Category Archives: Collaboration

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Shaping Serendipity with Narratives

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Emotions,Fear,Future,Learning,Narratives,Opportunity,Passion,Potential,Serendipity,Trust

I have long challenged our conventional view of serendipity. I believe that those who master the art of serendipity will ultimately achieve much more of their potential and create value that is meaningful to them and others. But it won’t be easy. It will require us to move beyond our comfort zone and embrace new approaches.

Shaping serendipity

Most of us believe that serendipity is something that just happens and that all we can do is be prepared for it when it does happen. I devoted an entire chapter in my book on The Power of Pull to the opportunity that we have to shape serendipity – we can, through our actions, significantly increase the probability of it happening.

What are some examples? If you live in a small village, the likelihood of serendipity is much lower than if you move to a large city. If you’re booked from early morning to late in the evening with meetings with people that you already know, you’re much less likely to run into someone that you didn’t know and who could provide real insight into an issue you are addressing. The choices we make on a daily basis can significantly alter the probability of those unexpected encounters.

I can’t resist tying this to my new book – The Journey Beyond Fear. In that book, I discuss how fear is becoming the dominant emotion among people around the world. If we’re driven by fear, we tend to isolate or hang out with people we already know – we’re very reluctant to meet people we don’t know.

Serendipity matters

So why does this matter? Well, it turns out that serendipity is becoming more and more essential for success. As I’ve discussed in my research on the Big Shift, we live in a world of accelerating change and intensifying competition.

In this Big Shift world, we need to accelerate our learning, especially learning in the form of creating new knowledge, as we confront situations that have never been encountered before. One of the best ways to pursue this form of learning is to seek serendipity – encountering people who can provide unexpected insight into some of the challenges we are confronting.

Narratives as a catalyst for serendipity 

So, how do we do that? There are many ways, as I discussed in my book on The Power of Pull. In this post, I’m going to focus on an approach that I have come to believe is particularly powerful and yet rarely used. It involves the use of narratives which I discuss in more detail in my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear.

Most people view stories and narratives as meaning the same thing. I make an important distinction. For me, stories are self-contained. They have a beginning, a middle and an end – the end, the story is over. And stories are about the story-teller or some people, real or imagined. They’re not about you.

In contrast, for me, narratives are open-ended – there is no resolution yet. There is some kind of big threat or opportunity out in the future. It’s not clear whether it will materialize or not. And the resolution of the narrative hinges on you – it’s a call to action to those who are hearing the narrative. Their choice and actions will help to determine how the narrative plays out.

Opportunity-based narratives can be powerful catalysts for serendipity on two levels. First, they focus on a really, big inspiring opportunity that can help people more beyond fear and cultivate the passion that will take them beyond their comfort zone as they seek to address the opportunity. Second, these narratives have a call to action that motivates people to take action, including seeking out and connecting with others who share their excitement about the opportunity to be addressed. These are often people they have never met before.

Personal narratives

In The Journey Beyond Fear, I explore how narratives can be crafted at multiple levels – personal, institutional, geographical and movements. Let’s start with personal narratives. We all have a personal narrative that is shaping our choices and actions. Unfortunately, more and more of us are consumed by threat-based narratives, viewing the future as very threatening and feeding the emotion of fear. As a result, we often do not have a call to action to others – with fear, we tend to lose trust in others and isolate ourselves.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we found a way to craft an opportunity-based personal narrative – a narrative is shaped by some really big and inspiring opportunity in the future that could help us to achieve much greater impact that is meaningful to us. That opportunity could help us overcome our fear and realize that the opportunity is not just for us – it’s an opportunity that many could share. It would motivate us to spread the word about the opportunity and seek help from others in addressing the opportunity. As word spreads, the likelihood of serendipity increases. People we never knew will seek us out, excited about the ability to come together and pursue a shared opportunity.

Geographical narratives

(I’ll leave institutional narratives and movement narratives for another time.) I believe that geographies – cities, regions and countries – can craft inspiring opportunity-based narratives that will increase serendipity. What’s the evidence for that? Well, cities like Athens, Florence and Vienna have harnessed that potential (see more in The Journey Beyond Fear). For now, let me focus on where I live.

I’ve been in Silicon Valley for many decades and people often ask me how to explain the continued success of Silicon Valley. Others would focus on things like the universities and venture capital firms. I believe the success of Silicon Valley has ultimately been driven by a powerful opportunity-based narrative. At a high level, it focuses on the opportunity to change the world by harnessing the exponential potential of digital technology, but the call to action is that you need to come to Silicon Valley to help address this opportunity. It’s the reason why the majority of successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley were not even born in the US, much less Silicon Valley. They were drawn from all over the world by the inspiring opportunity-based narrative.

Once they came here, serendipity was unleashed. These people were continually running into other people at gatherings and on the street that they never knew before. And because they were so passionate about the opportunity that drew them here, they would quickly begin discussing a challenge that they did not yet know how to address and asking for help and advice. Serendipity sizzles in Silicon Valley. And it can sizzle in any geography that inspires people to come together to address a really big opportunity.

Unleashing the power of narratives

Narratives have enormous potential but we only unleash that potential if we craft our narratives in certain ways. As I’ve already indicated, we need to shift from threat-based to opportunity-based narratives that can help all of us to overcome our fears and our tendency to isolate as we lose trust in others. The opportunities need to be really big opportunities that will take some time to achieve and that will require the effort of many people who can share in the opportunity (ideally, the opportunity will become even bigger as more people come together).

We also need to make an effort to spread the word about the opportunity and encourage people to come together to address the opportunity. We need to find ways to reach people that we don’t know. Word of mouth can help, but writing and speaking about the opportunity to large groups of people can be even more helpful in attracting people we don’t know (dare I mention social media as one important avenue?).

Bottom line

In a rapidly changing world, serendipity becomes more and more central to success, given its power to generate new insight that we would have never had on our own. We have the ability to significantly improve the likelihood of serendipity. One powerful (and largely untapped) approach that can help in this quest for serendipity is the crafting of inspiring opportunity-based narratives with a call to action to a broad audience.

If we get this right, we can turn the mounting performance pressure of the Big Shift into exponentially expanding opportunity. We are now able to create far more value with far less resources and far more quickly than ever before. Let’s get started!


