Book Review-Recovery: Freedom from Addictions

Sometimes you stumble into things, and you’re not quite sure how. I used to have book deals sent to my email and occasionally there would be a discount that made the book interesting. That was the case with Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions. I didn’t know the author, but the topic was interesting enough to buy the book and start reading.

As it turns out, the author has some level of fame. Russell Brand was apparently a comedian, big thing on MTV, and married to Katy Perry for a few years. He’s also an addict – now a recovering addict. He writes his version of the twelve steps, his story, and his perspective on the program that he needed – and that changed him.

Backstory

I wrote Why and How 12-Step Groups Work last year as a primer on the program and an attempt to help folks accept that addicts aren’t bad people, and * Anonymous groups aren’t scary. They’re places where people are connected and given the relationships and skills necessary to battle their addictions.

I share that addictions aren’t the problem, they’re the solution. The addiction is a way of coping with life that’s become out of balance and has taken control of the addict. It’s the spiral that, once it gets started, feeds on itself by distorting the world until people can’t see outside of the bubble of addiction.

Brand admits to his own disconnection with reality (and himself). As I explain in How to Be Yourself, figuring out who you are isn’t easy. From my perspective, Brand just landed in the right set of circumstances to get caught up in addiction. Starting in comedy can do that to you. When I did my study of standup comedy (see I am a Comedian for more), my research led me to an understanding of the drugs and sexual adventures of some famous comedians. Even cursory review of the news stories about comedians since that time will make it clear that it’s easy to get connected to addictive things.

What follows here is a mixture of Brand’s thoughts and my own experiences around the program that has helped so many people.

Step 1: Admitted Powerlessness

Brand’s quotes for the steps are much more colorful than mine. However, he adequately explains that the first step is admitting that your life is out of control. Most folks assume that you must admit powerlessness to the addiction, but, in truth, the admission is that what’s going on in your life isn’t working. It doesn’t technically require that you admit you’re an addict.

The idea that your life isn’t working can become a budding awareness that you’re not comfortable in the still quiet of the night. It can be that you recognize you move from one distraction to the next. It can be a faint glimmer of awareness that whatever you’re doing is gaining more control over you, or it’s there to numb some other part of you that hurts too bad to face directly.

However, whatever this thing – or, often, more than one thing – is in your life that was designed to help you cope has become your master. You depend on it to get you through the day, and that isn’t OK.

Step 2: Higher Power

It’s one thing to know you have a problem. It’s quite a different thing to believe that someone or something can “return us to sanity.” That is, there is a solution – it’s just not me. When we are self-centered and require that it’s always our way, we’re bound to have problems.

By giving it up and accepting that we’re not actually the center of the universe, we have the possibility of accepting that we don’t have to have the answers. Sometimes people get caught up on accepting the Christian view of God as their higher power, but it’s not really required. Stories in the program include sponsors telling sponsees that they can have their higher power until they discover their own – and they can make a doorknob their higher power if that makes them feel better. The point is simply that there’s a way out – not necessarily that you subscribe to a particular view. (If you’re struggling here, look at The Book of Joy, where the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu discuss, among other things, their respective faiths.)

Step 3: Turning Over

Still a different decision is the decision to turn things over. Steps 1-3 are a progression that, from the outside, may seem simple, but most folks are used to controlling their lives. As a result, letting go of that control can be hard. So, even after you can acknowledge that you don’t have the answers and someone else does, letting go of your life isn’t easy. Brand says, “I don’t like the idea that I’m not in charge of my own destiny.” I can say that he’s not alone. We all want to believe that we’re in control of our lives. (For more, see Compelled to Control.)

Step 4: Moral Inventory

If you want to pick the step that frightens people who are new to the program, it’s going to be step 4. Making a list of the things that you’ve done wrong isn’t easy. There plenty of reasons for that, and, despite the jokes, no one has ever run out of paper. Brand lays out an effective way to get these moral lapses on paper and acknowledges that it isn’t easy. You’ll be tempted to gloss over things, justify others, and often not see the root set of issues that lead to the poor choices.

What isn’t always shared is that this is a part of the process itself. No one gets this right the first time. They don’t figure out everything wrong they’ve done, evaluate every action with clarity, or “ace” the test. That’s because step 4 isn’t a test. It’s a step. It moves you closer to where you want to be.

And, in truth, step 4 isn’t the powerful step. That is step 5.

Step 5: Tell Someone

It’s not enough to just write down the things you’ve done wrong, you’ve got to tell someone. It should be someone safe, and it should be a time when no one is rushed. The key thing that people get out of this is relief. To some degree, we’ve hidden ourselves away from others. We didn’t want other people to know the bad things we’ve done. We didn’t want them to know how evil we can be at our core.

Most of the time, the response to a step 5 with someone who has been in the program for a while isn’t surprise, rejection, or concern. The response to someone doing a step 5 is often, “Is that all?” It’s meant as a prompt to continue, but also an acknowledgement that, whatever the bad things are, they don’t make the person a bad person. In truth, most addicts have a hole in their soul that makes them believe they’re not good enough to be loved or liked. That’s not truth, but it’s the lie they believe, because they’ve never told people the whole truth about who they are.

Step 6: Character Defects

While step 4 was focused on the things that you’ve done, step 6 is focused on the parts of you and your character that caused you to do them. Rather than looking at the top of the problem – the results – step 6 asks you to look for what was going on inside that caused you to want to behave that way.

Step 7: Replace the Defects

With the list made, the addict often finds that some of the things that led them to bad choices are parts about themselves that they like, at least a little. So, step 7 asks you to be ready to let go of what you like for the life that you’ll love. It’s a hard swap, just like moving to a new city in a new home for a “better” new job is amazing – and heart wrenching. You love what you’re going to get, but you hate to let go of what you have.

So, too, our character defects arise from a part of who we believe we are, and letting go isn’t easy.

Step 8: List of Wrongs

Between the 4th and 6th steps there’s been a lot of focus on the negative things that we’ve said or done and why. However, the focus has been on being able to expose to ourselves our true nature and that the true nature isn’t bad – it’s just done some bad things or made some bad choices. We’ve focused on integrating into the human condition and accepting that we’re all broken. Step 8 asks us to focus our thoughts differently. Instead of making it all about us – it’s all about what we’ve done to others.

The list of wrongs is designed to be sorted by person and is about what we’ve done to them – not what they may or may not have done to us. While it’s all too tempting to focus on what they did to provoke us, this step calls for us to own our part in the situation.

