Authenticity over Improvement — Master Class Series #7

The Art of Accomplishment Podcast
The Art of Accomplishment Podcast
Authenticity over Improvement — Master Class Series #7
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When we consider how we want life to be in the future we often create a list of things that we have to improve about ourselves. Yet we rarely consider that we could succeed in “improving” every aspect of our lives, and by doing so, completely lose touch with who we are and what we want. What if learning who we are creates a future far better than what we think we want? What if it creates a future better than we could imagine?

“I will watch people and if they are just following their intuition, they will just pick the next thing. This is what we do, when we are just following our nature. My nature, my authenticity improved me in ways I didn’t even know were happening.”

When we consider how we want life to be in the future, we often create a list of things that we have to improve about ourselves. Yet, we rarely consider that we can succeed in improving every aspect of our lives and by doing so, completely lose touch with who we are and what we want. What if learning who we are creates a future far better than what we think we want? What if it creates a future better than what we could imagine? Today’s episode is about valuing authenticity over improvement. 

Brett: Joe, let’s talk about authenticity. What is authenticity?

Joe: Authenticity is an endless spiral in one way and the fact that it’s evolutionary by nature. We think that there is an authentic self and it is the solid thing, but it’s not. It’s as we discover ourselves, there’s always more to discover. As we discover ourselves, we transform. Authenticity is really a path more than a destination. The way that you can identify when you’re on that path of authenticity is, it’s always about the process. It’s never about the reward. It’s never like a means to an end. It’s like a river. It’s very much like a river in the fact that there’s a way that a river wants to run and that’s the natural flow of the river.

Next year, you’ll come back and that river will run a different way. Authenticity is constantly changing, but there’s just this natural flow to it. In Daoism, they call it the way. It’s a very natural course. They call it self-discovery. They don’t call it self-building. We’re not building ourselves, we’re discovering ourselves. That’s why ultimately the path of authenticity is a path of self-realization. It is finding out the truth of who you are. Somehow, for some reason, the more we discover who we are, the more that we evolve, the more that we change, the more that we show up in a way that is far more gentle, or loving, competent, capable and strong.

Brett: Can you talk a little bit more about self-realization?

Joe: Yes, self-realization. There’s a story of, I think it’s in the Upanishads. I can’t remember which tradition. So many times traditions have really similar parables. There’s another parable very much like this about a tiger, but this one’s about a musk deer. This musk deer is moving along one day. There’s a smell and it’s like, “What is that smell?” It just feels like a memory. It feels like a calling. It’s like something gets opened up in this musk deer. His impulse is like, “I need to follow this thing. I need to follow it.”

It goes searching for the place where the scent emerges. It wants to find the origin of that scent. It looks and looks and looks and looks and it’s almost upon its death, still looking for the scent and falls off of a cliff and punctures its stomach. It realizes, at that moment of death that, “Oh, the thing that I’ve been searching for comes from me. That scent emanates from me.” That is the movement of self-realization. The thing that we’re looking for in all the self-improvement, what we’re actually looking for, is ourselves.

Brett: How can you relate the story of the deer following its own scent to our path of self-realization? 

Joe: The search of the deer looking for the scent is the self-improvement. It’s like, “Once I eat the right diet, then I’ll be good enough, or I’ll be awake, or then I’ll be loved. Once I look pretty, then I’ll be good enough and then I’ll be loved. Once I lose enough weight, once I meditate enough, once I have no more negative thoughts, once I stop thinking,” whatever it is that you think you have to do, become rich enough. Then you’ll have it and you’ll find the scent that you’re looking for. The scent you’re actually looking for is you, it is to understand yourself.

It’s the only thing that really solves the issue. It’s why you see so many executives and I’ve worked with so many executives who are at the top of their game. They’ve made a successful billion-dollar company and they’re miserable. They did everything that they thought they needed to do to improve themselves, so that they will be loved or that they would accept themselves and nothing’s really changed. As soon as they start on that path of self-realization, as soon as they are looking for their own authenticity and they no longer are willing to sell that authenticity or bargain that authenticity for a result, when it stops becoming a means to an end– it just is like, “This is my authentic expression.” Then their life starts unfolding in happiness and joy.

