Culture Pivots

Any time is a good time to change, but some are better than others. Beginnings of years, months, weeks or days work pretty well to take stock, look around and set out in a new direction, project or context. Historically humans have created many other ritual junctures such as the beginning of a new school year, a new season, or a new job and in addition to these generally held opportunities for pivoting, the faith or belief systems you have been born into may also provide excellent times to detach, reflect and set set off consciously in new ways. Several somewhat specialized cultures I was born into in no particular order are starting books, entering new school years, being a New Yorker and being a Jew, all of which could be argued are variations on the same theme. My mother was a school teacher so growing up the beginning of the new school year in the fall seemed more important to her than the New Year in January. Since everyone in my house read lot of books, there was a pretty good chance on any given day, that one of us was starting a new one which was in some way entering into a new universe every time. Then there was being a New Yorker, which means living in place that is so full of vigorous vital change as to still be unmatched even after living elsewhere for decades. This evening begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which was explicitly designed and designated as a time to pivot, making it a truly excellent pivot time shared by millions around the world.

What do I mean by pivoting? Well my definition does not matter, yours does. Whatever you are doing and whatever dream you are living in, there is always an opportunity to step back and observe yourself and your activities at a meta-level, to ask yourself who you are, what are you doing and why, and to observe who is asking these questions?

As infinite voyagers surfing the dimensionally vast set of options and opportunities, sometimes called problems, we are to some degree always aware of choices we have in terms of where we live, where we work, who we spend time with, what we are focused upon and the huge set of constructs and frameworks we voluntarily subordinate ourselves to at any given moment.

The fact that a group of people thousands of years ago thought it was worth while to annually detach and zoom out to look at life from a broader perspective, from which we could effect a restart with no blame by forgiving ourselves by letting go of the past, is informative. The fact that millions of people worldwide will begin this ritual cultural reset is instructive. It must have worked somewhat or they would not be doing it for thousands of years. Personally, I am always willing to use any excuse to pivot since the world and my life rarely appear to be the way I think it should be which propels me to be an involuntary innovator who welcomes pivot points. It makes me feel alive to let go of where I was and go somewhere new, as I like to be in motion and clearly I am not alone in this perspective. Creative people are forever re-engineering their lives and our world which is where progress comes from, which is a good thing worth celebrating and calling out.

As an infrequent practitioner of the religion I was born into, I had to be reminded by my sister that Rosh Hashanah was coming in a few days. As a dedicated pivot fanatic I immediately jumped on the excuse to regard today as a special opportunity to change. To be fair, I do have a lot of these days, as I feel any moment could be a time for change, but why waste a perfectly good culturally sanctioned coming down from above directive to zoom out and take a look from a meta-perspective at what is going on, and how to change it.

This holiday occurs at a point where seasons are changing, especially clearly in New England where leaves are on the move and the color show is just breaking out. Coincidentally the school year has just begun for millions. I will be driving today through said foliage on the way to a super exciting school in New York City, making the number of pivoting excuses at an all time high today, even for an entrepreneurial involuntary innovator addicted to pivoting.

Guess it is time to figure out what to pivot about now that I have invited all of you to do it.

Justifiable Exceptions or A very late start following a breakthrough evening.

Have you ever found yourself starting the day a lot later than your normal routine called for, and before beating yourself up, decided to give yourself a break and just drop it? You have invoked the unwritten yet valuable rule of the justifiable exception.

This phrase recently came into my life when explaining to a friend, why I did not do what I thought I was supposed to do, but had a good reason. And he cheerfully proclaimed ah a JE “Justifiable Exception”.

Now before you say yeah JE simply means “Justifying your Excuses” lets take a deeper dive here and look at the creative innovative persona while examining the definitions of some of the words involved. Justifiable seems straight forward enough. My Mac Dictionary says – justifiable is an adjective meaning “able to be shown to be right or reasonable”. Immediately this raises the issue of to whom? Hopefully we have enough control over our live’s to answer to “Me”.

Innovators tend to focus on change, taking exception with the status quo, occasionally driving us to become exceptional.  My Mac defines exceptional as “a person or thing that is excluded from a general statement or does not follow a rule”
Yup that seems to define the majority of my friends pretty well.