Step 9: Make Amends

If you’ve wronged someone, and there is a way to make amends to them in a way that isn’t harmful to them, step 9 calls us towards that action. The sticky part here – beyond the desire to run away and hide rather than apologize and make amends – is the bit about as long it won’t harm them.

There are also cases where it’s no longer possible. Consider someone who has died or someone you’ve lost touch with. In those cases, you can find alternative ways to relieve your burden of the wrong by writing them a letter and burning it, or whatever means you feel like is a way for you to let go. (If you’re struggling with a death take a look at On Death and Dying and Top Five Regrets of the Dying.)

For those whom making an amends would cause harm, you can use the same strategy. You can relieve yourself of the burden for now – and if the time ever comes that you need to address it because the circumstances have changed, you’ll be well prepared.

Step 10: Daily Inventory

Once you’ve gotten thus far, you’ve relieved yourself of the poison that you’ve built up, and now it’s important to create a pattern of living that doesn’t allow the poison to build. There will still be relapses and bad days, but the point of the final three steps – particularly step 10 – is to ensure that these incidents don’t create a change in direction in your life.

The idea is that every day you evaluate your day in the context of the wrongs you’ve done, the character defects that have revealed themselves, and the people to whom you need to make amends. By practicing this daily, there is no need for the massive efforts that took place in steps 4, 6, and 8.

Step 11: Conscious Contact

Whether you call it being centered, connected with nature, a commune with God, or anything else, there’s something to being a part of instead of apart from. Steps 1, 2, and 3 led you to getting connected to a higher power – whatever that is. Step 11 reminds you to stay connected.

Step 12: Take it To the Masses

Step 12 is the give-back step. It’s about helping others who were in the same spot as you to find their way back into connection with others. In the context of Brand’s story, it might be writing a book on Recovery. For others, it may be as simple as offering to help people when they’re struggling with addiction.

The Ethics of Encouraging Dishonesty

At some level, we all know that being dishonest is wrong. We don’t respect people who will outright lie to us. At the same time, few of us are willing to be completely honest with our crazy uncle about how we really, really feel about him and his challenges. We know that, socially, we need to accept a certain amount of withholding of our true opinion in the name of social graces. However, what happens when policies and systems encourage dishonesty? What are we saying about the way we want to form our culture and the way we want to behave with each other?

Learning About Lying

Paul Ekman reserves the word lying for those cases where the person knows that they’re telling a non-truth. (See Telling Lies for more.) The point is that it’s an intentional action. It requires that the person intends to deceive the other. As a standard for dishonesty, it’s a high bar. It typically transitions us from morally tolerable to ethically irresponsible. Lying crosses the social line and becomes a problem for most of us.

For the most part, we forgive a non-truth when the other person didn’t know that it was a falsehood themselves. We accept that sales folks truly believe their product is the best product for us – whether it is or not. We don’t feel like sales folks are intentionally trying to deceive us; they are themselves just deceived.

Everybody Lies

If we depart from the land of unknown falsehoods and travel into the land of actual conscious lying, we’re confronted with the fact that we all do it. When was the last time that someone asked you about your weight and you fudged just a little? Not so much that it was obvious but, at the same time, also not what the scale told you this morning or last week.

We all lie to the extent that we can get away with it and cause no harm. The ethical line for some of us is naturally close to the line of truth. For some of us less so, but not to the extent that we’d characterize ourselves as liars. After all, they just wanted a round number, right?

Of course, weight isn’t the only thing people lie about. Ask them about their income in the context of finding a suitable mate, and they’ll slightly round up what they make. Conversely, they’re inclined to round down if they believe you’re from the IRS. We’ve all met the women who are perpetually 29 years old. Some of them have serious experience in this game.

If we’ve not dispensed with the convenient but untrue belief that we don’t lie, we can return to those social situations where we lie to protect our social reputation, standing, or relationships. We’re conveniently previously committed when our boss invites us to an event that sounds less fun than a root canal without anesthesia. We can’t make it to friends’ for dinner because of a prior commitment with a pizza and our TV – though we leave the last part out.

It should be clear that we’ll all lie if properly coerced. While most of the time the social norms will keep us to our naturally honest self, it doesn’t take much to knock us off center towards the land of lying.

The Shocking Impact of Nudges

It was just after World War II, and the collective conscious couldn’t quite shake the horror of the atrocities of the Nazi party. The problem was that we couldn’t understand how seemingly normal humans could do such cruel things. How could you run the gas chamber at Auschwitz and come home to have dinner with the family? It turns out that the reasons were varied, as Albert Bandura explains in Moral Disengagement. From this fear emerged a more striking experiment about how easily people could be manipulated into doing unthinkable acts.

Milgram had this idea about how to test how cruel people would be. He created a scenario where test subjects were lied to. They believed that they were taking part in an experiment about the effect of shocks on learning. They were told they were to act as either the teacher or the learner. In truth, all the participants were the “teachers.” The learner was a confederate. As the learner answered incorrectly, the teachers were told to progressively increase the shock the learner received. There was no shock, but they didn’t know that.

The teacher and learner were in separate rooms, and the teachers could hear the pleas for help from the learner’s room as they were reportedly shocked. The question was how many of the teachers would flip the switch that supposedly offered a dangerous, if not lethal dose, of electricity. The answer ranged from a stunning 90% of participants, when given direct instruction and when there were other confederates who agreed with the experiment organizer, to roughly 10%, when there were others who defied the experiment organizer.

Don’t miss that first number. Given conditions where the experiment organizer has the capacity to deprive them only of the experiment stipend – a relatively trivial inconvenience – and a few people they don’t know say they should do it, 90% of people would have potentially killed the learner. Admittedly, the conditions were set up powerfully in favor of compliance, but it shows how it’s possible to get people to do bad things with relatively little persuasion. (The book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) in addition to Moral Disengagement is a good place to find a longer discussion of Milgram’s work.)

As we’ve already said, it takes very little in the way of encouragement for us to lie. Certainly, the threshold for lying is much lower than homicide. So, what would it take to cause someone to lie?

Encouraging Lying

How tiny a nudge would it take to cause someone to lie? If you were to consider that it’s relatively nothing to get someone to eat healthy instead of unhealthy by making the healthy snacks easier to get to and more in eyesight than the unhealthy snacks, then lying should be easy – and it is. (See Nudge for more on changing snacks.)

Your local dental hygienist encourages you to lie when they ask the loaded question how often you floss your teeth. Most people squirm in their chair just a bit – and not because of the work that’s being done. We can and often do encourage lies, because we ask the questions in ways that make it hard to answer truthfully.

