Culture as a driving force with Robert Richman

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Jim Selman and Robert Richman discuss culture as a driving force.
Robert Richman is a Cultural Strategist and author of The Cultural Blueprint, A Guide to Building a High Performance Workplace.

Click here to watch

Between Trapezes

Thursday, January 15, 2015

By Jim Selman

I love the metaphor of being 'between Trapezes'. In one image it connotes the comfort and familiar arc of my current life, the emerging possibility of moving from where I am onto an entirely new trajectory, and most compelling -- the excitement and terror of letting go and confronting that existential moment where annihilation seems to be a genuine possibility.

Charles Dubois once said that the most important thing in life is the willingness to let go of who we are to realize who we can be. This distinction between the 'real' and the 'possible' is always with us, whether we're conscious or not. Our 'normal' lives and patterns are mostly habit; behaviors we've learned and embodied, and that happen without thinking. Our 'after-behavior' conversations, whether of appreciation and satisfaction or guilt and regret, are a never ending and usually circular commentary on our lives, which itself becomes part of the habitual patterns that keep us 'gripping' the trapeze we have as if that is all there is. As we swing between the positive and negative aspects of our experience we rarely appreciate that it is all part of one big 'swing', and that we're simply holding on rather than making conscious choices and intentionally generating our future.

Its paradoxical that our 'reality', which is basically everything we know about everything along with whatever we can imagine, is on one hand the 'box' that keeps us trapped into a self-referential relationship with life, while at the same time is the possibility of creating possibilities outside of that box. In other words, when we realize (and surrender to the fact) that we are existing in a closed system, we can begin to distinguish the relationship between everything we know (and everything we believe to be 'real') and anything else that 'might be', including all the things that are impossible, unthinkable and contrary to our habitual understanding of the world. The other trapeze might just be a figment of our imagination, but we won't know unless and until we let go. If you have evidence that something is possible, it isn't a possibility, but is an example of something that already exists.

One example of how this idea can manifest in the real world is in sports. The most 'winning college basketball coach' in history was John Wooden at UCLA, who proclaimed that the difference between winning a championship and building a dynasty is the commitment to let go of everything at the end of each season. It is only when we try to hold onto our ideas about why we are successful that we get stuck, and in our attempt to repeat the past we defeat the possibility of greatness.

I think this metaphor is relevant not only in terms of our individual relationship with change and possibility, but also apropos to the kinds of challenges we face as organizations, communities and even society as a whole. The last 50 or 100 years have been extraordinary in virtually every domain. We've created and accomplished more than our grandparents could ever have imagined. In virtually every area of human existence and concern we've witnessed and benefited from countless breakthroughs -- and as with all breakthroughs the added potential for negative and unintended outcomes.

The challenges for leaders everywhere is how to disconnect from the past (let go) sufficiently enough to create new structures of interpretation, accomplish breakthroughs and break the cycle of 'the more things change the more they stay the same'. What has allowed us to have unprecedented success in the past will not necessarily help us succeed in an unpredictable future. If we continue to do the same things over and over or variations along the same 'swing', we will certainly get more of the same.

Learning to 'let go' is not easy. We often will try to hold onto something that isn't working rather than confront the unknown or risk the possibility of failure. This is part of our habitual way of being in which we are blind to action, and the fact that there is no way any of us can ameliorate the risk and discomfort of committing to a possibility before there is evidence that something is possible. This was probably the case the first time we rode a bicycle, jumped in a swimming pool or pointed our skis down the hill. It was also probably the case the first time we were vulnerable and open enough to fall in love. Letting go is always easy after the fact, and can seem impossible before the fact.

Finally, as illustrated in the metaphor of being between trapezes, is the question of time. It isn't possible to let go in a minute or 'later'; we can only 'let go now' and time will seemingly stand still until the new reality emerges and we're grounded in a new context and space for whatever is next. In that moment of choice, we are 100% committed, have let go of our past and of control and are fully alive in the space between these two realities. The only time we can act, the only time we can let go, is right now.

The more that is at stake, the more compelling the possibility, the more dissatisfaction we have with the status quo -- the more urgent the call to action. To let go.

