Is this our “Star Trek” Moment?

Every "Star Trek" USS Enterprise, Ranked
Starship Enterprise

For Trekkies, the question I am raising here is obvious. But for most of us who have watched the various incarnations of Star Trek through the past 50+ years, the premise of the program is something we may not have recognized is crucial to the current state of world affairs. It is well understood that Gene Roddenberry envisioned a civilization of greater social justice, racial tolerance, and collaborative governmental efforts. His stories were intended to be moral tales that could allow viewers to contemplate both the dangers of adventure (“to go where none have gone before”) and ethical dilemmas that resulted; the values of the desired society were tested in the behaviors of the characters facing overwhelming adversity through such stories. In many ways, Star Trek is more mythology than science fiction.

But how did we ever get to a time in the 23rd Century where “The Federation” existed? What series of events transpired to facilitate this vision? Here is an excellent summary from New York Vulture in 2017: 

To understand the allure of Star Trek, it’s necessary to understand the ways its creator Gene Roddenberry and later writers conceived of humanity’s future. While Earth is, for all intents and purposes, a utopia during the time of the various Star Trek series, it took a long, bloody road to get there. 21st-century Earth was embroiled in many conflicts, including what would become known as World War III (2024–2053), which was sparked by a litany of issues, including anger over genetic manipulation and the Eugenics Wars. Governments fell. Major cities were destroyed. The loss of life hovered around 600 million. Ten years after the end of the war, First Contact was made with the Vulcans (a rigid, highly logical species that count fan-favorite character Spock as a member), thanks to humanity building the first warp drive that allowed for space travel faster than the speed of light (this event is dramatized in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact). The discovery of intelligent alien races forced humanity to get its act together. After further chaos and attempts to establish order, eventually the United Earth Government was established in 2150. By the early 22nd century, humanity was able to eliminate most, if not all, of the poverty, disease, hunger, and cruelty that has plagued us since our beginnings. Racism, sexism, and even money was a thing of the past. Humanity’s drive became a philosophy of betterment and exploration.

We currently live at the front edge of this critical time in the history of humanity, the “Star Trek Moment.” It has been ushered into our collective consciousness by the COVID-19 pandemic, as this global threat has exposed the rifts and fissures of our economic, political, and social systems where threats to climate change, the global refugee crisis, previous disease outbreaks, and other vast problems have only scratched the surface. As competition for scarce resources to address this threat intensifies, it exposes deep questions that must now, inevitably, be confronted:

  • What future do we now seek? What are we learning today that may help us navigate tomorrow?
  • Will we go through a multi-year conflict where much of the Earth is decimated and tens of millions die? Or will the “better angels of our nature” emerge to provide leadership and wisdom that brings forth our greatest instincts as human beings: to care for one another, to be compassionate in the face of fear and loneliness, to collaborate to find treatments, vaccines, and other life-saving remedies that benefit us all?
  • And might this be the time when we become capable of recognizing the “tragedy of the horizon” of climate change, and reinvent our economies to be sustainable and protective of this fragile planet? 

In his 2006 book, A Brief History of the Future, economist Jacques Attali speculates regarding whether such capacity is already present. After reviewing economic history and the gradual movement of power centers over time, he shifts gears and focuses on the future. He articulates the dystopian expectation that there will be a total economic and political collapse of the US Empire around 2035 (some speculate this is occurring right now), followed by “hyper-empire” in which nation states collapse and chaos dominates. But this is followed by an optimistic period of “hyper-democracy,” led by resources that are already expressing themselves in our present day: NGO’s, collective intelligence, and leadership by “transhumans” who are empathetic, inclusive, leaders that take Earth beyond its abyss into a hopeful future. They establish businesses that are dedicated to the “triple bottom line” of economic, environmental, and social returns on investment. 

Attali’s sense that all will fall apart in the second quarter of the 21st Century is similar to Roddenberry’s Star Trek premise, but whereas Star Trek sees the discovery of Vulcan culture as a key catalyst for transformation, Attali recognizes that humanity already possesses many of the required resources and attributes. Indeed, around 10% of world GDP (according to Attali) is already produced by these socially responsible businesses, and they can serve as a critical foundation to understand the present moment of the pandemic. 

In What Matters At Work, I briefly wrote about Frederic LaLoux’s important book, Reinventing Organizations (2014). LaLoux outlines characteristics of “next level organizations” and provides practical illustrations of their approaches across industries and scale. These are powerful examples of organizations that represent worldviews and perspectives that may summon forth our greatest capacities in service to the complex challenges now facing us. We are also witnessing, in our own communities, other such examples as companies rise to the occasion of transforming their operations to provide critical supplies and protective gear to essential workers.