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Shaping Markets and Shaping Psychology

Category:Collaboration,Emotions,Fear,Future,Leadership,Opportunity,Paradox,Passion,Strategy,Transformation,Trust

Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, recently passed away. It’s been a catalyst for me to reflect on the role he played in expanding my horizon beyond strategy to explore the role of psychology in shaping our impact. This post will take one of my approaches to strategy – shaping strategy – and focus on its ability to shape our psychology.

Shaping strategies

I’ve written extensively about the untapped potential of shaping strategies, including here and here. In a world of accelerating change, business leaders have been embracing approaches like agility that focus on rapidly and flexibly responding to the events of the moment. The goal is to react to whatever is happening at the moment.

As a contrarian, I have challenged that view. In times of accelerating change and increasing uncertainty, we have more degrees of freedom to shape the markets and environments around us to create more value for ourselves and for other participants. But we have to see that opportunity and pursue it. And, to do that, we need to escape the reactive mindset that shrinks our time horizons.

Three elements of shaping strategies

Shaping strategies focus on addressing this opportunity. They rely on three elements: a shaping view, a shaping platform, and shaping actions and assets. The shaping view is the foundation of these strategies – it looks ahead and describes how a future market or industry might be structured in a very different way to create and capture much more value for its participants. Shaping platforms then provide a way for more and more participants to join in the effort – they help to reduce the effort and cost of participation while bringing quicker and larger returns. Finally, shaping actions and assets are ways that the shaper can overcome skepticism of potential participants that the shaping opportunity is achievable.

Even though we are in a world where shaping strategies are becoming more and more viable, very few companies or other institutions have pursued these strategies. Some of the most successful shapers have been Dee Hock (Visa), Malcolm McLean (containerized shipping), Victor Fung (Li & Fung), Bill Gates (Microsoft), and Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com). I discuss their approaches and the lessons that can be learned in my book, The Power of Pull.

Shaping psychology

So, how does this shaping strategy approach connect with shaping psychology? All three elements of a shaping strategy can be very effective in shaping the emotions of the participants.

Let’s start with the shaping view. When I developed this approach to strategy, I focused on the role of shaping views in framing an opportunity that would increase our perception of rewards and reduce our perception of risk.  When I was talking with Dee Hock about this, he interrupted me and said “you’ve got it all wrong. It’s not about risk and reward, it’s about fear and hope. That’s ultimately what motivates people to act.”

That was a wake-up call to me. I had been thinking in narrow business terms, when the real need was to focus on the emotions that shape our actions. I began to realize that the most effective shaping views seek to overcome the fear holding back many participants and cultivate hope and excitement about an opportunity that could be achieved if they all came together. After all, it’s fear that is holding us back from seeing big opportunities in the future and focusing us on simply reacting to whatever is going on at the moment.

Shaping platforms also help to shape the emotions of participants. By reducing the effort required to participate and creating more rewards for participation, these platforms make it easier to participate, even if participants still have some fear. They also help participants to overcome fear and build hope when they see more rapid rewards and connect with others who are enjoying similar rewards. These platforms would be even more effective if they were explicitly designed to address these emotions and help participants to make the journey beyond fear.

Shaping actions and assets provide a way for the shapers to demonstrate their commitment to the shaping opportunity. This can be a powerful way to overcome the lack of trust that comes with fear. For example, the shaper could make a large investment that would be viewed as a “bet the company” investment to demonstrate its commitment. If it is a smaller, entrepreneurial company, the shaper could also develop some early partnerships with larger and more influential companies that would increase the perception that the shaping strategy will succeed. These actions and assets help to strengthen hope and excitement that the shaping opportunity is real and will be accomplished.

Bottom line

I have written before about the paradox that we confront in the Big Shift that is transforming our global economy and society. On the one side, the Big Shift is creating mounting performance pressure – global competition is intensifying, the pace of change is accelerating and extreme, disruptive events come in out of nowhere. At the same time, the Big Shift is creating exponentially expanding opportunity – we can create far more value, far more quickly with far less resource than would have been imaginable a couple of decades ago. Shaping strategies are a powerful approach to help many of us to move from giving in to the mounting performance pressure and instead seeing and addressing the exponentially expanding opportunities.


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Connectivity and Decentralization

Category:Collaboration,Connections,Context,Decentralization,Edges,Future,Learning,Opportunity,Paradox,Passion,Potential,Trust,Workgroups

We’re in the early stages of a Big Shift that is transforming our global economy and society. The Big Shift produces many paradoxes, but here’s one that I haven’t written about: it is rapidly creating global connectivity while at the same time generating a growing desire for decentralization. How can we reconcile the two?

I’ve written about the Big Shift for a long time, including here. A key driver of the Big Shift is the ability to connect more quickly and cheaply with anyone or anything around the world. Certainly, this includes our ability to send a message to anyone in the world, but it also includes our ability to monitor in real time physical goods with Internet of Things technology. And it’s not just about communicating and monitoring, but also controlling and directing activities from a distance.

So, with all these connecting capabilities, we might anticipate more and more centralization where activities are controlled and monitored by fewer and fewer large, centralized global entities (e.g., governments and corporations).

Certainly, we are already seeing some of that. But, at the same time, I anticipate that we’re going to see more and more efforts to decentralize our activities – distributing or delegating activities, especially planning and decision-making, away from a central location or group. Why is that?

Accelerating pace of change

Growing connectivity accelerates the pace of change and makes the specific changes more and more challenging to anticipate. In a more rapidly changing and unpredictable world, we need to find ways to respond more quickly to unexpected developments. The conventional approach of tightly specifying business processes in advance from a central location is becoming less and less effective. Those who are in the best position to confront the unanticipated changes quickly are those who are on the front lines, not those who are sitting in some command center, even when supported by more and more powerful computers.

Context matters

Changes don’t occur in isolation. They occur in a specific context that shapes the change and the impact that it will have. Context is complex – it can’t be reduced to numbers or images. Those who are in the best position to “read” context are those who are living in it in the moment. If we want to address change effectively, we need to rely on those who are deeply embedded in the context. Context is becoming more and more important for value creation, as I have written about here.

Learning is an imperative

In a rapidly changing world, learning becomes essential. To be clear, this isn’t about learning in the form of sharing existing knowledge which is the focus of most learning today. Existing knowledge is becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate. The learning we all need to pursue is learning in the form of creating new knowledge and that is best pursued by coming together with others and learning through action, not just conversation.

