Incoming Email: Congratulations, George, on the recognition of your work for aging Baby Boomers! I’m anxious to learn how it feels to be a “thought leader.” Deborah.
Background: I have been named one of Next Avenue’s 2017 Influencers in Aging. The Influencers in Aging selection process and list recognize “50 remarkable people at the forefront of changing how we age and think about aging.” In naming the Influencers, Next Avenue recognizes their role in improving the lives of older adults, their families and communities. NextAvenue.org is part of the PBS system so we know there is a dedication to high quality.
My Response: How does it feel? I am deeply honored to be included among this list of 50 amazing people.
Anytime I feel lost, I pull out a map and stare. I stare until I have reminded myself that life is a giant adventure, so much to do, to see. – Angelina Jolie
As a Thought Leader, what provokes my own consideration? I think we are now living in predominantly discontinuous times, yet most of our past experiences were continuous. What I call the Old Normal contained both continuous change/opportunity and discontinuous change/opportunity BUT continuous dominated heavily.
We are used to thinking about and dealing with change in our lives and world in terms of continuous change/ and continuous opportunities. Continuous opportunities doesn’t mean unending. It means congruent with and following from previous opportunities. .
I think we are now living in predominantly discontinuous times. We still have both, of course, but discontinuous is coming to dominate heavily. I call this the New Normal.
If we can’t distinguish situationally between the two (continuous and discontinuous) and use the right critical thinking and tools for each, how can we wisely proceed?
If you want to be the best, you have to do things that other people aren’t willing to do. – Michael Phelps
What does a Thought Leader do? There are probably as many answers to this as there are Thought Leaders. Here is my own answer.
He/she thinks differently – not just differently but in new and transformative ways at individual and system (think big picture) ways. And he/she also finds ways to turn that new thinking into transformative, even revolutionary, behaviors for individuals, groups, and organizations. This is a lot more work than one might think. Why?
For openers (for me at least) Thought Leadership means being willing to have patience, invest the time, and sometimes wander around in the intellectual dark for a while for several reasons:
- To deeply understand where we are right now (language, images, metaphors, examples, statistics, common practices and beliefs).
Example: Our preference for resisting aging without appearing to care.
Example: Bill and Sue, 69 and 65, are clinging to the entitlement of “retirement” without the ability to pay for it.
Example: Laura, 87, continues to think of age as a number (her chronological age) rather than the sum of how she is currently living her life.
2. To step, however anxiously, into an alternative place where most of the examples above don’t exist.
Example: Tim and Scott, 57 and 59 are anticipating re-creating their sense of themselves, their individual and collective identities, without consideration of chronological age.
Example: Fred, 72 and a recent widower, is seizing an opportunity in the midst of his involuntary life transition. He has become willing to proceed from “I don’t know what I don’t know.”, rather than from the familiar and comfortable “I know what I don’t know.”
3. To craft core constructs that contradict and even replace our current “normal”; constructs that advance our thinking and behavior.
Example: There are different kinds of change that require completely different thinking and tools. Lynne and Tom, 55 and 49, are suddenly realizing that the departure of their kids for college isn’t a problem to be solved. It’s a loss and an opportunity that they need to understand, not fix.
Example: Long term planning is no longer possible. Success is no longer perfect execution on the plan. Success is now our ability to wisely adapt the plan and ourselves based on the stream of new observations and data. Alan, 58, has come to the conclusion that his career and life plan can only be fully concrete up to about 18 months. Beyond that he has a set of intentions around which he needs to build clarity and action steps as he goes along, adapting the plan and himself accordingly.
4. To be “abnormal” yet OK while socially and intellectually isolated. This is the periodic Thought Leadership experience of no longer subscribing to “normal” but not yet having the vocabulary or images to articulate to anyone (even those closest to us) where we’ve gone.
Example: Connie, 66, is discovering she has a passionate set of interests that causes others’ eyes to glaze over.
Example: To truly be a Thought Leader, George, after 50, must invest a considerable amount of time and energy in possibilities without fully knowing in advance what they are. He has to do this, at least in the beginning, without external validation or falling into the trap of problem solving.
“Missing a train is only painful if you run after it! Likewise, not matching the idea of success others expect from you is only painful if that’s what you are seeking.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
As Americans, we love problem solving. Diagnosis, Treatment, and Cure. We love the rush and reward of identifying a problem, solving it forever, and moving on to the next problem. We even create problematic situations so we can solve them. Analogy: Once you learn to use a hammer and like using it, everything begins to look like a nail.
Ah, Dear Reader, if some of what we are facing in our lives now isn’t a problem that can be solved and moved beyond forever, then what is it? And how do we work with it?
I wouldn’t want to try to adapt something of my own. It would be like going back to school and doing all my exams again. – Kazuo Ishiguro, Author
This is the essence of my Thought Leadership inquiries:
- How does a perfectly fine 50-year-old man or woman get to be a fabulous 85-year-old in discontinuous times? What kind of life planning will it take? What kinds of adaptability?
- How do professional advisors keep from advising people into trouble if they are embedded primarily in continuous notions and processes? In discontinuous times, how do they adjust their thinking and actions to acknowledge that life planning must lead financial planning instead of the “normal” other way around?
- How do leaders of professional advisory businesses and other organizations offering goods and services to people After 50 lead in discontinuous times? How do they transform their best staff members into people who can be effective in both continuous and discontinuous situations? How can they educate their customers accordingly?
Of course, Thought Leadership as I define it here often means giving up the pleasures of permanent closure, a concrete sense of resolution, and immediate widespread acceptance and adoption by everyone else. Sometimes we can sail discontinuous possibilities into a headwind. More often we have to wait until those who need the information have moved from uncomfortable to plenty of pain.
To talk to me about speaking to your organization, go to http://georgeschofield.com/speaking/
To talk to me about life planning and coaching for individuals and couples, go to http://georgeschofield.com/personal-consulting/
To talk to me about organizational consulting, go to http://georgeschofield.com/business-consulting/
To acquire and read my books on these topics, go to http://georgeschofield.com/books/
I think most of us can be Thought Leaders some of the time, even if we aren’t aware of it at the time. What does your own Thought Leadership look like? What are your techniques for continually paying attention? What ignites your passion? What are the benefits to you? What does it cost you?
Let me know please by posting a response to this blog.