The complexity of an actual issue is necessarily misleading and partial, and the more addicted we get to soundbites than the more simple our leadership will be.
Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish, and this is another episode of the Knowledge Project, a podcast exploring the ideas, methods and mental models that help you learn from the best of what other people have already figured out. To learn more about the show and pass gas, go to F-stop Blogs podcast. My guest today is Jennifer Garvie Berger. I first came across Jennifer's work through a friend of mine, Graham Duncan, who recommended changing on the job, which Jennifer wrote.
The book is an accessible introduction into adult development theory, which we're going to explore in depth in this interview. Jennifer is a partner at Cultivating Leadership, a leadership development consultancy where she uses her expertise and adult development to support leaders through coaching and development. In this interview, we show how so much thinking around leadership and development and how we teach it and teach it is just bonkers. We also talk about habits who are being right now and whether that's the person that we want to be, how we can change that, how we can develop leaders and more importantly, how we can develop ourselves.
Enjoy this exceptional conversation. Before we get started, here's a quick word from our sponsor. Farnam Street is sponsored by Medlab for a decade, Medlab has helped some of the world's top companies and entrepreneurs build products that millions of people use every day. You probably didn't realize that at the time, but odds are you've used an app that they've helped design or build apps like Slack, Coinbase, Facebook Messenger, Oculus, Lonely Planet and so many more. Medlab wants to bring the unique design philosophy to your project.
Let them take your brainstorm and turn it into the next billion dollar app from ideas sketched on the back of a napkin to a final ship product. Check the merit Medlab Dutko. That's Medlab Dutko. And when you get in touch, tell them chainsawing you. Listen, in any boardroom and there's a call for more sophisticated leadership through the ranks, we want leaders that can avoid problems, solve complicated problems and capture opportunity. Are these leaders born? And we just have to find them?
Or as my guest today, Jennifer Garvey, Berger believes we must develop and cultivate them as quickly as possible.
Thanks so much for having me. It's lovely to be here. Make the case that leaders are developed and not born.
Well, I think that we see, like we all have a sense of someone who's kind of more mature or less mature, more or less comfortable in their skin. So we have a sense of the way we grow and change over time. And while we know a couple of those rare, rare beings who seem to come into the planet with that level of maturity and large, I think we've known for most of human history that it takes some years and some life experiences to get what we think of as wisdom.
So it's certainly been my experience that this this sort of progression of wisdom over years of experience, wisdom that can be accelerated, but that takes some work that doesn't come for free and doesn't come automatically, that it's that it's that sort of showing up in the world in that more wise way that leads to better leadership.
Well, what does that mean to accelerate it? Like, is there a map that we follow that you can just pop anybody in and follow these steps and then you acquire wisdom with faster? I wish that there were kind of a pill we could all take, right, I think the world could really use a giant influx of these sorts of leaders. So, no, it's not quite like that. But there are I mean, the great wisdom traditions that offer us quite a lot of clues.
There have been people who have been growing wisdom for centuries, millennia, and these folks will tell you that it takes a variety of factors. It takes contemplation, self reflective, self reflection, taking the perspectives of others, something about kindness and compassion, something about being able to see bigger than yourself and your own needs. And so if you look back through history, you find that people talk about stuff like that. There there is in the last 50 years or so, people have found that there is a map, an adult development map that helps us be more granular and specific about what it is we're looking at and what it is we're talking about when we talk about growing, when we talk about transforming, when we talk about wisdom.
And this map directs us to say there are patterns in the way we humans grow and change over time and those patterns, because if we understand them and because we kind of understand the rhythm of them, we can accelerate over time and we can be much more intentional about our growing than I think organizations almost ever are.
You spent most of your adult life kind of researching this sort of adult development theory. Can you introduce us to it?
Sure, yeah. I love this stuff, as you could imagine. So basically, this is a set of theories coming from sort of the grandfather of it is a Harvard professor named Bill Perry, who taught Harvard professor named Bob Keagan, who taught me. And then there are cousin theories that come from the work of Gene Levinger and go into the lineage of Bill Torbert, Susan Cooke, Reutter and others. And basically, the idea here is that over time we develop an ever increasing view of the world, that those things that earlier in our lives we took for granted or we could not see become objects of our reflection so that we can make more choices about it.
And those things that were kind of the lenses we looked through become the lenses we can choose to put on or take off, giving us a bigger view of the world and more choices.
Can you give me an example of how that looks? Yeah, for sure. So earlier in the adult journey, most of us tend to be kind of embedded in or absorbed by the perspectives of others outside of us or the perspective of some kind of expertise outside of us. And we look outside of us in what I think of as a socialised way in order to figure out what to do, what success looks like. Am I doing a good job?
Is this right or wrong? Where should I live? Like all those kinds of questions live outside of us and we bring them in and we take them in as our own. But as the world gets more, more confusing, more complex, as it's harder to figure out which of these many things we might bring them and sort of absorb which what what to do with all that conflicting stuff, we can move from this more socialized form of thinking and being into a place where we pick up the pen, we become more self authored.
We write our own story. We say, yeah, all these things that I use to breathe in, they're important and interesting. But actually I need to decide among them with some internal system of my own. And then over time, even that system, this thing we call a self authored form of mind, even that begins to break down for some people as just the particular leaders, by the way, as just the the forces of the world and all the perspectives that we are meant to coordinate across become too much.
And as they become too much, we begin to give up kind of the maintenance and protection of a single system of our own. And we begin to live in a world that's much more collective, that's much more about understanding what I believe and also what you believe and understanding that together we form a bigger hole than we do by ourselves. And we talk about that as the self. Transforming form of mind, because it's at that place that leaders have this bigger perspective, a capacity to kind of look across multiple stakeholders and create new solutions, new possibilities that people who are more stuck in their own perspective can't see.
So the four kind of frames of mind then, I think our self sovereign there was socializr self authored and self transforming.
That's right. Can you give me like if we look at those through the lens of, say, perspective taking, can you walk me through how they're different?
Sure. So in the self sovereign form of mind, which is early in our adult lives and most people outgrow it, not everybody, but most people, other people's perspectives are just unachievable. Right. You just can't take and hold somebody else's perspective if it's different from yours. And that looks like it looks like a very black and white us against them kind of a world. And people in this space really struggle with abstractions. So I had a leader I was working with once in this place who had he had just decided to move his family to a new place.
And he had a lot of kids and and several of them were in high school. And the kids who were in high school were really upset about moving around the world. Understandably so. Understandably so.
Right. And when you talk to me, he said these kids are always asking for stuff. They want a car, they want new clothes. They want a nice place to live here. I'm going to be able to do a better job at that than I've ever been able to do before. And I can't understand why they are still yammering on about this. Like why are they whining when I'm giving them exactly what they want? And so the abstraction of like friendship and loyalty and community, those sorts of things were not alive concepts for him in that moment.
