In the mid-1990s, I started my consulting practice with the aim of helping leaders strengthen their organizations, with the larger goal of strengthening their local communities. As one project after another came, a pattern began to emerge. Problems presented to me often turned out to be symptoms of more complex problems. These were not isolated incidents. The situations and the kinds of organizations were not similar. Their problems were similar. But more importantly, they were not getting resolved by the way we have all learned to solve problems. For as long as I’ve been working in organizations, the belief has been that the solution is in the problem itself. This approach failed to understand that there is always more going on than the problem itself.
It was never my intention to become an expert on change. Yet at each transition point in my life, I discovered something about myself that made the experience of change beneficial. Even in situations of change that followed failure or loss, I found that change was like living in a large house. It comes to us when we cross a threshold to enter a new room. The house is our whole life. Each room represents a part of the life that we have lived. All the rooms are our rooms, even when they seem different from one another.
I know many of you have experienced similar difficult changes in life. You look back with regret, sorrow, and feelings of guilt. You may feel that life dealt you an unwinnable hand. Anger and bitterness have become a constant presence because the life you desired has not happened. The old saying that misery loves company we find not to be true.
“Today, at this point in your life, what do you want to change? What is that one thing that has a hold on you, that won’t let go, because it’s calling you to do something about it? What’s stopping you from doing something about it today?
We live in a media saturated, propagandized world. Everywhere I turn I encounter people who are living in fear. Paul Virilio, a decade ago, called this culture “the administration of fear.” If you live with fear, you won’t ask questions. Yet it is only in asking questions, in being skeptical, that we find truth. Not political truth which is mere propaganda as current situation proves. But the truth that we can live by.
Is uncertainty something new?
Is uncertainty just something that arrived with COVID-19, with the Black Lives Matter protests, and with a disputed presidential election?
Or is uncertainty a given in life? If so, then how do we thrive in its midst?
This is the conversation that I had with my friend and colleague Bill Watkins, founder of The Lion’s Pride business coaching program.
In order to understand who we are, we need to understand the culture that we live in. Over the past three or four generations, we have transitioned from a culture where we were subjects to powerful institutions to where we became captives to a culture focused on consumer products. And now, we are on the cusp of a third cultural transition. The following selection is from my short book, Seeing Below the Surface: The Brokenness of Modern Organizations.