Whats the most important human capability for the next thirty years?
The Ability to Pay Attention
To hold your attention on what you decide is important. to stay focused as it becomes boring… and to stick with something through boredom to the insights that only emerge on the other side of boredom.
Today I am waiting to receive my first dose of the Covid vaccine. The Barcelona conference center has been turned into an industrial scale vaccine delivery system. It’s well organized and I am impressed.
Line for vaccines. A thousand people. Nine hundred face down to their screens. Fifty reading a book. Fifty looking around and seeing where they are, what’s happening and who else is here.
50 years ago information was scarce. That made it give power to those that had access.
Today information is so abundant that it gives little power. It is so abundant that it has created another scarcity: The scarcity of attention.
What is the true cost of an hour scrolling on Instagram or Facebook? The life I could have lived, the deep conversation I could have had, the goals you didn’t pursue, all the actions you didn’t take… all the possible yous you could have been… had you attended to those things.
“Attention is paid in possible futures forgone” James Williams.
They deserve a promotion because of past efforts? No.
What ideas do you have?
There is one characteristic without which you cannot be called a leader.
Followers? Yes… but what do you need to have as a leader so that others actually follow?
The Fundamental Characteristic of a Leader
You know where you are going.
…and then the power to Communicate
…and then you need to develop the ability to engage with people so that the destination becomes a shared destination.
If you can begin to paint the destination in the minds of others with stories you begin to engage not just their hands, not just their skills, but their whole self in the committed pursuit.
A Shared Vision of a Worthwhile Destination
How do you engage those around you to commit to the journey?
Don’t “motivate” people.
Figure out something that is worth doing. Figure out how it will make your life better, how it will make their lives better and how it will make society better.
Help others understand that being part of it will be better for them and their life.
How do you share this destination with others? How’s this as a script:
Let us move forward: This is a good use of our time…
Here is what is in it for me…
Here is what is in it for you…
Business as an Infinite game
Simon Sinek shares a powerful concept in his book “The Infinite Game”. He has popularised the distinction between Finite games and Infinite games.
Chess is a finite game. Soccer is a finite game. Tennis is a finite game. They each have a set of agreed rules, and a clear victory condition at which time the game ends. The objective in a finite game is to end the game as victor.
Business is not a finite game. Life is not a finite game. Leading human beings is not a finite game.
Success in life is keeping it engaging to play for all those involved (including yourself!).
A game everyone plays voluntarily is more successful than a game where some must be compelled to play.
If you are going to set up an organisation, you can compel people to perform with threats and fear. It is much more effective to engage them to play a game that is meaningful for them, and for you… and for society as a whole.
How to lead the whole Person
Imagine these two requests from a leader:
“Go home and take 4 hours to think about how you will contribute to this organisation over the next year” or
“Go home and take 4 hours to think about your life and formulate a plan for your life with this business being a part of the plan”
Which is the question of the bigger leader?
Jordan Peterson reports a 10% increase in contribution where leaders ask the 2nd question to their teams.
You want yourself and your team to see that working for you serves their higher order purpose.
If not, this is not the job for them. Help them find a place where they can serve their higher purpose.
Life is too short to figure everything out on your own.
Humans spend the years from birth to 12 learning how to survive. Our parents have a vested interest in helping us develop the Stop there: we merely survive.
We live in a highly complex society. There is intense competition for status in whatever hierarchy you compete in. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to compete or not, society and humanity are designed to compete for resources. It is not those born strong that rise to the top of status hierarchies in today’s human society. It is those who learn to use their capacities most effectively and adapt quickly to changes in the environment.
There are two ways we learn to make positive progress in this society – 1) our own experience, or 2) through the experiences of others. Our own experience is a slow and expensive way of learning.
If I am to choose to learn most effectively, through the experiences of others, I must learn the art of meaningful conversation. Through my work with Entrepreneurs’ Organisation forum and Vistage groups I have worked extensively over the last 15 years on creating the type of meaningful conversation that allows one to learn from the experiences of another.
I’m sharing 4 ideas that I took from Jordan Peterson’s book the 12 Rules for Life when I read it this year.
“Your current knowledge has neither made you perfect nor kept you safe”
Your knowledge is insufficient. You must accept this before you can converse philosophically, instead of pushing opinions, convincing, oppressing, dominating or joking.