“Next level” companies, non-profits, B-Corps, and similar organizations also recognize the intrinsic value of internalizing the externalities of the current economic system. Rather than viewing environmental and social costs as being “external,” in the usual capitalist economic model, they “internalize” these costs as part of the cost of doing business. As such, a carbon footprint is internalized into the replacement cost of producing energy or any given product, social displacement is internalized into the cost of urban renewal and gentrification planning, and the transportation costs of delivering food and supplies from across the globe are internalized into calculations around a given supply chain. These are real costs borne by the planet and by society if we recognize the “Long Game” of complexity and systems thinking, and the post-COVID economy will need to grapple with such realities. 

I am skeptical, to be sure. I witness the many ways that the largest actors in the current system — the US, China, Russia, many other self-centered states and mega-corporations — continue to pretend that their self-interests are proscribed by their borders and shareholders. But I am also hopeful that there are many “transhumans” out there who recognize What Matters and can provide leverage influence at critical places and moments as we navigate this challenge. 

Perhaps you are one of them. 

-Harry

FIND YOUR TRUE CALLING

Happy May Day!

During these times of “sheltering at home” and working remotely, there is an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of work and the career choices we make for ourselves. Perhaps this is a chance to consider our True Calling in a new (and exciting!) way, as the time spent away from the “usual grind” has allowed us to better understand those aspects of our jobs that we truly value.

The post-COVID economy will be significantly changed from the one we took for granted until last month. While much may be lost, there will be new ways of working that will make sense to conform with our emerging societal requirements and social norms. This excerpt from my book, What Matters at Work, is intended to facilitate such reflection.

In his influential book, Good to Great (2001), author Jim Collins shared extensive research regarding what really made the difference in facilitating the development of some companies from being merely “good” and profitable to being “great,” vastly exceeding success metrics. He adapted the Ancient Greek Hedgehog Concept, where we focus on greatness in a specific area, and achieve it by focusing on three intersecting circles of activity:

Hedgehog Diagram, Jim Collins, Good to Great (2001)

What are you Deeply Passionate about? 

What can you be The Best in the World at?

What Drives your Economic Engine

These three questions are essential to uncovering our True Calling, where Passion, Talent, and Economic Sustainability conspire to breathe life into our efforts. Without such clarity, our organization will fall short of its true possibilities and we, as leaders and members of such companies, will be unable to sustain the energy required to live fulfilling, satisfying, engaging work lives. So, how do we do it?

Exercise: True Calling               

WHO: Solo/Pair            

WHY: To clarify specific ways your work on What Matters connect to the things you feel “called” to do, with a sense of higher purpose and commitment.

HOW: This activity has two stages, each of which benefits from both personal reflection and partnering with a colleague for a peer coaching conversation: 

Stage 1

Step 1: Draw your own “Hedgehog Diagram” using the three questions identified above. Individually, brainstorm a number of responses to each question. Be patient here – try to look at the question without being limited by your current role, situation, or career path… the Passion you have may relate to a field that is only beginning to emerge. (On a personal level, I have fundamentally shifted career paths a few times, with satisfying results.)

Step 2: Then engage in a conversation with a Partner to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the possible responses, finally settling on one answer that is worth testing out for its potential value (a prototype). 

Step 3: Using this one answer, where your responses to the three questions intersect (a Hedgehog Response), engage in the second stage of the exercise. 

Stage 2

The second activity involves another tool, the GROW Diagram. GROW is a peer coaching tool utilized in many organizations around the world where the acronym means GOAL —> REALITY —> OPPORTUNITIES/OPTIONS —> WILL.

GROW Peer Coaching Diagram (adapted)

Step 4: Complete the GROW Diagram and then discuss it with your Partner, where that person coaches you to consider how the Reality must be navigated to create Opportunities and Options to achieve your Goal, and ultimately to see where you have Will, or the energy to pursue a given Option. Ideally, you both complete the exercise and take turns coaching one another.  

I have utilized these tools many times, in varied settings and contexts. I continue to be impressed by their capacity to inspire learners to be daring, to stretch beyond our usual expectations. Instead of thinking, “What can I do to get by?” consider, “What am I passionate about doing that can have significant meaning in the world?” With sustained commitment and the accountability of the peer coaching relationship, finding our True Calling can be one of the most important elements of the Wellness Journey. 

