The prepared mind: How to Approach Craft

The Prepared Mind: How to approach craft


Photo by  Franck V.

Photo by Franck V.

This past weekend, I attended a conference focused on one of the latest buzz terms “transformative tech.” I’ve been tracking them since they started and it appears to be nice marketing to VCs for—you guessed it—tech, but specifically tech “for mental health, emotional well being, and human flourishing.” For this group, there needs to be electricity, or a battery involved so the work of teachers, coaches, seekers, etc. are not emphasized.

One of the speakers was extrapolating on how one day, we will have tech that “gets us to flow” or “helps us jump quickly to a meditative state.” This is not the first time I’ve heard this idea being discussed and I listened intently, thinking through the potential consequences of what amounts to “skipping the [learning] journey” of learning and moving right into integration.

Learning, the kind that moves us forward in our lives and work, is fraught with struggle. There is struggle to accept a new idea, reason with it, and integrate into a new, broader understanding. Reasoning is a skill that is in precarious decline as reliance on data increases. What depth of experience (and insight) might be lost if technology could help us avoid the ungainliness, awkwardness, anxiety-prone beginner’s mind of a new idea or activity? What would be lost if we were able to skip important phases of developing mastery?

In an age obsessed with tech, repackaged ideas, and Instagram soundbites, some of the great tech thinkers get lost to history. I’d like to share some learning from the great Richard Hamming. Hamming was an American mathematician whose work had many implications for computer engineering and telecommunications. He programmed IBM’s calculating machines. He was involved in nearly all of Bell Laboratories' most prominent achievements. After retiring, Hamming took a position at the Naval Postgraduate School and devoted himself to teaching and writing books. He delivered his last lecture in December 1997, just a few weeks before he died from a heart attack on January 7, 1998.

You can see it here. I call out some of his major ideas as they relate to my research on Master Craftsmen, how they get better at what they do, and what we (in tech and in business) can learn from them.

How to Work With Craft In Whatever You Do

Insight, skill, or the state of consciousness gained by daily, deliberate practice, are rarely handed to you on a silver platter. Einstein argued that genius was 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Picasso referred to “inspiration [existing] but needs to find you at work.” While we can acknowledge that luck plays a role, we often use that as a crutch to avoid doing what we can do to intelligently prepare for opportunities. Perspiration and work are, in my opinion, integral to effective integration.

We only get one life, “and it seems to be it is better to do significant things than to just get along through life to its end,” writes Richard Hamming in his 1997 book The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn. The book and his 1986 lecture, 'Luck favors the prepared mind', You and Your Research, explore how we do great work. Specifically, he refers to “Nobel-Prize type work.” Nobel level work raises the standards of what we thought possible and teaches us to think in new ways. In many ways, Nobel prize winners are the craftsmen in their respective fields.

From cooking to coding, there are methods to engage in order to do something with Craft. That’s how LEAN, DMAIC. 6Sigma and my other methodologies came to be. There are also mental disciplines we can learn for more effective thinking. But, where to start?

Hamming suggests that preparation is what separates the good from the great. This means the way you live your life—the extent to which you intelligently prepare—makes a huge difference in what you can accomplish.

As human beings, we tend fixate on what we can see with our eyes. We think focusing on the concrete is being objective. It’s how we rationalize. When we look at transformations in other people’s lives, we see good luck, natural talent, unfair advantage, or the right connections. We concentrate on the visible signs of opportunity and success. We do this with organizations too — and it’s an illusion. 

The key to any change is insanely simple. Stop fixating on the external and focus on smaller, internal changes. It is the difference between grasping at an illusion and immersing yourself in reality. Reality is what transforms you. 

The major objection cited by people against striving to do great things is the belief it is all a matter of luck. I have repeatedly cited Pasteur’s remark, “Luck favors the prepared mind”. It both admits there is an element of luck, and yet claims to a great extent it is up to you. You prepare yourself to succeed, or not, as you choose, from moment to moment, by the way you live your life.

Hamming, Richard R. Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (Page 209)

Luck is always part of the equation. Philosophers, political theorists, and strategists have long acknowledged the large role that luck plays in every aspect of our lives. Even Nicolo Machiavelli, the cataloger of each and every lever that a prince can pull in the pursuit of power, acknowledged that “I believe that it is probably true that fortune is the arbiter of half the things we do, leaving the other half to be controlled by ourselves.” What was true in Italian politics centuries ago is just as true in management today.

Yet if life were all about luck, the same people wouldn’t repeatedly do great things. Galileo Galilei did many great things. So did Newton and Einstein. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos have been successful in multiple sectors. The list goes on.

When someone repeatedly achieves greatness, it is because they prepared in advance to recognize, work on, and fill in the blanks when necessary. This is the essence of intelligent preparation and the foundation of deliberate practice—greatness is a byproduct. So often, in the attempt to optimize and recreate, we forget that.

Intelligence comes in many forms. A lot of the time it’s not easily recognized — a lot of people who repeatedly do great things were poor students. IQ does not ensure academic success. Being smart is nice but it’s better if you know how to apply your knowledge.

Believe that you are capable of doing work that matters.

How you regard yourself and your ability to contribute determines how you experience the people in your life, the work you choose, and the tactics and strategies you choose to solve problems.  

With the belief that you can do work that matters, why is that most of us spend time on work that doesn’t matter?

…direct observation, and direct questioning of people, shows most scientists spend most of their time working on things they believe are not important nor are they likely to lead to important things.

Hamming, Richard R.. Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (Page 210).

If what you are working on is not important and aligned with your values—and a lot of what you are working on, what you are saying and what you are doing isn’t either. Think about that.

Is health important to you? When was the last time you invested in it?

Are relationships important to you? What do you do to invest in them?

Do you value the process, really? When was the last time you valued, really valued the many, many small decisions that enable you to achieve the results you are after?

The question you need to ask yourself if why are you not working on and thinking about the important problems in your area? How can we expect to achieve great things if we are not working on the right problems?

Be willing to be an outlier. 

Think of this as confidence meets courage. You might look like an idiot because you are doing something new. You might not be immediately understood by those around you because you are challenging the status quo.

[Claude] Shannon had courage. Who else but a man with almost infinite courage would ever think of averaging over all random codes and expect the average code would be good? He knew what he was doing was important and pursued it intensely. Courage, or confidence, is a property to develop in yourself. Look at your successes, and pay less attention to failures than you are usually advised to do in the expression, “Learn from your mistakes”. While playing chess Shannon would often advance his queen boldly into the fray and say, “I ain’t scaird of nothing”. I learned to repeat it to myself when stuck, and at times it has enabled me to go on to a success. I deliberately copied a part of the style of a great scientist. The courage to continue is essential since great research often has long periods with no success and many discouragements.

Hamming, Richard R.. Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (Page 211)

Embrace horizonal goals. 

You have to see excellence as a pursuit not an outcome. This isn’t as easy as it sounds but it as an essential feature of engaging in Craft.

Without such a goal you will tend to remain three degrees off course. You will be headed in the right direction, almost. Three degrees seems small, but that is when you stay the course and say to yourself, “I’m ok, I can still see the hill I’m headed toward.” It isn’t until twenty years later that you realize something isn’t right. You can no longer see that hill. The cumulative effect of being three degrees off course for a long period of time means that it’s either time to backtrack, make a pivot toward that hill, or try some other approach to get you back on course.

