Category Archives: psychology

52 weeks of Lincoln Park: the art of nature

Week #4 finds us careening towards February, which means Valentine’s day which means love. Denise Dahn, another West Seattle artist and Lover of Lincoln Park, sent me a couple of photos of a few of her favorite things in Lincoln Park: The Dancing Otter and The Cedar & Doug entwined trees.

The otter is down along the water, north of the pool, and Cedar & Doug can be found on the trail that heads east from the fence trail, between the main Colman Pool trail down, and the Beach Trail a little further South. Well, might’s well just take all the trails, you’ll love it.

Cedar & Doug have grown together and are completely entwined at this point, roots, trunk and all.  They make a stunningly beautiful couple.

I added of my faves, too–what Denise calls the Pock Marked tree ( a tree which has become a virtual cafeteria for flickers and woodpeckers, and they are so systematic, it’s awesome) and finally, a semi permanent text based outdoor installation of found objects 😉
If you have any faves, let me know or share them here. Coming up soon: the birds of spring.

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Days 287-290: MLwC and the difference a single person can make

Recently CNN has been running a show about Heroes. My cynical self sees this as riffing off the popular TV show by the same name, and then, maybe a little more critical than I need to be, I wonder what the bottom-line impact on the average viewer is seeing what these real-life heroes have done in their lives to earn such accolade.

Here are some of the Heroes profiled:

  • An Ecuadoran lawyer leading a landmark environmental lawsuit
  • A U.S. expatriate who encourages attendance at rural African schools
  • A Ugandan missionary who runs a boarding school for girls abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army
  • A man who founded a clinic in his native Kenya A Cuban woman who transformed a toxic dump in Cuba into an urban garden
  • A teenager who developed a music system to help people with autism by linking language to sounds.

These are flat out amazing people, and it’s great to see a TV news show dedicated to highlighting their actions in a world that is overwhelming in its crises and problems. It was also great to see something positive on a national news tv show–it’s uplifting, to be sure.

But I also wonder: for those of us who lead quiet, normal lives and don’t hear the call to big heroic action, what does a show like this do? Is it just a cathartic fix, an opportunity to be moved by story and pictures? Does it actually move the individual to do anything differently or does it perhaps, worst of all, allow for a comparison between self and Ideal, where self (that’s you sitting on your sofa) comes up very short indeed. So short you actually don’t even try to change anything–not even the smallest thing.

This is one of those heaven or hell moments, where the viewer is sort of forced–unconsciously–to identify with the lofty ideal or feel less than and therefore not accountable. Maybe I’m wrong about this, and I’d love to hear opinions on it.

So what heroic thing can one person do? Since I’m focused on the environment and finding ways to live differently, I think it’s heroic when someone takes the time and money to do a biodiesel conversion on their car. No one’s asking them to do it, they’re only doing it because they feel it’s important. Will that ever make it to CNN? I don’t think so–it’s not that interesting on a large screen. But I find the whole process, thought and action, very interesting.

I find it interesting when someone decides to sit down and figure out how many tons of paper would be saved if people simply used one less napkin per day. One less napkin! And then manages to get the word out and change the behavior of countless people–that network just amazes and inspires me.

There are lots and lots of people out there who notice one small thing and decide to focus on it to make it better. Like bus rider unions–they take the issue on and create something for the good of so many others. Here in Seattle, we’re discussing the possibility of starting a rider’s union–who knows where it will go, but it’s better than going numb and not even thinking about it.

There are garden growers and bike riders and organic farmers and so many others who are deciding for themselves to take a different path from the one laid out for them. Refusing chemically enhanced flowers and vegetables, taking back the streets and making them safe for more bikes–demanding space and recognition, going through the several year long process of becoming a certified organic farm….These are all leaps of faith and individual decisions to be part of a larger movement. This is what Paul Hawken’s talks about in his book Blessed Unrest and his work in building social networks of individuals making changes locally that impact all of us.

So, maybe I just get a little nervous when we hold up a handful of people as Heroes when there are heroes all around us, deciding to not do the simple thing, the expedient thing, but instead are changing their lives one action at a time. I admire all those people who decide to change their lives–simply because they have become aware it is the right thing to do. Collectively we are changing the world.

