidation of wealth and the evisceration of the middle class around the globe. Their enterprises serve the citizens much like the democracies governing their countries should.  When their customers (a.k.a. stakeholders) are under or unemployed, nobody wins. Likewise for insufficient education, health care and social services among their constituencies.

Thus I define the 1%, targeted by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, as not merely the most wealthy, but as the most immune to the negative effects of their increasing wealth. If I interviewed them, I would expect to find they have no concept of a middle class, only of "rich and poor" or "winners and losers". They would have no framework for getting the message from the protesters others than "a bunch of sore losers" or "whiners getting the liberal media's attention". I expect they would be extremely focused on making money with money, preventing losses through taxation and revising regulations to increase their wealth. They would assume it's fair game to buy lobbyists and politicians who will help solve problematic losses of wealth spawned by the government protecting the citizens, commonwealth and public interest. They cannot comprehend having negative impacts on the democracy when everyone continues to be entitled to vote.

If the 1% entered into therapy in order to become essential members of a 100%, they would likely learn much about themselves:

  1. Their range of emotional responses is poised toward thrill seeking in material pursuits and coldness in relationships
  2. They lack empathy for others and cannot comprehend other's pain, setbacks and lack of access as opportunities to help out
  3. Their autobiographical narrative is boring and lacking in rich details, hindsights and characterizations of growth
  4. They do not adapt easily or respond flexibly to challenges to their status quo which serves them as fortified comfort zones
  5. They have no interests which could provide alternatives to making more money, only in creating more proof of material success 
  6. Their "left brains" are functioning autonomously, productively and prodigiously
  7. Their "right brains" have been taken offline, rather than being integrated with their left brains and observed by their prefrontal cortexes
  8. They react to challenges by taking them very literally, showing no ability to utilize metaphors or reframe facts with varied viewpoints
  9. They have not begun to fall in love with meaning, having gotten stuck in being extremely objective and factual
  10. They chose careers in banking, finance, law, math, statistics or corporate leadership because those their shortcomings would go unnoticed in those fields

All this suggests to me that the Occupy Wall Street movement is falling on the deaf ears of the 1% and the politicians whom have been bought by campaign contributions and/or lobbyists baiting their collusion. The protesters are "preaching to the choir" who already get the message and validate the objections to current trends. The stalemate will persist until their right brains function equally well and eliminate all ten items on this list.


Falling in love with meaning

When we fall in love with meaning, we become like little kids again. We become curious again. Life seems more mysterious and fascinating to us. We want to know "why?" for every facet of our lives:

  • Why do you like me and why not some others whom I like?
  • Why did that happen to me and not something else?
  • Why did I react that way and not in a better way?
  • Why was I into that interest then and into this interest now?
  • Why am I still doing this and not changing my routine?
  • Why do my family members do what they do and not follow my example?
  • Why do I continue to have that same old hangup and not outgrow it?

The world of meaning is highly subjective. We've left the world of "just the facts ma'am" where evidence must be taken objectively. We use many different lenses to look at the same thing. We come up with different interpretations, diagnoses or stories for the same situation.  As we settle into this love affair, we can allow others to put their own spin on things as well. Everyone appears to selectively perceive and uniquely attribute meaning to their experiences. It sometimes seems we're off in our own little worlds. We're weaving our own tales of who we are, what happened to us and what's expected to happen next. While we're in love with meaning, there's so much to learn from others ways of tripping on everything differently than we do.

Meaning seems much more fluid and flexible than labels and definitions. We realize we can change the story of our lives to seem intrinsically satisfying to ourselves. We get grounded in our own meaning and detach from others' framing us to serve their own interests. Our life story becomes more coherent, sensible to us and capable of giving us a larger purpose. We add richness to our personal narrative which gives us back the feeling of our peak experiences and turning points.

The world of meaning lets us be far more creative. We begin to see "familiar things in unfamiliar ways and unfamiliar things in familiar ways". We can gain new insights by applying metaphors to things that seemed obvious before. We can play with what-if questions and imaginary scenarios to explore new possibilities. We can discern unfolding processes which invite us to play along and work with them. We can change the definition of the problem before we start trying to solve it. We can handle more complex appreciations of systems and cycles that overwhelmed us when we were exclusively objective.

All this adds up to a life of much deeper satisfaction. Thing happen for reasons that nurture our growth and challenge our preconceptions. Events seem more symbolic and dreamlike. Within the wagon wheel metaphor, we've moved closer to the hub along many different spokes. We've become detached from spinning on the outer rim. We're no longer entangled in the drama with no choices for how to take what happens. We wonder with fascination and choose a way to see it that works for us. We're in love with the meaning of life.


Clean up your act

If you've been told to clean up your act, good luck with that. You may have tried repeatedly and discovered you cannot clean up your act in ways that last for more than a day or two.  That's not a copout or an indication that you're not trying hard enough. There is no solution at the level of how you're acting.

People, who tell you to clean up your act, need to clean up their own acts. They're assuming the ways you're acting can be cleaned by trying. They are showing signs of matching luggage with you. They may be assuming they don't need to change, only you do. They may be projecting on to you what they find offensive in themselves. It's easier to find fault in others than to find what's bugging us deep down inside. They've opted for what's easy by taking cheap shots at you. There may be some truth in putting you down, but no exemplary conduct by them about taking responsibility, looking within or solving their own problems at the proper level.

We cannot clean up our acts because the ways we are acting are fallout from the two-sided condition of our minds. We're torn up about lots of things and not capable of getting it together. The solution integrates the opposing sides. That usually seems unattainable or a very long ways off. It's far from obvious how to change our minds in ways that better behavior falls out naturally. The kinds of thinking we're doing preclude seeing how to change our minds.

For starters, here's some ways to visualize our minds when they are divided against themselves. We may be:

  • full of pride, conceit, hot air, arrogance or over-confidence
  • fixated on cause-effect, linear explanations while deny the cycle we're in or the ways we're feeding the chronic problem
  • finding fault with others as if they bear no relation to what we'll find inside ourselves or where we're coming from 
  • oscillating between two extremes which continually overcompensate for having gone to the opposite pole of the dichotomy 

There's something missing when our minds function like this. Dr. Dan Siegel offers many possibilities from cognitive neuroscience in his book: Mindsight:

  • the prefrontal cortex may be under-developed for detaching and observing the flux of thoughts and emotions
  • the body may flood the mind with panic reactions when touched in ways that evoke painful incidents
  • the left brain and hippocampus may have been precluded from forming an episodic memory of a traumatic incident
  • the right brain may be impaired by an adaptation to significant others' coldness, indifference, intolerance or perfectionism
  • the left brain may address relationship problems with pure logic and rationality
  • the right brain may cling to unresolved dependency, power and respect issues
  • the brain stem and amygdala may overtake the left brain when hyper vigilant about hidden dangers

Fortunately our brains demonstrate amazing plasticity. They form new connections and integrate what's missing as long as there is blood flowing in our craniums. By using our brains differently, we change our minds. Our acts get cleaned up in the process. We've found the level below how we're acting where lasting changes can be made.