…with the goal of doing significant work, there is tendency for the steps to go in the same direction and thus go a distance proportional to the number of steps taken, which in a lifetime is a large number indeed.

Hamming, Richard R.. Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (Page 211)

What most people think are the best working conditions, are not—learn to dance between failure and fame.

Constraints can lead to innovation. But constraints is just another word for reality, or the lack of the ideal (budget, resources, environment, or other qualities you are seeking). The feedback of reality in order to keep your feet planted on the ground.

Age seems to have the effect it does. In the first place if you do some good work you will find yourself on all kinds of committees and unable to do any more work. You may find yourself as I saw Brattain when he got a Nobel Prize. The day the prize was announced we all assembled in Arnold Auditorium; all three winners got up and made speeches. The third one, Brattain, practically with tears in his eyes, said, “I know about this Nobel-Prize effect and I am not going to let it affect me; I am going to remain good old Walter Brattain.” Well I said to myself, “That is nice.” But in a few weeks I saw it was affecting him. Now he could only work on great problems.

When you are famous it is hard to work on small problems. This is what did Shannon in. After information theory, what do you do for an encore? The great scientists often make this error. They fail to continue to plant the little acorns from which the mighty oak trees grow. They try to get the big thing right off. And that isn't the way things go. So that is another reason why you find that when you get early recognition it seems to sterilize you. In fact I will give you my favorite quotation of many years. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, in my opinion, has ruined more good scientists than any institution has created, judged by what they did before they came and judged by what they did after. Not that they weren't good afterwards, but they were superb before they got there and were only good afterwards.

Work with your door open.

I notice that if you have the door to your office closed, you get more work done today and tomorrow, and you are more productive than most. But 10 years later somehow you don't know quite know what problems are worth working on; all the hard work you do is sort of tangential in importance. He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important. Now I cannot prove the cause and effect sequence because you might say, “The closed door is symbolic of a closed mind.” I don't know. But I can say there is a pretty good correlation between those who work with the doors open and those who ultimately do important things, although people who work with doors closed often work harder. Somehow they seem to work on slightly the wrong thing – not much, but enough that they miss fame.   

People who do great things typically have a great drive to do things.

…most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode's office and said, “How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does?” He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, “You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years.” I simply slunk out of the office!

Focused investment of only one hour a day can double your lifetime output. 

Intelligent preparation is like compound interest, the more you invest, the more situations you can handle, the more you learn how to do, so the more you can do, etc. The advantage of investing in just one hour a day to learning new things is an overlooked gem hiding in plain sight.

This isn’t about who works the hardest but rather who focuses their limited energy on the right things. Learning things that (1) change slowly and (2) apply to a wide variety of situations could be a better use of time than learning something incredibly time-consuming, rapidly changing, and of limited application.

Hamming dedicated his Friday afternoons to “great thoughts.” Setting aside time to think is a common characteristic of people that do great things. Not only does this help you live consciously it helps get your head out of the weeds. The rest of us are too busy with the details to ask if we’re going in the right direction.

Consider that advice against a well-intended behavior not truly lived. Google’s 20% time was eventually abandoned. Only about 10% of Googlers were using it. But that didn’t matter much as long as the idea of it exists, according to Google HR boss Laszlo Bock in his new book, "Work Rules!"

Tolerate ambiguity.

Believe and not believe at the same time. You have to believe that where you work is the best place in the industry, and capable of improving.

It took me a while to discover the importance of ambiguity. Most people like to believe something is or is not true. Great scientists tolerate ambiguity very well. They believe the theory enough to go ahead; they doubt it enough to notice the errors and faults so they can step forward and create the new replacement theory. If you believe too much you'll never notice the flaws; if you doubt too much you won't get started. It requires a lovely balance. But most great scientists are well aware of why their theories are true and they are also well aware of some slight misfits which don't quite fit and they don't forget it. Darwin writes in his autobiography that he found it necessary to write down every piece of evidence which appeared to contradict his beliefs because otherwise they would disappear from his mind. When you find apparent flaws you've got to be sensitive and keep track of those things, and keep an eye out for how they can be explained or how the theory can be changed to fit them. Those are often the great contributions. Great contributions are rarely done by adding another decimal place. It comes down to an emotional commitment. Most great scientists are completely committed to their problem. Those who don't become committed seldom produce outstanding, first-class work.

If you find yourself blaming your (mental) tools, do something about it. Learn the mental models, learn from Craftsmen talk about how they learn and get better at what they do, and more importantly take ownership. Moving forward requires change but change does not mean that you are moving forward. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”



Photo by  Holger Link

Photo by Holger Link


Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last week, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel at a local tech event on the topic of career transition. People are still writing to me about how much they enjoyed the session, which is both gratifying and humbling. Because of the level of interest, I thought I would share some of the key takeaways so others could benefit.

I’m often asked for book recommendations and I covered two main ideas from William Bridges 1980s book Transitions. People are often surprised by by the titles I promote . It’s not that I don’t read current information, but if it’s not adding a ton of new perspective, I stick to solid classics—and this book, in my opinion, should be in everyone’s business book library.

First, I think it’s important not to use the terms “change” and “transition” interchangeably. 

Change is situational. It is the external event that is taking place, a new strategy, a change in leadership, a merger or a new product. The organization focuses on the outcome that the change will produce, which is generally in response to external events. It can happen very quickly.

Transition is the inner psychological process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the new situation that the change brings about. The starting point for dealing with transition is not the outcome but the endings that people have in leaving the old situation behind. Getting people through transition is essential if the change is actually to work as planned.

This is when, with virtually every project at any level, we often find ourselves thinking: this would be such an easier process if the people weren’t involved!

Second, a process change is always accompanied by a psychological process. The psychological process is often accompanied by challenging emotions like confusion, ambiguity, and distress. We often confront because Western culture offers few rituals or rites of passage to mark us through whatever stages we find ourselves in, people often try to skip from the loss and pain of an ending directly to a new beginning, marked by enthusiasm, hope, and acceptance.

Related to this point, there is a wonderful passage in the book that I read to the group, which I’ll share here:

We usually fail to discover [the need for rituals] at an ending until we have made the most of our necessary external changes. There we are, in the new house or on the new job or involved in the new relationship, waking up to the fact that we have not yet let go of our old ties. Or worse yet, not waking up to that fact, even though we are still moving to the inner rhythm of life back in the old situation. We’re like shellfish that often continue to open and close their shells on the tide-schedule of their old home waters, even when they have been transplanted to the laboratory tank or restaurant kitchen. —William Bridges

Photo by  chuttersnap

Photo by chuttersnap

That image, of opening and closing to tides (environments) experienced in past roles is a very visceral one for many, including myself. We’ve been where the waters are warm, cold, nurturing, and inhospitable—leading us to seek the right “climate” for our needs. But do we react well when we get there, or do we bring old habits, information, or practices with us, closing us off to opportunities in the present.


The panelists spanned multiple sectors from non-profit, technology, healthcare, and gigging. Each person brought vulnerability and truth to the conversation as they shared their career paths with the audience. Their bios are here, and worth a look.

Rebecca found her way through constraints. Her partner’s role took him out of the country, she followed seeking alignment with her skills in a new industry. Constraints can yield inspiring journeys and force us to tap into creativity we didn’t know we had.

Blair sought to gain greater depth as a physician by exploring it through other functions: policy, research, teaching, and business. Depth, the ability to gain deep perspective from multiple sides of a problem, helps people gain great insights that help lead industry thinking in new directions.  