This notion of being able to justify an exception seems particularly powerful to me as most of the important things that happen to us are by definition, exceptions. If you are an innovator denying exception you may be beginning on the path. Of course what seems reasonable to us, may not seem reasonable to others and this is where we can experience a certain amount of discord. In fact some innovators notoriously have difficulty balancing dreams, jobs and relationships making them hard to deal wth.

We can not blame others for not being us. Often times exception is accompanied by its less likable brother exclusion. If you are exceptional you are also likely to be excluded some of the time and may be the one doing the excluding of others. The act of creation in general requires gestation, often a solitary activity but innovation also demands adoption, which demands social skills. Reconciling this dilemma can stress creative individuals, who fortunately being creative and at times exceptional, are able to find workarounds often revolving around dividing ones time between studio, lab or office and coffee shops with good WiFi. We need to gestate and we also need to socialize.

As we move back and forth between being on track and on time, while preserving room for breakthroughs, the concept of the JE justifiable exception seems very useful to me. This can be especially true when you get into a state of flow during which you forget about time and external responsibilities somewhere between one and three in the morning, when you know you should be asleep and this session will almost certainly mess up tomorrow. But you have to ask yourself how much better tomorrow could be if you evoke the JE, Justifiable Exception. Love, creativity and innovation are messy justifiable exceptions, without which my life would not be worth living.

In fact all justifiable exceptions create big messes before getting to the simplicity on the other side of complexity. You have a choice – you can protect yourself from the mess and stay on the simple side before complexity, or you can take the risk, create the mess, and perhaps at least some of the time, get to the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

Or perhaps some of you do not have that choice and are driven to pursue the simplicity on the far side of complexity, because this is an important way to derive meaning in your life. Congratulations you are a messy happy artist!




The Not Model

As we have been discussing, intentionally choosing models as a way to navigate ones way through the infinite incoming impulses and stimuli we each face every waking moment, is a powerful way to assert a clear intention and thereby increase the odds of getting to your desired goals. Some of us in the name of organization, attempt to begin with top level goals, missions or visions and drill all of the way down to specific scheduled tasks. For those of you who amazingly are able to perfectly line up their lives from top to bottom, congratulations, you are officially awesome.

There is however at least one other way to attack the entropy lying in wait to envelope us and that is through Not-To-Do Lists. We all have literally more than we can eat on our plates. Many of us want to shrink parts of us, physically and also in terms of commitments (two sides of the same coin). It can be worth while thinking about what not to eat and what not to do.

But that is not what I am going to talk about this morning. Instead I am going to kick things up a level to considering what not to believe in some ways a superset of what not to do. At a minimum this can function as a context within which we can discard lower priority activities.

We all begin to accumulate beliefs, models and understandings as soon as we could hear, see and sense, which is to say before we were conscious of what we were absorbing. Unconscious accumulation can be paralyzing for pack-rats never letting go of anything. Eventually we each develop filters and a filtering process by which we protect ourselves from indiscriminate acceptance whatever incoming we are standing in the way of. We begin to establish a sense of priorities and sense of what seems reasonable and what needs to be rejected.

But, how often do we take a deep look at ideas we have accepted as true, and attempt to revalidate them? Our to-do-lists become more manageable when we establish some Not-To-Dos. Our lives also make more sense when we get rid of ideas that are holding us back. Oftentimes these ideas entered into our belief structure before we set up protective filters. Some are useful and some are not. If you grew up in a family where everyone was an athlete or a musician or really great at making money, these positive preconscious beliefs can be worth carrying forward. Alternatively, if you grew up knowing love nor success would be forthcoming, those limiting beliefs could cripple an otherwise capable healthy person.

As a younger man I was attracted to people who had lived during developmental years in other countries, They seemed to have consciously determined which beliefs, values and tastes to hold onto and which to let go of, because they could not take it all with them. This was true of physical items and thoughts which made these people interesting as they seemed to have consciously considered through necessity what to care about and what to let go of.

