Category Archives: Uncategorized

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What’s Missing in Artificial Intelligence?


Everyone is talking about artificial intelligence, but we’re missing some key changes that it will unleash. As an optimist, I believe it will be a catalyst for changes that will help all of us to learn faster and achieve more of our potential.

Focus on the data

Where do I start? Let me start by noting that, in all the conversations about artificial intelligence, very few people are talking about the data. Most people don’t recognize that AI is actually extremely stupid without data. Data is the fuel that shapes the intelligence of AI. Everyone seems to assume that more and more data will be available as AI evolves. But is that assumption valid?

The erosion of trust

Here’s the challenge. Trust in large institutions is rapidly eroding around the world. As trust erodes, people are going to be less and less willing to share data about themselves and their activities with large entities. People will increasingly embrace technology tools that can help them be much more selective in providing access to their data. This continues to be a big opportunity for a new kind of business that I called “infomediaries” – businesses that will become trusted advisors and manage our data on our behalf (I wrote about this in my book, Net Worth).

Of course, there will still be a lot of historical data on the Internet accessible to AI but, in a rapidly changing world, the most valuable and useful form of data will be data about current activities and preferences. That data will likely be harder and harder to access when people are less and less trusting of large institutions.

What about tacit knowledge?

There’s another issue regarding data. In a rapidly changing world, data captures a shrinking portion of our knowledge. There’s an important distinction that needs to be made when we seek to understand knowledge. There’s explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge –a distinction first made by Michael Polanyi back in the 1960’s.

Explicit knowledge is knowledge that we can express and communicate in words. Tacit knowledge is knowledge that is embodied in our actions, but that we would find very challenging to express. It’s about knowledge that we acquire when dealing with real-life situations and seeking to find ways to have increasing impact. Some tacit knowledge is long-lasting – it involves mastering enduring skills and practices and cannot be acquired by reading books or listening to lectures. Those who have mastered these skills and practices find it very hard to explain everything they do.

Here’s the challenge – in a rapidly changing world, tacit knowledge increases in proportion to explicit knowledge. We are increasingly confronting rapidly evolving situations and developing practices that will help us to have more impact in these situations, but the knowledge we are developing is largely tacit knowledge embodied in practice. We have a hard time expressing in words and numbers what we have learned.

AI is very good at capturing and studying explicit knowledge, but tacit knowledge is largely invisible to AI. Yet, more and more of our new knowledge is tacit knowledge. If we are serious about learning faster, we will need to find ways to connect with people who have developed new tacit knowledge and build deep, trust-based relationships with them so that we can closely observe their practices and gain insight into the tacit knowledge that is shaping their practices.

So, back to the topic of data. Data is the fuel that powers AI, but data is generated through explicit knowledge. If explicit knowledge is a shrinking portion of our total knowledge, the data fueling AI will be a smaller and smaller portion of the knowledge that is rapidly evolving in our world.

The trends towards decentralization

To learn faster in a rapidly changing world, we will need to build deeper trust-based relationships and to provide improved access to tacit knowledge. This is why I believe we will see an increasing trend towards decentralization of our economy and society. I have written about fragmentation and concentration trends in our economy here.

Decentralization will provide the context for enhancing the potential of AI. It will help us to build the trust that will motivate us to share more of our data. It will also help us to gain more access to the tacit knowledge that can expand the value of our data. The AI apps that will ultimately add the most value are those that focus on gathering access to richer, real-time data about the specific contexts that are most important to the users.

But decentralization stands in sharp contrast to the current direction of AI apps, which are aggressively seeking to gather more and more data, wherever it resides. These apps are providing the insights from that data to a broad range of potential users, regardless of their situation or motivation.

The rise of the Contextual Age

We are in the early stages of a Big Shift from the Industrial Age to the Contextual Age, as I have written here. In short, we are moving from a scalable efficiency model where the key to success was offering highly standardized mass market products and services to a scalable learning model where the key to success is understanding the rapidly evolving contexts of individual customers and organizations, and then offering rapidly evolving tailored products and services to meet their individual needs.

In this Contextual Age, our need for data shifts. Rather than seeking to gather as much data as possible on a global scale, we need to become more focused on gathering richer, real-time data about the specific contexts that matter the most to us.

This will be a significant shift in the direction of AI. Those AI app developers who understand and pursue this shift will be the ones to create the most value. They will also unleash a virtuous cycle because the users of their apps will see significant value in terms of insight that matters to them when they provide their data. This will deepen the trust of AI users and motivate them to provide even more data in their quest for even more value.

Bottom line

AI has significant potential, but only if we recognize the growing challenge of accessing data and the tacit knowledge that is one of the key results of accelerated learning. AI can help us in addressing these challenges but only if we expand our focus to explore what data is most meaningful in a rapidly changing world. As we begin to see the data that matters the most, we can then focus on how to access that data in ways that will deliver increasing value for all and increase our access to even more data that matters.

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From Expert to Explorer

Category:Exploration,Growth,Institutional Innovation,Leadership,Learning,Opportunity,Passion,Trust,Uncategorized

We are in a Big Shift from experts to explorers. What do I mean by this? We live in societies around the world where “experts” run the show. Given the profound changes that are unfolding in our global economies and societies, we need to shift to explorers who can help us craft new pathways that can create far more value for all of us. Let me explore this in more detail.

Our heritage

Over the past century, we have witnessed the growth of large institutions around the world that have been driven by a “scalable efficiency” model. In this model, the key to success is to do what we have always done, faster and cheaper, at scale.

This model worked very well in a more stable world. The large institutions that run our economies and societies have embraced this model and were able to scale at a rapid rate globally.

In the scalable efficiency model, leadership is awarded to “experts.” These are people who have relevant academic degrees and experience in running similar institutions. Evaluating experts requires a deep dive into their past to ensure they have acquired the knowledge required to manage tightly specified processes and demonstrated the ability to squeeze harder so that all relevant activities can be done faster and cheaper.

Experts have ambition. They are driven to accumulate more credentials and experience that will help them to achieve even greater influence and power than they currently have. But they’re not excited about the unknown – if anything, they are in denial or resisting the unknown.

In a Big Shift world with mounting performance pressure, we trusted leaders who had the relevant expertise – it was all about credentials. These were leaders who claimed to have the answers to all the relevant questions and these claims were credible because they had the relevant credentials.

These leaders embraced the “command and control” approach that governs all scalable efficiency institutions. People needed to obey their commands because the leaders were the experts with all the answers. If they deviated from the scripts and process manuals that were provided to them, they were likely to be fired. Experts pursued a push-based model of resource allocation, pushing the right people and resources into the right places to meet their forecasts of demand.

Our future

We are in the early stages of a profound transformation of our global economy and society. To navigate successfully through these changes, we will need to embrace a very different leadership model. We will need to seek out and nurture explorers, rather than experts.

What do I mean by explorers? I am talking about people who have found and are pursuing a very specific form of passion – I call it the “passion of the explorer.”  These people are excited about opportunities to have more and more impact in domains that matter to them. They are constantly seeking new challenges that can help them to learn faster by creating new knowledge that never existed before. They also are actively seeking help from others in addressing these new challenges – they freely acknowledge that they don’t know the answers and that they need help in finding the answers.