And he could not cross over from his perspective where he was super excited about this new opportunity. He could not cross over from his perspective into their perspective to imagine that they might have a different way of feeling about it. Now, over time, that shifts right as people then begin to not keep out the perspective of those around them, but to breathe in the perspective of those around them. So I had a leader I was working with once who in this more socialized form of mind, she talked about now that she had become the leader of this group of people that she had once been colleagues with.
Suddenly people had these much more conflicted opinions about her as a colleague. She could be everybody's friend, but is the boss. She struggled in that regard and she was constantly trying to figure out how can I make other people OK with me so that I can feel OK about myself? And she said it's as if everybody's wearing a mirror on their chest and I'm constantly checking myself against that mirror. And when I look over here, if the reflection I see of myself doesn't doesn't look good to me, then I have no choice but to, like, polished that up with that person and to try to make that person think differently about me so that I could think differently about myself.
But I can't do that for everybody all at once. And it's totally overwhelming. And some days I wish I could just keep that in me and let them think about me, what they think, while I could keep constant a way of thinking about myself.
And that's the socialized form of mine and that's the socialized form of mind where you're kind of your sense of self esteem and right or wrong comes from outside you and is imported into you kind of without your without your say. Right. And without your ability to to have edit rights and those ways you are being written by the world around you. Then as you carry on, you get into this more self authoring space. And in that self authoring space, you have leaders who say now is the time for me to be kind of the decider, about all these different voices, to really work at myself, to be incredibly self reflective.
People say I am the instrument of my own leadership and therefore I need to be really clear about that. I need to be clear about my values and my principles, and I need to really live by them, choose them well and live by them. And that kind of effort goes into creating a system of principles and values that I will live by and that I will polish up and try to make as good and strong as possible.
And that self authored. Yeah, exactly.
And then for some people. That kind of work of polishing and perfecting that self authored self, that self authored system becomes like just too hard in the face of the difficulties of so many perspectives that yours will never, ever be big enough, yours will never be full or rich enough. And so those people sort of say, oh, forget this wish to make this perspective bigger, I will just make sense. I'll begin to make sense, holding both my perspective and your perspective simultaneously.
And I will hold across perspectives so that I can I can not just work with what's inside me, but also work with what's outside me and hold them both. I can be the writer and the written at the same time.
And the self transforming. Exactly.
A couple of questions come to mind, as you were saying, that one is, are we aware of where we are in this? And it also strikes me that we're all of these things in different categories, perhaps.
Yeah. To your first question, are we aware of them? Oftentimes people find hearing about this map is like is like naming a thing that was just just on the tip of their tongue, but they couldn't quite get to it. That's exactly right. Yeah, exactly right. It's like right out of the corner of your eye, you can almost hold on to it, but not quite. And so when somebody gives you this map, you think, oh, I understand this terrain.
And I think it's true that from people who like the the farther along this path you walk, the more the earlier stages are kind of new and familiar and revisit a you know, like they they arise in a different context or at a different time of day or whatever. The thing that's less common is that when you are earlier on the journey, you don't tend to have access to the to these later stages because you just haven't lived your way into them yet.
How does the view of adult development, I guess, conflict with what we see as traditional leadership development or enhance it?
So I think it provides a really helpful space. I know so many leadership development programs where people are trying to get folks to kind of name their personal mission or name their values or be their own boss or whatever, are thinking that that's kind of a I don't know, like an information thing, like a thing you discover like a thing that you you just go out and find as opposed to a thing that you craft over time, a thing that finds you a thing that you become as you are finding it.
And we don't say to little children like we don't say, oh, you're you're I I'm so annoyed with you, my little nine month old, because you are not running like Big Brother. But we say that to adults all the time. Right. I'm so annoyed with you, my forty five year old boss, because you are not a self authorities. I want you to be without any support to help people grow into that space. So I think this offers a kind of granularity and a kind of a new sense of what is it we are exercising when we are growing and how can we exercise that.
It strikes me that that is completely different than any of the leadership training. I worked in a large organization for like 15 years. They spent millions of dollars per year on leadership development with seemingly no impact.
How does this change the core curriculum of how you go about developing leaders?
I think it's kind of a difference between developing people with kind of good intentions and hope and developing people with a real sense of what is it that's going on? Like what is it we're really after for for many years our health care, like for lots of human history, our health care was this way. Like people didn't understand anything about why people got sick or how they got better at all. And so they just kind of did random things. And sometimes random things work and sometimes random things don't work.
But without a kind of organizing sense of what's going on in the body, you can't really know what things are going to help or not help. I think adult development offers us a much clearer set of distinctions about what are we trying to do in leadership development? How are we trying to make ourselves and our own assumptions more visible so that we can question them so that we can. Perspective on them and so that we can get people to talk about agility a lot these days or living with ambiguity.
Well, what does that mean? It actually means being able to see a world that's filled with grace and operate in that world anyway. And that's a developmental demand. It's not a skill. It's a thing we grow into and it's constantly changing.
So even if you're that one day, does that mean that it carries over? And how does that shape us going forward?
Well, I think that the it is constantly changing. And I think we're also learning a lot about the way our bodies interact with these ideas. Right. So a hungry body or an exhausted body or a stressed out body is not likely to be able to produce your best, your best and most developed self. So how do we take care of that? How do we look after our own capacities as we grow them and maintain them over time? And how do we learn to recognize when we are being our biggest selves?
Like, how can I see when am I showing up as kind of in the fullness of my capability and when am I just feeling like cranky and whiny and not useful to the world? And therefore, what could I do to shift that pattern?
So this looks like a map for how we can think about ourselves and where we are, but not necessarily a road map in terms of like here's how you go from socializr to self authored or self either to self transforming.
Right. It's it's I think it's a map that helps us understand the terrain of our adult growth, but the particulars of it will be different. It helps us understand the motion of movement. But kind of how does it support you to grow might be slightly different to how to support me to grow, but we would be able to have some things in common so that while we couldn't predict with any certainty that this thing will make both of us grow, we could say this kind of thing is likely to support you and me, this kind of thing.
If we were to add it into organizations and into leadership development programs, would be more supportive of people's growth and development than other sorts of things.
I like that. How would you grade people's leadership ability, like if you had to look at what variables would you need to look at to know that that is a reasonably effective leader versus that is an average leader versus like that is a below average leader.
So much of leadership ability is about how other people experience themselves in your presence. So a great leader has a presence that makes other people bigger. I was never a client who's a chief executive of a big company, and I was with him a couple of weeks ago, watching him as he met with people and as he had his meeting.
And the way he speaks to people brings out their goodness. Right. You can see people actually kind of kind of grow in his presence. They they feel more comfortable to take risks. They feel more comfortable to say a thing that maybe is controversial. They they have more room to play. And you can actually watch it kind of physically happen in their bodies. They stand a little straighter. They look him in the eye, they smile. They've got this kind of resonance that I think are truly stupendous leader brings into the world.
Are you differentiating this between a charismatic leader, as we're kind of taught, and this sort of amplifying leader that you're you're kind of talking a bit?
