We are immersed in a viciously competitive environment in which massive, disruptive change is happening at a ferocious pace. How do we survive such a world, both at a personal and business level?
IBM’s Chair and CEO Ginni Rometty says we “gotta keep reinventing.” But why is reinvention so important and how often should you focus on it?
I asked a panel of six successful reinventors, ranging from private equity and high tech venture capitalists to ad execs, design thinkers and serial entrepreneurs, to weigh in.
Why is reinvention so important to us at a business and personal level?
Sydney-based serial entrepreneur, Pierce Cody views true reinvention as changing the whole way you go about doing stuff. He is on his fourth reinvention: first he was in traditional advertising and then outdoor advertising. He went orthogonal and built an organic whole foods business and today is pioneering digital signboards for real estate with Cody Live (disclosure, I am a shareholder).
Mike Flax lives in Cape Town from where he runs a successful real estate investment business, Spear REIT. He began his career as an accountant, but feeling that his creativity was being stifled he shifted into real estate. He prefers to see reinvention as a process of ever evolving and is aware of the need to be constantly making small adjustments to his personal and business life.
Also based in Cape Town, Greg James believes that reinvention is key in all aspects of life as we have to constantly evolve and grow. He trained as an accountant and spent years in Switzerland as a mining industry executive managing mergers and acquisitions. He then returned to South Africa and reinvented himself as a private equity practitioner, setting up the Sagitta Group.
“We have to adapt to the changing nature of our world and environment. In order to achieve we have to grow and learn, without this we will stagnate. The world waits for no one. We live in an ever evolving world.”
Peter Bray began his career in Australia founding two advertising agencies before making the leap to New York, where he headed up digital at Saatchi & Saatchi. His take is that reinvention is often the first chance a person has to consciously chart their destiny.
“So much of the first part of our career is falling into a certain time and place. Reinvention is really the first chance for us to consciously invent.”
Design thinker extraordinaire, Doreen Lorenzo was President at frog design and Quirky before she shifted into the role of educator. She is now Director of the Center of Integrated Design at The University of Texas at Austin. Doreen sees reinvention as just another form of learning and in life, we should be continuous learners.
Third generation venture capitalist, Tim Draper lives in Silicon Valley where he founded one of the world’s leading technology venture capital firms, Draper Fisher Jurvetson. In addition to his focus on building high growth technology companies he has also shifted into educating and motivating entrepreneurs as the headmaster of Draper University. He believes in progress.
“Progress to a better life, a better world and to search other worlds. We need to continue to make progress and reinvention allows us to continue to progress faster and better.”
How often should individuals and businesses be considering reinvention and change?
One insight that emerges from the answers given above is that reinvention is not necessarily a one-off.
Mike Flax reflects this, “Individuals and businesses should be continuously refining their business model or raison de’etre. It should never be a once-off change but rather a continuum. By employing your intellect and questioning the future constantly, you will make small, fine-tuning decisions to subtly alter your course daily. The Big Bang reinvention is clear recognition that you haven’t been paying attention to the world.”
Greg James suggests that people and businesses should always have reinvention in the forefront of their thinking.
Doreen Lorenzo does. She thinks about reinvention a lot.
“I believe that a number of companies and business models would benefit in terms of output and success if design thinking were a greater part of general workflow and product development.
You look at the most successful companies in the world – Apple, Google, Amazon – at the forefront of their process is the human experience. They are constantly thinking how to best respond to the ever changing needs of their customers. Often times companies are too focused on the bottom line or pleasing the board without truly thinking about the end result.
Take Amazon for example, they take a hit on their bottom line every quarter to ensure that their customers are getting the best possible prices, the quickest delivery and the best experience. They bet on revenues catching up to the experience. Now, not every company can afford to do that but it’s an interesting model that addresses human-centric experience above almost anything else. More companies need to think this way and incorporate the human in earlier pieces of the process.
Tim Draper echoes this sentiment, “Every minute of every day, people and businesses should be thinking of how they can improve and do their work better and delight their customer more.”
What would be your one piece of advice to anyone wanting to reinvent themselves or their business?
Mike Flax says the one piece of advice he would venture would be not to chase material success at the expense of wellbeing.
“For you, enough will never be enough and you will never attain inner peace. Chase an ideal bigger than you and your immediate needs. Work towards something that can benefit as wide a group of people or creatures as possible.”
