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Is Your Ambition Putting You to Sleep?

27 Mar

Excerpted from Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa (1973), pages 69-70.

There is the story of the great Tibetan teacher, Marpa. When Marpa first met his own teacher, Naropa, Naropa created an alter which he said was the embodiment of the wisdom of a particular heruka. Both the shrine and Naropa contained tremendous spiritual energy and power, and Naropa asked Marpa to which one he would prostrate in order to experience the sudden realization of enlightenment. Marpa, being a scholar, considered that the guru lives in the flesh, an ordinary human body, while his creation, the altar, is a pure body of wisdom, having nothing to do with human imperfection. So Marpa prostrated to the shrine. And then Naropa said, “I am afraid your inspiration is going to fade. You have made the wrong choice. This shrine is my creation, and without me the shrine would not be here at all. The issue of human body versus wisdom body is irrelevant. The great display of the mandala was merely my creation.”

This story illustrates the principle of dream, hope, wish, as self-deception. As long as you regard yourself or any part of your experience as the “dream come true,” then you are involved in self-deception. Self-deception seems always to depend upon the dream work, because you would like to see what you have not yet seen, rather that what you are now seeing. You will not accept that whatever is here now is what is, nor are you willing to go on with the situation as it is. Thus, self-deception always manifest itself in terms of trying to create or recreate a dream work, the nostalgia of the dream experience. And the opposite of self-deception is just working with the facts of life.

If one searches for any kind of bliss or joy, the realization of one’s imagination and dream, then, equally, one is going to suffer failure and depression. This is the whole point: a fear of separation, the hope of attaining union, these are not just manifestations of or the actions of ego or self-deception, as if ego were somehow a real thing which performed certain actions. Ego is the actions, the mental events. Ego is the fear of losing openness, the fear of losing the egoless state. This is the meaning of self-deception, in this case – ego crying that is has lost the egoless state, its dream of attainment. Fear, hope, loss, gain – these are the on-going actions of the dream of ego, the self-perpetuating, self-maintaining structure which is self-deception.

So the real experience, beyond the dream world, is the beauty and color and excitement of the real experience of now in everyday life. When we face things as they are, we give up the hope of something better. There will be no magic, because we cannot tell ourselves to get out of our depression. Depression and ignorance, the emotions, whatever we experience, are all real and contain tremendous truth. If we really want to learn and see the experience of truth, we have to be where we are. The whole thing is just a matter of being a grain of sand.

 

 

The End of Leadership Development: From the Factory to the Greenhouse

22 Jan

I have a radical hypothesis. Is it possible that the real reason why leadership development programs fail is because we don’t actually need them? Is it possible that we’ve inserted ourselves into a process that we have no business in? Traditional experts would like you to believe that there are all sorts of tactical reasons why our efforts to create better leaders fails (see here), but I’m starting to suspect that was once a small problem got a lot worse when the leadership development industry got created. Let me explain.

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Organizational boundaries are like glass. Employees can see right through them. They will stay only if its a good place to grow.

The best metaphor I can come up with for the future workplace is a greenhouse. Our current management model comes from the industrial revolution in which managers focused on improving the factory’s efficiency. Even today, many companies still focus on efficiency and logistics. They measure, measure, measure, and write reports and we analyze and predict. People are getting really excited about Big Data in HR and the truth is….it’s all bullshit (well it may be necessary, but it’s not sufficient). OK, maybe it’s not ALL bullshit, but it’s mostly bullshit. It’s rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Sure that chair might be out of place and sure we might be about to measure the exact layout of the deck and the size of the chairs and come up with an optimum layout, but we would be missing the big problem…our ship is sinking.

The big problem for us is simply that human beings (and even more so social systems) are inherently chaotic and non-linear. Therefore, we simply cannot accurately predict or control how they will behave. No doubt you’ve heard, “a butterfly flaps its wings in New York and there is a hurricane in Japan,” or some variation. The point is simply that we shouldn’t blame the butterfly for the hurricane. In fact, there would be absolutely no way of ever making that connection empirically (see Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, 2006). And yet, people seem to have a real problem with acknowledging this in our work (known in philosophy as the problem of induction). Now, on a psychological level, we are all prone to make these inductive errors in judgment, but for precisely this reason we should be very careful about assuming the precision of our models. What does all of this mean for our work? Well, a few things.

