The Wild West or the Community Garden

In the Wild West where pioneering, innovating, and creating is about survival what can we learn from the Lone Ranger?

The Lone Ranger is an outsider.
The Lone Ranger is suspicious of the status quo.
The Lone Ranger avoids collaboration.
The Lone Ranger finds his own way.

This approach to the world could be the best approach if the world is mainly corrupt and largely full of powerful people who are actively against you and what you stand for. Adopting the “me against the world” mindset works, but is rarely sustainable. In the end, this uncompromising tragic hero dies a glorious and righteous death.

In stark contrast to the Lone Ranger, I came across the following quote from Randy Kosimar of Kleiner Perkins from the book Give and Take.

“It’s easier to win if everybody wants you to win. If you don’t make enemies out there, it’s easier to succeed.”

Kosimar sees the world quite differently than the Lone Ranger. It’s a place where people are mainly supportive unless you don’t play nice with others. Perhaps Kosimar is suggesting that Silicon Valley works more like a community garden than the wild west.

It’s best if we trust each other.
There is room for everyone.
We are interdependent members of this marketplace.
There are enough resources for everything good.

This approach to the world could be the best if the world is supportive, abundant, and trust worthy. Adopting the “let’s all win together” mindset works, but is rarely sustainable without fences. In the end, it’s not so much a community garden as it’s a community garden within a gated community.

It’s a real privilege to collaborate in a positive, supportive, and abundant environment…and this especially hits home when you’re not allowed past the gate. I don’t see the Lone Ranger waiting by the gate to be let in. He will find his own way to contribute positively in the world beyond the gate.

If It Hurts, It Means You’re Alive

My tough-minded imaginary friend reminds me often, “If it hurts, it means you’re alive.” He is right. I have never experienced growth in any category that didn’t hurt. The high school growth spurt, achieving fitness goals, admitting my mistakes, deepening the intimate character of my marriage, or taking on bigger responsibilities at work.

Maybe it is the modern middle class malady of America post WWII that our culture has elevated comfort as the telos (i.e. purpose, goal) of our lives. There is a certain irony that in our comfort seeking we cause ourselves and others a lot of discomfort. So in reality, we create and endure all sorts of pain to attain some kind of discrete comfort.

I cannot help but think about the cautionary tale of Pixar’s Wall-E. Wall-E shows us that thoughtless consumption is dangerous for our own persons, society, and planet. When society stops asking questions and falls into a level of thoughtlessness we serve the status quo and, in the case of Wall-e, nurtured what became a saccharin cess pool of comfort. On the flip side thoughtfulness is painful. Thoughtfulness in action means reflecting, reflecting means asking questions, and questions hold the potentiality of undoing the status quo.

The romantic side of asking questions is discovery, adventure, and curiosity. The realistic side of asking questions is a headache, uncertainty, and anxiety.

Wall-E, the robot, through a spark of curiosity grows beyond his finite programming and in that becomes the most human character. His growth becomes the catalyst to a series of events that wreak havoc on the status quo ultimately leading to merely biological humans rediscovering their transcendent teleological nature.

Christian Smith says it well:

Essential to grasp is the ineradicably teleological character of human personal life. Being a person is not about stasis or equilibrium. It is about going somewhere, pursuing an end. Life must entail personal growth, unfolding, and development that moves in right directions (and so also has the potential to move in wrong directions). For human persons, existence is not a happening to simply take in, but an active journey, a movement toward a proper destination. That inherently implies that the present, the status quo, where one is now, is not good enough, not the right place, not the final destination. One needs to move, to change, to get somewhere. To stay put would be to stagnate, to fail to realize one’s true end. One has to get on the roads of life, to move toward the goal, to achieve a purpose that is presently unfulfilled.

Smith, Christian (2015-03-23). To Flourish or Destruct: A Personalist Theory of Human Goods, Motivations, Failure, and Evil (p. 206). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

What Is Your Origin Story, and Does It Matter?

Every hero or leader has an origin story. Why do we care about where someone came from? Sometimes we simply have a sense of curiosity about someone we meet. Often the interest in someone’s origin is to help us understand her present behavior or how she achieved so much. We believe that if we learn where she came from, who her family was, what she experienced then we would understand her.

If we were to be honest, the origin stories we most care about are the individuals who have achieved greatness or notoriety. Those who stand out the most make us want to learn their stories. How did they become who they are today? Why do they do what they do? We think we want to understand them, but really we are trying to understand our story better.

The latest neuroscience research has only confirmed what we already knew about humans. We love a good story. But it is more than love; we need a good story. We are wired to infer a causal relationship between everything we experience. The more stories we consume, the better we get at communicating a story of our lives. (StoryCorps is a great place to start to consuming profound stories of normal people.)

In the paragraph above, I deliberately wrote a story of our lives not the story of our lives. Do you know how many books have been written on the life of Lincoln, Jesus, Hitler, etc? We are still trying to understand these influential people and so we keep writing and we keep reading. Similar to the cooking challenges we watch on TV, the chefs are given the same ingredients and are asked to make something unique, we are always gathering the disparate ingredients of our lives and trying to make it cohere into something meaningful.

Just like the most interesting super heroes and villains, you and I have origin stories. An origin story is simply your answer to the following question: How do you make sense of how you have arrived to this day? Origin stories are interesting because they are driven and defined by a future event. The arc is defined and the story plays out. The hook in the story is the desire to discover and understand the how and why of the character. It is not to discover the plot. It is to fill in the blanks. It is to make the inexplicable accessible.

Getting The Clients You Deserve

If your business or organization has been in operation for any period of time, it is likely that  you have found yourself working with frustrating clients who don’t jive with your organizational culture or strategic objectives. Is this simply inevitable?

Author and web designer Paul Jarvis writes that for those with a clear purpose and a healthy organizational culture, frustrating client relationships should be the exception, not the rule.

One of the most important ways to mitigate client relationships that are ultimately time-consuming and demoralizing is to clearly and repeatedly communicate who you are as an organization. If your brand truly represents your organizational distinctives, and your content strategically serves to reinforce it, you’re far more likely to succeed in attracting the right clients—and repelling the wrong ones.


The Formula for Innovation

There is an undeniable connection between innovation and ideas, but ideas alone are insufficient for innovation.

“In most organizations, innovation isn’t hampered by a lack of ideas, but rather a lack of noticing the good ideas already there,” argues David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity. In other words, truly innovative organizations are the ones with mechanisms in place to identify the ideas that will set them apart from their competition.

But the recognition of good ideas still comes up short. It is also necessary to execute those ideas, and to do so without hesitation. One might think of the equation this way: ideas + recognition + execution = innovation.

Is your company poised to innovate in your specified field? If not, which component of the equation is holding you back?