Identity Beacon

Illuminating Possibilities

Identity Beacon - Illuminating Possibilities

What’s funny about change (and what isn’t)

Louis C.K is considered by some to be America’s top comic. So, when he started riffing on our obsession with the minutiae of social media technology, I decided to listen in. It was a rainy afternoon in Denver and I was sitting in my hotel room, looking for a little diversion.

Louis C.K. described how we get our noses out of joint when a text we’re sending doesn’t go through immediately. Or, how in the “old days,” when telephones came with rotary dials, we became impatient if a particular phone number had too many zeros or nines, meaning we’d have to wait as the rotor circled all the way back, before we could dial the next digit. His point wasn’t just that we’re spoiled instant gratification junkies; it’s that we’ve become change junkies: Enough is never enough. Fast needs to be faster. What’s new is not as cool as what’s next.

As I took all of this in, I looked out of my window. What met my gaze were the Rocky Mountains. They presented a stark contrast to what now seemed to be trivial, insignificant bitching about nothing — to our obsession with change.

For all our craving for change, I was struck by the contrary idea that we are our own Rockies — inviolable mountains with cores that defy change.

When it comes to change, here’s my conclusion: In the end, we love most what doesn’t change: nature, the Rockies, the essential character of the people we care about, which hopefully includes ourselves. Yet, change is inevitable. So, what’s the solution?

My advice to you is to embrace the identity paradox: the ability to change from a changeless foundation.

Every individual and organization has at their center an immutable core — an identity — that makes them who they are. If you embrace this core, you can “change” how you express yourself without upsetting the apple cart. You can remain authentic while staying relevant. This is the power of the identity paradox. 

One more thing: The next time a text takes a few extra seconds to go through, don’t sweat it. Just give thanks for the miracle you hold in your hands.

What’s your Dawn Wall?

This past January,Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the summit of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall — a quest that included years of planning and that many considered the most challenging rock climb in the world.

One of the climbers, Kevin Jorgeson said of the achievement: “I hope it inspires people to find their own Dawn Wall. We’ve been working on this thing a long time, slowly and surely. I think everyone has their own secret Dawn Wall to complete one day, and maybe they can put this project in their own context.”

I think we do, too. I know I do, although, I’m not always sure what that is. No matter. What matters is waking up to the possibility that there’s a larger purpose to our lives than just getting through the day — something that takes the courage, patience, determination, grit, vision, and passion these two guys put into their climb.

Or, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, it doesn’t matter at all; maybe, getting through the day about 30,000 times (that’s 80+ years, if you’re interested), is enough. No Dawn Walls, but lots of dawns.

What a waste of a life, but that’s just my opinion.

(What) Do you believe?

I’m not grumpy. I’m distressed.

I believe in hope, cheer and gratitude as much as the next guy, but I’m finding it tougher to “get there” this year. Why? Because there is so much injustice in the world today, which seems to me to be unrelenting and unforgettable; even, haunting.

Needless deaths haunt me whether they are the result of police error, premeditated acts by extremists, or virulent disease.

Children who suffer haunt me. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. But it is. A current article in The New York Times highlights this awful reality, as seen through the lens of Unicef’s 2014 assessment.

Gross inequality haunts me. Until just recently, the Dubai Royal Family was about to ink a deal with the president of Tanzania, whereby, the government would turn over more than 500 square miles of land to the Family as their private hunting reserve. In doing so, 40,000 Masai would be displaced from the land that has been their home for centuries. The deal never happened but it was close.

Injustice is just everywhere, making it harder to have hope, offer cheer, and be grateful. Yet, I do and I am. Despite the insanity that colors our world, I believe, and I believe you do too.

So, if you’re game, take this year’s ‘belief quiz’ — you’ll get the quiz in my new viewsletter, shortly, if you haven’t already. When you do, fill in a few answers and share them here.

I’d love to know what you believe!

It’s a VUCA world – or is it?

The term, VUCA has slipped stealthily into our lexicon over the past few years. It started out as military lingo, was then adopted by organizations to frame leadership development efforts, and now has become part of all of our lives. What does VUCA mean? Volatility. Uncertainty. Complexity. Ambiguity. Does that sound like a recipe for a headache? Well, it is.

In an article in The New York Times recently, Michael Beschloss talked about Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri in one eye-opening sentence. Doing so, dramatizes the fact that VUCA is with us, in spades.

The question is, how do we navigate life in a VUCA world? Which brings me to “COSS.”Let me explain.

The way I see it, the antidote to volatility is steadiness. The remedy for uncertainty is order. The treatment for complexity is simplicity. The cure for ambiguity is clarity. Allowing for a bit of editorial license in how these words are arranged, we have COSS.