When I say “coming together with others,” I mean coming together in small groups – I call them “impact groups” – which I have written about extensively, including here and here.  These groups range between 3 to15 participants. They stay small because the need is to build deep, trust-based relationships among the participants so that they can support and challenge each other in a continuing quest to pursue increasing impact in a specific domain.

Passion is the best motivation for learning

Learning in the form of creating new knowledge through action can be very challenging and involves taking a lot of risk. What’s the motivation to do that? Based on my research, the most powerful motivation is a very specific form of passion – the passion of the explorer – which I have written about here and here. People with this kind of passion naturally come together into the impact groups that I mentioned earlier and they seek environments where they can pursue their passion without constraints. They want to be free to take initiatives that have never been done before and to rapidly iterate on those initiatives when they gain insight on how more impact can be achieved.

Customers are gaining more power

Because of all the connectivity globally, customers are becoming more and more powerful and demanding. They have more access to information about more options and the ability to quickly switch from one product or service to another. In this kind of environment, they are less and less willing to settle for mass-market, standardized products and services. Instead, they are seeking products and services tailored to their specific needs and that will evolve rapidly as their needs evolve.

Erosion of trust in large, centralized institutions

Around the world, trust is eroding in all the large, centralized institutions – companies, governments, media, universities, etc. – that are so prominent in our economy and society. There are many reasons for this, but they are driven by a growing realization that these institutions are not addressing our evolving needs and are increasingly unsuited for the rapidly changing world around us.

Tying it all together

Decentralization will be driven by the intersection of many different needs and desires. If I had to summarize, I’d say that the two key forces are our growing need as providers to learn faster and our growing desire as customers to have products and services tailored to our needs. If we’re going to learn faster, we need to come together in small groups, driven by a passion to achieve increasing impact and we need to be able to act more quickly in ways that are tailored to our local context. On the other side, as customers, we are seeking providers we can trust who will address our unique and rapidly evolving needs.

The paradox is that both of these forces are being driven by growing global connectivity. The more connected we become, the faster everything will evolve and the more rapidly we will all need to learn in the form of creating new knowledge. And the more connected we become, the more ability we will have to pick and choose the products and services that meet our specific needs.

What will emerge?

What shape will decentralization take? Of course, that’s hard to predict in detail. But, as someone who enjoys exploring the edge, I am drawn to early indicators of how this decentralization might evolve.

From a corporate (and broader) institutional point of view, I’ve written about the “unbundling of the corporation.” Without going into too much detail, we’re already starting to see fragmentation of businesses in the digital space – everything from software to music and video. That fragmentation is beginning to spill over into physical products like craft beer and chocolate. I believe that’s just the beginning – we’re going to see more and more small, but very profitable, businesses emerging to address small segments of customers.

We’re also starting to see the growth of decentralized, autonomous organizations (DAO’s) that are focusing on decentralizing decision-making within organizations. There’s also a variety of initiatives to organize front-line workers into small pods or workgroups that are given more freedom to take initiative on their own. In China, the Rendanheyi model being championed by Haier with “micro-enterprises” operating within a much large company is beginning to attract more attention from around the world.

Of course, I have to mention blockchain as a major initiative in the technology space that embraces decentralization as a key organizing principle. While there’s been a lot of speculation and “boom/bust” initiatives in the early days of blockchain, blockchain reflects a strong desire for decentralization and is likely to provide a foundation for many initiatives seeking to decentralize Internet activity.

More generally, we’re seeing the spread of initiatives within the “human potential” movement that are organized around small groups of people who share a commitment to achieving more of their potential. Social change movements are increasingly focusing on “bottom up” approaches to change that embrace a cellular structure of small, local groups rather than pursuing a top-down centralized approach to change. In facing the challenges of the pandemic, we’ve seen the growth of mutual aid groups in local neighborhoods and communities.

Admittedly, these are all still early indicators of a trend towards decentralization, but they merit attention because the forces that I described earlier are going to drive significant growth of these kinds of initiatives.

Connectivity and decentralization

To be clear, I’m suggesting that connectivity and decentralization will unfold together. I’m not suggesting that decentralization will lead to increasing isolation of small groups. On the contrary, the proliferation of small groups will become increasingly connected into broader networks that can scale their learning and impact. Decentralization will actually drive a need for greater connectivity in the same way that connectivity is driving a growing need for decentralization. That’s the paradox.

Bottom line

We are in the very early stages of a paradoxical Big Shift. Growing connectivity will foster a growing need for decentralization and decentralization will increase the need for even more connectivity. This will have profound implications for how we organize and create impact in a rapidly changing global economy and society.

Those who are consumed by the connectivity trends are likely to get blindsided as decentralization begins to gain momentum. Decentralization will create enormous opportunities for value creation and will disrupt many of our large, centralized institutions around the world. We need to evolve a profoundly different set of institutions that will embrace the twin gifts of connectivity and decentralization.


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From Adaptation to Anticipation

Category:Collaboration,Connections,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Future,Learning,Strategy

Adapt or die. We’ve all heard this imperative. While there’s some wisdom buried in this imperative, it needs to be drawn out. Most people interpret this imperative in a way that can become deeply dysfunctional and ultimately leads to death. Adapt is not sufficient – we need to first anticipate, then adapt.

Adapting in the Big Shift

What do I mean? Let me start by setting some context. As I’ve written about extensively, we’re in the early stages of a Big Shift that is transforming our global economy and society. The Big Shift has many dimensions to it, but one key dimension is the accelerating pace of change in all aspects of our lives.

When confronted with this accelerating change, we as humans have some natural reactions. The first reaction is to go into denial – we tend to diminish or even dismiss our perception of the changes that are going on around us. We want to believe the world is actually much more stable and that we’ll return to the world we knew and relied on.

As the change accelerates, we begin to flip the switch and go to the other end of the spectrum. Now, we’re consumed by the change we see around us and we begin to see that we need to change ourselves. How do we change? We embrace the need to adapt, but the adaptation we pursue is highly reactive. We react to whatever is happening in the moment and finding ways to change to meet the new needs surfacing around us.

Here’s the problem. As the pace of change accelerates and expands, falling into a purely reactive approach can become overwhelming. There’s so much that’s changing that we end up spreading ourselves way too thinly across so many different fronts that we fail to keep up with the changes consuming us.