Daily Stats (Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun–whew–been busy with the recent rain damage and stuff!)
Car: 11 miles
Bike: 7.5 miles
Ped: 3 miles
Bus: 0

Days 261-263: MLwC and the Blog of the Day

I’m just getting so much enjoyment out of La Marguerite’s blog and her blog actions. Two different things: her own writings that she is posting on her blog chronicle her daily actions–like ALL of her action and how they impact the environment. She calls it her Daily Footprint Project and she uses it to track usage of the car, walking, eating, flushing the toilet–all of it. I could no more do that than jump over the moon, I don’t have the attention span to do it, but I’m so enjoying her journey, and learning a lot.

Her posts make me think about things differently. And that’s not surprising: Marguerite has a strong background in psychology and comes at this project and blogging in general from a very behavior oriented perspective, as well as vivid systems thinking. Systems thinking can drive a person crazy after awhile but I’m convinced that without it, we become numb with various denial techniques such as frenzied lifestyles and useless anxiety. Marguerite seems to have a helpful approach to systems thinking that asks the right questions and offers some good answers.

The other thing she’s doing is inviting certain bloggers to share their BlogAct--what they’re doing via their own blogs to encourage consciousness around the environment. In my own case, I’ve radically changed my relationship to my car. That in turn has changed my relationship to the dominant culture in a lot of ways that I chronicle here in my blog. There are many others on La Marguerite’s site and because of this collection she’s started, I’ve been introduced to some really great bloggers and encouraged once more by the vast conversation happening online about the environment.

So head on over to La Marguerite’s site and enjoy!

Daily Stats (Fri, Sat, Sun)

Car: 0
Bike: 17.5
Ped: approx 1.5
Bus: 15

Day 217: MLwC and the Very Important Bike Conversation

Bikes in traffic

B2 sent a great comment to my previous post about Bike Conduct. Since Brian commutes all over the area, I take his thoughts and opinions to heart.  As he notes, it sounds like the rider in the previous post was indeed obnoxious but that, “your friend, through no fault of her own, became the focal point of an ‘I’m-fed-up-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore” moment.’  Maybe so, and lord knows, we’ve all had a few of those now and again.

Brian goes on to list in his Howl skree a litany of car-related insults and near-misses that I, and I’m sure every bike rider out there, can identify with:

Personally, I’ve been cut off by turning vehicles, cut in front of by cars, passed on narrow streets with inches to spare by cars that couldn’t slow down and wait an extra 10 seconds to pass a bit more widely, nearly hit by clueless u-turning taxis, nearly doored by clueless drivers opening their door wide open into traffic without looking behind them first, screamed at to get the hell out of the way, and had shit thrown at me, among other things. So I can definitely see where a cyclist could get pushed to the breaking point by someone she perceives to be an impatient driver who can’t seem to wait an extra minute or two on his way to do what must be Very Important Things indeed.

Yes, indeed.  A while back in this year long project I began to notice and commented on at many points how driving made me feel in much more of a hurry than I actually needed to be.  Just getting behind a wheel made me feel…well, aggressively interested in getting wherever I was going as soon as I could, viewing, as B notes, everything in my path as an obstacle to get past.  It’s true.  I’ve broken the habit of driving everywhere, I live on both sides now and I know: driving makes you obsess on one thing–getting past the thing in front of you.  As Bri describes it:

One of the issues with car and truck drivers is that the mentality of many drivers behind the wheel is that “everything on the road is an obstacle that is in the way of me getting to my desitination as fast as possible, so everyone and everything just get out of my fucking way now.” The physical structure of the car (which cuts you off from your environment) feeds into this mentality.)

In the case of my friend Susan’s close encounter with Bike Rage, however, the cyclist was expecting the driver to go uphill at what was likely 3-4 miles per hour.  That’s not easy to do in a car, not at all.  So in that case, I think the cyclist was asking too much.  Just my opinion, and had it been me, I would have hopped over to the sidewalk.  There’s a very steep hill in my hood, on the north side of Lincoln Park–long, winding, narrow lanes and steep.  To me it just screams “accident waiting to happen,” so I avoid it at all costs.  Fortunately for me, the alternate path takes me along the waterfront of the park and for the life of me, I can’t imagine why anyone would take the long and winding road, but hey.

Thanks for the comment, B2!

