Playing with responsibility

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is the power to choose our response.*
(Viktor Frankl)

When my dad taught at the University of Buffalo, the heart of his MBA classes was teaching about the ‘change agent’. This is the external force that puts change into motion. The change agent, once identified, gives us an understanding of our options and the need to respond, not to react.**
(Seth Godin)

To each stimulus there are three basic possibilities: we can react, respond or initiate. Fragility, resilience/robustness or antifragility^

To respond, or be response-able, is to be in a stronger place than reacting. To initiate, or choose none of the above, is to be in a stronger place still.

Though we cannot prepare for every thing that comes our way, it is worth going into training. Bob Stilger counsels,

When everything falls apart, we must invite our hands and our heart to come out to play, and ask our analytic mind to wait.^^

We’ll be able to do this if we take to heart Rob Walker’s advice to us, to make time for ourselves:

  • Scheduling creative play
  • Scheduling personal reflection
  • Scheduling specific passion-project focus*^.

We’re increasing the space in which we choose.

*Viktor Frankl, quoted in Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing;
**From Seth Godin’s blog Tilting at Windmills;
^See Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile;
^^Bob Stilger, quoted in Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler’s Bold;
*^From Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing.

It’s just so ordinary

How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs every day: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?*
(Georges Perec)

Can life ever be ordinary?

Maybe we just treat it so:

To divert the beam of your attention to nature, to take in the staggering scale of spacetime under the starlit sky or the miniature cosmos of aliveness on the scale of moss or the blooming of a single potted flower, is to step beyond the smallness of your own experience, beyond its all-consuming sorrows and its all-important fixations, and into a calibrated perspective that arrives like a colossal exhale from the lung of life.**

Time and attention transports us into wonder, and, as we too are expressions of Nature, we’re able to uncover the extraordinary in what has become ordinary to us.

Ian Bogost encourages us to play anything and find that it can be or become something else:

Heroism permeates ordinary life, in repetitions far smaller and weirder than the flow of the seasons and the years.**

Boredom becomes both a sign that we are not paying enough attention and a portal through which we access a richer world:

Boredom is the secret to releasing pleasure. Once something becomes so tedious that its purpose becomes secondary to its nature, then the real work can start […] games aren’t the opposite of work, but experiences that set aside the ordinary purposes of things^.

Give yourself the gift of ten minutes to gaze at something in nature and then of human origin.

Perhaps a snow-drop. Leaving it’s name aside, consider its colours, form, the struggle it had to arrive, the amazing engine of growth that holds its potential for another season when nothing of it can be seen above the soil, but can take in all it needs from the same soil through its fine roots.

Take an object from around you and consider it in the same way, forgetting its name and considering where it came from, why it was thought to be a good idea, who may have made it, how it came into being, how old it is and how long it may last, the things you might be able to do with it.

Georges Perec coined the term infra-ordinary to describe the opposite to the extraordinary that tends to dominate our attention – there is wonder in the so-called ordinary:

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.^^

*George Perec, quoted in Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing;
**From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: “I Go Down to the Shore”;
^From Ian Bogost’s Play Anything;
^^Mary Oliver, quoted in Rob Walker’s The Art of Noticing.

Highways in our hearts

Grievance looks back and possibility looks forward. […] One challenge is embracing the effective and generative approach of possibility when we’re sure that we’re entitled to grievance. Toward better.
(Seth Godin)

Faith is the conviction about the not yet proven, the knowledge of the real possibility, the awareness of pregnancy. […] Faith like hope, is no prediction of the future, it is the vision of the present in a state of pregnancy.**
(Erich Fromm)

What if a grievance could be turned into a possibility? That would be quite a feat. The person who can do such a thing has only discovered how to live more vitally and deeply.

Whether acute or chronic in nature, grievance only pulls us deeper into itself, being aggrieved by more and more people and things that happen. It looks back both because it knows the wrong that has been done and it wants to return to the certainty that existed before the wrong.

Possibility, though, is born in uncertainty, is about letting go and letting come. Possibility opens more possibility. The trick is to become capable of both changing things for the better whilst being changed for the better ourselves i the process.

Erich Fromm claims that becoming people of faith is the key, people who know that something can be borne out of the same thing others are aggrieved over. Fromm qualifies what he’s claiming for faith:

It is certainty about the reality of the possibility – but it is not certainty in the sense of unquestionable predictability […] That is the paradox of faith: it is the certainty of the uncertain.**

When we pursue grievance we are wanting to step into certainty, when we pursue possibility, we are stepping into uncertainty. It is not faith in the impossible but in the possible.

