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It’s Hard.  

That’s about the most obvious, trite, *duh*  thing you can write about trying to be a change-maker. 

 

And yet sometimes that’s about all that can be said.

 

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I think most people who touch entrepreneurship anymore know that people who start or make something are more prone to depression and anxiety than the general public.  We’ve known that since Brad Feld came clean on his battles, since Wired and Fast Company started picking up those kinds of stories, since Kate Spade left her daughter behind.  

 

And that was kind of Captain Obvious, to be honest.  People who want to make things different but get blocked by (at minimum) the inertia of the present, people who envision a world that could be but isn’t here yet….

It’s no surprise these are the people who get frustrated.  Who get discouraged. Whose sometimes struggle to keep any determination going (or, sometimes, get out of bed).  And who sometimes get tired of fighting those battles.

 

All that does is make it not surprising, unremarkable.  

 

It doesn’t make it suck any less.  

 

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I can gauge my own mental health by the number of times I think a specific, very clearly articulated phase in the course of the day.  It’s one of the most clearly-in-words things I hear inside my own head:

 

I wish I had my mother. 

It’s kind of a dumb statement.  My mother has been dead for over 10 years, and while she was sweet, and kind, and an excellent parent, she wouldn’t get what I’m going through when it’s tough.  She would have sympathized, and she could kick butt when it came to silentl worrying. But advice? Guidance? Help? Not so much.  

 

I think I want the idea of a mom more than my actual mom.  Why?

 

One of the reasons that researchers have identified for why depression is so common among entrepreneurs is isolation. I don’t mean the live in a hut in the wilderness kind of isolation.  Most of us know that it’s perfectly possible to feel alone in the middle of a whole swarm of people (check in with your nearest 14-year old if you’ve forgotten about that).

I think entrepreneurs and change-makers of all types experience a special kind of isolation that’s probably closer to that awkward-middle-school experience than most of us want to admit.  We know we’re weirdos. We sacrifice hobbies, social lives, friendships to this thing we’re chasing. We don’t even always know we’re doing that. Sometimes they seem to just quietly slip away. 

And families, spouses, children, lovers, don’t fill that. Sometimes what we’re doing threatens them or the life they want.  So you can be in the middle of a lot of people, and still feel…very, very, alone.

I don’t have a clean answer for that today.  I think it comes with the territory. In an odd way, I suppose we can be encouraged by the fact that we’re not alone in this. 

*insert weirdo secret handshake of your choice*uwk52206xv7a1lpig0vk

 

Safety

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Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

As humans, we seek safety.  That is part of what makes change, change-making and change leading so incredibly hard.  Even when we know that we need to go in a different direction, we have a fight against ourselves on our hands.

 

Fear of being wrong

Fear of making a mistake

Fear of being rejected and cut off from other people that we need to be able to depend on.

 

We see this in our homes, when we need to confront a spouse or roommate and we get that knotty feeling in our stomach before we walk in.  We see this in our practice of pulling several family members together to hold an intervention when someone has to be confronted about a destructive behavior.

 

It’s not weakness.  It’s self-preservation as a physically weak and socially dependent species.  

 

Too often, we tell people that we want them to take some risks, to work in a different way, to take initiative – and we’re doing that in the context of a culture, a community, often the very place, where people have told them to sit down and do what they’re told.  For years.  

 

Is it no wonder so few people rise to that challenge that we’ve issued?

 

They know it’s not safe.  As much as they may want to, they know it’s not safe. 

 

This may be part of why we struggle so much to get women, people of color and other underrepresented people engaged in start-ups and other areas of innovation.  If you already feel that you face a higher level of risk, would it seem prudent to sign up for more?

 

Creating new impact, working in new ways, adapting to the demands of today’s and tomorrow’s economy, requires more than exhortations.  

 

It requires creating the systems, the standards, and the culture that we all need to feel as safe as possible — to believe, foremost, that we will not be rejected or ostracized for risking to fail.  

The systems we need to reinforce our new ways of working.

 

We want to trust in our good intentions– to say that because we want to break old habits, to work in a new way that matches the emerging world, we’ll be able to do it. Since we ourselves are on board, we reason, the challenges are going to come from external forces, not inside.

 

We’re wrong.

 

We’re wired for consistency, for pattern recognition responses, for reactions that don’t use up our brain energy by always creating something new.

 

So when we do want to create something new, we actually have to work against our own brain’s deep urge to go back to the familiar ways. And sometimes we go back to those while still thinking we’re doing something new.  

