Reverse Jenga

In the game of Jenga, it’s not if the tower is going to fall down, it’s when. Players take turns removing blocks, trying not to be the one to cause the tumble while also using the removed blocks to make the tower higher.

The game came to mind today when I was thinking about the toxic build up we so often allow to take place in our most important relationships; the small hurts, the sleights, the passive aggressiveness, the stubborn refusal to apologize, the feelings of victimization.

At home, at work, wherever we are emotionally invested, these little moments which we can so easily write off as “water under the bridge” don’t just wash away; they accumulate and they calcify. Like a hardened artery, they make us perfect candidates for a very painful reconciliation.

We need to learn how to “reverse Jenga” this process. We have to be vigilant in knocking the bricks down, one by one, so that the tower grows smaller and smaller. I’d like to suggest that we can eliminate it altogether but my reality checking self understands that it’s hard to be human, and that it can be especially hard to be human in relationship with other humans. We are going to mess up and hurt each other.

The question is, are we willing and able to knock down the hurts as fast we can? To apologize as fast as we can? To express our needs as fast as we can? To listen as fast as we can? To own what we alone can own as fast as we can?

It’s rare that pile of rubble is considered a good thing, but sometimes you have to knock down something old to build something new.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

The Saltine Cracker Problem

I’m reading a book right now that’s got me thinking a lot about my thinking. It’s called, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. He’s a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics and is credited with helping to launch the now very popular field of behavioral economics. (It was his recent interview with Krista Tippett that got me to finally get the book off the shelf!)

The book, at its heart, is about the relationship between what the author calls System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 1 is fast. It’s the part of our thinking that sees “2 + 2” and doesn’t have to think about it. It just knows. System 2 is slow. It’s the part of our thinking that goes to work when System 1 doesn’t know what to do with “24 x 17.”

System 1 is always feeding System 2 impressions and conclusions about the meaning and importance of things, sometimes correctly and often not. System 2 is responsible for determining if System 1 is to be trusted and, if not, to seek more information. The dilemma, Kahneman points out, is that System 2 is lazy. It really doesn’t want to do the slower work but will do it if absolutely necessary. It’s very happy to act on System 1’s impulsive reactions.

A personal example to make the point: yesterday, on the way home from a client meeting I received a common spousal text: “Will you please stop at the store and pick up a gallon of milk?” I replied with a “thumbs up.”

As I entered the store it dawned on me that there’s always something else we need so I send another quick text: “Just milk?” As I arrived at the front of the checkout line I received this reply: “Did you use all the celery yesterday? If so, we need some for soup.” And then this, immediately following: “And saltines!”

I remembered that we still had some celery, so I asked the cashier to set my milk aside while I went to fetch the Saltines.

Later that evening, as soup was being labeled into bowls, I noticed the still unopened box of crackers on the counter so I asked, “Would you like me to open these?” I was told, “No, we’re having bread.”

Incredulous, I said, “Then why did I leave the front of the line at the grocery store to go back for Saltines?!?”

“Because the girls asked if we could get some,” she said, growing impatient with my tone.

And that’s when the relationships between System 1 and System 2 made sense to me. My System 1 took the well-worn shortcut from “soup” to “Saltines” and my System 2 didn’t even think to question it. But, of course, “soup” isn’t the only possible reason to buy Saltines, it’s just the easiest one. My lazy System 2 wasn’t interested in exerting any extra effort to consider a different possibility.

I took a breath and apologized for my over-reaction. And then I got to thinking about the far more serious and consequential implications of Kahneman’s work and my personal experience of it. If it were just soup and crackers, no problem, but it’s so much more than that. Every day, we are receiving impressions of people and issues and conflicts and every day we are shortcutting our potential for deeper examination and more comprehensive understanding in favor of answers that match our existing models of “normal.”

Once you see what’s going on, you can’t un-see it. We have to do better.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Someone Else Will

If you don’t give them a chance to show what they can do, someone else will.

If you don’t give them clear and comprehensive feedback about their performance, someone else will.

If you don’t paint a compelling picture of the future, someone else will.

If you don’t speak candidly about your own goals and challenges, someone else will.

If you don’t explain what you’re thinking and why, someone else will.

If you don’t share what you’re feeling and why, someone else will.

You don’t have have to do it “right,” you just have to do it.

Because in the age of connection and compassion, if you don’t, someone else will.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Come Back to the Pack

I can get pretty enthusiastic about a new idea, approach or strategy. I feel the surge of positive energy that comes with knowing that “this” is for sure a better way and I can’t wait to get it in place as fast as I can.

And then I run into a harsh reality: other people, the ones who will help me implement the new idea or who will be responsible for owning and implementing it themselves, don’t share my enthusiasm. In fact, they don’t have any enthusiasm about it because they have no idea what I’m talking about!

I expect them to be right there with me, to somehow see inside my head and heart and magically transfer my passionate understanding of this great new concept to those locations in their own bodies.

And I remember that I have to take a few steps back to explain myself, to make my case and to remain open, somehow open, to their ideas about my new idea. I have to remain open to the likelihood that they will want to change, tweak, adjust or build on this thing that is already so perfectly formed! Alas, they might even reject it out of hand.

