Gravity Problems & ReFrame
We're gonna talk about gravity and gravity problems, because one of the things we notice is that a lotta people, and you guys are, so far, super-smart folks, you're really good at solving problems, but you gotta find good problems if you wanna work on the things that we're talking about, how to have a more meaningful and a more fulfilling life. So, this idea of problem-finding comes up again and again in design thinking, are we working on the right problems? And there is a particular class of problem we're gonna work on defining and reframing, there's a particular class of problems we call gravity problems, and we call them this because they are the kind of problem that you can't do anything about. Geez, Dave, I know, you're a bicyclist, right?
I am a cyclist.
I noticed as your biking, as you get, maybe it's older or something, but it seems like you're going slower and slower.
I am going slower, I notice, I'm going up a hill slower than I'm used to, I look down, I'm actually in e...
ven a lower gear than I used to be. It's very disappointing. I figured out what's going on, it's this gravity stuff. So gravity's not working for me at all, and I really have a problem with gravity, can you help me?
And my answer is, no, I can't help you. Gravity is not something that is actionable. Dave can get a lighter bike, he can get more gears, he could work out-
I actually do have this problem.
That's right, yeah. But, he cannot change the fundamental fact that gravity exists. And there's a lot of gravity in problems in our lives. They sorta show up like this, and they sound like this: "Gee, when I started out, this was a little start-up, but now the company's getting so big, and it's really hard to get to the top anymore, because it's so crowded. Mike, can you help me fix that?" Well, is that fixable? "Hey, I'm really," this is that dysfunctional belief, "I'm three years behind where I should be. I should be ahead of where I am right now, how do I catch up?" Or, "I've just got this amazing overseas assignment, but I gotta be near mom, you know, dad's just passed, and mom need support, but I wanna go to take the Hong Kong deal, what do I do?" So, these look like real problems, but they're actually not solvable. There's nothing you can do to solve them. And so what we say with gravity is, we need a reframe. We need to take the problem, and just accept that this is the kind of problem that cannot be solved. You cannot simultaneously be in Hong Kong and in Palo Alto at the same time, we know of no way to do that.
Your problem isn't coming up with a better idea to change gravity. There is no idea, there's only accept.
Now once you've accepted, you have the opportunity to completely reframe what the problem is. Let me show you how that kinda works. So, on the, "Hey, the company's too big," and, "It's hard to get to the top, what do I do?" Well, there's nothing you can do, it's not a startup anymore. So just accept that fact. And now there's lots of people in line ahead of you for that vice president's promotion. So you're not gonna get it. You're certainly not gonna get it on the timetable that you thought. We were working with a very big company out in the valley, you use their thing all the time, I can't tell you who they are, and that's a problem. It used to be, "Hey, when I first got here, I was getting promoted every six months, and now we're a giant company, and we're not getting promoted anymore. I don't like that." Well, the reframe on that, first of all you accept, it's not a startup. There's only two things you can do, accept it, and then decide to work with it. So look, now that the company's so big, there's so many new opportunities for me to have roles where I could learn something. I wonder what interesting projects I could transfer to, and it be a lateral move instead of a vertical move. That's a perfectly valid reframe once I accept I'm not in a startup anymore. The other reframe would be, "Okay, the company's too big, I'm gonna move to a startup, because I love that energy of constant motion." But if you stick with the problem of, "Well, here I am, now, at Facebook, Google, whatever, and it's too big, and I don't like it being this big, can you please fix it?" We're design guys, we can't fix that problem. It's not actionable, it's just a circumstance. "Hey, I'm really three years behind, how do I catch up?" This one's my favorite, this it that dysfunctional belief. There is no reframe. You're not behind, what are you behind, behind what? Behind some expectation you had of yourself, but that was based on a plan, and reality got in the middle of that plan, and it didn't work that way. And I'll bet you some time of that three years doing something that was incredibly valuable, so you're not behind. You're not behind your timetable, you're not behind anyone else. You're right here, right now. And this is the place that you can move from. Once you accept that this is the place you can move from, and what's available from here, going forward, gravity just disappears. "I'd love to take that overseas assignment, but I gotta be near mom." Hong Kong?
How to solve the mom problem.
Okay, solve the mom problem, what do we do about mom? Well, look, either defer this and decide that right now, for the next year or two, I need to be with mom. Because she's by herself for the first time in 40 or 50 years. So, that's my choice, I don't get to do both things.
"Hey mom, time for an adventure!
Wanna come to Hong Kong with me?" We'll see how that goes.
One way or the other, I'm not dumping mom, okay? We're doing mom here, we're doing mom there, make a real choice, but I'm not solving mom.