If VUCA causes headaches, then COSS is the aspirin you need to counteract its effects. Good news! This particular brand of aspirin can be found already inside us, in the fabric of our identities that make us the unique individuals, leaders, and organizations we are.  Clarity, order, simplicity and steadiness are the natural result of aligning how you live with who you are.

I’m not saying it’s easy getting to that “aspirin.” But it’s worth it. You’ll sleep better. I promise.

 

The Un-Common Core – What educators are forgetting and our kids aren’t getting

The public school system in America is undergoing an overhaul. That overhaul is called Common Core — the new curriculum structure based on “consistent academic guidelines created to help all students succeed.” Those words aren’t mine; they greet you when you go to the Common Core official website.

On the surface, it sounds reasonable to standardize, right? Consistent metrics for all. Level playing field. Better outcomes for our children, our communities and our nation.

But, I am concerned that Common Core will turn kids into robo-students, whose only aim is to meet imposed measures. Lost in the academic shuffle will be the opportunity to tap into that special ‘genius’ that resides within all individuals — and which cannot be discerned or measured through any set of standards.

Human beings — that includes kids — aren’t all the same. They aren’t “common.” They are unique beings with distinctive characteristics that define who they are and what their potential is. Children have identities, which need to be cultivated just like their ability to solve trigonometry problems, interpret literature and conduct successful science experiments.

At the center of every child is an uncommon core. If educators would ever wake up to this fact and offer personal discovery experiences, as well as academics — experiences that fostered self-awareness and, in turn, smarter decision-making — we’d be able to “measure” outcomes in terms of healthier, more well-adjusted adults, not just better test scores.

Descartes’ trap – Don’t fall into it!

The U.S. is doing it. Microsoft is doing it. Lots of people – not just nations and companies – are doing it: Falling into Descartes’ trap, and it’s taking a hell of a toll on everyone. If you don’t remember, Rene Descartes famously said, I think, therefore, I am. Five little words that set into motion one of the most prevalent and insidious identity traps ever.

Exactly what is Descartes’ trap? It’s when you unwittingly confuse the timeless nature of who you are with the changing nature of what you are.

The Obama Administration wanted to bomb Syria. Was this a rationale military strategy or a misguided, knee-jerk reaction to the idea that our country is the world’s policeman and must act accordingly? In short, if we’re not the world’s policeman, are we still America? Unwittingly, we confuse who we are with what we are – or believe we are – producing undo risk for all involved.

Microsoft is held prisoner by the unspoken belief that it’s value-creating potential is the result of is size and influence. In short: We are big, we are powerful; therefore, we are. Au contraire! Microsoft’s size and influence (what it is) are the result of how it creates value (who it is).

Individuals are also susceptible to Descartes’ trap. People confuse what they do with who they are, all the time. I am a star athlete; that’s who I am. I’m a young investment banker; that’s who I am. I’m a doctor; that’s who I am. Maybe not.

At some point, the star athlete retires, then “who” is she? Or the banker gets fired — for the second time in three years — and is at a loss for how to understand who he is in the face of recurring rejection. The label is gone, but the person remains. Now what?

Before you make life-shaping decisions about your job, career, love-life, whatever, make sure you distinguish between the temporal nature of what you are and the enduring nature of who you are. And keep in mind that who will always trump what.

Your happiness lies in the balance.

 

 

Leaders wanted – Chameleons need not apply

Sometimes, it’s easier to not be who you are in this world. Your boss wants you to be whatever you need to be to get the job done on time and on budget. Your friends want you to be what they need you to be to fit in. Your kids want you to be the best mom or dad on earth, available when and as they need you. (They also want you to be unavailable, when they want nothing to do with you.)

So where is the “you” in your life? The authentic, self-aware person you are, or at least would like to be?

The good news: More and more companies are inviting the ‘true you’ to show up at work, in hopes of motivating you to give your all and, in turn, perhaps developing into a leader others will want to follow. Here’s an article on a new leadership model the shows I’m not making this up.

The bad news: After spending so much energy making other people happy, it can be challenging to muster the self-awareness needed to find, be, and show yourself. Getting there isn’t a function of taking an inventory of your experience, skills, or talents. It starts by answering three questions:

What do I love? What brings me joy? What brings me alive?

Embedded in your responses are clues to your potential for creating distinctive value in the world, which has everything to do with you as a leader, whether you aspire to lead a company, a family, a church, or simply yourself.

The idea of just being you in a world that tugs at you to be what it wants, can feel uncomfortable…what if people don’t like who I am? But the truth is, people are most drawn to, and most admire and respect, those who have the courage to be themselves.

So, get on with it: Answer the questions above and let me – and the world – know who you really are.