Brett: Let’s talk a little bit more about that scent trail then. How would you define improvement?

Joe: Yes. Improvement is basically,  “If this, then this”, in terms of the self. It’s like, “If I get sexy enough, then I will have the lover that I want. If I lose enough weight, then people will like me. If I have enough money, then I’ll feel secure.” Improvement is thinking that you’re going to get a result from it. Authenticity is the opposite. It’s, “This is what I’m going to do despite the consequences, because it’s my authentic truth.” That’s basically what improvement comes. It comes from the idea of ways that we don’t want to be who we are. The other way to look at all the ways we think we need to improve is all the ways that we don’t love ourselves just as we are.

Any point where you can’t unconditionally love yourself, whether that is because you yell, because you don’t work hard enough, because you’re lazy, because you’re a pessimist, whatever it is that you are telling yourself that you have to change, they’re just ways that you’re not loving yourself. They don’t typically change. We just keep on telling ourselves that we don’t love that about ourselves and we keep on telling ourselves that we have to improve it. When we actually accept our authenticity, those things just naturally move. They just shift.

Brett: Reminds me of a quote that I’ve heard before, where somebody is speaking to somebody as though they were a child. They ask the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Instead of thinking to ask, “How do you want to be when you grow up?”

Joe: I have never heard that. That’s beautiful. How do you want to be when you grow up? The other way to think about self-realization I think it’s a Pema Chödrön quote. It’s basically to constantly offer yourself up to annihilation, so you can find out what’s the part of you that can’t be annihilated.

Brett: What are we annihilating, these built up ideas of who we are?

Joe: That’s exactly it. The things that we think we are that we have to defend, you can tell them because you’re defending them. It’s like when someone’s like, “You didn’t do that very well,” and you go, “er.” Then you are defining yourself as somebody who’s competent. You’re not able to love the incompetent part of yourself. Authenticity is, “This is how I’m competent. This is how I’m incompetent.” Being able to own that. Then in the owning of the lack of competence becomes more competence. 

It’s this thing where, oftentimes, with executives, helplessness is this big thing where they feel it. Authentically, they feel helpless, but to allow themselves to feel helpless is incredibly difficult because the fear is, “If I allow myself to feel helpless, then I will become more helpless.” But if they authentically own their helplessness, then they become less helpless. 

Brett: I think there’s also a fear of being seen.

Joe: Yes. That’s right.

Brett: Fearing that there will be consequences to that.

Joe: Yes. That’s how you know that part of yourself that needs, wants, to be destroyed. It’s the part of yourself that doesn’t want to be seen in that way, whatever that way is. “I don’t want to be seen as blank, a hypocrite. I don’t want to be seen as helpless. I don’t want to be seen as greedy.” Whatever it is that you don’t want to be seen. “I don’t want to be seen as weak.” 

Brett: How would you separate improvement from growth? Even in this process of finding your authenticity, you can get better at it. What is that if not improvement? Don’t we need some form of improvement, whether we’re tracking our growth in some way to see where the trajectory is going?

Joe: The question is, what would make you need it? What will happen if you don’t have it? I think that’s where the key is. Does growth happen? Absolutely. I always use this metaphor of an oak tree because when I look out my window, there is an oak tree. The oak tree grows. The growth happens. Does it need to? No. Is it looking to improve itself? No. It’s nature. 

Another way to think of our authenticity is our nature. Our nature is to grow, our nature is to improve, our nature is to learn. If you take a little kid when they’re babies, they can’t even walk. One of the things that they smile most at is when a face comes at them sideways, not when a face comes at them straight up and down. Straight up and down face is the face that they see right before they feed. That doesn’t make them smile as much as a sideways face, which means, “Oh, we’re here to play.” Play for a kid is learning and we have this natural desire to learn. It is authentic in us. We have a natural desire to grow. It’s authentic in us. 

This just all happens very, very naturally, but it’s when you think you have to improve to be good enough or when it’s not just the nature of your life. You look at a six-year old kid, they’re constantly wanting to learn and grow and it doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop unless someone has kicked the love of learning out of us, it just keeps going. I don’t think we have a need to do it. I think the thing is, that improvement is just happening naturally and that’s authenticity. But if you are looking to improve yourself, then you are putting the brakes on the process and you’re often going in the opposite direction of the river.