Wagon wheel metaphor revisited

In finished reading a wonderful book last week: mindsight - The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. This book confirms everything I've previously written about emotional baggage while taking it all up a level. I've got much to share with you as I distill Dr. Dan Siegel's insights in the coming weeks.

He uses the wagon wheel metaphor differently than the way I explored it a few months ago. He got me thinking in some different ways about this familiar idea - which I love to do! He considers the hub of the wheel a place we can get to in our minds by witnessing the stream of passing thoughts and emotions. For him, the hub is synonymous with mindfulness practices. There's no place in his use of the wheel to imagine the compassionate state of mind his patients realize after years of observing their passing thoughts and emotions.

My familiar use of the wagon wheel metaphor regards the movement on the wheel as a lifetime journey. The place in our minds for witnessing the passing stream of thoughts and emotions is on any spoke perpendicular to the rim of the wheel. We get off the rim of continual motion to observe the movement from a place of stillness. When we're on a spoke of the wagon wheel, we are unaware of how the rim forms a complete circle. We are witnessing one experience, encounter or condition in our lives. There's no obvious connection to other facets of what we're dealing with now. For example, we assume:

  • the way we relate to our significant other is separate from how we related to our primary caregivers
  • the job and career path we chose is disconnected from how we've been seen and treated in our childhoods
  • our experience of conflicts with others nowadays is unrelated to our history of painful and traumatic episodes
  • the issues we have with our siblings, offspring and neighbors has nothing to do with how we adapted to our shortcomings

In my view of the wagon wheel, we come to see this dismissed connections as we move along each spoke. We get on separate spokes whenever we detach from being upset, entangled or captivated by the drama on the rim. There's a predictable process for advancing along each spoke which eventually converges at the hub in the center. Along the way, we realize each segment is part of one big wheel. We feel centered when we see things that way, rather than frightened or overwhelmed by the possibility. To get to that outlook, we first explore the opposite of our positional stance on the captivating rim.  We face our alter ego and the flip side of every idealized trait we cling to with pride, fear and guilt. Here's some examples of that "shadow work" that gets into our personal dark side:

  • I used to think I was an impeccably honest person until I faced how many lies I tell unconsciously and how often I deceive others to avoid confrontations or hurt feelings
  • I assumed I was a good person that did good all the time until I dealt with how much turned out badly or exposed me as a selfish, manipulative or inconsiderate individual
  • I claimed I knew the right answer all the time which meant others we're consistently wrong or stupid until I saw how wrong it was to see the difference between right and wrong that way
  • I presented myself as unfortunate anytime others had more power than me until I realized how fortunate I've been in those situations from a different perspective

These kinds of realizations advance us on each spoke of the wheel. As we move toward the hub, we then "fall in love with meaning" and rewrite our personal autobiography with a new point of view. We tell our own story in ways that feels free of others' expectations, narrations and deletions. We cultivate a deep sense of self respect which lets others live their lives as they see fit. We close to the hub in the counter of the wheel when we find this freedom in our minds.


Who are the 99%?

With the increasing number of cities experiencing occupations (#ows), I've been pondering who are the 99% that perceive a 1% unlike themselves. Here's how that 99%/1% split makes sense to me so far.

How many are feeling the effects of foreclosures occurring in their neighborhoods, housing markets, school districts and public spaces? 99%?
How many are driven to insist on foreclosures in lieu of mortgage refinancing or rent-to-own interventions, as if there is no pain to be felt? 1%?

How many medical professionals and insured patients are impacted by the millions of uninsured/underinsured along with the soaring costs of health care services? 99%
How many have no choice but to raise prices, decline coverage and allow health care to deteriorate while profitability gets protected? 1%?

How many parents, siblings, friends and employers are feeling the pain of recent graduates with staggering college loans and little or no income to pay them off. 99%?
How many see the benefits of raising the cost of tuition, textbooks, campus services and college loans to better save their financial interests? 1%?

How many retirees, and those nearing retirement, are feeling betrayed, abandoned and jeopardized by the enduring decline in their investments or pensions? 99%?
How many are profiting from Wall Street's comeback and are feeling no pain from staggering losses? 1%?

How many public employees who keep us safe and educated are seeing cutbacks, furloughs and layoffs which leave us in danger of increased crime, fires and ignorance? 99%?
How many want to privatize all public services to prevent freeloaders from getting something for nothing? 1%?

How many see the massive military expenditures as weakening the country, depleting its infrastructure and hijacking the democracy? 99%?
How many want increased military spending to strengthen our defenses and avoid any sign of weakness on in the international stage? 1%?

How many of the disadvantaged, disabled and displaced are traumatized by the disappearing safety net and support services? 99%
How many are cutting those services, regardless of the human toll, in order to reduce taxes which amount to theft of earned income? 1%?

How many think the political/economic system has become rigged in favor of profitability and polarization? 99%?
How many think the system fairly benefits those who work hard enough to win and lets the losers suffer the consequences of their laziness? 1%?

How many think the democracy has been hijacked by lobbyists and campaign funding sources which override the voice of the citizens? 99%?
How many think the democracy has been adapted to better serve the economic prosperity of corporate titans and shareholders? 1%?

It's no wonder there's no single issue being promoted, no legislation getting drafted and no spokespersons claiming to represent the 99%. Let those with ears to hear listen to this cacophony of pain and diverse pursuits of changes.


Thinking about spiritual problems

We think about physical problems without even trying. We so good at that, we think about most spiritual problems as if they're physical ones. Many of us don't even have the concept of spiritual problems which call for a very different approach. When we regard spiritual problems as physical problems, we make more costly problems for ourselves.

