The 3 P’s of Change



Niccolo Machiavelli wrote the following in The Prince (circa 1532), “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

That was 484 years ago and not much has changed (pun intended).  I believe that changing behavior is excruciatingly difficult.  It is certainly not impossible but it is also not for the faint of heart or for those lacking intestinal fortitude.  After spending the last 25 years studying & researching both the theoretical and practical sides of change, I have come to believe that there are 3 distinct variables in the change equation.

  • Purpose – There must be a visceral reason for change to occur and I have come to believe that it stems from “pain”.  This can be emotional, physical, psychological, or financial but in most cases the fear of the known exceeds the fear of the unknown and we take that leap.  It is important that we understand our purpose clearly and are able to communicate to others because change is never a solitary effort.  We must be able to create a clear vision for the effort in order to sustain all involved when the emotion has faded away and we are left with just the work.
  • Process – Once the purpose is clear, we have to create a system that will support us in the effort and enable us to realize the vision.  We cannot rely on willpower because if we do, we will most certainly fail.  Emotions are what begin the process but intellect must engage in order to sustain it.  Think of it as a project plan with milestones and check-ins along the way to ensure we are on track…and don’t forget the feedback loop. We have to solicit and integrate feedback on our progress in order to ensure our process addresses changes along the way.
  • People – This is where things get tricky.  The most important concept to understand is that change never happens in a vacuum.  No matter what change you are attempting to make it will, at some point, impact someone else.  This means that you have to ensure that all stakeholders are willing to allow you to change.  That’s right, other people will be your most significant obstacle in the process.  We all live & work in complex adaptive systems.  If one “agent” changes then others in the ecosystem must change as well.  The tricky part here is that we are all supportive of other people changing if they want to but not so keen when it begins to impact us.  I am sure you can all remember a time you wanted to change a habit or two and others in your circle of influence were not exactly happy with you.  Mainly because they liked that you accompanied them and engaged in group frivolity and when that was threatened, they may not have liked it.  The main reason for this response? Simply put, they did not sign up for the change. Have a plan and be prepared for push back from those who may not be willing to allow you to change.  They are most likely not even consciously aware they are doing it.  We have to overcome our own nature because, as a general rule, we seek homeostasis.

I believe that we all have the capacity for change but it is the willingness that evades us from time to time.  I maintain that change is never a solitary action and if we want to succeed we must engage those close to us in the effort.  Perhaps the challenge is actually to change our perception of who we are and what we can accomplish?  There is fear in that because to admit we can implies we have a choice…a responsibility we might not desire.

We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.
— W. H. Auden

Leave a comment

Filed under Adaptation, Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

Burdened with Glorious Purpose


To begin, I admit the following:

  1. I am a comic book nerd from the 1970’s-80’s.  I read comics back when they would be delivered to me monthly in the mail and cost $.35 each.
  2. I am a language nerd as well.  This stems from being an English Literature major many years ago and getting hooked on Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Donne, Coleridge, and the rest of that crew.

Knowing those two things explains (somewhat) the title of this post.  For those who are not connecting the dots, this phrase was used by Loki in the opening of the first Avenger’s movie (click here to see it).  That takes care of the comic book angle but the language itself is so very important.  There is so much power and meaning packed into those 4 words and that is a wondrous thing to accomplish.  Don’t take my word for you, Wittgenstein & Conrad will back me up…

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”
― Ludwig Wittgenstein

“My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”
― Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

Okay, now let’s take a deep breath and come back from literary geekdom to the real point of this post.  I am proposing that we should all “be burdened with glorious purpose”.  If we are going to be on this spinning rock for 70-80 years why wouldn’t we spend it burdened in this manner?  The most amazing part is that you can choose the purpose!

There is a caveat and that is the act of choosing.  I realize that sometimes we may not have complete control over our job or the work we do BUT WE ALWAYS HAVE CONTROL OVER OUR PURPOSE!  We may not always being doing what we want to do but we are always in control of how we do it.

This aligns with the “have-do-be” versus “be-do-have” discussion that goes like this:

  • “If I have these things I want/need then I will do what is required, and then I will be the person I want to be”  (Incorrect)
  • “I will be the person I want to be, which means I will do these things, leading me to have certain things.”  (Correct)

Regardless of how you skin the cat (no cats were actually skinned in this post, just an old colloquialism), the crux of this discussion is that you have a choice.

  1. You can be “burdened with glorious purpose”
  2. You can be simply be burdened

The choice, as always, is yours.  Just remember the warning from the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (yes, I am also a movie geek)



Leave a comment

Filed under Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

This or That?


Simple, not easy

Integration, not balance

Process, not event

Activities, not results

Preparation, not planning

Marathon, not sprint

Wisdom, not knowledge

Influence, not directing

Ambiguity, not certainty

Purpose, not profit

Anything, not everything

We, not me

Collaborate, not control

Why, not what

Leave a comment

Filed under Decision Making, Thinking about thinking

Changing the narrative

Recently I went to Cleveland with an old high school buddy to see John Waite perform at The Music Box Supper Club. It was a great show and terrific venue as well.  He started the show by explaining that he would taking questions between songs which was a pretty cool way to engage the audience and his answer to one of these questions was the genesis of this post.