Brett: How do we address that fear of becoming stagnant if we don’t improve or just to be measuring? Measuring where we’re at and then measuring that according to some scale of value that we’ve created.

Joe: That’s a great question. First of all, question your scale. That’s the ultimate thing. It’s easy to play a game when you have a measurement. It’s hard to play a game when you don’t. If your measurement for life is how much money I have in the bank, then you can play. If the measurement is how kind I am to people, then you can play. Then you have something to measure to. 

If you start really questioning those measurements, what do you mean by kind? Do you mean having the most positive impact? How do you measure positive impact? What’s the difference between kind and nice? What if I was deeply truthful, but I wasn’t kind? Why is kind more important than truth? These questions, as soon as you start really looking at the end, if you really deeply look at the end, then it gets really scary. 

That’s when the stagnation fear really shows up and you’re like, “Oh, all the progress that I thought I was making might not have been to the right end. Maybe there’s no end.” This fear sets in and it’s almost like this fear, like it’s going to be nihilistic or something like that. Even the idea that it’s nihilistic is just another way of trying to create meaning out of a situation, but the nature of life doesn’t really require meaning. There’s no other part of life that requires meaning except for humans. 

Life wants to evolve, it wants to grow, it wants to improve. It seems, as it turns out, most humans, when they understand themselves more and more, there’s a deeper and deeper compassion that shows up. There is a deeper, deeper amount of empowerment that shows up. What you find is, the things that you think are opposite, such as love and being empowered, they turn out to be the same thing. That the pinnacle of loving is empowerment, that the pinnacle of empowerment is loving. You can feel this. If you just stop for a second and close your eyes and you feel what it would be like to unconditionally love the world. You just let that settle in your body for a moment. Your love is so big and so great that it expands everywhere. It’s not weak love, it’s not love like I’m going to let people abuse me. It is the kind of love that a mother has, that’s a great mother. They have boundaries. 

Then you let that go for a second and then feel what it’s like to be completely empowered. Feel what it would be like to not have to worry at all about the future, to not have to prepare, to not have to plan, to just know that you are capable of handling any situation, to be like Superman on a mountaintop with no Kryptonite in the world, or Superwoman on the mountaintop with no Kryptonite in the world. Nothing can touch you. That feeling of empowerment. 

Then just feel the two next to each other. How are they different, if at all, this full empowerment, this full love? That’s how it moves. The fear of stagnation, the fear of, “Oh, there’s no meaning. There’s no place to go and therefore I’ll stop moving,” it hits the human psyche for sure. It’s definitely a part of this human psyche, at least in the modern world, but life doesn’t require any of that stuff. Life can’t stop moving. Try to not improve for a week. Take two weeks and do your best to not improve. Don’t learn anything, don’t grow, don’t have any realizations, don’t have any recognitions. Try that for two weeks. 

[laughs] I told someone to do that once and they were like, “Oh my God, so many recognitions, so much realization,” because they stopped trying. We feel this all the time when we’re on holiday. You have two weeks off and then you come back and you perform better. It’s smoother. The whole thing works better. You make better calls because you weren’t actively trying to improve for two weeks. It’s just the nature of life. We, by our nature, learn and want to grow.

Brett: Something that came up for me in the exercise that we just did, was that both in the unconditional loving the world state and the feeling fully-empowered state, there wasn’t any fear. But the concern of stagnating is just fear. The fear of stagnating is the thing that I know for me, in my life, I have spent a lot of time in the fear of stagnation. That has constricted me in those times and led to-

Joe: Stagnation. 

Brett: -stagnation.

Joe: Exactly. That’s how it works. We invite the things that we’re scared of, that’s our nature. Our nature is to invite. If we have a fear of something, we’re inviting it in, because we want to. We want to learn and grow from that experience, we want to face that fear. The fear of stagnation invites stagnation, the fear of loss invites loss, the fear of abandonment invites abandonment.

Brett: Let’s try to bring this back into more concrete examples to make this real.