Daily Stats (Wed)
Car: 6.5 miles (will this office project never end? 4 tasks)
Bike: 0
Ped: 1

Bus: 0

Day 145: MLwC and the little things

La Marguerite and Substrata both commented yesterday on the radical act of simply paying more attention (those are my words, their comments are here). There are all kinds of ways of being more conscious–writing a blog is a way of noticing things. Talking about your stuff with a friend–your friend helping you to link your life together–that helps you to be more conscious.

And watching what happens when you decide to do something different, that’ll really help you pay attention. I’ve learned that so vividly on this MLwC project.

A friend of mine sent me a link the other day to a site I’d forgotten but is worth visiting. I was stuck working on something and his email came right at the perfect moment (thanks Paul!). I was able to take a break and play with Brian Eno’s site Oblique Strategies for a while. It really helped to jog my brain a little!

So, why am I mentioning this? Because doing one unexpected or different thing helps you see everything differently for at least a little while, and sometimes even longer. I’m convinced that’s why Marguerite mentions (as well as a few commentators on her blog) that before she knew it, she felt things in her life were shifting just a little–just on the basis of having changed a few habits.

I recently finished A Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson–a great read, highly recommend it. One of the things they discuss is the link between mess and creativity and specifically: it’s tough to be very creative if you do the same thing, the same way, all the time. Mess it up, they say, and find your brain more than a little woken up simply by taking a different route to work.

So, yeah, if you decide to take on change such as committing for 90 days to turn off the water when you brush your teeth, or taking the bus to work one day a week, the rewards are huge. Yes, you’ll get instant enviro-karma/dharma points but even better: your brain will wake up, colors will be brighter, ideas will appear out of nowhere…who knows where it could lead. A happy, active brain is a good brain.

Daily stats: (Monday)
Car: 0
Bike: 0
Ped: 0
Bus:0
Desk day, and do I feel it in my body!

Day 107: MLwC, comment from B2, and the loneliness of the long distance business traveler

Supa dupa comment from B2 yesterday, if you get a chance. A snippet:

“The 2 years I didn’t own a car in the mid-90s (before I got married and had a kid), I was biking everywhere….

One interesting thing that happened was that … Non-bicyclists would often strike up a conversation with me, and almost invariably I would hear two things from most of them: 1. “How far do you go in a day?” and 2. “Oh… I could never do that.”

And… I got to thinking about why people kept bringing up these 2 particular points, and here’s what I thought: their focus on physical distance is very rooted in consumer culture; the journey itself often had very little value in itself, and they were more focused on getting to a place rather than on the process of getting there, which is actually the most enjoyable part of any trip for me — probably because they were going too fast and thus were feeling too stressed to really enjoy the process of getting there. The very act of slowing down to 10-15 miles per hour on your bike REALLY makes you see the landscape differently and to realize how much of it you miss when you whiz through in a motor vehicle at 60mph.”

I think you have something there. There’s just something about being in touch with the actual trip itself that keeps you present in a way driving just skips altogether.

And speaking of trips…I am on a project in Chicago for the better part of this week. Kind of blows my stats, don’t you think? But I have long thought that I wanted to balance out my business travel, not just in carbon usage, but also in the grand disconnect when you are a body traveling through space and character-free airports, staying at business focused hotels. So, I do–by living a very different lifestyle at home.

Lots of biz people like myself will always have to travel some–there are a lot of things you just can’t do remotely. It’s just not possible, for example, to do effective team trainings, motivation, work process observations… stuff like that which is pretty hands-on. How do you think biz travel will evolve as the availability of fossil fuels become more scarce?

Of course, biz travel is more necessary now that we have massive companies with centers and sites all over the place…Makes me appreciate even more the local hardware store and the West Seattle farmer’s market. Makes me swoon with appreciation, in fact.

Okay, Daily stats: (Monday)
Car: 0 (or about 25 if you count the carpool)
Bike: 0
Bus: 0
Air: about 1400 or so.

Day 106: WLwC and how not-driving has changed my brain

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Had dinner with some pals on Saturday and the subject turned to this blog and cultural notions around transportation. My big concern with friends (and it’s happened a couple of times already) is that they may see my project and questions around transportation as an inherent judgment on car drivers. Of course I do!!

This WLwC project is all about becoming aware: aware of alternatives like mass transit, walking, biking–just thinking differently. I may get rid of my car at the end of the year…but I may not. As it is right now, I hardly drive anymore and my poor old hunka metal just sits gathering more dust every day…so it’s clear I could live without a car, but I need more info, about a year’s worth, so the jury’s out.