Or do I know you're totally right, a charismatic leader when he walks into the room or she walks into the room, makes you feel good about her or him. Right. Like I walk into the room and I'm a charismatic leader. And you think, wow. And you think about that person, a great leader. I think you are. That great leader walks into the room and you feel bigger, like you don't think, wow, what a great leader you think, wow, I'm willing to see this thing.
I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I'm just having ideas I haven't had before. Like a great leader makes other people better. And I think that's the fundamental difference between kind of a charismatic, heroic image of leadership that has gotten that that has been a help for us and also a hindrance for us as a human race for a long time. And the kind of leadership that we need now, the kind of leadership that the world is calling for from us now, which is not about having one person and following that one person, but having.
Someone who can create the conditions that make us all better, make us all bigger, smarter, more creative, more moral, just better. I want to come back to the variable.
Are there any other variables? But before we get there, why is it different right now?
Like what has changed that causes the maybe the type of leadership that is required going forward is not the type of leadership that maybe we historically got us to where we are.
I think the world is just so complex. Shame, right? That that it used to be that if you had a really smart, charismatic leader, that person could know enough about the market. The market was going to be similar over time. That person could predict things pretty well and that person could say, let's go that way and be pretty sure that that away was good. And so we talk about leaders with these strong visions and all that kind of stuff right now.
Like, who knows? Right. Who knows what's going to happen next? Anybody who tells you they know what's going to happen next with the media or with professional services firms or in the tech industry or the insurance industry or whatever, like those people are delusional. We don't know what's going to happen next. The thing that we know is it's going to be different from now. And so we need a different kind of leadership to lead us into the unknown and to and that sort of leadership needs to help other people be bigger because we need more collective force of leadership than any one human being can hold.
OK, I want to come back to that in. I think we can explore that when we talk more about complexity and the Caernarfon framework a little bit later in the conversation.
So going back to the variables that you would kind of look at to assess leadership ability, the amplification is one. What are the others?
I think a leader needs to have a real curiosity about the world, right? A curiosity about other people's perspectives. A leader who feels certain cannot be learning from other people. So the more sure you are as a leader about exactly what's right and what's wrong, exactly where you're going, the less open you will be to hearing that you're wrong until it's too late. Whereas a leader with more curiosity, more openness to other people's perspective, which can be totally cultivated.
Right. You don't have to be born that way. You can you can achieve that with effort. A leader with more curiosity about those things is much more likely to be able to pick up on little signals that make a big difference before bad things happen. Like history is filled with leaders who were told in whispers that there was disaster ahead and who were so certain about their own personal deve that they marched into disaster headlong. A curious leader listens to whispers and begins to make sense of them, not necessarily to believe them, but to know that there's something going on to be attuned to.
OK, that makes a lot of sense of amplification, curiosity, not being certain about their own beliefs, I guess.
But that also conflicts with what we think of as leadership. I mean, when we look at political leaders, you know, they do amplify, but they're I don't know if they're curious, but they appear very certain when they're up there debating that they have all the answers. I can't remember the last time I heard a politician go. I don't know. And they're asked a variety of questions from like health care to budgeting. And they seemingly have all these answers.
How do you look at that with trepidation? I think that this world of I mean, particularly in politics, but the the world of the soundbite has not been our friend. The the soundbite that tries to put in a sentence or a phrase, the complexity of an actual issue is necessarily misleading and partial. And the more addicted we get to soundbites and the more hyped up we get by them, then the more simple our leadership will be, as opposed to the more complex it takes.
It takes a little bit of effort and a little bit of slowing down and a little bit of breathing to get your head around a really complex situation. You can't do it instantly and you can't do it in a soundbite. And so that's why we have these bizarre challenges these days about the super simplistic problem solving. In a complex world just tends to create bigger and bigger problems, that makes a lot of sense. What are the or what are the limitations of or how do people misunderstand your work on adult development?
I mean, the limitations are probably endless, right? It is a single way of looking at what makes humans human. There's so many other things to look at there. This is a thing that cuts across gender and class and culture, but is influenced by those things. And there are all kinds of different ways to look at what make us whole human beings. So whenever you take a lens, you're necessarily seeing some things and excluding the seeing of others, which is why you don't want to use just one.
So that's a that's a piece of its limitations. What do people not like about people don't like kind of two things and they kind of go in different directions. So on the one hand, people don't like hierarchy or they don't like the idea of hierarchy, even though humans are incredibly hierarchical. We're mammals, mammals are incredibly hierarchical and status driven humans. We have a sense of hierarchy, but it often makes us uncomfortable, particularly when you live in a kind of egalitarian societies.
So that idea that some people have more of something than others can make some people uncomfortable. And that's one of the critiques of the field. The opposite idea is kind of it frustrates some people to imagine that it takes some time to get this that like, I can't hear a lecture about adult development and then suddenly be more developed. Like there's work to be done, there's a journey to take. And so some people who hear about these ideas just want to figure out how to know about adult development enough to be developed.
And knowing about development and being developed are actually different things.
Right? It's almost a pursuit that you never sort of accomplish. There's no end point. It's a process. That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And it and it takes it takes time. Like we're always we have the possibility to always be growing. And that's kind of a glorious thing. And for some people, like they're into a rival.
So if I'm listening to this, you know, we're all in these different categories at some point in our lives. How do I take this and make it actionable for me? What are my next steps after listening to OK, I have this map now of self sovereign, socializr, self authored, self transforming. I understand how that enables me to see perspectives differently. What am I to do now, recognizing where I am on that?
So I think one of the things to do is to just watch because as you say, we might be in a different place on one issue than another. And we can be asking ourselves, is this my biggest self that I'm bringing to this issue as I'm as I'm trying to decide which city to live in or what career to pursue? How much of the voices in my head belong to others around me? And do I like that or not? How much is about my own set of principles and values?
And are they flexible and big enough for me to make this choice or not? I think we can be kind of doing because we have a map, we can be checking our location and we can be thinking about, OK, so how could I be asking myself a different set of questions in order to help support me to to grow to where I would like to be next? So how can I if I feel like I'm really acting on this decision or in this way or at this workplace or in this marriage in a really socialized way, how do I figure out what the voice in my head is telling me?
How do I coax that self authored voice out of me so that I can share more in a way that I think is fit for purpose here?
I like that a lot. In your book, Simple Habits for Complex Time, you talk about three habits of mind and one of them you just draw attention to, which was asking different or better questions. The other was taking multiple perspectives.
What do they mean and what makes them so powerful, these habits.
So the longer I work with people, the more I read, the more research I do, the more I see that while we have forces in us that are helpful in complexity, we also have a whole lot of forces in us that fight directly against complexity. We we've evolved in a much simpler world where. We have much simpler approaches that are kind of baked into us, we are our brains take up 30 percent of our daily energy and our system is always trying to figure out how to save calories by shortcutting.
