Reflections on Living

 

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Previous Postings: Self-Sabotage as a Way of LifeThe Recidivist’s Waltz – The Consultant’s Disease

Be Resistant to Change (From Self-Sabotage: 12 Nasty Habits)
Change:

  • Make or become different
  • Take or use another instead of
  • The act or instance of making or becoming different

This definition is a useful place to start. Notice the three different parts. The first is intentional towards an object – either animate or inanimate. “I changed the color of my car.” The second implies an alternative. “I used this rather than that.” The third is intentional within. “I changed my mind.” It is this part of the definition that will serve us best as we work through the chapter.

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OK – I’ll admit it – “over my dead body” is an offer that I have sometimes found very hard to refuse. I make a distinction between serious dedication to exhaustive inquiry – constructive engagement – and the kind of pig-headed obstructionism that this behavior evidences.

I have great patience for constructive engagement – a dedication to detail and thoroughness. Often it has been the differentiator that has allowed me to prevail over the shallow-water types who just skim the surface and phone it in. I like to have lots of constructive engagers around me. They are the professionals who will beat out the amateur every time.

The type I am describing here has none of those positive characteristics. These are people who just don’t want their routine disturbed – don’t want the deckchairs rearranged even if the ship is sinking – can’t stand the idea that the world of tomorrow might be different from their world today. Since all life is change, they are, in a fundamental way, in opposition to life itself.

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Self-Sabotage as a Way of Life: When I started the research for Self-Sabotage: 12 Nasty Habits, I was responding to a single experience – a chance occurrence that lead me to consider why this person acted in a way that was clearly against his own interest. But, as I got into the research and began asking more and more people about self-sabotaging behaviors, I came to realize that I had wandered into a large, dark room that was filled with furniture with sharp edges.

Through conversations that often went on for more than two years, I developed my dirty dozen – 12 habits that were clearly damaging the prospects and lives of the people engaging in them. The result was the publication of Self-Sabotage: 12 Nasty Habits.

The reception that the book received was far beyond my wildest expectations. People read it and took the time to let me know how important it was to them. They saw themselves in some of the chapters and many gathered the energy and commitment to make changes – to stop sabotaging their own interests – to stop damaging their own life.

About a month after the publication of the book, I received an email from a reader. This one was different from the others. Key sentences from it will show you why. “I read your book and found myself adopting some of the behaviors that you describe. I didn’t do it consciously. I just began. Then I realized that my compulsion is to self-sabotage. Your book gave me new ways to do that. Ones I had never thought of.”

Well you might imagine my response. I read and reread the email. It was hard to get my mind around the fact that, even though I had written a book to help people stop self-sabotaging, it would be the instrument of enabling someone to be more proficient in doing just that.

A memory came creeping back. When I was at the Sloan School of Management in MIT I had the great fortune to study with Jay Forrester, the creator of the first computer memory core as well as a new way of looking at complex systems. Jay was fond of saying, “with complex systems, it’s the second order effects that will surprise you.” Second order effects are the unintended consequences of any action.

Suddenly the email made sense. The book not only helped most people identify and avoid self-sabotaging behaviors. It also helped identify those who choose to live a life of compulsive self-sabotaging.

I have contacted the person who wrote the email. He is the CEO of a middle-market company. We have begun working together. Progress is being made. And. it seems that my dirty dozen has a cousin.

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The Recidivist’s Waltz: An old friend was fond of saying things that boiled down a situation and focused on the core.  I always enjoyed his company and wry observations. One of the things he was fond of observing wss that “People get to deal with the same problem over and over again until they solve it. Then they get to move on to the next one!” I always responded with, “What circle are you re-rounding now? And when will you move on to the next one?”