So, we got to talking and I was trying to explain the fundamental changes in my brain that are happening as a result of little to no car driving. First: I’m simply more relaxed–just overall relaxed. Life has become simpler. I don’t feel a great need to go anywhere and get anything (no wonder They want to keep us driving!). At the same time, I’m going downtown much more often–approx 16 miles RT.

What’s up with that? Well, it’s easier. Instead of a stressful trip, I now read on the bus, I enjoy the water taxi when that’s the transportation choice, I love the bike ride to the dock–all things that keep me in touch with the world around me, with the community and are pleasant. And I don’t have to stress over traffic, parking, gas, etc–all things that make me feel generally worse about my fellow human beings and my days in general. So I’ve removed a huge piece of stress and replaced it with something enjoyable and more worthwhile and my brain is happier.

Next, the “getting” part. This is sort of embarrassing but really, I used to think of my days in terms of getting in the car and going and doing something. I rarely thought in term of staying where I am and working with what I’ve got (which is a lot, by the way). Now, that’s addiction, pure and simple: my daily sense of self relied on my going somewhere else, getting something else and doing something other than being still. And it was as mindless and compelling as any addiction I’ve dealt with (and yeah, I’ve dealt with one or two 😉 ).

As a result I’m so much more focused and quiet–though my life is totally and undeniably richer than when I was in the “gotta-go-gotta-go-fast-gotta-get-there-and-get-something” mind set. My head is clearer. My overhead is lower. I’m just plain happier. Probably I can’t lay all this at the door of MLwC but a lot of it, for sure. My day used to be defined by going, and now it’s not. It’s that simple–and it’s that profoundly different.

I’ll still be mulling this over and again, who knows how this project will end. I can say that my partner is becoming more interested in the possibility of different forms of transportation and possibly ditching the second car but we’ll see…have to give this a year of observation. Another friend and his wife are considering ditching both cars to get a prius. There’s lots to think about….

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Daily Stats (Saturday/Sunday)

Car: 0
Bike:0
Foot: approx 6 miles
Bus: 0

day 81 & 82: My life w car

Read an oldie the other day, The Victorian Internet, by Tom Standage. It was a quick, fun read but sort of silly in some ways.

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His claim is that the singular invention of the Telegraph was the first Internet…and to take a phrase from Standage himself (out of context): “Well, sort of.” In fact, it seems the invention that is most strikingly a first step on the way to the modern internet is the use of electrical pulses as a means of conveying information and data from point A to point B. The rest—how humans wrestled with the new communication potential—may well be a repeat of previous “great leaps” in human history and a reflection of the human impulse or instinct to communicate and share information—whether it be in words, electrical impulses, art, oral tradition, trade, or teaching, we seem driven to communicate—and to leverage communication to our own ends.

Among the interesting tidbits that have stayed with me is the change in work culture (from a sun-up-to-sun-down schedule to a newly global 24/7 schedule)–we struggle with our 24/7/365 always-on, always-open global culture and it’s interesting to consider how 24/7 changed things way back in the Victorian age. But in the end, Standage lost me when he boldly asserted that the changes Victorian era society went through during the introduction of the Telegraph so thoroughly modernized them that “time traveling Victorians…would, no doubt, be unimpressed with the Internet.”

I mean, come on. In my own lifetime, I’ve marvelled at the new forms of technology that interconnect the world. I’ve even marvelled at the innovations with bicycles, ferchrissakes. To think that folks from the 1880’s would not be blown away by our technology and interconnectedness now is surely ridiculous. But, someone 100 years from now will be writing something similar to Victorian Internet and gather together a treasure trove of quotes about how the internet made our lives (choose one): easier/smarter/harder/better/faster/worse and will come to various conclusions about technological impacts based on that.

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The world is on a trajectory of inter-relatedness (interesting related thought here). When the printing press was invented, it spawned the creation of entire new religions and the Holy Roman Empire took a huge hit. Suddenly the written word was available not just to those in the cathedral but to anyone who could get a hold of a manuscript. The rise of the first person narrative novel can be linked to MySpace; oral tradition can be linked to the blogosphere; tribal knowledge can trace a direct line to wikis; and certainly the old market and bazarre network can be linked to craigslist and ebay. But all those parallels speak more to human nature and the impulse to inter-connect than to any of the devices invented to achieve that goal.