And so these habits, asking different questions, taking multiple perspectives and seeing systems are all about kind of intentionally engaging in a new way of being in the world that allows us to behave as if we are more developed, as if we're farther down this path. And that gives us some of the goods that development brings. But in a way that in a way that can kind of speed up our our journey down that path. What were the three habits?
Again, I remember two of them. One was asking different questions. One was taking multiple perspectives, and the third was seeing systems, seeing in systems.
Can you walk me through how we develop all three of those things? I mean, we can start with asking better questions like how do we develop asking different questions about a thing?
How do we go about acquiring that skill?
So the first thing we want to do, like with most developmental moves, the first thing we want to do is notice what are the questions I usually ask? And then we can start to set out acquiring new questions. And like, you know, the experience, obviously, of being someone who asks a question that makes other people think or being on the hunt for a question that sort of shifts somebodies perspective about the world. And I don't think these are necessarily better questions, because when I ask people who asks you the questions that make you think the answer I get from almost everyone is my kids or young people totally agree with that.
Yeah, they ask these big idea questions. They ask these why does it matter? Questions they ask questions that we might think of as more foundational or more naïve. And those are the questions, things we stopped even noticing we weren't asking. They help us ask. And so different questions. You can get them from anywhere. You can get them from your four year old. You can get them from your workmate. You can get them from somebody in a really different field, in a room with a really different way of looking at the world.
You can get them from theories or perspectives. Like one of the different questions adult development theory lets us ask is who am I being right now? And is that the person I want to be?
You bring that question into your everyday life and it moves you and that feedback becomes enough for you to shift over time.
As we begin to ask different questions, they push out our thinking and feeling and experiencing because so much of what we're doing is kind of the answer to a question like what you wear is the answer to what shall I wear today? Like, you know, the our lives are living out answers to questions we don't notice that we're asking. Right. And asking different questions helps us lead different lives.
I loved when I came across the taking multiple perspectives, too, because one of the things that I've stumbled upon this really early in my career, I think somebody mentioned it to me and I've done it ever since, which was to walk around the room. When you're making a decision and look at the problem through the lens of the person, every person in that room, and then also look at it through different lenses in sort of like a society, almost hierarchy of like what does this look like to regulators?
What does this look like to the organization? What does this look like to the legal people? I mean, I work for an intelligence agencies have all of these things were kind of different perspectives or lenses that I would use on the problem. And I haven't seen enough people write about or encourage other people to do that. Yeah, because it's hard, right, because it's in part because it's a developmental demand, it both creates development and requires development to take other people's perspectives, to take the perspective of someone with whom we disagree.
Right. It's easy for us to take the perspective of others who are like us. That's super easy. We do it all the time. But our natural kind of response to somebody who's quite different from us or somebody with whom we disagree is to just look at the ways those people are wrong and to confirm our own sense of rightness. And so actually taking seriously the possibility that somebody else is right and you're wrong requires kind of a mental yoga that you have to remember to do, because what your system is going to deliver to you for free for most of our development is when somebody says something that you think is wrong, you just think, well, that's wrong.
You don't think, what am I missing?
Right. What would cause me to change my mind or what would the world have to look like to see that as the solution or possibility?
That's right. And what is I don't remember who said that. The the opposite of a simple truth is a simple lie, but the opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth. Like we're now in in a world where we are very often having to balance profound truths against each other. And if we just think that there are simple truths and we cut off somebody else's perspective, we're missing massive parts of opportunity of thread of possibility in the world.
One of the things I loved about simple habits was most people think of it habits as in like I smoke, I don't exercise enough.
And you you change something for me. When I read that, it was like, oh, there's I had never really thought about the habitual ways that we think and bring to a problem and how that influenced that that in and of itself is a habit.
How did you how did you land on that? Yeah, I'm just fascinated by the way people think about things and I'm fascinated by the way our our blindness to our own thinking creates problems for us. And so the thing that Keith Johnson, I wrote that book together and the thing that we were playing with is what do we know about the patterns of development, the patterns of people who become developed and and how are they different then kind of people who don't walk as fast down that path or don't walk down that path at all?
And there do seem to be some habits, just like there are some habits of people exercising their bodies or eating particular things. All those things are kind of the habits we think about, but we have habits of engaging with others. We have habits of thinking about the world. We have in patterns of habits about how we make decisions. And all of those can actually be played with. If we can see them, we can change them.
Let's go to seeing in systems, which is the third habit. Talk to me about that, because this opens up the broader conversation into complexity. And I feel like this is going to be a bit of a deep dive for us and go in multiple directions about what is complexity and how do we deal with complexity. So talk to me about that habit.
So one of the ways that humans naturally act, and this looks to be across culture, it looks to be across every distinction you could find in people is that we categorize and segment like we break things down, we pull them apart. And tons and tons of our human advancement has come from our capacity to pull things apart and examine them. But actually in a complex space that doesn't work right in a complex space, we have to see the way the holes create something bigger than the sum of their parts.
And that sounds a little bit obvious, but actually it's really hard to do. It's really hard to figure out when you look at a trouble between two people on a team that are kind of fighting with each other, it's really hard to see how all the dynamics of that team are creating that conflict between those two people. It's hard to see how the dynamics of an organization create conflict between people. We tend to we tend to be looking for the root cause of something.
But like in complexity, there's no root cause. There's no root cause of a hurricane. Right. There's no root cause of a tsunami. There's no root cause in nature. There are just many forces that interact together to get you a particular effect. Similarly, there's no root cause of trust. There's no root cause. Of leadership, these are all a series of things that happen together. And so being able to look across a system and trying to remember that, that's the thing to do.
Some people talk about a helicopter view or a balcony view or something that gives us a little bit of distance, that helps us understand how the parts interact and create the phenomenon we're looking at and the phenomenon we either want to have more of. If it's a great thing, like we're innovating like mad, why is that? Or less of like it's a terrible thing we're fighting with each other like mad or why is that? It gives us looking across the system gives us just much more scope for possible action.
You mentioned in the book The Caniff and Framework as a means to kind of categorize where you are. Can you try to walk us through that verbally?
Sure. So this framework comes from Dave Snowden, who is a thought leader in the complexity field and can even itself means sort of those things that come together to make a place, a place. It's a Welsh word. It's spelled Sniffin C Y and I am and and this Welsh word is like those forces or pieces that all come together to make a hole. And basically what this framework does is that it helps us see a system ask different questions and it helps us take multiple perspectives.
It differentiate between those things which are kind of predictable, repeatable ordered systems. They happen the same way each time. And those things that are unpredictable, that are that just because it's happened once or even a dozen times this way, it doesn't mean it'll happen that way the next time. And he further breaks down, further breaks down the kind of ordered part, the predictable path into those things, which he calls simple and those things, or he calls them obvious, depending on when you read them those things, which are simple or obvious, are those things where cause and effect is so tightly related that kind of everybody knows what's going to happen next.
