Families are the factories where people are made

Photo by  Daniel Cheung

Photo by Daniel Cheung


The roots of our need for seeking support lie deep in our pasts and are often imprinted from our families. No matter how much effort we invest in our development, somewhere in childhood, our path towards emotional maturity will almost certainly have been hampered. Even if we came from a loving family, no one makes it through youth without sustaining some kind of deep psychological injury—what this book refers to as a ‘primal wound’.

We could blame time. Unlike all other living things, Homo sapiens have an exceedingly long, structurally claustrophobic processing time. A giraffe can stand up minutes after it is born. By the age of sixteen, a human will have spent around 50,000 hours in proximity with its parents. A female salmon mother will very sensibly choose a site, dig a nest with her tail, deposit 100s of eggs and then swim away without seeing a single one them again. Even the African elephant, the largest land animal on the planet, is sexually mature and independent by the age of ten.

But humans dawdle and delay in their development. It’s a year before we take our first steps and two before we can think and speak coherent thoughts. It takes close to two decades before we recognized as adults—and we are currently pushing those boundaries further. Twenty years is a long time to be influenced by such a highly irregular, distorting organization we call home, and its even more distinctive supervisors, our parents.

Families are the factories where people are made. Over many long summers and winters, we learn how to scan and assess an environment for nurturing, safety, and success. We are intimately shaped by the ways of the big people around us. We tune into to their likes and dislikes. We come to know their favorite expressions. We anticipate their habits. We know how they will respond to interruption and delay. We are sensitive to their tone when they’re irritated. We know the atmosphere of home in the early spring morning as we wait to go to school and in evening as we prepare for dinner. We memorize the textures of the wallpaper and the smell of fresh laundry coming out of the dryer. As adults, we can still recall the taste of certain foods we had at birthdays and know intimately the tiny sounds a parent made while reconciling the weekly checkbook. We might return home for a holiday as adults and learn—despite our jobs, responsibilities and aching bodies—that we are seven again.

During our elongated development, we are at first, in a physical sense, completely at the mercy of our caregivers. In many ways, we are so frail. The shadows under our bed are out to get us in our sleep. We need help crossing the road. We develop complex strategies for tying our shoes and putting on a winter coat. We need direction writing our name.

We are also exposed emotionally. We are not equipped to understand who we are and won’t be for some time. We don’t know where our feelings come from; why we are sad or what makes us furious. We don’t understand how adults fit into the bigger picture or why they behave as they do. We take what the big people around us say as truth; we can’t help but exaggerate their role on the planet. Our survival depends on it. We are entangled in their attitudes, ambitions, fears and predispositions. In this way, our upbringing is always particular and peculiar.

As children, we are unable to let the inertia and force of those around us roll off our backs. Without a hard shell of our own, we absorb it all.  If a parent shouts at us, it shakes us to our core. We cannot tell that some of their harsh words were not really for us necessarily, that their cause might have been a difficult day at work, or are the aftershocks of their own childhood; it is like an all-powerful, all knowing giant has decided, for good (if unknown) reasons, that we are to be defeated. Everything is all or nothing.

It is also hard for us to reckon with a parent’s disappearance, when they travel or relocate, that they didn’t leave us because we did something wrong or because we are unworthy of their love, but because even adults aren’t always in control of their own destinies.

If parents are having a heated discussion, we think they must hate one another. To children, a conversation with raised voices (throw in a slammed door, some swear words, and screeching tires out of the driveway) may feel catastrophic. It’s like everything safe is at risk of collapsing. In that kind of climate, there is no understanding from the child’s perspective that disagreements are normal part of relationships. They do not understand that a couple may be committed to a life-long union while also wishing that the other go to hell.

Children are equally vulnerable to their parents’ particular beliefs. They can’t parse why they should not mix with another family from school. There is no logic why they should follow particular dress codes or choose a particular religion. They don’t feel as passionately about why they should wash their hands as often as they do or be early for school. All of these ‘isms’ represent a partial understanding of priorities and reality to which they must subscribe because their parents do. 

Childhood has a fixed radius from which there is little ability to escape. There is no other place for us to be like school or a job. Under the supervision of our parents, we start to develop a social network. Even when things are going well, we are more or less in an open prison. Probably why we flex our boundaries by flirting with the idea of running away.