Dan’s background in education and his volunteer interests in teaching led him full circle after a career in enterprise technology. Sometimes it’s possible to link our career expertise with something we’ve been nurturing on the side.

Amy’s path was largely intuitive, following her pleasure and the kinds of projects they sparked her deepest curiosity, from writing copy for Bing’s Search page (those juicy images with interesting factoids, that was her!), to a Jungian based Fairy tale Factory helping people learn to tell stories, to writing and advocating for a broader spectrum of male fashion at Nordstrom, to her current copywriter role at Microsoft. Sometimes we can see a direct line to where we are going, sometimes we can’t—but there are no dead ends. Everything we do is in service to the direction we are heading.


In each case, there was a “breaking point” or a “crisis point” where an inner voice was starting to express itself. Was this the climate in which I want to stay? Am I willing to hide the biggest piece of who I am or what I have to offer in order to fit in? Are these the kinds of politics, or is this the kind of game I want to play?

At some point, our true selves come to save us from ourselves. They help us make the decisions we need to make, suffer the distress and ambiguity of change, and lead us toward our pleasure. All of the panelists, whether they designated these phases rituals or not, took time to discover what they really wanted. They considered their unlived life and weighed the consequences of going the course. And, they created a passage. They went on sabbatical, or sorts, even if it was just the week between jobs, to provide a clearing for what lay next.

They made space for a new beginning.

Christine Haskell, Ph.D. is a pragmatic researcher, coach, and consultant focused on helping busy leaders take responsibility for their learning and development. Her book Craft Your Life, sharing lessons from master craftsmen and women on personal and professional mastery, is due out late 2019. Sign up for her (semi-regular) newsletter here.


Thought Series provides actionable ideas and anchors for reflection on your life or your work.


In 2015 I founded CHC with the bold goal of helping people engage uncertainty in order to lead change. Since then I’ve had the amazing opportunity to speak on the topic to many people here and abroad.

One of the ways we learn how to engage uncertainty is through experiential learning projects. I’m often asked how uncertainty or risk is viewed from leader to leader or organization to organization. The answer is, it’s not really that different. There are way more similarities than differences when it comes to dancing with uncertainty in order to drive change.

I’ve found that there are five universal truths about embracing uncertainty that transcend geography, gender, and organization type:

The first truth is that you can define uncertainty in driving change however you want. It doesn’t matter what you call it: risk, threat, doubt, indecision, ambiguity. Most people share a similar desire which is to do the right thing for their themselves, their teams and their organizations. When it comes to engaging uncertainty each person has their own idea of what is comfortable, tolerable and acceptable. There is no right or wrong way to define or describe uncertainty. It is what it is for you and for you alone.

The second truth about engaging uncertainty in driving change is that uncertainty is part of our daily lives. Your ability to dance with it will change as your environment shifts and changes. Things like new managers, new connections, new roles, new interests, life circumstances like births and deaths, health (yours and others), will all impact your ability to embrace uncertainty. Empowerment can be found in recognizing and accepting that what you need now in this moment is very different than what you will need 12 months from now, or five years from now.

The third truth about engaging uncertainty in driving change is that small changes lead to big changes. Thinking small is about being dedicated to a niche or segment. Most organizations are focused on scaling, and idea of changing the world reigns strong (toward whatever end). We want to utilize innovation to make huge changes in the world so that we can matter. Hopefully we make our mark and make use of the great gifts that we’ve been given. From the lens of the interior mind, scale may not be the most prudent way to proceed. The neurological response seems to be strongest when we pay attention to the micro-level, when we ask “what do I need to do to change my neurology first?” The result is wildly different than if we were to design for scale. It is creative, relevant, and potent.

The fourth truth about engaging uncertainty in driving change is that it is virtually free, which is great news because everybody loves free. You don’t have to hire a professional coach, find a therapist, acquire advanced degrees, get advanced certifications, join a meditation group, or purchase a ton of books. If you want to sell tickets, make a web site, or produce a record, there are is a robust set of platforms to choose from. These are all options you can choose but you do not have to do any of them. There is no shortage of opportunity. What’s missing is that we haven’t shifted gears enough from how business was done just 20 years ago to how it needs to be done today and in the future. We haven’t gotten out our own way and chose to take the leap.

The fifth truth about engaging uncertainty in driving change is that it requires you to…take the leap. Taking the leap means you are improvising, vulnerable, and not sure what you are doing will work out. A human being, and only a human being can engage uncertainty. The act of being generous with ideas, and structure, and connection in ways that have never been done before. What we need to understand is that society is lining up to reward people for doing things differently, for becoming outliers, for thinking unconventionally. There are many attributes associated with these kinds of people, none of which we were taught in school. We were taught to receive a map and follow instructions. The death of the industrial age as at the heart of the uncertainty we find ourselves in. And the work you do matters. Changing yourself changes the work you do, the connections you reach toward, and the impact you have in the world. It’s your choice to find what level of uncertainty you can engage toward driving change. Some days you might make choices that support your definition of change. Other days you might make choices that sabotage the type of change you’re seeking. But change occurs in the practice of engaging. It’s awkward at first. But every day you get the chance to choose, again, and again, and again.


Thought Series: The importance sustained attention

Thought Series provides actionable ideas and anchors for reflection on your life or your work.


Photo by  Nik MacMillan

Photo by Nik MacMillan

My coaching practice focuses on insanely talented and highly creative people in the tech industry. These people like tough problems, process information at a speed that makes most people’s heads whirl, and genuinely enjoy the challenges they are facing. They want to make an impact.

At the same time, I don’t get called in because things are going well. I work with this crowd when their management scores are in a nosedive, or they didn’t do as well on their review as they would have liked, or they need to work with others more effectively — to name just a few issues. I get people in transition from one level to the next, or their scope doubled (or tripled) and they are looking for a sounding board to cope. And, I get people wondering what their next chapter will entail. All of these people are in a mental space where they don’t have immediate answers for what to do and are seeking help.

One of the defining characteristics of people who succeed and those who struggle is sustained attention to the things that matter most — to them personally. Learning is a continuous journey toward horizonal goals. The ability to take stock of where you are, what the yield is of your most recent experiences, and what’s next — those things have to be intentional acts. Intentional acts require reflection. We can and must do that for ourselves, for each other, and for our employees. We have to be willing to call BS with those assessments that don’t jive with reality.

As a manager, it was frustrating to work with people that expected their bosses, coaches, parents, mentors to chart out a career path or development plan for them rather than with them. As a coach, it is frustrating to see books and training programs that promise definitive answers — because deep down in our subconscious basements, we know there aren’t any.

Results are outcomes of a process, not the other way around.

It’s not about what plan I think they should embark on. My question to them is often: What do you have planned for you? Here, I’ll share about my own journey and how the idea of sustained attention through inquiry, opportunity and preparedness helped inform my choices.

Sustained Attention Through Inquiry

What is it you are curious about? How do you nurture and cultivate that curiosity? What do you like? What have you learned? What can you do with that? You seem unhappy with your pace, what might you try to get unstuck?

Then I ask, is there something I can help you with? From there, we build.

Sustained attention through inquiry. I urge you to do this for yourself, your peers, and your employees.