The parts of organizations where you should be able to push a button and this thing will happen. I should be able to push a button and my paycheck will come out. I should be able to request something and this other thing will happen. The the way the organization works is often founded on these kind of obvious or simple processes. And often what we offer to customers in organizations is also founded on this. A customer should be able to go to an ATM, put in a pin and get money out.
Right. That's the way it's supposed to happen. If that starts to happen randomly, then, you know, there's something really wrong.
So then he says also in this predictable space, he says there are some things that are weird. Cause and effect is still connected and it's still going to happen the same way each time. But it's tricky. Like you need some expertise to figure it out. You have to analyze exactly which kind of thing is it. And I need some kind of experience or background in this to be able to know, oh, this is one of these. And so I should treat it that way.
This is that kind of tax problem. And so I should bring my tax expertise and treat it this way. But this over here, that's a different kind of tax problem. We should think about it in a different way. We're still going to get to the same outcome. We're still going to be paying our taxes to the right government in the right way. But the way we go about it will be different depending on the sort of issue it is and the sort of expertise I have.
All of those are kind of predictable, but complicated.
It's knowable, but difficult. That's exactly right. You can figure it out if you have the right expertise. Once you cross the midpoint into that unpredictable world, the rules of the game change and you move from being an ordered system, a system that has predictable patterns over time to being a chaotic system or a complex system. And so Snowden calls one of those distinctions complex, and that's where there's a connection between cause and effect. But that connection is not available until afterwards.
So after somebody wins the election, we can look back and say, oh, these are the reasons why that person won.
But before it's anybody's bet, what's going to happen, is that knowable or is that a narrative we tell ourselves?
You mean is it knowable why it happened? Yeah. So some things are never knowable. He calls those chaos. Right. That's where things are moving around so quickly. There are so many pieces you actually can't tell cause and effect. It's to un pattern for us to be even able to draw that out in complexity. You can look back at it and get most of the patterns of it, like why did the culture of this organization go in that direction?
Well, we can trace that back. But then if we want the culture of the next organization to go in the same direction, we can't just do those things as though there are now a laundry list of steps to take because the next organization is going to be contextually different. It's going to have a different set of issues, a different set of people, and so we can follow the same steps in a complex space that we would be able to if it were just merely complicated.
OK, that makes a lot of sense. And then his fourth distinction, the fourth area is this chaotic space. And in chaos, there's no connection between cause and effect, either in the moment or afterwards. We just can't tell this stuff is happening and it leads to other stuff that's happening. But we feel kind of lost and confused. And that's a time it can be a time of great innovation and it can also be a time of just massive confusion and terror.
And he says that for most of us, we spend most of our time in the space he calls disorder, which is a space of not knowing which of these domains we're in in the first place. And there we tend to act out of our own preference, like I'm I'm an academic by training. And so there's a piece of me that just wants to sort and solve stuff. I want to use my expertise and be able to predict and control things in a kind of complicated way.
And probably if you just let me add it, without any of these frameworks, I'd still be trying to solve these problems this way. So the framework itself helps me ask a different set of questions and therefore take different kinds of action.
So talk to me a little bit about this. Seems like a great framework for categorizing what sort of problem space I'm in. Let's say. I mean, complexity, like I've identified this is reasonably complex problem.
What sort of questions should I be asking myself or how should I peer into that system? What are the tools available to me to further understand this or probe it as a team or an individual?
Yeah, great. So Snoad would make the distinction between a thing that categorizes and a thing that helps us make sense of something. Right. So the issues we deal with in organizations and in our lives probably have some blend of all of these features. Right. So we can't necessarily categorize them in one place or another, but we can make sense of them in these different ways. We can say what's the bit that experts really can solve? And we can pluck out that bit and give it to an expert in complexity.
The thing that we want to do is pay really close attention to what's going on right now in the system, because right now, in this moment is where the seeds of whatever is going to happen next live. Earlier, I was talking about how leaders that I think are really outstanding leaders. Those leaders are able to kind of pay attention to the system in such a way that they can hear whispers of things. The whispers of things today are really useful to pay attention to.
So in complexity, you're trying to find out how can I get a good sense of what's going on right now and then figure out which of those things I want to make more of. What do I want to amplify and which of those things do I actually want less of? Which ones do I want to kind of try to dampen down or or move the system away from doing altogether and then you because you can't know exactly what things are going to happen next.
You devise a series of what Snowden calls safe to fail experiments. These are experiments that you don't know what's going to happen, but they're going to help you learn. Sometimes Keith and I talk about these are safe to learn experiments where even if it doesn't go as we thought it would go, that's actually OK because nothing breaks.
And I learn a lot about the system, sort of the design from this start with learning in mind. Yeah, that's exactly right. That's exactly right. And so we have to find a way to harvest what we learn from them or else they don't really count as experiments. They're just another pilot that we're hoping will work out.
Can you maybe explore this with an example of somebody who's done and what that sort of experiment look like and what it told them and how that changed their perception of the system that they're operating in or sort of their direction?
Sure. I'll give you it's actually I'll give you this example in two parts. So I was working with an organization on these ideas, and they had a silo challenge in their organization, as many do, and the silos had gotten pretty ugly about. In another, it had turned into a place where people in different parts of the company were talking bad about each other in the marketplace to their customers and undermining each other. Right. So it had gotten really ugly.
And the thing that they thought was maybe the root cause was like the the REM's system and how people were promoted and rewarded and how bonuses worked and they had fiddled around with could they make bonuses more contingent upon the success of people across the silo. But you can see how something like that might just amplify mistrust and dislike in a system. And so they were getting nowhere. So they decided to try to experiment with it, using this kind of complexity of principles to learn about the system.
And we were trying to do something kind of light and playful and looking not at the root cause, but sort of what is the system inclined to do. And in this particular case, the system was inclined for people from one part to interact with one another and people from the other part to interact with each other. And then they just told stories about each other without knowing one another and said this little experiment where they said, I tell you what, we'll give you 100 bucks if you take one of those guys to lunch and go have a beautiful meal and talk.
If you're going to get one hundred dollars on lunch, it's going to take a long time. Right. And so these people would spend several hours together in the middle of the day. And at first it was awkward. But over time they would start to talk about things because they were there for a couple of courses. And as they did that, they started to know each other a little bit. And as they started to know each other a little bit, not only did their sense of mistrust go down, but actually they began to see possibilities for building more work together.
And as they built more work together, then the silos themselves started to shift. So even though it was never more than about 30 percent of people who took who took the organization up on this offer at all, that 30 percent changed the culture a little. A little, a little in a way that ultimately those silos were not we're not so strong, not so big anymore. And they made millions of dollars in new work happen. So and they were learning about the system as they as they went.
Now, I once told the story at a different organization than that organization was having trouble with silos also. And when I told the story, somebody said, you know, we tried exactly that thing. And in our organization, it so happened that about 30 percent of people took us up on this offer and actually did this thing. It was some other kind of social event, but it was basically the same. And when we saw that only 30 percent did it, we killed it.