As you can see, explorers are very different from experts. They are looking ahead to anticipate emerging opportunities and recognize that existing knowledge is becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate. As leaders, they are framing powerful and inspiring questions that can pull more and more people to them in an effort to explore and discover answers that can create far more impact that is meaningful.

I don’t want to suggest that experts cannot become explorers. Experts – those with significant credentials and experience – can also be driven by the passion of the explorer. But then they become explorers – they are excited about the questions that don’t yet have answers and the opportunities ahead that have not yet been addressed.

Rather than motivating people with fear, explorers seek to draw out the passion of the explorer in others, so that more and more people are excited about venturing out into new territories and addressing emerging opportunities. Explorers create work environments that support exploration and accelerate learning by drawing people together and focusing them on emerging opportunities. Rather than organizing into hierarchical command and control structures, explorers focus on becoming a catalyst for bringing people together into small impact groups that are focused on action and impact and then expanding impact by organizing larger and larger networks of impact groups.

Explorers generate a very different form of trust compared with experts. Rather than focusing on credentials and past experience, explorers demonstrate a commitment to addressing unmet needs that are meaningful to people. They are constantly seeking out new unmet needs and make it clear they are determined overcome whatever obstacles and barriers that stand in their way as they address those needs. People trust explorers because they see that determination and excitement that will let nothing stand in their way.

While experts tend to be inward looking, focused on how to do existing activities faster and cheaper, explorers are outward looking. They are constantly searching for new unmet needs of stakeholders that can help them to create far more value.

I’ve become a strong proponent of the explorer leadership model in part because of more than 40 years of experience in Silicon Valley. I’ve seen the extraordinary value that explorers can create in startups. Unfortunately, once these startups achieve some scale, investors begin to pressure the explorers to hire “adult supervision.” That means they want the explorers to hire experts who can implement more traditional ways of doing business at scale. As a result, many of these companies becoming captives of the experts.

Why is the explorer leadership model so important? Organizations that continue to pursue the expert model will experience diminishing returns at best – the more efficient one becomes, the long and harder they will need to work to get the next increment of efficiency. In contrast, organizations embracing the explorer model are able to unleash exponentially expanding value. The paradox of the Big Shift is that, at the same time that it creates mounting performance pressure for all of us, it is also creating exponentially expanding opportunities – we can create far more value, far more quickly, and with far less resources than ever before. Explorers are driven to find and address those opportunities.

Bottom line

We’re on the cusp of a profound shift in leadership models. The expert model that served us so well over the past century is now proving less and less useful. We need to embrace a very different model – the explorer model. This model will help us to unleash the exponential value creation opportunities generated by the Big Shift and help all of us to achieve more and more of our potential. This isn’t just an opportunity – it’s an imperative, given our rapidly changing world. The best is yet to come.

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Strategy As A Catalyst for Change


What is strategy? In my blog post “What Does Strategy Really Mean?” from a few months ago, I focused on the need to shift from 5 year “strategic” plans that focus on short-term operations. Instead, we need to embrace approaches to strategy that look into the future and anticipate opportunities to create far more value.

That requires a shift in perspective at two levels – from inside the institution to the stakeholders outside and from addressing narrow, short-term needs to anticipating much bigger, long-term opportunities.

In this blog post, I want to focus on another dimension of strategy often overlooked by leaders of large institutions around the world. Rather than viewing strategy as a way to strengthen existing positions, strategy needs to be viewed as a powerful and necessary catalyst for transformation – both within and outside the organization.

Changing within

Many of you know that I advocate a very different approach to strategy, an approach that I call “Zoom Out/Zoom In” and that I have written about in more detail here. This approach has been used by some of the most successful information technology companies.

It focuses on two different time horizons in parallel – the zoom out horizon is 10-20 years and the zoom in horizon is 6-12 months. On the zoom out horizon, the questions are how will relevant markets and industries change over the next 10-20 years and what very large opportunities are likely to emerge over that time frame? The zoom in horizon focuses on identifying what initiatives can be pursued in the next 6-12 months to accelerate progress towards the longer-term opportunity, ensuring that these initiatives have a critical mass of resources in the next 6-12 months, and specifying metrics that can be used to assess progress.

This approach has many advantages over conventional five year plan approaches to strategy, but one important advantage is that it forces leadership out of their comfort zone. If they keep focused on five years, they can convince themselves that they will still be the same business they are today, with some minor changes. On the other hand, if they look out 10-20 years and believe they will be the same business as today, they don’t understand the implications of exponential change. It forces them to ask the most basic question of all: what business will we need to become?

The zoom in horizon then forces them to commit to near-term initiatives that will drive the changes required to become this new kind of business.

Changing outside

When looking out in the future, leaders also tend to believe that the industry and market structures that exist today will persist. In the Big Shift world of accelerating change, that misses a big opportunity.

The opportunity is to re-structure industries and markets in fundamental ways to create more value for customers and new sources of advantage for the providers. Don’t take existing structures for granted – explore how structures could be changed in fundamental ways.

This is an approach that I call “shaping strategies” and explore in more depth here. I’ve studied successful shaping strategies in the past, including those pursued by Bill Gates, Dee Hock and Malcolm McLean. We all know who Bill Gates is, but Dee Hock restructured the credit card industry when he led Visa, and Malcolm McLean restructured the global shipping industry when he developed standardized containers.

Changing inside and outside

I won’t go into detail here, but there’s another approach to strategy that I call “leveraged growth” and have written more about it here. This challenges the conventional approach to growth strategy which focuses on two options for growth – make versus buy. Instead, it emphasizes a third approach to growth that is becoming more and more feasible – growing by mobilizing more and more third parties to deliver value to your customers and capturing some of that value for yourself. Successful approaches to leveraged growth will transform broader markets and industries.

The challenge of change

In a rapidly changing world, we need to embrace strategies that will drive change to create more value for our stakeholders and ourselves. This is not just an opportunity, but an imperative.

The challenge is that we live in a world where people are increasingly driven by fear (as I’ve written about in my most recent book, The Journey Beyond Fear). People who are driven by fear tend to resist change. They come together into the “immune system” in large organizations to resist change. That’s why most of the efforts to drive fundamental change in large organizations tend to fail.

The success of the strategies for change that I discussed earlier depends on discovering ways to help participants move beyond fear and cultivate emotions that will help them to come together and achieve much greater impact through change.

I’ve discussed how these approaches to strategy can help overcome fear here and here.

Bottom line

Strategy needs to be a catalyst for fundamental change, both within our organizations and in our broader markets and industries. This is necessary, but very challenging. These strategies will only succeed if they address the emotions that are resisting change and find ways to excite people about the exponential potential that we can unleash through change.

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The Metapsychology of the Metaverse


The metaverse is consuming conversations about technology these days. But, what is it? And, is it something we should welcome?

What is the metaverse?

I can’t pretend to offer a definitive definition of the metaverse – I certainly haven’t been able to find one. It’s one of my concerns in all this talk about the metaverse – many different definitions seem to be floating around so it’s not clear what we are talking about.