Joe: Yes. I’ll do a couple of them. One way to look at it, is kids and their learning. Kids, we were just talking about, their nature is to learn, they’re curious, that’s what they’re genetically programmed to do. All humans are. Somehow or another, we can put them into a school system, tell them that they have to improve and get A’s and then they stop wanting to learn. It actually happens to something like 47% of highly intelligent kids fail high school.

Brett: Yes, I did really great in school up until I got an IQ test that told me I was smart and then I got my first B+. This was like fourth grade. Then it was just like, “Screw it.”

Joe: Yes, you stopped trying.

Brett: To hell with this whole thing.

Joe: There’s a great psychological test on this, that basically if you tell a kid they’re smart and then they try and they don’t succeed, they’ll stop trying because then they will prove that they’re not smart. They’ll just stop trying, so they can maintain the identity of smart. It’s some fascinating work. That’s an example of it. Now if you take kids who’ve been unschooled, I think it’s called non-schooling or unschooling or something like that, where kids have been somewhat traumatized in their school situation, so their parents pull them out. They say, “You can’t watch television. You can’t do things that are destructive, but you can not do any work until you’re ready.”

They often times don’t do any work for three months or six months. Then all of a sudden, they’re like, “I want to work.” Those kids, when they want to learn math, they can learn basically fractions to calculus in something insane, like three months or five months or something like that. You can read the studies on it, because they want to learn, because it is their desire to learn in that direction and they want to do it and they will do it. It’s like one is moving with the authenticity of the situation and one is telling the kids that they have to improve to be good enough. It’s like a punishment and reward situation, so that’s one aspect.

Another way is a personal story from my life. I was in high school and I started smoking cigarettes. I was socially awkward at the time. I had issues. My upbringing had some turmoil in it. I was constantly telling myself I should improve by not smoking. I was constantly telling something that I needed to improve in. Then just by nature, I got drawn into hacky sacking. I just started to hacky sack all the time and I just really enjoyed hacky sacking. It just became this thing. 

Then about 10 years ago, I was with one of my daughters. My daughter’s having some problems in school and this occupational therapist came to us. Then said like, “Your daughter has something called sensory processing disorder.” It just basically means that the neurology isn’t really melding the way it would with other kids and it makes you very sensitive to stimulus through your senses. I said, “How do we solve this thing?” She was like, “The way you solve it is through doing exercises across the midline that require coordination,” et cetera, et cetera. Hacky sacking would have been a perfect example of that. If you look at me, before hacky sacking and after hacky sacking, I became socially more fluid. I became less sensitive.

When you have sensory processing, it’s a bit of like a nerd’s disease, more likely to wear glasses, you’re awkward and clumsy, you don’t do as well socially, that kind of stuff. All that changed with me hacky sacking. My nature knew what I needed, knew what was needed next and did it without anybody telling me to, without anything happening. I watched this happen all the time with clients. I watched clients all the time. I know basically the dance steps of transformation. Everybody does them a little bit differently.

Sometimes chapter three comes before chapter one or whatever, but I will watch people. If they’re just following their intuition, man, they will just pick the next thing and I would be like, “Oh my God, they picked it perfectly again.” This is what we do when we’re just following our nature. Then smoking, for me, on the other hand lasted until I was in my 30’s, as a perpetual habit into my 30’s and that was all the ways I was supposed to improve. My nature, my authenticity improved me in ways that I didn’t even know were happening.

Brett: That’s fascinating. I can think of a lot of experiences in my life that are a lot like that. One of them being joining a 18-month course where I felt like an intuition. It felt like a lot of money at the time. In retrospect, it was very little. It was just like, “Man, this seems like my kind of thing.” I don’t even know what it is and I didn’t. When I got there, I was like, “Wait, this isn’t really all that.”

Joe: Yet, it transformed your business too, which is the insane part. That’s the other thing.

Brett: Yes, but more than that in my life.

Joe: Exactly. That’s the insane part. That’s a great example of it as well. It’s when people come, because they often come to me, because they want to transform their business and we transform their life by them taking their natural steps and their business naturally transforms. If they would have just focused on their improvement, their business may or may not have transformed. 

In this way, the reason I use this methodology of working on personal stuff is because that always transforms the business. It has a hundred percent success rate as the person transforms their attitude towards, their business will transform and so will their business. 