The wily reporter asks the senator “Are you beating your wife less these days?” The question itself is stacked towards a bad answer. Say “yes,” and the next question is “Why are you beating your wife?” Answer “no,” and the next question is “Why are you still beating your wife?” The question itself makes it hard to answer clearly, because it contains an assumption that must be challenged.

Imagine you’re a professional photographer, and you don’t get paid without a model release. However, the policy is one where you’re only asked if you did get a model release – not to actually produce the release. If you didn’t get a release, and you still need the money to pay the mortgage, what are you going to do? In most cases, the answer is lie.

Systemic Lying

In academic life, what if you had to explain how you used a multi-step review process for writing your paper – whose quality was already judged to be excellent – but you didn’t actually do the process? The outcome is already approved and ready to go. All you must do is lie about the process and how you achieved the result. What would you do?

Here, you’re in a trap. If you tell the truth, then you must resubmit the thing that has already been accepted as quality work. You can’t say that you didn’t use the process, as you then fail to explain how you used it to get to the result. To be able to explain how you used the process, you must use the process to create something else. But what if the deliverable is locked, because it’s already accepted?

It should be obvious by now that the result will be someone lying. They’ll say they used the process that they didn’t – and no one in their right mind would – just to check the box and move on.

This last one isn’t hypothetical. It’s a real situation that has since been corrected but for which there was no recourse to explain why the process itself wasn’t appropriate.

Courage

It’s easy to encourage dishonesty – both consciously and unconsciously. Few people will have the courage to break the system if you design it to encourage dishonesty. Too many people will just sign and accept that they must lie to get what they want. However, that’s not the point here. The point here is this: what responsibility does the person who creates the system that encourages lying have?

In my estimation, they have a duty to address the issue as soon as discovered – and take steps to not create the same kinds of boxes again. These sorts of biases and systemic approaches tend to recur over and over again if they’re not confronted directly and completely by actively designing to discourage – rather than encourage – dishonesty.

Connect Calendars

Today’s world is busy. Having a calendar available at the touch of a finger helps, but most of us these days have to juggle multiple calendars, both personal and professional. This engagement video shows how easy it can be to connect your calendars into one place.

If you want to share this video, you can get it ad-free. All you need to do is click here to sign up, and we’ll send all our engagement videos to you via email.

Book Review-Knowledge Management Matters: Words of Wisdom from Leading Practitioners

One of the many things that I enjoy about my life is the ability to walk from one world to another in a matter of moments. I’ve been a part of the knowledge management community for several years now. While far from all my time is spent in the community, I’ve come to know and respect many members of the community who are passionate about making the knowledge that each of us has more helpful to everyone else. That’s why I picked up Knowledge Management Matters: Words of Wisdom from Leading Practitioners. I wanted to know what they had to say about how we can better leverage what we know.

I’d count more than one of the authors as friends, and so many of the book’s conversations rang true to our prior conversations and discussions. But at the same time, the clarity that comes from writing a chapter for a book was helpful to distill conversations over the years into clarity.

Evolution of Knowledge Management

Nancy Dixon provides some evolutionary context to knowledge management. The framework she provides helps to understand the forces that are changing knowledge management. Just as one great continent doesn’t make sense until you understand how tectonic plates have been moving, it’s hard to understand the forces in knowledge management without an organizing framework.

From the relatively simplistic and formulaic solutions for information management through the ability to manage experiences and onward into an era of managing ideas, we’ve been on a journey to build systems – both technical and non-technical – to help us adapt, cope, and even flourish in a world where information and knowledge are as vital as gold was.

Coming from a technology background, I had a front row seat as our capacity to create and manage information exploded. Moore’s law is interesting until you have the flash of awareness that your first computer had 64 KB of RAM and now your phone has 64 GB of RAM. When your first hard drive was 20 or 30 MB, now what you consider to be disposable USB flash drives are at least 16 GB.

Knowledge management is the same way. We started with knowledge bases and limited full-text searching. Today, we have social network analysis and natural language processing sitting on top of our search capabilities to enhance the results we see. The mountain of explicit information has demanded – and received – better tooling, while, at the same time, we’ve recognized the need to enable tacit connections as well.

The Right, The Wrong, and the Maybe

Knowledge management made some big promises, and, in most organizations, those promises weren’t kept. Like a jilted lover, businesses started rejecting knowledge management as a waste of time and money, leading to the proclamation that knowledge management is dead. Of course, like all things, there’s some truth, some fiction, and some unavoidable lack of clarity.

Knowledge management is fundamentally an organizational change initiative. John Kotter and others in the organizational change space admit that 70% of organizational change initiatives fail. (See Leading Change and The Heart of Change). Simply based on the fact that changing the way organizations share knowledge is an organizational change initiative, we shouldn’t be surprised that there are some failures – in fact, a lot of failures. However, this message doesn’t sell well to leadership. Few leaders who are making the decision to do an organizational change initiative know of the failure rate for fear that they won’t fund the project. However, the tragedy in this is that many boards could influence their success if they knew what the risks were.

Knowledge is “squishy.” Some of it is explicit and much more is tacit. (See Lost Knowledge for more on tacit knowledge.) Knowledge exists in relation to everything else, and it seems like everything is always changing. As a result, the knowledge that we have one day may be completely or partially useless the next. For example, changing times made the knowledge of how to create prismatic glass for lighthouse Fresnel lenses no longer useful. As glass manufacturing changed, the knowledge no longer matched how glass was made and therefore became useless. We face similar challenges with knowledge every day. Knowledge becomes useless as some other part of the process changes.

So, while knowledge is a critical asset of an organization, and it is possible, to a certain degree, that we can manage it and encourage its use, in the end, knowledge isn’t stable and won’t be useful forever.

Best Practices

One of the topics that often arises when speaking about knowledge management is the desire to capture and replicate best practices. The idea is, of course, that if there’s a one best way of doing things then getting everyone to do it that way will generate better results. In theory, this is a great idea, but in practice, it doesn’t always work so well.

The first problem with best practices is importing them from one place to another. In the import, we face the high tariff of not invented here. Not invented here is the bias that people have towards using the good ideas of others instead of doing what they’ve done all along. In medicine, it shows up as the doctor using procedures and tools that research has shown to be ineffective, because they don’t want to trust the research more than their own experience – however flawed that may be. Doctors aren’t the only ones who believe their own experiences over the data.