 

Tribes and early civilizations needed certain behaviors from their members, so they created myths and stories, and later rules and regulations and social standards, that placed a structure, a system, around those expectations. Relying on good intentions wasn’t enough. A thriving human community required a social system that added an external pressure to the internal desire to be approved and included.

 

We’re not different. The only thing that has really changed is that we don’t have hundreds or thousands of years to work out these systems anymore. That’s why, no matter your business, your organization, or your intent for yourself, one of the most important things you can do is set up the systems around you to help those good intentions become more than intentions.

 

That might sound like diet and exercise advice (not bad in itself).  But it’s also advice for the ways we conduct ourselves in our work, especially in our work with other people.  If we truly see the necessity of moving from red ocean to blue ocean thinking, if we believe that it’s our responsibility to help people around us grow into our potential, or if we know that we have to reinvent some element of our organization’s approach to its work, then we cannot rely on the kinds of good intentions and assumptions that we often lean on to guide how we interact with others. 

We have to put systems in place  — conscious, intentional systems — to help us deal with one of the biggest challenges to our growth and improvement:

Ourselves

 

 

#growth #business #community #systems #organization #management

 

 

 

 

Building or Growing?

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theconversation.com

Are we building the things we care about, or are we growing them?

 

Building something means that you control where the pieces go and what pieces you use and how they fit together.  Building requires a lead decision-maker, someone or a small group of someones who have final say over which parts go where.  A designer, an architect, a developer, a founder – if you envision the thing and then play a central role in bringing it to reality, you are the Builder.
Building something means that you are responsible for making something that is inherently fragile.  The thing you are building may end up massive, and complex, and maybe even impressive, but it can all collapse with one seemingly minor break in the wrong place.  And when that minor break in the wrong place happens on a dam or a bridge or a skyscraper, we get an immediate, awful, heartbreaking, terrible demonstration of how fragile the things we build can actually be.
Things that grow can do something that things we build can’t:

 

they can come back.  They can regenerate.  They can heal.  Not always (the potted dill plant I just threw out testifies against making that an absolute) but much, much more often than things we build.

The difference between growing and building is in the mindset: it’s all about control.  A Builder makes it her responsibility to make the built thing right– to design, tweak, force all of the pieces to fit where she wants them and do what she wants them to do.
A grower knows that he can’t make the tree or the field or the cow or the forest do exactly what he wants it to do.  He can only give it the best chance he can of succeeding, and stick close to it, ready to adjust the conditions that impact the growing thing as much as he can to give it the greatest odds of succeeding.
When we envision and create businesses and organizations, we want in our guts to Build them.
To make them they way we want them to be.
To put the pieces together exactly the way we want.
To control them.
Two problems:
  • Once we let them out of out heads, we de facto give up a big piece of our control.  It’s not just ours anymore, perfect and safe in the china cabinet of our minds.

 

  • That means that maintaining a level of that control requires that we have to work extra hard once it’s Out.  We insist. We fight.  We argue.  We demand.  And sometimes, in the process of doing that,  we end up doing deep damage to the structure we are trying to build.

 

  • At the end of the day, the thing we Build is always primed to break. We might not see where the weak spot is, or what blow from what angle will bring the whole thing down.  We might not see it because we don’t know where to look, or what to look for.    Or we might not want to see the way in which our creation may be reduced to trash.
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About 6 years ago, I published a book directed at change- makers in local communities- planners, economic development people, nonprofit managers and the like.
In one of the pieces in that book, I said that our normal practice was to managing our communities as though we were running a machine– put stuff in this end, twiddle the controls, get good schools or new business or happy residents out the other end.  And what I said was that instead we ought to think about our work as managing an ecosystem, like a field or a forest.  For all the reasons I said above.
What I didn’t appreciate back then was how hard, how incredibly hard, it is for us to give up that control — even that damaging, hurtful, fragile control– and learn to work in a new way. To learn to enable things to Grow by changing how we work, changing them in ways that fly against our expectations, our assumptions, our deeply learned behaviors, our reward systems and our fears.   And how that’s not just in the public sector, where I spent the first half of my career, but in businesses large and small as well.
But in a time where those assumptions are either falling apart or facing overthrow, we have to figure out how to change our mindsets and the systems that keep us trying to Build.
Because when we think we can Build it, we’re often fooling ourselves. Organizations that actually work have to be able to Grow.