Physical problems call for defensive action. We may be in danger of getting suffocated, burnt, frozen, starved, poisoned, stabbed, choked, crushed, or dismembered. The threat is physical so the effective solution is equally physical. The kind of thinking we do in these situations it literal, reactive and focused. We launch into taking immediate action that attacks the problem with a vengeance. This is no time to take a longer or more nuanced view of the dangers. There's no tolerance for solutions which rely on our imagination, creativity or divine inspiration.

Spiritual problems, on the other hand, call for defenseless action. They present evidence of conflict between two or more living intentions. Solutions can be found in the spirit of connection, common interest and fearless faithfulness in invisible sources of solutions. The opposing interests need an approach that blesses it, shows no resistance to it and extends peace to it. The solutions come to minds which are calm, receptive and expectant. The solutions work for both living intentions in ways that cannot be foreseen by defensive outlooks.

In my personal experience with spiritual solutions, they often involve:

  • letting go of my own one-sided interests and my fearful belief in the conflict
  • understanding the conflict as a lesson for me, a wake-up call or an opening to a bigger understanding
  • denying the evidence of conflict in favor of an imagined resolution, freedom for all and transformation of the situation
  • getting underneath the opposing demands to their underlying issues, concerns and secondary interests
  • framing the other side as predictable when it maintains the conflict and as mysterious when it makes peace
  • making a unilateral concession to change the tone, de-escalate the context and demonstrate my intention to collaborate
  • giving the opposing interests permission to persist until they come to more disturbing realizations

Spiritual solutions like these do not come to mind when we assume we're dealing with physical problems. We become far too tense and reactive to receive this kind of inspiration when we being defensive. We're assuming we need attack the problem with a vengeance, not surrender to it. We have no faith in any ongoing process, invisible assistance or influence when we're out of control. It's only when we're thinking the problem is spiritual that we can acquire the harmonious sense to do the right thing for all the interests.


Thinking about being right

It's unusual for us to think about being wrong unless we've acquired the emotional baggage which insists that we're always wrong/never right. We usually want to be right at all cost. To be wrong can feel devastating and dangerous. Psychologists label those dreadful feelings: "cognitive dissonance". We feel exposed to others' abuse, putdowns and rejection when we're wrong. It feels like the rug has been pulled out of our confidence, composure and our ability to comprehend others.  Thus, we feel the urge to be right even when our rational minds think better of it.

This insatiable need to the right becomes a prison. We're captivated by our chronic insistence on never being wrong. There's no escape when can detect in our thinking about being right. It's obvious we could admit to being a clueless idiot, total loser, or worthless individual -- but where's the sense in that? We've got blinders on our panoramic vision. We're looking through a peep hole from our prison cell unaware of our huge blind spots and tunnel vision.

When we're thinking conventionally about being right, we're trapped in an ideal of self-righteousness. We see others wallowing in blatant wrongfulness. We're exalting ourselves in a way that will be our ultimate downfall. We cannot imagine how to get off our high horse or to eat a slice of humble pie. We're stuck on ourselves and cannot get unstuck without being unglued and crazy.

There's another way to think about being right which does not make others wrong. We find there's some significant freedom in thinking about being right. We can be right about there being:

  • more to learn, discover and explore
  • more common ground, shared interests and parallel agendas
  • more partial understandings to combine with the other side of the coin
  • more processing, conversing and comparing viewpoints to do together

We then abandon our positional stance and switch to trusting an unfinished process. We give up knowing everything already and become curious again. We stop trying to save face and intentionally face conflicting ideas with receptivity and compassion. We're right about how others' being right can help us become better informed, broad minded and creative. We're thinking about becoming right while being partially wrong for the time being.


Thinking about others

Yesterday, I finished reading Ori and Rom Brafman's latest book: Click - The Magic of Instant Connections. Their new book is loaded with great stories of people feeling like they clicked when they first met. It shows the benefits to thinking differently than we are usually doing when we don't click with someone. Rather than summarize the message of this useful book, I'll extract the lessons in it for the ways we can find freedom by changing how we're thinking about others.

1. When we think we're in danger of being criticized, rejected or mocked, we get defensive. Rather than let our guard down, we put up walls of self-righteousness. If we think in the opposite way, it's likely we'll click with the others. To make ourselves vulnerable, we need to use humbled thinking which admits we might be wrong or disappointing. We show them respect by valuing their assessment or our qualifications, worth or contribution.

2. When we think we're too far apart to seem recognizable or familiar to others, we create that experience. We assume we're a stranger to them when we pass by. We fail to smile, say hi or start a conversation. When we think in the opposite way, we create the contrary experience. We think we've been close enough for others to regard us as familiar. We offer a knowing smile, friendly hello and start of conversation that can generate an instant connection.

3. When we're struggling with what to say and do, our panicked thinking makes us seem to others as aloof, insensitive and self-obsessed. We put others off with our insecurities. When we're in the zone and flowing with a inspired sense of what to say and do, we naturally click with others. We create the impression of being in a great place that includes the others without any apprehensions.

4. When we dwell on our differences, we create more evidence of how dissimilar we "really" are. We shoot down the possibilities of what we have in common. We see others as "them", not one of "us". When we think we have a lot in common, we see proof that makes us right about that. We get how similar we "really" are. We speak and act on that basis which generates lots of rapport.

5. When our struggles are private and our pain is strictly personal, others keep to themselves as well. We assume nobody cares enough to trouble them with our heavy burden. When we think we're in the same boat with others, we naturally share what we're going through amidst our common adversity. We comfort others and lend them a hand in light of our intimate familiarity with their struggles, pain and limitations.

6. When others look to us as predictable, we relate to them routinely. We go through the motions of making conversation with them and find there's nothing new to explore. We create superficial and boring conversations. When others appear mysterious, fascinating and unpredictable to us, our upgraded thinking comes true. We find there is so much to discover and connect with as we cover new ground, pose new questions and relate to new facets of their lives. We learn a lot which fuels our further explorations in follow-up conversations.

Perhaps you're recognizing a pattern here. We always have a choice between different ways to think. Some ways are better than others in giving us freedom from unwanted experiences, emotions and thinking. Every way we think creates self-confirming experiences. We get to be right in our own little worlds even if it's lonely and we're feeling misunderstood. We can get out of those enclosures of self-torment by changing our thinking.


Many kinds of thinking

Most of us assume that thinking we do is simply thinking. It is what it is. There does not appear to be different ways to think, only more thinking to do. There also seems to be no way to stop the thinking that fills our minds and steals our attention.