Our marketing world, where claims aren’t verified or conditions aren’t clearly articulated, only exacerbates the problem of our trust that someone else’s practice is better and more effective than ours. Some believe that they’re special, and the statistics don’t apply to them or the environment, and they may be right.

All knowledge is conditional to the environment in which it operates. The same advice may be appropriate in some situations and completely disastrous in others. Consider the advice to water plants weekly. Completely appropriate for many plants. Disastrous for the cactus that expects very arid soil.

There is no best practice. There are only practices proven to work in certain circumstances – and the catch is that, in many cases, we can’t enumerate and identify what the conditions were that were critical to this success. Without that, we have little hope of finding and leveraging best practices.

The best we can do in knowledge management is articulate what has worked and what the subject matter experts believe were the salient factors and hope that the transparency creates a degree of trust that allows people to take the risk of using the practices. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy for more on the impact of vulnerability on trust.)

Strength of Relationships

In a world where uncertainty is king, “an organization’s ability to respond to the unpredictable is largely a function of the strength of its relationships.” That is, an organization’s adaptability is related to how well its people work together. (See The Black Swan for more on unpredictable events.) This means that effective knowledge management solutions must support, enhance, and extend relationships in the organization in a way that increases their strength. Knowledge is not, by itself, capable of protecting an organization from the storms of change. Only the people that bring life to the organization and their relationships can.

For a long time now, knowledge management professionals have known that it’s more than connecting people to content. Person-to-person connection is a huge part of how knowledge management works. The integration of social network analysis to search results indicates a growing awareness even on the content discoverability side of the power of relationships.

Story Telling

Development of stories and their power to motivate and connect people seems like an unlikely thing to cover in a book on knowledge management, but it’s critical to realize that knowledge is useful in our ability to connect with it at an emotional level. (See Wired for Story and Story Genius for more on how stories are written and how they impact us.)

The knowledge that we capture in our systems can be dry and without story. For some content, this works just fine, but for the kind of knowledge that transforms people and thereby the organization, a story – or stories – is required. Stories are constructed in a way that the reader becomes emotionally connected with the characters in the story. This connection drives the desire to find out more and creates the desire for learning that Malcolm Knowles and his colleagues say is important for adult learning. (See The Adult Learner for more.)

Communities and Participation

Communities can be an amazing thing to drive knowledge. However, this only works when the community has the kind of participation that works. Communities need to be of a certain size to work well. Too big, and they become unwieldy. Too small, and they don’t generate enough activity to sustain themselves. As a rule of thumb, only 10% of members will contribute and as little as 1% will be routinely engaged. That means that community sizes of a few hundred are an ideal minimum to keep the conversations happening.

For smaller organizations, this means that the entire organization may be in one community. For larger organizations, the challenge may be keeping the noise level low enough that people feel like the community is theirs.

Communities shouldn’t be organizationally-based but instead interest-based. There are teams and larger groupings that serve the needs to organize around “strictly business.” Communities allow for the cross-functional and cross-locational collaboration that drives innovation.

Reading Knowledge Management Matters may not move you to the inside ring of the knowledge management community. However, it may be a good first step.

Step, Step, Click

I have never been in a literal mine field, and I’m not anxious to explore the opportunity. However, like all humans, I feel like sometimes I’m wandering around a field of emotional landmines. I can’t predict what will set someone else off – or what I can do about it. The truth is that others have the same experience with me. A well-intended comment can set me off if it touches a landmine from my past.

Landmines of the Past

Landmines are leftovers from long-forgotten hurts. It’s the time that you got yelled at, belittled, or felt shame. Those things, while buried underneath the usual pleasantries, are there just waiting to be stepped on, so that they can be unleashed.

We can, sometimes, diffuse or partially diffuse these situations. I know, for instance, that I react very negatively to stonewalling. (See The Science of Trust for more on what stonewalling is.) I react when people suggest that others need to be on anti-depressants for the rest of their lives. (See Choice Theory for more of my views on this.) Both examples are despite a great deal of work and earnest attempts to mitigate the response.

I’ve addressed the obvious ways that these reactions surface. It’s not like I don’t know I’m sensitized to stonewalling. It’s that I don’t realize situations that will set off a reaction. Our children being coy about what they’re doing or who they’re going out with can set it off – though not so much anymore. It seems like every few months there’s a new dimension of hurt that I didn’t quite address.

Flags on the Landmines

The first step to preventing an explosion in yourself is to know clearly where the landmines are. Clearly, I’ve managed to locate a few of mine. I know, at least to some degree, what some of my landmines are. Discovering your emotional landmines isn’t easy, but it does require some honest assessment of your previous responses. The easiest way to find landmines is by looking at the craters that they create.

When was the last time you flew off the handle or lost control? Those are your clues for where the landmines may be. The more challenging step is trying to identify what in the situation set you off. We’ve all been told we’re stupid – but what about that situation was different? We’ve all been subjected to unrealistic expectations, but why did this circumstance cause you to blow your stack?

To find the exact location of the landmine – so we can mark it and be careful about avoiding it – we must move from the generic to the specific. We’ve got to find similar situations where we didn’t get triggered. The funny thing about emotional landmines is that they generally have a very narrow exposure pattern. It takes something very similar to the original hurt to set them off. If you feel like you’re getting triggered by many things, then perhaps you’re not dealing with one emotional landmine but several.

Waning Willpower

To find the key characteristics that triggered us and separate them from those that aren’t important, we have to recognize the distorting influence that our willpower can have. It’s quite possible that you were fuming underneath your breath because you were triggered by something, but at that particular moment, your willpower was high, and therefore your ability to control yourself was more than enough. While it’s great that you maintained your cool, it’s important to recognize that you won’t always have a high degree of willpower.

Willpower is an exhaustible – and replenishable – resource. You’ll naturally have more sometimes and less others. In our quest to find triggers, we can’t ignore that sometimes someone will step on an emotional landmine, and you’ll contain it with your willpower. Other times, even getting near the landmine will set it off, because you have precious little willpower left. (See Willpower for more.)

You can’t eliminate yourself and your level of willpower when trying to differentiate between the times when you were triggered and lost it and those where you did not. It’s entirely possible that the only difference was willpower – and you can’t always depend on willpower.

Disarming Landmines

The beautiful thing about identifying landmines specifically is that you can sometimes go back and work through the hurt that created the landmine in the first place. If you’re sensitive to stonewalling – like I am – you can work on revisiting the situations that created this sensitivity and recharacterizing them or seeking to better understand them.

