The Opportunities Section One
The Future is a Choice – 1.1.1
What determines eminence is less a call to greatness but the call of character.
FIERCELY AWARE: The Brutal Facts: 1.1.1
The future is not a fixed point. It is ours to create. I wrote these words in 2012 with the release of a future trends publication I created with my team at a national foundation. This declaration was offered as an invitation for the leaders we worked with to transcend the understandable anxiety that accompanied discussions of the emerging VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world – a world characterized by terms like augmented biology, the internet of things, micro and gig economies, block chain and big data. The hope was to replace anxiety with agency.
Our clients and partners were well positioned to harness the potential of the trends that we were seeing, but it was difficult at times for them to see their role in shaping versus simply reacting to the emerging future. With persistent encouragement, they were able to utilize the forecast research to question their organization’s purpose, strategy, culture, objectives, and its role in the community and the world. (see more about the current futures work here)
In the years since 2012, my work has changed but the steadfast belief in our shared, creative possibilities has rarely wavered. The dynamism and complexity of our world has also remained unchanged, and if anything, has accelerated. As examples…
- The era of smart speakers began with the launch of Alexa in 2014 and today more than 47 million adults have access to this technology. It is expected that half of us will have a smart speaker in our homes in just four years. For many people, the speakers are simply a fun new gadget but the technology represents a higher potential as well. For individuals with visual and physical impairments and fueled by the strengths of curiosity and hope, these speakers offer new possibilities for navigating their environment.
- 2014 also saw the first approved permits for the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. Two years later, there were 3,100 approvals and it is expected by 2025, that commercial drones will contribute $82 billion to the US economy and more than 100,000 new jobs. Beyond simply delivering Amazon products to our door, the innovators behind drones such as Matternet ONE are using their strengths of creativity and love and making it possible to distribute much needed goods and medical supplies to communities in the most geographically challenging places on the planet.
- In the early 2000’s we saw the first use of the term “Sharing Economy”, which refers to peer-to-peer sharing of goods and services supported by an on-line community. It is forecasted that the total sharing economy, which includes companies such as AirBnB, Lyft, and Bikeshare systems will grow from $14 billion to $335 billion by 2025. Interestingly, the Sharing Economy is making inroads beyond consumerism. Activating the strengths of fairness and judgement, the founders of Hello Tractor are making it possible for African farmers to share much needed farm equipment.
Business and nonprofit leaders the world over are leveraging emerging technologies and new forms of communication, distribution, and organization to bring their visions to life. Not only to entertain and enlighten but also to solve our biggest challenges, such as world water and food shortages, critical to a planet expected to reach a population of 12 billion by the end of the century. It is easy to see why thought leaders such as Steven Pinker might argue as he has in his most recent book, Enlightenment Now, that things are getting much better for human beings. But of course that is only part of the story. Consider the other side of the story here.
A Mobius Life – 1.1.2
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
FIERCELY AWARE: The Brutal Facts: 1.1.2
As innovations offer hope for an improved future, they also present complex challenges, including issues of privacy, equity and access, racial and gender bias, and social breakdown. Increasingly, breakthroughs hold a tension between promise and threat.
Kristel van der Elst, Head of Strategic Foresight at The World Economic Forum, reifies this tension with her suggestion of five questions we must answer now.
- Will robots be our peers?
- Will schools become implanted?
- Will technology determine social class?
- Will “prosumers” oust companies?
- Will there be anything left to transport?
Clearly the way we answer these questions will shape our future. Can we find the strength to apply our wisdom, humanity and courage to respond in a manner that works for all not just some? Or, faced with complex dilemmas, will we opt for easy, short-term answers aligned to individual self-interest? It is as if we are running on two tracks that are increasingly diverging. On the first track is our extraordinary capacity for technological innovation and on the second is our human capacity to keep up with those advancements and ensure emerging innovations support and don’t harm our human condition.
In the past, we may have relied more heavily upon laws and regulations to keep us out of harm’s way. However, in this era of rapid and mind-bending change, The World Economic Forum asserts this simply isn’t possible any longer, asserting that “relying only on government legislation and incentives to ensure the right outcomes is ill-advised. These are likely to be out-of-date or redundant by the time they are implemented.”
