Category Archives: Connections

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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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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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Improving Return on Attention in the Idea Business

Category:Connections,Context,Emotions,Learning,Opportunity,Transformation

I recently participated in an interesting discussion with prolific authors who were becoming concerned about the future of books as a way to communicate ideas and as a source of income. It prompted me to return to a theme that has engaged me for quite some time. Everyone focuses on “return on assets” as a key measure of performance in business, but I’ve come to believe that a different form of ROA will become increasingly critical as a performance measure – “return on attention.”

Return on attention

What do I mean by this? I’m talking here about the return that customers receive when they allocate their attention to something. It certainly doesn’t have to be a financial return (even though for some reason we talk about “paying” attention), but it has to be the value they perceive they are receiving when they spend time paying attention to something. I’ve been writing about this for over 15 years, including in these two blog posts here and here from 2015.

Why is this form of ROA becoming increasingly important? It’s one of many outcomes of the Big Shift that is transforming our global economy and society. The Big Shift has many dimensions but one key trend is the expanding array of options that are competing for our attention, which is a limited resource – limited by 24 hours in the day. Because our attention is a limited resource, we as customers are becoming more and more powerful and demanding. It’s becoming more and more challenging to attract and retain the attention of customers given the growing options that are competing for our attention.

The shift in return on attention

How do we choose to allocate our attention in the realm of ideas? We understandably want to earn a return on that attention. Over the past couple of decades, this has taken the form of scalable efficiency. Customers have been seeking faster and cheaper ways to access ideas. The result has been the decline of longer formats like books and lengthy papers that require a significant investment of our time. Instead, we have been drawn to social media where we can quickly access ideas for free. Our approach to increasing return on attention is to reduce the time and money we spend, rather than focusing on maximizing the value we are receiving.

I believe that’s about to change. In a world of mounting performance pressure, the quest for efficiency yields diminishing returns. The faster and cheaper our quest for ideas becomes, the harder it becomes to get that next increment of efficiency improvement. More importantly, we are under increasing pressure to achieve greater impact that is meaningful in our lives.

As a result, I believe we as customers are going to become increasingly focused on the impact that we achieve when we allocate our attention, rather than narrowly focusing on the time spent or the money spent. What are the implications for those of us who are in the “idea business”?

Implications for idea providers

We’re going to need to expand our focus beyond the ideas themselves. In the recent past, we’ve focused on how novel and interesting our ideas are and whether we can present the ideas in an entertaining and engaging way. It’s all about the ideas themselves. And, of course, we’ve become increasingly focused on how much time is required to present the ideas, so that we can attract a bigger audience when we find shorter and more concise ways of presenting our ideas.

As customers focus more on value received from the ideas, those developing and presenting the ideas are going to have to shift their focus as well. Success in the idea business will increasingly hinge on the extent to which we’re able to move beyond simply attracting attention. We’ll need to find ways to help the recipients of our ideas to act on those ideas and to achieve impact that is meaningful to them. Even better, we’ll need to find ways to help the recipients of our ideas to learn from the action they take and the impact they achieve, so that they can achieve increasing impact over time.

So, how can we do this? It starts with explicitly framing some compelling calls to action as part of the presentation of an idea. What should the audience do differently as a result of this idea and what kind of impact could be achieved from that action? It would be even better if we can provide some advice on how to act in ways that will be most likely to yield the impact that is being sought. Of course, there’s also the opportunity to cultivate trainers and coaches who could help the audience to take action that yields greater impact. By clarifying what kind of impact might be achieved as a result of this action, we can help people to focus on assessing how much impact has been achieved and reflecting on how to achieve even more impact, so that they can learn how to achieve even more impact over time.

That’s a powerful way to increase the return on attention of the audience we’re trying to reach. It has the potential to significantly increase the size of the audience we reach as word spreads about the growing impact that’s being achieved. Of course, we want to make this approach as efficient as possible as well, starting with how much time it takes to access and absorb our ideas and extending out into the time and effort required to action, impact and learning. But the key is shifting beyond time spent to focus on impact achieved as the key component of return on attention.