Albert Bandura became famous with his work to desensitize patients of their phobias. (See Moral Disengagement for more of his work.) He’d take someone with a paralyzing fear and progressively move them through greater and greater degrees of safe exposure to the thing that they were afraid of. We can use the same approach with our emotional landmines. We find safe ways to explore the space that would historically set us off.

Safety

The difficult part is to understand how to be safe as we’re dealing with sensitive issues. Often, we find ourselves reliving parts of our lives where we were vulnerable, and people took advantage of us. We find ourselves temporarily trapped in our former selves. This can be a scary experience. However, the truth is that we know we’ll make it out of the situation – because we already have.

Safety, we find, is a perception. It’s not reality. We feel safe driving our cars and unsafe on an airplane, but statistically speaking, our car is a substantially riskier activity. As we’re dealing with landmines, we want to place ourselves in circumstances and surroundings that are most likely to create the perception of safety. It’s the safety that will allow us to get closer to the original fear or hurt that created the landmine, so we can remove it.

Other’s Landmines

While we may not be able to anticipate others’ landmines, we can create safety for them, so that they can have a greater chance of dealing with their landmines – and prevent us from getting caught up in it.

Available Now: Communications Tips for Everyone

Talking to people is hard. Talking to lots and lots of people is so hard that there are entire fields of study and job titles devoted to it. However, many of us weren’t trained to do this duty. It’s our job to get the information people need to them, but they don’t seem to be listening.

A few months ago, we released our User Engagement video series. We realized that part of the problem with getting users engaged is getting them listening in the first place. How do you get people aware of the exciting new technologies? How do you deliver the useful info when people just skim your subject line?

That’s why we compiled a whole set of communications tips for anyone to be able to use and understand. From the modest memo to the company-wide communications, you don’t have to be professionally trained in the art of conversation to get people to perk their ears up and pay attention. Each five minute video delivers a tip or trick that you can use immediately in your corporate communications.

The first one here discusses what to do when you have to deliver some sensitive subjects to your organization. Check it out:

Just like with our user engagement series, we’ll be slowly releasing all of these videos on YouTube. However, you can sign up and get these videos delivered to you every week, ad-free. All you have to do is click here to sign up today.

Then, if you decide that you want to use these videos internally, you can license it for use in your organization. With no ads, branding, or bumpers, you’ll get all the videos at once, even those that we haven’t made public yet. Click here to support us and your communicators.

Coffee in the Cloud Interview: Improve the Message

Last week, I did an interview with Karuana Gatimu for Coffee in the Cloud about transforming your communications and driving employee engagement. It’s being posted on YouTube today, so feel free to check it out here: https://youtu.be/bN56MCW0LNg.

If you’re interested in getting some more help with your communications, you can sign up for the email series by clicking here. Or if you just need some quick user engagement tips, you can sign up by going here.

Book Review-Emotion and Adaptation

Everyone feels emotions. Even those who seek to suppress their emotions through stuffing or addiction still feel them. However, most of the time, we don’t consider how our emotions come to be or how they’re threaded through our evolution. Shining a light and focusing our attention on our emotions is what Emotion and Adaptation seeks to do.

I came to this book through a very winding route. Some years ago, I read Destructive Emotions, which is a conversation including both the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. Since then, I had read more of Paul Ekman’s work in Telling Lies and Cracking the Code. I’ve read much of the Dalai Lama’s work in An Appeal to the World and My Spiritual Journey. I also read Emotional Awareness, which shares some of the continuing conversations of Dr. Ekman and the Dalai Lama. However, it was the challenge put forth in How Emotions Are Made that caused me to dig back through my notes and to discover a comment that Dr. Ekman made to the Dalai Lama about the book Emotion and Adaptation.

The challenge is whether emotions are universally formed and have a singular physiological signature that defines them or whether emotions are the result of a set of forces that don’t cause them to end up in predictable patterns as much as they create clusters of related feelings. Where How Emotions are Made criticizes the established thinking about emotions, Emotion and Adaptation takes the long view and mostly affirms the existing thinking while indicating, in places, that what we know about emotions is incomplete.

Appraisal

At the heart of the question is how emotions are formed and Lazarus’ assertion in Emotion and Adaptation is that emotions are formed based on the appraisal of the environment. That is that emotions are our response to what we believe the impact of the situation will be to us. We’re constantly scanning the environment to assess it for threats and opportunities. These assessments – whether correct or not – become the basis for our emotions.

Lazarus believes that emotions come from a primary appraisal of the relevance of the environment to our goals. The first part of the appraisal is a filter as to whether the environment is relevant to any goal. If it is relevant, then the next step is the evaluation of whether the current environment is congruent or incongruent. That is, the environment is appraised to whether it helps move us forward in our goals or backwards. Finally, we consider how important this goal is to our self-identification.

There is a secondary appraisal that is engaged to assess attribution of the environment – whether we’ll receive credit or blame for the situation, our coping potential, and whether we expect that the situation will get better or worse.

The coping potential component of the secondary assessment is very much like willpower (see Willpower) and hope (see The Psychology of Hope). The secondary assessment isn’t an assessment of the person-environment relationship. Instead, it’s an assessment of our personal capacity. It’s about whether or not we can rise to the challenge.

Emotional Intensity

Where our assessment of the relationship between the environment and our goals drives us towards an emotion, the intensity of the emotion is created by the level of threat or opportunity with relationship to the goal and our commitment to the goal. The more committed to the goal we are, the more intense our emotions will be when there is a threat or opportunity towards it.

When we feel strong emotions, we would do well to consider how committed we are to the goal – and why we feel the goal is threatened or strengthened by the situation.

Hidden Goals

One of the key challenges that people face with their emotions is that they feel opaque. It’s not possible for most people to peer into the construction of their emotions – a point discussed at length in How Emotions Are Made. Because emotions just seem to happen, it’s difficult to even determine what caused the emotion to erupt in the first place.

When viewing emotions as the response to our assessment of the impact of the environment on our goals, it’s important to recognize that not all goals are the same for everyone. Still, some goals are universal. Survival is, generally, one such goal. The other class of goals are unique to us and our perceptions of ourselves.

Some of our personal goals are apparent in our explicit understanding of ourselves and what we want. Another set of personal goals are not explicit and are tacit things that we want but cannot articulate. (See Lost Knowledge for more on tacit vs. explicit.)

