Threads of Central Purpose

Yesterday I had the good pleasure of formalizing two promotions, making a job offer to an intern and extending the internship of a promising student. Today we’re hiring three new associates for our shipping and manufacturing teams. With so much change afoot my greatest concerns are to maintain continuity, to preserve momentum and to keep the peace.

There are threads of central purpose which must be carried through any process of change. Identifying those threads is one of the most important steps in managing a process of change. These threads may relate to the core values of a company, the central purpose of a team or the primary goals of a project.

The failure to identify, protect and apply the threads of central purpose is one of the the most common reasons for failure. It is a primary cause of apathy, passivity and frenzy. Without a clear sense of central purpose, action, especially in times of change, we will most likely be misguided.

What are the threads of central purpose in your job, or more broadly, in your world?

Do Your Part

In January 2009, Flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the Hudson river after a mid-air collision with a flock of birds. Everyone survived. You have likely heard Captain Sullenberger’s story, but for the first time we have a chance to hear from Ric Elias, who was sitting in the front row of that flight.

Ric’s realizations are important. Forged in an emergency, as life-changing moments often are, Ric describes the three things he learned in those few precious minutes before the plane crashed in this chilling, yet inspiring clip:

Ric Elias, Flight 1549

Have you had such a moment in your life, or courtesy of the life of another close to you, a moment where you come to terms with what really matters and finally turn your back on what does not? Your lifespan – for better or for worse – is relatively short and the sooner you realize how absolutely precious each moment is, the better.

Make the most of your day today and be at rest with anything which detracts from that goal. Focus your energy on building creative momentum, rather than obsessing about that over which you have no control. Relinquish your death grip on the past, stay on your toes in the present and keep an eye and an ear trained on the future.

If you wait for the big moment to happen, you’ll likely be twiddling your thumbs for a long time. If you handle the little things right before your eyes to perfection (or as close to it as you can), handling the big things will be just another walk in the park. Nota bene: any victory in life, whether it is your own or that of one of your fellows, creates momentum for the entire body of humanity.

Do your part to conserve that momentum. Once you do, you’ll find it hard to be satisfied with mere conservation. Believe me, you’ll be inspired to add to the momentum by creatively handling every single situation that comes your way.

Conservation of Momentum

Physics was one of my favorite classes in high school, for two reasons. The first reason is found in the zany stunts my physics teacher managed to execute somehow under the nose of the administration and generally accepted rules of normal behavior.

Our egg drop competition, for example, culminated with the winner successfully landing an egg onto a gelatinous platform that was less than an inch thick after dropping it from the top of the school stadium press box (accessible only by way of the shoulders of another student standing on the bleachers below). His crowning achievement, however, was not the bed of nails (literally) that any student brave (or stupid) enough could lie on, but when he asked us to break a cinderblock that was sitting on top of a piece of plywood that was placed upon his chest…while he was lying on the bed of nails! Ahh, the joys of public education!

The cinderblock broke, my teacher gulped a glass of water to prove he had no new holes in him (though we jokingly mentioned that he needed to take a biology class as other liquids were likely to spill out first) and we learned a TON about physics in the process.

Newton's Cradle, image by Wikipedia

One of my favorite principles is that of momentum. Momentum, as you will recall, is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. Momentum is a conserved quantity, which means: “In any closed system, with no external forces acting, the total momentum of the system does not change.” You may have seen a fascinating device, called a Newton’s Cradle, which helps to explain this concept. When you pull away and then release one of the balls on one end of the device the total momentum after the collision with the ball next to it is maintained and the ball at the other end moves more or less by the amount lost by the first ball.

What does that mean to us, in the scope of our typical daily considerations on “Gregg Hake’s Blog“? Many of my readers have asked me how they can get better at staying on the path to progress once they’ve decided to move forward from where they are in life. Distractions – both internal and external – overpower their willpower on occasion, delaying at best and derailing at worst the progress with which they are concerned.

The natural science we call physics is fascinating to me as it provides valuable insights to the physics of life, or perhaps better put, the laws of living. There are certain immutable laws – rules that remain the same no matter how much human will, opinion or ignorance is applied – that govern the living of life. These laws are not foreign to us, as they are touched on in schools, considered in churches and pointed to in what we call “common sense” day in and day out.

When you consider making changes in your life, momentum quickly becomes your best friend. Every process of change involves momentum – a vector quantity – meaning it possesses both direction and magnitude. As an agent of change, you must manage both direction and magnitude if you are to be successful.

Change, as a process, must be actively managed. I’ve observed some people who take a laissez-faire approach to the changes in their lives, and they tend to attribute any accidental progress to either fate, good fortune or dumb luck. For them the good things – as well as the bad – are simply “in the cards” or the will of the capricious gods that govern their lives and they tend to feel acted upon, rather than seeing themselves as active participants in the shaping of outcomes.

On the other extreme you will find those who grab life by the horns, preferring a white-knuckled approach to life. These are the control freaks, those who are driven by a desperate urge to control the changes in their lives, and in some extreme cases, they seek to manipulate the forces that motivate and power change. You needn’t be a control freak yourself to know that this is an exhausting and typically unsuccessful approach to life.