It's truly a radical acceptance, right? That the situation I am in right now is the only situation available to me. There's nothing I can do about it. I can't change the situation, it's not a problem to be solved, it's just the way things are. It's sort of, accept the things you cannot change philosophy. But once I'm there, then I'm free to reframe the problem and create some new space for me. Maybe mom comes with me, maybe I just don't take the promotion, what's the big deal? Maybe I just decide I'm not behind, I am exactly where I should be right now. And by changing the way I framed this problem, it moves out of gravity, into acceptance, and from acceptance to something I can do something about. So obviously, we would like you to try this. You all have a little gravity worksheet, it's a reframing exercise. When you were looking at your worldview and lifeview, and also at your dashboard, balance, ideas about balance, were there any challenges that came up for you that you think might be, in fact, gravity problems? They're just actually a circumstance, not a problem. They're a situation. And if you could identify those, there's a thing on your form there, see if you can write down one or two things that you've been working on, wrestling with for awhile.
Probably stuck on.
Something you've been stuck on, that might, it might be, or might not be a gravity problem, we'll decide after we do a little more analysis, but something that really has you stuck. And something that's kinda serious. Either a decision you're trying to make where you're trying to have it all, you know, this fear of missing out, "I wanna have everything, I wanna have it all," or another place where in your life you are stuck, either in work or personal things, write that down.
Our example of gravity is in fact impossible to change. You say, "Well actually not, I mean, somebody's gonna get that vice presidency at that large company, I still wanna go for it, even if my chances are one in a thousand." It's not impossible, it's just the risks are really high, and the probabilities are really low. That's up to you. So that's technically not, if you say, "I'm gonna go for it anyway," well okay, but if what you're up against is a really low probability thing that you wanna treat as not actionable, "There's such a long shot, do I really wanna wait around for that? Maybe I should think about something else." That's what we mean by gravity.
Spend a few minutes, see if you can identify one or two of those. And if you're not sure what you're stuck on, it's that thing you've been complaining to your friend, or your spouse, or your special other for a long time, but nothing's happened? That's probably a gravity problem. Okay, if everybody's got one or two things on there that you think might be in that category, here's the next thing. We'd like you to look at that idea, see if you can take the problem and just say, "Okay I accept that, company's too big, I can't get a promotion," or, "I accept that I'm not late, I'm just who I am."
Can't make any money as a poet.
"I'm a CEO, making seven figures, but I really wanna be a poet, but I only wanna be a poet if I can make seven figures. Right? Okay. So, it's a gravity problem, for whatever reason, society does not pay poets that, unless your a rapper. None of you look like a rapper to me, but maybe there's some latent rapper out there someplace. So, accept it, and think about how you might be able to reframe it so that it becomes actionable. You're gonna probably have to take the problem and flip it around or do something new with it in order to make it an actionable thing, and then identify, after the reframe, one or two really simple things you could do, like, you could do this week or next week to start exploring whether you can defy gravity, whether you can unlock that problem in a new way. So, a reframe, and a quick biased action, what could you do to change the outcome? The number one thing that holds people back on almost all of the biased action things that we suggest is fear. It won't work, people will laugh at me, no one will return my e-mail, that would result in some shame, because I have this image of myself, and it's not being reflected back in the world. But fear is one of the things we absolutely know how to master, right? This notion of guided mastery, the work of Al Bandura, on phobias. People were terrified of snakes, and getting on airplanes, and stuff. We totally know how to cure that, and it is about this methodology of very small steps, taken over and over again, to build up what we're gonna talk to you about as failure immunity. And then, so nice segue into something we're about to talk about. Our takeaways for this is acceptance is the first step, because until you say, "Okay, this is a non-solvable thing, therefore it's not a problem, it's simply a situation or a circumstance I find myself in," that allows you to reframe something that could be actionable, and the result of that is you have freedom to make more choices, and that's what we're really after, is the freedom to move from where we are to the next step. Procrastination, fear, and other things notwithstanding, we've gotta take that next step to biased action. Where are we in the framework, Dave?