Daily travel stats:
Internet: a million miles, give or take
car: 6 (4 tasks, 1 person)
bike: 10.5 miles
bus: 2.5 miles
flexcar: 0
passenger ferry to downtown Seattle: 3 miles

Day 77 thru 80: My life w car

Been flying all over the place running errands in the car–it’s just like that sometimes. And this week promises to be busy as well. A lot of travel to the eastside where it seems no buses go…

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Somewhat unrelated (at least on the surface) to the environment, yet related in a systems kind of way…I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the social organization of Europe in medieval times. Yeah, really. It’s all related to a larger thought about communication networks, the larger conversation of culture, our interconnectedness and denial, but here’s what I’ve been mulling over:

In medieval times, there were basically three channels in life: the Church, the Military, and Commerce. The Court (royal, not judicial) had all of those rolled into it and was the center of all things.

In a way, we still have this organization, though much more complex and hard to read. I’ll stop here and tell why I started on this train of thought: my partner is a therapist, and as a result, we socialize with a lot of therapists, analysts, and others in the psychological care world. People in this world have a certain disdain for people in the Commerce world, and I won’t even mention the Military–it goes without saying.

I view the therapy field as an extension of the religious channel of medieval times; that channel served a spiritual need, a community need, for guidance that is not offered in the other channels.

What my partner and I got to talking about the other day is how each of these channels views the other channels as “less than,” or somehow corrupt in ways that they themself are not. So goes the military in its view of the non-military world and its concerns; so goes commerce with its profit imperative which it believes is paramount to all others; so goes the care-giving fields which certainly claim a higher moral ground to the other channels.

And yet…in truth, none of them live very well without the others. A military that is detached from the moral and emotional imperatives of the community is simply a dictatorship and a brutish one at that; a culture of commerce that does not see itself as part of a larger system wherein the health and well being of the system upon which it is dependent is paramount is simply greed gone awry (yeah, maybe we’re there…); and those charged with giving care of one sort or another who are disconnected from the other channels will become untethered at some point and unable to add a valued voice to the larger conversation of community.

At all times in our human history, we’ve seen these channels of organization be recreated in different ways; we’ve seen them struggle for ascendancy, usually to the ultimate detriment of the the larger community. I guess I’m thinking about these things right now because it seems we are so close to having every possible form of communication available to us short of Vulcan Mind Meld, and yet we still strive to shut down communication of our shared experience.

The Church does not want to hear about the crushing effect of over-population and diminishing resources and so it retreats to a sanctimonious ground which they will call “higher ground.” Therapists do not want to associate themselves with business because their own view of themselves does not include a desire for profits (I mean, come on!), so they deny business as a valued aspect of life and therefore shut themselves off from a very needed participation in that larger conversation. The Military does not want to humanize the world since it may have to go to war with it, so it denies the human aspect of its own people, not to mention other cultures, it objectifies so it can rigidly command and control.

It is, at the end of the day, our own attachment to the outcome of our actions–our concepts about who we are and how we’re defined–that causes us the most trouble.

Well…after all that, here’s the details of my carbon-based life:

Daily Stats:
Car: Whew! about 50 miles total (approx 12 tasks, sometimes 2 people)
Bike: 5 miles
Electric-hybrid bus: 0
fexcar: 0

Day 64: My life w car

I love this idea discussed by Web Worker and based on an article in the New Yorker regarding the personal cost of commuting in America. Lots of people have studied the issue and impact of commuting, but one, Harvard Politicial Science professor Robert Putnam, has actually come up with an easy rule of thumb for thinking about the impact of commuting: Every ten minutes of commuting results in ten per cent fewer social connections.

(A side note here that the one of the people Nick Paumgarten interviews in his article about commuting notes that she has tried every available commuting option including the bus–which she found “depressing.” Why are buses depressing? I find them so myself, even though I don’t want to. What am I missing?)

Web Worker discusses Putnam’s idea that the farther spread out our Work-Sleep-Shop triangle is, the less happy we are. The closer, the happier. So, if you commute 2 hours to work and back every day, that’s going to hit your happy-quotient. If on top of that, you have to travel a long way to get groceries, etc, that will also hit the quotient. Putnam’s conclusion: “…the bigger the refrigerator, the lonelier the soul.”