Contrary to all these assumptions, there are many different kind so thinking we can do. We can change the kind of thinking we're doing. We can also stop thinking and experience the present moment with joy and inner peace. Here's eight kinds of thinking to help you better choose and change the thinking you're doing.

  • Hysterical thinking goes overboard with complaining by "awfulizing", "demonizing" or "catastrophizing" a minor incident into a big upset.
  • Even-handed thinking finds fault in oneself as well as others which translates complaints into more insightful views of others and oneself.
  • Stinkin' thinkin' rationalizes self-destructive behavior with a mixture of denial of the costly consequences and justifications for the toxic behavior.
  • Humbled thinking admits to the toxicity of the behavior and cost of the consequences without yet knowing how to change.
  • Irrational thinking ignores the actual facts and indulges in wild speculation with a paranoid imagination to become extremely apprehensive, belligerent or defensive.
  • Rational thinking faces the facts and applies logic to define the problems accurately and decide on further actions.
  • Panicked thinking goes into flight or fight mode in the face of danger, jumping to conclusions while dwelling on dichotomies.
  • Creative thinking considers different ways to see what seems obvious while inventing new possibilities for what is far from obvious.

Now you can assume you are doing one of many kinds of thinking at any given moment. Rather than simply do more thinking, you can see the possibility of doing some better thinking. You may even find ways to do less thinking and occasionally stop thinking altogether. Peace be with you.


Reading the pilot program

When change agents realize that actions speak louder than words, it make sense to let a pilot program speak for itself. Showing how the change gets accomplished and what results follow will be far more convincing than any propaganda about the change in the abstract. It's time to play "show and tell" with demonstrations, test drives and other hands-on experience whenever changes need widespread adoption.

To consider the receiving end of these "shows of changing", it's helpful to return to Chip and Dan Heath's metaphor of the elephant with its small rider on top. The elephant will be reading the change from its own perspective, not that of the rational rider. I suspect our inner elephants look for the following attributes in any pilot program for a looming change:

  1. How safe will the participants be during the exposure to embarrassing mistakes and vulnerability to criticism?
  2. How balanced is the change effort with preserving what's already working so the baby does not get thrown out with the bathwater?
  3. How reliable is the structure for orchestrating the diverse change efforts into a coherent whole?
  4. How strong is the container for the participants' misgivings, doubts, hesitation and cynicism toward the proposed change?
  5. How much stability will get restored after the upheaval?
  6. How useful will the change appear after the commotion dies down and the daily grind deals with the change everyday?
  7. How much consideration has been given to not changing or changing more gradually?

These concerns suggest that our inner elephants read any pilot program with a different set of questions than those who are championing the change. If the pilot program answers the elephants' questions, it will get read as a safe path, reliable bridge and protected path to take forward. If the pilot program only answers questions of the small rider on top, the elephants will balk at the change. There will suddenly be tons of motivation to preserve the status quo and avoid the crazies with their inflammatory talk of change.


Lured by the herd

We've all got tons of motivation to follow a herd or two. Our inner elephants feed off others' motivation when they appear to be our own kind. We usually choose our herd out of desperation. On this level of irrational urges, we're afraid of getting isolated, rejected or scapegoated. We cling to the security of safety in numbers regardless of out rational thinking about it.

When our herd changes, we change. We do not want to stick out like a sore thumb, to rock the boat or to attract unnecessary attention within our herd. We may join a herd that attracts attention by being troublemakers, competitors or some kind of warriors. We're okay with getting noticed so long as we're sticking to our own kind.

While we're identified with our herd, we cannot break out on our own. We're sure we lack the self motivation to "follow the beat of a different drummer". We cling to our herd and cannot let go. There's been no change in the fears that drove us to seek out that herd originally. Our inner elephants will defeat any ambition to be different or to make a change that the others are dismissing.

There eventually comes a time in our lives where our inner elephants reject the herd. We may come to some dawning realizations like:

  • we're acting powerless in sync with the herd and powerful when we deviate from its dictates
  • we're imprisoned by the herd's imposed conformity and liberated by stepping out of line
  • we're living in fear when we're lured by the herd and finding our courage when we strike out on our own
  • we're afraid of freedom when we stick to our own kind and we're loving freedom when we follow our inner calling

When these kinds of realization take hold, our inner elephants will take a different path. We will discover we have tons of motivation to leave the herd and follow our hearts. We'll find we have unique gifts to give the world that we're uniquely prepared to deliver. We will see how we want to make a questionable difference in our surroundings regardless of the lure to regress to safety in numbers. We will want to challenge our preconceptions, to test our abilities and to discover if we can produce results as we intend. We will make the switch from reacting (to what others think) to creating (what we think is right).


Actions speak louder than words

In their newest book, Switch, Chip and Dan Heath use a wonderful metaphor to explain how we get motivated to change. Imagine a big elephant with a little rider on top and a path the two is following. When we use words to convince people to change, the little rider on top is all ears and the big elephant is not moved by our exhortations. When we show how the change is accomplished and what results occur from the change, the elephant gets it. When others have joined in making this change, the path becomes a herd that the elephant follows naturally.

The little rider on top favors negative thinking about changes, about the elephant and about itself.  It attempts to change by its own willpower, self control and determined thinking. The little rider usually works against the elephant and loses the battle. Trying to resist what the elephant wants only ends up with more of the pachyderm's irrational urges to oppose rationally. The little rider gets nowhere with its negative thinking.

Elephants are easily spooked by the unexpected. Elephants get the urge to change when they get spooked by the status quo. They suddenly anticipate the consequences of making no changes. They became afraid of getting left behind, getting into more trouble or getting stuck in a dead end. Elephants also get moving forward when they see a better solutions for themselves. The change sells itself without a sales pitch because the advantages are obvious, the value is palpable and the results are undeniable.

The little rider on top needs to switch from trying to change a lack of motivation with negative thinking. As Yoda famously said in the first Star Wars film, "there is no trying, only doing and not-doing". When we think about doing change without trying, it makes sense to pursue approaches  I've explored previously here:

When we succeed at changing, we don't get to be in control. As Chip and Dan Heath show us in their latest book, we need to work the elephants and the structure of the path. We stop attributing negative motivations to others and start seeing the big picture. We join a herd that finds tons of motivation to do what is obviously a better way to get better outcomes.


From rescuer to redeemer

It's human nature to start our being selfish. We naturally want to accumulate lots of toys, friends and victories over others. We have no concept of others at first. We're absorbed by plenty of our own desires, demands and needs to fill.