The need to anticipate

So, what’s the alternative? Before we adapt, we need to invest the time and effort to anticipate. We need to look ahead and try to determine how the changes around us are likely to evolve. We need to anticipate which changes will lead to new opportunities that are the most meaningful to address.

This certainly won’t be easy, but that’s why it’s important to invest the time and effort to anticipate. I’ve written about the power of a zoom out/zoom in approach to strategy for institutions and I’ve explored the techniques that can help institutions to zoom out on a 10-20 year horizon and anticipate very big emerging opportunities. Over time, I’ve come to realize that this approach to strategy also has significant value for all of us as individuals.

We need to make the effort to look ahead 10-20 years and anticipate what the world might look like then and what really big opportunities are likely to emerge to address unmet needs of others. Consistent with a zoom out/zoom in approach, we need to then focus on the next 6-12 months to identify 2-3 initiatives that we could pursue in the short-term and that could have the greatest impact in accelerating our progress to addressing the really big opportunities that are emerging.

This is where adaptation can now play a much more useful role. Once we have some focus on the changes that really matter, we can avoid being distracted by changes that are temporary or marginal. As we pursue the short-term initiatives, we’ll quickly discover what new approaches can yield the greatest impact in helping us to evolve so that we can address the opportunities that really matter. We’ll adapt much more quickly because we’re committing more time and effort to the changes that really matter, rather than getting consumed by reacting to all the changes erupting around us.

There’s another important advantage to anticipation. In a world that’s rapidly changing and creating mounting performance pressure, we have a natural human tendency to be consumed by fear. While understandable, fear is also a very limiting emotion, as I’ve discussed in my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear. If we’re afraid, we tend to shrink our time horizons, we become much more risk averse, and our trust in others erodes. Fear diminishes our ability to adapt. We just focus on very short-term changes, we become less willing to go outside our comfort zone and we are more reluctant to seek help from others.

In contrast, if we make the effort to anticipate some really meaningful opportunities what will emerge from the changes around us, we’ll begin to draw out the passion of the explorer that will help us to adapt much more effectively and rapidly. Rather than being reluctant to adapt, we’ll be excited about adaptation because it will help us to achieve the impact that is meaningful to us. As a result, we’ll also be driven to ask for help from others so that we can accelerate our progress even more.

The untapped potential of leverage

That leads to another advantage of anticipation – it can help us to leverage our efforts and to learn much more rapidly. If we look ahead and identify a really big opportunity that’s meaningful to us, it’s much more likely to be meaningful to others as well. If we share our excitement about that really big opportunity and ask for help from others, we’re much more likely to draw others who also become excited about the opportunity. We’ll begin to achieve much greater impact as we unleash the network effects that come from joining together to achieve shared objectives.

But the benefit of this kind of leverage is even bigger. If others share our excitement about the really big opportunities ahead, they will also become motivated to adapt. They will be driven to come together with us so that they can learn faster together through action and reflection on the results achieved from their actions. They will be much more motivated to collaborate and take risks that are inevitably encountered when we seek to develop new approaches in a rapidly changing environment. And, no matter how smart and talented any of us are, we’ll learn a lot faster and adapt a lot faster if we come together in small groups with deep trust-based relationships where we are all motivated to learn faster together. I call these groups “impact groups” and I’ve come to believe that they will play a key role in accelerating our adaptation – I explore this in much greater detail in The Journey Beyond Fear.

Adaptation and evolution

But, wait a minute. I can hear some real push back around this notion of anticipation as a foundation for adaptation. Many people are likely to point to the evolution of species on Earth and say that they have evolved and survived based purely on adaptation, without anticipation.

Agreed. But the evolution of species has been driven by the law of large numbers. Each being may seek to adapt, but very few are successful. The good news is that there are generally a lot of beings in a species and most of them will die off to make room for the few lucky beings that pursue the right kind of adaptation. Those lucky beings will proliferate and eventually dominate the species until the next set of changes require further adaptation and then the cycle starts over again.

What I’m seeking is a way for all of us to not just survive, but thrive. I believe that’s a realistic objective if we all move beyond adaptation and focus on anticipation. Of course, this will take some time and we’ll need to cultivate the capability of anticipation. It won’t be easy, but it can be done if we come together and make the effort.

Bottom line

Don’t get consumed by the imperative to adapt. Begin by seeking to anticipate how the world is likely to evolve and the really big opportunities that will emerge in that world, providing us with the ability to have impact that’s much more meaningful to us. Once we begin to see those opportunities, we’ll be able to focus on adaptation that really matters. We’ll also be able to come together with others who excited about these opportunities and find ways to adapt much more rapidly and effectively than if we attempt to adapt in isolation. If we get this right, we won’t just survive, we’ll thrive in ways that are difficult to imagine in a world that is rapidly changing.


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The Imperative for Two Dimensions of Transformation

Category:Collaboration,Edges,Institutional Innovation,Learning,Opportunity,Passion,Strategy,Transformation

Now, more than ever, we live in a world of massive change. Not surprisingly, “transformation” has become a buzzword throughout our economy and society.

Transformation has been a focus of my work for decades and I’ve learned many lessons along the way. In this post, I want to explore two distinct transformation imperatives as we scale the edge.

Scaling the edge

Those who have been following my work know that I’ve become a strong champion of scaling the edge as a way to drive transformation in large, traditional institutions. This approach is in stark contrast to the more conventional “top down, big bang” approaches that are used to drive change. By seeking to transform the entire core of the institution, these efforts require a lot of money and they will take a long time – you can’t turn around a battleship overnight. As a result, these approaches have a high failure rate because they under-estimate the significant power of the immune system and antibodies that exist in all large institutions. The immune system and antibodies will mobilize aggressively to crush efforts at massive change, especially those that will require a lot of money and take a lot of time.

Scaling the edge can reduce the risk of immune system attack because it doesn’t seek to transform the core of the institution. Instead, it focuses on finding an edge to the existing institution that, given the forces at work in the broader economy and society, has the potential to scale very rapidly to the point where it will become the new core of the institution. To be clear, this is not just an “experiment” or a diversification or growth initiative – the commitment is to make it the new core of the institution and, in the process, drive the transformation that will be required to thrive in a rapidly changing economy and society. I’ve written a lot more about the design principles for successful edge scaling initiatives here.

