The only place where things are real

I hope you will set aside 20 minutes and take in what is a perfect introduction to David Whyte‘s work. A poet and philosopher, and a longtime consultant to leading organizations, he begins by talking about the “conversational nature of reality.” It’s a phrase that may seem esoteric but the meaning of which is fundamental to your experience as a parent, a partner, an employee, a leader, a friend and any other present or future role you can imagine.

Early in the talk he says, “The conversational nature of reality is the fact that whatever you desire of the world — whatever you desire of your partner in a marriage or a love relationship, whatever you desire of your children, whatever you desire of the people who work for you or with you, or your world — will not happen exactly as you would like it to happen.

But equally, whatever the world desires of us — whatever our partner, our child, our colleague, our industry, our future demands of us, will also not happen. And what actually happens is this frontier between what you think is you and what you think is not you. And this frontier of actual meeting between what we call a self and what we call the world is the only place, actually, where things are real.”

I hear this as an invitation to a third way…one that is about engagement with the unknown rather than the seduction and false security of yes/no, this or that thinking and acting. This requires the capacity to sit in complexity…messiness…precisely when we – when I – want my work and relationships to unfold in neat and tidy, measurable and manageable pieces.

The poems he recites are from a collection called “Pilgrim.” And the work that first made me a fan is called “The Heart Aroused.”

landscape photography of mountain

Photo by James Wheeler on

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.

Willful Blindness

We see what we want to see in order to maintain our story of how things are.

At every organization I visit, to every group of leaders I meet, I ask this question: who are the best employees to ask about how the work in your company is going and how it might be improved?

Without fail the answer is the same: the employees who are doing the work.

It’s an obvious, common sense response. Of course you ask the employees directly. They’re doing “it” every day so logic suggests that they are best equipped to make it better.

When I meet with non-leadership employees I ask: do you have any ideas about how to improve the work. They always and immediately say, Yes!

And then I ask, Have you shared your ideas with anyone else? And they say: No.

I ask, Why not? They respond, Because they haven’t asked.

They don’t ask because they don’t want to know. They don’t ask because doing so will require them to change their story about how things are.

Margaret Heffernan, building on a legal term of the same name, authored a book called “Willful Blindness.” It is the human condition of ignoring, sometimes consciously, critical information that is easily and freely available.

You do it. I do it. Leaders everywhere do it every day.

Learn more here and in her TED talk below. You’ll have no choice but to see things differently and your workplace, your household and your community will be the better for it.

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.