All of that inquiry is what informed me that I loved to write, I loved observing people and what made them tick fascinated me. All of that sounds easy to identify and move toward now. But it wasn’t for me to identify, acknowledge and invest in when I was in a career moving in another direction. We exist in a world where we are externally defined from such a young age — by our parents, friends, schools, church, jobs, and the media. And we learn to edit creativity and dreams out of our lives as children.

For example, I knew at age 6 I wanted to be a writer. I knew I enjoyed observing and making sense of what I saw. But like many kids of my generation, the reply I got was “That’s nice, but it won’t pay the bills.” or “That’s nice, but what will your main job be?” or “We just want you to have a nice life, do you want us to worry about you?” All of these sentiments were well-meaning. My parents valued education but had a lot of parental anxiety about my ability to support myself when I talked about writing as a career. It was a valid concern. Writing jobs barely paid. My entry into the workforce coincided with a deep recession. 

My parents encouraged directions that might be more lucrative and economically sustainable. They advised to “do what made me happy” but I didn’t see them model that themselves. Their anxiety coupled with the choices they made for their own lives impacted many of the early decisions I made in my life and career.

That said, I was encouraged to be an avid reader and observer. I learned that there are grand forces of action and reaction, culture, mindset, history, human courage, human fear, and weakness — and that those forces were all at work everywhere I went. My inner researcher and writer were awakened several times during my career but due to various circumstances remained dormant for a while.

Sustained Attention to Seizing Opportunities

My love of writing and curiosity about people didn’t find a direct outlet until more recently, but I did land in several startups and in an industry that had not yet been defined. The internet as we know it did not exist and it required thinkers from every perspective: computer science, english, sociology, psychology, etc. My timing could not have been more perfect to score a seat at the table and help contribute to what it might become.

Sometimes, a clear vision of what you don’t want can be very informative — and I knew I didn’t want a job in a beige cubicle. I wanted to be part of building something new and having a hand in defining it.

Coming of age in the 90s, I rejected the flashy brands and a winner-take-all mentality of the 1980s. The safest jobs, many believed, were in established companies. Working at a startup was a real career risk because you had to explain both the company and the industry. Consulting and entrepreneurship were fraught with stigma of someone who couldn’t make it in the big leagues. To the established, they looked like an irresponsible detour but startups were a kind of counter-cultural stance. Startups weren’t incubated and supported like they are today. There wasn’t a culture of understanding around what a startup was and how volatile it could be — here one day, gone the next. Working at several startups in the beginning of your career looked like you couldn’t commit or weren’t focused (on your own success, let alone the company’s).

Startups afforded me the opportunity to take on a lot of responsibility and make an impact very early in my career. I learned to understand people’s motivations and intentions in using online consumer products. I learned what compelled people to click on the first ad banners, the value of gaining customer permission in the first on- and off-line marketing promotions, what people’s threshold was in sharing their personal data in the first online calendar, what content people really watched online on the first audio/video players, and what it takes to create a data-driven decision making organization. All of these technology roles represented career breaks which I actively created for myself and seized. And, these roles leveraged my ability to think critically, required keen observation, and demanded that I make the complex simple across multiple stakeholders. Each role was an opportunity for me to continue developing my ability to observe and communicate.

Exposure to new skills and experiences is something we can create for ourselves and for our employees. Sustained attention to finding, offering, and seizing opportunities to stretch ourselves toward new territory — those things will lead to the unexpected. I continued honing my observation skills.I don’t recall having many close friends in these early startups. These companies were not very diverse in gender or age. There was usually a female secretary to the CEO and maybe (but not usually) a VP of sales or marketing. I was usually the youngest hire and one of the few women. The same was true of my faculty and advisers from college. There were countless times I was asked, “So, are you thinking of making a career of this?”, “What do these roles amount to for you?”, “Don’t bother with grad school if you’re thinking of getting married and having kids, it’s not worth it.” Their confusion of over my ambition made it so palpable that I was being sized up for worthiness of being mentored and invested in.I know this kind of thing probably happens to men as well, but at that point in life, my backpack was feeling pretty heavy. It was at this stage I learned the importance of sustained attention to preparedness.

Sustained Attention to Preparedness

When I couldn’t find a lifeline in a boss or mentor, I created them by becoming more prepared. I shut down those confused or benignly negative comments by being the baddest bitch in whatever it was I was trying to do. Preparedness, confidence and some measure of swagger helped me win key moments and get important breaks.

There is nothing that the establishment structure loves more than to make you doubt yourself. Discrimination, exclusion, and discouragement are horrible. We don’t have enough time to talk about all the #MeToo stories I’ve been through, or heard from my colleagues and clients, and the scarring that occurs there. The gas-lighting that goes on (particularly for women in business) is corrosive and toxic because it can sap your will to try and undermines your belief in yourself. It is subtle, and it is viciously effective.

I got through my crisis of confidence in feeling unsupported in my pursuit of a career in technology through sustained attention to gaining more competence and by revisiting sustained attention to seizing opportunity and self-inquiry. I pressed people in my network for new opportunities. I sought to diversify my experience. When re-orgs threatened to specialize me in a discipline I didn’t want depth in, I raised my hand for another area of the company or found other problems to solve. Before there was so much free information available, I looked up syllabi from schools I wanted to attend and read their booklists. I asked people in grad school if I could attend classes with them to hear their lectures. I read every book I could get my hands on subjects that interested me. I went to conferences. I joined boards to increase my ability to work with different kinds of people. I took on projects that other people didn’t initially want and turned them into winning initiatives that reduced costs, increased efficiency, and broadened my scope. There are some that think emphasizing competency is a trap — that when we’re compelled to be many times better than the pack in order just to be viewed as an equal that this isn’t a good thing. All I can share about that is that it is what worked for me, in the circumstances I was in.

Higher competency gave me confidence. It increased my reputation and respect in a way that being average could not. Young, female, often alone in a group — I had a lot of stones in my backpack. Sustained attention to inquiry eventually led me to embark on graduate school where I could indulge my interest in studying human behavior and deepen my skills in writing and research. Sustained attention to opportunity led me to starting my own business. Sustained attention to competency gave me laser focus on what skills I needed to change lanes in my career.

Need to learn more about human behavior, and systems, AND want the rigor beyond working off a booklist? Go to graduate school. Learn to do your own research. Need to learn more about small business? Start showing up in the communities and forums you care about and meet people doing it already. Want to learn what’s next? Choose your tools and guides wisely. 

Yes, there were obstacles, slights, and times when the unfairness felt like it was too much. Yes, colleagues were unhelpful and prone to sabotaging and hoarding information (generally around performance calibration). Even networking acquaintances could thwart efforts by using rather than reciprocating. This dynamic made the few women that were there in my field feel like they were in competition with one another. That part, it was trying.

Bosses, especially female leaders, should walk the floors of their teams and observe how people interact. Set up feedback mechanisms for people to let you know what is happening on the team. Don’t do it because it’s the morally correct thing to do. Do it because it’s about productivity.

While the environment might not be necessarily toxic it might be lower performing. I encourage people to seek mentorship.

Shame people into helping you if you have to! Reach out for what you need! But before you do, know yourself first. Invest the time in learning how to direct your own interests before soliciting the help of others.

Christine Haskell, Ph.D. is a pragmatic researcher, coach, and consultant focused on helping busy leaders take responsibility for their learning and development. Her book Craft Your Life, sharing lessons from master craftsmen and women on personal and professional mastery, is due out late 2019. Sign up for her (semi-regular) newsletter here.