We might say that someone is “actively pursuing a grievance” but it is more likely that they are expression passiveness, they want things to return to normal, to certainty. Faith in the possible is activeness, it is why we are changed while we’re changing things:

Faith is based on our experience of living, of transforming ourselves. Faith that others can change is the outcome of the experience I change.**

Grievance wants others to change first, in this it reveals its passiveness and impotence. Faith in possibility desires to change itself first and, so, displays its activeness and power.

Such people have highways in their hearts for travelling into a better future, shedding light on their way.

*From Seth Godin’s blog: Grievance and possibility;
**From Erich Fromm’s The Revolution of Hope;

The gap

There’s no shortage in todays’ world of wicked problems wrapped around beautiful questions – meaning that somewhere deep inside the thorny issue embedded at the core, lies an undiscovered question of great value.*
(Warren Berger)

To hope is a state of being. It is an inner readiness, that of intense but not-yet-spent activeness.**
(Erich Fromm)

I found myself thinking about gaps.

Gaps around us that we think need to be filled because, somehow, they matter to us.

Gaps inside us, between who we are and who we can be, between what we are doing and what we could be doing.

The two are connected. Listening to the gap outside us calling and challenging and encouraging requires that we do something about the gap inside of us.

A rich and meaningful life tends to break out when this happens.

Sometimes the only way we can measure a gap is with our lives.

*From Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question;
**From Erich Fromm’s The Revolution of Hope.

A great journey …

… is a slow journey.

Traditionally, a journey was a rhythm of three forces: time, self and space.*
(John O’Donohue)

When you liberate yourself from the pressure of having to win, you’re free to try things that haven’t been done before. You can permit yourself to develop your unique perspective – share an alternative worldview. Walk and untrodden path.**
(Bernadette Jiwa)

John O’Donohue writes about how digitalisation has reduced time and space as critical forces in the rhythm of a journey, in turn training us to be focused and even fixated on destination.

We know humans create and live within systems. We can understand technology in this way, digitalisation being an expression of prescriptive technology. The other kind is growth technology. A journey – traditionally odyssey, pilgrimage, quest – should be understood as a growth system because the important things happen naturally on the way. See Constantin Cavafy’s Ithaka for a wonderful capturing of journey.

Systems that can move us to the destination faster are prescriptive. If I want to travel to Ithaka today, it is possible for me to sit almost motionless in a plane’s metal tube for hours while others look after the major part of the journey:

The greed for destination obliterates the journey.*

As a result, there can be no emergence:

There is no sense of natural sequence where an image is allowed to emerge from its background and context when the time is right, the eye is worthy and the heart is appropriate.*

Emergence requires slow time that can become deep time, an open mind and open heart:

But a great journey needs plenty of time. […] Take your time and be everywhere you are.*

This is not about ridding ourselves of technology: this would vibe impossible and, anyway, we are the product of natural systems and will be the producers of many.

It is more about being aware of the pressure of reality and bringing the power of our imagination to bear:

When you regain a sense of your life as a journey of discovery you return to a rhythm of yourself. When you take time to travel with reverence, a richer life unfolds before you.*

Towards this, my journal becomes an expedition-log, my life becomes a pilgrimage, I see life is potentially holy and sacred for everyone, whether we have religion or not. I am moving toward the true rhythm of my self.

I borrow some words from my friend and mentor Alex McManus for they were suggesting a journey to me as I read them:

Whatever the reasons change comes when it does, there seem to be at least three Events that ignite change: Contact with Outsiders, Significant Events, and Epiphanies.^

When we rediscover journey we provide ourselves as a means to change because of who and what happens on the way, and being open to what is wanting to emerge.

*From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty;
**From Bernadette Jiwa’s The Story of Telling blog: The Adventure of Not Knowing For Sure;
^From Alex McManus’ Makers of Fire.

In search of a better question?

What your customers want from you is for you to care enough to change them.*
(Seth Godin)

The best questions change the way I look at something, my orientation and perspective.

Some people are living questions, just the way they live causing me to look and to ask more questions.

Great questions don’t appear from nowhere, they emerge from a honed process we are able to enter each day, somewhere we can be curious, observant, open and perceiving, reflective and have the opportunity to shape an elegant question – which, in its beauty and simplicity is the right question for this moment.

*From Seth Godin’s This is Marketing.

Wishful play

Careful what you wish for. Because wishes don’t always come true, but wishing takes a lot of time and energy and focus. […] Better to wish for something where the wishing itself is a useful act, one that shifts your attitude and focus.*
(Seth Godin)

When we play, we engage fully and intensely with life and its contents. Play bores through boredom in order to reach the deep truth of ordinary things. […] Play cultivates humility, for it requires us to treat things as they are rather than as we wish them to be.**
(Ian Bogost)

Play needs reality and reality needs play. When we get real we can get playful. Wallace Stevens wrote about this when he described bringing the power of imagination to the pressure of reality.