I am also repeatedly impressed by the value of peer partners in such activities: Although our peers may lack any special expertise, or even have familiarity with the specific issues we are discussing, they often provide valuable guidance, clarity, and support as we wrestle with overwhelming challenges that have puzzled us. To have such colleagues and friends along this Journey can be immeasurably worthwhile, so choose wisely and be sure to thank them. 

Pink Lake, Gatineau Park, QuebecA good spot for reflection and conversation

LEAD FROM EVERYWHERE

The following excerpt from my book, What Matters at Work, seems timely for us to review this week… I hope it helps as we consider how to express leadership in these uncertain times. – Harry

A lovely little book, The Art of Possibility, by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander (2000) always inspires me. Among the gems included is the idea of “leading from every chair,” where Benjamin Zander recounts stories from the youth orchestra he conducted for many years and relates them to his philosophy of leadership. The lesson for us all is a simple one: Consider your position to be one with boundless potential to provide leadership in service to the greater aspirations and challenges before your group, wherever you may sit on the hierarchy and perceived power structure. 

The practical questions are, “How do we offer Leadership in a way that is sustainable, healthy for us and nourishing of others, while also expending necessary energy towards the challenge before us?” And “How do we lead from everywhere in the organization, regardless of positional power or status?”

Exercise: Refocusing to Offer Leadership       

WHO: Solo/Pair      

WHY: The routine practice of centering techniques allows us to return to a place of rest and focus again on those core Intentions whenever they are needed. This activity helps us remain focused on What Matters, to be sure. But it also relieves stress, allows positivity to engage our minds, and physically enables us to access resources in our brains that can ultimately be applied to solving the pressing challenges we face. Finally, it allows us to be prepared to listen empathically and non-judgmentally to those with whom we need to engage, from which we may discover the key ideas and feelings that we must understand and negotiate through our workdays. 

HOW: 

Step 1: In his book, ACT Made Simple (2009), Russ Harris offers a straight-forward format for constructing mindfulness exercises: 

  • Notice X. 
  • Let go of your thoughts.
  • Let your feelings be.    

Using this approach: 

  • Take a moment to notice your surroundings;
  • Focus on what you are noticing, and let go of other thoughts; and 
  • Feel whatever you are feeling, and be aware of these feelings in the moment.

With practice, this simple exercise can bring you back from distractions, whether they are worries, feelings of apprehension, or feelings of being overwhelmed in the moment. Once achieved, you may return to the task at hand, or otherwise reframe your problem-solving efforts.

Step 2: In a quiet place (though perhaps with some background sounds to muffle outside noises): 

  • Focus on your Intention. Get grounded physically so you are relaxed and open to sensing what is important to perceive at this time, with distractions reduced as much as possible; 
  • Recall two or three key Values that guide you. As you notice them, remember that you are a capable individual who offers your skills and talents in service to others and consistent with these Values. 
  • Take 2-3 minutes to calmly breathe, relax, and focus in this manner. Then: Notice the question we posed above, “How do we offer Leadership in a way that is sustainable, healthy for us and nourishing of others, while also expending necessary energy towards the challenge before us?” Take several minutes to contemplate this question in an open and non-judgmental manner.
  • Journal your emerging responses to the question. This may be your conclusion for now, or you may now proceed to the next step. 

Step 3: Meet with a trusted colleague, preferably someone who has already been a partner on this Journey with you before. Discuss what is now emerging for you. Identify specific action steps and resources available for you to offer these responses in a constructive, healthy, and sustainable manner. 

On a personal level, to “lead from everywhere” has become one of my most important challenges in this work. It has taught me that whenever I feel stuck, overwhelmed, or powerless to create the change I seek in the world, I can rediscover my focus. I am reminded of those things that I am passionate about, reducing the “noise” that distracts me inside my head or the toxic relationships that may undermine my resolve. If I regularly engage in this activity, it becomes so normal to me that I scarcely have to summon any special energy to do it. And because I am engaging in this effort in partnership with others, I find that it not only energizes me, but contagiously engages others to rededicate their efforts to follow their Intentions and Values in service to their Core Story.

AN ENLIGHTENED APPROACH TO ASSESSMENT

(These are complex times — not merely complicated — and they also have many chaotic features as we wrestle with how best to respond to the challenges of the coronavirus and its sudden impacts on the world. This excerpt from my book, What Matters at Work, seems appropriate… I hope you find it helpful.)