As a result of the idiosyncrasies experienced in our early years, we develop distorted views and unbalanced narratives about ourselves. The family template is established. Without awareness, we will live and relive in that template in whatever group we encounter for the rest of our lives because our brains like to match patterns. Parts of our internal makeup start to develop in odd directions. Perhaps we can’t easily trust. Maybe we become unusually scared or unusually engaged around people who raise their voices. We might not believe complements we are given, can’t tolerate being touched, or become irritable engaging in small talk. We seek familiar templates and patterns and we want to repeat or repair those patterns. If we had an overbearing mother, we might seek overbearing friends, partners, or bosses. Or we might go to great lengths to avoid them entirely. Either way, our response to people who are overbearing will be imbalanced. We don’t need to have suffered something shocking, illegal, evil or malicious for those distortions to develop. The causes of our wound don’t have to be outwardly remarkable, but their impact can often be significant and long-lasting. Some people can survive abusive parents who suffered from addictions and turn out more resilient than another person who survived a schoolyard bully and a distant father. That is how fragile childhood is—remarkable incidents aren’t the only ones that are liable to cause our wires to cross. 

We know this to be true from the lessons of tragedy in great literature. Ancient Greek plays, Russian novels, Shakespeare—drama ensues not necessarily through enormous miscalculations in judgment, but through the tiniest, most innocent, errors. A minor starting point can unleash terrible consequences. Art imitates life and our emotional development follows a similar structure. Our caretakers, in fact our whole family system, did their best with us as children. Yet as adults, we nurse major psychic injuries that guaranteeing more difficult life paths than we might have enjoyed otherwise.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.

Coaching v Therapy

Photo by  Kari Shea

Photo by Kari Shea


Executive coaching is very solution-focused. Some engagements can be as short as 1-3 sessions. Other clients need longer periods, from six months to a year, strategies and tools to interweave results and relationships at the individual, team, and organization level. It sounds like a simple concept, but it is not easy to pull off. A coach’s background varies, accounting for a wide spectrum of talent. A coach can hold a behavioral, social science, or psychology master’s or doctoral degree.  And, there are also coaches practicing with little professional background. Both types of coaches submit to the requirements of a coaching program. Both types of coaches can get certified through an accrediting body by taking a 3-hour open book test. Because the certification body accepts all comers, some choose not to become certified, using their academic degrees and experience as credentials. There are no state licenses for coaching.

Psychotherapy is a long-term process. A patient works with a therapist to diagnose and resolve problematic beliefs, behaviors, relationship issues, feelings and sometimes physical responses generally resulting from past trauma. The therapist holds a clinical master’s or doctoral degree and submits to state licensing requirements. In general, states license two specific types of roles—mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. 

In choosing a practitioner with coaching or therapy, the client needs to decide what level of rigor they are looking to engage with and distinguish for themselves the difference between wise counsel versus friendly advice.

Dipping v Dwelling

Both therapy and coaching are collaborative processes based on the relationship between an individual and a practitioner. Both are grounded in dialogue, provide a supportive environment allowing clients to talk openly with someone who’s objective, neutral and nonjudgmental. Both practitioners use a client’s past as a tool for understanding present behaviors. It is here a therapist will dwell to heal and a coach will dip to frame understanding of how the past influences the present. Coaching can be therapeutic, but it is not therapy. Together with the client, both practitioners will work to identify and change the thought and behavior patterns that are keeping clients from feeling and performing their best.

While there is a shared understanding and rigor between trained therapists and coaches educated on behavioral theory, the fundamentals of coaching are what distinguish it from therapy. Therapy dwells in the past and attempts to heal an individual’s emotional pain by reversing the suppression of memories and emotions. Coaching dips into the past and attempts to help an individual frame painful experiences to increase awareness of past patterns and understanding of their impact in present situations. In this way, coaching is not therapy, but it can be therapeutic.


Coaching is focused on helping leaders work through their dilemmas so they can truly learn on the job (in front of others, under pressure) and directly translate that knowledge into results for their teams and ultimately the organization.


Coaches use diagnostics to asses individual and organizational effectiveness and performance. They do not diagnose mental illness. A coach with a background in behavioral science, psychology, or related field has an understanding of the fundamentals of human behavior from a theoretical perspective (how family systems work, human development, adult learning, our lopsided natures, and the impact of denial—to list a few things). Therapists apply a similar lens and use it to determine illnesses and pathologies so their patients can be clinically treated.