Brett: Let’s relate all this back into the concept you were talking earlier about self-realization and self-discovery.

Joe: That’s good. If you look back to my journey, let’s hear it from my journey for a second. For the early part, I got really deeply into awakening, enlightenment in the non-dual sense of the word, not like woke culture. I’m talking about like the Christ consciousness or enlightenment, whatever religious tradition you have, has a word for it. At the beginning of that journey, I thought it was improvement that would get me there. Once I ate the right diet, or once I did the right exercises, or meditated hard enough or blah, blah, I would become enlightened. 

That was the improvement side of things. It’s a slow, arduous, painful process. It luckily moved enough for me to realize that it wasn’t about improvement. It was just about the recognition of who I am. When that happened, this question appeared to me, it was, “What am I?” I asked that question for 10 years, maybe 10 times a day, I would ask that question. That is really what transformed everything for me. Just being in that question for that long with that level of wonder transformed everything. 

It was funny. I was seeing a guy at the time. I was reading every non-dual teacher I could find. The only guy that I had met personally, who I thought, “Wow, this is a person I would want to learn from,” was a guy named Adia Shantay. I got up and asked him a question once in front of this big auditorium of people. I said, I keep on asking this question, “What am I?” All I get is silence. Some dude in the back just started laughing and I was like, “That’s not funny?” Adia smiled and I can’t remember what else happened. 

I remember about three years later, I was at a meditation retreat when that question, what am I, faded away. The question never gets answered. It just expires and then it expires like a firecracker, but it expires. I was in the back and somebody got up in the front and asked the question, “What am I and nothing.” I just started laughing hysterically, as if that nothing wasn’t the answer and that’s what it turns into. That recognition of self is something that just unfolds into nothingness. That nothingness is incredibly free and incredibly potent and capable.

Brett: So, who are you now?

Joe: [laughs] Yes, that question has expired. There’s an exercise on this, just to go back and forth and ask somebody, “What are you?” Over and over again, “What are you? What are you? What are you?” See what happens as all your answers expire. But if I had to put, what am I, in words right now, which is an exciting thought process, I would say, “What am I? I am infinitely you. I am everything and nothing in the silent vastness that everything arises in and so are you.”

Brett: Then what happens once that question expires? It sounds like there could be a trap here in thinking that, “This question of who I am has expired. Now I don’t have to prove myself and there’s just nothing to do.” What am I going to do to just stay in that cave and meditate until– ?

Joe: Yes, there’s a thought that says that that might be the case. In fact, some people go through that for a while. I think it’s because they’re like those kids, who needed to be unschooled for a while, when they have that recognition of their essential self in that way, that there is this need to just sit there for a while and do nothing. It becomes a bit dissociative. Eventually, it’s no longer satisfying. We just become more and more human. We like to play. We like to learn. We like to grow. It’s our nature. It’s our authenticity. Once we have been let out of school, we realize there’s nothing that we have to do to improve ourselves, because our essence is unbelievably beautiful, miraculous, a dream that we never thought even possible coming true, that we couldn’t even have thought of coming true. 

There’s this natural desire to rest for a while, potentially. But eventually, you want to move, you want to dance, you want to play, you want to be alive. Then the journey turns into, “How do I be alive? How does my authenticity really want to be alive? How fully can I embrace this life?” There’s a book called The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I don’t even know what it’s about, but the title is amazing. That’s what it is. Life becomes, “How do I allow myself to be more and more vulnerable to the unbearable lightness of being?”

Brett: I love that. Both of us are the kind of person who would recommend a book or reference a book that we haven’t read just because of its title.

Joe: [chuckles] The title. I highly recommend that title. 

Brett: [chuckles] The title.

It seems like there could be another trap here where we have somewhere where we want to go and we’re like, “Maybe improving myself along the particular metrics that I have in mind right now, maybe that’s not the best way to get there, because authenticity is the best way to get there. If I just get more authentic, then I’ll become this thing that I want to be and get to where I want to go.”