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We can do lots of things, but we can’t make a plant grow. Only the right conditions and time can do that.

We don’t MAKE the plants grow. We simply set the conditions for them to grow and hopefully they grow. As Woody Allen said, “’Only God can make a tree,’ probably because it’s so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.” People are organic. Social systems are chaotic. Why in the world would we perpetuate the myth that we have any control over the learning or leadership process? It happens or it doesn’t happen, but we don’t micromanage it. All we can do is set the conditions for it to happen. We already know that most learning is informal and yet we keep pretending as if it wasn’t. Or if our little bit of formal learning (maybe 10%?) is actually really, really, really important. Managers, HR professionals, and learning “experts,” have been trying to interject themselves into the organic process because they want to get credit. If more people thought about this, then we could tackle the whole notion of corporate training and development in a completely new and more effective (and empowering way).

Think in terms of effectiveness not efficiency. I have come to hate the word “efficiency.” I used to think that effectiveness came first (you got something done) and then you worked on being efficient (you got the same thing done with less resources). It seems that most people still think this way (or at least the good ones, the bad ones don’t even realize the difference or the necessary sequence). The problem is that reality doesn’t work like that. At least not outside of highly structured mechanical systems (efficiency is important when you are talking about engineering problems, but organic systems are so focused on survival that they don’t have much time left over for discussions about efficiency). So, given this, I’d like to ban the word from our vocabulary. Certainly there is a lot of talk from the innovation and start-up community about “lean” approaches. I actually love these approaches, but by how I define the terms, they are actually focused on effectiveness not efficiency. In the real world, if you are playing the game to win, you never actually get a chance to move past effectiveness; the rules and the structures of social systems are never static or consistent.

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Individuals want exactly what they want. Can’t provide that kind of learning customization? We know. Instead focus on what you can provide.

There is a move towards extreme personalization. I’ve been noticing this trend for years, but this really jumped out at me when I was doing my mobile leadership development research. As organizations integrate more and more information and more and more users they risk becoming more and more depersonalized. If the employees are now in the driver seat, then it isn’t enough to say, “Hey 90% of employees liked this,” because the other 10% are going to feel left out. This means that we need to focus more on building conditions that allow a variety of different individuals to flourish. One of the biggest problems with competencies is that they aren’t personalized. We err on the side of the organization rather than the employee. We need to create learning platforms that allow for the greatest personalization not the greatest “efficiency” (which I shall henceforth call, “the E word”). The greenhouse will allow the greatest number of employee to flourish. They will still need pruning and some won’t make it, but that’s the whole point. We’ll have more energy to focus on the gardening and less on trying to make the plants grow (which only the Universe can do). This also has big implications for technology, but I won’t get into that here.

The problem of induction can be moderated by approaching learning and leadership from the greenhouse, not the factory. I’m seeing more and more talk about Big Data in HR and I think this is a good example of where I think we are going wrong. Fundamentally, we can’t predict or control people, but that doesn’t mean that we should double-down on the “mechanical, linear, conventional, positivist, quantification, measurement-obsessed” approach. I think we need to realize that the solution requires a new type of thinking (other than the one that got us into this mess). A type of thinking that not only recognizes that we don’t know, but that we CAN’T know.

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Big data is fascinating, but Moneyball approaches don’t apply to non-game systems. Even if they did, it’s not like baseball got rid of all their scouts.

Our models are always going to be hilariously inaccurate and yet we keep making predictions about hiring and performance (and almost everything in politics, finance, etc.) and we keep being wrong. I don’t think the solution is to keep coming up with new ways of predicting, but to take a sober look at our deep (and faulty) epistemological assumptions and move forward from there. We can make the situation better, but not by furthering the illusion that we have control (we don’t want that kind of responsibility anyway). This belief in turn actually makes us and our clients more vulnerable. In our lust for efficiency we seek out and destroy the types of redundancy and chaos that all organic systems need to survive and grow. The “Moneyball” approach might help with some small issues, but baseball still finds itself in the same situation it did before (Sabermetrics introduced a new tool, but didn’t solve the real problem). So, we can look at Big Data in HR and I’m sure we will learn some things. Awesome. There is no doubt that these analytics will become new standards, but while they may be necessary, they are not sufficient. Like the deckchairs, analytics isn’t going to solve the real problem. When we recognize that we can’t predict, we actually liberate ourselves. We have more energy and focus on the things that we can control.