“Don’t try and change the world or others. Just try and change yourself. Because if you can change and improve yourself, by doing so, you will be an example for others to follow. And then they will change themselves and be an example to others and, eventually, the world will be changed as a result of your simple act of changing yourself.”
Pierce Cody believes that the first thing in reinventing yourself is the need to realise that you have got to do it.
“If you think everything is ticketyboo, while Rome is burning then you are never going to do it properly. You have to realise that you have a problem.”
“The question then is whether it is a solveable problem. Maybe it is. Maybe it is simple and you should’ve thought about it before. You might need to seek help from other people. Whenever you are in doubt and you are struggling, ask yourself whether you can change the rules of engagement.”
“Probably the most important thing I do in my life is that if I’m travelling on a shit road: a shit highway to shitdom, then I try to get off that road. I would really suggest to people if they are in that situation that they question whether there is another way to do it? When you are faced with a huge wall in front of you, change the rules of engagement and go around it.
What if Pierce was giving that advice to his 17 year old self?
“I’d give the same advice. I’ve done that with two of my three children. If it’s not working where you are, try and change the rules of engagement. No matter how weird that is and foreign, try.”
Greg James suggests you have a vision of where you want to be. Never let go of that vision and pursue it and as the world changes make sure you adapt your plans accordingly.
Peter Bray advises you to forget about trying to fit in and just be yourself.
“I dumbed myself down in the past far too much in order to not be threatening. In terms of my 17 year old self, I would say be more self-ish. If I were on my deathbed, I’d ask my 17 year old self to be kinder to myself.
Doreen Lorenzo keeps her advice simple: just do it.
This can be the greatest challenge for so many people and business though. They are caught between the status quo and a rapidly changing environment. They are too comfortable in their discomfort.
In his piece of advice Tim Draper suggests a way to break this stalemate: “Take the first step. The next step is easier and so on.”
What if everything you’ve aspired towards as an actualized person turned out to be an incomplete life objective?
Everyone knows that Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of human needs, with self-acutalization at the apex. Right?
But here’s the thing. Later in life he began to refine his thinking and eventually placed self-transcendence as a motivational step on top of self-actualization.
Think about it! Your personal positioning is no longer the pinnacle of your life’s journey. This is tantamount to discovering the world is not flat!!!
It has far reaching consequences for the meaning of life, as well as how you view altruism and wisdom.
Let’s take a step back. Way back to 1943 when Maslow crystallised his initial motivational theory using the following logic:
“…man lives by bread alone – when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled? At once other (and higher) needs emerge and these…dominate the organism…human needs are organised into a hierarchy of relative prepotency.”
He set out five motivational levels and provided a description of a person at each level:
5 Self-actualization – seeks fulfilment of personal potential.
4 Esteem needs – seeks esteem through recognition or achievement.
3 Belongingness and love needs – seeks affiliation with a group.
2 Safety needs – seeks security through order and law.
1 Physiological (survival needs) – seeks to obtain the basic necessities of life.
In the late 60’s, Maslow added a sixth motivational level:
6 Self-transcendence – seeks to further a cause beyond the self and to experience a communion beyond the boundaries of the self through a peak experience.
By ‘beyond the self’ he meant service to others, devotion to an ideal or a cause. He also included a potential desire to be united with that is perceived as transcendent or divine. A ‘peak experience’ may involve mystical experiences and experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences or transpersonal experiences in which a person experiences a sense of identity that transcends or extends beyond the personal self.
He believed there was a special cognitive ability at work when transcendence was at play and he called this “Being-cognition”. He saw the “goal of identity (self-actualization) to be simultaneously an end-goal in itself, and also a transitional goal, a rite of passage, a step along the path to the transcendence of identity.”
While Maslow crystallised a linear logical progression from one need to the next, he was aware that some people were able to jump from any level to self-transcendence.
Importantly for our modern day self-obsessed society, he noted that people who are struggling to gain higher levels and are striving more for self-transcendence than self-actualisation are better off than those who have arrived at self-actualisation and, seeing this as the pinnacle of motivational needs, are resting on their laurels:
“The ones who are struggling and reaching upward really have a better prognosis than the ones who rest perfectly content at the self-actualisation level.”