The Next 10 Years

Friday, January 09, 2015

By Jim Selman

Another year. This year’s resolutions looked pretty much the same as last year and the year before that so I’ve resolved to stop making New Year’s resolutions. Nonetheless the year-end (or beginning) is a time that calls for taking stock and reflecting on the past and the future. This year the big questions for me have to do with the next 10 years.

I have laughed a lot about how easily I can fall into making just about anything significant. I even made significance significant by noting that the word literally breaks down to being a ‘sign-if-I-can’t’. We only make significant those things we aren’t responsible for. It is a terrible affliction wherein I dramatize a subject as disproportionately important and demanding exceptional appreciation or focus and sometimes action. The point is, in the larger scheme of things nothing is really significant and the important things end up taking priority anyway.

That said, my latest ‘significant’ subject however, is related to the ever-present awareness that I am old. Now the subject of ‘aging’ has been my avocation since I was 40 and I have a very well grounded, and believe, a healthy outlook on the subject. I don’t fear the future and even look forward to it. I have never been happier and more creative and I am in good health. My intention in founding the Eldering Institute was to shift the narrative about aging from one of gradual decline to one of the end of life having as much possibility as the beginning. So far, I think I am a living example of this vision.

Nonetheless when we pass the 70-year mark, it is impossible to ignore the fact that you are old. Yes, it is relative and doesn’t mean anything, but as a practical matter and relative to how the rest of the world assesses age, 70 is old. Saying that 70 is the new 50s may be true in terms of life style and in my case it feels that way, but the fact is that 70 is 70 and medical technology not withstanding suggests that there is a lot less time left in this story I call my life. All things considered, I may have a reasonable expectation of living another 30 years, but it would be foolish to plan the rest of my life based on that assumption. Even though the ‘over 90’ segment of the population is tripling from where it was in 1980, another 20 years would still put me in the 10% of the population reaching that age. My conclusion is that I should expect to have about another decade of productive healthy living and any thing beyond that will be a bonus which I am definitely intending to collect on, but not count on.

Having reached this conclusion the obvious question is what do I want to do with this last decade? One bit of wisdom that comes with the question is that there are virtually no constraints on the answer. Here are the questions I am using to frame my inquiry:

Where do I want to live?

Who do I want to be with?

What do I want to learn?

What do I want to contribute?

How do I want to spend my time?

What’s needed that I can provide?

What do I want to say?

What do I want to leave behind?

An interesting aspect of looking at these next 10 years as the final 10 years creates a curious irony at least for me. On one hand, I am absolutely satisfied and fulfilled with my life and don’t need to change a thing. I am not seeking ‘more’ of anything and each of these questions could lead me to continue on exactly the same path I am on. I have often shared that I feel I’ve won the lottery of life.

On the other hand, I don’t want to have the future, including these final 10 years, to occur simply as a ‘drift’ and extension of the past. I want these years to be a choice and a full expression of who I have been and who I want to be. I want to be ‘driving’ and be the author of my story to the finish line. I also want to be open to the possibility that there are many more surprises ahead of me just as most of my life has been surprising in retrospect.

For now, I leave you with the questions. I’ve decided that the questions are a lot more interesting than my New Year’s resolutions, and may actually result in a difference next year.


Friday, February 18, 2011

By Marc Cooper, author of THE ELDER

Elders possess real patience. By patience I don’t mean passively waiting. By patience I don’t mean waiting for the chance to make something happen. I mean, by patience, a full expression of experience and intention. Patience is knowing when to make the right move, at the right time, to go at the right pace, to know when it’s ready.

Patience is knowing when the moment is right to act. And knowing the right moment to act only comes after recognizing and being responsible for your failures. Failures when you pushed too hard, went too soon or waited too long. That’s part of an Elder’s life experience, having failed over and over again until they got it right.

Patience is knowing the right thing to do and when to do it. A keen intuition about the actions to take and when to take them.

Patience is knowing the right thing to say, at the right time, so the speaking has maximum effectiveness.

Patience is seeing the time-space continuum, not as a blur, but as clear distinctions of people and events lending themselves to prediction. And because Elders see the continuum differently, they have an ability to forecast; “Here’s what you can expect to happen.”

That’s what Elders can contribute to relationships, to business and to institutions – patience. That’s what Elders can contribute to the world - doing the right thing at the right time – patience.

And in this world of instant everything, patience is sorely needed.