We don’t make the plants grow and we don’t make someone a better leader. All we can do is set the conditions. Just because something can be learned doesn’t mean that it can be taught. Individuals have to figure things out for themselves. We should focus on providing the requisite structure and tools…and then leave well enough alone. I’m not advocating for nihilism, but a radical shift in how we think about our role in the change process.

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The world’s medical experts used to believe in bloodletting.

Did you know that the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer, is iatrogenesis? What is this horrible word? It means the preventable harm caused by medical treatment. Think about that for a second. That means that we are killing roughly 220,000 people a year in our attempts to make them better. In fact, some medical historians have claimed that our medical treatments have only recently starting saving more people than they were killing. And it makes me wonder if this kind of arrogance comes from a discipline whose first principle is “do no harm,” then what kind of harm can we perpetuate in leadership development when we don’t even have that Hippocratic foundation? Is it possible that we are actually making leadership problems worse? Is it possible that the solution to our leadership challenges is actually to get rid of leadership development?

Video

Who Would You Be Without Your Story?

18 Sep

You have to check out this video of Byron Katie working with a lady who believes, “my mother shamed me.” I am always encouraged and liberated after watching these videos. All of my bullshit stories…”I should be successful,” “people should love me,” “I should be treated with respect,” “people should be nice to me,” blah, blah, blah….all of these stories running through my mind. And as soon as I drop the story and accept reality as it is…I find that things begin to change. I can take action without striving for approval. I act out of a sense of abundance not lack. I act out of freedom and not dependence.

These videos make it beautifully clear how our beliefs constantly get in our way. “Who would you be without your story?” Katie always asks. I’m still exploring that answer and I look forward to sharing that exploration with others.

The video is a bit long, but if you have the time, it’s a great way to sit in some truly transformational practice.

*Note: if you’re not familiar with Byron Katie’s work, then she might come across as a bit harsh or judgmental. Understand though that the people who attend these workshops are there to get the truth. They’ve reached a point where they are tired of their story and they a re brave enough to ask for some help. The questions that Katie asks, and the responses that she gives are always intended to help the other person realize their truth.

Desire isn’t a bad thing – it’s just a thing

7 Mar

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An old woman had supported a monk for twenty years, letting him live in a hut on her land. After all this time she figured the monk, now a man in the prime of life, must have attained some degree of enlightenment. So she decided to test him.

Rather than taking his daily meal to him herself, she asked a beautiful young girl to deliver it. She instructed the girl to embrace the monk warmly – and then to report back to her how he responded. When the girl returned, she said that the monk had simply stood stock-still, as if frozen. The old woman then headed for the monk’s hut. What was it like, she asked him, when he felt the girl’s warm body against his? With some bitterness he answered, “Like a withering tree on a rock in winter, utterly without warmth.” Furious, the old woman threw him out and burned down his hut, explaining  “How could I have wasted all these years on such a fraud.”

To some the monk’s response might seem virtuous. After all, he resisted temptation, he even seemed to have pulled desire out by the roots. Still the old woman considered him a fraud. Is his way of experiencing the young girl- “like a withering tree on a rock in winter” – the point of spiritual practice?  Instead of appreciating the girl’s youth and loveliness  instead of noting the arising of a natural sexual response and its passing away without acting on it, the monk shut down. This is not enlightenment.

Excerpt from Tara Branch’s book Radical Acceptance (page 143-144).

Two Kinds of Intelligence

5 Mar

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There are tow kinds of intelligence: one acquired, as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts from books and from what the teacher says, collecting information from the traditional sciences as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world. You get ranked ahead or behind others in regard to your competence in retaining information. You stroll with this intelligence in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one already completed and preserved inside you. A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness in the center of the chest. This other intelligence does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid, and it doesn’t move from outside to inside through the conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead from within you, moving out.

– Rumi, “Two Kinds of Intelligence”

Can You Hear the Mountain Stream?

4 Mar

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A Zen Master was walking in silence with on of his disciples along a mountain trail. When they came to an ancient cedar tree, they sat down under it for a simple meal of some rice and vegetables. After the meal, the disciple, a young monk who had not yet found the key to the mystery of Zen, broke the silence by asking the Master, “Master, how do I enter Zen?”

He was, of course, inquiring how to enter the state of consciousness which is Zen.