Victor Frankl, the psychotherapist, transcends Maslow’s hierarchy. Interred in a Nazi concentration camp Frankly experienced severe deprivation of every type imaginable except one: he maintained his quest for meaning. In doing so he jumped across the entire motivational hierarchy and found the bliss and joy of self-transcendence. His bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning is a must read.
Why is this important for you?
Firstly, beware of blindly following constructs and paths created by others. They may be incomplete, they may be censored (the American Psychology Association allegedly tried to muzzle Maslow’s theory on self-transcendence). Chart your own path, feel what works for you and resonates within you, not an an ego level, but deep within amongst the quiet soulful spaces of your being.
Secondly, find ways to transcend your selfish needs and wants and focus on finding meaning by rising above your self. Look for ways to be of service to others. Set self-transcendent goals that enhance and amplify your purpose in life.
If you want to delve more into Maslow’s self-transcendence theme and especially how this plays out in business I recommend Chip Conley’s Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow.
Mindfulness is at the forefront of the ‘science of the human mind and heart’: it has helped people deal with chronic pain; it has eased the anxiety of veterans dealing with post traumatic stress.
Mindful stress reduction programs are mushrooming in our classrooms and across our companies, but Jon Kabat-Zinn’s message is that it urgently needs to be harnessed in the most ambitious way yet: it needs to challenge the way the world is run and he wants to inject mindfulness into global politics.
Called the godfather of modern mindfulness in a recent piece in The Guardian, he says that: “People are losing their minds. That is what we need to wake up to.”
His current message is that mindfulness could change the world. He “vibrates with an urgent belief that meditation is the ‘radical act of love and sanity’ we need in the age of” [pick your modern woe – political, environmental, health or disaster-related].
Mindfulness is not some wishy washy fad. It works. It is powerful. As the Guardian article points out, if you need proof just ask NBA basketball champions, the Golden State Warriors. Mindfulness is now one of the team’s core values.
Jon’s concerns today echo his words from 1969, “We are approaching a critical unique point in history. We are approaching an ego disaster of major proportions – overpopulation, pollution of every conceivable kind including mental.”
His aim is to help political leaders “maintain a degree of sanity and recognition of the fears and concerns of those who do not see the world the way we do. The temptation is to fall into camps where you dehumanise the other, and no matter what they do, they are wrong, and no matter what we do, we are right.”
“The human mind, when it doesn’t do the work of mindfulness, winds up becoming a prisoner of its myopic perspectives that puts ‘me’ above everything else,” he says. “We are so caught up in the dualistic perspectives of ‘us’ and ‘them’. But ultimately there is no ‘them’. That’s what we need to wake up to.”
We are at a “pivotal moment for our species to come to our senses … mobilising in the mainstream world … the power of mindfulness”.
This is a powerful message and one all leaders and aspiring leaders should take heed of. As I point out in my book, Fierce Reinvention:
The only way we can make a difference and start healing ourselves and our world is to take personal responsibility for our actions, and to live in the now by mindfully and purposefully focusing on the present moment as it unfolds, without dwelling on what we have done or dream of doing. It is up to each and every one of us to step up, take more responsibility and assume a higher level of leadership.
I grew up among sickness and death. My father was a veterinary surgeon, and I’d accompany him on farm visits and regularly visit his animal hospital.But I noticed that our relationship with death was different when it came to people. The adults didn’t talk much with us children about the passing of a family member. And when my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of six, we were shunned by many former friends in the community.
Death is taboo, an obsessive morbidity that can’t be healthy for us—or so our culture seems to say. It’s OK to bring it up briefly when someone we know has died, and we recognize grieving, but not for too long. For a few weeks after a loved one dies, we’re offered condolences. We respond with a polite “Thanks,” and then the topic of conversation quickly moves on.
Let’s make impermanence our friend
But death is all around us. By denying aging, death, impermanence and sickness, we set ourselves up for a life of fear and reactivity, and a meanness of spirit. When we do break through the death barrier, we find that we relax into our lives and our place in the universe. We pull back from the acquisitive, busy, controlling mentality that formerly held death and our fear of it at bay. We feel a wave of relief wash over us, and we shift into a more honest and real relationship with ourselves and the people around us. We become more present, more aware and more compassionate.
In society, we often measure success by what we own and what we do. So, at a young age, we start to acquire assets: watches, cars, jewellery, property. We also allow our workplace to define us. And we struggle when all this stuff is taken away from us due to happenstance, ill health and ultimately, death. We grieve the loss, and rue how impermanent life is, but these feelings often come too late to give us much comfort.