We said, oh, we killed. And and there's the difference between treating something like a pilot that has to work for everybody and treating something like an experiment that can work for some people. And then let's see how it moves the system. And there's this, like, realization that it's not the thing you do. It's it's the thing you do, plus how you think about what you're doing.
I like the idea of designing things with, oh, this might not be the solution, but it's going to give us some sort of information that is usable or that we can put into practice.
Yeah, that's exactly right. And and the hope here is so in a predictable, linear world, one unit of effort should get you one unit of return. You make one pair of shoes. You spend the time to make a pair of shoes. You have a pair of shoes at the end, like you do one tax return and you have one completed tax return at the end. In the complex space, one unit of effort might lead to nothing or it might lead to huge rewards.
Right. This is the unpredictable space of orchard growing and not shoemaking. Right. It's a place where we just don't know what's going to happen next. And so in that space, you're always kind of feeling around, feeling around, feeling around to see which one of these is going to have this outsized effect for a relatively small investment. And that's why you need to do a bunch of these little things instead of trying to figure out what one or two massive things you want to do.
What other examples come to mind of companies that you've worked with, where they had these little things that just got these nonlinear exponential type returns? I mean, I think you see them.
There are stories about new products that take over their stories about, you know, a skunk. Work that was developing one thing or another, and suddenly that becomes a market leader, you look at Google was developing a way to help people think about a way to help people kind of codify their search results for hotels and travel sort of stuff. And then suddenly that springs into its own business. Right. So from these small experiments can come whole new businesses or business models.
But I think the ones that I really enjoy are the stories of people who are making small differences in the way they treat one another and finding the way that changes in organization. I had a client once who was in an organization, a super conservative, super afraid of having of getting anything wrong. And you just can't do anything right in a complex world. You can't do anything. If you're if you can't get anything wrong, you just get tied up.
And he started telling people, I just want you to try stuff. I just want I just want to loosen things up. And I want you to remember that news cycles are short and newspapers today become birdcage liners tomorrow. And he just kept saying that and really very fast. The organization started to behave different differently. And so it's these little little shifts he could have. I had another client who another chief executive of another place who was trying to tell people about kind of the more of an open door policy.
And one day he went into his office, his new office, who's the new chief executive in this place. And he had a kind of a glass office and it had curtains down to make the glass, not glass anymore, really. And he thought, you know, this is just too dark and I like it. And so we pulled open all the curtains and suddenly he was kind of much more in the organization, much more visible. People experienced that move.
People talk to him about it for months afterwards, about increasing transparency, about having a sense of him as a person. It changed the way people were talking to one another, the fact that he opened the curtains in his office, like it's these little moves that lead to big cultural differences. Those are the ones that I get attracted to.
We like to think that those things are are in the maybe complicated space and not the complex space and that we have the answer to them like we are the expert. That's like, oh, no, that's not going to work. Instead of just saying, oh, it's unreasonable that we will know all of the impacts of that and what are the things that we can do to increase the information flow that we'll get from these? Yeah, that's exactly right.
I think I think we need to open ourselves up to our not knowing. I'm working on a book right now. It'll be out early in the next year where I talk about the traps we fall into as we are just going about our lives and these traps. One of them is this trap of feeling like we know stuff, feeling like, oh, when when I have the thought that won't work or we tried that before or this work for sure or whatever that is.
We believe that as though it's true. But it's not true. It's just a thought. And we we really struggle to find the difference between what we think and what's real. And in a brain scan, we can't tell the difference. Like you can't tell the difference in a brain scan between somebody having an opinion and somebody remembering a fact. Our brains think they're the same. And so we have to get really careful with what we think is an opinion and what we think is a fact.
Let's explore that a little bit.
What does it mean to recognize that at a high level versus like, how do I put that into action? Do I need to calibrate my beliefs and say that, you know, I'm sixty percent on this to ninety nine percent, but I'm never one hundred percent on anything that is maybe not like a law of nature or something. And that way I'm convincing myself and I'm open to changing my mind and signaling to you that I'm open to changing my mind.
How do you think about that? I think it's a practice, right? It's a practice of not believing our own press. Right. Not believing our own our own brains because our brains are designed to simplify just without our noticing it. That's there. One of the jobs of the brain is to simplify a totally complex set of inputs so that we can make sense of them. But the brain does that by convincing us that the thing that we believe we're seeing is true and doesn't give us a lot of room to play with the.
And so having it be a practice to notice, one of the things I teach my clients is to notice what certainty feels like in your body. Notice that like what does it feel like to to know that you're right now when you have that feeling? Take one more step and question. And how could I be wrong? What do I believe about this and how could I be wrong about that thing? And who might I listen to to just learn a little bit more?
Because even when we're holding on to an idea that's mostly right in the world of organizations, in the world of business today, Jews in the world of families today, in the world of friendship today or politics today, we are rarely 100 percent right because that rarely exists.
I'm trying to figure out how can we be open to new possibilities even when we experience ourselves as right. That's a it's a habit.
How has writing that book impacted how you live your life day to day?
Oh, I think so much. I think writing that book and this next one that I've just finished really, really help keep me grounded in these ideas. And they help me remember that this thing is always going to be a series of practices, that life is a series of unfolding new ways to learn, new ways to see. And and it helps me in those moments when I am so tempted to go certain and small and black and white and no right answer can be found.
But she's I'm going to try like hell to find one in those moments. All this writing and research and practice I've been doing for these years helps me take a breath and kind of center into myself and into a place that says it's OK not to know. You can move forward in not knowing. You don't have to pretend to know and have everything closed down. You can not know and also move.
What would you say to somebody who worked in an organization and self-identified either through their own psychological thoughts versus like the organizational pressures, but self identified as a knowledge worker, in which case that they reasonably come to the conclusion that they're paid to know?
I think knowledge workers more than anybody are paid to be curious. Right. I think that expertise more and more.
I was talking to to Nick Petrie, who's at the Center for Creative Leadership yesterday about this, and we were talking about the redefinition of expertise, expertise used to be, could you repeat this thing again and again and again? And we used to think and workers needed to do that. Knowledge workers, those people are paid to actually be curious about the world and to be learners. And in order for us to be really knowledgeable, for us to change information into knowledge, we have to be open to categorizing, recombining, learning new things, having our mental models retested and retested again.
And I think that means that the core attribute is not how much you know, but how much you're willing to learn and how much willing to question what you know. If what we want is is stuff that's known, Google will do that for you. Like, we don't need to hire somebody to do that. We we can get at get at information faster than anybody's ever been able to get that information. The history of the human race. Now, this is the height of that time.
If what we want is knowledge, we have a whole different thing to do.
I want to come back to to learning in just one second.
I just want to finish up a little bit on complexity with can you talk about dispositions and attractors and how they fit in?