Over the years I have gradually probed deeper into the idea of practiced recidivism. My mentoring work brings me into regular contact with the tendency. Here are some things that I have learned:

  • The tendency to repeat experiences is a defensive mechanism. People can become comfortable with the frustrations of a known challenge and come to see it as preferable to the uncertainty of a new one.
  • The operation of this preference is actually within the conscious mind – it is a conscious decision that is made and then relegated to the realm of the unconscious. There it functions as a form of self-delusion
  • The efforts at change are most often designed to fail and maintain the status quo. They are designed from the very beginning to be ineffective. As an example, I know a person who moves from one “coach” to another. He dances away from one when the work begins to focus on the need to make real change and engages another so as to begin again in the safe zone. I am reminded of another friend who – having been married and divorced five times – told me “I like falling in love. I’m really good at it. What I can’t manage is being in love.”
  • The “Recidivist’s Waltz” almost always centers around an Avatar – a manufactured version of a person’s self. A mask, if you will. I describe how Avatar’s work in Self-Sabotage: 12 Nasty Habits. The dance is a way of distancing from reality via the interposition of a virtual reality.
  • Change is hard and usually only comes as a result of some crisis. The dance, unfortunately, only tends to stop when it is no longer possible to go on with it. This is the real tragedy. In Buddhism, there is the idea that the source of all discomfort is grasping. Stop grasping and the pain goes away. Instantly. Immediately. Completely. The decision to keep the pain is one that one makes when they decide to continue grasping. The same is true when it comes to the Recidivist’s Waltz. The decision to continue is a conscious one and it only ceases when the music is forced to stop.
  • The way out is hard work and not a journey that should be attempted solo. There are many side-tracks back to the status quo. Once a person reaches the point of no return – makes the decision that things have got to change – they are confronted with a set of decisions of enormous consequence. They can decide to “go it alone” – generally a strategy designed to fail. They can chose to work with a safe – warm and fuzzy – mentor. They can begin to attend any of the mass meeting programs given by self-appointed messiahs. Or they can engage with a tough-minded mentor who will only work with them if they are worth working with.

The point of all of this is that it is your life. You choose how to live it whether you want to admit it or not. There is little you can do about the reality you were born into. But that is not the point, is it? The real question is what do you do with the time you have been given – with this amazing gift called life. In that light, the Recidivist’s Waltz is a form of slow suicide. A premature ending of possibilities. It may be time to stop the dance and live the life.

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The Consultant’s Disease: I get approached by consultants who want to expand their business. It has been profitably (most often) supporting a small staff for some years. But the ‘bigger’ bug has been whispering in the principal’s ear for some time.

I believe it was Nietzsche who observed, in criticism of western philosophers, that although they built castles in the air they tended to live in the tool shed on the ground.  My first step – even before I engage to help – is to seek the answer to the question suggested by Nietzsche. Are the consultants living a life that avoids their own wisdom? Many of these consultants are providing advice to a range of clients on how to grow their businesses. The often have organized programs that focus on how to expand – how to scale – how to move from a sole proprietorship to a ‘real company’. Whether it is focused on organizational development, team building, business development or any of a wide range of essential areas, they offer advice designed to support the growth of a company – its expansion – on how to establish a pattern of growth.

The core question is “how good are these consultants at taking their own advice”. “Physician heal thyself!” I have found that asking this question divides the profession into two broad groups. There is the “do as I say, not as I do” crowd. Or, more properly, “do as I say but I’m not going to do as I say”. They are long on advice and short on taking it as their own. They develop plans to expand their clients’ businesses but don’t see those plans as relevant to their own expansion efforts.

The second group has a tendency to take their accumulated wisdom and professional advice seriously. They develop and implement a plan that looks a lot like those developed and implemented by their clients. But that may not be the panacea that it seems. What is interesting is the parallel results between their efforts and the results achieved by their clients. Here is the test of how good they really are. (This may be a reason that the first group avoids taking their own advice – a suspicion of “inadequacy”?) Consultants who have real value to add tend to have clients that are benefiting from that advice. Their businesses grow. They prosper. Such consultants also tend to be sucessful in their efforts to expand from a small consulting company to a larger one. Consultants who add little residual value tend to have clients who are either stagnating or declining. Those consultants tend to remain small operations.

So what is the consultant’s disease? It is the inability to learn for yourself and implement effectively the lessons what you are expecting your clients to learn. It is to see the world through a perspective that exempts you and your organization from the realities that you insistently suggest others face. And it is the tendency to overlook the correlation between the high value you put on your experience and advice and the results being achieved by your clients.

I have worked with consultants who have build very large organizations. They seemed to have done it relatively effortlessly. I have also worked with consultant who have spent frustrating years trying to find the formulae that will allow them to do the same. My conclusion is that recovery from the consultant’s disease must come first.

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