“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”
It is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners. You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions (and, perhaps, they must have done the work that justifies this assumption). You must believe that if they shared their conclusions with you, you could bypass at least some of the pain of personally learning the same things (as learning from the experience of others can be quicker and much less dangerous).
It takes conversation to organise a mind
“people organize their brains with conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds.” The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche.
“Life is short, and you don’t have time to figure everything out on your own”
They say Aristotle was the last man who knew everything there was to know. Since the time of Aristotle (over 2300 years ago) society has become too complex for any one individual to know all that is known.
When I was in school, I took huge value in solving from first principles. I would prefer to solve mathematic problems from first principles and avoid using formulaic recipes that allowed you to shortcut to a solution. This was symptomatic of my whole approach to life. If I hadn’t figured it out myself, I didn’t value the knowledge. There is a heroic valor to this approach, but it is dumb heroics.
Just listening to Stuart Lancaster deliver a webinar for IIBN. He shared his path to head coach of the England rugby team, the hard blow of falling out of the home rugby world cup, and his current role as part of the leadership of Leinster rugby club.
Create and align people to a cause – you need every member of the team to move beyond their own wants and needs and be a genuine contributor to the team… for this there needs to be a meaningful cause that is bigger than “winning”. Stuart shared how he wrote to the parents of all the england team players and asked them to share what it meant to them to see their son play rugby for england. This helped him show the players how they represented something much bigger than rugby.
Joseph Campbell’s work has had a profound influence on me and on my life. The Hero’s Journey are the steps that a mythical hero must take in order to complete the path to their purpose.
There is no pain-free path… and it must be “chosen sacrifice” if it is to lead you towards self belief. You can’t just accumulate externally imposed suffering and hope… you have to decide to follow the path of the hero.
The Hero’s Journey
“The Hero With a Thousand Faces” is a journey through myths from all over the world. Myths are stories that have been handed down from generation to generation over hundreds and thousands of years. Joseph Campbell shares myths from the ancient Egyptians, the Romans, Hindu and Buddhist legends of the east, and the folk-tales and foundation myths of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
The book explores common themes that define the world’s myths. While our cultures differ, they structure their stories in similar ways. This template is what is known as the hero’s journey.
The 3 themes and the 17 specific steps along the Hero’s Journey are described below.
Call to Adverture
1.The call to adventure: Something, or someone, interrupts the hero’s familiar life to present a problem, threat, or opportunity. 2.Refusal of the call: Unwilling to step out of their comfort zone or face their fear, the hero initially hesitates to embark on this journey. 3.Supernatural aid: A mentor figure gives the hero the tools and inspiration they need to accept the call to adventure. 4.Crossing the threshold: The hero embarks on their quest. 5.Belly of the whale: The hero crosses the point of no return, and encounters their first major obstacle.
Trials of the Hero
6.The road of trials: The hero must go through a series of tests or ordeals to begin his transformation. Often, the hero fails at least one of these tests. 7.The meeting with the goddess: The hero meets one or more allies, who pick him up and help him continue his journey. 8.Woman as temptress: The hero is tempted to abandon or stray from his quest. Traditionally, this temptation is a love interest, but it can manifest itself in other forms as well, including fame or wealth. 9.Atonement with the father: The hero confronts the reason for his journey, facing his doubts and fears and the powers that rule his life. This is a major turning point in the story: every prior step has brought the hero here, and every step forward stems from this moment. 10.Apotheosis: As a result of this confrontation, the hero gains a profound understanding of their purpose or skill. Armed with this new ability, the hero prepares for the most difficult part of the adventure. 11.The ultimate boon: The hero achieves the goal he set out to accomplish, fulfilling the call that inspired his journey in the first place.
Return of the Hero
12.Refusal of the return: If the hero’s journey has been victorious, he may be reluctant to return to the ordinary world of his prior life. 13.The magic flight: The hero must escape with the object of his quest, evading those who would reclaim it. 14.Rescue from without: Mirroring the meeting with the goddess, the hero receives help from a guide or rescuer in order to make it home. 15.The crossing of the return threshold: The hero makes a successful return to the ordinary world. 16.Master of two worlds: We see the hero achieve a balance between who he was before his journey and who he is now. Often, this means balancing the material world with the spiritual enlightenment he’s gained. 17.Freedom to live: We leave the hero at peace with his life.
What is a Story?