Thought Series: The Other Side of Fear


Thought Series provides actionable ideas and anchors for reflection on your life or your work.

Technology is meant to complement us, not dominate us. If automation is where people developing technology can take us and what they want to accomplish, it strikes me that we as human beings need to lean in to our humanity and what psychologist Carl Rogers referred to it as our ‘human-beingness’ even more. In order to remain as relevant as possible, we need to develop the skills that robots cannot simulate, poll dancing aside.

Critical thinking, ethics, and policy will be very important to our future. We need to regain some of the knowledge we have lost in our pursuit to become one with The Machine of the Industrial Revolution. The basis of how we understand (ourselves and others and the universe), therefore, lies in the anatomy of the brain and its capacity to cope with complex human reactions such as intelligence, thinking, and learning.

Master wood turner Eric Hollenbeck put it this way, “It’s like the Train of Society, going down the track, is scooping up more and more information— ‘scooping more, ‘scooping more, ‘scooping more—at an impressive speed. For some reason, it can only hold so much. This forces the person in the caboose to start throwing information off, as fast as he can, making room for the information coming on in the front. The problem is, we are throwing off the information it took us twenty-five thousand years to glean.”

Rather than being completely replaced, jobs are going to be reinvented. Our jobs are merely bundles of different tasks. Some (or many) of those tasks will be automated. But like evolving from the typewriter to the computer, or going to the library to now using a search engine, technology will basically redefine the kinds of things that we do and how we do them. (Librarians, by the way, are still better than a search engine because they are better at forming good questions.)

At some point in the future, we will learn that even something as human as creativity is actually fairly mechanical. There will be, I believe, an algorithm for creativity. But robots are going to be creative in a different way than humans are. For instance, a robot’s attempt at comedy or dance would be different than a human’s. They will never intrinsically understand what it means to “be human” in the way that we do. Even with such deep intelligence at their disposal, they will never do things exactly like we do them, and there is tremendous value in this difference of perspective, of skill, and of execution.

The convergence between man and machine has become adopted by people of every walk of life, from the poorest farmer to the richest billionaire. The relationship we have with machines has spread widely, been adopted quickly, and evolved to an unprecedented level of intimacy. No longer for the super curious dancing on the fringe of early adoption, the web/internet/computer is now part of mainstream society.

Is that panic, or excitement you are feeling?


Since the robots are here, and here to stay, we shouldn’t be fighting them. If we do, we’ll lose (if our national math/science scores are any indication). We should be figuring out how to work with them.

In 1997, the first big challenge to human exceptionalism was the IBM Deep Blue, who beat the reigning chess master at the time, Gary Kasparov. And when Kasparov lost, some thought this was the end of chess. Who’s going to play competitively because computers are always going to win? But that didn’t happen.

Playing against computers actually increased the extent to which chess became popular. And, on average, the best players became better playing against the artificial minds. Technology raised their game. Even Kasparov, who lost, speculated on the unfairness of being matched to a database that had access to every single chess move ever. So he invented a new, freestyle chess league, where you can play any way you want. You can play as an AI or you can play as a human or you can play as a team of AI and humans.

In the past couple of years the best chess player on the planet is not an AI. And it’s not a human. It’s the team that Kasparov refers to centaurs; it’s the team of humans and AI. They are complementary. AIs and humans think differently. This is reflected in other disciplines. The world’s best medical diagnostician is not Watson, or a human doctor. It’s the team of Watson plus a doctor.

This idea of teaming, or collaborating with something that can be creative, make decisions, and develop consciousness (different than ours) requires us to learn to develop more self-awareness, increase our autonomy, and make better decisions. We are running on a different substrate, and it’s not a zero-sum game.

There is inherent beauty in this symmetry between machines and humans. That, if humans get to gain more awareness of themselves and gain mastery in something unique to them, we can work with machines to tackle something even greater.

At its essence, artificial intelligence is math and data. Math and data have rules. What is difficult about the problems that need to be solved today is that deep neural networks of the brain have a multidimensional space where there is no “sense” to be made. Or, at least we are still unable to make sense of the rules at play. At a certain point, we just don’t know what it all means (yet).

If you relate to the metaphor of the brain in terms of a computer and the way that it receives, processes and stores information, you can appreciate that incoming information is acted upon by a series of processing systems. Each of these systems accepts, rejects or transforms the information in some way, resulting in some form of response.

Where there is a difference between the computer and the brain is in the type of processing of which each is capable. Computers are only capable of processing one bit of information at a time before moving on to the next bit, whereas the brain often engages in a multitude of bits of information simultaneously. There is also an issue about predictability, with the computer always reacting to the same input in exactly the same manner, whereas the brain may be subjected to emotional or environmental pressures that cause differences in reaction.

In short, we just don’t know the rules of the human brain. Therein lies the great fear of and opportunity for humankind: learning, guiding, or controlling these rules.

Thought Series: 5 Practices for driving trust


Thought Series provides actionable ideas and anchors for reflection on your life or your work.


Marketing is becoming a more resource-rich function of business. Marketing is the function that creates and sustains long-lasting relationships with the most important assets of any business—the employees, customers, suppliers, and partners. Led by the guiding principles of the organization, marketing matters in every relationship. To some degree, everyone must be a marketer.

Data, digital, social, mobile, analytics, real-time agility—are all common vocabulary and the subject of numerous business articles and conversation. Thus marketers need to shift their focus from pushing messages at people to engaging them in an ongoing conversation and relationship. The speeddirection, and magnitude of the changes in marketing have been widely discussed. But no one has the answer locked up on where connection, collaboration, sharing, gifting are headed—as a means for building trust.

Leaders of values-based organizations offer a path forward since connection and quality of their relationships is how they operate.


You establish and build a community using both content and social media marketing. It can be difficult. You’re interacting with your audience constantly: fostering new relationships, nurturing existing ones, and listening/responding to feedback. You’re building trust and rapport and your social reach is growing.

These things are great for building awareness. You’re putting yourself out there and joining in the conversation. You may not think people are interested in your business and what you have to say, but guess what, they are.

All of that is important. But there is one thing to remember: Our emotions are the primary driver of our on- and offline actions.

Put It Into Practice

One way to measure healthy relationships with other people, is to think about:

  • Do you look forward to seeing that person?

  • Do you care about them?

  • Do they share your values?

  • Do you speak well of them to others?

…because these questions apply to companies as well. See more about the science of emotions in marketing.


Collaboration is one of those words, like innovation or execution, that sometimes loses its meaning in a management context because it is overused. We know we need to work together better. We know we can all get along, and that more heads on an issue make for better solutions. Yet it’s also one of those behaviors that many companies hope will just happen. They think, “let’s put a bunch of good, motivated people together and the collaboration will take place, right?” It’s not that easy — leaders must create conditions in which collaboration is inevitable. And everyone in that environment needs to make a conscious choice to learn from others.

Put It Into Practice

  • What should we make?

  • Who should we make it for?

  • How do we make it in such a way that the story of our product is true?


We all want to feel that our lives have meaning. We gravitate towards brands that help us find that meaning. Apple’s “Think different” or Nike’s “Just do it” represent challenges we can bring into our personal lives. It could be an allusion to our common humanity like Skype’s family portrait series, which illustrated the growth of a long-distance friendship between two girls, each missing an arm. Or it could be a global call to action like Wal-Mart’s sustainable supply chain initiative. Each of these companies built an engaged audience by finding a big, ambitious theme and building a long-running campaign around it. Each also experienced sustained growth.