We’d be far better off making impermanence our friend and death our mentor at a young age, by creating a daily practice of recognizing that nothing is forever. This daily practice could include the following three steps:
- Reflect on your health and remind yourself that it’s in our nature to become sick.
- Reflect on your life and remind yourself that it’s in our nature to die.
- Reflect on what you have and remind yourself that everything will eventually become separated from you.
Instead of being shocked when something departs our world, it’s best that we instead recognize the loss as natural and wish that person, relationship or thing well on its journey.
My father’s gift to me
My father was always strongly independent. And yet, as his cancer spread, he became weaker and more reliant on others. Through his realization that he wasn’t in control—and perhaps never had been, in his life—he was giving me the gift of a stronger perception of impermanence while allowing me to connect with and care for him more intimately.
When my father was in the final few weeks of his battle with cancer, he turned to me one morning and asked, “What do other people do?”
“Do you mean other people in your situation?”
“Does it really matter what they do? You need to dance to your own tune and not worry about what is a socially acceptable way to die. It’s your time. There’s no right or wrong way.”
It was hard hearing myself say that. This was my father. This was the toughest man I’d ever met.
“All I ask is that you keep breathing. Relax into this part of your journey and breathe. Don’t let social pressure or fear control your behaviour.”
Life is a series of unknown moments
While it’s useful to create a practice to help us deal with our own death, this is no guarantee of how we’ll face it when the time comes, nor will being prepared necessarily reduce the anguish for those around us or lead us to dying in a serene state.
Life is a series of unknown moments that are strung together by our minds to create a narrative. What’s important to remember is that each and every moment is not only unknown, but unknowable. Our death is but one such moment. Contemplate that, explore the unknown, become comfortable with infinite unknowables, and your fear of death and dying well will diminish. Replace your anxious mind with a curious mind.
Building a strong practice of meditation is particularly helpful for creating a heightened level of comfort with the unknown. In meditation, we release our biases and preconceptions and let every moment arrive abundantly unknown.
Death can teach us so much about living life to its fullest—without delay, without fear and without masks—so do your best to let yourself embrace it.
This post was first published on The Mindful Word in November 2017.
Technology without meaning is like work without fulfilment – purposeless noise.
Here’s your situation: your life resembles an incumbent corporation (complex, disengaged, and listless); you want to disrupt yourself; you want to create the startup of you, but you don’t know how to do it; you are stuck between your dreams and reality.
And here’s what you know: change is hard; you’ve got to feel that you are ready for change, but there’s never enough time nor is it ever the right time; today you are too busy dealing with all the complexities of your life, that slow moving corporation, to fully contemplate or embark on changing your life.
It’s time to get off the corporate treadmill.
It’s time to create a lean life.
It’s time to develop a MVC for the startup of you. This minimum viable change and minimum viable challenge will recalibrate your life.
An MVC may seem like a small step, but it will reverberate deeply within you; it will catalyse a different path for you, a path to greatness, a path that is so much more aligned with the true you.
You will sing again.
You will laugh.
You will lean into your lean life free from unnecessary complexities: a simpler, more agile you will emerge, ready to spring into action and grab opportunities that you have only ever wished for before.
I am running a limited number of Lean Life advisory sessions for entrepreneurs and business owners. These are intensive sessions designed to kickstart the startup of you. You will not only develop your MVC, but will formulate a Life Canvas that you can use to iterate and chart your reinvention.
If you are interested in applying for one of these sessions let me know by email (rand at exoscalr dot com) and I’ll be in touch.
You can learn so much about who you are by enquiring into your desires and dreams. You are what makes you happy.
If you don’t know what makes you happy, if you wrongly determine what your needs and wants are, you will be out of alignment and you will invoke suffering in your life.
This is what makes the practice of self-inquiry so important as the first step on the path to achieving true greatness. Once you truly know what you need and want at a soul level, you can start taking steps to attain these things.
Enlightened with this knowledge you will be emboldened to choose the path less travelled, take on more risk, embrace fear and uncertainty and unshackle yourself from unnecessary suffering.
This leads to a win win: once you are on the pathway to happiness and fulfilment you can do the same for others; by being positive for yourself, you become positive for others; knowing your purpose you become more aligned with others and reduce conflict in your life.
