I will admit it immediately: This post IS inspired by all the Corona mess. But I won’t talk about that any more.
I want to tell you what my 14 year old had to say about being “on hold” and not being sure how to move forward. With the innocence of a child and the natural creativity that goes with it, I think she made a great point : It’s scary to do the things we aren’t used to. And since the older we get, the more get used to, it’s only going to get harder unless something changes. It is time to face up to the fear and dare to do something different. And a change in point-of-view might help …
It all started with cancelled training: Since no-one is in the office, a trainer like me can’t go in and teach about how to pitch an idea, or how to negotiate a deal, or how to manage people. My daughter asked me “Why don’t you do ‘tele-travail’ (working at distance) like everyone else?”
I had a whole load of answers from “Its not the same thing” and “My clients prefer ….” to “I need to be careful with my brand” and “I like to be WITH the people” and, importantly “I’m not sure I want to do that”.
Next daughter question (where does she get this stuff from??) : “Give me one idea of what you DO want to do today” to which I replied that I planned to work on fitness and fix a few things in the house. And then came the magic.. she said “Thats because you know how to do those things and you know what you will get” (!!)
Now, I’m not the guy who tends to, or likes to, think “It’ll never work” but this did strike a chord with me : If I’m truly honest, I have no idea what the future will bring and yes, like many a 42-year old, I may well be getting stuck in my ways. Underneath my “wait and see when this all stops” attitude, there has also been quite a bit of “… and I can’t do anything about it”. I felt silly. I know too much to act like that. (Or maybe I act like that BECAUSE I know too much!)
At this point in the story, I was already feeling inspired to get out there and make things happen. “Focus on what you CAN control” and all that. But I didn’t have a chance before she doubled-down and threw her next point into the mix. She said :
“Imagine you were a 25 year old just starting out and you wanted to help people get better at the things you teach. You’d be in THIS reality from the start and you’d be asking yourself ‘How can I set this up?’… So, ask yourself that: ‘How can I set this up?’ ”
What did I get out of all this? What do I really want to say? What is the lesson to be learned ?
Our experience and knowledge and “the way things are” puts us in the box. And when the box starts to change form or get broken, it CAN be scary. Looking outside IS hard. Being fresh IS hard. Not KNOWING how things are going to go means trying something new, taking risks, and the possibility of failure. And so its easier to just stick to what you know and hope for the best.
But if you can admit that MAYBE you don’t know everything and MAYBE you have a few assumptions, then MAYBE you can entertain a new point of view, even if only for a moment. It might be scary and it might not work, but there might be a chance for some new results.
I am always “Dan Steer”.
My preferences, habits and “personality” are recognisably quite stable: “Dan Steer”.
As I go through life, those things can change. Sometimes slowly and occasionally, or sometimes might I prefer something radically different. I might break an old habit or seem to be happy or sad. But the thin red line remains “Dan Steer”.
Can this be changed?
Having recently re-read Luke Rhinehart’s book “The Dice Man”, I decided to experiment with other forms of Dan Steer (note, no inverted commas here). In the story, the author is fed up with life and bored of always doing the same things with the same people in the same way. So one evening, he thinks of 6 things he might do and decides to toss the die to see what will be his fate. 2 of the options are normal habitual activities, the other 4 are not (no spoilers here… read the book!). When he casts the die, he is instructed to do something new. As the book progresses, the author realises that in fact, he no longer has one stable “him”: He has become a radically new person made up of all kinds of new preferences, habits and “personality”.
The book evokes the idea that people are always capable of numerous actions, preferences, habits and “personality”. But at any one time, we can only choose one approach. We tend to choose the most comfortable for ourselves going towards what we already prefer and avoiding what we don’t. We repeat whatever actions seemed to work before and, mostly, get the same results.
But what about all those other things we could have done? What about the things we didn’t do? Or didn’t think of? By using the random element of rolling a die, Rhinehart does 3 things which are highly important for self-development and happiness:
- He thinks a little bit “out-of-the-box”
- He gives himself permission to do other things which come to mind, but might have been too quickly judged or dismissed as “not best”
- He does not get stuck on deciding what is “best” or “not best” because any judgement he would make would be made by the normal “him” (preferences, habits and “personality”)
So, I’ve been experimenting with this. Instead of living on autopilot with all my normal behaviour, I have started to introduce a little random dice-life from time-to-time. Now, I am not going to list all the occasions I have already played with, but here’s a few things I decided with the die, rather than just doing my normal thing. Recognise that this is a list of inhabitual things, chosen in a new way:
- I had a bath with bath-salts, instead of reading email
- I decided that a quote I was working on would be done gently over 2 days, instead of in 1 twelve hour day
- I read a bedtime book to the girls (normal). The book was chosen by one daughter (she rolled a 5), we read the book on the bed of my other daughter (who rolled 4), with their mum (3) and no-one was allowed to cry afterwards (the die landed on an even number).