Put It Into Practice

  • How can you improve people’s lives?

  • How can you develop others?

  • How can you invest in your community?


As Bill Gates said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

I think the same is true with Agile. Agile was originally promoted as a “movement” over a decade ago.  Like many new ideas, Agile adoption was slow to start and quick to dominate. From the looks of the marketplace, it looks like Agile has finally hit its stride.

As recently as five years ago, most marketing departments were set up only to conduct campaigns and launches. That is changing, especially at larger companies with large numbers of customers. It is not the old mode of planning a campaign, executing it, analyzing the results, learning from them and applying those lessons to next year’s campaign. Marketers are increasingly running a real-time dialogue, constantly listening and instantly connecting in relevant ways. Consumers have an expectation of immediacy.

A 24/7 mentality requires a different way of working. The industrial model assembly line is gone. Now, open space provides a kind of trading room floor, responds to the ebbs and flows of the market as they occur. Although disciplines experience the larger product launches, it is the day-in and day-out efforts of relationship building with employees, customers, suppliers, and partners who in return reward you with a supportive ecosystem of brand loyalty and a steady stream of purchases.

Put It Into Practice

  • Does the experiment have a clear purpose?

  • Have stakeholders made a commitment to abide by the results?

  • Is the experiment doable?

  • How can we ensure reliable results?

  • Have we gotten the most value out of the experiment?

Although those questions seem obvious, many companies begin conducting tests without fully addressing them.


Unilever Senior Vice-president of Marketing Marc Mathieu likes to say that marketing “used to be about creating a myth and selling it and is now about finding a truth and sharing it.” It is difficult to sustain myths these days; with a few clicks of the mouse, anyone can discover almost anything and instantly circulate it to an audience of millions. Companies confident enough to share the truth are choosing to participate in a web-enabled show and tell— and consumers, employees, suppliers, and partners appreciate it.

Transparency is appealing because you can’t really connect with someone unless there’s some level of transparency. We seek transparency from organizations because we do business in a culture that is characterized by social transparency. Yet, we do business in a culture that has experienced the erosion of privacy.

Put It Into Practice

  • What do you see as the relationship between transparency and generosity?

  • Can you point to examples where transparency made a difference?

  • What steps do you feel you can take to increase transparency? (about what you do, what your group does, what your organization does)

Thought Series: 3 Lessons Business Leaders Can Learn From Master Craftsmen & Women

Thought Series provides actionable ideas and anchors for reflection on your life or your work.


Trade and craftsmanship are inextricably linked. We develop skills and learn to perform to a standard. We aim to be skilled in our respective trades. That said, most people will agree there is something sacred about true craftsmanship. Why is craftsmanship so rare? What can we do to cultivate craftsmanship?

There is, I believe, a craftsman in all of us. Everyone has untapped creative potential. Whether we’re talking about a stone carver or a paradigm shifting business leader it’s human nature to conclude that those who demonstrate unusual gifts owe their success to an almost magical quality that you’re either born with or you’re not: talent.

How we spend our time and what problems we choose to labor over says a lot about how we approach the idea of work. Moving an idea in any medium—working with raw materials or through people—is hard, but it is a battle that can be won through disciplined effort, focused attention, and obsession over a particular problem you feel drawn to solve. In fact, real-world problem-solving is most strongly linked to higher self-reported work quality. When your trade is in service of your craft, you elevate your work.

While the skills you bring matter, few of us ever reach the limits of our natural abilities. Instead what holds us back is a lack of commitment or a lack of focus. “Inspiration,” Picasso said, “needs to find you working.” Such advice often overwhelms us and makes us yearn for the recipe, standards, templates or blueprints to success. Showing up counts for a lot, because it deepens your ability. Effort matters.

But there is another component necessary to achieving true craftsmanship—preoccupation with your subject. Only when we are internally driven does effort combine with skill to manifest as achievement. In other words, it takes effort to get good at something. It takes effort to apply that skill, to create. But it takes obsession to hang in there for the long haul.

If you look at any master craftsman or admired business leader’s life story, for instance, they don’t begin by displaying savant- like brilliance at an early age. Clothing designer Eileen Fisher did not start out with the stores she has today. She started with a single rack of samples at a New York design show, “and it was a disaster.” In fact many craftsmen struggled. Several leaders experienced painful failures. What distinguishes their approach to their craft is that they regard the struggle to learn as part of the privilege of their craft. They work hard to make a difference and choose work that is worthwhile to them.

Rather than chasing a different dream each week or month or year, you need – at least eventually – to settle on a higher calling and never let go. Drive and determination, combined with single-minded direction, is what elevates your work.

Many people think that once you find your “thing” maintaining interest is easy—that it no longer feels like work. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow discusses the nature of work as complete absorption in what one does. While all masters and mentors referred to being in a “zen-state” or “meditative state” this mindset needs to be actively cultivated.

Interest and motivation are not fixed. They need to be nurtured and developed, much like learning a new language. Here are three steps from my latest research on master craftsmen and business leaders that you can take to develop yourself and level up your work – and begin to live and work with craftsmanship.



When you start a class or a job for the first time, you step in to a world where you don’t yet know the rules. This new environment has a particular ecosystem, with values, beliefs, procedures, and social dynamics that you have yet to learn. You do not yet know how to navigate the power structure, what passes for good work, or conventions for communicating with others. Your goal as you enter is to examine.

A common mistake is to “hit the ground running” in a way where you feel you have to prove yourself. If you are constantly seeking external validation and worrying about impressing others, you miss two things: nuances in the environment, and the ability to evaluate your own work. Early compliments can quickly become fickle, relying on them will lead you astray. Take time to understand the reality of where you are, how things work, and where you fit in best. If you want to impress others, it should be because of how serious you are about learning, not because you are trying to get promoted before you are ready.

Master craftsmen and admired business leaders have a preoccupation with a subject or concern. I refer to this as their inner compass (because it guides their awareness) and nothing will stop them in pursuit of this higher goal. How can you find yours if you don’t have one already?

There are two kinds of examining you are looking to do: internal and external. Mine your life. With what have you been and are you continually fascinated?

Second, observe and examine the system around you. Learn the rules that govern the system, understand “the way things are done.” Whether a craftsman or leader, these lessons are both spoken and unspoken, and a reflection of core values and beliefs. In business, you uncover these values by observing how successful people are recognized on the way up and how less fortunate people are treated while they struggle on the way down.

After taking in the rules of the system, it’s important to learn where the power lies. How does communication flow through the system? Who claims power and who actually has it? Who is moving up and who it moving down?

Last, what sparks you most about the environment you are in? Where do you find the most meaning in what you do?

By exploring these concepts, you can start to understand how things function, connect more effectively to your inner compass, and find your place in ecosystem. The importance of this step is to train you to examine every system you find yourself in so you can avoid costly mistakes. It is always best to look before you leap. And, you can’t effectively navigate the system unless you know it.



After you’ve been in your role for a while, you come up on the next principle of learning—choosing tools and acquiring skills. For some jobs, like operating a machine that always performs the same action, the skills you need to learn are obvious. Other jobs require more of a mix between physical and mental skills, like stone cutting or observing and collecting nature specimens to inspire a felting project. Still other jobs are vaguer, like working with and through people or examining research. Whatever the need, your goal is to make your learning simple, to understand what matters for you to become proficient, and what needs ongoing practice.