There is a place for you, for me, in the management of the process of change. We are the balls at the other end of Newton’s Cradle, but we also possess the capacity of free will. We can elect where to direct the momentum gifted to us from other sources. How you manage that momentum will largely determine your success in life and remember, as my father-in-law always says, “success is optional.”

For lack of space in this post, I will conclude with an analysis of one simple matter, that, properly handled, can transform your ability to conserve momentum on a generative basis in your life. Take note of what you do, what thoughts fill your mind and what feelings creep into your heart when you begin to experience successful outcomes in your endeavors. It is at this delicate starting point in most processes where the seeds of destruction are sown.

You start to feel a little ahead of the game, on top of the wave that was previously crashing on your head and your life over and over again and you feel you have a little “spending money,” emotionally, energetically and maybe even physically speaking. That loose change gives evidence of the additional momentum that has come your way. Spend it wisely! Don’t resort to old habits, impulse buys or displays of braggadocio. They will come back to haunt you.

Remember, too, that not spending doesn’t require a miserly, tight-fisted or unnaturally strained reaction. You can stay relaxed in the process while enjoying what is coming your way. So doing will put you in better position to invest wisely, after, I repeat, after you have had a chance to review the options. Remember to exercise your free will at this point and you will save yourself a TON of trouble! Momentum can, and should be, your ally and not your undoing.

There is no substitute for wisdom

There is absolutely no substitute for wisdom. Wisdom, the sense of the fitness of things, is what allows you to say the right thing at the right time, to do the right thing at the right time or to refrain from speaking or acting when the time is right.

The alternatives to wisdom, namely, the use of rules and incentives to maintain order and generate momentum, are undesirable in that they create a dependency which eventually demoralizes the people engaged in the activity as well as the activity itself.

I am of the opinion that people long to be virtuous, meaningful and productive. In a world where virtue, meaning and productivity frequently play second fiddle to fitting in, toeing the line and just getting by, it can be a challenge to live an uncommon life.

Life ruled by carrots and sticks are a far cry from a world where the genuine article – wisdom – governs the hearts and minds of men. The failure to restore the virtue of practical wisdom to it rightful place will have dire consequences: the death of the human spirit.

The inspiration for this post came from Barry Schwartz’ TED recent presentation. Schwartz makes a compelling argument for the resuscitation of the virtue of practical wisdom that I feel more people should hear.

Barry Schwartz: Using practical wisdom

If today was your last day…

A friend of mine sent this link yesterday and I thought you would enjoy the message:

What if today was your last day?

Did you give it your all? Did you help everyone you could? Did you live up to your highest expectation of others? It is so easy to slide into a state of complacency. In nature, there is growth and there is decay. There is no middle ground. The rate of growth or decay may increase or decrease, but change is the natural state.

Human beings have a peculiar penchant for the static experience. With our big brains we reason “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Based on that logic the attempt is made to design a life from the outside in, meaning, that we assemble pieces of the world around us in a way that we feel will make us happy, safe and comfortable. I’ve known many people who held onto decaying artifacts of times gone by – a favorite blanket or shroud, an old car, a broken piece of furniture or terabyte-sized .pst (email folder) – for no other reason than because of the memories they have imprinted in them.

If you collect life’s little mementos long enough you can eventually fill a warehouse, no matter how small the objects of your affection. Remember the warehouse in the Raiders of the Lost Ark? If you’re not careful, at a certain point it becomes hard to differentiate between objects of true value and old rubbish. If today was your last day, what, if any, of those objects would you dote upon? Or would you spend the time with people? What really matters to you?

One way to find out is to look at your life and ask yourself what is open to growth, what is dormant and what is passing away. If you are ignoring the elements in your life that need weeding, watering and general care and focusing on trying to resuscitate that which is passing away naturally, it might be time to reassess your priorities.

Dare to add momentum to your life. Life, the collection of circumstances that come your way, the internal sensings you may have are constantly giving you clues and cues as to the right path to take. Caveat lector: the path less travelled isn’t always the best one to take, in fact, there are no rulebooks that guarantee the perfect outcome. Ask yourself instead, based on the available information and your own inner sensing, “how can I most creatively handle this situation.”

Your life, the world that has taken shape around you, is likely partly there due to factors beyond your control and partly there due to your own manipulation of what came your way. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, happiness, a satisfying life, cannot be manufactured, bought or bartered. Your own happiness comes as you add joy, add value, breathe the spirit of who you are into the winds of change. You needn’t manipulate the world around you as your influence will invisibly impact the world you center, much like a magnet does to iron filings or sound waves do to matter.

I firmly believe that each one of us is born with a purpose. Whether or not you realize that purpose is entirely up to you. As you go about giving expression to your purpose, you’ll find that the nature of the circumstances that you face are irrelevant. In fact, it matters more what you do with them than whether or not they are “good” or “bad,” which are just pointless, subjective value judgements anyway. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, right?

If today is your last day, will you be able to say at the end of it that you did all you could to enhance, uplift and bless the world around you? If not, then why? If so, then good work!

Let yourself handle today perfectly, no matter what comes your way. You can do it!