When we do, things can be changed and we can grow.

Play makes it possible to move beyond thinking and wishing into doing.

*From Seth Godin’s blog: Careful what you wish for;
**From Ian Bogost’s Play Anything.

Letting go and letting come, keep moving

Classically, the understanding of life, the unfolding of identity and creativity, the notion of growth and discovery were articulated through the metaphor of the journey.*
(John O’Donohue)

What if you saw opportunities instead of tasks? Chances instead of risks.**
(Seth Godin)

I hope we have uncovered many possibilities for our lives as a result of walking through the five steps of Rohit Bhargava’s trends-spotting: gathering, aggregating, elevating, naming and proving.^

Nothing happens without us wanting it to and, so, yesterday, I reflected on how we can be the person who stands in the way of pursuing these new possibilities.

The temptation is to try and add new discoveries into our life as it is at the moment, to minimise the disruption. The five steps stand within a larger journey of transformation, though, requiring the following:

We need to see our lives as a story we can detach ourselves from. This helps us both to take a better look at the story we’ve been living and also to see how it can be replaced with another, better story.

Now we are able to see more of who we are and what we can do – the five steps making it possible to identify and take in new information from which a new and different story can be created.

This isn’t a head-only exercise and we’ll need to engage our feelings and emotions in order to identify with the things that matter and resonate with us most of all from what we’ve been discovering, to be able to embrace and accept these. There’ll also be difficult and even painful things to negotiate because denying these would be to deny ourselves.

There’s clearly a lot going on here and we’ll have to be very present if we are to see and understand and feel more clearly. We’ll be tempted to run to the comfort of the past or escape to dreams of the future, but our imaginations require us to be fully present and focused now.

We need to identify fully with our values and to join our discoveries with these – for not to do so would be akin to denying ourselves.

And we must commit to the expression of what we have discovered in playful, exploratory ways.

These steps allow us to take a journey from the centre of our old stories to the edge, and from the edge to step outside and look on these in a detached way. What is coming into being as we do this is a new story.

*From John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty;
**From Seth Godin’s blog: Just getting through the day;
^See Rohit Bhargava’s Non Obvious 2019.

What’s holding us back?

Furthermore, we have no even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is fully known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to have found an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the centre of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.*
(Joseph Campbell)

In his gentle but powerful tale of four companions brought together in life’s journey, Charlie Mackesy writes:

Isn’t it odd. We can only see your outsides, but nearly everything happens on the inside.**

Our inside world can be the most difficult of all to journey through; Edward Deci claims,

The starting place for change is accepting oneself and taking an interest in one’s inner world.^

I hope you’ve been identifying many amazing things about yourself over these days of exploring all that you have to gather, aggregate, elevate, name and prove.

Joseph Campbell helps adds a mythological level to what we’ve been doing. Using Rohit Bhargava’s five steps for identifying future trends has led us into what Campbell identifies as the hero’s journey. Including how overcoming the self who stands in the way, we are able to come to the centre of our existence and know who is our True Self and what is our contribution more clearly and strongly than ever.

I’ll share more in my next post, but here’s a little video about the hero’s journey to watch. If you’ve been gathering, aggregating, elevating, naming and proving over these last few days, see how you identify your journey with the hero’s journey.

*From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth;
**From Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.
^From Edward Deci’s Why We Do What We Do;

Now to try things out

If you follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one that you are living. When you see that you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you.*
(Joseph Campbell)

We have gathered, aggregated, elevated and named towards replying to the questions, Who is my True Self? and What is my contribution?

It’s now time to prove – the fifth of Rohit Bhargava’s trend-spotting steps that we are using to see more possibilities contained within our lives.**

Proving involves evaluating and researching further what we’ve been uncovering. This translates into what Theory U terms prototyping, or experimenting and exploring. We figure out small ways of expressing the ideas that have come to us.

We learn and reconfigure our way towards a better understanding and expression.

We may ask the questions:

Am I successful when I do this?
Am I being intuitive?
Am I growing as a result?
Is there a need in me being met?

Hugh Macleod names three big things to practise as we’re exploring: to use our smarts (talents), to be kind (to ourselves and others because things will go wrong) and to have grit (to learn and keep going, no matter what).^

*From Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth;
**From Rohit Bhargava’s Non Obvious 2019;
^From gapingvoid’s blog: RBG & The Big Three.