A New Direction

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It’s been a few weeks since I’ve last written here, and that post had come after just over a month with nothing but radio silence here. There’s been a reason for that, and I’m really excited to start sharing it.

I have been talking a lot about the image above recently. It is the end of the great Tom Hanks movie, Castaway, and it is so poignant a metaphor. As you may recall, Hanks’ character Chuck Nolan was an executive with FedEx when the transport plane he is hitching a ride on crashes, leaving him stranded on a remote island in expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Over the course of his four years on the island, Nolan uses all of the packages that washed ashore with him to survive, save one: a box adorned with a distinctive logo. Nolan keeps the box unopened until he is eventually rescued and is finally able to return the undelivered package to its sender in Texas.

After Nolan leaves the package on the porch because nobody is home, he finds himself at a four-way intersection with nowhere he has to go. He is standing at a literal and figurative crossroads, without any sense of which direction he should go … and then serendipity arrives on a pair of angel’s wings:

Now, I didn’t suffer the trauma of surviving an aircraft disaster, an angry ocean, and years on Gilligan’s Island without any professors or movie stars. But, since my time as an executive in the corporate world ended last fall, I have been Chuck Nolan — standing at an intersection with any number of roads in front of me, not knowing which one to take.

Then, recently, I started putting two and two together, and saw my own set of inspirational wings. Now, I’m back in the car, getting ready to head off into a new direction. It’s a road I’ve never been down before, and never imagined getting to take. I’m so excited at the possibilities, and can’t wait to share the details. In time…

3 Surprising Insights From An Evening With Ryan Hawk & James Clear

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Last night I got to participate in an invitation-only event to see Ryan Hawk record a live podcast episode of The Learning Leader Show with habit-formation expert James Clear. Hosted by the business advisory firm Brixey & Meyer, the event brought roughly 100 business leaders and entrepreneurs from the Columbus/Dayton/Cincinnati areas together to the industrial venue of Dock 580 on the north end of downtown Columbus, Ohio.

If you’re not familiar with James Clear, google “habit formation” and you will find his 1,700+ word essay listed as the #2 result. Naturally, I expected the conversation to focus on the science and systems of habitual behaviors, and that proved true. However, the hour-long conversation between host and guest was not limited to Clear’s expected conversational comfort zone. As Hawk and Clear ventured out into other topics, I was struck by three things Clear said that I didn’t expect to hear. Each insight hit me differently — one was timely, the other profound, and the third uniquely thought-provoking — but all made an impact on me.

Continue reading at Forbes.com …

Why Old Wisdom Matters

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As a result of the kind of serendipity that Twitter at its best can bring, I found myself this morning reading an article titled “A Zero-Math Introduction to Markov Chain Monte Carlo Methods.” Heady stuff to start the day, I know. Here’s the opening paragraph that greeted me after I clicked:

For many of us, Bayesian statistics is voodoo magic at best, or completely subjective nonsense at worst. Among the trademarks of the Bayesian approach, Markov chain Monte Carlo methods are especially mysterious. They’re math-heavy and computationally expensive procedures for sure, but the basic reasoning behind them, like so much else in data science, can be made intuitive. That is my goal here.

I know what you’re thinking, and it’s exactly what I was thinking at that point too:


The article had lots of charts, and reminded me of Nassim Taleb’s insightful book, Fooled by Randomness, so I pressed on. What has me mentioning all of this now (because I know you’re asking yourself…) is this:

That is an example of a Galton Board, which is a device named for the 19th Century English scientist Sir Francis Galton. Through its use of balls, pegs, slots and the resulting bell curve at the bottom, this simple contraption elegantly illustrates a counter-intuitive fact of life:

At scale, seemingly independent and randomly occurring events conform to a discernible pattern over time.

This is why the events of human history appear cyclical, whether it is the rise and fall of empires, the growth and recession cycles of economies, or the “hype cycle” of new technologies. It is also why large scale human behavior can be charted and predicted (hello Big Data!) even as individual human behavior is impossible to predict with any more accuracy than random chance. The truth of the aphorism “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it” is not due to some fatalistic determinism running the universe. Instead, it is in the recognition that history tends to repeat its patterns, and will continue to do so without intentional intervention. Think of George Santayana’s quote as an invitation to interfere with the way history’s Galton Board works.

This fact of life is why old wisdom matters. Reading the insights of those who walked before us is valuable even though the circumstances of their lives were so different because the pattern of life they dealt with may be the same one we are facing now. This is why the Old Testament is worth reading even though its setting is a pre-modern, patriarchal culture very different from our own. This is why the philosophies of Aristotle, the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and the speeches of Frederick Douglass are worth reading. It is even why reading about corporate organizational leadership from the prehistoric days of 1982 is still worth doing.

New ideas are always needed, and breaking away from the straight jacket of conventional thought is a noble endeavor. But, let us not forget the value of old learnings. While the particulars of this modern life are galactically different from the ones faced by those who came ages before us, the patterns of their lives and ours are not so different.

