One Apple A Day 525 – the master is ready also

This morning I walked my niece to school. It’s a five-minute walk through a small industrious village of the Italian countryside. On the way to the school, she told me about her day’s ahead, what she likes and what not. Her stories about school make me often think about how we approach education here, but that’s a good topic that won’t fit in a fifteen minutes writing slot.
On the way back, I was thinking about the relationship between a student and a master. In the last two years, I met many people who have taught me a lot. They are not teachers in the proper sense. They are friends, colleagues, partners, fellow travellers in the walk of life. Yet, more than once each one of them has been a master to me.

I was thinking about this while walking home, and I remembered reading somewhere that “the student makes the master” or something like that.

So, I ask Google, and I found out that the quote that I remember was “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.” A quote that is often presented as a Buddhist proverb.

As I always do, I dig a bit more until I discovered that Buddha has nothing to do with it. Instead, it is an old Theosophical statement taken from a book titled Light on the Path, wrote in 1886 by Mabel Collins. The statement is a bit more poetic, and it says; “for when the disciple is ready the master is ready also.

Anyway, even if the quote has some weird and questionable origins, it resonates with me.  Any time I embrace a learning mindset, a “master” manifests before me. Sometimes the master is a person, other times it is something else like a piece of art, an event or nature herself.

I think the lesson for me is that if we want to learn something, before finding a master, we must embrace the learner’s mindset.

P.S. I just realised I already wrote about this not long ago. What is the lesson here? 

One Apple A Day 524 – courage and love

Courage: c. 1300, corage, “heart (as the seat of emotions),” hence “spirit, temperament, state or frame of mind,”from Old French corage “heart, innermost feelings; temper” (12c., Modern French courage), from Vulgar Latin *coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), from Latin cor “heart” [source]

If I ask you to place courage or love somewhere in the body, I believe that most of you would associate both of them with the heart. An organ that we don’t control and that relentlessly pumps life in our body.

There is a powerful connection between courage and love. They are both about surrendering to something bigger than ourselves.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this morning reflections. It all started with my morning Be The Change card that has the word “Courageousness” on it. The drawing that accompanies the word is a human being with a stream of energy flowing through his core.
And I thought that love is the same; a stream of energy flowing through all of us, connecting people.

So, maybe to be courageous is just to open up my heart so love can freely flow through.

“The opposite of love is not, as we many times or almost always think, hatred, but the fear to love, and fear to love is the fear of being free.” — Paulo Freire

One Apple A Day #523 – a piece of cloth

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” — W. Edwards Deming

Talking about synchronicity; this morning I found this quote in the book that I’m currently reading, and it would be the perfect summary of a conversation I had yesterday afternoon. I was talking with a friend about the role leaders play in the change processes within their organisations.

The image that keeps coming back for me is “a piece of cloth”.

An organisation can be seen as a piece of cloth, an intricated system of interwoven threads. Every organisation has its own unique size, material, fabric and texture. So, each piece of cloth will react differently to changes. If you pick a point in the fabric and lift it, depending on the strength and elasticity of the threads and the weight of the material you may be able to lift the whole piece from that one point. Or you may be able to hold it only for a moment before it is pulled back in place by the strength of the texture.

So, if you lift the cloth from one single point, the rest of the material will follow with some delay. And, no matter its unique characteristics, the parts that are farther from the lifting point, will be left behind. Sure, that lifted point will stand out, but what happens when it is released? It’s highly probable that the whole piece of cloth will fall back in the previous flat state.

What if instead of lifting the piece of cloth from one point, we lift it from many points at the same time? Or even better, what if we create a system, like a frame, that will allow raising the whole piece of cloth at the same time?

Just replace “piece of cloth” with “organisation” and “lifting point” with “leader”, and I believe the questions still work.

One Apple A Day #522 – it starts from you

In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear presents a concept called the “Three Layers Of Behaviour Change” to describe how we approach change.
Going from the outside-in, the three layers are outcomes, processes and identity.

“Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.”

All levels are useful to create a change.
What really makes a difference is where we start from; the direction of change.

