The (In)Consequentiality of Circumstance

There is a man who lives in a van that frequents a cafe I visit once or twice a day. I go there to break up the energy of being in my studio. Mostly I drink decaf lattes. They tell me I’m the only one they keep those beans for. Me and children under 12.

I got to know this man first by his scent. There is an incredibly massive wave of body odor that follows him wherever he goes. With your back turned, you can smell him enter the room from 50 feet. Not long after the birth of our olfactory relationship (which I imagine was asynchronous, but my wife says she can smell odor on me when I still think I’m fresh as a daisy, so who knows), we got into conversation and I learned about how he had come to live in a van. Although we could relate in some ways seeing as I had spent half a year living in a van, our stories diverged at the cause. For me, I was seeking adventure. For him, it seems to be the only thing keeping him off the street.

In speaking with this young thin man with long hair, it became quickly apparent that he is an intelligent and knowledgeable individual. Not long ago he was doing well paid and interesting work in NYC. I didn’t get the full story, as I wasn’t that interested in where he’d come from. What had my attention was how and why he was where he was now, struggling with a weak wifi signal on an old laptop to apply for some kind of grant for a few hundred dollars to keep gas in his van so that he could keep moving it each night and stay out of the way of the police that seem to follow him around.

In our many short conversations, I have found myself agreeing with his fine articulations of a society that has become dysfunctional. How he speaks of the structures that keep him down and make it near impossible to climb his way out now that he is down is very enrolling. It’s logical and the evidence of it is as clear as day.

While I agree with his many claims as to circumstances being the cause for his condition, I also see him as a bleeding victim of his own depressed perspective. The trouble is that nothing he claims is untrue. He is intelligent and his arguments are valid.

I don’t mean to say simply that, ‘Life is hard, so what?’ I mean more sharply that, indeed, the closer you get to the bottom the harder it is to climb out. Furthermore, I think it true that this is not a natural order, but the oppression of an economic system based on interest and leverage and a culture sold an underlying philosophy of survival as primary.

The red tears I envision dripping from the corners of this man’s saddened eyes pulls at my heart to help him. I want valiantly for him to see his own agency in this mess. I’ve done my bit – both gently and aggressively – trying to help him see that although what he points to in the world is there, it is holding all of it inside his mind that is pressing his eyes firmly against their sockets and making them bleed.

Our conversations are not that dissimilar from those I have in my studio every day. My professional dialogue does not typically begin in such a place of desperation, but I am often in this same conversation concerning the impact of circumstance on condition. I find myself nodding in agreement with entrepreneurs’ frustrations and leaders’ sense of impossibility due to external factors.

In fact, a few weeks ago I was doing some work with the leader of a multinational organization who oversees offices in nearly 50 countries. He was telling me about the ‘inevitable’ challenge of developing of a global strategy with leaders from so many different nations and cultures. Obviously bringing together leaders from 50 countries around the world was going to include strong disagreement and clashing. When I challenged him that he was creating this entire dynamic, he looked at me in the same way the man living in the van did when I challenged his idea that it was not the ‘system’ which was keeping him down.

In neither case was I suggesting that the external circumstances did not exist. Nor was I saying that they had did not have influence. Instead I was suggesting there was a parallel truth that the entire situation was actually resulting from their perspective that the circumstance was at cause.

To be clear, I am not just saying that their ‘experience’ of the situation as challenging was being created by them. Indeed, I mean that, but I am also saying that the external condition itself results, at least in part, from their perspective.

One might argue this as untrue by suggesting that if they were to remove themselves from the situation, the ‘problem’ would still exist. What they aren’t seeing though is that removing oneself is not the only alternative.

In a keynote I do on leadership I make the assertion that in the same way by being a competitive leader, you generate more competition in your organisation, by being a collaborative leader, you generate more collaboration too.

Core to my work (and my life actually) is leveraging the idea that ‘your state of being creates your world’. I often sound like a broken record pointing people to their own agency in the creation of their circumstances.