The two transformation imperatives

But what does transformation really mean? Virtually every large institution today has a “digital transformation” program, but the focus of these programs is to apply digital technology so that existing tasks can be done faster and cheaper. That’s not transformation from my perspective. I use the metaphor of the caterpillar to the butterfly to describe transformation – it has to produce something completely different from before. If we’re just helping the caterpillar to walk faster, that may be helpful to the caterpillar, but please let’s not describe that as transformation.

So, what is transformation in the context of our existing institutions? I believe it will have to occur on two dimensions given the Big Shift that is transforming our global economy and society.

The first dimension involves re-thinking at a fundamental level the value that will be delivered to customers and other stakeholders. The nature of the value being delivered will change at a very basic level.

The second dimension involves re-thinking at a fundamental level what is required to deliver that value to customers and other stakeholders. The approach to delivering value must be redesigned from the ground up.

Let’s explore both of these dimensions more deeply.

Transforming the value delivered

We live in a world of exponential change. In that kind of world, there is a natural tendency to shrink our time horizons and just focus on today’s needs.

That tendency needs to be resisted. Instead, we need to look ahead, far ahead, to anticipate emerging needs that are fundamentally different from the needs we are addressing today. That’s certainly challenging in a rapidly changing world.

That’s why I’ve become a strong champion of a very different approach to strategy that I call “zoom out/zoom in.” I’ve written about that approach extensively here. This approach calls on leadership of institutions to move beyond their comfort zone and to look ahead 10-20 years. The two key questions to address are: What will our relevant market or environment look like 10-20 years from now? What will be the biggest unmet needs of our customers and stakeholders that will provide an opportunity to build an institution that is far bigger and more successful than the one we have now?

If we truly understand the nature of exponential change, we need to be prepared to embrace the fact that the value we are delivering today will become obsolete and that we need to embrace very different forms of value that will address emerging needs and become a key to success in the future.

What would be an example? Take the example of a large fossil fuel company today. Given the changes that are occurring in the energy industry, there may be a need to leverage some of the expertise that this company has developed and focus it in a very different direction. For instance, one of these companies might decide to leverage its expertise in resource extraction to provide extraction services in a wide range of industries that rely on natural resources. Another possibility would be to focus on its expertise in building and managing large-scale distribution networks to provide these services to a wide range of industries. Whatever path these companies take, they are likely to be serving a very different set of customers and delivering a very different form of value.

The zoom out/zoom in approach to strategy has many benefits, but one key benefit is that it can help the leadership of an institution to select an edge to their existing institution that has the potential to scale rapidly to the point where it becomes the new core. And they won’t just select the edge, they will commit to scaling it because it represents a much bigger opportunity than anything they have addressed in the past.

Transforming the delivery of value

But transformation doesn’t stop there. There’s another dimension of transformation that needs to be understood and addressed. This is transformation in how the value is created and delivered to customers and other stakeholders.

What do I mean by this? Large institutions around the world have been pursuing a scalable efficiency model for the past century. For them, the key to success has been becoming more and more efficient at scale – finding ways to do their activities faster and cheaper. They have determined that the best way to do this is to tightly specify every activity that needs to be performed, highly standardize those activities so they are done the same efficient way throughout the organization and tightly integrate those activities, removing all inefficient buffers.

This approach has been highly successful around the world for the past century. The challenge is that the world is rapidly changing and this approach to efficiency is paradoxically becoming more and more inefficient. Workers are confronting more and more “exceptions” – unexpected situations that cannot be addressed by the process manual. They are scrambling inefficiently to find ways to address these unexpected situations.

In this rapidly changing world, we need another dimension of transformation – institutional transformation. We need to shift from a scalable efficiency institutional model to a scalable learning institutional model where the focus is on helping everyone in the organization to learn faster together. This is especially challenging because the learning that is increasingly required is not learning in the form of sharing existing knowledge in training programs but instead learning in the form of creating new knowledge. That doesn’t occur in a training room – it occurs in the workplace when people act together to address new situations and reflect on the impact that they are achieving so that they can evolve their actions to achieve even more impact. I have written about this institutional transformation extensively here.

If we take this seriously, it will require challenging and changing virtually every aspect of how institutions organize and operate today. We’ll need to move from hierarchical, command and control organizations to networked organizations that organize around small, front-line groups of 3-15 workers – I call them impact groups. We’ll need to move from a focus on business process re-engineering to business practice redesign, cultivating practices within the impact groups that help all participants to learn faster. We’ll also have to redesign our work environments to provide all the participants with the tools they need to learn faster. One key objective is to help draw out and cultivate the passion of the explorer in all workers so that they become excited, and truly motivated, by the opportunity to learn faster together.

This dimension of transformation will need to be pursued in parallel with the other dimension of transformation.

Bottom line

If we’re going to unleash the exponential opportunities that are being created by the Big Shift, we need to commit to drive transformation on two intersecting paths – transforming the value that we are delivering to our stakeholders and transforming how that value gets delivered to the stakeholders. This is certainly very challenging – it’s why I urge leaders to focus on scaling the edge as the most effective way to drive transformation. Significant opportunities await those who see the need for both dimensions of transformation and aggressively pursue them on the edge of existing institutions.


  • 0

Increase the Power of Your Narratives

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Emotions,Fear,Movements,Narratives,Opportunity,Passion,Small moves

I’ve written a lot about the untapped power of narratives, including in my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear. But, what are the specific elements that contribute to that power? I’ve been participating in the development of quite a few narratives, and it’s led me to focus on four elements that will make or break a narrative.

Stories and narratives

Let me start, though, by reminding everyone what I mean by narrative. Those who have been following me will remember that I make an important distinction between stories and narratives, even though most people view them as the same thing.

For me, stories are self-contained – they have a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories are also about the storyteller or about some other people, real or imagined, but they’re not about the people in the audience.

In contrast, for me, narratives are open-ended. They focus on a big threat or opportunity out in the future, but the threat or opportunity has not yet been achieved. The resolution of the narrative hinges on the people in the audience – it provides a call to action that will ultimately determine the outcome of the narrative.

As I discuss in greater detail in my book, narratives can play a powerful role at multiple levels, starting with us as individuals – we all have a personal narrative. But narratives can also have significant impact at the level of institutions, geographies (cities, regions and countries) and movements. The elements that I’m going to explore below apply to narratives at all these levels.