Accountability: A Postscript

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Last week I wrote about the challenges of keeping myself on task towards my goal of writing a book without the external expectations of a boss or a team to answer to. I ended that post with this:

I could say more on this topic. In fact, when I started this post, I intended to. But, none of these 600-plus words will count towards my daily writing goal, so I’ve got to end this post here and get to work. I have an accountability email to send out later today.

After hitting “Publish” on that post in order to get to work, here’s how many words I typed towards hitting that daily goal I had just referenced:


As I sat down to send my email to my accountability partners — Ryan and Greg — I attempted to mitigate my shame by serving up my excuse with a side of humor and a dash of blame shifting:

It was Ryan who challenged me to get back into the habit of posting here once a week on a set schedule, so as to work the muscle required for writing on a deadline. So, you see, it’s kinda his fault that I wrote last week’s blog post but didn’t put down any words towards my book-writing goal.

Here is what I got in response from The Learning Leader:

… and here’s a live look-in at me reading that email:

(For the record: that’s me on the right…)

Accountability is not for the feint of heart, y’all.

Of course it takes some guts to be vulnerable and make yourself accountable to someone else for efforts and behaviors you need to be doing. Handing someone the keys to the emotional control panel whose buttons can trigger things like embarrassment and shame is a big deal and fraught with anxiety.

But it takes guts just as well to agree to be that source of accountability for someone else. Giving honest feedback and asking the tough questions that hold people accountable like Ryan did in that email is no easy task. To be so direct in making another person confront their own responsibility for failing to meet the expectations they have set for themselves is to flirt with conflict. And, let’s face it: Twitter and Facebook notwithstanding, most people do not relish interpersonal conflict. To avoid it, most of us use passive aggressiveness and codependency to make a point or keep the peace while avoiding direct confrontation.

But, being uncomfortable in the moment is so worth it. Straight talk cuts through the BS and opens up the conversation to the truth. In the context of the discipline of accountability, that truth is not just the reasons for failing to live up to the standard. It is also the light that illuminates the path forward to the productivity and success that was the whole point to begin with.

Yes, it felt like a punch in the talk hole when I got that email. But, that’s exactly what I needed to push me beyond viewing accountability as simply a brain-hack-game to trick myself into being more productive. That digital slap and splash of cold water forced me to treat accountability as a serious effort to accomplish a serious work. Because, if it’s not really a serious work you’re trying to get done, it’s not worth someone else’s time to hold you accountable for it.

The Accounting of Discipline

Lance Accountability, Discipline 1 Comment

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It has now been a solid 7 weeks since my last day of work in Corporate America. With the distraction of the holidays behind me and the kids now back in school, I’m left to face a stark realization: without the external expectations of others, I’m an unproductive mess.

Now, this lack of doing things on my part is not due to having a lack of things to do. While attending this year’s TEDxDayton event working as a speaker’s mentor, I was hit with a moment of inspiration: an idea for a book to write. Less than a week later, by virtue of getting laid off, I was given the gift of a period of paid time off with which to focus on doing just that — writing said book. Simple, right? Big stuff happens when we have a great idea and the opportunity to do something about it, right?


Yeah, no.

An idea and opportunity I now have. It’s the “doing” that requires sustained effort, focus, and perseverance. In other words: discipline. It has been humbling to see just how little of that precious resource I actually have when stripped of the outside structures of a boss, colleagues, deadlines, and meetings. The only thing standing between me and completely unproductive failure is …me. Of course, that’s also the only thing standing between me and the disciplined effort that leads to a successful execution. So, if acknowledging my weakness is the first step on the path towards recovery, what next to do?

Get accountable.

As accountability author Sam Silverstein succinctly puts it:

You are responsible for things. You are accountable to people.

Thankfully, I have friends who are willing to step into the accountability void. Recently a pair of them asked me how my writing was coming. I could’ve avoided the discomfort and returned conversational serve with the tried and true “Good. It’s hard but coming along.” Or, I could have admitted to a lack of progress but deflected responsibility by throwing out the reasonable excuses of the holiday business between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Instead, I took a page from Brené Brown’s book and stepped into the vulnerability. I answered by admitting that progress was almost non-existent because without the external expectations of others to answer to, I’m an undisciplined mess.

What came next in response was both an invitation and a dare to be accountable:

“How about you email us every day with whether you hit your day’s word count goal or not?”

With my mouth I said “okay, thanks. I will do that.” … but inside my head, I was like —

That conversation was exactly one week ago. In the time since, I hit and exceeded my goal every day (with the exception of the weekend, when I devoted that work time to another project), and doubled the progress I had made up to that point.

THAT is the power of being accountable to other people.

What are you trying to accomplish in your life that could use the boost of productive output that comes with being accountable to someone else? It could be professional or personal, large or small. It’s January 10th — chances are, any New Year’s resolution you made is already at the shallow breathing stage of its death cycle. You can breathe new life into that commitment if you take the bold step of sharing it with someone in an uncomfortably vulnerable way, and making yourself accountable to them to simply report on how you measured up to your goal each day.

I could say more on this topic. In fact, when I started this post, I intended to. But, none of these 600-plus words will count towards my daily writing goal, so I’ve got to end this post here and get to work. I have an accountability email to send out later today.