First, it is important to start with a single skill you can master. This creates your learning foundation. This will increase your focus and deepen your concentration.

Second, it is important to manage your frustration with setbacks. Challenges in learning are predictable. Anticipating early struggles, frustrations, resistance, and the fickleness of new commitment can help you better prepare. These things cannot be avoided when learning something new, no matter how motivated we are to attain mastery. The only way is through.

Marc Sokol, Editor of Human and People Strategy Magazine, commented on the nature of perseverance:

People say the key to being an entrepreneur is perseverance. Well, guess what? 

Successful entrepreneurs and unsuccessful entrepreneurs are often just as persevering. But, successful entrepreneurs figure out when adapt, and unsuccessful entrepreneurs don’t.

There’s a cognitive difference and a readiness-to-pull-the-cord difference, as opposed to optimism and perseverance.

This practice of skill is best understood by considering the greatest learning-by-doing model ever created: the apprenticeship. Given how little information was available in the Middle Ages, apprentices learned through observation, imitation, and repetition. Certainly their hands-on learning amounted to much, much more than the 10,000 hours needed to learn a skill. It’s not just engaging in a domain for thousands of hours. You have to change how able you are to do something. Anders Ericcson refers to this as deliberate practice. The cathedrals, castles, and walls are powerful examples of craftsmanship and engineering. Accomplished without the benefit of blueprints or books to describe them, and the result of engaging in the smallest of tasks, they represent the accumulation of skills and knowledge of several generations.

Learning through observation, practice, and repetition has a long history. We learned to hunt, forage, make tools long before we could speak. Even if the task is purely mental in nature, like learning a foreign language or computer programming, our like brains like the routine of learning by doing. In other words, reading-theories-doesn’t-make-perfect, practice makes perfect.



Operate on the boundary of what you can, and cannot do. The shortest and most critical part of the learning process is taking all of the skills you’ve acquired and actually putting them to the test—literally. A map can only get you so far. Sooner or later, you are going to need to evaluate your environment, rely on your gut, and use your judgment pm what direction to take.  Experimentation could mean that you step up and take more responsibility which invites more criticism of your work. Ari experimented each time he applied his current skills toward opening a new business. Master ceramicist Louise Pentz experimented her way through a sculpture by creating and destroying her way through it. She explains her process:

You have to make a lot of mistakes. You’re hoping for the mistakes, because that is usually where things are most exciting. Too much control and the outcome loses some of its essence. It ends up just like everyone else’s outcomes. Average. Within the norm. Mainstream.

Often when I create a piece I’ll build it and it will be good, but not very exciting. It’s good, technically, but I wonder ‘how I can give life to this piece?’

I start to break it apart. I might hit or punch the clay with a stick or I’ll rip a piece off of the side. All of those gestures make the piece stronger and better in my eyes.

Through working an idea, editing, and experimentation, you start to gauge your own practice, develop your own standards. You learn to take a stand in the presence of others’ judgments. In pursuit of ongoing development, you seek constructive feedback.


Inner awareness and observation help guide us so that we do not need to be told what to do. Gaining new skills through deliberate practice helps us develop the ability to accept feedback and introduces us to standards. Seeking new experiences, we decide if it would be easier and safer to operate within a template, to do what we’re told, and to stay within our comfort zone—or if we feel the compulsion to forge ahead.

Like attempting the high dive for the first time, freedom is deeply attractive as well as terrifying. We are confronted with the question: Who would we be if we were truly free? There are surprising ways to access moments of freedom regardless of circumstance and it often results by initiating action before you think you are ready—just like taking the leap off of that first high dive.

You’ve completed your apprenticeship in a particular skill when there isn’t anything left to know in this environment. Your experiments no longer make you uneasy. Things become more or less predictable. Where to go next? Go deeper, find a niche, or both. By finding your true calling, honing your craft through dedicated deliberate practice, and responding to setbacks with an optimistic, problem-solving approach, you will follow in the footsteps of the many outstanding Mentors and Masters I have studied, all of whom are characterized by that mix of awareness, skill development, and practice.

To believe that only a lucky few are born with true talent, while the rest of us are not, is demoralizing. You might understandably wonder whether the focus on craftsmanship simply shifts this concern to a different trait: that perhaps a rare few are blessed with innate talent for superior work while us lesser mortals are destined to weaker will and an absence of meaningful work. In fact, studies suggest that mastery and achievement are not inherited traits, but abilities requiring cultivation. The common factor in people that live and work with craft is how they deliberately practice and change themselves and engage in very goal-directed practice activities. This leaves plenty of room for the rest of us to be influenced by other factors such as life experiences and deliberate cultivation.

Thought Series: Manifesto for new work

Thought Series provides actionable ideas and anchors for reflection on your life or your work.

The work we do matters. Doing is the new leading.

Sustainable development, growth without depletion of natural resources, has become synonymous with sustainable growth—doing what’s required to sustain corporate growth and profits to increase shareholder value. We hold the assumption that our responsibility is to increase shareholder value. Outcomes are generally to sell more stuff, file more claims, increase programs—the list goes on.

Change, almost always, comes too late. Post-crisis solutions gradually chip away at a persistent problem or maintain steady growth, and ultimately define the problem. Post-crisis creativity ultimately enables the problem to persist.

Our inability to embrace the emotional labor of learning, I am persuaded, is one of the greatest threats facing our society today. Investing (and betting) that post-crisis innovation is the primary turning point for an entire sector limits us considerably.

Learning to dance with uncertainty is the wisest investment we can make in our future. Embracing something that might not work is necessary to stimulate creativity and growth. What if our work (in business, government, or nonprofits) was naturally responsible for conservation not just of environmental resources, but human potential? What if each one of us could utilize business as a creative medium for self-expression toward opportunities and problems that face us today?

This is a manifesto for learning how to dance with that uncertainty.



We need companies that empower people to think like craftsmen again.

Craftsmanship requires self-reliance; knowledge of a process—end to end.

It designs something to work within the constraints of the ecosystem it came from, demonstrating an inherent elegance and sustainability.

It adheres to guiding principles of aesthetics and function.

It requires distinct attitudes and capabilities of solving the problem at hand, but also the intellectual vision and insight to find new problems. Seeing what is missing involves the application of creativity.

It requires discipline and—most importantly—joy in working through such challenges.

It incorporates and embodies the decomposition of its primary material. It makes the problem part of the solution.

Entropy adds value.

Master Craftsmen generate and reshape the process and the result as the work evolves. Inviting surprise, they are engaged in ongoing learning and adapting.

Master Craftsmen evaluate the effectiveness of what they create, and their methods, rather than measure. They are in constant conversation with their work, embracing the pursuit of balancing agility and stability.

For the Craftsman, the process of thought happens through making and repeating; making is a form of thinking. With muscle memory inscribed with thought, they take action. In the thinking and the doing they lead.

Craftsmanship deepens with understanding.

Craftsmanship is fundamentally different from business.

Craftsmanship engages in the uncertainty of projects that might not work. Craftsmen experiment. They ask permission from the market to get up the next day to do it again. Business requires the predictability of knowing what will happen tomorrow.

Business is a field primarily defined by its ability to grow.

Business is built around the ability to create customers (not necessarily solve or proactively find problems).