An extreme example I use is how it rarely rains where I live. Indeed, my impact on rain in southern California would be hard to measure, but when viewed from the perspective of ‘where I live’, then I am wholly at cause. I moved my family here from London largely to escape from under the wet grey blanket of a sky there.

I don’t mean to say the answer is always so simple. I just mean to point out that there is always a place where we are at cause and when we can find that cause we are empowered to create something different.

After some gentle nudging, the leader of the multinational organisation was able to see how his perspective was encouraging an expectation that many came with. He also discovered how this perspective was wearing him out and making him less effective at leading a more cooperative conversation.

The man in the van wrote down in his notebook a question I shared with him. It’s one I told him I ask myself whenever I don’t like an experience I’m having.

“How am I creating this?”

There have been a few moments like this where he has touched the liberating edges of the inconsequentiality of circumstance. They have given me a glimmer of hope for him in climbing his way out. Enough hope for me to buy him a book and give him a photo of me in my van with one of my favorite quotes written on it – a quote with a subtle nod to the power of transcendence and paradox.

The funny thing about all of this work that I do – professionally and habitually with myself and those I meet wherever I go – is that the deep purpose behind it, what really drives me, is my very present awareness as to the consequentially of circumstance.

While I hold it deeply true that ignoring external conditions is how an individual finds the most power, I hold it equally true that we are inextricably entangled with everything and that not even a single breath or thought happens in us entirely of our own volition. I see that we are tiny whirlpools appearing for a brief moment in a gently and yet incessantly rolling eternal river. I see that everything is a dance and that circumstance is indeed entirely consequential.

I realize that these ideas, because I hold them in such extreme, seem to be mutually exclusive. I assure you though that they are not. The closer you get to them, the more you see how they fit perfectly on the backside of one another.

And there is a time for putting attention to each.

When in the voting booth, for example, I act fully from and for the rolling river.

When I meet another whirlpool though, one struggling to keep spinning and staying in existence amongst the massive currents all around – be them the oppression of an economic system or the force of clashing nationalities – I put all of my focus on the how the little whirlpool creates the giant river.

Everything that goes into something is also simultaneously coming out of it in reverse.

My personal wish is to live in a perceived world where I am the absolute creator of every circumstance so that I may be empowered to create circumstances most supportive of all those others I am inextricably entangled with.

Being a Business Man – Alpha Omega Male 4/4

The role of business man needs an upgrade. Even writing the words ‘business man’ feels almost like I’m cursing. I should be writing ‘business person’, right?

While I do feel more so a business ‘person’ than a business ‘man’, I do think it is important for men to acknowledge and be aware of their role in business specifically from the perspective of their gender. In the same way the white man is born into a responsibility of compassion for the ill-doings of his race, the onus is on men to evolve a way of being that honors rather than oppresses women.

Business is a perfect context for this work.

Developing a nuanced and integral way of being as a male business leader – one that includes the noble and powerful aspects of the Alpha – while at the same time transcending this to also include the polar opposite way of being, which I call Omega, not only gives men in business more ability to create impact and lead, but it creates a world in which women and men are honored equally.

If you are a man in business, do you see how you could have even more power and impact as a leader while also creating a more fair and equitable environment across gender?

Being a Husband – Alpha Omega Male 3/4

For my wife and I, some aspects of me being alpha work well for us in creating attraction. When I ‘take the lead’ in certain things, she appreciates it and relaxes. There are other places though where her leading works better for us, both pragmatically and also in creating a healthy attraction between us. For example, I often love when she makes decisions and tells me exactly what to do in taking care of our son.

I have never liked the idea that the role of alpha is always being played by one person in a relationship at any particular time, as if the ‘alpha baton’ is either being held or passed back and forth. The latter certainly seems more equitable, but it is still rudimentary. It has us be too much like animals and not enough human.

Better for me is that we each embody the full breadth of both alpha and omega aspects at all times, thus noticing what would most serve the other moment by moment.

If you are a guy in a relationship, do you see how being an Alpha Omega Male might add more love and attraction than simply being an alpha male might?