Well, we're moving down into sort of the real guts and the heart of design thinking. Design thinking, if it's known for anything, it's known for ideation, having lots of ideas, even wild ideas, you know, and prototyping, prototype iteration, that's really the core of how design thinking is different than, say, engineering thinking, or analytic business thinking. So, we're gonna jump into that, which means we're now gonna have to address one of the really big, monster dysfunctional beliefs, my personal favorite, which is, are you being the best version of you? Are you sure, is this really it? Is this thing you're doing, is this it? Is this it, is this the one? Or was it that one other one, you know, because you're not settling are you? Are you settling? Settling, oh, God, no, we don't wanna settle. No, all the cool people don't settle. But here's the problem with this idea of, have you heard this kind of thinking? Has anybody been beset a little bit, like, "Is this really the best version of me?" This is a common comment in the modern culture, the metanarrative we live in includes this dialog a lot. But here's the problem, there's no such thing as the best you. There are lots of versions of you. One thing Bill and I have noticed with thousands of people we've been working with, is almost everybody seems to agree that they have more aliveness within them than one lifetime will permit them to live. There's more than one of you in there. Now if there's more than one legitimate version of the way you could live your life, that's truly authentic to you, and it's noble in the world, and it's aligned, I mean, there's not just one, you write your life view and your work view, it doesn't give you an immediate action plan. Lotsa ways you can still be authentic within that framework, right? So if that's true, then there is no such thing as the best you. You know, in business you often hear this line, "Well, good is the enemy of better, and better is the enemy of best, are you being your best? Are you really going for it?" But a best is a singular, exclusive outcome. It requires one set of criteria by which you judge everything. Look, and I'm 63, about to be 64, I've got four grandkids now. I mean, is my grandfather self better than my educator self? Is my teaching Dave better than my start-up Dave? And they're all still running, by the way. How do I compare startup Dave to grandfather Dave, who we call Poppie by the way. (audience laughs) Well, you know, Luke, my grandson, doesn't care about CEO Dave at all, these are not comparable. The problem is, the rest of that little allegory is, and the false best is the enemy of the available better. If you're stuck on this problem, you decided you have to be your best self, and there's not just one, you just decided to be unhappy for the rest of your life. Don't sign up for that. So the reframe is, look, there are lots of great yous, it's never too late to get going, so the reframe is, let the odyssey continue, the odyssey of our lives. If we wanna get down the road and have this adventure continue, then how would we do that? Well, we gotta do that, first we gotta answer a question. What's the question, Bill?
Well, this is a little weird, but I want you to do a thought experiment with me, okay? I'm gonna ask you in a second to shout out a number of how many lives are you? Dave just said, we have more lives in us than we can possibly ever live,
There's more than one of you in here.
Here's the thought experiment. So, down at Stanford, we have the linear accelerator, it's a two-mile-long accelerator. It used to be the biggest one, then some Europeans built one that's bigger. But it's still pretty cool, and we actually have come with a way of putting you in the accelerator too, firing you down two miles, accelerating you almost to the speed of light, at which point you would experience what the physicists call a multiverse, that there are many, many universes all right next to one another, and that in those multiverses, you could be your, I wanted to be a garbage man when I was little? I'm a garbage man! I'm an astronaut, I am a teacher, I'm a whatever, you can have as many lives as you want, and because of this experiment, you would actually be aware of each life. Each life could unfold, and each would be wonderful, exactly the way you wanted it to be. You can have as many as you wanted.
If some lives are so cool you'd love to do them over, you can have do-overs, my daughter Lisa rode Dumbo 42 times one day.
So you could have three versions of you doing the exact same thing, but you could have as many as you want, the only problem is, accelerator time is expensive, so you need to tell me, I gotta reserve how many multiverse slots you want, okay? So, that's the thought experiment, you can have as many parallel lives as you want, you'll experience all of them, and know how wonderful they all were. You don't have to make any compromise in this model. You can be the ballerina and the astrophysicist, fine. And, the circus clown with Cirque du Soleil, which I always now wanna be, because that seems, like, so cool.
You can consult with all of Bain, Deloitte, McKinsey and Touche, and do them all.
Yeah, you can have them all, all right. So, on the count of three, just shout out your number, how many slots in the multiverse experiment would you like to hold for the lives that are inside of you? Are you ready? One, two, three. (crowd answers) 17, 14.
Infinity. And so, every time we do this, we get slightly different numbers. This group seems like there's a-
It's kinda high.
There's a, yeah, a high maximum, you know, like 12-ish is an average, 12, 14? Okay, so the point of this, actually, if I put you in the accelerator and fired you to the end of the thing- (Dave mimics a splat) your body would compress into an infinite mass and you'd explode.
So that's not true.
You get one.
Plus it's a vacuum, you'd be dead before you got to the other end. But, it's really interesting that when you start thinking about it, well, how could there be one best, because the path that got me here is reasonably random. I made some decisions, but a whole bunch of other things happened that allowed me to make those decisions. The path forward is probably gonna have the same level of intentionality and uncertainty. So, I can optimize a bunch of different versions of myself.