Sure. So one of the questions that seeing Systems helps us ask is it asks it helps us ask what are the patterns we're seeing here? And another way to ask that is, what is this system disposed to do? Like like what are the patterns that are automatically unfolding? So I ask leaders, what is your team disposed to do? Is it is the disposition of your team towards kind of creativity and trust and psychological safety? Is the disposition of your team sort of in a kind of fear and competition and mistrust of each other?
You can see that you could switch out a whole bunch of people in the team and the disposition wouldn't change. It's not actually any one person that brings that in. It's the the collective of us and the way we engage in disposition. Can be shifted, and so if you see actually the disposition of my team is towards competition and a lack of trust, you can start to take experiments, make moves to see which of the which are the pieces you want to amp up and which ones you want to amp down so that you can create a new disposition so that the system automatically produces the thing that you want.
People are always talking about innovation, right. And organizations aren't innovative. Actually, organizations are disposed to be conservative. Right. Once you have something to protect the organism, the organization goes into protection mode, which is not a creative mode. If you want an organization that's just supposed to be creative, you have to fight some of those kind of conservative pols to protect what we have and encourage subversion. That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And so as you look at dispositions, you can pick patterns and then make shifts in them.
So it's just a really useful way to get a handle on things so that you can have experiments. And the other thing you asked me about is attractors. Those are the sets of feedbacks that give rise to patterns. Right. So if the disposition is for us to not trust each other, what are the things in the system that are creating the feedbacks that are kind of creating these basins of attraction? We call them, like locked together sets of feedbacks that we have a we have trouble escaping from.
So one set would be one set of kind of attractor feedbacks that creates a particular Basan is we have a meeting. Nobody says what they think in the meeting because they don't trust each other. Then they go after the meeting and they do a lot of politicking after the meeting and they talk about each other behind one another's backs. Then they continue to gossip in that way, which other people then hear about, which means the next time we come together in a meeting, we're less likely to deal with the real issues and the system gets worse.
Right. And that becomes an attractor based feedback loops that feed on themselves and keep us locked in a state we don't like. Breaking some of those patterns helps get us into a new basin where if we can just learn to say what's on our mind in the meeting in a way that we can be heard in a way that supports and engages one another respectfully and humanly, then we can start to create the conditions for those out of meeting conversations not to happen for the behind the back talk not to happen.
So we're creating a new set of feedbacks, a new Attracta Basin that can hold us in a system of trust and creativity and collaboration, which is just a much nicer basin to be in.
I like that a lot. It sounds like an organization I used to work for. I mean, there's thousands of people out there going right now like that. Sounds like the place that I work. What is something that you could say to let's just pick a random person in the organization that doesn't feel like they have a lot of power and they find themselves in that sort of culture that you just described.
What is it they can do that would either make a difference for them personally in terms of how they feel about working there or in terms of nudging the organization down a different path?
I mean, one of the things I love about complexity is it it can change from anywhere, right? You can change a system from anywhere. You don't actually need positional power. So somebody who's locked in one of those patterns could begin to imagine ways to shift, even if I'm just shifting my part of the pattern. What if I decided that the sort of talk I'm going to do outside of meetings is going to be all praise for one another? How does that shift the system around me?
Or I'm going to say something brave in a meeting and I'm going to enlist a friend to say something brave in that meeting, too. How does that shift around me? Or I'm going to come I'm going to come out with something vulnerable and personal about myself in order to increase trust in the room, tell a personal story about something that matters to me and ask for help in a different way. Like all of those are little, tiny interventions. All of them take a kind of a courage and resolve to break out of the pattern and see if I can coax a new pattern into being like that a lot.
Let's switch gears a little bit and talk about learning and maybe intermix with habits. I mean, what does it mean to learn something?
The thing I think about really deep learning is it actually changes the structure of your brain. You are breaking an old pathway and creating a new neurological pathway, which is what a habit is to right. It's a it's a thing that happens without our noticing it. And the three habits I've talked about the same systems and taking multiple perspectives and asking different questions. Those are that the natural habits of people who are farther along in this adult development path. And so if we can encourage ourselves to develop some of those patterns in ourselves and we can be learning those things in ways that create new neural networks, then suddenly we are living our way into these kind of more advanced forms of development as we are just going about our daily lives.
It's one thing to see a habit that you have. It's another to change it. How do I go about replacing a habit that I have with a different habit?
The thing that people are finding about habits and habits are like, I'm not suggesting this stuff is easy to do. I'm suggesting that as we begin to do some of these things and we get positive results, they become reinforcing. So if I have a habit of not taking anybody's perspective and that's my way over to the later ones who said, Jennifer, I just don't I I've just been in this business long enough to know that my ideas are right and other people's ideas are wrong.
It's like if that's your habit, then you can learn to take somebody else's perspective. But over time, if you want to change that and if you want to believe a new thing, you can start to notice how that feels in your body, what sentences come out of your mouth and you start to get clues that you are falling into this other previous habit of just taking your own perspective. And as you get clues or sometimes people get those clues from falling into an argument with somebody, that's the same argument they've had a billion times or repeating the same sentences that they've just been saying or whatever that is.
As you get those cues that you're falling down the wrong path.
You want to be falling down. You can make a shift and try to do a different thing. And over time recognizing, oh, this is the thing I'm doing, I recognize that I'm doing it. I can have some distance and make a choice. Then I can start doing this new thing. And then there's a kind of a reward for doing the new thing, which generally with these habits anyway, is kind of growth and creativity and connection. As that reward comes, then that habit becomes self reinforcing and becomes a thing that you just do automatically and you don't think about it anymore.
So that's kind of the cues, the habit kind of routine or script that we execute and then the feedback cycle.
What are examples of your clients in terms of what they've done to actually, like, tangibly identify the cue to do a prompt when they get the cue to change the script that they're executing and then the positive or the feedback takes care of itself? I get on the other end. But what does it look like to actually walk through? OK, well, you don't take other people's perspectives. Here's how we're going to change that. Yeah.
So I had one I had one client who was working on asking different questions. And the thing that he noticed was actually that he was asking questions that were so typical for him that he wasn't even listening to people's answers like he already knew the answer to the question when he asked it. It wasn't even really a question he was curious about.
And he started to be able to notice his own mind wandering like it's as if you were asking me questions. And as soon as I started to talk, you started to think about something else, totally started to be able to catch himself, not listening. And and he enlisted those around him. Like, if you see me not listening, I want you to call me on it, because this thing's important to me. And so with his own efforts and with the efforts of the people around him, he started to catch himself and to then ask himself, what am I actually curious about here?
And so the way he got to different questions was to ask, what am I curious about? And he needed to he needed to actually learn how to recognize his own curiosity, which we all have. Right. It just gets papered over by our certainty. And once he could do that, he became a guy who was curious. We had one we had one one leader who told us that you could tell who had been in one of our leadership programs, even in a really large room by the Kuala.
The questions they were asking, and it's not like we taught people to ask particular questions, we just helped them remove some of the gunk that was separating them from their own curiosity and then different questions arise.