 The coach’s focus is typically present-forward compared to the retrospective lens of the therapist. The coach is not focused on healing the past, but rather taking note of how it influences the present and what strategies can help the client increase their effectiveness. Coaching never requires medication, micro-dosing, coordination or services, or adjunct therapies though the client might opt for any those experiences separately with a therapist.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.

Introduction: To the little book of coaching

Photo by  Dustin Lee

Photo by Dustin Lee


Coaching is one of the most valuable developments of the last century. It has grown in popularity the last twenty-five years. Coaching provides an exceptional tool to raise our levels of awareness, attunement, improves our relationships, and assists us in discovering our personal potential. It helps us cultivate a hospitable environment for growth in our professional lives to achieve greater results.

Psychology, and it’s focus on an individual’s potential for growth and maturity lays the groundwork for coaching. Because coaching borrows heavily from psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, and other related fields, questions inevitably arise: What is the difference between coaching and therapy? What is coaching really?

Coaching has distinct boundaries with psychotherapy practices. Because of this it is  deeply misunderstood, mischaracterized, and practiced by a very wide spectrum of talent, creating doubt in the marketplace. Coaching is rarely described well, and its voice seldom heard with enough clarity.

This little book attempts to explain how I interpret and practice coaching and how it leverages basic principles from psychology, in particular, the difference between dipping and dwelling in the past; what the needs are in all of us to which it serves; the methods by which it addresses these needs; and what outcome of a coaching intervention could ideally be.

The book suggests my central belief that coaching, with someone well-trained, is one of the single greatest steps any of us can take towards greater awareness and fulfillment. Investing in coaching can reduce anger and frustration, defeatism, poor confidence, and general feelings of being lost or stuck while helping you achieve results.

This is a guide to the purpose and meaning of coaching.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.

The Prepared Mind: Skills v States

To tackle the wicked problems of our present and future, we need to embrace a strange, counter-intuitive irony: as organizations across all sectors continue to create and adopt technologies like artificial intelligence, employees need to stay relevant by increasing their subjective intelligence.

My research on master craftsmen and how they gain mastery might be the place to seek initial solutions. One way to do that is to increase self-awareness with your inner experience. As you learn to manage your feelings, you clear the way to develop a greater feel for your work.

Credit: Alina Grubnyak

Credit: Alina Grubnyak

Living and working with Craft is about being confident in your vision, knowing how to get there, and what it will do for your life. Most of us focus on the how—those more tangible skills that map where we need to be.

Because the idea of mission and fulfillment are more ethereal—they require a bit of a leap of faith. In the space between hard skills and soft skills lies the unknown. In the unknown is where a whole spectrum of emotions from excitement to anxiety reside.

When we are confronted by emotions that trouble us we reach for the concrete. We focus on the result.

For example, constructive self-talk is the skill to mastering a state of confidence in any condition—but how many of us think of that while we are beating ourselves up for not being confident? Regulated breathing is the skill to mastering a state of being calm in any condition—but how often are we gaining awareness of our breathing when we feel under attack by a manager or peer?

When we get into environments that are stressful or have pressure and consequence, and we abandon our goals and skills only to survive, it’s because we lack the mental skills. Effective self-management comes through honed skills like constructive self-talk and regulated breathing while one is under pressure. We have to be tested over and over and over again to develop mastery of mental skills.


As you explore your inner world, your outer world will come more sharply into focus.

As you face your imagined barriers, you will encounter real ones, as well.

—Julia Cameron


PRACTICE: How do you apply this idea yourself?

Write in a journal. Write without stopping for 15 minutes every day. Increase that time if you can or want to. If you can be honest on paper, you can find out who you are.

For people new to journaling, there is a pressure to choose certain words to express. Sometimes you self-edit, sometimes you gain clarity. With clarity comes conviction.

Everyone has a voice. When it comes to being effective, it's critical to listen to its tone and content.

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

Christine Haskell, Ph.D. is a leadership consultant and adjunct faculty at Washington State University. She helps busy leaders take responsibility for their learning and development. She writes on the topic of “Craftsmanship and The Future of Work.” 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.

GOOD HUMANING: Coming together and falling apart..on the road to repair.

