Category Archives: Thinking about thinking

Inertia is a bitch

Sir Isaac Newton figured out this out in 1686.  That is 331 years ago and we still haven’t come to terms with it!

His First Rule of Motion states, “An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

So I ask you:

  • How has this impacted your life and career up to this point?
  • What are you willing to do in order to overcome it?
  • Would you be willing to be “acted on by an unbalanced force”?
  • Why or why not?

If you decide to seek an unbalanced force, remember Sir Isaac’s Third Law of Motion that states, “For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action.”  I can share with you from experience that those who seek an unbalanced force will find “equal and opposite re-action” from two main sources:

  • Themselves (because they overestimated their own willingness to change)
  • Those close to them (because it would require they change as a well and they did not sign up for it)

Here’s the rub, you should never stop evolving because once you stop moving forward, you being sliding backwards…there is not status quo in life.  As it is with all things in our lives, this is a choice and, as William James said, “When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.”


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Filed under Learning, Looking in the mirror, Thinking about thinking

Answering what & why

WARNING:  There are no “answers” in this post and my only goal in sharing these thoughts was to cause you to ask yourself meaningful questions.  If you would prefer not to do that, then do not read any further.

I believe that when we enter into the “2nd half” of our lives, we entertain different questions because time becomes real and there is a sense of mortality we cannot escape. We begin to think more deeply about legacy because we want our lives to have meant something and would like to believe we did something meaningful that will live on when we are gone.

This leads to a change in how we perceive the world around us and our reticular activating system provides us with the means to accomplish this…”When you set your intent, you are marrying your subconscious mind with your conscious will to make something happen. It is like you are sending your Reticular Activating System a message that you are “expecting” the event to happen, and there is absolutely no room for uncertainty.” Essentially, we begin to see/experience what we look for and/or expect.  This works in all seasons of our lives but now it is especially poignant because we’re looking for meaning and meaning we will find.  We begin to question “why” much more often and have an urge to understand people and their actions…which is not a peaceful practice.

Since others will often frustrate or confuse us, we then turn inward and ask ourselves these challenging questions.  We want to better understand ourselves because that might help us understand others?  I recently began working with a coach (Jim Vaive) in the realm of emotional intelligence and one my homework assignments was the creation of my “noble goal”.  I have to admit that I really liked the sound of that but it has not been easy to write down.  When I visited 6seconds, I found this snippet of insight which really crystallized it for me…“Live as if your choices send ripples beyond your lifetime.”  Full disclosure, this resonated with me because it sounds like the great scene from “The Gladiator”, where Maximus tells his troops that “What we do in life, echoes in eternity.”  Think of the impact this might have on our actions each day if we truly lived in this manner.  Imagine the impact it would have on others.  Imagine how hard it is to capture this in one sentence!

As a recovering philosophy student (27 years in the real world and counting) this also took be right back to Immanuel Kant and his thoughts on the categorical imperative…which is not a fun place to go.  Kantian philosophy would tell us that we should “act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”  I was fond of torturing my kids with this and can’t tell how many times I lectured them with no thought of Matthew 7:3…“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?”  Actually, there might be quite the circular argument with that entire discussion because in lecturing them on the categorical imperative I was actually exemplifying a poor example to be repeated “in perpetuum” but that is a thought for another day.

I would like to provide you with 3 “resources” if you are interested and they are…

I would suggest you start with Sean Rowe because he will stir the most visceral reaction in you and reach you in your heart and soul instead of your head as you can see by the following lyrics…

“My friends I believe we are at the wrong fight
And I cannot read what I did not write
I’ve been to His house, but the master is gone
But I’d like to leave something behind

There is a beast who has taken my brain
You can put me to bed but you can’t feel my pain
When the machine has taken the soul from the man
It’s time to leave something behind”





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Filed under Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition, Thinking about thinking

Act like a child…please!

I was reading The Power of  a Good Question (a great post by Leo Bottary) today and it serves as the jumping off point for what follows.  Leo provided great practical insight as to the “how” of this process as well as an example of what can come from it.  I am going to take a more personal approach and share what I believe we have to embrace in order for our default to be asking questions instead of giving answers.