My best guess about what most people mean when they talk about the metaverse is that it is an immersive and persistent three-dimensional virtual realm, shared with many users, that brings together virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. It integrates many different technologies, including augmented reality, the Internet of things, virtual reality, and blockchain. Blockchain provides an opportunity to use cryptocurrencies and NFT’s to create a fully functional virtual economy in the metaverse where you can buy and sell any virtual asset.

The metaverse can have a significant game component, where participants compete to achieve certain goals and win prizes for their efforts. In fact, I would suggest that the video game world is rapidly evolving into the metaverse and may lead the way for other metaverse initiatives. However, the metaverse can be much more than a game.

The term “Metaverse” was first coined by the great science fiction author, Neal Stephenson in his book, Snow Crash, published 30 years ago. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. In this book, Stephenson basically presents the metaverse as a virtual reality-based Internet populated by user-controlled avatars.

So, if this is what the metaverse is, is it good or evil? Well, the answer is – it depends. Like most technology, it’s not good or evil in itself. It all depends on how we use it.

The evil side of the metaverse

In a world that’s increasingly dominated by fear (see my book, The Journey Beyond Fear), there’s a significant risk that the metaverse will evolve in ways that limit our potential as humans, rather than expand it. What do I mean by that?

The metaverse is an artificial world that can provide an escape for those who are finding the real world very scary or limiting. If we’re driven by fear, it can draw us out of the real world and offer us a place to hide. If we’re consumed by boredom, it can provide us with an irresistible opportunity for excitement.

Temporary relief may be OK, but the metaverse can be designed to be addictive. Participants will find themselves spending more and more time in the metaverse, leaving the real world behind. Of course, for many metaverse designers, that’s what they’re seeking – make the metaverse an all-consuming experience.

The good side of the metaverse

While understandable, that misses the real opportunity of the metaverse. The metaverse can become a launchpad for all of us to achieve much more of our potential in the real world, but that will require a very different design of the virtual worlds we’re creating.

It requires a fundamental shift in focus in how to measure success. If the metaverse is designed to be an escape, the measure of success is how much time participants spend in the metaverse. If it’s a launchpad for impact in the real world, the measure of success is how participants are increasing their impact in the real world as a result of participating in the metaverse.

How could the metaverse help participants to increase their impact in the real world? It could begin by embodying the core elements of what I describe as opportunity-based narratives – a really big and inspiring opportunity out in the future and a call to action to address the opportunity. While the metaverse can present the opportunity in the virtual world, it would need to be clear that the opportunity exists in the real world as well, and help to motivate participants to pursue that opportunity there. Similarly, while the metaverse could provide an environment for action to pursue the opportunity in the virtual world, participants would need to understand that the real potential for impact is in the real world.

To help people address these opportunities, the metaverse could provide ways for people who are inspired by these opportunities to come together and discuss approaches that would have the greatest potential for impact in addressing these opportunities. These groups might even become what I call “impact groups.”

But it wouldn’t be just about discussion. In the metaverse, participants would be encouraged to take action. Initially, that action might be in the virtual world of the metaverse where it could be pursued perhaps more quickly and with less risk and more rapid feedback than in the real world. But, once again, participants would need to understand that this is simply a vehicle for learning how to have more impact in pursuing the opportunity in the real world. Designed appropriately, the metaverse could become a powerful learning platform that helps participants to learn faster through action together.

In short, the metaverse could become a vehicle for helping participants to overcome fear and boredom that they may be experiencing in the real world. It could do this by providing participants with the tools and connections that can help them address some very large and inspiring opportunities in the real world. Rather than providing an escape from the real world, the metaverse could motivate participants to return to the real world, excited about the potential to have much greater impact that is meaningful to them. Of course, they would regularly return to the metaverse to connect with more people and find ways to have even greater impact.


So, why did I include metapsychology in the title of this blog? Of course, one reason was that it blended so well with metaverse. I may be using the term inappropriately, but it struck me that there’s an opportunity to explore the relationship between psychology and the metaverse.

In particular, it highlights the importance of understanding much more deeply how different design approaches to the metaverse could shape or influence the psychology of its participants. It’s also important to explore the relationship between the psychology of participants in the real world and in virtual worlds.

My view of the untapped opportunity is how the metaverse can help more and more people on the journey beyond fear and boredom. It can help to draw out hope and excitement in the real world that will motivate all of us to achieve much more of our potential.

Of course, we need to be careful about manipulation of emotions. From my perspective, manipulation occurs when we create environments or contexts that draw out certain emotions that are not in the best interest of the participants, but serve the interests of those who are creating the environments. In contrast, I am focusing on creating environments that will draw out emotions that we all as human beings have a hunger for – hope and excitement about an opportunity to have more impact in the real world that is meaningful to us and to others.

That’s ultimately where the money is. Many organizations seek to manipulate the emotions of others in order to serve their own interests. That may work in the short-term, but the key to generating long-term revenue and benefit comes from cultivating emotions that help us to achieve more of our potential.

Bottom line.

Like all technology, the metaverse can be used for good or evil. It’s up to us. As an optimist, I see the opportunity for enormous positive impact from the metaverse, but I’m concerned that there are strong incentives for metaverse designers to provide escape vehicles for participants and reduce the potential for positive growth in the real world. Once again, it’s up to us. How can we create more incentives for metaverse designers to provide us with launchpads in addressing very large opportunities in the real world?

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Learning Leaders


I’ve written extensively about the Big Shift in institutional models. I’m going to focus here on the Big Shift required for leaders of the new institutional models. The Big Shift challenges our most basic assumptions about what we need from our leaders.

Transformation of institutional models

I’ll resist diving into Big Shift that is transforming our global economy and society – I’ve written about some of my research on this here and here. Even though this Big Shift has been playing out for several decades, we’re still in the very early stages of this transformation.

As I’ve discussed in more detail here (pdf), this Big Shift will require a profound transformation of the institutional models that govern all our large institutions around the world today. For the past century, the institutional model that has prevailed is scalable efficiency – the key to success is to do everything faster and cheaper at scale. While this model led to enormous success in the past, it is now producing diminishing returns. Our approach to scalable efficiency is becoming more and more inefficient.

The institutional model that will flourish in the future is a very different one – scalable learning. In this model, the focus is on helping all participants to learn faster in terms of how to deliver more value to all stakeholders. To be clear, learning in this context is not learning in the form of sharing existing knowledge, like in training programs. It’s about learning in the form of creating entirely new knowledge that never existed before. In a rapidly changing world, this is the most valuable and necessary form of learning. In this new institutional model, this form of learning is not confined to research labs or innovation centers – it is the focus and priority of every participant in the institution.

So, what are the implications for leaders? Leaders will need to transform as much as, if not more than, the institutions they lead. Let me outline some of the key dimensions of leadership transformation:

Push to pull

I’ve written a whole book on this one – The Power of Pull.  Leaders of today are adept at push approaches – they develop forecasts of demand and then focus on pushing all the right people and resources into the right place at the right time to meet that demand. In a world where forecasts become more and more challenging, leaders need to embrace a pull approach – drawing out the right people and resources whenever and wherever they are needed. In my book, I explore three levels of pull. The most powerful level of pull is the third one – drawing out of each of us more of our potential. Leaders need to focus on how to draw out more of the potential of the people they lead.