As Web Worker notes, there are real advantages here for the biz-at-home worker–that person would have to be pretty happy because the triangle is smaller by quite a lot. But wait! What about social isolation because you really are working all by yourself, day after day??? She offers a number of antidotes to isolation: conf calls, IM, blogging, twitter (which I just tried and didn’t quite “get” on the first go-round). I would also add that it’s nice to step outside for a few minutes or a few hours and work in the yard or walk through the neighborhood. This offers lots of chances to feel more connected with your own hood, and that’s a good thing. Even feeling more connected with your yard, the birds, the fresh air, helps to alleviate isolation. Yesterday I took a break from the desk to spiff up the driveway garden some and of course, a couple of neighbors stopped by which brightened my mood considerably.

So, one side of my work-sleep-shop triangle is pretty short (when I’m not commuting to El Salvador or some other place on a regular basis) and that also allows me to do a lot of my tasks/shop stuff by bike, which also postively impacts my health, energy and the environment. And as Martha would say, that’s a good thing.

Daily Stats:
Car: 0
Bike: 2.5 miles
Flexcar/Bus: 15 miles (Bus)

Day 49 thru 53: My Life w Car

First off: Days without carbon based transportation: 4 out of 5. That’s smashing!

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But today, I want to talk about dysfunctional organizations…again. I’ve just come off a project that had as its director one of the most dysfunctional managers I’ve ever met. At first, I thought well, he’s just blustery. Just a wise guy. But then, you start noticing how people around him are leaving, putting in for transfers, how things get mixed up and there’s always someone to blame…and it’s never him.

I found myself devolving and by the end of the project, I was angry most of the time, defensive and offensive. Even now, if someone brings him up, I’m back in the swirl of my anger, and I really don’t have to work with or see him anymore.

And so I wonder: how does someone like that keep getting hired into companies? What makes him an attractive option–surely there are others to hire out there. It’s a big world.

And then I think back to this article in Change This that I read recently. If you haven’t read it, take a look–it’s worth reading. The site is worth paying attention to on a regular basis, but this latest article really got me: “The Upside of Assholes: Is There Virtue in Bad Workplace Behavior?”

Sutton’s basic belief is that there is no place for assholes in organizations–that it ultimately costs more, wears moving parts out, makes life miserable for too many people. But several of his colleagues have argued that there are famous and very effective organizational assholes to keep in mind…for example Steve Jobs who is referenced again and again as, well, an asshole. And he’s very successful–so doesn’t that mean assholes are good to have around?

I would argue that for every Steve Jobs out there (and by my count, there is only one) there are about 5 billion manager assholes. So, no, I would say that maybe, if anything, Jobs is the exception that proves the rule but no, being an asshole is not legitimized by Steve Jobs, for god’s sake. By the end of Bob Sutton’s article, he hints at the same the conclusion though he does nod towards assholes having a tremendous impact on getting things done.

Now, I’m going to say something that would irritate a lot of business people, but I believe it anyway: I think it’s morally wrong to treat people disrespectfully, abusively, erratically, and/or manipulatively. Not that I haven’t done it, I have and so have we all–but most of us avoid it as much as possible. Most of us avoid the use of outright shame to motivate teams–if only because in the end it doesn’t work and will create a divisive environment. Most of us avoid being abusive–if only because it could lead to disasterous results and legal action.

Oh well, assholes abound. I’ve carried his very bad energy around with me for a couple of weeks. I think it’s time to lay it down. So here’s a nice picture instead of something completely different:

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I have to figure out how to upload some underwater photos from my recent snorkeling trip to Baja, but I haven’t yet. soon.

5 day stats:
car: 2.5 miles
bike: 8.5 miles
flexcar/bus: 0

Mergers and Separations

Oh what a Happy Valentine’s Day post! But I’m talking about corporate separations–mergers that are unhappy from the get go and what it looks like when a separation–not a divorce, but a separation–happens. I’m in the middle of one right now and as the consulting entity, I have the pleasure of being no one’s friend and everyone’s potential enemy.