In seeking a better relationship with our emotions, it’s relatively easy to disassemble the factors leading to our emotional responses by evaluating the common or explicit personal goal impacted and the way that we feel that goal is impacted. While the connection we make unconsciously may be faster and richer than our conscious awareness, we can with work generally expose the components that led to the emotional reaction.

However, uncovering the cause of emotions which are driven by tacit goals is substantially harder. This is both because tacit goals are necessarily unconscious and because they don’t always make rational sense. Often, the tacit goals that provoke emotion are goals to protect ourselves – from hurts that we’ve previously felt.

Historic Hurts

There’s a bit of recursion going on to say that some of our emotions are based on previous emotions. However, there is lots of loops in nature, history, and evolution. The assessment of the environment is heavily biased towards the things that have harmed us in the past. So, at one level, we have a goal to not be harmed that is universal. In fact, Jonathan Haidt spoke of care/harm as a foundation for morality in The Righteous Mind.

At a more detailed level, we’re working to prevent the specific hurts that we’ve felt. If we’ve been hurt by someone close to us in a romantic relationship, we may find ways to protect ourselves from this pain. Sometimes, in this case, we’ll seek to isolate ourselves and to prevent intimacy. (See Intimacy Anorexia.) John Gottman’s word is “stonewalling,” which expresses the defensive nature. (See The Science of Trust.)

The fact that people respond based on their history is a fact. The question is what we do with that knowledge. Do we ignore our history and accept that there are hidden hurts that will drive us, or do we seek to acknowledge the past hurts and learn to adjust our assessments of our probability of being hurt that way again, so that we’re willing to take appropriate risks? (For more on the topic of trust, see Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy.)

So often, our emotions that rise to the surface like a geyser are stirred in our history of hurts that we aren’t even conscious of. We are, in many ways, still assessing the situation like a child – or younger adult – who has been harmed deeply and is positioning to prevent the hurt from happening again.

States and Traits

It’s in the processing of these hurts that we land ourselves in the murky land between emotional states – that is, our moment to moment emotions – and emotional traits – our predisposition or characteristic emotions. One can be happy or generally happy. Typically grumpy or just grumpy in the moment. How is it that these are related?

There’s an intervening stop between the state and the trait that may be helpful in enhancing our understanding. We can have an emotional state of happiness or we can have a general mood of happiness. A mood is a continuance or predisposition towards an emotion over time – but not as a permanent state of the individual. A mood then is the first extension of an emotional state over time.

Moods are like the emotional record getting stuck in a groove. The same emotions seem to keep reoccurring until someone bumps the table and causes the record to jump into a new groove. That is, someone in a mood seems to have the same emotional states more frequently than others.

Extending this across time, what if an emotional trait is simply a magnet that pulls emotional states back towards a set of states that are familiar, common, and comfortable?

If we consider this in the context of hidden hurts, we can see that sometimes the environment is assessed positively or negatively for a while until something substantial changes the assessment, and thus we get a mood. Hidden hurts, which aren’t dealt with, can keep pulling a person back to an assessment that leads them to have the same emotional states across time.

The more we can address the hidden hurts, the less pull they have to keep us in a mood or even develop an emotional trait. The more that we can help ourselves feel safe in the recognition of these hurts, the more we can help ourselves feel safe.

Startle vs. Emotion

With any definition, the challenges are always at the edges. What is an emotion and what is not? When it comes to this question, the challenge is often defining what it is to be startled. If your view is that emotions are caused by appraisal of the environment, what sort of appraisal can be made in the milliseconds between a loud noise and the resulting jump? The answer is – of course – not much. Thus, it makes sense that Lazarus might define startle as a reaction rather than an emotion.

Largely this makes sense. The startle itself doesn’t influence mood, and though it forces the reticular activating system (RAS) to turn the attention dial up to 12, it doesn’t directly seem to have an emotional component. (See Change or Die for more on the RAS.) The physiological impact of adrenaline release seems to increase the tendencies for anxiety and fear – but these can easily be explained by the endocrine system without need to ascribe direct emotive qualities.

So just like moods or emotional traits aren’t necessarily emotions but rather are factors that influence emotion, so, too, are there physiological and neurological events like the startle response that are not emotions either.

Feeling Safe

Safety is an illusion. We believe that we are safe when we are only relatively safe – or unsafe. Our technology has limited the devastation that Mother Nature can unleash. We’ve found ways to reliably provide shelter and warmth for most humans. We’ve learned how to avoid food borne diseases and we eliminate harmful bacteria from our water. In many ways, our lives are safer than they have ever been – and yet we’re still not objectively, completely safe.

A car or plane crash can still into our homes, killing us. For all that matters, we don’t know that there’s not an invisible, asteroid-sized object on a collision course with Earth right now. There is no way that we can guarantee that we are actually safe. We can only say that we feel safe – or not.

Our emotions are not driven by our actual safety. Our emotions are driven by our perception of our safety. We can walk within feet of a lion and feel safe – if we’re in a zoo. It isn’t the lion itself that creates our fear. It’s the possibility that the lion might eat us. We evaluate the probability and even possibility that we might be harmed – and decide whether we should be afraid or not.

The key opportunity in Lazarus’ work is the opportunity to create the perception of safety to change the appraisals that people make and therefore their emotions. Albert Bandura’s work demonstrated that even those people with strong phobias can be relieved of the phobia through progressive introduction of safety. (See some of his work in Moral Disengagement. I covered my book review about the mechanisms and the cases.)

Adaptive and Maladaptive

One of the interesting questions that arise with emotions is whether they’re adaptive or maladaptive. That is, would most people believe that the response was proportional to the situation? In the context of our hidden hurts, this is problematic. If we recoil from a touch and get anxious, is that adaptive or maladaptive? With no history of pain, one would say that such an emotional reaction would be maladaptive. However, put in the context of someone who has been physically abused, the anxiety is a reasonable response.

A better way to view adaptive and maladaptive may be to view the response in the context of whether the response moves someone forward to their collective goals. So, is the emotion itself and the corresponding behaviors congruent with moving someone forward towards their goals or moving them further away? Adaptive behaviors move us closer to our goals and maladaptive ones move us further away. When our emotions are adaptive, they encourage adaptive behaviors.

Afflictive or Non-Afflictive

Where Western psychology uses the measurement of adaptive and maladaptive, Buddhism uses afflictive and non-afflictive. Rather than measuring the behaviors that result from the emotion, Buddhism acknowledges that the emotion itself can be helpful or harmful. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers explains the profound and multifaceted impact of stress on our bodies and minds (see my reviews regarding the physical impact, the psychology and neurology, and the causes and cures of stress). Nelson Mandela wrote, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Resentment is a poison – an emotion that would be easily described as afflictive, because it harms you but not the other person. Conversely, caring for others seems to have positive physical and psychological benefits.