This isn’t just a theoretical perspective from me. I’m living it. Many of you know that I published my 8th book last year – The Journey Beyond Fear. I’m not just stopping with book. My plan is to create a new Center that will offer programs based on the book and help people to take action that can significantly increase impact that is meaningful to them. I want to significantly increase their return on attention. If this sounds interesting, you can see more here.

Early indicators of the shift ahead in return on attention

What are some early indicators of the shift ahead in return on attention? Well, one interesting indicator is the growth of coaching businesses across a broad spectrum of impact, ranging from physical performance improvement to overcoming emotional obstacles. Customers are increasingly seeking help in achieving more impact that is meaningful to them – of course, it starts with ideas, but the focus is on action, impact and learning.

Another indicator is the “Great Resignation” that we’re seeing as the global pandemic continues to unfold. More and more people are realizing that they spend a significant amount of their time and attention at work but that they’re not achieving enough impact that’s meaningful to them. The result is that they’re seeking new work that will offer them a significant increase in their return on attention.

Bottom line

If you’re in the idea business, you need to focus on the return on attention that you’re delivering to the people you are trying to reach. Rather than narrowly focusing on how much time people need to spend in accessing your ideas, expand your focus on how to help your audience achieve greater impact from your ideas through action and learning. In a world of mounting performance pressure, the ideas that can lead to more and more impact that is meaningful to people will be the ideas that prevail. Those are the ideas that will generate the greatest return for the idea providers. In short, if you want to improve your return on assets, find ways to increase the return on attention of the people you are seeking to reach.


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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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Embracing Paradox

Category:Connections,Exploration,Growth,Learning,Opportunity,Paradox

We live in a world

Of either/or,

Not both/and.

This is a world

Where reason rules

And does not tolerate

Exceptions to the rules.

But that’s not the world

We really live in.

We’ll never see

The full richness of our world

And we’ll learn a lot less

If we choose not to see

Its complexity and contradiction

And its endless mystery

Hiding beneath the surface.

Paradox can help us to learn

As long as we welcome it

And explore it,

Grateful for its ability

To challenge our deeply held beliefs

And tightly enforced rules.


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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.


  • 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.


  • 0

From Fear to Passion

Category:Collaboration,Connections,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Growth,Learning,Movements,Narratives,Opportunity,Passion,Workgroups

My new book, The Journey Beyond Fear, was published last week! It suggests that a very specific form of passion can help all of us in overcoming fear. Passion draws out excitement and motivates us to act in spite of fear to achieve more impact that’s truly meaningful to us. But most of us have not yet found our passion and many of us have given up looking for it, because we live in environments that are hostile to passion. We need to change that.

Passion of the explorer

Passion is one of those words with an infinite number of meanings. My book focuses on the passion of the explorer – an insight that emerged from research into environments where we see sustained extreme performance improvement. Despite the diversity of those environments, all the participants had this specific form of passion.

The passion of the explorer has three components. First, people who have this form of passion have made a long-term commitment to a specific domain – it could be anything from gardening to sales. They’re not just committed to being in the domain, they’re committed to achieving an increasing impact in that domain over time.

The second component of the passion of the explorer is a questing disposition. People with this passion are excited when confronted with an unexpected challenge. In fact, they’re constantly seeking new challenges as a way to achieve increasing impact.

The third component of the passion of the explorer is a connecting disposition. When confronted with new challenges, the first reaction of people with this form of passion is to seek out others who can help them get to a better answer faster. They are extremely well connected with others.

Why it matters

We live in a world of mounting performance pressure. That world generates fear within more and more people. While understandable, that fear is very limiting. We need to cultivate emotions like hope and excitement that will help us to move forward in spite of our fear so that we can achieve the impact that is most meaningful to us.

The passion of the explorer generates excitement, not just in the moment, but over a lifetime. That excitement cannot be under-estimated. It turns pressure into opportunity that we pursue to achieve more of our potential.

This passion also cultivates a learning or growth mindset. No matter how much they have accomplished, people with this passion are eagerly seeking to find ways to achieve even more impact. They are never complacent or satisfied with the knowledge they already have – they are always wanting to learn more.

Equally importantly, the passion of the explorer drives each person to connect with others, not just in a transactional, exchanging business cards kind of way, but in a way that builds deep, trust-based relationships because they are very willing to express vulnerability. No matter how smart or talented any individual is, they will learn a lot more and achieve much more impact if they can find ways to build this kind of deep relationships with others. It will also help them to overcome their fears, because they are connected with others who share their passion and who will energize and support them through the most challenging of times.