How many times have you told your kids (or been told yourself) to “grow up”?  Well, when it comes to being a great questioner, the reality is that we need to maintain some of that childlike wonderment about the world around us.  In “A More Beautiful Question”,  Warren Berger points out that a typical preschooler asks about 300 questions each day but once they reach middle-school age, they ask very few.


This is referred to a neoteny (the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal)  and you can read “Today we can’t afford to become adults” by Joichi Ito if you would like to find out why it matters.

If we were to maintain this childlike ability maybe we could also avoid what Robert Burton describes as the “certainty epidemic”.  This is also known as the certainty bias which finds its roots in our genetics as we are hardwired to avoid uncertainty because it triggers a “threat response” in our limbic system which causes us to feel something akin to pain.  Being certain is almost like an addiction so when we “meet” the goal of avoiding uncertainty, we feel rewarded…even when it is not in our best interest.

Questioning is also more aligned with divergent thinking rather than convergent thinking because it focuses on the “why” more than the “how”.  In general terms, divergent is more creative and convergent is more efficient.  I think there is less uncertainty in convergent thinking so this means our brain will reward us for taking the convergent path and making the world certain…even if its not.  If you would like to read more, here is “Divergent Thinking versus Convergent Thinking” from Phil Charron.

Finally, there is this gem from Shunryu Suzuki which really stands on its on merits and needs no explanation.  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

I realize the we live in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world (VUCA) which means that trying to remain open to multiple scenarios and withholding judgment is biologically challenging.  We crave certainty because we want to avoid the psychological and emotional “pain” that comes with not knowing but, oftentimes, “knowing” is a false certainty.  We make connections that are not there and draw faulty conclusions because are addicted and need that “certainty fix”.

I believe we all need to continually extend our “threshold of uncertainty” and embrace the opportunity to play the “holy fool” from time to time. Richard Cecil  provides a great closing comment for us on this topic…“The first step towards knowledge is to know that we are ignorant.”


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Filed under Adaptation, Complexity, Decision Making, The Human Condition, Thinking about thinking

What if?

We spend 95% of our time doing stuff.  Even when we think we are thinking about stuff we are actually thinking about doing stuff…and this is not really thinking, this is planning…there is a difference.


With that in mind, take a minute and just think…”What if…”

  • you caught what you were chasing?
  • money no longer mattered?
  • no one was actually “holding you back”?
  • the people you thought were against actually didn’t even think about you that much?
  • the giants were actually windmills?
  • you decided to not let “it” get to you?
  • your boss wasn’t really a jerk but you were?
  • it’s your issue and not _____ (insert name here)
  • your kids acted just like you?
  • you decided not to argue with ________ (insert name here)
  • the power to make the changes you desired were inside you…and you still didn’t make them?
  • it all depended on you?
  • _______ (insert name here) died unexpectedly and you had not made the time to call or stop by?
  • retirement sucks?
  • they took it all away and you were still happy?
  • you never started that project you always wanted to do but never found the time?
  • you started being the person you thought you would be once you “made it”?
  • you acted “as if” _________ (fill in the blank)
  • no matter what _______ (insert name here) said or did to you, you displayed grace and forgiveness?
  • there is no tomorrow? (I bet you know what movie clip will play if you click on the link)

I know that it is easy to write this down and extremely hard to incorporate into your life.  I know because I struggle with it every day just like you.  That is also why I have a hard time with “self-help” books and gurus who tell you all you need to do is follow their 10 step plan and you too achieve everything you ever wanted.

There is a huge chasm between thinking and doing and sometimes that distance looks so vast we are able to console ourselves because “we would never make it” and just continuing to do as we had always done is “safer”.  We are also correct that it is safer and much, much easier to stay continue to act as we have always acted and not entertain “What if…?”

Several months ago I was having coffee with good friend and he was telling me about some challenges he was having.  Now this conversation had been the same one…more or less… for the past 6-7 months.  He is a very bright guy and was always talking about strategy and planning and would say things like…”once this happens…” or “as soon as I…” then I can get things going.  I just nodded my head and stroked my beard as he continued to talked (my own way of focusing my attention on the other person).  At one point, he stopped and I just continued to think about all he has said without saying anything.  He looked at my for a minute and then asked me what I thought.  I then posed  the following question to him – “What if you started doing stuff instead of talking about stuff?  He just stared at me for a few minutes as he thought about the question.  Finally, he said – “I guess stuff would get done and I would actually see some results.”  At that point there was no much more to talk about.