The same phenomena exists within people who change physical locations, professions or social milieus. None of whom could take it all with them, having had to let go of things and beliefs. Could we voluntarily do regular dump runs on obsolete ideas and limiting beliefs? This would make room to grow and perhaps permit us to become what we always wanted to be to achieve our hearts desire(s).

As an example I grew up in a family who all believed we could not sing and therefore could not. Decades later I discovered that I could which felt pretty good. On the other hand, I was born with club feet and unable to walk until I was two. When I made the track team in junior high school no one in my family was surprised, but my orthopedic foot doctor was and his colleagues thought it was impossible. My parents were extremely physically strong making this seem much more reasonable than singing which pretty much everyone can do.

Most of us have accumulated limiting beliefs that we can let go of to great effect. Models put in place and accepted about strengths and weaknesses need to be examined, with some kept and some discarded. Outmoded societal values, like girls can’t do math persist in some circles in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Another is people become too old to learn or get in shape. An ever increasing army of high functioning eighty and ninety year olds beg to differ.

The bottom line is the largest input into all of our lives is ourselves. Our self talk is the dominant talk we hear all day long. If it is limiting, than we are limited. If it is positive, reinforcing and upward looking, we can change the world or at least change ourselves.

Be at least as careful about things you tell yourself, as you are about eating leftovers. Smell them first to see how old they are. If they have gone bad then toss them out and do not consume them. If you don’t, you may end up with a life-ache instead of a stomach-ache.

Attitudinal Ancestors or Is Parking Karma Just Showing Up

Ever notice how some people seem to almost always manage to get excellent parking spots even in the middle of big cities like New York?  Did you also ever notice it also seems to be hereditary? That peoples whose parents had or have great parking karma seem to have it as well?

This phenomena seems to apply to adeptness at mathematics, business, creativity and perhaps everything. Could it be the parents are simply modeling a good behavior that their offspring sometimes embrace? I am wondering if this phenomena is in some way related to the well known principle that “you miss 100% of the shots you never take” which in its most generalized form may be about “simply showing up”.

If you do not look for a parking spot right outside your destination, but instead get into the habit of parking several blocks away anticipating there will be no parking at your destination than this becomes a self fulfilling prophesy.  If you never show up at your destination you can never find a spot right there.

Innovation is exactly like this. If you assume there is a better way to address any situation and can have some sort of insight you are ready to apply, then you are the kind of person who will drive right up to the situation and not park several blocks away.

In other words, the people who think they are innovative are far more likely to be, than those who think they are not.

The good news is you can choose your inheritance and therefore do not necessarily need to be born with it. As there does not seem to be a gene for parking or math or innovation it appears what is inherited is an attitude. As there is no attitudinal  blood or genetic material being shared with your ancestors you can choose your ideational attitudinal ancestors.

You can choose your influences. Choose your fiends. Choose who you spend time with. Choose your models.  Chose what you want to inherit! Create your own karma. In fact create your own Dharma too while you are at it.

All of these choices can be considered to be examples of manifestations of “clarity of intention”. Intend to inherit. As a corollary, choose what to not inherit as well. If you think you can not park in New York City and there is no reason for driving there at all, you may have a point there. On the other hand if you view it as an adventure where there is a good chance of finding a spot right out front, than go for it.

The odds of getting into an elite institution or becoming a professional athlete are far lower than finding a parking spot in NYC. The odds of innovating in the face of the opportunities known as problems are quite good if you believe you can. And if you do not than the odds are completely against you.

Innovation is far more about attitude than about talent. Perhaps insight is significantly in the realm of talent. But Innovation requires one to Apply that Insight and application is considerably more about effort than about talent.

What matters more than talent and effort, is attitude. Attitude is more of a belief or faith, than a rational stance entirely based upon facts.

Innovation is about audacity not algorithms. Choose your ancestors from your heroes. Read books about innovators and declare yourself to be their offspring.  Is it considered audacious to choose your ancestors? Sure it is. But not any harder than finding a parking spot in Manhattan. In these and most other situations, the  first thing to do, is show up which is necessary but not sufficient. Human potential is unbounded. We can all bring our attitudes into alignment with this fact and show up.