Answers to questions

The mark of strong leaders in the past was that they had answers to all the questions. Whatever the question, we could count on the leader to have the answer.

In a more rapidly changing world, we need leaders who have the most powerful and inspiring questions, who will freely admit that they don’t know the answers, and who will ask for help. This sends an important message to the people in their organization: questions are necessary and we all need to ask for help in seeking answers to the questions. This will help to spawn a new culture since scalable efficiency institutions discourage questions and regard asking for help as a sign of weakness.

Pressure to passion

How do today’s leaders motivate performance from their people? It’s all about extrinsic rewards – if you do well, you’ll advance and earn more income but, if you do badly, you’ll lose your job. In a world of mounting performance pressure, the extrinsic motivation is increasingly about the threat of losing your job. This just increases the pressure on everyone and feeds the fear.

Leaders will need to shift their focus from extrinsic motivation to internal motivation. Fear can produce some results in the short-term, but it will lead to increasingly dysfunctional behavior over time. The only way to thrive in a world of mounting performance pressure is to cultivate a very specific form of passion – the passion of the explorer (pdf)– that will generate excitement about new challenges and the opportunity to learn how to address those challenges and create more impact. Leaders will be measured by the amount of passion they are able to generate in the people they lead.

Squeezing to leverage

Today’s leaders focus inward on the organizations they lead. It’s all about what they own and control. Since these resources are fixed, the only way to get more out of them is to squeeze harder. That’s the essence of scalable efficiency – success depends on doing everything faster and cheaper.

Leaders will need to expand their focus, driven by a growing awareness that the connectivity created by digital infrastructures is making it more and more feasible to connect with, and mobilize, resources outside the organization to deliver more value to stakeholders. I’ve described this as leveraged growth. We live in a world where more and more value can be created with fewer resources and much more quickly than ever before. But leaders will need to find ways to motivate third parties to come together under their leadership.

Controlling to shaping

Leadership today is largely about command and control. Leaders operate in hierarchical organizations where the key is to be clear about what needs to be done by whom and when. Process manuals rule the day. The scalable efficiency model is driven by the assumption that all tasks need to be tightly specified and highly standardized so they are done in the same efficient way throughout the organization.

Going forward, leaders will need to pull back and develop the talent to shape their environments. This definitely does not involve tightly specifying all activities. Instead, it involves looking ahead and framing really big, inspiring opportunities that will help to focus and motivate participants to come together and act and address those opportunities. This involves mastering shaping strategies, which I have discussed here. It also involves crafting powerful opportunity-based narratives, which I explore here and in my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear.

Action to reflection

Leaders today are focused on action. As soon as one activity is completed, attention shifts to launching the next activity. The level and pace of activity becomes a key metric for performance.

Of course, action is necessary for impact, but leaders are going to have create more time for reflection. Participants need to step back on a regular basis and reflect on the impact that they have achieved with their actions. What actions produced even more impact than expected? Why? What actions produced less impact than expected? Why? By taking the time to reflect on impact achieved, participants can learn much more quickly about how to evolve actions to achieve even greater impact.

Uniformity to diversity

Leaders today are under increasing pressure to embrace diversity. Unfortunately, for many of them, diversity just means bringing more diverse participants around the table. Once they’re seated at the table, the message to all participants is to follow the leader and strive to be as much like the leader as possible, and the leader tends to be an older, white guy. Questions are discouraged and challenges are viewed as insubordination. Diversity of people is OK as long as we enforce uniformity of behavior and action.

Leaders need to understand that diversity is not just the “right” thing to do, but the necessary thing to do if we are truly committed to scaling and accelerating learning. But, here’s the catch. Scaling and accelerating learning requires us to embrace diversity of behavior and action, not just diversity of participants. Leaders need to foster cultures where unexpected questions are welcome (see above) because they can lead to new insight and where participants are encouraged to challenge each other in a quest to achieve higher and higher levels of impact.

Followers to leaders

The success of leaders today is measured in terms of the number of followers they are able to control. In a world of accelerating change, the success of leaders in the future will be measured in terms of the number of leaders they are able to cultivate and unleash. We are in desperate need of more participants who are excited about crafting new initiatives and mobilizing others to help them achieve greater and greater impact.

Bottom line

I’ve only skimmed the surface here, but hopefully I’ve drawn attention to a transformation challenge that is not yet on the agenda of most leaders. When they talk about transformation today, most leaders focus on the transformation that their organization must make. They rarely address the transformation that they themselves must make. If the leaders do not transform themselves, the participants in their organizations will dig in their heels and resist any efforts to transform the organization because they see that their leaders are not willing to change and will still demand what they have always demanded from their participants. Transformation starts at the top.

There’s no doubt that this is very challenging, but the rewards are significant. Leaders who make this journey will find that they are moving beyond a world of mounting performance pressure and entering a world of exponentially expanding opportunity, not just for themselves, but for all their participants and stakeholders. This could motivate even the most resistant leaders to break the mold.

The leaders of the future will not be those who have the greatest expertise, but instead it will be those who have the greatest motivation to scale and accelerate learning throughout and beyond their organizations.

  • 5

Growing Into Growth

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Emotions,Exploration,Institutional Innovation,Learning,Opportunity,Potential,Uncategorized

I need help. I’m struggling with words. I’m trying to capture what excites me and motivates me to start a new chapter in my life.

Here’s the challenge: the word I am drawn to has received a very mixed reaction at best, and often a very negative reaction. What’s that word? It’s “growth.”

Growth has always excited me. I’ve come to believe that we humans have unlimited potential for growth – it’s why I cringe when I hear the phrase: “achieve my full potential.” I don’t believe anyone can achieve their “full potential” – no matter how much of our potential we achieve, there’s always more potential waiting to be drawn out. That’s why I keep saying that we’re not “human beings,” we’re “human becomings.”

Of course, growth has many different meanings. For many, growth tends to focus on physical size – whether of the body, a community or an economy. The desire is to find something that’s easy to measure, and that leads to an emphasis on physical entities – people and products.

For me, growth has a different meaning. It focuses first of all on growth of insight into the world around us. But it doesn’t stop there. Growth of insight has little value until and unless it is translated into growth of impact that is meaningful. That requires action, but it shifts the focus from the action itself to the impact achieved and how meaningful that impact is, both for those who are taking action and those who are benefiting from the action.

Why growth has a bad reputation

So, why does growth seem to have such a bad reputation? There are many reasons, but I believe that it stems from a zero-sum view of growth. In this view, one person’s growth can only occur at the expense of others. If you win, I lose.

How does that work? Well, let’s start with environmental impact. For many reasons, we have embraced a view of economic growth over the past couple of centuries that has led to serious damage of our global ecosystem, including pollution of water, the growth of carbon emissions and pollution of our atmosphere. While many have benefited from this economic growth, even more have suffered from its adverse effects.