About midway through the evening someone asked him if we was every going to reunite with The Babys.  (For those of you who do not know about John Waite, he was the leader of The Babys from 1979 until they broke up in 1981.  He then went on to a solo career until 1987 when we became the lead singer for Bad English until the broke up in 1991.) His response to this question was insightful and a way of thinking we all could and should embrace.  He said, “No.  They are in a good place and have another singer and are doing quite well and that is great for them.  I am in a different place and feel like there are other things I am supposed to write songs about.”

As I listened to him sing a few of his more recent songs and thought about what he had said, it struck me that many of us never take the scary step of evolving and becoming something different than we used to be.  I am not sure if it is fear of just laziness…guess it really doesn’t matter.  What also stuck out to me was that the audience really did not want to hear his new stuff…they wanted “the hits”.  Not only are do we have to overcome our own inertia but we also may have to break the gravitational pull of others who don’t really want us to move ahead.

How do you want to change your story?  What new songs do you have to write?  Are you satisfied with playing your old hits or are you ready to try out some new stuff?  I know it’s scary because, quite frankly, it might not be very good and some folks may not like it.  Does that really matter?  It’s called a creative process because it is iterative and takes failure to create something beautiful.  As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. 




Leave a comment

Filed under Looking in the mirror, Real Life, The Human Condition, Uncategorized

It’s a little bit of everything

Lisa, my lovely, creative, and musically adventurous wife,  recently shared the song “A little of bit of everything” by Dawes with me and I have not been able to shake it since I first heard it…something about it would just not leave me alone.  There are 3 distinct stories in the song that provide 3 very different perspectives on what “a little bit of everything” means to different people at different points in their lives and I think that rorschach test quality is what fascinates me.

In my work, I am blessed to build close relationships with folks who are in vastly different seasons of their lives and they can each see things from wildly different perspectives.  This provides me with an expanded perspective as well as I listen to them share their goals and challenges in both their businesses and their lives.  While they are all distinctly different and unique, there is also a sameness in their struggles.

I believe this struggle we all share is embracing that it’s always “a little bit of everything” and that means there is often no one “right” answer or one singular issue to address.  In the first verse of the song a young man is contemplating suicide and when a police sergeant asks him why, his response is:

“Oh, it’s a little bit of everything
It’s the mountains, it’s the fog
It’s the news at six o’clock
It’s the death of my first dog

It’s the angels up above me
It’s the song that they don’t sing
It’s a little bit of everything”

We are all part of various ecosystems in our lives and it is nearly impossible to identify the exact time or action that caused something to happen…be it good or bad.  Our struggle is our need for control in all aspects of our lives.  We all share this fallacy that we can make things happen and if we just focus and work harder, it will happen.  For the record, I believe strongly in planning and preparing as well as being a huge proponent of working hard and dedicating oneself to something you believe in.  What I do not believe in is the mindset that we (any of us) actually control the outcome of anything…unless it is something we are the only person involved in…and that is rare.  Perhaps if we were less focused on the results and more focused on the people, things would work out much better for all of us?

There is only one thing I can attest to and that is I do not have any answers…only questions and I am just fine with that.  I have seen people experience moments of great clarity with the simplest of questions and have been blessed (the fact that I have been blessed 2x in this post does not escape me) to be involved in those conversations.

I will leave you with the lyrics to another song from my youth that has also served as my own personal mission statement…

“Once I thought the truth was gonna set me free
But now I feel the chains of its responsibility
I will not be a puppet I cannot play it safe
I’ll give myself away with a blind and simple faith
I’m just the same as you I just do the best I can
That’s the only answer…for an ordinary man”

Leave a comment

Filed under Looking in the mirror, Real Life, The Human Condition

E + R = O

I am not sure where I first learned this “formula” but I am a fan of Occam’s Razorand believe that anything that helps us simplify our thinking is worth sharing. After reading the following blog posts, I saw a theme developing and the content coalesced on its own from there.

  • In Dorie Clark’s recent article “Why Mindfulness Is The Next Revolution In Marketing”, she makes the point that while there are many things we cannot control, what we can control is how we respond. While the context of this discussion is centered around marketing, it is obviously applicable to anyone’s daily activities.
  • There is also correlation with David Brendel’s blog post “How Philosophy Makes You A Better Leader” in which he expounds on the value of self-reflection in regards to behavior change. Brendel is a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and discusses the actual neuroscience of self-reflection as it pertains to activating the anterior cingulate cortex. The ACC is a critical region of the brain that can “detect discrepancies between the actual and desired states”. So once we begin engaging the ACC, we can identify goals and develop plans to attain them (more or less).
  • In Les McKeown’s post “Why ‘Capacity’ Is The Key to Success in 2015”, he makes the point that “…it’s not the events that will shape your future next year–it’s how your business responds to future events when they occur.”

