Why Stories Matter

“In the particular is contained the universal.”
{James Joyce}


We tell stories to create connection. We create connection because it builds trust. We build trust so that we can rely on one another. We rely on one another because we don’t – even on our most selfish, ego-bound days – want to go it alone.

Most of all, we tell stories because they remind us that our humanity is not only shared, but bound up together, inextricably linked for all time.


silhouette of person holding glass mason jar

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

Not So Fast

A couple of million years ago our predecessors, Homo erectus, survived through hunting and gathering.

About 350,000 years ago, give or take, Homo sapiens split off from Homo erectus and continued the hunter/gatherer model of subsistence, while slowly but surely evolving from a migratory to a stationary model. This marked, between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago, the beginning of the agricultural age, when we learned how to plant, cultivate and harvest our own crops instead of surviving on what was freely available.

About 500 years ago, in the age of discovery, Homo sapiens began a surge of technological acceleration that led to globalization, the industrial revolution and the current information age.

Think about that for another moment:

  • 2 million years of community building through the shared responsibility of walking around to find food.
  • 10,000 years of community building based on growing our own food.
  • 500 years of global “community building” through technological advance.

Out of the last 2 million years we’ve been “technologists” for a mere 500, with the most significant advances happening in only the last 100 years.

For 2 million years everything about our existence was oriented to a means of survival that was based on community and connection. In other words, a shared purpose.

It is a hard truth to accept that we are physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally better equipped for hunting, gathering and farming than we are for automation and information.

Put another way, we are equipped for connection in service of meaning. That “meaning” was once the not-so-simple act of providing food and shelter. Today, it has more to do with solving the complex problems that plague our schools and workplaces as well as the institutions of government, religion, healthcare (to name but a few), the effective stewardship of which has become more crucial than ever.

To think that technology, still in its infancy, can supersede our genetic inheritance of connection as a means to even begin to address these issues is comically delusional.

But here we are, favoring disembodied and disconnected “solutions” for problems that only our best spiritual, emotional, mental and physical selves can possibly address.

However you define “this,” it can only be done together.


 

 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

The Seven of Pentacles
{Marge Piercy}

Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.
If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after
the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.


With thanks to my dear friend, Alia, for sharing this poem with me.

What they want

“They” are your team. You are their leader. This is what they want:

Meaning. Also known as “purpose” and “vision.” When they say, “I want to be part of something larger than myself!” this is what they’re talking about.

Trust. I once heard a leader say, “They have to earn my trust.” The only acceptable response to that statement is, no.

You recruit them and then hire them because you believe they have what it takes to make you and the team better, to help you fulfill your purpose and vision. And then they show up and have to earn your trust?

Your job is to earn their trust, every day. The trust that comes when you care for them, when you provide them the resources they need to be successful, when you care for them, when you clear roadblocks for them, when you surround them with great people, when you care for them…you get the idea.

Freedom. They are smart (because you hire smart people) so let them work. Make job expectations clear, the parameters of the project explicit, and work hours flexible. Give them space within a defined context and then get out of the way. And stop having so many meetings. Meetings are killing your culture, reducing feelings of freedom and corroding trust.

Development. Everyone has a development plan, a roadmap to their future, their definition of “more.” You coach them with feedback, powerful questions and accountability for progress. You give them resources, study groups, speakers, coaches, whatever is needed to cultivate and catalyze the learning. This is about creatively answering the most important question in front of you: How do we equip ourselves for change? Yes, it’s expensive but not nearly as expensive as filling all of the open positions that will exist when they leave to find these things someplace else.


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.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

— John O’Donohue


There’s a moment early in the film, “The Way” in which Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) is driving his son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez) to the airport. Daniel is setting off to see the world after dropping out of grad school and Tom is having none of it. Daniel suggests that his dad join him in the adventure but Tom can only offer a lecture in return:

“My life here might not seem like much to you, but it’s the life I choose.”

Daniel replies, “You don’t choose a life, dad. You live one.”