The need for a change something in our life is usually triggered by the desire for different outcomes. We want to have something different, so we start a process to change what we have.
This focus on the outcomes sparks one or more outcome-based interventions; projects aimed at changing what we have.

Some of us are wiser, and they understand that if they don’t change how they do things they won’t get different results. So they review their processes so they can generate better outcomes.
Indeed, changing how we do things is more effective in creating the desired results but, as we know, when our behaviours (processes) are not in tune with our identity (beliefs), they are not sustainable on the long term.

“In fact, the word identity was originally derived from the Latin words essentitas, which means being, and identidem, which means repeatedly. Your identity is literally your repeated beingness.”

Behind every action that we make there is a set of beliefs. The beliefs that define our identity. The reason why many change projects fail is that we focus only on the outcomes or the processes while bringing in the process the same beliefs that create the reality we want to change.

A sustainable change must start from our identity.

One Apple A Day #521 – you can do something

According to the Global Challenges Foundation – a foundation that works with researchers to explore threats to humanity -, the next 50 years will set the pace for humanity’s survival in the next 10,000 years.

Climate change, mass migrations, artificial intelligence, political instability, deforestation. The list can go on and on.

The challenges ahead of humanity are greater than ever, and it’s easy to feel small and powerless.
What can we do?
What can I do?

When I caught myself in these thoughts, I always go back to this sentence from “Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler“, a beautiful book by Paul Lindley.

“While a toddler’s world might be geographically tiny, it is mentally limitless; conversely, when we grow up, we have the potential freedom to explore everything around us, but will often limit ourselves to the same narrow range of places, people and experiences.”

From toddlers, we can learn to be creative with what we have. But there is something more than that. They face every challenge with an open mind because they haven’t been conditioned yet. When we want to find a solution to a problem we approach it with the same mindset that creates that challenge in the first place. Our mindset comes with us, and it limits us our possibilities.

I believe that I can do something about the significant challenges we face as humanity.
But it all starts by expanding my awareness.

“The biggest challenge we face is shifting human consciousness, not saving the planet. The planet doesn’t need saving, we do.” by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (a 19 years old activist)

One Apple A Day #520 – time flies

This morning when I wrote the date in my journal’s entry, I suddenly realised that one-third of this year is gone.

Time is a tricky thing. One hour can feel endless while months just flow away in the blink of an eye. Probably this is why I always add too many goals to my daily plan.

“Men historically have tended to overestimate achievements in the short run and to underestimate what can be achieved in the long run.”

This statement was said by Alfred Mayo, an aerospace consultant for the NASA, in a 1969 interview to a newspaper for an article about humanity’s future activities in space.

I have this tendency. When I sit down to plan the months ahead, I try to squeeze in as much as I can. It makes me feel productive to look at a plan packed with clear goals and tasks.
Until one morning I realise that one-third of the year is gone, a good chunk of that plan is untouched or forgotten while a lot of unplanned things had happened and some unexpected results have been achieved.

Does this mean that planning is useless?

Not at all.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Planning is vital to define your direction and, most of all, to prepare yourself for the journey ahead. To choose what you will need to get where you want; people, skills, tools, structures and so on.

And some times, it is a good idea to stop to check your journey against your plan. Are you getting closer to your goal? Do you need to adjust something? Maybe you need to review the destination. What have you learned so far that you can use to move forward?

The International Workers’ Day seems a good opportunity for a journey’s review.

One Apple A Day #519 – get out

“If you’re part of the system you want to change, you’re part of the problem.” — Dave Gray

Gray is mainly talking about organisations, but I believe it can also be applied to your life.
When the system you want to change is your life, personal or professional, you’re not only part of it, you are it.
So, it’s even harder to see the solution because we are fully wrapped in the problem.
Many of my coaching clients begin their journey saying that what they need is clarity. The feel that they need a change, but they are unable to see what that change is and where they want to go.

Most of the time, once they can see the problem, the solution emerges naturally.

To be able to see the problem, you need to step out of it and find a new perspective. One that allows you to see your situation from the outside.
Working with a coach is like having someone holding an honest mirror before you so you can look at yourself from different angles.