Push back on passion

I often receive a lot of push back from people regarding passion. They say to me that some people are capable of passion, but most of us just want to be told what to do and have the security of a paycheck.

I resist that push back. I believe that we all, as humans, have the potential to find and pursue our passion. While relatively few children have found their passion of the explorer in terms of the domain that they want to commit to for the rest of their lives, they all have a powerful questing disposition and connecting disposition.

I also use the example of Toyota where they redefined work in their factories and told workers that their primary job was to identify problems and to solve the problems. Worker passion levels went way up because they were now not just cogs in a machine, but making a difference that matters by finding problems that no one else had seen before.

Our environments need to change

I believe we all need to find our passion of the explorer, regardless of how old we are (I was in my 50’s. before I fully connected with my passion of the explorer), if we’re going to make the journey beyond fear. My book outlines some of the approaches and actions we can take to find our passion of the explorer based on my own personal life experience and broader research that I’ve done on the topic.

But I’ve also come to believe that we’ll be much more successful in this quest if we live in environments that encourage and nurture the passion of the explorer, rather than seeking to crush it. Unfortunately, most of the environments we live and work in today are driven to crush this passion. It’s one of the reasons that, based on a survey I did of the US workforce, only 14% of US workers have this form of passion in their work.

In an institutional environment of scalable efficiency, we’re taught that the key to success is just to read the process manual, follow the instructions and deliver the anticipated results reliably and efficiently. Passion is viewed as deeply suspect. Passionate people ask too many questions, they take risks and they deviate from the script.

And our school systems are explicitly designed to prepare us for work in those institutional environments. As young people, we’re told that if you have a passion, pursue it on the playground or at home, but don’t bring it into the classroom. We’re also told to focus on finding a career that pays well and has high status, not something that we’re passionate about. Many parents also echo this message with the well-intentioned desire that their children do well in life.

If we’re all going to achieve more of our potential and have impact that’s meaningful to us, we need to come together to evolve our environments in ways that encourage and nurture the passion of the explorer for everyone. My book helps us to understand what those environments will need to look like.

Drawing out our passion

But we can’t just wait until our environments evolve. We need to get started now so that we can overcome our fear sooner rather than later and find a more fulfilling life.

In my book, I outline the role that our personal narrative plays in shaping our emotions and our lives. We need to make our personal narratives explicit (they are implicit for most of us) and then find ways to evolve our personal narratives so that they begin to focus on opportunities that are truly exciting to us. As I indicated in my previous blog post and in my book, I have a very different definition of narrative than most people do, so that’s key to understand.

And sooner rather than later, we need to find a small group of people (not more than 15 in total) who share our desire to move beyond fear and who will both support us in our efforts as well as challenge us to have even more impact.

The key is to move beyond conversation and focus on action that will help us to connect with the opportunity that excites us the most and learn more as we go.

As we begin to focus on the opportunity that excites us the most, we also need to take steps wherever possible to evolve our personal and work environments so that they support us in our quest to address the exciting opportunity.

My passion

As I share in my book, my passion of the explorer focuses on the opportunity to help people make the journey beyond fear and to develop platforms that will help to deepen their excitement, accelerate their learning and connect with more and more people who share their passion.

That effort starts with this book, but it doesn’t stop there. My intention is to set up a new Center that will offer programs based on the book and support people over the long-term in their journey beyond fear. I’ve started to develop some pilot programs on this front, but I’m still at a very early stage in determining how to best support people in their journey. I will learn as I go and I seek help from others who see what an exciting opportunity this is. If you’re interested in learning more about this initiative and perhaps interested in helping me in this effort, please sign up here for updates.

Bottom line

The passion of the explorer is something that we all have within us, waiting to be discovered and nurtured. If we want to make the journey beyond fear, we need to make the effort to find that passion and pursue it, not just on nights and weekends, but in our day jobs. It will help us to turn a world of mounting performance pressure into a world of exponentially expanding opportunity.

I invite you to join me on this journey – it’s an exciting one that will help all of us to achieve more and more impact that is meaningful to 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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