Another force at work involves our shrinking time horizons when we pursue growth that is narrowly focused on material goods. We’re not focused on long-term economic growth; we’re focused on short-term material gains. If we’re focused narrowly on material goods in the very short-term, the quantity of goods is fixed – the only question is who will acquire them – you or me? Once again, while some will benefit from economic growth, it will be at the expense of others.

What’s the alternative?

As growth has acquired a bad reputation, many people have rallied around a number of other words – sustainability, regeneration, circular economy, and resilience are perhaps some of the most prominent ones.

What strikes me about all of these alternatives is their focus on holding on to what we have, or what we had. Take sustainability – we want to sustain what we have. Or regeneration – we want to generate what we once had. Or the circular economy – it’s all about re-using what we have. Resilience has many different meanings, but the one I hear most frequently is the desire to be able to “bounce back” to where we once were before some disruption happened.

While they tend to focus on somewhat different elements, they all share a static view of the world in the sense that the resources we have are a given and the question is how to re-use them so that we preserve what we have, or regenerate what we had, and reduce damage to others.

While the aspiration to avoid environmental damage and waste is certainly something we should all embrace, these alternatives strike me as inherently limiting. Is that all there is? Don’t we have the potential to create much greater meaningful and positive impact with far fewer resources over time?

Maybe there’s another perspective

What if we move from a zero-sum view of the world to a positive-sum view of the world? What if we believed that opportunity has the potential to expand for everyone, not just for a privileged few? And what if we believed that expanding opportunity generates even greater opportunity for everyone? What would that require?

First, it would require us to take a longer-term view of the world. Rather than just focusing on the short-term, we would need to look ahead and imagine how our ability to achieve greater positive impact can increase over time.

Second, we would also need to take a broader view of the world. Rather than just focusing narrowly on how to increase our own well-being, we would need to recognize that by increasing the well-being of others we can set into motion an increasing returns dynamic where everyone would achieve more and more of their potential and the well-being of all of us would expand significantly.

Third, we would need to deepen our view of impact. Rather than focusing just on material goods as a metric for growth, we would need to see that our greatest impact can come from motivating others to achieve more of their potential. The growth of others will help all of us to accelerate our own growth. This unleashes a powerful network effects dynamic where the more people who are motivated to achieve more of their potential, the more everyone will be motivated to achieve more of their potential.

Finally, we would need to focus on emotions as a key driver of motivation. If we’re driven by fear, we tend to narrow our focus to ourselves in the short-term. If we can cultivate hope and excitement, we can begin to see more opportunity for all, not just for ourselves. This, of course, is the theme of my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear, that will be published next month by McGraw Hill. I’ve come to believe that our emotions are shaping how our world is evolving and that there is a need to cultivate emotions that will help us to move forward in spite of the fear that is consuming more and more of us.

Back to growth

If we adopt a positive sum view of the world, now growth begins to become more attractive. The more any of us grow, the more all of us will be able to grow. And the potential for more growth becomes unlimited for two reasons.

First, as I’ve already indicated, we all have unlimited potential, so none of us will ever achieve our full potential in terms of delivering meaningful impact to those around us. Second, we live in a world of exponential improvement in technology performance that can help us to amplify our impact in ways that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago.

Growth focuses on the actions we’ll need to take and the impact we’ll need to achieve to help us to evolve flourishing societies and ecosystems. A key element of these flourishing societies and ecosystems is that they will continue to provide opportunity for all of us to increase our impact over time, while at the same time minimizing, and ultimately eliminating, any damage and waste that might occur as a by-product of growth.

This is why I’m reluctant to abandon growth as the way of framing the opportunity for all of us. What am I missing? Is there a better word to describe the opportunity ahead? I’m open to any and all suggestions.

And, just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that this opportunity will be an easy one to address. There will be many obstacles and challenges along the way. At a personal level, we need to find ways to move beyond the fear that consumes more and more of us and limits our potential for impact. We’ll need to cultivate emotions that will motivate us to take bold action and significantly increase our potential for impact. At a broader, social level, we need to focus on transforming our institutions and our societies so that they create environments that will help us to move beyond fear and provide us with the tools we’ll need to significantly increase our impact in ways that support a thriving global ecosystem and society. It will be a challenging journey, but a journey very much worth pursuing.

Bottom line

I’m seeking help in choosing the right word to frame the opportunity ahead. I’m attracted to “growth” because it highlights a dynamic and expanding opportunity that, if pursued in the right way, will lead to expanding opportunity for all. But, I also understand, that it can lead to some very negative reactions. I’m just not sure I can find a better word. Any and all suggestions are welcome. It will become the “north star” that will frame my efforts on the journey ahead.

  • 1

Scaling the Edge – Making It Personal


I’ve been writing about a very different approach to transformation for over a decade, including here. My writing so far has focused on the imperative for institutions to adopt this approach to transformation in rapidly changing times. In this post, I’ll make the case that it’s also an imperative for us to pursue as individuals.

Scaling the edge

We’re in the early stages of a Big Shift that will transform our global economy and society. This Big Shift will require a fundamental transformation of all our institutions – companies, governments, universities, non-profits, etc. But, having been involved with institutional transformation efforts for decades, my key message to all institutional leaders is to never, ever under-estimate the power of the immune system and antibodies that exist in all large, traditional institutions. At the slightest indication of change, the immune system mobilizes to crush those efforts and defend the existing approaches that have led to success in the past.

This is the reason that the conventional approaches to transformation – I call them the “top down, big bang” approaches – have an extremely high failure rate. So, is there an alternative?

I have become a strong proponent of an alternative approach that I call “scaling the edge.” Rather than trying to transform the core of the existing institution, this approach focuses on driving change on the “edge” of the institution. What do I mean by edge?

It’s a part of the institution today that has relatively modest resources and impact but, if we understand the long-term forces that are re-shaping the relevant markets and arenas for the institution, that edge has the potential to scale rapidly to the point where it will become the new core of the institution.

The commitment is to scale the edge as rapidly as possible and to drive transformation on the edge, rather than trying to get the core to transform. As the edge scales, it will pull more and more of the people and resources from the core out to the edge. In a world of accelerating change, edges can scale at a pace that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago. Before we know it, the edge has scaled to the point where it has become the new core of the institution, not just a diversification effort or growth initiative.

In scaling the edge, the key is to minimize the likelihood that the immune system in the core will mobilize to try to block the scaling edge initiative. In prior research, I’ve identified 12 design principles for scaling edge initiatives in institutions that can help to keep the immune system at bay.

Making it personal

But is scaling the edge only for institutions? I’ve come to believe that it can also provide some helpful guidance for us as individuals, as we confront the same imperative for transformation that our institutions face.

We have our own immune system that we should never under-estimate. The immune system operates at two levels. First, there are the beliefs we have about what is required for success and happiness. Those beliefs come from many sources. Some of the beliefs are shaped by our experiences to date, but many of the beliefs come from our families, communities and broader societies that we live in. From an early age, we’ve been taught that certain approaches lead to success and happiness and encouraged to follow those approaches. Regardless of how those beliefs came to embraced, we understandably tend to resist efforts to shift to alternative approaches.