Daniel’s longing to be surprised by the unfolding of his life is perfectly and painfully contradicted by his dad’s singular vision for how that life should unfold.

Tom has forgotten what it feels like to flow like a river and Daniel is fighting hard against his own potential for the same forgetting. The life he pursues, the living he chooses, becomes the source of his father’s redemption.

None of us has wandered too far from the river. The trail back is well-marked and there is still plenty of daylight.


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.

Circular Logic

The more I learn about myself, the more empathy I have for others.

The more empathy I have for others, the stronger my relationships will be.

The stronger my relationships are, the more risks I am willing to take.

The more risks I am willing to take, the more I learn about myself.

The more I learn about myself, the more empathy I have for others.


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.

 

Worth Your Next 5 Minutes

I offer for your viewing pleasure the following video featuring Patty McCord, the former Chief Talent Officer for Netflix. It’s called, “8 lessons on building a company people enjoy working for.” Please take 5 minutes to check it out and see what you think. I offer some personal commentary below.

What get’s in the way of our organizations – our leaders – making sure things work this way? One executive recently told me, with not a moment of hesitation, “It’s ego!” Another says “control,” another says “fear” and yet another says something like “the demands of short-term thinking.”

The common refrain is this, we continue to allow too many of our institutions – and our institutional practices – to be the tail and our employees to be the dog. Enough is enough is enough.

The institution only exists because some talented human beings got together and decided to do something cool, or interesting or worthwhile. That “coolness” is a beacon of effort and energy to which other human beings are magnetically drawn.  We want to experience purpose in our work, to be a part of something larger than ourselves. So, the institution – at its best – is a bunch of people trying to do something they care about.

Everything built and implemented in the name of preservation or protection but that ends up getting in the way of our genuine human drive for purpose and meaning must be stripped away. 

Patty McCord’s closing words are these: It’s a pretty exciting world out there, and it’s changing all the time. The more we embrace it and get excited about it, the more fun we’re going to have.”

Purpose, meaning and fun. Let’s get on with it already.


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.

Playful Responsibility

I see my life as the gradual integration of two separate selves. There’s the playful, joking, attention-seeking, naive, risk-taking, laughing, entertaining youngest of six children. And there’s the serious, controlling, responsible, (hyper)sensitive, brooding, melancholic man who always seems like the oldest guy in the room.

Neither of those is a person I’d like to take a long road trip with. The combination, however, has some enduring appeal.

I think that each of us intuits a “native” self that is in a lifelong conversation with our adaptive self. Our job is to tune into that ongoing conversation, like the way we once could lift the handset of a landline and secretly listen in, only this time we make our presence known.

That conversation is the work of my life, and maybe the best work any of us can do. It is to become a whole person, to consciously and continuously uncover and piece together an integrated self.

I don’t imagine there’s an ultimate destination or place of arrival. Rather, there seems to be a maturation, through attentive stewardship, into a greater sense of ease; a belonging to myself in a way that fits like a favorite jacket, inspiring both comfort and confidence.

I see myself practicing “playful responsibility” in my work and at home, and I like what happens when I do. I also see myself revert to one or the other of my separate selves and it’s a splash of cold water to the face when I recognize the regression.

It is and always will be an imperfect conversation. And it goes on.


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.

How to Win the Game

I like Scrabble because its an excellent model for a fulfilling life.

The board has both clear boundaries and directions but remains open to whatever you can create with the resources you have.

Those resources are randomized and limited and your ability to make something valuable out of them depends on two critically important variables:

First, your own creative and experiential know-how. You have to use your head.

Second, how you apply that know-how in a connected and generative way. You have to use your heart. 

In Scrabble as in life, the greatest satisfaction comes from combining resources to create something otherwise unattainable.

Yes, it’s competitive. And, healthy, positive competition among trusted colleagues challenges us to rise to our potential, to test our limits and to grow. In other words, it can give us safe and meaningful ways to bring head and heart together in service of something larger than ourselves.

That is and always will be a winning combination.

img_6202


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.