“Things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ~ Pema Chödrön

Important to consider when shooting for resolution or results. The tangible outcomes we favor are often more ethereal than we would like to admit. Sometimes a friendship lasts for a time, sometimes a lifetime. What resolves a situation today might only be a band-aid for what we need to reckon with tomorrow.

If change truly is the only constant, then any “resolution” is impermanent by definition.

Which brings me to this visual.

Photo Credit: unknown  Wabi Sabi bowl.

Photo Credit: unknown Wabi Sabi bowl.

In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete".

In essence, the process is the result.

This post-series is about trying to anchor my experience by exploring within and reminding myself about what it means to practice "good humaning." It's about moving forward imperfectly. To follow this thread in my posts, look for these tags: #NotesFromMyYogaJournal

Christine Haskell, Ph.D. is a leadership consultant and adjunct faculty at Washington State University. She helps busy leaders take responsibility for their learning and development. She writes on the topic of “Craftsmanship and The Future of Work.” 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.

Emotions are a tool

[ from Neuroscience News ]

Summary: People have more control over how their emotions are influenced by others than previously thought. Researchers found people who wanted to stay calm when presented with upsetting stimuli remained unfazed by angry emotions expressed by others. However, when they wanted to feel angry, they were more highly influenced by others who were angry.

Source: Stanford

Photo Credit: Neuroscience News

Photo Credit: Neuroscience News

In a new study, Stanford psychologists examined why some people respond differently to an upsetting situation and learned that people’s motivations play an important role in how they react.

Their study found that when a person wanted to stay calm, they remained relatively unfazed by angry people, but if they wanted to feel angry, then they were highly influenced by angry people. The researchers also discovered that people who wanted to feel angry also got more emotional when they learned that other people were just as upset as they were, according to the results from a series of laboratory experiments the researchers conducted.

Their findings, published June 13 in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, reveal that people have more control over how their emotions get influenced than previously realized, the researchers said.

“We have long known that people often try to regulate their emotions when they believe that they are unhelpful,” said James Gross, a professor of psychology at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences. “This set of studies extends this insight by showing that people can also regulate the way they are influenced by others’ emotions.”


Researchers have largely assumed that people’s emotions get influenced automatically – in an unconscious, immediate response to other people’s emotions, said Goldenberg. His team’s new research challenges that perspective, he said.

“Our emotions are not passive nor automatic,” Goldenberg said. “They are a little bit of a tool. We have the ability to use our emotions to achieve certain goals. We express certain emotions to convince other people to join our collective cause. On social media, we use emotions to signal to other people that we care about the issues of a group to make sure people know we’re a part of it.”

Further research needs to be done in order to understand the relationship between people and their emotions. One of the next topics Goldenberg says he wants to examine further is whether the desire of people to want to see and experience certain emotions around them lies at the core of how they choose their network of friends and other people around them.

“It seems that the best way to regulate your emotions is to start with the selection of your environment,” Goldenberg said. “If you don’t want to be angry today, one way to do that is to avoid angry people. Do some people have an ingrained preference for stronger emotions than others? That’s one of my next questions.”

Christine Haskell, PHD has built her practice on credible, published research and data. In the Research Series, you’ll find highlights, shareable statistics, and links to the full source material.

Fundamentals of workplace automation

[ From McKinsey ]

As the automation of physical and knowledge work advances, many jobs will be redefined rather than eliminated—at least in the short term.


The potential of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics to perform tasks once reserved for humans is no longer reserved for spectacular demonstrations by the likes of IBM’s Watson, Rethink Robotics’ Baxter, DeepMind, or Google’s driverless car. Just head to an airport: automated check-in kiosks now dominate many airlines’ ticketing areas. Pilots actively steer aircraft for just three to seven minutes of many flights, with autopilot guiding the rest of the journey. Passport-control processes at some airports can place more emphasis on scanning document bar codes than on observing incoming passengers.

What will be the impact of automation efforts like these, multiplied many times across different sectors of the economy? Can we look forward to vast improvements in productivity, freedom from boring work, and improved quality of life? Should we fear threats to jobs, disruptions to organizations, and strains on the social fabric?

Earlier this year, we launched research to explore these questions and investigate the potential that automation technologies hold for jobs, organizations, and the future of work.3 Our results to date suggest, first and foremost, that a focus on occupations is misleading. Very few occupations will be automated in their entirety in the near or medium term. Rather, certain activities are more likely to be automated, requiring entire business processes to be transformed, and jobs performed by people to be redefined, much like the bank teller’s job was redefined with the advent of ATMs.