Where does this leave us? Do we become Luddites? Do we tighten controls and potentially stymie life-changing innovations in bureaucracy? There is another path. Our emerging future suggests that as we fiercely test the limits of the technologies that our imaginations can conceive, we must also fiercely seek to understand, expand, and elevate the character strengths and virtues that rest within each of us.
Instead of being two tracks that are diverging, consider the image of the Mobius strip, a continuous loop that blurs the distinctions between inner and outer. In this curious shape, both sides of the structure are seamlessly shifting, presenting a beautiful metaphor for connecting our external world with our inner lives. As Parker Palmer, author and founder of The Center for Courage and Renewal describes the Mobius strip, he suggests, “We can survive, and even thrive, amid the complexities of adulthood by deepening our awareness of the endless inner-outer exchanges that shape us and our world and of the power we have to make choices about them.” See what happened when a small group of people did just that here.
Small Group, Big Change – 1.1.3
Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.
John F. Kennedy
FIERCELY AWARE: The Brutal Facts: 1.1.3
The Mobius Life (see last post here), meaning that we reach for the best within ourselves and dissolve the barrier between our inner and outer lives, just might be our best bet for answering the challenging questions and solving the individual and collective problems we face today. Sound too good to be true? Consider this.
In 1995, the Episcopal Bishop of California, Bishop William Swing urged the world religions to consider their role in world peace. With a history of strife and violence between groups, Swing’s invitation seemed more than a little optimistic. But Swing persisted, challenging leaders to consider what might “shift historic patterns of hostility, ignorance, isolation and political manipulation among religions to unprecedented levels of friendship and collaboration among people of different faiths.”
David Cooperrider, Professor of Organizational Development at Case Western Reserve University and Dee Hock, founder of VISA turned organizational innovator, responded to this audacious challenge and created a vision for a global grassroots organization that would attract a maximum mix of stakeholders across religions and all sectors of society.
The essential first step in the multi-year effort was to name the strengths that each group brought to the challenge.
In 2000, the effort was formalized with a charter and named the United Religions Initiative (URI). URI includes, in some instances, religious groups that are in dialogue with one another for the first time, following a history of encounters as determined adversaries. By inviting these unlikely partners to focus on human goodness – the best in each person and the group – the URI has realized extraordinary accomplishments. According to the Executive Director of the United Religions Initiative, Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr.,
Where active violence is occurring, like Pakistan, Nigeria or Yemen, URI Cooperation Circles intervene by bringing together combatants into dialogue, using conflict resolution and peace-building strategies to stop violence, build relationships and create the conditions for developing lasting peace. Where the legacy of violence and war have left deep scars on countries, Sri Lanka and Bosnia and Herzegovina, URI Cooperation Circles are creating coalitions of people from different groups who are working together to restore relationships and rebuild communities and countries.
Where conflict has not yet erupted into violence, but issues of poverty, injustice, human rights violations and deteriorating social conditions are tearing apart societies, URI Cooperation Circles work to address issues of economic development, education, health, women’s empowerment and youth leadership. Where ignorance and prejudice are eroding civility and fragment communities, URI Cooperation Circles build bridges of interreligious and intercultural understanding, enabling diverse communities to establish cohesive relationships.
URI expects that 1,000,000 individuals in 1,000 Cooperation Circles, in more than 100 countries to be engaged in peace building activities by 2020.
If focusing on what is best in each of us can engage a million people to transcend conflicts as old as time, it is worth taking very seriously. Time is of the essence as our everyday experiences are clearly taking a toll on many of the very qualities we need most right now.
The issues aren’t only unfolding on the world stage, there are in our everyday lives. Here’s how things are playing out in workplaces.
Challenges in Our Workplaces – 1.1.4
Work is one arena where we express our humanity, search for meaning, play out our destinies and our dreams, contribute our energies and gifts to the world, and spend our precious nick of time.
FIERCELY AWARE: The Brutal Facts: 1.1.4
Clearly the global stage will benefit from our collective reach for human goodness. (see Small Group, Big Change) But it is also clear that we are in urgent need of activating our character strengths in our everyday lives. Despite our many advances and desire for happiness, we as individuals and as a society are showing signs of strain. We need look no further than our workplaces.