When addressing challenges we face, we need to distinguish among the types of problems are being addressed. Michael Quinn Patton (Developmental Evaluation, 2010, and other writings) has created an excellent taxonomy of issues that serves us here: 

Simple problems

Some issues can be addressed by a recipe that can be easily replicated. There is high reliability that if you follow the recipe, you will achieve the same result each time. Examples of simple problems are fast food recipes (you expect a Big Mac, for example, to be prepared in the same way with the same result at any McDonald’s franchise in the world), warehouse storage strategies, usual payroll practices, room setup processes, and many maintenance problems. In order to solve a Simple problem reliably, you train towards sameness: if we teach employees how to serve food on the lunch line, for example, they can repeat that skill in settings and deliver predictable results. Simple problems are often accompanied by “best practices,” tried and true approaches that are readily shared and available across the organization and, in many cases, across the industry (see ISO 9000 standards, for example). 

Complicated problems

There are other issues that are characterized by a larger number of variables, which sometimes can be disaggregated to become a chain of simple problems. A large mathematical formula is such a complicated problem, and by following the order of operations, you can solve it. Sending a spaceship to the moon is solved this way, following the laws of math and physics, with 99.99% reliability. But there is another important element of most complicated problems: There are several ways to go about solving them, resulting in natural social and technical tensions among members of a problem solving team. Some prefer to work more independently, while others like to communicate regularly. Some are deductive, others are inductive. Some can call upon past experiences from similar problems, while others can draw upon vastly different experiences. These tensions often result in conflicts over how best to solve the problem, especially as members get entrenched in their own preferred approaches and communication breaks down. There are truly several “better practices” in most Complicated problems, and each practice has its unique social and technical benefits and costs. Much of the work in scientific laboratory research, surgical team procedures, strategic planning processes, and menu planning for catering operations all are truly Complicated problems.

Complex problems

Finally, there are complex problems (sometimes called, “Wicked problems”), and they are characterized by uncertainty, dynamism, and powers of emergence.  They lack the predictability of either Simple or Complicated problems, and often exhibit disproportionate impacts of variables as a result. While large amounts of data can be helpful, it is still a quality of Complexity that there will be significant uncertainty. In life, examples abound: raising a child, experiencing romance, reacting to surprise. There is little predictability involved in assessing strategies and responses to such problems. In the workplace, many of the issues we have been discussing are Complex problems: relationships among work teams, strategic planning in the midst of vast change, reinventing an established organization or starting one in a totally new market space. Complex problems are not approached by just throwing up our hands and praying for insight, but are well navigated through practices that are learned through group intelligence that is cultivated over time. As such, we call these approaches “emergent practices,” in contrast to the “best practices” more appropriate to Simple problems or the “better practices” of Complicated problems. 

Chaotic problems

One additional category is worth mentioning at this time: Chaotic problems are those for which we cannot discern a pattern, or for which the “rules of engagement” have yet to be defined, negotiated, and agreed upon by relevant parties. There are certain issues that naturally qualify within our corporate lives…46 

For example, a new crisis has emerged in the organization related to larger, unpredicted political crises in the world. Our communication and decision-making channels and resources are otherwise committed, people are already busy with routine issues that align with our mission and strategic plan, etc. Suddenly, a crisis on the other side of the world disrupts our supply chain and deliver infrastructure. 

Upon further analysis, we find that we have practiced similar scenarios and have answered some of these challenges before. We can generally sort the Chaotic issues into sub-issues that fit the other categories, and then respond appropriately. This requires a nimble, flexible, and committed leadership and staff, but if we have practiced our Core Values and Intentions, we can be successful in such situations. 

Assessment of Simple, Complicated, and Complex Problems in Practice

The assessment approaches we need to use should vary with the types of problems we are facing: 

For Simple problems, the outcomes are readily measured and generally follow recognizable criteria – did the recipe taste good? Did it look appealing? Were ingredients used in proper proportion? Did the recipe stay on budget? These types of assessment questions make sense for Simple problems. Even in IT and Project Management, much of “requirements gathering” can use this approach and make sense: What does the customer need from the system? Is the solution addressing that need in a cost-effective way? Is the project following an understood timeline that accounts for input of all variables? 

For Complicated problems, use of Logic Models can be extremely helpful in assessment, as they surface for the team’s consideration all relevant variables and how they are best utilized and sequenced to achieve preferred outcomes. If we are clear about the goal we seek to achieve, a process that uses formative and summative evaluation and assessment tools makes sense; Complicated problems fit this model beautifully. 