More specifically, our research suggests that as many as 45 percent of the activities individuals are paid to perform can be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies.4 In the United States, these activities represent about $2 trillion in annual wages. Although we often think of automation primarily affecting low-skill, low-wage roles, we discovered that even the highest-paid occupations in the economy, such as financial managers, physicians, and senior executives, including CEOs, have a significant amount of activity that can be automated.

The organizational and leadership implications are enormous: leaders from the C-suite to the front line will need to redefine jobs and processes so that their organizations can take advantage of the automation potential that is distributed across them. And the opportunities extend far beyond labor savings. When we modeled the potential of automation to transform business processes across several industries, we found that the benefits (ranging from increased output to higher quality and improved reliability, as well as the potential to perform some tasks at superhuman levels) typically are between three and ten times the cost. The magnitude of those benefits suggests that the ability to staff, manage, and lead increasingly automated organizations will become an important competitive differentiator.

Christine Haskell, PHD has built her practice on credible, published research and data. In the Research Series, you’ll find highlights, shareable statistics, and links to the full source material.

AI helps brewers predict new beer varieties

Craftsmanship refers to something made with the highest quality. It requires a distinct mindset and approach. Values like durability, integrity, and calling are often associated with craftsmanship. 

In this story, AI enhances the notion of craft for a Carlsberg  brewing team, extending capabilities that have been practiced for centuries. 

Read More

Profile in Craft: Nel Wieman 1st Indigenous Female Psychiatrist in Canada

To tackle the wicked problems of our present and future, we need to embrace a strange, counter-intuitive irony: as organizations across all sectors continue to create and adopt technologies like artificial intelligence, employees need to stay relevant by increasing their subjective intelligence. My research on master craftsmen and how they gain mastery helps connect the dots on this new dilemma, and might be the place to seek initial solutions.

When it comes to open ended problem solving and learning to improvise with what we are given; master craftsmen have something to teach us. Having to work with a material where they cannot be sure what will happen is something they are used to. Combined with the more structured training and education offered to us today, improvisational thinking in the face of uncertainty is useful to leaders in any sector. Even in the face of countless books and articles about how important it is, most traditional business school programs and organizational training fail to address sophisticated thinking about ambiguous problems.

Listen to Dr. Cornelia Wieman, Canada's first Indigenous psychiatrist, and current Senior Medical Officer, Mental Health & Wellnessas at FNHA as she speaks about Indigenous perspectives in psychiatry and her own personal story. - via aboriginalhealthVCH

Nel Wieman is one of the survivors of the '60's Scoop'. She was taken from her biological parents at the age of three and adopted by a non-Indigenous family in Ontario. Nel Wieman went on to become the first Indigenous female psychiatrist in Canada.

Nel works with people in intensely distressing periods of their lives. She uses her training, but also who she is as a person to help and support her clients. When she got to medical school she learned she was the first female aboriginal psychiatrist in Canada.

She works at the Center for Addiction and Mental Heath and feels that in order to make an impact “you need to give something of yourself to the interaction.” Her patients are depressed and suicidal and have been in the emergency room for some type of crisis. She works intensely with people over a short period of time and finds her rewards in the gains they are able to make in that time frame.

Nel also teaches at McMasters University where she recruits students into the health sciences professions and helps nurture them through their education. She appreciates hearing people’s stories as it reinforces her culture’s oral tradition.

As she became more aware of indigenous health issues, she became more aware that mental health was a tremendous need. She hoped she could make an impact. Now she meets children in indigenous communities across the country and serves as a model of someone, like themselves, who has walked the path before them. She shows the meaning and importance of creating a path of support and guidance for others.

Christine Haskell’s research focuses on individuals dedicated to the craft of their professions, in pursuit of excellence, sustainability and integrity. Craftsmen and women use those principles to raise standards toward a better world. Her current work is featured in Look To Craftsmen Project. featuring the Profiles in Craft Series. You’ll find a trove of profiles of intriguing artisans and innovators spanning a wide variety of professions across the globe that illustrate her research with links to the full articles. Christine’s book The Future of Work Will Require Craftsmanship is due in late 2019. To understand more about Christine’s work, check out Our Current Problem.