The average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. In the USA, full-time employees average 47 hours a week or about 42% of their waking hours. Research suggests that many of us are not spending the working half of our waking hours in psychologically healthy environments. One study of 3,066 U.S. workers conducted by the Rand Corp., Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles summarized their findings by asserting that the “American workplace is grueling, stressful and surprisingly hostile.”
Workplace incivility is a primary contributor to difficult working environments. Christine Porath, author of Mastering Civility and professor at Georgetown University found that a quarter of the thousands of employees she surveyed in 1998 reported that they were treated rudely at their place of employment at least once a week. That figure rose to nearly half in 2005, and to 62% by 2016. An extreme version of the uncivil colleague is what Babiak and Hare identify as the corporate psychopath. In their book, Snakes in Suits, they suggest that the increasing numbers of such individuals indicate that most of us will come across at least one psychopath during a typical work day.
This may be why a recent study found that employees experienced 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months due to mental health, costing the U.S. 200 million lost workdays annually and resulting in $17 to $44 billion in lost productivity overall. The financial implications skyrocket to $300,000,000,000 when the impact of stress is accounted for according to Tal Ben Shahar and Angus Ridgway in The Joy of Leadership.
Clearly, many of our workplaces are not encouraging the goodness within all of us that we desperately need to meet the demands of the world. But they could. (see how in Part 2)
Challenges in Our Schools – 1.1.5
Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.
Marian Wright Edelman
FIERCELY AWARE: The Brutal Facts: 1.1.5
Amidst exciting pockets of innovation, the news for many students today isn’t great. Current students have grown up with tremendous challenges including the preponderance of high stakes testing that has decreased art, music, extracurriculars, and play and amped up academic pressure, even at the very earliest ages.
My daughter’s experience of first grade is a telling example of how our experiences have radically changed over time. Upon entering the classroom each morning, my six-year-old’s routine began with reading the morning assignment on the board and beginning her work, alone at her desk, as students milled in for the day. In stark contrast, my first-grade mornings began with a warm hug from my teacher, singing with my classmates at circle time, and delighting in tea and cookies for mid-morning snack as our teacher read to us.
A focus restricted to conventional academics, and its associated pressure, increases for many students as they get older. Rushing to discuss careers and college in middle school (11 to 13-year-old students) or even earlier and beginning the ritual of university entrance examination preparations four years before anyone in my generation would have dreamed of doing so is commonplace. One has to wonder if these experiences are contributing to the disturbing findings published in Clinical Psychological Science indicating the number of teens who felt “useless and joyless” jumped by 33% in U.S. teens between 2010 and 2015.
Once students enter college the stakes, and the associated pressure rise. In 2016, nearly two-thirds of all college students reported “overwhelming anxiety,” an increase of 50% from 2011. Furthermore, The Association for University College Counseling and Center Directors reported that 36.4% of college students had an experience with depression and that depression was the number one reason students drop out of school.
Focused on extrinsic demands and separated from the expression of their intrinsic interests and identity, it is nearly impossible for many students to have a sense of well-being. One young woman, whose story is captured in a video we frequently use when discussing the power of character strengths, provides a good case in point. In the video, Estella bravely discusses how the opinions of others distorted her personal identity. Her experiences in life, school and work focused her attention on what was wrong with her. Reinforcement was so persistent that Estella had no sense of her strengths. Even when Estella’s signature character strengths were identified, she struggled to embrace them and feel comfortable naming them as her own. But when she ultimately succeeded, it was transformative. She saw herself in a new light and “that changed everything.”
We collectively share an interest in creating learning environments where students experience the best within themselves and others and thrive academically and personally. Although the task may seem daunting, it is absolutely possible. (see how in Part 2!) Read how similar challenges are appearing in our neighborhoods here.
Challenges in Our Communities – 1.1.6
We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.
FIERCELY AWARE: The Brutal Facts: 1.1.6
There are an incalculable number of forces shaping how we engage as neighbors and citizens. Three challenges are of particular concern if we seek to catalyze our strengths and join them with others to face the demands of our world. The documented decline in our social capital and two additional factors related to our digitally connected world top the list.
- In a world overrun with digital connectivity and communication, our human connections to one another are weakening.