What is it that you really want at the deepest level? Fundamentally, in your soul of souls the answer is very, very simple: you want love (you want to be loved and you want to love).
But the challenge for so many of us is that we are fearful of what love could bring: we are fearful of what it has brought us before; we are fearful of what we have seen it bring to others (heartbreak, pain and rejection); love has wounded me.
There is hope though. First you need to accept that there is no difference between love for yourself and love for others: there is only love. And secondly, you need to realise that love is abundant, that love has no limitations in its giving or receiving.
Accepting these two precepts, you will lower the barriers to loving yourself and loving others unreservedly, unconditionally and with no restrictions.
Give it a try, you will be surprised at the results.
Everyone asked Harvey, “What’s next?”
He’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur and from the age of 30 he lived the full cycle dream over the next decade: he founded a company; he attracted on board the right people and customers that enabled him to grow the business; he accelerated the company’s market share by raising multiple funding rounds; he sold the company and stayed for a further year before leaving.
At 40 Harvey felt that he had established himself. What’s next is a period of rest: a time to recharge and reflect; an introspective contemplation on the journey, the gruel and the grit and a time to look forward.
When he thought about the journey of building his business certain words came to mind: exciting, frothy, turbulent, dark, viable path, rebuild.
He’d been through a lot: he’d focused exclusively on the business; joy was a distraction and whenever it appeared he quashed it with anxiety; the stress of keeping the business on track was all consuming; he’d deferred his personal well-being until the business was sold.
In his mind he held a construct: growing a business leads to fulfilment, but the journey is an unhappy one; building a business involves a lot of sacrifice; relationships are put to the test and can be destroyed.
He had started his business because of a passion he had and a desire to be an entrepreneur rather than working for someone else. Unfortunately, his entrepreneurial experience had dark moments.
The real question Harvey was grappling with now was how could he do things differently in his next entrepreneurial cycle? He wanted to have the fulfilment of growing another great, world-changing business without the unhappiness along the way.
The challenge for serial entrepreneurs is that their priorities change. When Harvey started his first company he had a girlfriend. He now had a wife and two young children. He wasn’t prepared to sacrifice them and he wanted to make sure this next phase was not about the company at all costs. Having made it once, he hoped to enter his next entrepreneurial journey in a calmer state of mind and not have the anxiety he’d felt when building the first business.
His 30s had been about establishing himself. His hope now was to reach 50 with his family not only intact, but also proud of him. Not achieving a win with his next company would be devastating, but it would be a tragedy to achieve business success without family success.
Harvey’s first business had taught him that the end – a business success – did not always justify the means – a dark and painful journey. He realized that the joy-fulfilment ratio didn’t stack up against the sacrifices and pain of the journey to get there.
What Harvey needs is a superpower to give himself the staying power and emotional strength to both reach for his goals of consequence and work like crazy to achieve those goals. This superpower will give him the resilience he needs: to stay off the rocks of despair and avoid physical or mental breakdown; and to ensure he arrives at his 50s with his family intact, proud of himself and in a state of optimized well-being.
Here’s the secret: Harvey needs the superpower of fusion: he must interfuse happiness and fulfilment; by integrating the two he will find joy in his purpose; he will find that by working on his soul purpose he can be happy during the journey to achieve this goal.
Harvey need only remind himself of the people he knows who appear successful, but who are deeply unhappy to know that fusion is the answer. These confused people have let factors external to their soul purpose determine their path and their egos have trapped them in a loop of unhappiness: they become so focused on holding onto the construct that is fulfilling their measure of success that they are willing to forego any actual, intrinsic fulfilment.
Harvey is grateful that he has had his eyes opened before he did too much harm to himself. Given how much he had focused on his company above all else, he could very well have ended up on the rocks of despair – his company could have failed, his family could have left him. Yet here he was, conscious of the superpower he needs and aware of the dangers of not achieving fusion.
Going forward, Harvey has much work to do to align himself.
Firstly, he will need to go through a process of self-inquiry to determine his goals of consequence.
Secondly, he will also need to set his internal altimeter so he can measure his soul integrity and ensure he stays true to this. Doing so will empower him to achieve personal fulfilment. It will also have the added benefit of creating a powerful magnetic attractor: other people will observe how aligned he is to his soul purpose and be attracted to work with him in achieving his goals of consequence.
You can read more about fusing happiness and fulfilment in my book Fierce Reinvention.