To make something real, to make it tangible–to tangibilize–takes a potential, an idea that was seen, and a pathway for developing the potential, the possibility, into an outcome. To tangibilize is the pathway of seeing the possibility, developing it, and completing it. This is the creative process. And while this seems obvious, because we all live this process all day long every day, most of the agreements underlying how we interact within and amongst organizations focus predominantly on the outcome, and very little on the potential and the developmental pathway.
And, there are positive ecosynomic deviants who are very focused on this process and its subtleties. We know about these positive ecosynomic deviants mostly because of the results they achieve–results that shock us, leading us to assume that these outliers are superhuman, achieving extraordinary results unavailable to the rest of us. They are able to achieve these results, over and over again, resilient to difficulties on their path, over sustained stretches of time. I recommend three books I have read recently that uncover different dimensions of these positive deviants: their growth mindset; their ability to persevere; and their ability to be much more productive. Written by three easy-to-read writers, who bring together great stories with lots of rigorous research–all Ds–Duckworth, Duhigg, and Dweck–they dig into what makes ordinary people capable of achieving high levels of impact and resilience.
Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck shares her vast research on mindsets, showing how having a growth versus a fixed mindset enables people to learn, to grow. Her work shows that the fixed mindset–“believing that your qualities are carved in stone” (Dweck 6)–is predominant, socially embedded in many of our unconsciously accepted agreements. People with the growth mindset–“the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts…believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training” (Dweck 7). With many examples, Dweck shows how “the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life” (Dweck 6); full of possibility and growth or not.
University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth focuses on what drives people to find their passion and stick with it to find extraordinary levels of expression of that passion. Duckworth sets the tone of what is possible, quoting William James, a founding father of modern psychology, “‘Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked. We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.’ There is a gap, James declared, between potential and its actualization…James asserted that ‘the human individual lives usually far within his limits; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use. He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum‘” (Duckworth 22-23). Bringing together years of her own experimental research and field experience with that of many of her colleagues, Duckworth has nuanced what grit is–“perseverance and passion for long-term goals“–what it takes to achieve it, and what it does. Summarizing all of this research, she finds that grit requires a passionate interest, connection to a higher purpose, lots and lots of practice, and an optimistic perspective that deliberate practice will lead to something.
New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg delves into the contextual factors that lead to some people being able to be much more productive than others. He finds that productivity paragons are much more motivated, focused, and tend to work in groups of psychological safety. “To teach ourselves to self-motivate more easily, we need to learn to see our choices not just as expressions of control but also as affirmations of our values and goals” (Duhigg 31). “To become genuinely productive, we must take control of our attention; we must build mental models that put us firmly in charge” (Duhigg, 102). When people are in groups that “feel a sense of psychological safety…[they] succeed because teammates feel they can trust each other, and that honest discussion can occur without fear of retribution” (Duhigg 69).
The 3 Ds highlight decades of rigorous research and experience that show that the people we most see as exemplars of extraordinary outcomes often are actually ordinary people who have found their passion, spend lots of time applying it, growing in their craft over time, in a very focused, hopeful way, with lots of support from their community. This might mean that what is out of the ordinary, as the William James quote above suggests, is not that people live into their potential, rather that more people don’t. What is it that we as humans do in our agreements that shuts down the process of tangibilizing our own unique impact resilience, every day? I call this negative ecosynomic deviance, and explore what it takes to stop doing it.