Being a Father – Alpha Omega Male 2/4

I don’t want to be an ‘alpha male’ role model for my son, but I do want to be a role model for him in some of the ways that could be considered alpha. For example, I want him to be bold and self-expressed, but not an authoritative asshole. Of course the best way to help this to happen is to focus on not being that myself.

In this video I distinguish how I think about being an Alpha Omega Male in the context of fatherhood.

If you are a Dad, can you relate to this?

Introduction – Alpha Omega Male 1/4

The idea of being an ‘alpha’ male has never sat totally well with me. Parts of it speak to me – the idea of going first, expressing oneself boldly, etc – but it has also always felt a bit domineering and authoritarian.

In a lecture, Viktor Frankl once said:

“When we compare man to animal, we deprive him of that which makes him distinctly human.”

While I do think it is useful to look at our animal instinctual drivers, by directly correlating the ‘alpha’ role and behavior to humans we miss out on a lot of nuance that makes us unique and which has provided us the evolutionary advantage we have.

The idea of an ‘Alpha Omega Male’ is an integral way of being I have distinguished to solve this problem for myself. It includes a lot of what I would consider ‘alpha’, but also transcends this by also including it’s opposite, which I refer to as ‘omega’.

In this video, the first of four, I explain the general concept. In the following three videos, I will contextualise Alpha Omega Male using examples of being a father, a husband and a business man today.

After you watch this video, do you see a difference between being an ‘alpha male’ and an ‘alpha omega male’?

Three Kinds of Commitment – Self, Witnessed & Entangled

Not long ago I realized there are three types of commitments, each of which has a different degree of impact on a person who makes it.

They not only differ in their power, but also in the courage it often takes to make them.

A Self Commitment is when you commit to yourself that you will do something. Typically you would say it to yourself silently or in your head.

“I commit to going to the gym tomorrow.”

A Witnessed Commitment is when you make a commitment to yourself, but you do it aloud and in the presence of someone whom you trust. This is more powerful because your not wanting to be seen not keeping your word to yourself gives the commitment leverage.

“I commit to going to the gym tomorrow. You can hold me to that.”

An Entangled Commitment is when you make a commitment to another person which entangles them into your world. Whereas in a Witnessed Commitment the consequence is someone seeing you not be your word, in this case you not fulfilling your commitment would have a direct impact on the other person. Entangled Commitments are the most powerful and they thus also require the most courage.

“I commit to meeting you at the gym tomorrow at 6am.”

Often we think we are making a powerful commitment to ourselves. A way to test our commitment is to move it up from a private commitment to one people know about or, even more strongly, to one that people are depending on.

Which commitments could you make more powerful by adding entanglement to others?

How to Have Success – Create vs Make

[ New Distinctions for Entrepreneurs – Part 12 of 12 ]

To ‘make’ something is to bring it into form of your own accord. It is to be the full cause for a thing’s existence.

When we use the word ‘create’ however, there is a subtle knowing that while we were instrumental in that thing coming into form, there was also an aspect of that birthing that was beyond us.

In truth, all ‘creation’ is ‘co-creation’. When we use the word ‘create’, we automatically acknowledge that although we bring our will and action, we are not alone as creators. We honor the understanding that there is an unfolding with which we are dancing. Create is a word we typically ascribe to artistic endeavors and with art, we know there is also unfolding of the will and actions of other people, the unfolding of our own unconscious spirit, the unfolding constant evolution of the physical forms around us and the unfolding of all time and space.

As entrepreneurs, when we choose to ‘create our success’ instead of ‘make it happen’, we are embracing the unfolding as part of the dance.

When trying to ‘make it happen’ we are in a boat rowing as hard as we can.

When being committed to ‘creating success’, we are still in a boat, but instead we are raising a sail and tilling a rudder as we embrace the chaos of the wild and uncertain world.

Creating is not only a powerful way to bring things into form in the world, it’s also a much more fulfilling experience.

No fight. Just flow.

This is why my entire orientation is around helping entrepreneurs to not only be successful, but to be so through being powerful Creators.