Then you've seen that over and over again, over and over again.
What are some of the the questions that we should be asking yourself, not only with sort of where we are on the adult development spectrum, but in terms of like how we deal with unpredictability and how we go about a self reflection.
So other basic questions. Right. I love questions like am I sure that this is really a repeatable thing when when I have the thought, oh, I've seen this before. Have I really seen it before? Like, I'm almost always wrong when one of my clients brings something to me and I think I've seen that issue before, have I? I don't think so, actually, because their businesses are moving so quickly. I haven't seen exactly this thing before.
And so recognizing your own cues of I've seen that before or I know how this ends or I know what to do next or any of those things and asking, OK, so there I'm in this certain place, am I in am I dealing with something predictable? In which case if you're an expert and you feel certain and it's predictable, go for it. Like you don't need to ask different questions. Just go. You know what to ask. If I'm actually in an unpredictable place and I'm feeling certain I'm off the rails like that's the wrong place to be.
Therefore, how can I recognize that in myself and be able to take a perspective of somebody who disagrees with me? Like we teach we teach leaders in meetings. If you're dealing about a complex topic and you find somebody who disagrees with you, that's fantastic, because now you have two possible ways to proceed. Right? Our general desire to collapse those two into one right answer actually in complexity is unhelpful. We don't know what the right answer is until afterwards.
We want to cultivate those two different perspectives. Let's hold onto both of them. Let's not resolve them. And so paying attention to those kinds of the kind of habits we have now and the way they work in a predictable world helps us stretch into how can we have them work and how can we have different things help us in an unpredictable world.
What are some of the most effective habits that you've seen from people that were a bit unexpected?
I am continually surprised by the power of genuine listening. I know it sounds fairly simple, but people who are led by their curiosity and who genuinely listen to the perspectives of others, they learn like crazy. And it's the simplest it's it's the simplest thing to talk about. It's actually really hard to listen deeply and well to another person without having the chatter in your own head of what am I going to say next? What do I think about this? Like the chatter that's so you focused drown that out.
But actually, listening is one of those habits that when we can achieve it really changes the way we show up and the way other people experience us and how much we learn.
It's like a super habit. It's like a meta habit. How have you developed your listening ability and your skill recognizing that I have just been wrong so many times? I think I think the more often you're wrong and can recognize you're wrong, the the better you get at really saying, OK, so let me let me see whether I actually understand what you're saying there, because the assumptions I'm making, like, I totally get what you're on about now just go to the next thing.
It's harder and harder for me to have those because I've just been wrong so much. I think we're all wrong.
You're just very open about admitting it.
One of the things you wrote was I love the paradox that too much safety is dangerous, which makes me wonder that perhaps adult development itself is an antifragile property. Expand on that.
So we are drawn to keeping things the same. We have a kind of as you know, we have this loss aversion. We are in many ways inherently conservative. And that has been really helpful to us as human beings on the planet is really helped us create and sustain wonderful things in the world. And when the world is moving really fast, it's a big problem. And it's probably the reason that organizations, companies tend to die instead of evolve, like most companies die and they die relatively early in their potential lifespan.
And I think we do that because change is demanding and unsettling and destabilizing and stability feels good. And in a time where things are moving so fast, in a time where markets are shifting and an entire business models are slipping in and out of being, if if we're not willing to take the risk to change, to grow ourselves, to grow our possibilities, to question those things that were unquestionable, if we're if we're not able to do that, I think we won't make it right.
We won't make it in companies. We won't make it in countries. We won't make it. We've got to figure out how to keep ourselves growing and alive and curious if we're going to solve the really significant challenges that we have created.
Is that what you refer to when you talk of agility, kind of like growing ourselves, keeping our curiosity, learning? Is that all in that category that's on that category for me?
How do we respond to a world that's changing around us? Not by doing what we used to do, but by creating new ways of being.
I'm curious about how I can walk away and apply this as a parent to my kids. How can I take what we've discussed today and put that into practice with my children?
I feel like one of the ways I've most used these ideas is with my kids, actually. So the first one is, oh my goodness, our children are the best practice ground ever for our own curiosity experiment kids.
What do they mean when they say that? Why is this thing so important? Like one of the things I practice with myself is when my kids really frustrate me, which happens much less now that they're older. But it used to happen a lot when they were little. When my kids were really frustrating to me, I, I would be trying to change them. Right. Like like my habit was, you're doing a thing that annoys me. Therefore you need to stop that.
Right. As opposed to trying to understand them and trying to understand them. Actually, it's just a great practice ground and sometimes they change and sometimes I'd change. But but it meant that we could be having a whole different experience of one another instead of me assuming that I knew what needed to change because I was annoyed or irritated or felt righteous or something like that. And my kids are fabulous company for me and for others. And so that that practice and my kids are really good listeners, that practice of listening becomes contagious, too.
I think that's a really good way to kind of think about it.
Are there any other things that you've done with your kids that you would be like, oh, like this this really was effective or not only in shifting how you saw the relationship with them, but in shifting how they maybe saw the world, like how do you move them or nudge them or encourage them to go from soft sovern to socialise to self author to self transforming. How do you encourage them to develop the healthy habits of kind of asking different questions and taking multiple perspectives and thinking in systems?
So we we practice those habits, actually write those habits are psychologically spacious. They can be used with. People, whether they're five or one hundred and five, right, these are these are brain shifting habits no matter where we are. And so that was always a thing we practiced. What would be a different question you could ask about that would what perspective you could take there? What do you think is going on outside of this issue? In the whole classroom, in the whole system, in the whole village?
So those are totally questions that we can ask. And they become habits that that I see both my kids, my sons about to start university and my daughter's and university. Both of them are psychology majors. So so in different ways, in different fields, with different with a different focus. But both of them, all their lives, they've been with somebody. Both my husband and I are incredibly interested in the way people think and be in the world.
And now they're interested in that, too, because it's incredibly interesting. So if you notice it, it's it's like super interesting. So other than that, I think parenting is the single hardest thing to do on the planet. And I don't pretend to be an expert in it. I only pretend to have deep admiration for all of us who try each day to do a good job with it.
Yeah, my mom gave me the best piece of advice I think I ever go with a parent. After one particularly frustrating day, she just basically said, get some sleep tomorrow. You start all over again.
Yeah. And love them because this thing is going to change like that. As as a developmentalist. The thing I knew is that this thing was going to change. If you love it today, it's going to change. If you hate it today, it's going to change the way they are today is not going to be the way they are tomorrow. So there are some times when as a parent, I would be thinking, oh, my God, he's so selfish.
I'm raising a selfish child. No, he's six. That's what six year olds are like. Like, it's OK. It'll change. I hear you.
One hundred percent. Listen, Jennifer, this has been an amazing conversation. I want to thank you so much for your time today.
Thanks so much for your great questions and your companionship here. And and I hope you get some of these ideas into the world where they grow and thrive.
I think they will. Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at Farnam Street blog, dot com slash podcast.
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