We may break out of these selfish circuits at young age by caring for a family member, best friend or pet. We may experience a very caring individual in our lives whom we then emulate. Later in life we may burnout on being so entirely self-centered. We may experience a shocking exposure to others who are much less fortunate than ourselves. We may sacrifice our comforts and risk our lives for the sake of our nation's security, freedom and future vitality. We may step into cycles of abuse where the prey needs protection from predators.  We may become parents who put our offspring's needs ahead of our own. We may even fall in love and devote ourselves to our beloved's interests.

Each of these departures from self-interest involves a personal sacrifice. All our caring, nurturing and generosity amounts to a lose/win deal. We're showing the world how to compromise selfishness so that others' may win. We're coming from a place where our own interests cannot be satisfied without undoing what we're giving to others. We're thinking it's an either/or situation that cannot become a both/and deal with no sacrifice required. We're in the midst of rescuing others rather than redeeming our shared situation.

Rescuing does not work any better in our lives than being selfish. Both alternatives provide bad examples to others and negative emotions for ourselves. Both reinforce a chronic problem with losing when others are winning. Both send a message of unavoidable sacrifices when others are getting their way.  Both make it seem like winners must take all and winning always occurs at others' expense.

When we switch from rescuing to redeeming, we become indifferent to the obvious situation. We're not coming from the endless drama of power struggles, control issues and self contempt. We see there's no solution at the level of the presenting problems and unmet needs. We come from a place where the personal sacrifice of self interest is inconceivable. We have discovered profound freedom from our former selfishness regardless of what others' are thinking and doing right now. We join those living without fear of what could happen, what did happen and what has not happened. It feels like we're sharing from a place of infinite supply and unlimited possibility. We are ministering to situations which have yet to find the place we're coming from. We redeem others from their dramas of fear, lack and misfortune. We show them how it's done without making a personal sacrifice. We seem amazing to those who've become discouraged, disheartened or defeated. They seem amazing to us when they get the message we've sent by our mere presence.


Managing down and sideways

When our capabilities are a good match to our current job, we feel confident and competent. We're in a great place to manage down and sideways. We relate effectively to subordinates and colleagues. It's easy to take an interest in their interests and earn their respect in the process. We learn a lot by listening to their concerns, issues and problems. We see ways to cultivate their strengths and hidden talents. We'll also discover some of their limitations and need to rely on others. We discover how well it works to disrupt any tendency to power-trip, bully or intimidate subordinates. The practice gained in egalitarian transactions works equally well with colleagues (managing sideways).

Hopefully we're also experiencing higher ups and colleagues who also manage down effectively. We are then getting listened to extensively and understood thoroughly. Our own potentials are getting cultivated by their mentoring and coaching us. Our mentors must be in an equally great place of feeling confident and competent. They have not been promoted beyond the limits of their competencies. They earn our respect and inspire us to advance ourselves by their worthy examples.

When an entire enterprise runs on managing down and sideways, it becomes sustainable. Potentially debilitating problems get nipped in the bud or prevented from occurring at all. Rather than indulging in promoting people to their level of incompetency, there is no shame in getting demoted back into positions of feeling competent and confident. The promotion reveals that the job is not as easy as capable individuals make it appear. The loss of the necessary confidence to manage down and sideways becomes too great a sacrifice. The temptation to exceed one's abilities in exchange for excess compensation appears toxic. The return to a prior position gets widely regarded as progress a sign of increased confidence and a move in the right direction.

Unsustainable enterprises do none of this. They undermine their chances of thriving and surviving by managing up exclusively. The enterprises eviscerate all their essential mentoring and coaching. Few are feeling competent and confident to manage down and sideways effectively. These enterprises self-destruct by fostering a staggering number of problems:

  • Higher ups seem profoundly insecure in positions they perform poorly and fail to improve at with practice. They cover up their insecurities with bravado and attacks on others. They want others to tell them only what they want to hear and shoot the messengers who do otherwise. They get kept in the dark as a result and given the silent treatment whenever upsetting topics arise. 
  • Those who manage up successfully lose their bearings. They align their loyalties with incompetent higher-ups. They assume the critics of top management are envious malcontents who may become saboteurs and traitors. They have no tolerance for discussions of problems, changes and opportunities which call for considerable competence. They become addicted to their promotions, perks and inclusion in elite activities. They destroy their better judgement, creativity and intrinsic reward schema in the process of "kissing up". Facing a demotion could only be a devastating loss that would call for some destructive revenge.
  • Those who get labeled as enemies of the entourage at the top manage down without support from above. They create a chasm between the formal and informal leadership. The two sides of the divided enterprise cannot align on any change in structure, policy or strategy.  Sustaining innovations become impossible. Getting close to the customers, market or internal talent appears traitorous to Club Clueless up above. Those that leave look like heroes while those left behind lose their self esteem and self respect.

This large array of problems does not need to be solved within sustainable enterprises. The problems do not arise when managing down and sideways become pervasive. The critical mass of feeling competent and confident creates a culture that handles internal and external challenges superbly.


Our sense of timing

When we're inner directed, we enjoy a superb sense of timing. We get a feeling about our timing being off or right on. We know on the inside when something we could do would end up being too soon or too late to make the intended difference. We get inner promptings when something is taking too long or flying by too quickly. Our inner sense of timing can tell us when to start, persist, back off or stop everything we do. Our inner direction gives us feeling of profound contentment and satisfaction when our timing works out beautifully.

When we're outer directed, our timing is almost always off. Our tunnel-visioned outlook cannot calculate the right time to do anything. Without our inner direction, we take very little of the vast complexity into consideration. We don't know "when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em". We miss the boat or jump the gun without an inner sense of timing. When we're outer directed, we assume there is no inner direction and no possibility of a superb sense of timing.

We acquire an inner sense of timing by going within for guidance. We humbling admit we don't know the right timing for what we want to do. We become aware of the mind-boggling array of issues that factor into superb timing. We let go of being right, being in control or being superior to others. We face our sincere question of timing with innocence and receptivity. It's as if we're facing a mystery that will reveal clues to us if we patiently await signs of the right timing to deploy in this particular situation.