- I worked in the kitchen, rather than my office.
- My smallest daughter is no longer afraid of spiders. She rolled an even number and just accepted the result!
None of these things are to me particularly remarkable in themselves (except the last… I’ll come to that). But they are all new options. They are all different iterations of Dan Steer, chosen in place of the standard activity of “Dan Steer”. Here’s what would have happened if “Dan Steer” had decided:
- I would have read email at 20h30
- I would have attacked a big important project in the usual “Dan Steer” fashion of “go, go, go” and tried to do it all in one day
- Either I or my wife would have read one of the same books in the same place, while the other one tidied up dinner and the bathroom
- I would have worked in my office as usual and I wouldn’t have seen anyone between 9am and 8pm.
What impressed me most was my 4-yr old. She used to say that “she” was afraid of spiders. In my mind, this seems as if the first 4 years of her life had decided already decided how the next 80 to 100 would be. In fact, not even the first 4 years of her life, but the last 30-odd years of her mother’s spider-fearing life, handed down through various screams and “go-and-get-your-father” reactions. When I asked her what she wanted to roll the die for, she replied: “To see if I’m afraid of spiders”. I asked her which numbers would be which outcomes and she gave 2 in 3 chances to “not being afraid” and only a 1 in 3 chance to “being afraid”. Then she rolled. The die said “not afraid” so she is not afraid anymore.
What seems so important to be about all this – the reason I am writing it – is the following:
- In the case of my 4-year old, the options she gave herself and the possibility given to each had an immediate impact on the outcome she got – be careful how you set and weigh the options for things in your own life
- I am reminded that each habit or belief has grown out of previous experience, or maybe the experience of others – if you want to kill your sacred cows, start by naming assumptions you have and thinking about where (or who) they come from
- If you do the same things, you will get the same results – if you are not happy with the results you are getting, change some of the inputs, even randomly
- If you don’t try it, you can’t (dis)like it – who knows what other sides of you you MIT find when you give yourself permission to drop the usual “you“
So, go forth and experiment.
Or, as Rhinehart would say: “Die will be done”
Phaedrus remembered reading about an experiment with special glasses that made users see everything upside down and backwards. Soon their minds adjusted and they began to see the world “normally” again. After a few weeks, when the glasses were removed, the subjects again saw everything upside down again and had to relearn the vision they had taken for granted before.
(excerpt from the philosophical novel “Lila” by Robert M. Pirsig)
In any culture, business or organisation the glasses we wear affect the way we see things. I wrote about this is my blog-post on Active Empathy, noting that we need to be able to put our go in check in order to really show empathy to other people.
In the excerpt above, Pirsig talks about the impact of time on the way our glasses shape the world. After while, our minds adapt to what was at first backwards and upside down. The same is true in business and other organisations. The question is: How can we take the glasses off?
I recently had a training participant in a course on “Proactive behaviour”. She was new to the company and came with her own special glasses, the ones she had formed in her previous company. She encountered 3 major “difficulties”:
- She couldn’t really see things the same way her new colleagues did – she disagreed with much off what she saw and heard
- She had difficulty getting herself heard; her new colleagues couldn’t see past their own glasses
- She wasn’t really truly aware of the impact of her own glasses on her perception of her new environment. She found it difficult to “be fresh” or open-minded
In “Four Hour Work Week”, Tim Ferriss tells us to “kill our sacred cows”. These are the assumptions that we have which form the way we operate and do business. In India, a sacred cow can stop traffic and in some cultures, the sacred cow would never be eaten, even when starving. Ferriss talks about how his own assumptions about the way to do business were crippling his ability for growth. His glasses were the problem. Pirsig says the same thing, although in a slightly more philosophical manner: “In any hierarchical (metaphysical) classification, the most important division is the first one, for this division dominates everything beneath it. If the first division is bad, there is no way you can ever build a good system (of classification) around it.”
If we want to innovate, develop, grow and do things differently, we need to be able to kill our sacred cows. To do this, we need to be able to see our glasses for what they really are. And this is tough.
On a high-level, 2 approaches to first identifying sacred cows may be of use:
- Go out in the world and look at how other people are doing things – although you will probably do this with your own glasses on, it can still help you to see what you are taking for granted in your own system
- Get someone from outside to come in to your own organisation and LISTEN to what they have to save
Personally, I find it easy to just ask a few good questions to understand where the sacred cows are:
- What do you absolutely believe to be true about the way you operate?
- Which people and processes can you NOT live without and why?
- In all the business you do, what 3 elements always seem to be present?
- If an outsider came into your culture and told you to stop doing certain things, what would you really hate to hear from him?
The answers to these questions may be an indication of the kinds of assumptions, glasses and sacred cows that are helping to run your business. But they may equally be the things that are stopping the traffic, development and innovation.
The question is: What are you going to do about it?
Thanks or reading!