Hey Technologist, Revel In Your Culture of Killing It, But Realize That Inside You Are Dying

I want to highlight an article in the NY Times about the Big Sur, California-based Esalen Institute reopening. Why this is so interesting is because its new mission is “to help technologists who discover that ‘inside they’re hurting”.

Entrepreneurs and business leaders, particularly from the technology industry are starting to get one of my key messages: “Technology without meaning is like work without fulfilment: purposeless noise.”

As Ben Tauber, the new Executive Director at Esalen, puts it:

There’s a dawning consciousness emerging in Silicon Valley as people recognise that their conventional success isn’t necessarily making the world a better place. The CEOs, inside they’re hurting. They can’t sleep at night.

Another nearby centre, 1440 Multiversity, which lies nestled in the California redwoods near Santa Cruz, has a similar message in its goal: to recognise that the blazing success of the internet catalysed powerful connections, yet did not help people connect to themselves.

1440 was founded by Scott Kriens, Chairman and former CEO of Juniper Networks, with the rationale that there is “great power in immersion learning – setting aside daily urgencies and dedicating uninterrupted time and energy to focus on our more important, but often more elusive, priorities.”

One of the key questions technologists are starting to ask themselves is whether they are doing the right thing for humanity. It’s all very well building a highly addictive, behaviour changing piece of technology, but if it doesn’t progress humanity in some way then what is the point?

Before heading up Esalen, Ben Tauber had created a real-time celebrity geo-stalking service called JustSpotted and then joined Google as an acqui-hire. He then decided his work was causing harm. “I realized I was addicting people to their phones. It’s a crisis that everyone’s in the culture of killing it, and inside they’re dying.”

As former Google chef Bodhi Kalayjian, who now bakes bread at Esalen says, “Everybody’s got a soul. It’s about finding it.”

The article also quotes Gopi Kallayil, Google’s chief evangelist of brand marketing. He has been wondering about the impact of his work and said that many of the people who came to him had floundered this year.

Ultimately, it’s about finding meaning in your work and ensuring that what you invest your precious time into is something that you can feel proud of.

What is an Elder in Residence Program and Why Does Your Business Need One?

In a previous post (Here’s How Older Generations Can Reinvent as Elders and Continue Their Impact) I talk about the importantance of older generations reinventing themselves as elders. I refer to two fantastic examples of individuals joining high tech Silicon Valley companies when they are in their early 50’s. Both have had a profound effect on their respective businesses: Fred Kofman at LinkedIn and Chip Conley at airbnb.

These are relatively ad hoc arrangements and testament to the foresight of the CEOs of those companies for pioneering this path. And then it struck me: what if this was formalised and crystallised into a program that other companies can follow, add to and learn from?

And so I began thinking: when I was at NICTA I had a problem – 600 very, very smart scientists on staff and a remit to create an entrepreneurial culture and commercialise their research. How was I going to help these academically-driven people reinvent as entrepreneurs? And I needed to do so on rocket boosters as we had enormous pressure to produce results.

One of the most successful things I did was to set up an Entrepreneur in Residence Program. I recruited a number of serial entrepreneurs to join us for a year. In this time they firstly acted as mentors to our scientists and secondly identified a project they could work closely with to fast track a spin out. If they were successful in spinning out a new venture they would take the CEO role and lead it through its growth.

The result of this EiR Program was a definite boost to the organization’s entrepreneurial culture and a slew of venture-backed spin outs in record time.

My aim is to take this learning and apply it to creating an Elder in Residence Program. I see the benefits to a company, particularly one that is growing rapidly and dealing with how to scale leadership, being:

1. A close trusted confidante for the CEO – part adviser, part mentor, part CEO coach;

2. A leadership program that will boost compassion, resilience, wisdom and, ultimately, increase diversity, engagement and organizational transformation.

CEOs often have excellent advisers and investors in their milieu, but I see this to be a role more embedded inside the business – working closely with the CEO one on one as well as building up the leadership team for the purposes of scaling – as they transition say from 150 to 300 staff it is imperative that they are ready for this growth inflection point and the rule of 3 and 10 (at 3 and at 10 things change in any organization and as it scales simply add zeroes onto 3 and 10 and the principle continues to be applicable).

How to Get Better Outcomes With Less Effort

Isn’t it about time you got better outcomes with less effort?

CEO Coaching is your go to method: it’s about leadership development; it’s about being inspired, but ultimately it’s about impact. Your return on investment is a boost to your productivity and your overall well being; which is why at EXOscalr we refer to it as fuel for the soul, rocket fuel for your business.

CEO Coaching helps you find clarity: in your vision, in your role; and this translates across your business with people becoming less confused, more engaging and their overwhelming sense of fear dissipating.

How Reinvention Leads to Continuous Personal and Business Success

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.”

 

Cracking the Code to a Fulfilled Life: Unlocking the Hidden Chamber in Maslow’s Motivational Pyramid of Needs

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-actualizationseeks fulfilment of personal potential.

4 Esteem needsseeks esteem through recognition or achievement.

3 Belongingness and love needsseeks affiliation with a group.

2 Safety needsseeks 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-transcendenceseeks 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.

How Mindful Leadership Can Heal Our World

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.

 

 

Nothing Is Forever: Embracing Death Will Help You Become Greater and Happier

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.vet visiting a farmBut 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.

By denying aging, death, impermanence and sickness, we set ourselves up for a life of fear and reactivity, and a meanness of spirit.

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


Wrapped giftMy 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?”

He nodded.

“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.

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This post was first published on The Mindful Word in November 2017.

image: 1. Sterllng College via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)  2. Pixabay

It’s Time to Create Your Lean Life Now

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.

Stop with the excuses.
There is a better way.
You can disrupt your life.
For the better.
Now!

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.