So, why do merged companies separate and what does it look like? In this instance, I think it looks a little like The Perfect Storm in that several key things have conspired to make both companies point the accusing finger at the other side and as any good psychologist knows, no marriage can survive that level of blame and resentment.

perfect storm

First, the business models don’t agree as much as originally thought; second the business climate takes a turn for the worse; third, all those little and big changes foisted on the smaller business by the larger have created sizeable internal distrust and resentment which all comes to the fore when the pressure gets turned up, as it does when business climates go south and revenues are not what they should be.

I don’t have any solution for this kind of situation except to try and keep everyone in the boat until the storm passes. Even if they aren’t speaking to each other, no on goes over until cooler minds prevail. How to accomplish this? Communication is key–don’t leave parties out of communication, even if it’s oh so tempting. Keep communication clear and to the point without editorializing. Don’t take the hook even if it seems logical–tomorrow you’ll look back and realize it was a trick.

All this is human nature and best interaction practices, of course, but incredibly difficult to maintain in the middle of high stress. It’s as if the molecules are just flying around and haven’t yet formed a cohesive whole–until such time, it’s best to avoid adding any more energy to the situation than is necessary.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Strangers to Ourselves

I’m reading Strangers to Ourselves by Timothy Wilson and trying to digest what he’s getting at with his discussion of the “adaptive unconscious.” His theories don’t sound new or ground-breaking at first–after all, notably Malcolm Gladwell has raised the discussion to a more popular level with “Blink,” but Wilson’s approach is a deeper dive with a lot of science behind it.

lobes of the brain

Wilson is interested in finding out what the vast unconscious world in our brains is up to with the 10 million bits of information it’s absorbing every second. That 10 million bits covers everything from making your fingers coordinate with the keyboard to hearing the fan in the background to considering if the scorching sun is frying the vegetable garden out back. In this last instance, it appears that when the unconscious mind has decided that the vegetable garden is indeed at risk, it will hopefully manage to get a message to the conscious mind, even if it is non-verbal and just a “have-to-go-water-the-garden” impulse, one that make me get up and go outside…sometimes before I even realize that I’m out there for this very good and time sensitive reason.

So, like Gladwell, Wilson is giving us lots of reasons to clear defensive thinking, conscious perceptions, pre-conceptions and the like out of the way so our great big unconscious can get some timely information to us on a regular basis.

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In amongst the studies he cites is this one about people who have suffered damage to left and right lobes, destroying communication between the two. The left lobe controls the right side of the body, the right controls the left. The study involved showing pictures to each eye, with the other one covered, and seeing what information could be communicated about the picture. To the right eye (left brain) they showed a picture of a chicken claw; the participants associated that picture with a chicken.

Next they showed the left eye (right brain) a picture of a snow drift and the participants associated that picture with a shovel. After this, the participants were given their associated results but since the right brain cannot communicate the association of the snow with shovel, the participants didn’t know why they had chosen a shovel.

Here’s the kicker: in the blink of an eye, the left brain (story-telling, conscious part of the brain) came up with a story for the selection of the shovel that combined it with the chicken: the chicken lives in a chicken coop which needs to be cleaned with a shovel. Is this really what happened? No. Is this now what the participant thinks happened? Yes. And that story will be the official story until such time as the individual finds out differently.
Wilson’s point again and again is that the conscious mind is way more fallable than we ever thought and that fallability can lead us as individuals and a part of the collective group to make assumptions and decisions based on information that is simply not correct. The conscious mind’s drive to create a story for what it perceives, whether or not that story is in any way true, is its raison d’etre. And doesn’t every successful marketer and lawyer out there know this instinctively!

The ability of the conscious mind to create stories without getting input from or listening to the unconscious is a bit of a design flaw, it seems to me. It inhibits us from perceiving correctly AND from getting, trusting and using information from our unconscious minds.

Strangers to Ourselves is full of good studies that cause one to consider how we get and process information. Few of us are willing to really listen to our “intuition.” It can’t be measured, it can’t be controlled, its processes are vast, random and unexpected. But when Jack Welch popularizes the notion of managing “from the gut,” whether he knows it or not, or even cares, he’s talking about getting information from the adaptive unconscious.

The more I allow myself to draw from my unconscious, the more interesting my solutions become.  The more spot-on, the more creative, the more unexpected and exciting.  Bringing intuitive solutions into a corporate setting is edgy and exciting!  And often just what’s needed. Dump the old stories.  Allow a new story to emerge!