(Read what Seth Godin has to say about this idea here…)

Here is all I can offer.  The next time you are in a situation and falling into your normal behavior/response/activity do the following:

  1. Stop and think “What if I…kept my mouth shut/spoke up/was nice/walked away/helped out/didn’t gripe about it/made that phone call/expressed gratitude/committed to ______ (insert your own answer here)
  2. Immediately reach out to someone close to you and share the experience with them and tell them what new action you are going to take and ask them to hold you accountable
  3. Do it
  4. Enjoy the feeling of being the person other people think about being…

Final thought:  What is Hale, Gandhi, and Fuller were right?

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”   ― Edward Everett Hale

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”      ― Mahatma Gandhi

“Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person. ”     ― R. Buckminster Fuller

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

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

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Filed under Decision Making, Thinking about thinking

Inward focus, outward reward

Talked with my son the other day about the concept of self-regulated learning (yes, he was thrilled about it) and began to realize there the core concept is really applicable to overall performance.

Self-regulated learning has 4 domains:

  • Cognition – How we learn from our environment
  • Motivation – How we manage ourselves (internally)
  • Behavior – How we manage ourselves (externally)
  • Environment – Being selective about where we are (in context of the first three) as well as adaptation techniques when we cannot choose our environment

This is about meta-cognition (learning about learning) and it is the core issue with being successful.  We have to take the time to analyze our own performance over time and try to draw out the similarities when we were successful and when we were not.  We can then begin to understand the “why” of our performance and take steps to create situations within which we will be successful.

The first step is to build in time to reflect on your efforts and think about what makes you tick.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at this paper written by Cynthia Roberts,  Associate Professor of Organizational Leadership and Supervision  at Purdue North Central. 

If we never take time to think about what we did and why it was or was not successful, how do we ever hope to improve our performance?

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Filed under Learning, Looking in the mirror, Thinking about thinking

Tribal learning…continued

Tribal learning also enables you to increase your learning agility (the ability to learn at a rate that meet or exceeds the speed of change) which is incredibly important to your/your organization’s viability.  If you remember from my last post, I offered the following definition of tribe – “A unit of sociopolitical organization consisting of a number of families, clans, or other groups who share a common ancestry and culture and among whom leadership is typically neither formalized nor permanent“.

This is exactly what you gain from developing your own learning tribe via linkedin, twitter, Facebook, and any of the other social communication tools available today.  This technology has offered all of us the following:

  • Access to people (& their knowledge) from all over the world.  The kicker is perspective. I have found some of the most fascinating answers to my questions have come from those outside of the U.S. who have a vastly different point of view and frame of reference.  When it comes to learning, you have to be ready and open to POV’s that challenge your assumptions if you want to grow.
  • Speed!  Where else can you ask a question or share a thought and have multiple answers/responses from all over the world in less than 24 hours?
  • Egalitarianism. Normally, we ask people for insights that we know and are comfortable with.  Your tribe can consist of people from various functional areas who may have knowledge to share but you would never have thought to ask.
  • Network strength. If you are familiar with network theory, diversity=strength and that is exactly what your tribe will do for you.  There are people in my tribe I routinely reach out to just because I know they will provide me with a POV I could never get locally.
  • Shared burden/support. In a tribe, you are never alone…enough said.

So now what do you do?  For starters, you are no longer building a networkyour building a tribe. A tribe is much more personal and primal.  If you revisit the definition of tribe, you see it is about a shared culture and that can be aligned our learning.  When you are building a learning tribe, you would invite or initiate people in who share the desire to ask questions, share knowledge, & actively engage/challenge others to do the same.

Once you have your 2010 planning completed, make sure you develop goals/strategy/tactics/resources for your learning tribe that will increase your ability to make this year one to remember.

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Filed under Learning, Thinking about thinking