If you can’t get a coach right now, then you can try to walk out of your bubble.
Take a walk in nature.
Change your scenario, disconnect from your network for some time.
Not to find the answers, but to tune in to yourself.
When you go back to your life, you will have new eyes.

“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” — Marcel Proust

One Apple A Day #518 – step by step

Sometimes I catch myself stuck in the “outcome” mindset.
The typical sign is the feeling that I’m pushing hard, but I’m going nowhere.
It is like trying to walk while keeping the gaze locked on the destination. As a result, I’m not paying attention to what’s around me and where I put my feet. I begin stumbling even on small obstacles, and I lose the joy of walking. It’s all about getting there.
Ironically, I’m not getting where I want.
It looks like my destination moves with me.
In those moments, frustration kicks in.
In the past, I’ve quit some projects due to this attitude.

Over the years I’ve learned that when I catch myself in that place, I have to shift my focus. I must redirect my gaze from the final outcome to my next step. Once the direction is set, I focus only on the next thing to do.
Even better. I design a new habit. Something I can do every day knowing that if I am consistent, it will take where I want to go.

Lately, I’ve been feeling that sense of frustration with some of the projects I’m working on. Today’s card reminded me that I need to stop thinking about the outcome and focus on “how do I show up every day“.

One Apple A Day #517 – take care of your emotions

“Hence, in order to have anything like a complete theory of human rationality, we have to understand what role emotion plays in it.” – Herbert Simon, 1983, Reason in Human Affairs

Every decision, even the one that we perceive as very rational, is an emotional decision. Neurologists have discovered that people with damages to the emotional centres of the brain that impaired their emotions and feelings, lose the ability to make decisions and act even if they can list many reasons to do it.
Logic can help us find the reasons to act, but it’s our emotions that compel us to take action.

“It is emotion that allows you to mark things as good, bad, or indifferent.” – Antonio Damasio

Emotions and feelings transform what we experience into things we want to cultivate or avoid in the future. Anytime we perceive a cue, emotions tell us what the action or decision that will make us feel good is.

“You learn what to do in the future based on what you were rewarded for doing (or punished for doing) in the past. Positive emotions cultivate habits. Negative emotions destroy them.” — James Clear

I often got trapped in endless thinking trying to understand what the right decision is. I created spreadsheets, tables and complicated systems. All in the hope of making a rational choice. And it helps. Don’t get me wrong, the reasoning is essential in decision making. But it’s only when I take care of my emotions that I really move forward.

One Apple A Day #516 – you can be a hero

Abraham Wald was a Hungarian mathematician who lived in the first half of the last century. His main field was statistical analysis but, being a Jew, he never really had the chance to fully apply his skills in Austria, where he graduated, due to Nazis invasion. In 1938 Wald escaped to the states where he was invited to work at the Columbia University. Thanks to his skills he became a member of the Statistical Research Group (SRG). The SRG was a group of scientists and mathematicians dedicated to solving various wartime problems.

Wald was involved in a famous story that is widely used to explain the Survivor Bias. I read this story many times, but only yesterday I learned his name.

These are the words of W. Allen Wallis, another member of the SRG; “The military was inclined to provide protection for those parts that on returning planes showed the most hits. Wald assumed, on good evidence, that hits in combat were uniformly distributed over the planes. It follows that hits on the more vulnerable parts were less likely to be found on returning planes than hits on the less vulnerable parts, since planes receiving hits on the more vulnerable parts were less likely to return to provide data. From these premises, he devised methods for estimating vulnerability of various parts.

This story explains perfectly the Survivor Bias. Because we have plenty of information on the survivors from a challenge while we have no info about all the others that didn’t survive (the planes that didn’t come back), we tend to model our behaviours only on the winner (survivors) missing valuable information.

I wrote about Wald this morning because, in the period where superheroes bring billions of people to the cinema, I love the story of a hero whose superpowers are very human: numbers, logic and intuition.

The second reason is that the tale as it is usually told doesn’t give full justice to the scientific work behind it.

You can find more at this link.