Maturity as a leader or a team member requires us to embrace our energetic enthusiasm for what’s possible while holding it just lightly enough so that it may be made even better by the wisdom of those we are privileged to call colleagues and friends.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

Take the path of vulnerability

I hand out an assignment to my class. There are a list of options from which to choose, one of which is “Emotional Intelligence.” Perusing the list a student raises his hand and asks, “Will you please tell me what ‘Emotional Intelligence” is?

An act of vulnerability in service of learning.

A friend says to me, “I would like to get to know you better.”

An act of vulnerability in service of relationship.

A leader asks his team, “How can I be better for you?”

An act of vulnerability in service of…service.

Small acts that point to an essential truth: there is nothing we care about that won’t require us to make ourselves vulnerable. If we don’t care, we don’t bother.

The link below will take you to a 12 minute clip (which inspired this post) of one of my favorite teachers, David Whyte, speaking to the truth of vulnerability as the access point to real conversation.

David Whyte — Poetry from the On Being Gathering (Closing Words) https://onbeing.org/programs/david-whyte-poetry-from-the-on-being-gathering-closing-words-oct2018


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Something funny

One afternoon last spring, while waiting for class to begin, I clicked on a list of “stupid clean jokes.”  Somewhere mid-list I came across one – see below – that made me laugh out loud, and which kept me laughing for a while. I was so taken with it that I sent it to my wife, Theresa. The ensuing text exchange, in which I attempt to build the joke while she makes clear her disinterest, is one of my all time favorite exchanges with her, text or otherwise. It captures who we are individually and our relationship so precisely, so specifically, that I took a screen shot so I wouldn’t forget it.

I could make some interesting connection here about the necessity of surrounding ourselves with people who challenge us, push us and help us to grow. I could further discuss the benefits of “difference” vs. “same” or explore the needs and wants we all carry around, waiting for others to notice and satisfy.

Or I could just let you know that today I needed something funny, remembered this screen shot, and took a quick dip in its refreshing waters.

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DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Make Room for Wonder

“Everything is explained now…sometimes I’d just as soon continue wondering.”
– Tom Waits –

Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

I think about that every time I compulsively reach for my “phone” to look up the answer to the latest question that has shown up in conversation. I get consumed by the feeling that I “have to know!”

What if instead of reacting impulsively in that moment I could pause to simply state: “I wonder what it could be.” and then ask “What are the possible explanations?” and then take some time to consider them!

If the building is on fire I need to find the exit right now.

And since the building is rarely on fire, I might stop acting like needing to know is a matter of life or death. (I might.)

{Hat tip to Duncan Berry, who at 18 years old continues to ask questions as if he’s never of Google!}


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

Waiting to be asked

The line of students was snaking from the front of the room, up the main aisle and out the back door.

I wondered what they were all sticking around for. I was confused.

Turns out, they were patiently waiting to sign a piece of paper – the one piece of paper I had provided – to indicate that they had participated in class that night. It’s an honor system thing, an experiment.

When I saw the line – so many of them – and that single pad of paper they were inching towards – I shooed them out of class, promising full credit for everyone and a better process next week.

That evening I sent a note to the class asking for their help. It said, “My idea was good but the execution was lousy. Sorry about that. I want to find a better way so please send me your ideas.”

And a number of thoughtful and creative responses came my way, responses that will be put into action this week. And do you know why? First, because it’s not their first rodeo. And second, because they are thoughtful and creative people.

Something tells me that this goes for support staff, service agents, sales reps, technicians, installers, packers, shippers, processors, recruiters, analysts, coordinators, planners, etc.

Most people are thoughtful and creative. Most people want to be helpful.

And most people are waiting to be asked.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

 

“I’m feeding the fish.”

You may have heard about the letter Mr. Rogers received from a young blind viewer expressing concern about his fish. Since she couldn’t see him feeding the fish she worried that they might be hungry. From that point forward Mr. Rogers made the effort to say out loud, “I’m feeding the fish.”

Every day in your organization your employees have questions and concerns about what’s going on, why it’s going on and where you/they will go from here.

And you know that they have these questions but you say to yourself “I’ve already told them SO MANY times!” and you feel frustrated and slightly insane. This is also known as being human.

I am not suggesting that you attempt to become “Super Human.” What I am suggesting is that there is a single, completely underrated and undervalued leadership behavior that can make or break your organization: redundancy.

You’ve said it and so you think they’ve heard it but they have not. And if there’s any component of that information that contains a threat, a risk or some other uncertainty, they absolutely haven’t fully heard you because they are also busily being human beings and are concerned about their personal and family welfare.  It’s just what we do.

Mr. Rogers thoughtful response to his blind viewer was an act of compassionate consideration born of his inherent wisdom that people – children and adults – do not attend to the present, do not attend to learning, if they are fearful or concerned.

Leadership then, is so much about responsiveness, as best you are able, and redundancy, as often as you can.

As often as you can…as often as you can…as often as you can.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.