Joe: Yes, that’s right. That is a real trap. It’s like, you’ll see this happen oftentime in tools. You get this tool that you start working with and in the realm of self discovery and you get this tool, it works really well for a while and then it stops working. Some of the times, it stops working, because you’re using the tool to change yourself instead of loving yourself, so it stops working. Some of the time, that tool stops working, because you’ve co-opted it into improvement, instead of recognition. It’s really the same thing, to improve yourself isn’t to love yourself as you are. To find the authentic expression of you, is to love yourself as you are and to know that that authentic expression will naturally change you, just like the natural flow of a river changes the river.

Brett: That could mean your goals will shift.

Joe: Will shift. Yes. I’ve seen a lot of things not change as people go through this journey and I’ve seen a lot of things change, but I’ve never seen the goals of a person not change through the journey. That always changes. What’s often interesting is, the goals that they used to have, just get met naturally without any effort or thought process, because they become just a step in what’s necessary for them to evolve into their authenticity. I had a goal for years of having enough money to blah, blah blah. Somewhere along the line, I just didn’t care at all about money. Then money just started rushing in. That’s a really typical story. Not always, but it’s a very, very typical story.

Brett: We’ve talked about how wanting something is good. We just had a whole episode on what you want, how wanting itself is critical. Then we’re just talking now about how wanting something from ourselves or wanting something in our future can lead towards this constant improvement process and away from our authenticity. What do you have to say about that?

Joe: Wanting is critical, what you want is really inconsequential. What you want is directionally correct, but it is not the end all be all of anything. That wanting is what pulls you. That wanting is the natural pull of evolution, of authenticity. That’s what it is. What you want is a strategy to get there. There’s 10 or 20 strategies. What you want is inconsequential and there’s no reason to attach to it. It is to follow your wanting and then to watch how you’re wanting changes and watch how what you want changes. 

Brett: What happens if you’re going through this process and the things that you want just change so rapidly that your life starts to feel disconnected or disorienting?

Joe: You’re very fortunate. You might feel disturbed depending on your personality type. Some folks will find that to be a beautiful free ride and some people will feel like– there’s that quote, that sometimes falling feels like flying for a little while. People will be like, “I’m flying, which means I must be falling.” In actuality, as they say, the bad news is you’re falling, the good news is there’s no bottom. That is part of it. Rumi called it, a Sufi poet, he calls it a holy confusion, that not knowing. It’s called the mystery for a reason.

It’s absolutely what happens and the goals shift and then the goals disappear. Then there’s like no goals for a while. Then after there’s no goals for a while, there’s very specific goals and then there’s just this movement that’s like– how did I describe it? The goal is to live principled, because you know, that living principled will make you happier than any goal that you could ever achieve. 

Brett: That’s something that’s entirely within your power too?

Joe: Yes, it becomes choice-less at a point, it becomes outside of your power. At some point it’s like, “I just can’t not live with principled, because it’s too damn painful.”

Brett: Give us another concrete example of how that works, when what you want is inconsequential, but the wanting itself isn’t. 

Joe: I can give you a funny one. I’m sitting with my godson and his father and he has been a friend since high school. This story is going to be one of those stories that lets you know, maybe you don’t want to have me as a friend. We’re sitting there and we’re having lunch together at this restaurant and my friend tells me about how his son stole $50 from him, bought a vape pen and was vaping in the classroom. I’m just listening. Son is in those teenage years. 

All of a sudden, five minutes later he’s like, “The problem with my son is that he just doesn’t have ambition. He just doesn’t want to do anything.” I was like, “What? Of course he wants to do something. Do you know how hard it is to do what he did? Stealing $50, he planned that stuff out. That’s ambition. Then he went and did it. Then with the knowledge that he could have gotten caught, which is totally ambition and then he figured out a way to go buy the vape pen. Then he had so much ambition to do it that he did it in a classroom and got caught. That is some CEO level ambition. What are you talking about?” [laughs]

At this point my friend is just looking at me like, “Shut up, Joe, shut up.” His son is looking at me like a smile, “Oh, wow, I didn’t know. I should have visited my godfather more often.” I was just saying, “There’s clearly ambition, it’s just that you want him to be ambitious in one way, but he’s ambitious in another. Let’s look at how he’s ambitious.”  

I started talking to him. “What is it that you want to do?” He wants to play this particular sport that requires some money and you got to get these guns or whatever. It’s like a laser tag type thing, the next version of a laser tag. He’s telling me about it and I’m getting into it with him.