Peace of Mind: The Gift of an Elder

Monday, February 14, 2011

By Marc Cooper, author of THE ELDER

Elders are peaceful. Elders have grace. Elders express level-headedness. Elders are compassionate. Elders are wise.

For all these reasons, people in the community seek their counsel. These are some of the critical and fundamental aspects of being an Elder.

As we all grow up, we experience that expectations unfulfilled lead to upsets. When you expect something to happen and it doesn’t, you get upset. The duration, depth and intensity of the upset depends on how you relate to the unfulfilled expectation.

When you were a child and you didn’t get what you expected, you threw a tantrum. Since tantrums were discouraged, you tamped it down into some form of anger. Anger unsettles well-being and, for most adults, it remains in some form of suppressed or covertly expressed reaction.

Now there are many things we expected to happen in our lives that didn’t—career, relationships, finances, culture, social condition, politics. As we age, we can end up holding onto a truckload of expectations we had once, but that will now never be met. For example, Samuel, the main character in THE ELDER, often compares his current life to where he thought he’d be at age 65, what he ‘expected’ to have achieved.

When we are upset, our ability to function, to contribute is greatly reduced. When we are upset, our well-being is compromised. We may find ourselves coming from: “If I’m upset, you should be too!” Our ability to “be here now” is blocked, since the incident that caused the upset occurred in the past. And the past is where we’re stuck when we’re upset.

What distinguishes an Elder is that she or he accepts “what is” and isn’t upset with “what isn’t.” An Elder realizes this is it, and is satisfied with what she or he has and is not focused on what he or she doesn’t have.

Therefore, Elders, by living life as “this is it,” by having the ability to “be in the now,” and by expanding their worldview to where “what didn’t happen is OK” are healthier and more able to mentor and give back to their communities.

Equanimity: An Elders Worldview

Thursday, February 10, 2011

By Marc Cooper, author of THE ELDER

One aspect of becoming an Elder is developing equanimity. Prior to becoming an Elder, your worldview focuses on hoping to get what you want and fearing the loss of what you have. The drive to get what you want and not lose what you have manifests itself either as gain or loss, fame or disgrace, praise or blame. As long as you’re caught in one of these extremes, the potential for the other is always lurking. Like a dog chasing its tail, the extremes chase each other around and around.

An Elder realizes that being obsessed with what you want—whether it is gain, fame or praise—pushes you into a cycle where you can never have life work out. You can never eliminate everything you fear. And you can never get to keep all the goodies.

An Elder brings equanimity to his or her worldview. That is why an Elder is at peace. That is a part of the wisdom of an Elder. An Elder realizes equanimity brings levelheadedness, composure and calm. Things are neither good or bad, neither right nor wrong. A worldview of equanimity alters not only how you see what’s happening, but also how others see those same issues and problems. That’s why Eldering is so critical to our world today.

In the book THE ELDER (go to Samuel is consumed with the fear of losing what he has: his health, his ability to generate income, his business, his ability to have relationships. And when he meets an Elder who is grounded in equanimity, he begins to see how this worldview adds greatly to satisfaction and well-being. Samuel begins to see that how he relates to his situation doesn't allow him peace of mind or power.

Does it have to be this way?

Monday, February 07, 2011

By Marc Cooper, author of THE ELDER

Looking at ourselves in the mirror, we realize we’re growing older. We have flashes of becoming deserted, isolated and vulnerable, fears of becoming a geriatric case bubble up. We’re resigned to following the predictable pattern – retirement, physical decline, assisted living, rocking chair existence in a nursing home, hospice and the eventual dark and inevitable end to our lives.

Does it have to be this way? Are we stuck with this world view? Can we create another possibility for aging beyond the cultural context with its anticipated outcomes of aging - decay, deterioration and sequestration?

We believe we can. And we call this possibility Eldering.

Eldering is a vision for growing older that gives us the opportunity to have the rest of our lives be richer and more rewarding than we now have forecasted. Eldering changes our world view, alters our context, shifts our perception. Eldering transforms our experience of growing older, enabling us to maximize health, happiness, love, self-expression and being valued.

Everyone possesses the possibility of becoming an Elder. No special talents or gifts are required. Becoming an Elder is a choice. This blog will be about becoming an Elder and the choices you make.

You see, every choice has a consequence. If you can choose the path of Elder, the expected outcomes of aging are fundamental and permanently altered.

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