In the last two decades our connections to others’ “social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them” – in effect our social capital – has eroded steadily and sometimes dramatically according to Robert Putnam in his groundbreaking book, Bowling Alone. While social capital can be deleterious in some instances, Putnam’s research indicates that strong connections make collective problems easier to resolve, facilitates business transactions, widens our awareness of our mutual connectivity, speeds the flow of information and improves our health and happiness through human contact.
- The image conscious demands of an online life are making us much more self-focused.
Our online lives have changed the way we work, share resources, communicate, travel, date, shop, watch programming and engage in politics. Within these developments, there is an enormous positive and negative impact. Of concern is the tremendous number of outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, ready-made for self-focused and even self-promotional communications. Need I say more than “selfies?” While there are a number of reasons for this, research reported in The Narcissism Epidemic involving 37,000 college students, indicates that narcissistic personality traits rose just as fast as obesity from the 1980s to the present.
- It is easier to vilify others if we limit our engagement to groups that think as we do.
The exploding number of media and communication outlets mean that we can elect to engage with only those individuals or groups with whom we share very similar, sometimes very narrowly defined, ideas and beliefs. While there is obvious benefit to niche communities (consider families with young children with special needs), the conversations therein can also help create very insular thinking.
In his latest book, Adam Kahane discusses a potential by-product of this type of insular conversation. In Collaborating with the Enemy, Kahane coined the term “enemyfying,” a syndrome in which we “see people with different interests as people who are trying to actively hurt us.” As a result, those with different ideas are seen not just as opponents to be defeated, but as enemies to be destroyed.
There are inchoate examples of individuals and teams accessing their character strengths and virtues and tapping into the best in human potential. Examples are emerging in organizations, neighborhoods and schools. (See Mathew A. White and A Simon Murray’s Evidenced-Based Approaches to Positive Education for inspiring school examples) In doing so, they are improving engagement, performance, well-being, and connectedness in their workplaces, schools and communities. Further, by accessing the best of human nature, they are making a positive contribution to the world. One that will enable humanity to keep stride with the rapid pace of innovation. (see how in Part 2!)
To borrow and embellish the frequently quoted maxim of author William Gibson, “The (more positive) future is already here. It is just not evenly distributed.” Read about the science behind scaling a more positive future here.
The Science Section Two
A Powerful Antecedent – 1.2.1
I’m a very positive thinker, and I think that is what helps me in the most difficult moments.
FIERCELY AWARE: The Science: 1.2.1
Camden, Arkansas is the home of one of the world’s oldest women. At 116, and shortly before her death in 2015, Gertrude Weaver shared her secrets for longevity. She advised us all use good moisturizer, cook our own food, treat everyone nice and love our neighbor. Gertrude’s wisdom is more than quant, grand-motherly-type, advice. Science agrees with her.
Barbara Fredrickson is a leading voice in the study of positivity. In, Positivity, she uses the term to describe the experience of one or more of the following – love, joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, awe and inspiration. While these experiences are transient, Frederickson’s research illustrates that when we experience positivity we are transformed with expanded mental, psychological, social and even physical resources. Activating these resources transforms our well-being, capability, and even possibly, our longevity.
Amy Blankson expounds on the potential for positivity, summarizing research that links positivity to:
- 10% increase in the level of engagement at work
- 23% decrease in the symptoms of fatigue
- 31% higher productivity
- 37% higher sales
- 40% increase in the likelihood of receiving a promotion
- 50% decrease in the risk of heart disease
- 300% more creativity
- and an incredible, 839% increase in the likelihood of living to age 94!
It is possible that positivity might even impact race relations. One of the most interesting recent studies on positivity was initiated by Kareem Johnson, former doctoral student of Barbara Fredrickson and currently at Temple University. Johnson posited that if positivity broadens the scope of our attention and makes it possible to see a bigger picture then positivity should also improve people’s ability to recognize faces. His research confirmed this to be true. Through a series of innovative experiments, he discovered that positive emotions improved people’s recognition of cross-race faces as well. Fredrickson concluded that, “Even things that tend to divide people like racial differences, seem to melt away when our hearts are warmed with positivity.”
In short, positive emotions are as instrumental in creating desirable outcomes, as they are a reflection of those outcomes.
Happy and Well – 1.2.2
No medicine cures what happiness cannot
Gabriel García Márquez
FIERCELY AWARE: The Science: 1.2.2
Likely propelled by the issues discussed in Section One, there has been an explosion of interest in happiness in the last ten years. Many extraordinary researchers, including Tal Ben-Shahar, Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Ed Diener have shaped this growing field of knowledge.
