Irony is when we judge others as lacking empathy

There was a period in my 20s, where it was as if “Human-Centered Design” was my family name. In other words, “Human-Centered Design” was a significant part of my identity. So much so that I felt an implicit sense of responsibility on my shoulders. To…

Forty Two

We often say
that the journey of innovation
is a journey of not knowing.

Sort of.

Innovation
often starts with a fragile feeling
that “there’s something here.”

It’s true.
We don’t know what that is
exactly.

But if someone asks us
“Is it this?”
We confidently answer
“No, that’s not it.”

Because, we do know
what it is not.

So yes,
the journey of innovation
may involve
numerous back-and-forths
between
“Maybe it’s this,”
and “Nope, that’s not it,”
until it becomes clear
what it was you were after
all along,
but could not express.

But no,
this does not mean
you know nothing
or that you’re crazy.

May we not let others
convince us otherwise.

p.s. Much thanks to Artist Yong Joo Kim & Dr. Paul Pangaro for inspiring this post

Jim Carey once said,
he acts,
because he’s broken.

For those who judge
“brokenness”
as “bad”
may feel triggered
by that comment.

But what I learned from art,
is that if “broken” implies
1) separated in parts
or 2) producing results
that defy our expectations,
then both
are requirements
for innovation.

Because parts
must be separated
before they can be
recomposed
into a new whole.

And the kind of whole
we seek in innovation
is the kind
that defies our expectations
enough to move us
in often surprising ways.

If being broken
means that I can not only
understand and appreciate,
but also artfully express
the depth and nuance
of the human experience
in ways I could not
otherwise have,
such that I impact the world
in positive ways,
as has Jim Carey,
then broken,
I am.

People
who provoke our disgust,
may also be those
from whom we can learn
our limiting beliefs.

Anytime
we encounter someone
who disgusts us,
may we ask
what we’re telling ourselves
they shouldn’t be doing.

Not to judge their behavior
as wrong or bad,
but to discover
if we believe we
shouldn’t be doing them,
either.

And if so,
may we get clarity
on the fear or concern
underlying this belief.

Because
the moment we discover
that there are times
and ways
in which the risk
underlying our fear or concern
is either manageable
or worth the cost,
is also the moment
we will realize empathy
and learn a new choice.

A new choice
that could lead
to innovation.

“I did my best.
I meditated.
I actively listened.
I created psychological safety.
Yet, they still let me down…”
a founder lamented.

Once upon a time,
I was cheated on.

Externally,
I was angry.

I thought I had done
my best,
and yet
this had still happened.

Some said,
that to recover
I needed to hear
her regret.

Perhaps.

But I was already overwhelmed
with my own.

“I should’ve done X.”
“I could’ve done Y better .”
“Why didn’t I know
that Z was not enough?”

Because internally,
I was ashamed.

In hindsight,
what I needed
was appreciation.

The kind
that would’ve helped me let go
of the unconscious belief
that I hadn’t actually
“done my best,”
and thus deserved
to be abandoned.

There are times,
when we think “doing our best”
means following best practices
as espoused by podcasts
or academic research.

It can.

So long as it also means
accepting we’ve done our best
even if the practices fail.

So long as it also means
learning to grieve
when they fail.

So long as it also means
leveraging the meaning
of them having failed.

All
for the purpose
of recovery.

10 years ago,
my mother
realized empathy with herself
and discovered
that all this time
she had unconsciously assumed
she had to do what she felt
was not worth doing,
only
to make others happy.

Ironically,
once she felt
she was given permission
to stop doing these things,
those around her
felt happier.

Why?

Because
She behaved toward them
less out of the resentment
left over
from doing so many things
out of obligation.

Something similar
happens in leadership.

Some founders I coach
started out thinking
it was their responsibility
to make everyone around them
happy.

A tall order.

Especially so,
because behaviors arising
from the tension they held
from that very sense
of responsibility
was contributing
to the unhappiness
of those around them.

But they needed permission
to invest the time and effort
to manage their own tension.

Because it felt selfish
to do so.

So instead,
they chose
to be strong.

The saying,
“Happy parents,
Happy kids”
is not a permission
to be selfish.

It is an invitation
to journey into
the vulnerable
and creative process
of survival
together
by striving
to be the best support
we possibly can
for each other.

Still a tall order,
but together.

We often confuse
rumination
with reflection

When we ruminate,
our minds race,
overwhelming us with anxiety,
which makes it difficult for us
to think
or to communicate
clearly
and effectively.

In this state,
those around us
can feel confused
and insecure,
which leaves them
unwilling
or unable
to support us,
which then leaves us
feeling isolated
and lonely,
which fuels our anxiety
and overwhelm.

A vicious cycle,
this is.

A company is
—among other things—
a play.

Just as Shakespeare once said
—all the world’s a stage,
and all the men and women
merely players—
when we first start our company,
we cast ourselves into roles.

CEO
CTO
COO

What we forget
is that there is no script.

In fact,
we mistake scripts
from other plays
as our own.

Which leads us to think
that we know what a CEO
is supposed to be like.

To think we know
what a CTO or a COO
is supposed
to be like.

To think we know what a father,
a wife,
a son,
a designer,
is supposed
to be like.

The question is
“In which play?”

There comes a time
in the lifecycle of an organization
—more than once—
where we need to revisit
our roles.

Not merely to redefine them,
But also to start writing
our own play
together.

A play
all of us want
to be in.

A founder
was feeling burnt-out.

“When was your last vacation?” I asked.
He couldn’t remember.

“I can’t take one.
My employees are working.
I should be there to help them.” he added.

“What emotions do you experience
when you think of taking a vacation?” I asked.
“…Guilt.” he answered.
“Let that sink in.
That’s significant.” I remarked.

He first looked puzzled,
but soon his eyes widened
and he blurted out
“Oh!
I see!
We should all take a vacation!”

When we feel responsible for “others,”
it’s not unnatural
to feel concern
for their suffering.

With sufficient concern
it’s also not unnatural,
to want
to help.

This is known
as compassion.

Despite best intentions,
however,
the impact of compassion
can also make things worse for others,
and burn us out, as well.

Sometimes,
we need to tame our compassion
to put aside our need to help “others,”
and instead help our “self”
through a vulnerably creative process.

A process
by which we can realize empathy
unexpectedly,
and let emerge
a connected entity
“we”
between self and other.

A process
by which we can learn
a new choice of sight,
that synthesizes
an unpredicted form of help
that helps not other
not self,
but us.

Despite grieving
their lost youth.

Despite feeling
unworthy
in front of their employees.

Despite lacking
a mere one good night’s sleep.

There are those who are willing
to light themselves up
again
and again
and again
in the crucible
of responsibility.

Customer complaints,
Employee demands,
Investor rejections.

All that is said
may well be right.

And yet
the weight,
the burden,
the load,
is one
and the same.

It is a haze
that last moment of breath.

If a mere 10 minutes
may we put it all down
to let out a big
sigh.

Despite the tightening of our chest.

Despite the sight
of our inflated belly
that we may despise

May we feel that sense
of fulfillment
arise from within.

You’re a miracle
for having survived til now.

You’ve done well
for having stayed alive
breathing.

I’m proud of you
just the way
you are.