Natural and human resources are finite. Sustainability, responsibility, and citizenship are preventative efforts generally built in response to a crisis point. How these programs are practiced day to day represents the heart and soul of an organization’s core values.

Business takes many creative forms.

Could a non-profit exist, if there were not sizable gaps in the systems built to serve us? No.

Could a social business exist, if humanity’s most pressing needs were being met? No.

Theirs are businesses built upon the failure or collapse of an ecosystem.

They observe signals of failures and are inspired into action by the crisis in the present. Their innovation is byproduct of the emergencies they perceive.

Crisis gives all organizations permission to innovate. But living in a state of crisis is not a sustainable state of being.

When innovating out of crisis is the leading growth strategy, whole industries are diverted from their unique potential to go far beyond the opportunity of yesterday’s disaster. Instead, crisis defines them.

Could a venture-backed startup exist, regardless of a crisis? Yes.

Compared to other structures focused one and largely defined by crisis, business has incredible opportunity for flexibility. Yet it tends to adopt the straightest most reliable path toward growth it can find.

When economies are on the rise, innovation is actively encouraged and incubated.

The encouragement to think creatively and to anticipate needs are among the key differentiators between companies lauded as outliers or merely lucky, and traditional enterprises.

Leaders of creative companies embrace uncertainty. The entire premise of their organizations relies on their ability to learn and do.

While business finds success on the basis of balancing innovation and the status quo of steady growth, it misses out in not investing its energy into the craft of doing.

Simple reactivity (to markets, to competition, to crisis) can no longer be admired as the holy grail of steady growth. We must be more agile and responsive.

The craft of doing and learning are necessary for progress. In doing, we create new understanding. This understanding leads to shifts in behavior. In the doing we learn. In the doing we lead.

Traditional enterprise has failed to develop the discipline to split its attention from the din and crisis of the present. Strict expectations of growth have failed to encourage a diverse set of models and initiatives centered around the creativity needed to find the problems of the future.

Future leaders must anticipate needs.

Leaders of work of the future need to find balance between a set of new, previously unimagined problems, as well as the next evolutions for the present day’s most persistent social and environmental issues.

The next wave of leaders must include a community of those who choose to stop growth for growth’s sake. These are innovators who refuse to wait for the ticking bomb, or the building to collapse, or the ground to open up.

Leaders of new work embrace the proximity of problem solving in order to increase the potency of their solutions. Not only are these leaders carrying out change based on the information they are receiving, but also contributing to a new understanding. Let’s call these bright Counterpoints.

Counterpoints gain capability to make change in the world by first gaining awareness to their own uniqueness.

Counterpoints imagine a future that is tailor-made. They envision an ideal and backwards from the big vision.

Counterpoints are visionary and concern themselves with the study of systemic interventions.

They envision implications.

They generate scenarios.

They plan strategically.

They balance theory and practice.

Who are they?

Some are saving children.

Some are feeding the poor.

Some are housing the homeless.

Some are curing diseases.

Some are donating goods and services.

They are not necessarily in business.

Leaders of the past are fueled by reaction to these circumstances and as a result it defines them. Leaders of the future know they must be engaged with the crisis of the present, but also be responsive to crises of the future, ones that have yet to be defined.

These leaders are bright Counterpoints.

Counterpoints ask, “What if?” By embracing projects that might not work, they are facilitators of change.

Counterpoints will strike a balance between reactively embracing growth as a goal, and responding with a long term perspective of conservation.

The next generation of organizations must welcome and help develop these new leaders.

The individual practicing their life’s craft is the new leader of the future.

Purpose and creativity.

Prevention and reactivity.

Doing is the new leading. The world needs companies filled with craftsmen mindsets, now more than ever.

Welcome, Counterpoint.

We need you.

We’re glad you’re here.

The work we do matters, more than ever before.

Thought Series: The value of the intolerable

Thought Series provides actionable ideas and anchors for reflection on your life or your work.


Over the last month I’ve been asked to speak about my research findings. More and more, however, I’m noticing that people want tips, checklists, or recipes for success, getting mindful, or whatever goal they are after.

TIP: If checklists really helped, all of us wouldn’t still be struggling so much.

Below is yet another list…of points to consider. These are key takeaways from a study I did on values based leaders and how they manage scaling their organizations. Yet, the one concept that binds them all together is: tolerance.

Leaders that are a cut above have the ability to sit with and manage great intolerance. We go to trainings where we are told “it’s ok to get uncomfortable” or “it’s safe to make mistakes.” But people are coming with their team, where they will go back to an environment where they feel unsafe.

Question: How many trainings have you been to where people were actually uncomfortable?

I’ve only been to one. At Microsoft. Lisa Brummel brought an organization in to help change the culture from being dominating to being more collaborative.  One of the first hours of this training attempted to give vocabulary to the concept of feelings. Among a sea of engineers, where feelings were seldom acknowledged when negotiating tradeoffs for launch dates, vocabulary was limited. People could only identify four terms: happy, sad, mad, afraid. When it came time to identify one of these feelings publicly in conjunction with an exercise we were doing, several people got up and left, some shouted, others boycotted the day. The unspoken feeling was fear, that would be used against them in performance calibration. Since then, the training has been adapted and performance calibration has been revisited.

The point here is that it is intolerable in today’s society to register discomfort with anything. We must be happy, always know the answer, and demonstrate competence even while we are learning something new. restrictive environments like this squash motivation, ability to innovate, and individual creativity.

How much more can you tolerate?



Leaders that are highly valued among employees and even markets, have a great capacity to create the conditions necessary for innovation and ongoing experimentation. Here are some key takeaways from values-based leaders.

1. You Matter, Whether You Like it or Not.

A person’s consistency in word and deed sets the tone and depth for relationships, for how work gets done, for what is permissible. How you are narrows or broadens your prospects. If you take action and you’re committed to making a difference–great. If you’re one of those that decide that ‘well I don’t make any difference I’m just one of 7 billion people–what difference do I make’ (and you live your life that way) that’s the impact that you are going to make.  You know that people who don’t care are less fun to be around, and those that want to make a difference, do. You will have impact one way or another. How do you want to show up?

2. Create a Vision from the Future, Step into that Possibility Not Knowing How to Create It

Most visioning projects start off looking at the past and the steps that got them where they are. They then develop a series of steps to get them to their future. By identifying your future, and beginning to move in that direction the ecosystem will provide it. Each person individually commits to the future. If someone is just going along for the ride, when things get tough it makes it hard to have a breakthrough. What future do you want?

3. Individual Commitment.

All individuals have to commit to the vision. We, as individuals, have the power to create. Each interaction we engage in creates our future. We have the choice to determine the conversation, in that moment, of who we are going to be. Creativity lives at the level of each individual. Groups do not create. Autonomy is only as robust as the level of personal responsibility. There is a certain magic available to people when they operate like they are responsible for their own universe. There are rewards to living life where you consistently choose, and are held accountable for choosing, to serve your team and your community. What is it you are up to? Making a living or a life? What inspires you?

4. Develop & Celebrate Your People.

Most jobs are hard, that is why they call it work. I am not sure whether I would want to work with the type of person who would be willing to endure a job only for the pay. Observe each other’s behavior as they go about aligning to the vision. Teach the team to give and accept feedback during the next team meeting. People truly committed to the vision will accept feedback of their peers. The group develops into a supportive team of coaches that holds them accountable for making a difference.