Ben-Shahar defines happiness as “the overall experience of pleasure and meaning” and in The How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky describes a metanalysis of scientific studies that indicate what happens when people are happy. The analysis reveals happy people are more productive and creative, make more money, have healthier relationships, make better leaders, are more likely to get married, have more friends and social support, and are healthier. And that the order of events is not as expected…happiness comes first.
The interest in happiness is a world-wide phenomenon. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Ruler of Dubai recognizes the critical importance of happiness. At His Highness’s invitation, 500 global thought leaders gathered in Dubai for the second Global Dialogue on Happiness last year. Discussions focused on the science, policies, practices, scaling, and the future of happiness and well-being. Among an extraordinary array of expert presentations, Bambang Brojonegoro, Minister of National Development Planning introduced Indonesia’s Happiness Pyramid and cited research by Li Lu (2008) that happy countries grow faster.
Similar to happiness, the interest in well-being has sky-rocketed in recent years.
In his book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, Martin Seligman, commonly regarded as the founder of positive psychology, details his model of well-being as comprised of five pillars as follows below.
- Positive Emotion (P)
Positive emotions such as those described in Frederickson’s work above fall into this category and the message is that it’s vital to seek these out in conjunction with the other pillars below.
- Engagement (E)
This pillar is the experience of being completely immersed in what you are doing. It is what Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi has identified as “Flow.”
- Positive Relationships (R)
This pillar is as straight forward as it sounds. Meaningful relationships are critical to flourishing.
- Meaning (M)
Meaning pertains to the idea that there is something bigger than us and our personal interests.
- Accomplishment/Achievement (A)
This pillar speaks to our longing to better ourselves in ways that matter to us – for example, increasing our skill, achieving a goal, or winning a new client.
We all want increased happiness and well-being but as with positivity, discussed earlier, the question is how? Our work at Mayerson Academy and the research of experts around the world has shown that the science of character strengths and virtues is one of the most, if not the most, powerful building block for developing positivity, happiness, and wellbeing. Here is a little more on character strengths.
The Strength(s) to be Positive, Happy and Well – 1.2.3
…the focus on human strengths and virtues is one of the most important initiatives in psychology of the past half century
FIERCELY AWARE: The Science: 1.2.3
Leading researchers widely acknowledge the science of character strengths as the foundation for creating positivity, happiness and wellbeing.
Character may occupy the most central role in the field of positive psychology. Pleasure, flow, and other positive experiences are enabled by good character.
These twenty-four strengths underpin all (of wellbeing)
Character strengths are the superfoods of our psyche – packed with social and psychological punch
In 1999, Martin Seligman and Neal Mayerson shared a vision to bring science to the table where mainly philosophers and theologians had been typically seated. Their aim was to identify the aspects of our personality that account for the goodness in the human experience – the constellations of feelings, thoughts and behaviors that are widely valued as good for the individual and the greater common good – universal character strengths and virtues.
Seeking a language and science that expressed the best in human nature, fifty-five renowned scientists around the world conducted a three-year study of the great traditions in philosophy, theology, humanities, and religions. This impressive team was led by Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson. The scientists’ rigorous methodology resulted in three robust tools including a classification, handbook, and a set of surveys that identify, explain, and measure character strengths. The VIA surveys have now been translated into more than 30 languages and been taken by nearly 8 million people around the world.
Beyond being the building blocks for positivity, happiness and well-being, activating character strengths have been directly linked to increased engagement, meaning, performance and both physical and emotional well-being. For a summary of some of the most important work in a field of hundreds of studies, take a look here.
Part 2 is all about learning how to activate your strengths and those of others to change your life and the world. But first, take a look here at why we need to get fierce about unleashing the best of our humanity.
The Call to Get Fierce Section Three
Don’t Be Typical – 1.3.1
Only dead fish go with the flow.
