Archive for the ‘Malcolm Gladwell’ Category

What Are You Hiding?

August 8, 2011

On the wall above my external monitor, taped to a picture I took of a bicyclist during a 24-hour record attempt, there is a small piece of paper that I printed after some research on the Internet. I found it because I had heard something in a movie, Akeelah and the Bee, that is frequently attributed (wrongly) to Nelson Mandela. The attribution doesn’t matter, because Malcolm Gladwell echoed the same thought this morning, as I was reading an archive article from 2002.

The original author, Marianne Williamson, wrote Dream of This, in which she said:

  • Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
    It is our Light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

    We ask ourselves – Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

    Actually, who are we not to be?

    You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people do not feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the Glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone.

    And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.

What Malcolm quoted from a study by Carol Dweck was this:

  • Students who hold a fixed view of their intelligence care so much about looking smart that they act dumb, for what could be dumber than giving up a chance to learn something that is essential for your own success?

This quote was in What The Dog Saw on page 368, in an essay titled The Talent Myth. Much of it is about what a focus on talent did to derail Enron, but I saw a different point. The connection to Marianne Williamson was part of what he was getting at, how we frequently make ourselves look silly to lower the expectations people have of us. I’ve done this all my life, so maybe the title of this post should be “What Am I Hiding?”.

The thing is, having an opposable mind, and being uneasy about showing how smart I am end up being a horrible combination for someone who wants to create a new business. The part of me that might attract investors gets sabotaged by the part that is uncomfortable having to live up to his potential. I think that is why I frequently say things to strangers that come across badly: I have no filter for keeping my cute comments to myself.

But that isn’t the point of my post today – my point is to ask those of you who have been reading my posts if you are hiding behind something people think about you that is wrong. But even that isn’t quite it. I want to unleash the power of humankind by helping lots of people do their best, by giving them a way to liberate the self they hide from the rest of us.

Am I crazy to want to do this? Maybe, but so what? Maybe I need to act a little crazy to get visibility for my cause, not for myself but for the people who won’t listen unless I appear a little crazy. Should that be a question or a statement? Is writing this down as I think of it a good idea?

I see kids in the local middle school once a week, at an after school program for Lego Robotics. These are smart and sometimes fearless kids who could do just about anything, only some of them are already listening to what other people think. They have talents no one appreciates, but do what is asked because no one has asked them to do things that are impossible. By the time they get to high school, they will have accepted the view others have defined for them. They will have forgotten how to listen to themselves, because everyone told them to fit in.

Maybe I should ask my sister if she thought I fit in while I was in high school. I don’t think I did. I was consciously one fad behind everyone else. When penny loafers went out of style, that was when I wanted them. When everyone went to the next new thing, I picked up what they left behind. I did this by choice, because I knew I was different from them. But rather than set trends by leading, I thought I could blend in by appearing to be out of sync with everyone else.

The problem was that I was probably light years ahead of everyone even back then. I was probably seeing into the future but not knowing what to do about it. So I did poorly in high school, barely graduated, and went to a two-year technical school rather than a community college. It was the right place for me to go, and set up a nice career, but I doubt anyone would have expected a graduate from an unaccredited trade school to have the kind of success I have had. I did very well, but it took me over 40 years to realize what I was really capable of doing.

I don’t think other people need to take all the detours to find their passion. I think there are easier ways to reach our potential, but they all start with acknowledging that we have potential, accepting that we are “powerful beyond measure.”

The counter shows that I am already over 900 words, without too much conscious effort. How is that possible? I get inspiration from an article by a great author and spit out a thousand words in 40 minutes. This is too easy. There must be more to life than being able to write without thinking too much about it.

And of course there is. That is what the rest of the day will be about. That is why I am going to change the schedule and move “Write blog post” earlier in the day, because this is easy. The hard stuff will be a little easier if I’ve already done an hour of writing to clear out my head.

I know this won’t make sense to anyone, but I think we all have an allotment of mistakes that we are given when we are born. If we just go ahead and start making them, we can get through them and start doing the fun stuff that is also good. If we shy away from even trying something we are likely to fail at doing, we will be trapped behind a barrier others have erected to keep us from threatening them. Whenever someone says, “that’s impossible,” ask them if they think it is impossible for them or impossible for you. Maybe they just don’t want you to make them look bad. If you let them, don’t complain, because it was your decision to accept their opinion. But if you feel like challenging their opinion, and your own, I might have some ideas that could help you.

Start with The Talent Myth from July 22, 2002, on Malcom’s web site archive. You don’t work for Enron, or McKinsey. Go be yourself. I’m just starting to realize I can do the same.

Starting Up Again

August 7, 2011

No one has commented on the fact that I have taken more than a week off from my daily blogging. I can’t blame you. I was exhausted from vacation recovery and my wife and I did a bunch of projects around the house. And I got paid for a big job I did earlier this year, so I got distracted about what version of MacMini Server to buy. I’m not sure I am quite ready to get back onto the “habit building train”, but I have a few things to report about the books I’ve been reading. There were two of them.

The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin turned out to be one of the best books I’ve ever read. If I had been able to read it forty years ago, when I was just going into the USAF, my life might have turned out quite differently. But it was published in 2009, so I didn’t have the insights it has given me in the past few weeks. If you find yourself in a rut or headed for a detour in your life, I would suggest you buy a copy on Amazon and start reading it. Many of the other books I would suggest you read will make a lot more sense if you have started cultivating the opposable side of your brain. Six Thinking Hats and 7 Levels of Change make a lot more sense if you see them as variations on an “opposable mind”.

What The Dog Saw is a collection of essays by Malcolm Gladwell that originally appeared in the New Yorker. I started downloading archives of his stuff from his web site (www.gladwell.com) and have just refreshed my collection of PDFs. The book is a different experience than the downloads. Everything is together in something you can carry around with you, and you can write on the pages if you like, or put those cute little “stick-it note” flags that help you find passages you liked.

One flag I left for myself was on page 97, in an article called “True Colors” that was published on March 22, 1999. The phrase I highlighted was about what Vidal Sassoon did to revolutionlize hair styling back in the 1960’s. The last sentence is what made me realize how tough my job is going to be.

  •  If a revolution is not accessible, tangible, and replicable, how on earth can it be a revolution?
    Malcolm Gladwell, What The Dog Saw, 2009
    Originally published in The New Yorker, March 22, 1999

Is writing this blog making my intended revolution accessible, tangible and replicable? I think it is, but maybe it doesn’t look that way yet.

  • My blog is open for everyone who has a computer or mobile device with access to the Internet. Is that accessible enough, or do I have to be in print as well?
  • All I have done is post five dozen thoughts about what I intend to start doing in a small, rural school district. How tangible is that?
  • Has anyone started following my thread about “Composing Change”? Would the steps I’m defining there make it replicable?

I suppose we will find out tomorrow, when I hope to get a new streak going. One post after a break of 9 days is not enough. There needs to be more.

So, let’s agree this is enough for now. There are other articles by Malcolm and others that I think could inspire you. If anyone is interested, I need some encouragement to keep me going. Anyone want to let me know if I still have occasional readers?