How to Lead – Purpose vs Pull

[ New Distinctions for Entrepreneurs – Part 11 of 12 ]

There is a subtle difference between garnering people behind a common purpose and motivating people with a carrot on a stick.

Both are positive motivations. An example of carrot on a stick would be some sort of financial reward or, in fact, any opportunity for personal gain. It is a kind of self-serving, extrinsic motivation. While there is a time and a place for such motivational structures, having them as an over-arching strategy leaves out so much capacity for higher productivity.

Once people’s basic needs are taken care of, they will work hard for something bigger than them that they believe in than they will for their own personal gain.

To lead with ‘purpose’ then is even more powerful than leading by dangling carrots on sticks.

But what does it mean to lead with purpose?

It means simply for you to focus on embodying your commitment to your vision and to the path that you currently see. It means being willing to move forward on that path, without knowing what you’ll find ahead.

Doing this, while allowing the vulnerable witnessing by your team, will allow them to feel your commitment to your purpose The more they feel your commitment (by watching you), the more they will associate that feeling with their own commitment.

Commitment to purpose is infectious. It catches like fire. The hotter you make it burn – the more you go ALL IN for what you are doing – the hotter it will burn in them too.

You don’t need to worry about being ‘charismatic’. There are many ways to feel someone’s commitment and passion for a purpose. Sometimes a calm, cool, collected and unwavering bold courage is even more inspiring than a wild-armed, loud-mouth.

If you don’t know your purpose – if you don’t know WHY you are doing what you are doing – then this is obviously a first step. Figure this out. Get some support in connecting with it. I do this with leaders all of the time. The moment I help them know deeply the purpose behind what they do, they are able to lead their people much more powerfully.

They show up in the world in a new, clearer and bolder way and it catches in their team like fire.

What is your purpose?

How are you expressing that in your work?

How are you vulnerably showing your team your fear, while at the same time, also showing them your courage in the face of that fear?

Where are you NOT doing this? And where could you be?

How to Manage – Structures vs Rules

[ New Distinctions for Entrepreneurs – Part 10 of 12 ]

Even with the greatest leadership, management at some level will need to happen in any business with multiple people involved. If you are inspired by being an organisational leader who creates success through developing great relationships and taps into the intrinsic motivations of people (as opposed to a carrot & stick approach), then you will want to approach management with more nuance.

The first thing to do is to get in touch with the motivation behind your management.

“Why are you managing these people?”

“Because we need X to happen…”

“Why do you need X to happen…”

“Because if not, then we’ll go out of business…”

If asking the ‘why’ question repeatedly leads you to a fear, pain or undesirable situation, then the management approach which emerges from it will be counter-productive to building a strong team and it will undermine your ability to tap into your employee’s deep inner drive to help the company succeed. People will feel the unconscious purpose behind your ‘managing’ – whether you are aware of it or not.

If you discover that the reason you want to manage someone is something undesirable, then the next thing you’ll want to do is ask yourself: “If I don’t want that, what DO I want?”

Once you have connected with a reason to manage that is oriented around your purpose and what you ultimately want to create, it will serve you to think differently about the ‘rules’ that you are applying to people you manage.

Embedded in the meaning of a ‘rule’ is that something must be protected. We create rules for children to protect them from themselves. We create traffic rules to protect us from hurting each other. ‘Follow the rules’ has a tone of authoritarianism to it. Although many people effectively work with set rules, there is also a cost to this approach. That cost is even deeper and more motivated engagement.

The simple alternative to having ‘rules’ is creating ‘structures’. At the end of the day, a rule and a structure may be the same exact thing. You may have a ‘rule’ that people show up for work at 9am. By having that as the rule, those who ‘comply with the rule’ are doing so in response to the rule and that’s the end of it. Nothing productive is created beyond the rule other than people following it, thus protecting the company from people showing up too late.

What instead would be a ‘structure’ of starting work at 8am? Well, on the surface it’s the same thing. But ‘structures’ are devoid of inherent meaning of authoritarianism and protectionism that rules are imbued with. In fact, ‘structures’ are things that exist to uphold things and to bring things into form, so they at least open curiously towards what that may be.