FIERCELY AWARE: The Call to Get Fierce: 1.3.1
It would seem as if it would be commonplace, but you are swimming against the current when you focus on what is strong versus what is wrong either in yourself or others. It is decidedly countercultural. The other day I picked up my phone and the headlines in my news alerts announced “The U.S. Tried To Turn Some Russian Oligarchs Into Sources,” “Malaysia Canes Two Women” and “Why Theresa May is a Modern-Day Rasputin.” And last night I thought I would find a new series to watch on Netflix. Searching for the ten most watched programs, the results included: Breaking Bad, House of Cards, American Horror Story, Narcos, and Making a Murderer. Clearly, these moments haven’t reminded me of human goodness!
Of course, these titles don’t tell the whole story of our culture, but they do signal why a focus on love, kindness, gratitude and other character strengths can seem out of the ordinary, even abnormal, and therefore, why fierceness is required.
Being fierce doesn’t have anything to do with being aggressive and it certainly doesn’t include anything close to bluster. It’s about being committed, persistent, unyielding and quietly determined to reach for human goodness at every turn. It is about staking a claim to what you know is important even as you face resistance. The quiet radicals who exemplify fierce character include extraordinary individuals, such as the:
- custodian who made it her job to greet each and every middle school student every morning…no matter how surly they might be!
- leadership team members who took pay cuts to avoid layoffs, even though staff will never know.
- person who stood by a friend in crisis through failed attempts at rehab until he didn’t fail.
- teacher that coached students in math over the summer, absent any directive from the school, to ensure they are ready to succeed in the autumn.
- manager who took time to consider people when policy dictated something else.
And it is in the heartbreaking but brilliant words of a grieving mother who lost her only daughter in a car accident on a holiday weekend. Lucy Hone, author of Resilient Grieving, shares that while in the unimaginable loss of her precious daughter she had no choice, she could, and would, make choices going forward. She would be absolutely fierce in her resolve to be proactive, asserting “intentional control over thoughts and actions” as she pieced life back together. She would refuse unhelpful blame and anger and keep herself and her family moving forward and into life. In her bid to survive the loss of her daughter, she would fiercely choose love over hate.
Read why we need to transcend evolution to reach for human goodness next.
Fighting with Your Brain – 1.3.2
It is good to do uncomfortable things. It is weight training for life.
FIERCELY AWARE: The Call to Get Fierce: 1.3.2
It doesn’t make sense. Both research and our own experiences tell us that seeking and bringing out the best in ourselves and others is highly rewarding. So why is negativity our default position? The truth is that our brains and evolution conspire against us. Scientists believe that we have instincts left over from our hunter-gatherer ancestors, which, although were once vital, can be detrimental to us today. To survive, our ancestors had to vigilantly scan the environment for threats – predatory animals, unfriendly neighbors and threatening weather. Although we don’t need to do that today, the instinct lingers, leaving us hardwired to spot potential dangers in our environment. If you have ever looked at a report card, performance review, or presentation feedback and raced to the see the worst grade, lowest average or negative remark first, you know exactly what I am talking about.
We don’t stop there. We accentuate our negative scanning. When we recount the day’s events with family or friends, we are more likely to tell negative stories, tell more people those stories, and use more words when relaying our gloomy tales. Doing so increases our stress levels and diminishes our creativity and motivation to accomplish goals but, nevertheless, we persist. Our negativity bias is so deeply embedded that we’re scarcely aware of it. When I speak with groups, I frequently ask this question. If a meeting you attended ran beyond its allotted time and you weren’t able to accomplish your to-do list for the day, would you tell anyone? The room consistently fills with groans and laughter and people agree they would talk about it with others. But then I ask, if a meeting ended early, would you mention it? People rarely believe they would bother to share that more positive experience. Negativity bias seeps into our experience with the moment to moment choices we make cloaked as concerns, complaining and commiserating.
Whenever I think of this concept, I can’t shake the image of the Saturday Night Live skit, Debbie Downer. I wonder if it’s so funny because it taps into a deeply embedded construct in all of us…or maybe it’s just that Rachel Dratch is so freaking funny!
The challenge is to extricate ourselves from the status quo of our negativity bias and embrace the freedom to create something fresh – and be fierce about it.
Sometimes when we get fierce, the status quo pushes back. Read how here.