Less than ten percent of the enrollment in any scheduled instruction will experience perfect timing. The vast majority will find it comes at a bad time personally. The tempo will seem too fast or slow. The duration will either take too long or not take enough time. The scheduled offering cannot get it right for everyone because the diversity of right timing requires unscheduled or on-demand instruction. As learners become inner-directed, they will learn what they want when it works for them at several levels. They will repeatedly experience superb timing in the learning opportunities they encounter. They will join my delightful experience of life-long learning outside the system that delivers content on schedule.


Barking up the right tree

In the last of this series of 12 explorations on finding home base in our minds, I'll explore those proverbial two trees in paradise. The wrong tree puts us to sleep and the right tree awakens us to what is real. We're coming from home base in our minds when we bark up the Tree of Life and turn away from the Tree of Knowledge.

The Tree of Knowledge is very tempting to us. When we eat of it's fruit, we believe what we see with our eyes and know with our other four senses. We take physical evidence literally. We assume the only illusions are in our minds, not in the observable world. Our brains are hard wired to survive in this objective world, as if there is no paradise to be found. We live in fear of every imaginable danger, including death. We know with certainty that there's no connection between what appears in our world and our devotion to toxic thinking and feeling. The portion of our neurological apparatus which handles our survival sits on top of our spinal cord. It's been called our reptile brain, which gets symbolized as the snake in Garden of Eden which tempted Adam to chomp on that infamous apple.

The Tree of Life becomes very elusive to us once we bark up the Tree of Knowledge. We may seek it but cannot find the right tree by looking on the outside. We fail to get anything else we want to show up. Our prayers go unanswered and many of our ambitious endeavors backfire. We presume we have to look out for ourselves because nobody has got our back. We've got unresolved abandonment issues from mistakenly barking up this wrong tree. We act out those issues by becoming extremely materialistic, antagonistic, needy or gloomy. There's no way to experience that unexplainable peace of mind which accompanies our finding home base.

When we bark up the Tree of Life, time stands still. We're living an endless moment amidst the illusion of passing time. We feel very eternal while experiencing a mortal construct that will turn to dust as we live on. We feel connected to every other conscious thing which excludes nothing in our experience. We are an expression of life among every other show of living and celebrating life. We are successfully creating experiences with the thoughts and feelings we entertain. We are free to let go of all those mistaken impressions that came to mind as we barked up the Tree of Knowledge. We see the error of our delusional ways and turn toward the right tree in paradise. The "Tree of Life" seems like a really good name for that right tree, since it gives us the motivation to live fully. We can become innocent of our excessive knowledge, trusting we will receive what we need to know to live serenely right now. We're free to be as we choose how to be a blessing to others.


Feeling our feelings

When we find home base in our minds, we experience a peace of mind that defies explanation. We can be in the midst of massive turmoil and feel serene within. This peace of mind is connected to who we really are, not our circumstances or past history.

With this peace of mind comes an added benefit: we can feel our feelings. The emotional turmoil that drowns them out recedes from our experience. We need access to our feelings to make good decisions. Our feelings guide us away from wasted efforts, regrettable engagements and baited traps. Our feelings guide us toward our calling right now. They show us what is the right thing to see, say and do. They inspire us with intrinsic motivation to get the little bit of what needs doing done right now.

When we've been traumatized by some unwanted experience in our lives, there are seven things we can do to change our state of mind. All seven of these have worked for me for many years:

  1. We can realize that our minds are clinging to what happened and choose to let go of it. We can tell ourselves it's not happening here and now or it didn't happened the way we think it did from our limited perspective. 
  2. We can stop being right about the objective facts of the incident and switch to the subjective dimensions of the experience. We can explore the personal meaning for us or reframe the "half empty" thing as ""half full" instead.
  3. We can disrupt our replaying the past in our minds and become absorbed in the present moment. We can listen with all ears and bask in the immediate sights, smells and textures.
  4. We can interrupt our labeling ourselves a failure and see the processes we're pursuing. We can see ways to do more growing, changing and learning from the experience.
  5. We can dispel our fears of being cursed and imagine freedom from that dreadful fate. We can envision a desired future and create a new way to be here now.
  6. We can silence our one-sided story and explore other viewpoints. We can entertain dialogues with other characters which reveal other interests and interpretations which contributed to the incident. 
  7. We can rise above our agitated emotions and embrace a calm acceptance of all that's transpired. We can feel our feelings of being loved unconditionally, forgiven totally and free of all troublesome illusions. 

Once we find home base in our minds, we naturally make these seven changes in our mind all the time. There's seems to be no valid reason to get upset. There are too many benefits to feeling our feelings to mess with our serenity.


Preparing a bridal chamber

Several spiritual traditions compare finding home base in our minds to preparing a bridal chamber. We are all capable of:

  • getting inseminated with inspirations and realizations from out of this world
  • getting pregnant with those possibilities which grow increasingly complex and realistic
  • giving birth to the resulting creations to make our world a better place than the one we manufacture with fear, guilt, greed and vengeance

This birthing cannot happen when we are filled with fears, past history, control issues or other mental clutter. Preparing the bridal chamber involves emptying our minds which then changes what we're feeling. When I get inseminated in this way, it feels like getting filled with serenity and freedom from being bored or agitated. This delightful experience has also been compared to receiving a bridegroom once we've restored our virginity and cultivated enough patient expectancy. We become sufficiently empty to get filled with inspirations, serenity and freedom. We also become sufficiently humble and faithful to accept we cannot come up with these treasures on our own or cling to them exclusively.

I like to visualize a bridal chamber with four walls which can be opened up with a little effort. By taking down the wall or creating a portal in it, my mind has become more accessible and inviting. These openings also clear out the chamber of all the mental clutter which had no where to go. The four walls suggest four different ways to prepare our mental bridal chambers for the arrival of the bridegroom:

  1. Gratitude: When we appreciate the goodness and give thanks in all things, an opening is created in our minds. We take down a wall of resentment and resistance. We've become poised to recognize more good when we're already seeing goodness to feel grateful for receiving. 
  2. Presence: When we "stop the world" which captivates our five senses, we become pure observant awareness. We realize we are human beings, not tools or human doings. We become still and know we really are being here. We bring a presence to every situation which extends peace rather than fueling agitation. 
  3. Forgiveness: When we let go of what happened to us, we free ourselves of lingering grudges and vendettas. We free the others whom we've blamed or booked onto our guilt trips. While we're thinking we we're really wronged, we can set things right by forgiving others "seventy by seven times". We may eventually realize there really is nothing to forgive. 
  4. Receptivity: When we experience our own innocence, we're open to receive what we don't see, consider or understand. We embrace the mystery before us and receive clues that further our exploration. We realize we don't know what to do, what will solve our problems or what to contribute to our situation. We then get impregnated with a perfect next step. We know not to know too much. 