Experience the felt difference in these two statements:

‘We have a rule where you must begin work at 8am.’

‘We have a structure where we begin work at 8am.’

The difference that you feel in reading those IS the difference I’m talking about here.

Following the first, you feel forced, controlled and at best you settle. You give up a little bit of your soul in the process.

Following the second, you feel engaged and curious. You want to know what is meant by ‘structure’. For what? What are we building? How does that help?

Using structures instead of rules when you manage invites conversation around the purpose behind the way you are managing. The dialogue is thus easily oriented around the larger vision and what the organisation is attempting to achieve.

“Why do you have a structure where you begin work at 8am?”

“We find that our people are more productive in the mornings. We find on average we’re actually able to end the day 30 minutes early by starting the day 1 hour earlier. By starting work at 8am, our people work less and get more done. Also, we are committed to being the number one service provider in our industry this year. Every other company in our industry starts work at 9am. We’re starting before, working less and doing a better job than all of them.”

Where are you managing with rules?

How could you transform these rules into structures?

What could you share with your team about the purpose behind these structures that might create more engagement and intrinsic motivation from them?

Also, be open to the possibility that by sharing the purpose behind your structures, your team may help you to evolve a structure even more effective and productive towards the same end.

How to Decide – Know vs Figure

[ New Distinctions for Entrepreneurs – Part 9 of 12 ]

When, as an entrepreneur, you find yourself having a difficult time making a decision, it may not be that you don’t have all the information you need to ‘figure out’ what to do.

An entrepreneur is someone who creates from a blank canvas. The starting point is completely different than employment in that there is no predefined structure, vision or goals that the work must serve. As an entrepreneur, these things come from you and you alone. You both create the vision, goals and structure and then you make decisions and take action in service of them.

Where do these visions, goals and structures come from then? Yes, of course they come from you, but where within you? Why do you choose them to be what you choose them to be?

You might come up with rational explanations, but the reality is that a large part of this is post rationalisation for something that bubbled up from your unconscious. As an entrepreneur, most of what you create was initially received by you in some emotional or spiritual way. You heard the whisper of an idea and you followed it, nourished it, gave it some light and as it grew and you came to know it better, you put even more attention on it.

Despite starting down this path, entrepreneurs often get themselves to a point where they stop acting on things because it ‘feels right’ or because it seems curious or interesting to them. They start off down the path of their entrepreneurial pursuits that way, but then with a little bit of success, they begin deferring all decisions to rational analysis. The fear of losing what you created has you reaching for reason at every turn.

Your decisions process devolves from one of exploring possibilities to calculating probabilities. In doing so, you improve the quality of your success, but often at the cost of it’s quality. What filled you with a sense of aliveness becomes burdensome. Like the romantic partner who starts off as the apple of your eye and then becomes your greatest annoyance.

The thing is though, your partner didn’t change. Not much anyway. What changed is how you looked at him or her. You lost that perspective of wonder. You gave it away and replaced it with analysis and judgement.

This is how we kill our decision process as entrepreneurs. Once we begin to build something, we stop acting from our deep sense of knowing. We stop allowing ourselves to move intuitively in the direction of that which calls our spirit. Instead we begin to micromanage our decisions. We insist to ourselves that we must ‘figure out’ the correct and best answer to move forward. There is too much at risk. Too much we might lose.

We forget that not long ago there was nothing to lose. That it was from this nothing that came everything we now have. That something so wonderful came from nothing, not figured out the as the best things to do, but because we acted from a deep knowing about what our step or directions were called to be without knowing what might happen.

Acting from a deep inner ‘knowing’ as to what is true for us to do, paradoxically requires us to embrace not knowing what will happen when we do. It’s knowing that we must turn left without knowing what we’ll find when we follow that path.

When as an entrepreneur you find yourself having a difficult time making a decision, it may not be that you don’t have all the information you need to ‘figure out’ what to do. It may instead be that you have stopped trusting your deep knowing as the place you make the best decisions from.

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