Systemic Autoimmune Response – 1.3.3
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.“
E. E. Cummings
FIERCELY AWARE: The Call to Get Fierce: 1.3.3
Generally speaking, we all like to stay exactly as we are. To make sure that happens, we have an internal and a social immune response to change. When we begin to acquire new knowledge we might feel uncomfortable and even a bit silly with it at first. Do you remember the first time you had to deliver a speech, or make a pitch, or give a presentation? I will never forget the first time I spoke in front of my colleagues. Beyond being terrified of tripping, forgetting my words or worse, I felt ridiculous, almost like an actress. With this awkwardness, it’s easy to convince ourselves that it is really not so important after all to incorporate the new and so we give up. This is our own psychological immune system at work. Living systems naturally prejudice against “otherness” according to Otto Scharmer and the coauthors of Presence. If we don’t stay fierce, we jeopardize the potential of developing into our best, possible selves.
As you begin to make shifts in how you think, act and react, there can be an external upset as well. Homeostasis and stability characterize social networks. Have you ever noticed within a circle of friends that when one person makes a change – loses weight, gets a new job, has a new partner – that suddenly the group becomes unsettled?
I know a young professional who began her second year of teaching completely fired up to remake her classroom based on motivational research she had read during the summer months. Susan was so enthusiastic that she was almost unaware of the extra hours she was putting in before and after school. And as a result of Susan’s significant effort her students grew more engaged, excited and made tremendous academic strides. Her principal championed her results and her effort. However, the more success she enjoyed the more distant her colleagues became. Over the course of the school year, the chasm grew between herself and the rest of the staff, and she decided not to return the following year. At first blush, Susan’s story is discouraging. But there is more. Activating her strengths, opened new possibilities and she went on to start a very successful business based on what she learned. She continues to live a joyous and authentic expression of her best self.
Just as Susan stood fiercely in the face of a system seeking status quo, we can, too. Sometimes it is just a matter of substituting “or” for “and.” Read how here.
And is Better Than Or – 1.3.4
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
FIERCELY AWARE: The Call to Get Fierce: 1.3.4
Beyond our challenges with society, evolution and existing systems (see the last three posts), it will all be smooth sailing. Well…not exactly. Fortunately, you do have everything you need to succeed already. You can fiercely choose, moment by moment, a thousand times a day, to reach for human goodness and a strengths-based perspective. When you do, get ready for your engagement, motivation, well-being, and effectiveness to grow. We will look at specific strategies in the next section but right now you can begin by making small “replacements” in your everyday life.
FROM bubbling with frustration over family, colleague, or neighbor conflicts TO spotting the potential of their unique strengths and enjoying the possibilities.
FROM a myopic focus on organizational outcomes TO celebrations of achieved milestones and individual and group contributions.
FROM giving primacy to the negative events of the day TO actively scanning for the positive.
FROM gripping onto anger TO granting forgiveness
FROM aloof distance TO love and kindness
As you begin to make replacements, beware of the “tyranny of or” and the possibility of what the “genius of and” represents. The “tyranny of or” according to Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, is the false notion that we must choose between two seemingly contradictory strategies. For example, I can be a strong leader/parent/citizen or I can be loving. The “or” can be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card, excusing us from being our best selves.
On the other hand, with the “genius of and,” we refuse this simplistic contradiction and bridge the divide. This thought process holds our feet to the fire. For example, I can be a strong leader/parent/citizen focusing on growth and stay committed to relationships in the process. “And” keeps us from taking the shortcut. By fiercely refusing the “or” we can experience more of life’s goodness, find new solutions to challenges, increase effectiveness and engagement and overall well-being.
Practice, Practice, Practice Makes…Improvement – 1.3.5
Choose your corner, pick away at it carefully, intensely and to the best of your ability and that way you might change the world.
FIERCELY AWARE: The Call to Get Fierce: 1.3.5
You will be fierce and start to make changes. And, like all of us, you will have missteps, too. The most important thing is to try again. Similar to developing any new skill or habit, adopting a strengths-based approach to life requires persistent attention.
Anyone who has achieved a milestone knows of the countless hours of practice behind breakthrough success. You probably don’t remember but, it took a lot of practice and a lot of falling to achieve one of your first major accomplishments – walking! You are just like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Kobe Bryant, Pablo Picasso, Brett Favre, Claude Monet, and Wolfgang Mozart. After comparing their lives to contemporaries, Ron Friedman, author of The Best Place to Work, asserts that the sheer volume of effort produced by these individuals far outnumbered their peers and was the differentiator in their performance. The quality that distinguishes their work would not be possible without the quantity of their attempts.