While we can’t directly control our emotions, we can look for opportunities to shape them by encouraging non-afflictive, adaptive responses and discouraging emotions that cause us emotional distress.

Emotional Distress

If you were to look through DSM-5 for diagnosis criteria for the various psychological problems that are cataloged, you’d find a common thread. That thread is the fact that the diagnostic criteria almost uniformly include some form of emotional distress. Emotional distress is the key to psychopathology. However, emotional distress in and of itself isn’t psychopathology. Even with the definition of depression, there is care taken to avoid short-term negative mood. Depression is reserved for when the feelings are persistent over a longer period of time.

Coping Skills

Your car breaks down or, more precisely, catches on fire while you’re driving it, resulting in a total loss. You’re in the position of needing to get a new car immediately. Your emotional reaction isn’t going to be positive, but it will be very different if you’ve got the money saved up to buy the new car you want with cash vs. having to accept something you don’t want and still being concerned about the car payment if you don’t have the money to replace it. The difference in how you feel has very little to do with the actual event and has more to do with your capacity to cope with it.

While this is a practical example, the same holds true for the loss of a friend when you have many friends as compared to you have few friends or you find it hard to make new friends. You’ll react differently to job loss if you feel like you’ll have no trouble finding a new position when compared to if you’re concerned that you’ll find anything – or that you won’t be able to make enough to live with what you can find.

Our emotional response is driven by our belief in ourselves and our capacity to overcome. Martin Seligman and his colleagues once believed that you could learn helplessness. However, more recent research by his colleagues teaches us that we actually learn control or the illusion of control. (See Compelled to Control for more on the illusion of control, and The Hope Circuit for learning control vs. learning helplessness.)

When we teach ourselves and others that we have more control of our world, we minimize the intensity of emotions and generally make them more positive.

The Relationship Between Cognition and Emotion

It may be apparent at this point that there is a relationship between cognition and emotion. In fact, I’ve been encouraging the thought that our cognition can shape our emotion. By subtly shifting and changing our appraisals, we can shift our emotions. We can do this by changing our goals or exposing conflicting goals that balance out the appraisal as not good in some respects and good in others. However, I’ve largely ignored the impact that emotion has on cognition.

Drive explains that time pressure focuses thinking in a way that limits the development of alternate solutions. Thinking, Fast and Slow explains how negative confirmation bias can send us into a downward spiral. Our emotion has the greatest influence on our cognition by shaping what options we’re able to consider. This is one of the reasons why having a community of supportive, authentic people can be a powerful forward force in your life.

Depression and Grief

Depression is a critical topic for today’s world. It’s moving into the position of being the world’s largest health concern. It’s been the subject of Choice Theory, Warning: Psychiatry Can be Hazardous to Your Mental Health, and scores of other books. Depression is the reaction to loss, whether that be a tangible or a psychological loss. Grief, on the other hand, is related but different in that it is focused on the activation of resources for coping with the loss. Where depression appears to just happen to someone, grief is the process of recovery.

If you were to point to one thing that we could do to relieve human suffering, it would be to help people move from a focus on the losses that they’ve experienced and towards the capacity that they have to recover. In other words, it would be moving people from depression to grief. Instead of being victims of the loss, they become reactionary to it. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die for more on victimhood.)

The Necessity of Emotions

While emotions may at times be unpleasant and unwanted, they’re necessary for life, happiness, and joy. In my experience, I’ve seen the severe psychological distress created by people who are not able to express their emotions, because they’ve been told that emotions are scary or unsafe. The resulting misery and sometimes catastrophic breaks in reality are tragic.

Perhaps if you can understand where emotions come from and how they form, you can remove the fear of emotions and instead harness them to help move you to a place of happiness and joy. It’s not possible to blunt out the negative feelings without blunting the joy that life can bring, and most of us can’t live without some joy. Maybe that’s why there’s Emotion and Adaptation.

Out of Order Information

We like things to be in their proper place, but sometimes what we think is proper is different than what other people think. Luckily, we can get our information in order just how we like it, as we explain in this engagement video.

If you want to share this video, you can get it ad-free. All you need to do is click here to sign up, and we’ll send all our engagement videos to you via email.

Book Review-Beyond the Wisdom of Walt: Life Lessons from the Most Magical Place on Earth

What happens when you step out of Disneyland or Walt Disney World? You take the shuttles, monorail, or boats back to your vehicle… But what then? What happens after you’ve been to a place of magic and you come back to the “real world?” Do you bring a bit of the magic with you to nurture and spread, or do you leave it all behind with the hopes of returning real soon? Jeffrey Barnes’ vision in Beyond The Wisdom of Walt: Life Lessons from the Most Magical Place on Earth is for you to take the magic beyond the parks.

Barnes’ first book, The Wisdom of Walt, explains Walt Disney, his life, and his passions. It explains the man, the movies, and the parks. It highlights for us where the magic was to make it a bit easier to find and a bit easier to understand. Without diminishing the quality of the experience, he shares with us the magician’s tricks so that we can look in wonder at what shaped the story without ruining the illusion. However, Beyond is different. It’s different, because instead of confining the story to the parks, Barnes seeks to help us find a way to integrate the best of Walt and the parks and bring that to our everyday lives.

It’s Kind of Fun to Do the Impossible

“Impossible” is just a word, but it holds so much power for most of us. It’s impossible to write a book or get a patent. Except that it’s not. We know that it’s possible – we just believe it’s impossible for us. The funny thing is that it’s not impossible. It’s just hard. Disney knew that what most people believed was impossible was just hard, and he was always willing to do the hard work.

For me, writing books has become almost passé. I know that writing a book is just like writing a bunch of articles and stringing them together. I know that writing an article is like writing a bunch of summaries on topics and stringing them together. I know that no matter how much you hate writing, you can write a book if you dedicate yourself to it. I once had an English teacher tell me that I should never do anything with writing. To say my writing back then wasn’t good would be very generous. I didn’t use that as a personal mission to become good – it just happened to me naturally as one thing led to another.

Barnes explains in Beyond that The Wisdom of Walt took twenty years and 142 days to write – and the 142 days is all that mattered. 142 days is less than a half a year. What would it be like to have written a book this year? It’s not impossible. It’s just hard.