Then I’m like, “How are you going to afford this?” He’s like, “Maybe I have to get a job.” “What kind of job do you want to get? This kind? You don’t make a lot of money.” Then, “How are you going to get there?” We just went through this whole thing and he was clearly eager to do all this stuff, so that he could do the thing that he wanted to do. I was like, “How can your dad help?” He is telling his father what his father can do, to help him be ambitious and get things done. That’s the difference between,  “You should improve”, to  “What is the authentic expression?”

The thing is, that we do that internally as well as externally, meaning we’re usually like the father in that story, rather than the godfather in that story to ourselves. We’re telling ourselves what we have to improve, what we need to do, blah, blah, blah, blah, instead of just paying attention to what the natural thing is. If we follow that thread far enough down, it has far better results and moves much quicker.

Brett: It’s fascinating. By that measure, I was extremely ambitious and barely passing any of my high school.

Joe: Exactly. It’s because it couldn’t hook on to your authentic– most schooling doesn’t hook on to a child’s authentic desire to learn.

Brett: In my case, that presented a lot of different tracks and opportunities all of which just didn’t quite hook.

Joe: It’s really hard to hook, when you’re grading people and say you need to improve. That’s not hook-worthy.

Brett: It’s like a culture of constant improvement.

Joe: We don’t listen to songs that tell us that we need to improve. “Wow, a triple platinum song by Jay-Z called, “Boy, You Better Workout More.” It just doesn’t happen.

Brett: Let’s talk a little bit more about how this works in companies and in a more general sense, in cultures of self-improvement or just not even self improvement, just cultures of everybody needs to improve to get better.

Joe: The constant improvement culture. It’s not assuming that people want to improve by nature is what happens here. A great example of this is in that book, Reinventing Organizations, there’s a nursing company in there called Herzog. Basically what happened, it was in Holland, what happened is, there’s these community nurses and they got privatized. It just became all about efficiency. It all became: improve, improve, improve, improve and it was like, “This is how long it should take you to get there, this is how long it should take you to administer the shot. This is how long it should take you to get back. That’s how much time you have. That’s how much payment you’re going to get.”

Everybody was going for the improved nursing efficiency. This company came along and it did a lot of really cool things. One of the things it did is it said, “You know what, our job isn’t to be as quick as possible. Our job is not to improve our process in that way. It’s to make it, so that we help people become self-reliant.” Through figuring out how to get to that home and make the person self-reliant, instead of administering the shot, they became 60% more efficient than their competition or something like that. Maybe it’s 40%. I don’t remember the numbers exactly, but it was a tremendous amount more efficient.

One had that natural hook, because we naturally want to help people. That is part of our nature. All mammals, that are community-based mammals, have altruism as part of us. They hooked on to that natural thing and then that led to natural improvement, but they weren’t trying to improve in some unnatural way. The interesting thing is, as soon as I say, it’s our nature to be altruistic, somebody will say something like, “It’s our nature to be self-interested.” I say, “I agree, it is.” It’s our nature to be altruistic and it’s our nature to be self-interested and it’s our nature to want to be rewarded and it’s our nature to want our team to win and it’s in our nature for us to win. 

Companies that are really becoming the most efficient companies, are hooking on to all of that. If you think about that nursing company, their team won and they had individual reward for the performance. As it turned out, people got to decide their own reward. Also, they got to help. They’re hooking onto all of these natural things in us.

If you look at the great products of our day and the great nonprofits of our day, they hook into a natural, authentic desire in people. Sometimes it’s drug-like, like Facebook or coffee and sometimes it is not drug-like. Sometimes it is just our nature to want to communicate. That’s what it means. Not only does your product– but your culture needs to–if you want to be highly efficient, it needs to hook into that nature of people, our authenticity.

Brett: Another one of our ESF group was recently telling me about a company that they’re applying for. It’s a debt collections agency that operates on transparency. Instead of trying to be as efficient as they can, milking the most money from people as possible and buying the debt for the cheapest possible whatever, they’re optimizing for really being in connection with people. They purchase debt and then they’re transparent. They’re like, “Hey, we bought your debt for this much. We have this much of it. We expect to get a certain percentage of it paid back from various places. What can we do to get this paid off?” 