Like dripping water slowly making an impression on a stone, the most significant changes and accomplishments are the aggregate of small choices and efforts which may, in the moment, appear to have little impact. If the time frame for dripping water seems too long, think about it this way. Would you like to lose ten pounds? Simply replace the two pieces of toast or bowl of cereal you regularly enjoy for breakfast with an apple. Do this every single day for a year and you will drop ten pounds. It’s a small change, but the consistency makes a dramatic difference. Sadly, I have no personal experience with this activity, it’s just what the nutritionists tell me!
I do have experience with a much shorter timeline of practice and change. Three years ago I began a yoga practice. I love it. With the first downward dog position of any class, my hamstrings pull against my heels as they struggle to find the floor, my spine stiffly reaches for the floor and ceiling, and my wrists feel the uncomfortable weight of gravity from the rest of my body. (Did I actually say I love it?) In the next 75 minutes, after we have come back to this pose many times, the teacher will frequently ask how this same pike position feels at the end of class versus the beginning. A transformation has taken place. With our practice, the pose has morphed from a challenge, to a resting position.
Consistency and practice changes even the most entrenched habits and beliefs. One of the most common beliefs is that you either are or are not an artist. If you need proof, pull out a game of Pictionary to play with a non artistic group and see how fast they find something else to do. But even our artistic potential is highly malleable with practice. In her classic book, Drawing on Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards proves that learning to see differently and practicing relentlessly can turn a stick-figure artist into the real thing.
Just like Kobe, Pablo, and Betty Edward’s students, you can practice your way into success leading a strengths-based life. And it matters to everyone around you…read more here.
Jump in and Start the Ripple – 1.3.6
I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.
FIERCELY AWARE: The Call to Get Fierce: 1.3.6
Creating your future, and our shared future, in a way that reaches for human goodness requires that we jump in with both feet. As you elevate human goodness, you will make the world a better place through your own unique character strengths. Your actions will encourage others to do the same, effecting change on a much larger scale than you might have ever imagined.
We can’t help but be influenced by those around us. Have you ever gone out to dinner with a group of friends and thought to yourself, I won’t eat that much – I am not really all that hungry. Fast forward and somehow you find yourself not only eating the salad you ordered for your petite appetite but also nibbling the fried green tomato appetizer Sue ordered, the French fries that came with Lisa’s hamburger and the coconut cream pie that Ben couldn’t resist. (And you don’t even like coconut!) Believe it or not, research suggests that if we dine as a party of four versus alone, we are likely to consume 75% more calories! We simply follow the crowd. And frequently without even realizing it.
Research from the University of Rochester has shown that we can be subconsciously influenced merely by overhearing conversations. When participants in a study were asked to solve word puzzles within earshot of a highly motivated participant (a role played by an actor), their performance was 37.5 percent better than those who “overheard” an unmotivated participant. Even more interesting, when participants were asked if anything affected their performance on the puzzles not a single subject indicated the overheard conversations had been an influence. Imagine the implications for this research in open space offices!
No doubt, we are continuously shaping one another’s lives. The seeming barrier between us is much more permeable than it appears. I am in a book club that meets once a month. The members of the group are in various stages of juggling full lives, overflowing with family, work and community activities and demands. We meet on a weeknight and, honestly, most of us show up tired after long days. But it is extraordinary what can happen. If just one person shows up with an energetic and fun-loving attitude she alone can transform the mood of the entire group. We go from low-key to laughing riotously in nearly no time at all. It could be the required dosage of chocolate offered in multiple forms that accompanies these gatherings that stewards the levity, but I am pretty sure there is something else going on.
But here is the thing…our effect on one another ripples beyond our immediate circle of friends, students, colleagues and other contacts. Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler have shown that the ripple effect continues through three degrees of separation. If I change any number of personal choices and behaviors it’s not just those with whom I am in direct contact who will experience a shift but, also their friends, and their friends’ friends. Studies show that unhappiness, violence and meanness ripple through networks but so does love, altruism, and happiness. Every moment we fiercely choose the latter we may well be impacting thousands of people.
If you are saying, “Bring on the pond, I am ready to make a ripple!” Part 2 begins here!