This is a video from a few years back where I simplified the hero journey structure into 7 steps:
The Death of Ivan Ilych, published in 1886, is a short story by Leo Tolstoy, considered one of the masterpieces of his late fiction, written shortly after his religious conversion of the late 1870s. The Death of Ivan Ilych tells the story of a high-court judge in 19th-century Russia and his sufferings and death from a terminal illness.
If you have read the book, would love your reflections on the book in the comments below.
If you have not read the book, get a copy (amazon | free pdf) and find a couple of hours to read the story… then come back here and let us know your reflections.
3 Reflection Questions for The Death of Ivan Ilyich
What are the specific factors that lead to Ivan’s life transformation?
What purpose does Ivan discover for himself?
What does Ivan’s transformation mean for you and your life?
The founder of Strategic Coach, and one of my favourite podcasters, Dan Sullivan plans to live to 156 years old. It will allow him to see 3 different centuries (19,20,21).
What will it take for him to live that long? He’ll need to eat well. He’ll need to stay physically and mentally fit. He’ll need medicine to come up with some new techniques to extend life…. but more than all of this, he will need a powerful motivation to remain alive.
What gives a powerful motivation to remain alive? In an interview with Peter Diamandis, Dan and Pete shared the perspective that if you have friends, money and purpose: you’ll have a pretty damn good reason to keep on living.
In Vistage, we say “Great leaders ask great questions.” The most important question: What’s my purpose?
The 2 Ingredients of Purpose
Your purpose is about solving problems that are meaningful to yourself. Two phrases are key in this sentence:
solving problems – whilst you can get momentary happiness from experiences, only improving quality of life for other beings gives rise to lasting fulfilment
meaningful to yourself – if you don’t enjoy the journey, you are going to give up quickly. If you give up, you will not solve problems. You must be selfish in this respect. You must use your own unique combination of talents and desires in a way that is satisfying to you personally
The path of the purposeless one is beset on all sides by distraction and other people’s priorities. Modern western society gives us the greatest freedom of action of any civilisation in history. This freedom is dangerous without defining how you will use it.
The greater the freedom, the more important to clarify your own purpose.
“Freedom is not the absence of commitments, but the ability to choose – and commit myself to – what is best for me… “
“Freedom from” – the removal of obligations: I save enough money to not have to work in a job that is not meaningful
“Freedom to” – the creation of a purpose: I actively exercise my power of will to choose to pursue a meaningful purpose
Being highly efficient in pursuit of what is fundamentally unimportant is a terrible life path. I know several people who are brilliant at tactics, but lack any coherent life strategy. They are lost.
Nobody climbs Everest by accident. It was a dream and a plan and part of the meaningful activity of life for a decade before the summit.
How do you begin to answer: What is my Purpose?
Write something down. Anything.
What do you want to do during your life? Bucket list, problems you want to fix, experiences you want to have, how you differ from others, how you relate to others, teachers that made a difference…
Write them all down.
That’s step 1.
My friend David Tomas and I went to a 3 day workshop with Dr John DeMartini about 10 years ago called “Master Planning for Life“. For 3 straight days we sat in silence in a room in London and we wrote a plan for our life. Mine is 150 pages of word document. It is exactly what I described – a big list of every place I ever wanted to go, every thing I ever wanted to learn, every person that matters, every teacher that impacted me, every dream I have… and a set of financial plans that would allow me to make it happen.
I haven’t done everything that is in the document. I get demotivated and forget to review it often. I have days where I ask myself “what is it all about?”
I have this document as a map and a compass that can get me back on track.
You have to write it down.
…and then you iterate it many, many, many times. You come back to it regularly and add things that are even better and delete things that don’t resonate any more.
After 100 iterations you have something that can re-motivate you about why you are here.
After 1,000 iterations you should start to have something that really reminds you what is important and how to use your time.
Is there a shortcut?
…of course not. This is too important an aspect of your life to cut corners. Imagine if you just copied someone else’s purpose document? You’d end up living a great life, for them.
…and iterations are vital – because often what you think is important or meaningful when you are young turns out to not quite be the experience you expected.
Put it where you will see it often
It is not the writing down that matters. It is the iterating and repeatedly reminding yourself of what you think is important.
The problem is not that you don’t know what matters to you and what activities are most important – it is that you forget or get distracted so often.
Here’s something I found today on twitter that resonated… Pro Golfer Justin Thomas shared his written goals for the coming season…
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