The master remained silent. Almost five minutes passed while the disciple anxiously waited for an answer. He was about to ask another question when the Master suddenly spoke. “Do you hear the sound of that mountain stream?”

The disciple had not been busy thinking about the meaning of Zen. Now, as he began to listen to the sound, his noisy mind subsided. At first he heard nothing. Then, his thinking gave way to heightened alertness, and suddenly he did hear the hardly perceptible murmur of a small stream in the far distance.

“Yes, I can hear it now,” he said.

The Master raised his finger and, with a look in his eyes that in some way was both fierce and gentle, said, “Enter Zen from there.”

The disciple was stunned. It was his first satori – a flash of enlightenment. He knew what Zen was without knowing what it was that he knew!

They continued on their journey in silence. The disciple was amazed at the aliveness of the world around him. He experienced everything as if for the first time. Gradually, however, he started thinking again. The alert stillness became covered up again by mental noise, and before long he had another question. “Master,” he said, “I have been thinking. What would you have said if I hadn’t been able to hear the mountain stream?” The Master stopped, looked at him, raised his finger and said, “Enter Zen from there.”

Excerpted from Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth (2005, pg. 236-238).

More Microscopes!

28 Feb

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In 1665, the English physicist Robert Hooke looked at a piece of cork through a microscope lens. He noticed some strange shapes which looked like little “prison cells.” Robert Hooke believed that these cells served as containers for the “noble juices” or “fibrous threads” of the once-living cork tree. He published his discovery in a book Micrographia, the first book describing observations made through a microscope. However, for the next 174 years naturalists debated the existence of cells until Theodor Schwann and Matthias Jakob Schleiden collected all of the observations and unified the field in the conclusion that “cells” did indeed exist.

It is not surprising that Hooke’s discovery of cells sparked such a violent reaction from the scientific community. After all, without the use of a microscope, which had just been invented, other people had no way of verifying Hooke’s observations. They called him “crazy” and a “liar” and given that they had no direct experience of looking through a lens and seeing little structures, we can understand their skepticism. And yet, you could give a microscope and a slide to an amateur and he could see right away that there was something there.

As important an invention as the microscope was, the true break through came thousands of years earlier with the invention of the scientific method itself. It is through this simple process that we determine truth. It goes something like this:

1) Ask a question

2) Formulate a hypothesis

3) Conduct an experiment (using the proper tools)

4) Come to a conclusion

5) Verify that conclusion with a community of other scientists

The process is supremely logical, eliminating as much of our bias as possible to get at the truth. I’d like to suggest that the same process can be applied (at least metaphorically) to meditative or contemplative traditions. It is a bold claim, but one that can be easily falsified. My argument goes like this; For thousands of years the great contemplative traditions have echoed the same basic message. “The world that we see is one of suffering. If we quiet ourselves and listen to the present moment, we realize that the world we see is not the only world. Behind everything that exists, there is a fundamental essence and we can experience this essence directly. When we experience this way of being we no longer experience suffering.”

Of course, this is a horrible generalization and it certainly does not include the more conservative interpretations (particularly in the West), but mystics from all traditions seem to echo a similar message (albeit with their own regional flavor). And just as the scientific community doubted the existence of the cell, collectively we have been debating that there is a reality beneath the world of thought/mind. I’d like to suggest that the argument hinges upon nothing more than a lack of microscopes.

The practice of meditation or yoga or any other variation of mindfulness practice which focuses one upon the present moment is a tool through which you must have to verify the claims. Unfortunately, it seems that for most people we must practice for years and years before we ever get a glimpse of what the mystics and monks have been writing about. Without that commitment, one will likely never have that direct experience, and without the direct experience, one will likely never believe that it exists.

So, the world will continue to be skeptical and assume that phrases like “formlessness,” “presence,” “awareness,” “awakening,” “enlightenment,” “essence,” “god,” “being,” etc. are all just lies made up by people who are trying to sell you something. However, the community of practitioners, which stretches across oceans of time and space, seem to have some agreement. In fact many schools of Buddhism focuses on the training and development of students by having masters validate the insights of their students (like a chemistry teacher grading a student’s science project).

So, if you really want to test the hypothesis that there is something deeper than ego/mind at work, then you need the right equipment to make your own observations. Don’t take anything I say at face value. Challenge it. Be skeptical. But if you are not willing to look through the microscope at the little things moving around inside yourself, then are you really in a position to say they don’t exist?