But, to really understand the source of our personal immune system, we need to go one level deeper – we need to move beyond mindset to heartset. Our actions are shaped by our emotions, not just our beliefs.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the dominant emotion that more and more of us are experiencing is fear. Fear is surfacing for many reasons, but a key underlying driver of this emotion is the mounting performance pressure that more and more of us are experiencing. In this context, the emotion of fear is very understandable.

At the same time, though, we need to accept that that fear is a key driver of our personal immune system. When we’re driven by fear, we have a tendency to shrink our time horizons and become more and more risk averse. We want to hold on to the beliefs and approaches that we currently have, rather than venturing out into uncharted territories.

So, what do we do? How do we respond to the imperative to transform while keeping our immune system at bay?

Passion of the explorer

For some of us, the lucky few, the answer is relatively easy – pursue your passion of the explorer. Some of us have found and cultivated our passion of the explorer that motivates us to move forward in spite of our fear. This passion of the explorer generates excitement within us when we’re confronted by new and unexpected challenges because those challenges will help us to have more and more impact in the domain that we have chosen. I should caution here that I am talking about a very specific form of passion that emerged from my research and that I have written about extensively, including here and here.

But, here’s the challenge. Very few of us have been fortunate enough to find and cultivate our passion of the explorer. There are many reasons for this, but a key one is that we live and work in societies and institutions that are deeply suspect of passion. Passionate people are risk-takers, they ask too many questions and they too often deviate from the scripts they’ve been assigned – they’re viewed as trouble-makers in institutions and societies that value conformity and risk avoidance. In the face of this suspicion of passion, many of us have simply given up our search for the passion of the explorer and done our best to “fit in.”

So, in the absence of this passion, how do we overcome the immune system deep within each of us and pursue our transformation as individuals so that we can thrive in a rapidly changing society?

Finding an edge that will unleash your passion

Try scaling the edge. Rather than transforming ourselves overnight, find an edge that can help drive our transformation. How do we do that?

We need to look ahead and look around to scan the horizon for opportunities that have the potential to drive very significant impact. There are two parts to this quest. First, we need to gather enough evidence to convince us that these are opportunities that could create significant impact. This is about evolving our beliefs so that we can begin to focus on opportunities that are really big enough to drive our personal transformation.

But then we also need to reflect on whether that potential for impact really inspires and excites us – we need to move beyond beliefs to emotions. The edges that will motivate us to drive some challenging personal transformation must be exciting enough that they will encourage us to move beyond our comfort zone and continually venture out into territories that can seem very intimidating.

The edge needs to be a seedbed for cultivating the passion of the explorer. As we look at potential edges to scale in our personal lives, we need to look within and see what emotions are being triggered. We may not feel intense excitement at the outset, but we need to at least feel the potential for that excitement to blossom as we move forward. And, if we feel that excitement start to wane as we begin to confront unexpected challenges, we need to be prepared to shift to a different edge to drive our personal transformation efforts.

Finding our edge is about selecting an edge that has the potential to draw out the passion of the explorer. We need to unleash the emotions that will help us to move forward in spite of our fear.

Scaling our edge then involves selecting actions that will help us to quickly demonstrate significant impact in the edge domain with modest effort. If the early actions require significant effort, we’re much more likely to draw out the immune system within us, driven by fear of failure. On the other hand, if the early actions yield significant impact, we’re much more likely to gain more confidence and become even more excited about the opportunity to have even more impact as we move forward.

Before we know it, our actions on our chosen edge will begin to expand in scope and we’ll find more and more of our time and attention consumed by the opportunity to scale the edge.

A personal example of scaling the edge

I have scaled an edge many times in my life. As one example, I was a partner with McKinsey & Company, helping to open their Silicon Valley office and working with clients to evolve their strategies in a world that was increasingly being shaped by digital computing. In the early 1990’s, I saw the emergence of the Internet as a promising new digital platform and I became very excited by its potential to help connect people and create significant value for the economy and society. That became my new edge.

I spent time exploring the start-ups that were pioneering Internet businesses. I then did a consulting project with a major telecom company and convinced them that there was a significant investment opportunity in building out Internet-related infrastructure. That motivated me to launch an Electronic Commerce Practice for McKinsey in 1993, at a time when most of my partners had never even heard of the Internet. It became the most rapidly growing practice in the firm globally. I was then motivated to write two books exploring the business opportunities created by the Internet and they became best-sellers. The rest, as they say, is history.

What got me started on this edge was the inspiring opportunity created by a new generation of technology that had the potential to become a very significant business. But what kept me going was the deep excitement that I experienced as I pursued a set of more and more ambitious initiatives that had growing impact in this domain. I scaled the edge to the point where it became the new core of my life.

Bottom line

We are in a world that demands personal transformation, as well as institutional and social transformation. As we address this imperative, we need to acknowledge and overcome the immune system that resides within all of us and actively resists change. Scaling the edge can provide us with a launchpad to drive that transformation and discover our passion of the explorer that will drive us to continue to evolve throughout our lives. Once we discover that passion of the explorer, we will turn mounting performance pressure into exponentially expanding opportunity.

  • 4

Zoom Out/Zoom In – Making It Personal


I’ve been writing about a very different approach to strategy for over a decade, including here. My writing so far has focused on the imperative for institutions to adopt this approach to strategy in rapidly changing times. In this post, I’ll make the case that it’s also an imperative for us to pursue as individuals.

Zoom out/zoom in strategy

So, what is zoom out/zoom in? To be clear, it’s not about video conferencing. For those who haven’t been following me, let me offer a very brief summary of zoom out/zoom in strategies. These strategies focus on two very different time horizons. The first time horizon – the zoom out horizon – is 10-20 years. On this horizon, the key questions are:

  • What will my relevant market or arena look like 10-20 years from now?
  • What kind of company or institution will I need to have in order to thrive in that market or arena?

The second time horizon – the zoom in horizon – is very different, it’s 6-12 months. On that horizon, the key questions are:

  • What are the 2-3 initiatives (no more) that I could pursue in the next 6-12 months that would have the greatest impact in accelerating my movement towards the longer-term opportunity I’ve identified?
  • Have I committed a critical mass of resources to these 2-3 initiatives in the next 6-12 months?
  • How would I measure progress and success for these 2-3 initiatives?

Why is this approach to strategy so powerful? First, it helps us to develop focus based on a significant long-term opportunity. In a world where we tend to shrink our time horizons and just react to whatever is going on in the moment, that can be very helpful. Second, it emphasizes the importance of near-term action and impact. Third, it cultivates a learning mindset because we can learn from those short-term actions. The impact we achieve will help us to refine our view of the longer-term opportunity and evolve our short-term actions to have even more impact over time.

This approach to strategy becomes increasingly necessary in the Big Shift world where all institutions confront mounting performance pressure and exponentially expanding opportunity (how’s that for a paradox?). But, guess what? It’s not just institutions that live in this Big Shift world – we all are living in this Big Shift world as individuals, and we have a similar set of challenges and opportunities.

Zoom out/zoom in for individuals

Most of us are so consumed by all that’s going on around us that we rarely look ahead to anticipate the opportunity that could help us to achieve much more of our potential and have far greater impact on those who matter around us. Without a sense of what that opportunity might be, we become lost in the demands of the moment.