Each of these approached tear down barriers in our minds. They prepare the bridal chamber for the bridegroom. They succeed at finding home base in our minds.


Coming up with business ideas -4

Whenever we've found home base in our minds, it dawns on us that there's a fourth way to come up with business ideas. It no longer makes sense to us to struggle with the first three ways I've already explored: (1, 2, 3). We can be far more imaginative and visionary than falling for those survival, conquest or service issues. We see how to be in business that is clear of fear and filled with peace of mind.

This four approach includes the other three as market segments. A total solution works for every level of play and space that others come from into this enterprise. It allows for customers and employees to be coming from lower levels of play like a commissioner of a professional sport that nurtures everyone touched by the sport. So many get served directly and indirectly by this approach, it seems like a win/win/win to most. They look upon this enterprise with enlightened self-interest that contributes to its success for selfish and altruistic reasons.

This fourth approach get built on paradoxes. It routinely poses the challenge of doing both. Customers seem like external employees who do some of the work for the enterprise. Employees seem like internal customers who serve the actual customers in the same ways they get treated themselves. Top-down exercise of authority gets balanced with bottom-up feedback, suggestions, insights and and learning. So many facets of the enterprise seem like balancing acts:

  • planning and execution of those plans
  • pursuing changes and stability
  • teamwork and individual accomplishments
  • extrinsic rewards and self motivation
  • handling environmental turbulence and internal issues
  • increasing efficiency and redundancies
  • increasing revenue and reputation

This approach cannot be modeled on pro forma spreadsheets. It's not accurately captured by objective data and projections. It's rife with intangibles, virtuous cycles and side effects. It resembles the complexity of thriving ecosystems which are extremely interdependent. This approach realizes many emergent outcomes that cannot be caused directly or replicated consistently. This kind of enterprise happens unpredictably and invites the participants to play along without fear or fuss. It works great with an ongoing peace of mind that looks upon life as an unfolding mystery.


Coming up with business ideas -3

When we're in pursuit of vastly superior product and services, we're unconsciously exalting ourselves. The market will eventually humble us with its indifference, abuses and successes of some overrated/inferior competition. These setbacks prepare us for a third approach to coming up with business ideas. It's time to attune to our customers when they are not shopping, but rather valuing what they have already purchased. If we could get into the customers' heads, we might find:

  1. they see the marketplace and rival offerings differently with different frames of reference (beauty is in the eye of the beholder)
  2. they feel apprehensive about their ability to make a good decision amidst so much sales hype (establishing a need for consumer advocacy)
  3. they have changed their minds about what they really wanted after buying what they assumed they needed (defining a migration path to explore with them)
  4. they endured several bad experiences with prior purchases which taint their outlook toward this expenditure (calling for added comfort and safety)
  5. they use what they've bought differently than we designed for or promoted when we sold it (as if they bought our tools for their own varied uses)
  6. they value the relationship with us more than the actual purchase (wanting to trust us, to respect us and to rely on us to return the favor)
  7. they live in contexts which pose different problems and define different needs than our own (providing opportunities to address the fit in to their situations)
  8. they interact with their social gathering known for spewing opinions about questionable purchases (posing a need for allies in the fight for acceptance)
  9. they experience difficulties with owning, transporting, storing, maintaining and/or repairing what they've bought (creating opportunities for service after the sale)
  10. they have a lot to learn to make more and better use of their existing inventory of purchases (valuing genuine assistance more than sales persistence)

When we discover these kinds of issues troubling the minds of our customers, we're set up to make a better difference. We can change from selling added services to being of service to them. We can abandon our own power trip and find ways to empower our customers. We can learn from buyers who teach us how to better serve them, rather than doing all the selling ourselves. We can show how well we know our customers by addressing their concerns, working with their applications and helping put their minds at ease. We can do more to nurture the relationships with buyers rather than exclusively refine the products and value-added services. Being in business changes from the enduring the daily grind to an ongoing mystery with fascinating discoveries, revelations and new questions.

You may have noticed with approach to coming up with business ideas is a lot more complex than either prior approach. Each customer appears unique. One size no longer fits all. There's so much more besides the product and services to customize. The work involved can be overwhelming. This approach can feel like too big a sacrifice or a martyrdom trip. When it becomes an obvious lose/win deal after so much success with attuning to the customers, it's time for the fourth approach to coming up with business ideas.


Coming up with business ideas -2

Coming up with business ideas for merely making money quickly turns into a slippery slope I explored in the first installment. Everyone competing by lowering prices ends up at the bottom of the pack. We can get turned around and climb upward by coming up with ideas for superior products and services. The better our offerings, the more we can charge for them. The customers in this better space believe they get what they pay for and that it pays for them to pay more for something. They feel like winners who succeed by shopping for the best features and benefits on the market. They demand the best and reward the providers who can meet their expectations consistently.

To come up with ideas for superior products and services, we need to get to a better place than thinking about making money. We need to explore how to upgrade the product, improve the design and enhance the features. We want our offering to look better, feel better and function better than every other offering. We can use our competition to fuel those ambitions. We're figuring how we can beat their products and services when they get compared to ours by customers or consumer advocates. To deliver higher quality consistently, our business idea must include a production system. We'll need to set up factory-like procedures, mechanisms and delivery systems. We'll aim to eliminate mistakes and make routines much more efficient as if our business can become a fine tuned machine.

When we're thinking this way, we're in a place where a winner takes all and winning occurs at others' expense. We're a match to customers who think this way and like what they see in us as their mirror. In this space, we assume we're superior to all those losers who shop for bargains in their space of lack and insecurities. We're unaware of our power supply because we've got plenty of power to burn. We like the atmosphere of dealing with powerful customers who know what they want and demand the best above the rest.

It costs a lot more to run a business in this space. Customers don't already know they need what we're offering. They don't realize what we're do is superior to what they're already buying and bragging about. They have a lot to learn and are not exactly ready to listen. Most of the extra money we can charge for the superior goods and services gets spent on sales and advertising expenses to educate potential customers about our superiority. We have to push our products into a market that is preoccupied with seemingly inferior goods and services. We may also spend more on better supplies or on keeping more inventory on hand. It's very possible to make even less profit in the high end of the market with all these added expenses.