The four elements of a powerful narrative

As I indicated, narratives can focus on either a significant threat or opportunity in the future. Since I believe we are in great need of more opportunity-based narratives, I’m going to focus here on opportunity- based narratives. Based on my experience and research, the four elements that will determine the power of an opportunity-based narrative are:

  • Framing the opportunity
  • Identifying trends enabling the opportunity
  • Identifying obstacles and challenges that stand in the way of achieving the opportunity
  • Framing the call to action

Framing the opportunity

The foundation of an opportunity-based narrative is of course the opportunity itself. This is ultimately what will motivate people to come together and act for impact. For this reason, it is important to find an opportunity that really inspires and excites the people we are trying to reach – it should not just be something that is “rational” or supported by data. Finding this kind of opportunity requires a deep understanding of the people we are trying to reach so that we find an opportunity that is aligned with their aspirations. Of course, they may not yet be aware of the opportunity, but we should explore whether this opportunity would excite them, once they become aware of it.

Effective narratives focus on a very big opportunity that will require long-term effort by many to achieve. If the opportunity can be quickly achieved by a few people, it will not become the catalyst for large-scale action by a growing number of participants. What we need are narratives that can sustain us and excite us over a long period of time. Of course, that also implies that we should be able to make progress in addressing the opportunity relatively quickly so that we will be encouraged to continue on the journey together.

The opportunity framed by a narrative also needs to be a positive-sum opportunity. This means that the opportunity will expand as the number of participants expands. If an opportunity is fixed in its size and rewards, it will discourage more people from joining and collaborating with each other.

Identifying trends enabling the opportunity

One of the big risks with framing large, long-term opportunities is that it can generate a lot of skepticism, especially from those consumed by fear. For this reason, it’s important to be able to identify some long-term trends that suggest this opportunity is achievable, and not just a fantasy.

But there’s a balance that needs to be maintained. While these trends should reinforce our belief that the opportunity is achievable, they should not be viewed as making the opportunity inevitable. If the opportunity is inevitable, we will tend to become passive. Why would we need to act and take risks if the opportunity is going to emerge anyway?

Identifying obstacles and challenges

That leads to the third element of powerful narratives. Somewhat paradoxically, the strongest narratives are those that identify and assess significant obstacles and challenges that will make the opportunity difficult to achieve. This will underscore that significant effort will be required to address the opportunity identified by the narrative. We can’t just sit back and assume that the opportunity will emerge on its own.

This will also help to prevent early participants from becoming discouraged too quickly. If they’re expecting obstacles and challenges, they’ll be motivated to forge ahead and find ways to overcome the obstacles and challenges.

Framing the call to action

A call to action is a critical pillar of powerful narratives. The people addressed by the narrative need to be clear that the outcome depends on the action they take.

For this to be effective, another balance needs to be struck. The call to action needs to be high level enough that participants can improvise and adapt the action to their specific context, especially as unexpected situations emerge. On the other hand, the call to action needs to be specific enough that it can provide tangible direction to people regarding the kind of action that will be needed to achieve the opportunity.

The call to action also needs to be framed in a way that people can initially make small moves and begin to see progress in addressing the broader opportunity. If people believe that their action will not yield any positive results for decades, they’re much less likely to maintain their excitement on continuing the journey.

This increases the importance of focusing on impact, not just action. Effective narratives have a call to action where the progress can be measured and monitored. The call to action needs to be specific enough that it can help to define metrics that matter. This will help all participants to assess how much progress is being made and to reflect on how to achieve even greater impact. It will also give them encouragement when they can see the progress that is already being made.

Bottom line

Properly framed, opportunity-based narratives can be very powerful. At their most basic level, they excite people about coming together and acting to achieve a really inspiring and meaningful opportunity. It’s ultimately about moving people beyond fear to hope and excitement.

As with most things in life, it’s ultimately about balance. We must believe that the opportunity is achievable, but also that it will not materialize without concerted action because of roadblocks and challenges that stand in the way. We need to be able to take small steps, especially at the outset, but we also need to see how those small moves can set big things in motion.


  • 5

Seek the Gift

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Exploration,Growth,Opportunity,Passion,Poem,Potential

Christmas

Is a time of

Giving

And receiving.

We should be grateful

For what we have received.

But let’s not just look around.

Let’s look within.

Our greatest gift is

The energy and spirit

Residing within us,

Waiting to be discovered

And unwrapped

And brought out

For others to see

And experience.

The greatest gift

We can give to ourselves

Is to seek

That energy and spirit

And nurture it,

Drawing it out,

To help us pursue

What is really meaningful.

If we do that,

We will offer

Ever expanding gifts

To those

Who mean so much

To us.

Our gift within us

Can be the gift

That keeps on giving.

The gift to us

Can become the gift

That we share

With others.


  • 1

From Gratitude to Plenitude

Category:Collaboration,Connections,Emotions,Fear,Narratives,Opportunity

As we come together in the US to celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on what we can be grateful for, even in trying times shaped by the pandemic and other forces.

The source of our gratitude

Here’s the remarkable thing – virtually all of us can find things to be deeply grateful for, even though we may be very challenged and economically deprived. Why is that?

It’s because what we’re most grateful for usually doesn’t involve physical goods or financial assets. Our gratitude tends to focus on our relationships and the impact that we’ve been able to achieve with the people who matter the most to us. We’re grateful for our family and for our friends who stand by us in times of need and who provide us with the joy and fulfillment that comes from deep connection. We’re also grateful for our ability to help these people through actions that matter to them and to us.

Reflecting on our gratitude

Reflecting on what we’re grateful for can be especially valuable in trying times. In a world of mounting performance pressure, we can become consumed by a fear of the future. Fear can set a vicious cycle in motion – the more fear we experience, the more we tend to focus on the bad things happening around us, and that intensifies our fear. By making an effort to reflect on what we are grateful for, we can begin to see that there are good things in the world as well, no matter how challenging it might seem.

As we do this, we can begin to shift our time horizon. Think about it. Gratitude is generally about things in the present or the past. But perhaps we can also find ways to be grateful about our future as well.

I’ve written a lot about personal narratives as our view of the future and the actions that we and others need to take to address opportunities in the future. You can read about this in my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear, as well as in shorter pieces like this blog post.