But for Complex problems, another approach is required:  We need to engage in frequent “pulse checks,” sensing where the situation is now constructed and reformulating itself. This requires ongoing assessment, not only regarding anticipated outcomes, but also with sensitivity to new outcomes that are occurring. 

For example, we might implement a new peer mentoring program at our company, hoping it will result in improved performance for those who are mentored. If we are open to diverse metrics, we might discover (a) social impacts on mentors from being in a helping relationship, (b) shifts in work roles for mentors, now joining leadership of new projects, (c) higher engagement and retention rates for mentees, as their learning outcomes improve and they “catch on” and feel greater overall confidence in their work skills and connectedness to colleagues, or (d) that mentees return as mentors with future employees, seeking to “pay it forward” in gratitude. 

It isn’t that these results will occur, but that they may occur and get noticed so there can be a more complete evaluation and understanding of the impacts of the program. 

Complex problems benefit from “utilization-focused evaluation,” an approach championed by Michael Quinn Patton (Essentials of Utilization-Focused Evaluation, 2011). This approach expressly allows us to treat innovation as an emergent process, one that respects its complexity, dynamism, and uncertainty. As such, we can pursue those strategies that become most promising (rather than having high certainty of them before starting the process), remaining flexible to notice new factors in the ever-changing currents of Complex challenges. 


In “Alice in Wonderland,” the Cheshire Cat told Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there!” To succeed with any significant change, people often need to know where they are headed and whether they are achieving desired results. I get that: Otherwise, they have no ability to discern whether their change efforts are progressing or adding any value. But in some situations, the goals are less discernible, the “roads” to traverse may be dusty paths, and trails are less traveled. By understanding whether we are dealing with Simple, Complicated, or Complex issues, we will gain necessary insights regarding how best to approach such change efforts, and have a far more interesting journey along the way.

Reconsider “Time”


“The moment is simply structured that way.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

We live in a special moment in time. Our lives are disrupted, our work transformed. This excerpt from my book, What Matters at Work, seems especially ‘timely’ for all of us.

An element that distracts us from Intention is the fragmentation of the modern organization and the activities that support it: One meeting flows into another, each having limited relevance to the next, and the tasks that relate to each conversation get obscured by the urgency of recent calls to action. We are stressed by the mountain of unresolved conversations, often accompanied by vast amounts of time-wasting and sense-numbing mountains of data. We underutilize our talents and devolve into problem-solving approaches that often fail to produce viable solutions. And because bureaucracy channels our efforts in ways that make true connection across perspectives less likely, we often engage in “managing up/down” behaviors that are politically risk-averse, further hindering quality communication from occurring.

The poet David Whyte, who specializes in helping us make sense of corporate life and work through artistic reflection, has offered many writings on the subject of Time. This excerpt seems appropriate here:


Time is a Season 
by David Whyte 


Most traditional human cultures have seen the hours of the days in the same way as they have encountered the seasons of the year: not as clear lines drawn across our experience, but as an advancing quality, a presence, a visitation, and an emergence of something growing inside us as much as it is growing in the outer world. A season or an hour of the day is a visitation whose return is not always assured. Every spring following a long winter feels as miraculous as if we are seeing it for the first time. Out of the dead garden rises abundance beyond a winter eye’s comprehension.The hours and the seasons are sometimes a flowering, sometimes a disappearance, and often an indistinguishable transience between the two, but all the hours of the day and the seasons of the year enunciate some quality in the world that has its own time and place. To make friends with the hours is to come to know all the hidden correspondences inside our own bodies that match the richness and movement of life we see around us. The tragedy of constant scheduling in our work is its mechanical effect on the hours, and subsequently on our bodies, reducing the spectrum of our individual character and color to a gray sameness. Every hour left to itself has its mood and difference, a quality that should change us and re-create us according to its effect upon us.

Exercise: Time for Intentions                     

WHO: Solo       

WHY: How do we approach Time so it flows in a manner consistent with our Intentions? Here is an exercise that helps us gain greater clarity:

HOW: 

Step 1: Recall a specific time when you were a member of a group that “flowed…” Time passed in a way that was scarcely noticeable, as you and others so cherished the work you were doing and the time you spent together that you gladly worked beyond normal time frames until exhausted but satisfied, you finally adjourned. 

Step 2: Journal this experience. Notice:

  • What made this experience so memorable for you? 
  • How did you feel at the time? 
  • Are there any aspects of that experience that you seek to replicate today in your work? 
  • How do these insights inform your interest in focusing on What Matters consistent with your Intentions?