And, as challenging as it might be, we need to make the effort to zoom out 10 – 20 years. If we just focus on the next 1-2 years, we’ll likely focus on an opportunity that is interesting, but that pales in comparison to the kinds of opportunities that we could address in the next one or two decades. We need to venture beyond our comfort zone to see for the first time what is becoming possible and achievable.

Yes, looking ahead that far is very challenging in rapidly changing times, but it will force us to focus on the trends that are more predictable. We don’t need to define the opportunity in great detail now – we just need to have enough detail that it can help us to make the choices that matter today.

And then, of course, there’s the need to zoom in to identify the 2-3 initiatives that we could take over the next 6-12 months that would have the greatest impact in accelerating our movement towards the longer-term opportunity. Are we really focusing on the actions that matter the most? Are we tracking our progress that we’re making and reflecting on what we could do to have even more impact?

Here’s another question. For those 2-3 short-term initiatives, are we trying to do them by ourselves? Or are we actively asking others for help and to join us in our efforts to have even more impact? No matter how smart and capable we are as individuals, we’ll likely have a lot more impact if we can motivate others to join us and leverage our own efforts.

The emotional impact of zoom out/zoom in

Our actions are ultimately shaped by our emotions. Zoom out/zoom in approaches can be powerful in evolving our emotions and motivate us to make an effort that would have otherwise seemed to be impossible.

Here’s one of our biggest challenges. As I’ve written elsewhere, more and more of us are experiencing fear as our dominant emotion. While an understandable human reaction to the mounting performance pressure that we experience on a daily basis, fear can also be very limiting. It shrinks our time horizons, increases our risk averseness and erodes our trust in others. We can be caught in a vicious cycle – as fear limits our impact, we become more afraid and limit our impact even more, and the cycle spirals downward.

How do we escape this vicious cycle? Zoom out/zoom in can help on multiple levels. First, it focuses our attention on a really big opportunity to achieve much more impact than we have ever had. Rather than becoming consumed by near-term pressure, we can begin to be inspired by unprecedented opportunity. It can help to motivate us to act and take risk in the short-term because the opportunity is so exciting.

And the zoom in focus also helps us to overcome our fear. It frames actions we can take in the short term that will have tangible impact. We don’t have to wait a long time to see tangible results. And, as we begin to see the impact that we’re achieving in the short-term, it helps us to overcome the skepticism about that longer-term opportunity. Is it just a fantasy that can never be achieved? No, we’re actually seeing impact now – this is worth pursuing.

This is also why it’s so important to frame the zoom in initiatives as collaborations with others versus solo efforts. If we invite others to join us in our near-term initiatives, we’ll find that we’re leveraging our own time and resources for more impact. And, more importantly, we’ll also be encouraged by the fact that others share our excitement and interest in achieving near-term impact. It will reinforce our own excitement and reduce our fear because we have the support of others.

Tying this to personal narratives

Those who have followed me in the past, will begin to see a strong connection between zoom out/zoom in approaches for individuals and the potential of personal narratives that I’ve explored in many previous posts, including here, here and here.

Personal narratives, the way I define them, are about the future, not the past. They’re focused on either a significant threat or opportunity out in the future that shapes our emotions and actions. They also should be a call to action to others. What are we asking others to do to help us in addressing the threat or opportunity that’s most meaningful to us out in the future?

While we all live our lives shaped by our personal narrative, few of us have made the effort to articulate that personal narrative, much less reflect on whether it is the best personal narrative for us. Those of us who do make this effort often find that we are primarily motivated by a view of threat in the future, not opportunity. That feeds the fear.

And when we articulate our personal narrative, we often discover that we don’t really have a call to action to others – we’re addressing the threat on our own, without the help of others. That also feeds the fear – we’re alone and isolated.

The zoom out/zoom in approach that I’ve outlined above can be very helpful in getting us to re-frame our personal narrative. Rather than focusing on threats out in the future, this approach encourages us to identify a really big opportunity in the future that can help us to achieve much more of our potential and have greater impact on those who matter to us.

The zoom in focus helps us to see what actions we can take in the short-term that will expand and accelerate our impact. It also encourages us to look around and identify others who might be motivated by the same big opportunity in the future. We can then frame a call to action for them that will help us to overcome our isolation and leverage our own short-term efforts.

In short, the zoom out/zoom in approach can help to frame a personal narrative that will have far greater impact than the personal narrative we’ve been pursuing thus far. It could even help us to discover and pursue our passion of the explorer!

Bottom line

The zoom out/zoom in strategy approach is not just for institutions, it’s for all of us as individuals. And, it’s not just about strategy. It’s about emotions. The zoom out/zoom in approach can help all of us to overcome the fear that increasingly dominates our lives and cultivate a sense of hope and excitement that will motivate us to move forward in spite of the fear. Done well, it can also help us to draw out the passion of the explorer, but that’s food for another blog post.

  • 4

Capabilities and Emotions


We live in a rapidly changing world (and I’m not just talking about pandemics). In that world, capabilities, and not skills, will be a key determinant of success. Our emotions will often become a significant obstacle in our effort to cultivate those capabilities. If we’re serious about cultivating capabilities, we need to evolve our emotions and find ways to move from fear to passion.

The role of capabilities

I’ve done a lot of research on the growing importance of capabilities, summarized here and here. Everyone is talking about the need for re-skilling, but alarmingly few are even acknowledging the role of capabilities, much less focusing on them. Let’s define terms. Skills are generally abilities that have value in a specific context or environment, like how to operate a certain kind of machine in a certain type of factory – and we generally have to be trained in those skills. Capabilities, in contrast, have value in all contexts and environments and many of them are innate in all of us, including curiosity, imagination, creativity and empathy.

As we move into the Contextual Age, capabilities help us to quickly and effectively address unanticipated situations so that we can deliver increasing impact. The key to delivering meaningful impact starts with the ability to ask powerful questions based on a deep understanding of the needs of diverse stakeholders and then to imagine entirely new approaches to delivering impact and then to creatively deploy those approaches. And these same capabilities help us to quickly see the impact that is being achieved and evolve our approaches in ways that deliver ever increasing impact.

As if that weren’t enough, these capabilities also help us to develop whatever skills are required to deliver that impact. Skills are still important, but the capabilities help us to figure out what skills are most important in specific contexts. Even better, these capabilities then help us to learn the skills required.

Cultivating capabilities

So, what’s required to cultivate those capabilities? As I mentioned before, these capabilities are innate in all of us. If you don’t believe me, go to a playground and watch children 6 or 7 years old and show me one that doesn’t have the capabilities I’ve described. I use the metaphor of the human muscle to describe our capabilities. We all have them, but some of us choose to exercise them and they grow stronger. Many of us don’t exercise them and they atrophy. But, guess what? They’re still there, waiting to be exercised.

Given that, we need to focus on creating environments that will encourage people to exercise these capabilities and provide the tools to help them cultivate the capabilities. Unfortunately, most of our work environments today are hostile to these capabilities. Take curiosity. Asking questions in many work environments today is viewed as a sign of weakness – you’re supposed to know what to do. Go read the manual.