All of these folks referenced, either explicitly or implicitly, the formula E+R=O (Event + Response = Outcome). Here are some thoughts on why it is so valuable (yet so simple).

  1. Events are going to happen whether we want them to or not. This is where I think we all need to release ourselves from the Fallacy of Control (my own personal theory). No amount of planning or thinking will cause or prevent events from happening in our lives. I am not saying we should adopt a fatalistic attitude but I do believe we should shift our mindset from planning to preparation.
  2. Our “response” is truly the only variable we control (some of us better than others) and our only consistent method to change the outcome. Don’t waste you time & energy (2 extremely valuable resources) lamenting the event .Instead focus on being mindful and controlling your response so it is both positive and productive for you and others. If you are in a leadership role then this is paramount because your reaction to events serves as a model to others so it can be multiplied tenfold or more! In order to leverage this power, you have to engage in triple loop learning which enables us to self-correct “on the fly” because we are objectively aware of our own behavior.
  3. Outcomes are only within our control in the context of our responses so the more we shift the burden or blame to others, the less likely we are going to be able to achieve our goals (personally or corporately). The minute we relinquish our power in the process, we are through. Here is where you find out where your true locus of control rests. The goal is always to have an internal locus of control so that you believe you can impact the world around you. The alternative is that you are acted upon by outside forces beyond your control and that is not a happy place to be.

I will share that while this formula can help you achieve your goals and completely change your attitude, it also comes with a heavy price. I could tell you about it but I think Rocky Balboa says it much better than I ever could.

Leave a comment

Filed under Decision Making, Learning, Looking in the mirror

What Warren, Glen, Johnny, John, Kris can teach us about living

I recently stumbled across this video of Glen Campbell singing “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”.  It highlights his struggle with Alzheimer’s in a very personal way (if you would like to learn more about his farewell tour, watch this short segment done in 2012…very touching as 3 of his children toured – and struggled – right along with him).  I could not get the song out of my head and shared it with Lisa (my wife) who really did not want to watch it due to the emotional content but finally acquiesced.  As we were sitting in our kitchen this evening and she was finishing some emails for work, I was watching the video and kept restarting it to listen to the first again and again.  She stopped what she was doing and asked me why I was felt so connected to the song.  In order to give context to my reply, here are the lyrics…

“I’m still here but yet I’m gone
I don’t play guitar or sing my songs
It never defined who I am
The man that loved you till the end
You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
And most of all…
I’m not gonna miss you “

I told her my connection with the song was with the raw emotional power of the lyrics of someone facing the final chapter of his life and his willingness to continue to live his life through his art.  With all the challenges that Alzheimer’s brought, he still went on tour and got up in front of hundreds of people each night knowing that at some point in the evening he would most likely forget any number of things.  Then, in the last months of life, he did the only thing he could…he wrote and recorded music.

There are other artists who have taken similar paths recently.  These include Warren Zevon, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and John Mellencamp.  Not all of them are suffering from a terminal illness but all recorded music about moving through phases in their lives.

If you were to take the time to click on each of these links and watch & listen to “Keep Me In Your Heart”, “Closer To The Bone”, “Hurt”, and “Troubled Man”, I believe you would understand what I am about to share with you.  While all of them were at different stages in their lives and face dramatically different challenges, the following are 3 lessons about life for all of us:

  • Continually re-invent yourself BUT never abandon who you are
    • This is not as paradoxical as it sounds.  Sometimes our biggest downfall is success. The more successful we are, the more we think we have it all figured out.  The more we think we have it figured out, the less likely we are to learn and grow. Do you see the problem?  We need to continually push ourselves to grow but these should be variations on a theme.  We don’t change the core of who we are, we grow as we reflect on our experiences and relationships adding layers of understanding and wisdom.
  • Be passionately transparent
    • Connection is everything and you cannot connect if you are not willing to open up.  Don’t give measured responses or match the level of transparency of others.  Be vulnerable and aware that others are vulnerable as well.  All you have to do is what Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” video to know what I am talking about.  It is painfully apparent in that video that he has many things he would have changed if he could have.  I believe this comes with age because the older you get, the less likely you are to care about what other’s think because you know, in the end, Dr. Seuss was right…“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
  • F*#% the critics
    • Don’t seek success.  Write, speak, cook, sing, talk, build, lead, paint, draw, sell, (or any other verb you wish to insert) in the manner if which you believe in regardless of the commercial feasibility.  You start going down that road, you won’t like what you become.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to what Aaron Lewis has to say about it.

It is certainly not easy to do these things.  You run the risk of failure and disappointment every day.  That said, embrace opportunities to create the experiences that will be on your video when you write your own version of these songs.  As Kris said in “Closer To The Bone”, “…Ain’t you getting better, running out of time.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Real Life, The Human Condition