We all have a personal narrative, but few of us have made the effort to articulate it, much less reflect on it and seek to evolve it in ways that can help us to have more impact that’s meaningful to us.

As we reflect on our gratitude, we can gain a lot by stepping back from the specifics and reflecting on what types of relationships and actions make us most grateful. What are the common elements that seem to be the most meaningful to us and why?

Much of our gratitude is about the people we are connected with. What is it about those people that makes us so grateful to be connected with them? What if we made more effort in the future to connect with other people like that? What is it about how we are connected with them that makes us so grateful? What if we worked to craft more connections like that? How rich could our life become?

Our gratitude is also about the impact that we have achieved that is meaningful to us and meaningful to others that matter to us. What if we could find ways to achieve much greater impact that really excites us and fulfills us?

Focusing on the future

By shifting beyond the past and the present and focusing on the opportunities for connections and impact that matter in the future, we have the potential to shape our emotions. We can help overcome the fear that consumes more and more of us today and cultivate emotions like excitement and passion that will propel us forward into a much more meaningful life.

Bottom line

Gratitude can become a powerful fuel to help us find ways to cultivate connections and to achieve more and more impact that really matters. We will begin to see the untapped potential that we have to lead much more fulfilling lives. Gratitude can lead to plenitude if we unleash its potential as a catalyst.


  • 1

The Journey Beyond Our Edge

Category:Collaboration,Edges,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Learning,Opportunity,Passion,Potential,Workgroups

Over the past four weeks, I’ve posted a series of blog entries providing an overview of the key themes in my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear. In this blog post, I want to focus on the journey ahead.

My book focuses on the fear that has been spreading around the world for years (it’s certainly not just the result of the current pandemic). While the emotion is understandable (we live in a world of mounting performance pressure), it’s also very limiting. My key goal in the book is to share lessons about the journey beyond fear that I’ve learned in my personal journey as well as from research that I’ve been pursuing for decades.

But, now what? My hope is that the book will help us to acknowledge our own fears and then see that we do have the ability to move beyond fear and cultivate emotions that will help us to achieve much more meaningful impact. I don’t want to suggest that this journey will be easy – it’s very challenging and there are many obstacles and barriers we’re going to confront along the way.

That’s why I suspect that reading my book will not be enough to make the journey. Hopefully, it will be a catalyst to help us see the potential of the journey and motivate us to get started on the journey.

Beyond the book

I want to do more than write a book to help others on the journey. My goal is to offer programs and services that will bring people together around a shared desire to make the journey beyond fear.

Some of the programs will be targeted to help individuals, but some of the programs will also be targeted to leaders of organizations, communities and movements who are seeking to move their participants beyond fear. As I indicate in my book, we as individuals will make much slower progress on this journey if we are living and working in environments that feed the fear, so my intent is to help individuals to evolve while at the same time helping to evolve our environments so we are supported and encouraged on our journey.

On both fronts (individuals and environments), the programs will not just be standalone events. They will be woven together so that individuals and leaders can continue to be supported throughout their journey.

A key objective will be to bring people together into small groups of 3-15 people who can both challenge and support each other on their journey. I call these groups “impact groups” – they’re not just discussion groups, they’re committed to acting, achieving impact and learning through action. Programs would help people to see the importance of these impact groups and help them to form an impact group. Then there would be coaching services to support the impact groups and programs tailored to impact groups.

Another objective (and they’re all related) will be to help people find and nurture their passion of the explorer. As people find their passion of the explorer and come together with others who share their passion, they’ll be driven to increase their impact in the domain that excites them. They’ll discover that this is a journey without end, because they’ll soon realize that, no matter how much impact they have already achieved, there is so much more impact to be achieved.

That leads to another objective: to help deploy and scale learning platforms where impact groups can gather and accelerate their learning and their impact. Impact groups will be pursuing a diverse set of opportunities on this platform, driven by the passion of the explorer that is finally manifesting within them. Impact groups pursuing the same opportunity will come together into broader and broader networks, helping them to scale their impact.  But there will also be growing interaction across these networks as participants discover that many of the opportunities they are pursuing are related and that the approaches being used to address one opportunity can also be applied to address other opportunities.

And then, of course, it can become even more complex as I seek to build relationships with other organizations and movements that share a common goal to help us move beyond fear and achieve impact that is more meaningful to all of us. We will hopefully see networks within networks and networks across networks blossom over time as people see the value of coming together in the journey beyond fear.

Exploring the edge

I don’t have a detailed roadmap or blueprint of what all of this will look like as it emerges and evolves. In classic zoom out/zoom in fashion, I’m focusing on framing the long-term opportunity to support people on the journey beyond fear and some of the early programs that can be offered to get the journey started.

I’m heading beyond the edge and that certainly brings out some fear as I explore terrain that’s never been explored before. But I’m so excited about the opportunity to build a platform that can bring more and more people together in their journey beyond fear that I am eagerly moving forward, in spite of the fear.

Bottom line

I need all the help that I can get in making this journey. I’m wide open to suggestions and ideas for developing and delivering programs that can help people to make the journey beyond fear. I’m also looking for ideas on how to build awareness of these programs and the opportunity they address. Of course, my hope is that many people will read my book and that it will pull them to these programs, but how do I pull people to read my book? There are so many things competing for our attention that it’s challenging to rise above the noise. Please message me if you want to help and have some ideas and suggestions on how to get started.

Let’s overcome our fear and venture out onto the edge together so that we can craft a platform that will help a growing number of people to achieve more and more of their potential!


  • 5

Cultivating Emotions Through Learning Platforms

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Growth,Learning,Small moves,Workgroups

My new book, The Journey Beyond Fear, covers a lot of ground, but perhaps the most speculative and also the most promising involves the untapped opportunity to deploy and participate in learning platforms. Learning platforms are very different from the platforms everyone talks about today and they  can play a key role in the journey beyond fear.

What are learning platforms?

Most of the platforms we know and talk about today fall into two categories: aggregation platforms and social platforms. Aggregation platforms focus on supporting two-party transactions. It could be buying and selling products and services (retail platforms) or accessing data (database platforms). These are all about facilitating short-term transactions.

Social platforms are focused on helping us to connect with and maintain relationships with family, friends and acquaintances. These platforms support long-term relationships across an increasingly complex web of participants.