With that transparency and working closer to their customers, their debtors, they actually get across this sense of actually caring. They’re able to come up with much more creative solutions which actually results in– this is a new company, but it seems like it’s resulting in getting much better results for them. Also they’re getting just swathes of testimonials from customers that are like, “Wow, I wish all of my debt had been bought by this company. This is amazing. They’re actually people and they talk to me like a human.”

Joe: You can see this in sales processes are more effective, when there’s a real relationship, real connection going on and that authenticity is there. People think they have to compartmentalize themselves to do business and that compartmentalization, that inauthenticity, it absolutely makes you less efficient. It might make things easier to do in the short-term, but absolutely harder to do in the long-term. It makes you less efficient, because you’re basically asking anybody you interact with to compartmentalize themselves that same way. A debt collector compartmentalizes their heart and they go in hard. Then their customer compartmentalizes their heart and they respond hard, or they respond like a victim or whatever it is, but they’re going to match that more on average.

Brett: If we focus on finding the authentic movement, then–

Joe: How do I collect debt in a way that feels good in my system? How do I nurse in a way that feels good in my system? How do I produce a social media app that feels good in my system? All of those will be a more efficient product.

Brett: Then with that continual asking, “What am I?” Like, “What am I? Am I an efficient debt collector or am I a human?”

Joe: That’s right. “If I am them and they are me, then how do I want to behave here? If I feel my natural authenticity and my desire to learn and my desire to be of service to people, how do I collect debt in a way that’s of service to people?” It feels horrible to not pay your debt. To help people feel that they are standing on their own two feet and have achieved paying off debt, that can be a real deep service for humans.

Brett: I wonder how many other industries can be rethought that way.

Joe: Every one of them. It’s endless. It’s just like there’s always more money to be made. There’s always a way to become more authentic and each one is an efficiency.

Brett: It sounds like there’s a lot of faith in this process because with each layer of authenticity you find, you really have to let go of what you valued or what you thought was important, entirely to find what’s beneath it.

Joe: Yes, that’s true. It feels like faith, until you get used to reading the river in some way. It’s the same faith that maybe a basketball player would have that’s going into a game. It’s like you can’t plan out the whole game. You can’t plan out everything. You’re basically choosing,  “I am going to plan out my entire basketball game”, or “I’m going to learn how to read a river” and “Learn how to read the field, learn how to read my opponents and so that I am competent in every situation where I’m in that basketball game.” Then you start having faith in your capacity to handle situations.

You become excited, but you can’t handle them, because it means you’re getting to learn something and it makes you more capable next time. It’s the same thing. It’s like if you’ve learned to read a river to go down that river and get to the mouth of the river, it’s not an act of faith anymore. It’s just what you do. You’re watching other people build canals and that makes them feel secure. Like, “I will just take a canal the whole way, but I have to build the whole canal.” It’s a lot more effort. It’s very much like that. 

Once you start realizing, that your authenticity naturally brings you to the next level over and over again and that improving yourself is like building a canal. It’s like this idea of safety, that it takes a tremendous amount of effort and is really not that safe, because lots of people die building canals. That’s how it works. It feels constantly, like you’re taking faith, that you’re taking the risk. Then at some point, you’re like, “Oh, no. It’s more risky to do the other thing. It’s more risky to be 60 years old and all my dreams have come true and I’m miserable,” which is where that typically leads.

Brett: I think we often over-index on the cost, the perceived cost of stopping doing things the way that we’re doing them, but forget about the opportunity cost of continuing to do the same thing.

Joe: What’s interesting is, that’s also part of our nature. It’s also part of our nature to stay with something that feels safe.

Brett: Predictable is safe.

Joe: Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly right. Luckily, as authenticity matures us, as we evolve being authentic, we become more and more sensitive. That stuff becomes more and more painful, where we’re naturally kicked out of those cycles because we just can’t handle them anymore, because they’re just too painful.

Thanks for listening to The Art of Accomplishment podcast.  If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions and comments. To reach us, join our newsletter, learn more about VIEW, or to take a course, visit: artofaccomplishment.com

Resources:

Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations, https://www.reinventingorganizations.com/