When we're in this space of succeeding, we're quick to dismiss any feedback that we're selfish, greedy, pushy or overpowering. It appears our critics are envious losers who want what we've got. We cannot connect the dots between this space of succeeding and our growing dissatisfaction and burnout. We may end up wondering if we're not cut out for succeeding in business or for coming up with a viable idea. We've become ready to find yet another space for coming up with business ideas.


Coming up with business ideas -1

When our last job, project or start-up is nearly over, we may need some good ideas for a new business venture. In this next series of blog posts, I'll explore this challenge from an unusual perspective: where we coming from and what comes to mind in those spaces.

In this first section, we'll explore the how difficult it is to come up with good business ideas when we need money. We may be thinking we need to make more money than before or to make lots of money in a hurry. We usually don't realize it, but we're coming from a place of lack when we've got revenue, income and profitability on our minds. We're assuming we would not bother with another business if we were already rolling in dough. We going to the trouble because we're in need of a bigger bankroll. We're in a space where very few ideas come to mind for launching a new business, and the few that do aren't good.

When customers realize we're in business for the money, they know to shop for bargains. They assume they could pay too much and look for the cheapest provider. They don't care much about features, quality or long term investments. They want to save money now as if they're following our example of being money-minded. They're more concerned with how much they saved right now than how much they missed out on by paying too little. These customers seem easy to please so long as we can save them some money.

We're in big trouble when we rely on offering lower prices to satisfy the customers. Rival enterprises can come along and beat our price if they run a bigger operation with economies of scale. They may also sell below their own costs if they've been able to milk a cash cow in another market which gave them the cash reserves to spend on this price war. Competing on price amounts to a failed negotiation where no nuanced value was established in the minds of the customers. We'll be struggling for survival against incredible odds on the brink of going out of business.

When we're in the space that's attractive to bargain hunters, our power supply is pitiful. We're lacking in the courage, creativity and confidence we need to succeed. We're feeling needy, insecure and apprehensive about getting exploited. We don't have what it takes to put down our foot or to define what's fair game on our own terms. We're poised to placate customers to excess and offer discounts we cannot afford. We're assuming we have to make a big sacrifice to get any business because we're not worthy of increasing success, respect and quality customers. We're coming from a place of perpetual lack.

The kinds of customers we'll attract in this space will appear to us like a bunch of losers who have nothing to lose by treating us like losers too. They will think of themselves as needy for a special price. We'll lose out on making the money we sought by offering better bargains and cheaper prices than the competition. Those customers cannot win in their worlds either. They barely show up on their power supply meters while wallowing in perpetual lack as well.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can come from other spaces where better business ideas to come to mind as naturally as those bad ideas come to mind in this space of lack and survival. In the next post, I'll explore the space of quality products that command premium prices.


Nothing to forgive

Whenever we're watching a movie, we're in a great place to draw a line between what is real and not real. We're really watching the movie, feeling our feelings about it, and believing in what appears to be happening for the time being. Yet the harm done to the characters and their situations is not real. The changes in the lives of the characters are not really occurring. The time that passes during the movie is an illusion. We rely on our insights, rather than our eyesight.

We can also get into a bad place when we're watching a movie. We get sucked into the illusions and become obsessed with what happened. Our minds can replay incidents from the movie as if they really happened. A movie can give us nightmares and daytime paranoia about what might happen to us -- long after we sat and watched the film.

We get into this bad place when we cannot forgive others for what they did to us. Likewise, we cannot forgive ourselves for what we said, did or didn't do to others. We cannot sort out what is real and not real. We cling to what happened with guilt and every flavor of fear. It's as if we're stuck in our seats watching the movie in a theater with no exits, aisles and house lights. By clinging to this misery, we lose our authentic life of experiencing freedom from our past history and serenity right now. What happened to us or by us seems very real and unforgivable.

When we get to a great place to draw a line between what is real and not real, we've found home base in our minds. Nothing that happens in the movie needs to be forgiven because it didn't really happen to who we really are that's really watching and feeling all this. How we feel right now can be totally forgiven and free of any past harm, hurt and violations. We can repeatedly look on what appeared to happen with innocence. We believe there's nothing to forgive and everything to love once we let go of what did not really happen. We can love our adversaries in the movie unconditionally because we're really joined in spirit watching the same movie.


Viewing evidence with innocence

When we're hard wired to our circumstances, we're a long way off from home base in our minds. We're facing the drama with fear, guilt and other negative emotions. We're feeling urges to overreact as if we have no choice. How we're feeling seems to depend on those circumstances which are "making us feel this way".

We cannot conceive of viewing the same evidence with innocence unless we can detach ourselves from them. We already know what this is because it's happened before and it about to happen again. We're clinging to being right, in the know and good at predicting the future. We're hooked on our eyesight, rather than switching over to insights.

With innocence in our outlook, we've become like children without acting childish or foolishly naive. We've become harmless without losing our cunning and creativity. We are full of wonder and empty of prior opinions. We're using our "don't know" mind rather than trashing our "bare sensing" with cultural conditioning and projections of our inner torment.

From home base, the evidence appears wonderfully mysterious. With regard to our past history, this looks like it could be different from any prior occurance. When it comes to predicting what will happen next, all is possible from here on out. The situation offers lots of freedom for us to choose how we take the evidence, where we go with it and where we're coming from to see it the way we do.

With innocence in mind, we're seeing:

  • how there's good in the bad and more good that can come about from seeing some good in it already
  • how to trust the process unfolding for us rather than push the river that only makes it work against us
  • how to take the evidence as a mirror of a portion of our mental state or skewed outlook
  • how to learn from what we're seeing to upgrade how we're seeing it as if we're free to come from a better place closer to home in our minds. 


Calling a timeout to chill out

Whenever we're busy thinking, there is always more thinking to do. We think of more things to think about. We add more considerations to whatever issues remain unresolved in our minds. We stir up more apprehensions and anxiety which turn us into stress cases.

When we call a timeout, we mean "no thinking required for the moment". If we don't declare a moratorium on our incessant thinking, there will be no end to it seeming like there is more thinking to do right now. There's no use trying to chill out or thinking about stopping our thinking.

When we successfully called a timeout, we've headed for home base in our minds. We've moved our state of mind to a place where we can simply be observant of what we behold. We can watch our inner and outer worlds without adding anything to either. We can feel contented,  joyful or full of fascination without thinking about what we're observing. We can be with what is in our awareness as if we're a presence or space for it.