Learning platforms are very different. I should clarify that when I talk about learning here, I am not talking about learning in the form of sharing existing knowledge. There are lots of platforms that provide access to a growing array of online courses and lectures – that’s all about sharing existing knowledge. These platforms fall into my category of aggregation platforms – they facilitate short-term transactions by connecting individuals with courses that might be of interest to them.

The learning platforms I’m excited about, involve learning in the form of creating new knowledge. This kind of knowledge can’t be created in a classroom or lecture hall. It is created through action – testing out new ideas and approaches, seeing what kind of impact they achieve and then evolving the ideas and approaches to generate even more impact.

I also suggest that creating significant new knowledge requires us to come together into small groups – something that I call “impact groups” ( a lot more on these in my book). No matter how smart and talented we might be as individuals, my experience suggests we will learn a lot faster and generate a lot more impact when we come together into small groups.

These groups are by necessity small – I suggest that they typically include between 3-15 participants, no more. These groups can learn a lot on their own, but they will learn even faster and generate more impact when they can connect with a growing number of other small groups in broader networks.

That’s what learning platforms are all about. Helping small groups to come together and create new knowledge by learning through action and reflecting on impact and connecting these small groups into growing networks.

Why learning platforms matter

So, why are learning platforms so important? Well, it starts with the Big Shift. As I’ve written about before, we are in the early stages of a profound transformation of our global economy and society shaped by a variety of long-term forces.

One key element of the Big Shift is the accelerating pace of change. As change accelerates, our existing knowledge becomes obsolete at a more and more rapid rate. This increases our need to learn in the form of creating new knowledge.

But it’s not just a need, it’s an opportunity. We can create far more impact that is meaningful to us when we learn faster. As I discuss in my book, those of us who have discovered our passion of the explorer are driven to learn faster because we are excited about the opportunity to have more and more impact in domains that matter to us. People pursuing this passion tend to come together into impact groups to help each other to learn faster and have more impact.

But their ability to learn faster is hampered by the absence of well-developed learning platforms. In some cases, they’ve cobbled together platforms that can help to connect their impact groups. In this context, I discuss the efforts of big wave surfers to connect through a variety of media and means to learn from others beyond those in their local surf break.

So, as we make the journey beyond fear and draw out the passion of the explorer that’s waiting to be discovered in all of us, we’ll feel an increasing need to participate in learning platforms so that we can scale our learning and impact. We’ll see a very exciting opportunity. That opportunity is to unleash network effects in our learning activity. The more connected we become in our shared quest for learning, the faster we will all learn. And it won’t just be a linear increase in learning – it will go exponential. Why would we ever pass up that opportunity?

But there’s more. Learning platforms can help to strengthen the emotions that will help all of us to move beyond fear. Even if we’ve found our passion of the explorer, participating in a learning platform with others who share our passion will deepen and strengthen that passion. That’s especially important in these times when most of the environments we live and work in are deeply suspicious of the passion of the explorer and actively seek to crush it. We need to seek out the support of others and offer them support in return.

And if we haven’t yet found our passion of the explorer, learning platforms can help us to find it and draw it out by presenting inspiring opportunities and making it easier to connect with others who are also inspired by those opportunities and wanting to learn through action. The more impact that can be achieved through acting together, the more energizing those opportunities become and many will develop a passion to pursue those opportunities.

Design elements of learning platforms

So, what do learning platforms look like? I go into much more depth on this in my new book, but I will give you a high level view so that you can see how different these are from the platforms that dominate our lives today.

First, the primary design goal of the platform is to help participants learn faster by acting together and receiving rapid feedback on the impact they are achieving. The core unit of the learning platform is the shared workspace that each impact group can use to determine what actions they are going to take and what impact they are seeking to achieve. These shared workspaces protect the privacy of the group participants as they come together to challenge and support each other.

But then there are broader discussion forums where participants from different impact groups can come together and ask questions about challenges they are facing and draw on the diverse experiences of a much broader range of participants. These discussions are archived and can be easily searched to see if earlier discussions might provide insight into a current challenge.

The platform would also provide directories so that participants can quickly and easily find other participants who might help them in addressing their questions. Reputation profiles based on the demonstrated ability to address challenges  would help in connecting the right people.

These learning platforms will be designed to provide rich and real-time feedback loops so that participants can quickly assess the impact that they are achieving. A key question for all participants will be to identify the metrics that matter as they embark on their quest to have more impact.

Why have learning platforms not yet been developed?

Platforms emerge in response to felt need. In a world dominated by fear, we seek platforms that can help us execute short-term transactions or build networks of relationships that help to reassure us that we are worthy of attention.

Very few people have found and cultivated their passion of the explorer where they are inspired by long-term opportunities to have more impact and where they are driven to learn faster together. And our institutions and communities have not yet embraced the need to learn faster by creating new knowledge.

But that’s all going to change. As many of you know, I am a strong proponent of “small moves, smartly made that can set big things in motion.” I believe there are enough of us with the passion to learn faster together and that we can start building platforms or evolving some existing platforms to address this unmet need. As other people begin to see what can be accomplished on these platforms, they will be drawn to them and find their passion of the explorer beginning to surface. It won’t happen overnight, but I believe learning platforms will begin to play a significant role in all aspects of our work and lives.

Bottom line

As my new book suggests, we all have the need and opportunity to embark on the journey beyond fear. We won’t eliminate fear, it will still be with us, but we can cultivate emotions like hope and excitement that will motivate us to move forward in spite of fear to achieve impact that is much more meaningful to us. As we cultivate those emotions, we will begin to discover the passion of the explorer that is patiently waiting within all of us. Learning platforms can help us to come together and achieve exponential impact. As that impact begins to become apparent, it will motivate more and more of us to make the journey beyond fear and venture onto these learning platforms. A virtuous cycle will be unleashed that will become unstoppable. Our journey will venture into terrain that has yet to be explored and we’ll achieve more and more of the potential that is within all of us.


NEW BOOK

(if you've read the book, click here)

My new book, The Journey Beyond Fear, starts with the observation that fear is becoming the dominant emotion for people around the world. While understandable, fear is also very limiting.

LEARN MORE
BUY NOW

The book explores a variety of approaches we can pursue to cultivate emotions of hope and excitement that will help us to move forward despite fear and achieve more of our potential. You can order the book at Amazon.

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