This is the Inuit word for “sitting together in the darkness, quietly, waiting for something creative or important to occur.”
Of course, this works.
The only difficult part is doing it. We’re buzzy people, inundated with noise, using it to hide from the important work that’s right in front of us.
Belief happens when we combine community with emotion. It’s a way for us to see and understand the world, at the same time that we engage with some of the people around us. Belief is a symptom of shared connection, and community makes us human.
Reality, on the other hand, is widely experienced and consistent. Gravity doesn’t care if you believe in it or not, it’s still here. And that jar of jelly beans has the same number of beans in it, no matter how many times we count them.
When belief doesn’t match our experience of reality, stress occurs.
This stress can surprisingly make community stronger. There’s very little community among people who believe that the Earth is a sphere, no meetings or conventions of the round Earth people. That’s because you don’t need belief to know that the Earth is round.
There is a long history of building community cohesion by encouraging members to ignore the facts of the world around them.
The disconnect between what’s out there and the emotions that lead us to believe something that isn’t real can actually make a community tighter. Sometimes, the disconnect between belief and reality is precisely the point. When the disconnect gets really large and the community becomes more insulated, cults arise.
But in our modern age, this stressful disconnect between belief and reality also makes it difficult to spread the word. The outsider may be hesitant to sign up for the stress that belief in non-real things can cause.
As more and more information is just a click away, and as our culture fractures into a long-tail of filter bubbles, the chasms between belief and reality become more profound. But beliefs change, and reality persists, and so the cycles continue.
An attitude of entitlement doesn’t increase the chances you’ll get what you want.
And it ruins the joy of the things you do get.
Win or lose, you lose.
That’s easy to say but hard to visualize.
Even a puddle has more drops than we can count.
It’s got to be difficult to be a drop.
What else could the ocean be made of?
Of course, every rule, every announcement and every policy is in place until further notice.
We say it as a form of throat clearing. A way to make the announcement seem more official and specific. We repeat the redundant as a form of gift wrap, a way to be sure that it feels both urgent and impersonal.
“May I have your attention please” is another wasted phrase that is actually self-cancelling on inspection. In this case, it acknowledges that attention is being taken, whether you want to loan it out or not.
This patina of bureaucratic civility exists to let the bureaucrat off the hook. But it also is a signal to the listener that an official is speaking up. We should use it (or not use it) with full knowledge of the signal we’re sending.
It’s the seat belt training video, the do not remove tag on our mattress, the ‘your call is important’ filler on hold and the ritual of singing a not-very-good song to people we care about every single year.
If you look around the built world, you’ll find these tropes and filigrees just about everywhere. As media changes, we strip away the old ones and invent new ones to fill their spot. Use them (or not) as a way of sending a message of awareness and authority.
Which is better: Feeling like you were right the first time or actually being correct now?
When we double down on our original estimate, defend our sunk costs and rally behind the home team, we’re doing this because it’s satisfying to feel as though we were right all along.
On the other hand, if the outcome is important and we’re brave enough to learn, we can say, “based on what we know now, we should change course, because the other path is actually a better way to go forward.”
More often than not, there are moments when we’re wrong. We can either acknowledge that we were wrong yesterday, or we can curse ourselves by choosing to be wrong going forward.
Flexibility in the face of change is where resilience comes from.
Then everyone else would find it easy as well. Which would make it awfully difficult to do important work, work that stands out, work that people would go out of their way to find.
When difficulties arise, it might very well be good news. Because those difficulties may dissuade all the people who aren’t as dedicated as you are.
It pays to seek out the hard parts.
We all have them.
“If ____ happens, then I’ll do ____.”
If this emergency passes, then I’ll take a break.
If this customer closes, then I’ll invest in my education.
If we get this finished, then we’ll focus on that.
Too often, the ifthen is nothing but a stall. As a result, we burn trust, and worse, postpone a future we’d like to spend time living in.
Take your ifthen’s seriously. The future always happens sooner than we expect.
Standing at my desk this summer, it had just turned 10 am, and I realized that I’d already:
Heard from an old friend, engaged with three team members on two continents, read 28 blogs across the spectrum AND found out about the weather and the news around the world.
Half my life ago, in a similar morning spent in a similar office, not one of those things would have been true.
The incoming (and our ability to create more outgoing) is probably the single biggest shift that computers have created in our work lives. Sometimes, we subscribe or go and fetch the information, and sometimes it comes to us, unbidden and unfiltered. But it’s there and it’s compounding.
One option is to simply cope with the deluge, to be a victim of the firehose.
Another is to make the problem worse by adding more noise and spam to the open networks that we depend on.
A third might be, just for an hour, to turn it off. All of it. To sit alone and create the new thing, the thing worth seeking out, the thing that will cause a positive change.
When Ignaz Semmelweis pioneered statistics in order to save countless women from dying in childbirth, his fellow doctors refused to believe him. They ignored his work, didn’t wash their hands and it was another twenty years before his insights on the spread of disease were adopted.
We live in a faster, more competitive world than he did.
When Jethro Tull wrote about the rotation of crops, many farmers continued to do things in the old way. Over time, though, the yields don’t lie. You don’t have to like the idea, but you can see that it works.
Results show up. They’re easy to see, easy to measure and they persist.
The bridge falls down or it doesn’t. Market share goes up or it doesn’t.
We can view results as a threat, or see them as an opportunity. It depends on whether we’re defending a little-understood status quo or seeking to make things work better.
Results don’t care about our explanation. We need a useful explanation if we’re going to improve, but denying the results doesn’t change them.
As the world has become ever more filled with results, it has crowded out each individual’s personal narrative of how the world works. Particularly in times of change and negative outcomes, this can cause a lot of distress.
Our narrative is ours, and it informs who we are and the story we tell ourselves.
Beliefs are powerful. They’re personal. They can have a significant impact on the way we engage with ourselves and others. But results are universal and concrete, and no matter how much we’d like them to go away, there they are.
When people talk about how modernity has changed humanity, they often overlook the fundamental impact that results have had. Competitive environments create more results, at greater speed, and those results compound over time.
We still need a narrative and we still need our individual outlook. But over the last century, we’ve had to make more and more room for the systems that create results. Our shared reality demands it.