So, there’s a lot we can do to create welcoming and supportive environments for cultivating capabilities. But, there’s more.

The role of emotions

To cultivate capabilities, we need to focus on the emotions that are shaping our choices and actions. As I’ve written elsewhere, we’re living in a world where the dominant emotion is fear. What happens when we’re driven by fear? We tend not to exercise the capabilities that I’ve been describing. We’re reluctant to ask questions because it will make us look weak. We tend to shy away from being imaginative or creative because that involves taking risk. We tend to be less empathetic because our focus is on protecting ourselves, rather than trying to understand the needs of others.

So, in a world shaped by fear, our capabilities will atrophy. A vicious cycle sets into motion – the more our capabilities atrophy, the more pressure we’ll experience and the more fear will become the dominant emotion, leading us to exercise our capabilities even less. And we go into a downward spiral.

Motivating ourselves

How do we escape this downward spiral? First, we need to acknowledge our fear. Many of us are reluctant to do that because, again, it is viewed as a sign of weakness. But, until we acknowledge our fear, we’ll never see how limiting it is and we’ll never find the motivation to move beyond fear.

Once we acknowledge our fear, we need to reflect on how it reduces our motivation to exercise our capabilities and, as a result, limits our potential for growth. As we begin to see what an obstacle it has become, we can begin to explore various approaches that can help us to move forward in spite of our fear. (We’ll never eliminate our fear – the key is to find the motivation to move forward in spite of the fear.) Those approaches include evolving our personal narrative and finding the passion of the explorer that is patiently waiting to be discovered in all of us.

Motivating others

That’s what we can do for ourselves. What can we do for others? How can we motivate others to move beyond their fear?

I’ll suggest three things: framing inspiring opportunities, posing powerful questions and staging initiatives for impact.

Frame inspiring opportunities. People who live in fear are focused on threats that they see in the future. We can shift that perception by focusing attention on unprecedented and inspiring opportunities that lie ahead in our future. This builds on the paradox that I have described about the Big Shift that is transforming our world. At the same time that the Big Shift creates mounting performance pressure, it also creates exponentially expanding opportunity – we can create far more value with far less resources and far more quickly than would have been possible a decade or two ago. If the opportunity is inspiring enough, it will motivate people to overcome their fear and take risks in pursuit of that opportunity.

Pose powerful questions. The willingness to move forward will be strengthened by powerful questions related to that inspiring opportunity. Any really big opportunity out in the future has a lot of questions attached to it. If we already had all the answers, the opportunity would already have been addressed. Powerful questions can be a strong motivator for action – they are a call to action and learning. They help to focus us and bring us together in a quest for answers.

Questions also reassure us that no one knows all the answers and that it’s OK to ask questions and ask for help. That also helps to move forward in spite of fear. We know that we can ask for help along the way.

Stage initiatives for impact. There’s another way to help people overcome fear. Be thoughtful about staging initiatives for impact. This is a key lesson that I learned from my video gaming days. A key design principle of video games is to stage the challenges. The early challenges can be addressed with relatively modest effort and help to reassure the gamers that they can succeed in their bigger quest.

If people can see quick and tangible impact from their efforts, it helps to build their confidence and willingness to take even more risk as they move forward. It will also help them to learn about what’s required to achieve even more impact.

Bottom line

If we’re serious about cultivating capabilities in ourselves and in others, we’ll need to address our emotions. We’ll need to find ways to make the journey beyond fear. We’ll never get rid of our fear, but we can find ways to move forward in spite of our fear, especially if we can build excitement about addressing opportunities that are in front of us. As we move from fear to hope and excitement, we will cultivate capabilities that will help us to have more and more meaningful impact in the world around us. A wonderful virtuous cycle will be unleashed.

  • 0

Shaping Our Lives


We live in trying times. Pressure is mounting and we’re increasingly confronting things that we never expected, like the current pandemic. But it goes well beyond the pandemic. For decades, we’ve been facing intensifying competition, accelerating change and encounters with extreme, disruptive events. For individuals, the competition involves workers from lower wage, developing economies as well as artificial intelligence and robotics which are increasingly taking over work that was previously done by humans. The work we thought we could count on looks increasingly precarious.

In this kind of environment, we naturally tend to fall into a reactive mindset and mode of behavior. We become consumed by the latest events and overwhelmed by how much we need to respond to; by the constant push and pull that has become daily life. We lose any sense of focus or prioritization.

The paradox

But, there’s an interesting paradox. Our current pandemic is creating all kinds of new challenges, but it’s also becoming a catalyst for reflection. I’m struck by the number of people in my network of acquaintances who have told me that the pandemic has prompted them to step back and reflect on what is really important and meaningful to them. For many, they are realizing that their work hours are consumed by routine tasks and endless meetings that produce very little impact. And their work hours are crowding out time that they could be spending with friends and family or use for volunteering on projects that really excite them. As they’ve reflected, they’ve come to realize that they’ve been consumed by activities that are not meaningful. It has been an “a-ha!” moment for many.

A pivotal moment in time

In this moment, there’s no better time to evolve our personal narratives so that we can make our lives more meaningful and increase our impact on things that matter.

Those of you who have been following me for some time know that I have a very distinctive view of personal narratives – something that I’ve written about here and here.

Briefly, I believe our personal narratives answer two key questions about our lives:

  1. First, looking ahead, am I primarily motivated by a perception of future threat or opportunity?
  2. Second, what is my call to action to others in helping me to address that threat or opportunity?

Our answers to those two questions shape our lives in profound ways.

We all have a personal narrative, but here’s the thing. Few of us have made the effort to make that personal narrative explicit to ourselves, much less reflect on whether the personal narrative really is one that can help us to achieve more of our potential and achieve impact that really matters to us.

For decades, I lived my life adhering to a personal narrative that had been shaped by my childhood experiences. Like most of us, I had not articulated that narrative to myself. It wasn’t until I was almost 50 that I finally attempted to articulate the narrative that had been driving my life.

It was challenging but it changed my life. It helped me to evolve the narrative so that I could focus on needs that were deep inside me and shape a future that was much more fulfilling. It was an awakening that I found richly rewarding on so many levels.

Turn your pandemic pause into pandemic progress

What better time than now to step back and reflect on our personal narrative? This is why I have accepted the invitation from Trisha Stezzi and her Significance Learning Center to develop a complete 9-week virtual live-taught program on this exact topic called:  Harnessing Your Personal Narrative. You can watch my free master class there as well.

If you’re interested, please sign up here. As a Charter Member of the Course, you’ll receive a 15% discount.

In closing, I firmly believe that now is the time for all of us to come together and find ways to evolve much more meaningful and impactful connections with one another and work on securing a more fruitful future.  To make some of the “a-ha!” moments from above the new normal. Understanding what your personal narrative is and learning how to use it to change your trajectory – all of our trajectories – is the critical first step. That is my mission in this course – to challenge and inspire you to shape your lives through the evolution of your personal narrative.  I truly look forward to the one-one-one interaction and personal support I’ll be able to offer you throughout the 9-weeks of this course, exclusively hosted at Significance Learning Center.


(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.


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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