In The Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler speaks of some of the incredible feats that extreme athletes are able to do. They seem almost super-human. No human could possibly do these things, but they do. And why? Well, there’s a mix of a lot of purposeful practice (see Peak) and a state of mind called flow. (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman.) What we believed was impossible was – in fact – very possible. If you need something specific, the sub-four-minute mile was considered impossible. Someone who accomplished this would surely die because it was beyond human capacity. When Roger Bannister did it in 1954 – nine years after a slightly over four-minute mile run by another gentleman who maintained the record – he only got to enjoy the glory of being the fastest man for two months before someone else bested his time.

Impossible is just a word. Nothing is impossible. It’s impossible to create an amusement park that doesn’t draw in an undesirable carnival atmosphere, but Disney did it. It’s impossible to build a company, a way of life, and a culture around a mouse, but that’s exactly what happened. It’s impossible to put a man on the moon and return him safely home – except that’s what America did.

Had you asked me five years ago if I’d ever get a patent, I’d have told you it was impossible. I didn’t have any particularly deep knowledge of chemistry, mechanics, molecular engineering, or any of the other skills that I thought would warrant the issuance of a patent. However, together with my wife we devised a way to make it easier for patients to be safer in the hospital by some changes to the humble dressing that protects from infections. Three years later – yes, three years – we’ve got a patent. It was impossible – right up to the point where it wasn’t.

Walt Disney got the chance to make the impossible happen. He got the chance to change reality and you can too.

Creating Reality

Walking down Main Street, U.S.A., there are two competing thoughts. The first is, this isn’t real. It isn’t like any real place you’ve ever been – and at the same time, it harkens back to a time that we all wish was real. This thought is interrupted by the realization that, though it may be, in some ways, a front, it is also objectively real. You can see it, smell it, touch it. It must therefore be real – whatever that means.

It’s difficult to accept that Disney created lands and worlds, but we know that he did. We know that he shaped his reality around his dreams and visions. So why can’t we create our realities? I’m not suggesting that we create our own theme parks, but aren’t there small ways that you can create your reality today?

I can hear the voice inside your head (because I think it got there by way of mine) that says: “But you’re not Walt Disney.” That’s right. You didn’t go bankrupt. You didn’t have a father that never understood your art or what you were doing. You, in fact, may be more likely to succeed at creating your reality than he was.

Progression

I should be careful to add that Disney didn’t make wild, unfounded bets. He made small attempts and then progressively larger ones. He didn’t start with Snow White (his first full length animated film). He started with animated shorts and perfected the skills necessary to move to the next level. The opportunity to create (or shape) your reality isn’t a license for recklessness. It’s a license to move forward.

Barnes explains that he’s descended from General George Pickett, who led the disastrous charge at Gettysburg. His wife, Niki, is the voice of reason that helps him make slow and steady progress instead of wild charges into the unknown. That steadying force is important. Whether internally motivated or externally provided, we all need someone who can temper and help us to regulate the passion to move forward and the persistence to move through barriers.

Barriers

It’s in the way. The thing that I want is on the other side of this barrier. Getting past it seems like a frustration, a waste of time, or just plain depressing. However, sometimes the barriers are exactly what we need to develop our character in ways that allow us to reach our dreams and shape our realities.

I’m reminded that if you “help” newly-hatched sea turtles get to the ocean, you condemn them to death. They need the struggle to find their way to calibrate their sense of direction. Chicks will die if you “help” free them from their egg shell. While no one likes struggle, it’s the struggle that makes us who and what we are – and we’re better for it.

Disneyland exists, because Burbank didn’t want the carnival atmosphere they expected from Disney’s plan for a Mickey Mouse Park. The Seven Seas Lagoon exists, because the geology wouldn’t support a parking lot that was planned for the location. Instead of pictures with a sea of cars in front of the park, we have pictures with an actual, beautiful, sea in front of the park. Barriers sometimes stop you from the easy and ordinary and force you into doing something extraordinary, something worthwhile.

Doing Something Worthwhile

Simon Sinek implores leaders to Start with Why when leading others. It’s the “why” that is the purpose. Strangely, it was a quote from Jack Lindquist that made Disney’s mission make sense to me. “We are not a cure for cancer, we are not going to save the world, but if we can make people happy for a few hours for a day, then we are doing something worthwhile.” The key was that something worthwhile.

Barnes relates the story of Walt’s father (Elias) coming to see his brand new studios. Unable to help his father understand the practicality of the studio, he finally described it in terms of how it could be used for a hospital. To Walt’s dad, his drawings and his movies weren’t “practical.” Practical was a proxy for “useful.” Elias’ question seemed to be whether or not what Walt was doing was contributing to the world. While Walt spent the entire tour speaking as if the studio could be a hospital, he was telling a story that his dad could hear and understand. As the master storyteller, one couldn’t expect much else, but Elias missed the point. He missed the point not just of the studio but of his son’s legacy.

It isn’t that the Disney brothers cured cancer. However, they did change the course of human evolution. They’ve helped millions of Americans see a world that encourages us to be the best that we can be. Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point explains the power of small things that make a big difference. The streets are clean. The “cast” are friendly. The world seems just a bit safer – a bit better – inside the parks. For a moment, Guests (Disney reportedly insisted that the word “guests” was always written with a capital G) can believe in a world that’s a little bit brighter and a little bit better than it actually is.

Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” For Walt and Roy, the change was to make the world a bit happier, and hopefully their desire for happiness could spread.

Hard Work, Patience and Persistence.

It’s easy to think that the theme parks work on magic. However, the sobering truth is, as Lee Cockerell says, “It’s not the magic that makes it work; it’s the way we work that makes it magic.” Even today, operating the parks is hard work. Creating them was hard work. All the magic comes from hard work.

Walt Disney went bankrupt. He lost his first major character to Universal. He fought and struggled. He worked hard to make his visions a reality. From animated shorts to full-length films, he fought for what he believed in. A little-known fact is that most of Disney’s movies lost money on their first run in the theatres. However, he didn’t stop.

The project that became the 27,000 acres of Walt Disney World were a reality that Disney himself never got to see. He died six months before groundbreaking. Unlike other projects that Disney waited to see, this one he had run out of time for. His smoking habit had finally caught up with him. However, while he was living, he waited until his team had developed the skills to do feature length films. He waited to build Walt Disney World until he felt the timing was right. In the end, his brother and his team completed his vision for a theme park on the east coast.

The combination of hard work, patience, and perseverance is what built the experience we know today. The question for all of us is how are we going to use these same qualities to go Beyond the Wisdom of Walt?