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How to Grow – Part 2

There are four basic stages to putting the first principles and structure and dynamics of growth into motion in our own lives:

  1. Set high quality targets
  2. Enlist deep and diverse domain expertise
  3. Run a wide array of experiments
  4. Review what works and doesn’t and make revisions

First, set high quality targets. It is common to become so enthralled in the rapture of our personal vision that we try to boil the ocean – quite smoking next week, lose 25 pounds next month and make a million dollars next year. While these goals are indeed possibilities and useful in encouraging our ambition, they are often out of sync with the time it takes to develop adequate capabilities to create these outcomes. Sayings like “go big or go home” usually result in the later. There is a rhythm growth that requires us to stay on pace.
Second, enlist deep and diverse domain expertise. Regardless of time of day or expense we call the doctor or the dentist or the plumber because we value their expertise. While it is plausible that we could do the job ourselves the result would surely be inferior, time consuming and painful. Similarly, our growth can be greatly enhanced with the aid of skilled specialists. If we seek more money it is advisable to retain a trusted and qualified financial advisor or friend who has done well with their own investments. To lose weight some combination of physician, dietician and trainer might be useful. While we may lack the resources to pay for a myriad of service providers all at once we can query our community to build our roster of potential experts and engage them in an appropriate sequence.
Third, run a wide array of experiments. In order to grow we need points of reference and departure because we cannot know what we do not know until we know it. For example, real estate agents report that retirees are one of the most transient groups in any community because they often select their new accommodations without any real experience in the location. Instead of consulting another “best places to live” guide, it is more effective to rent apartments for a couple of seasons in different places to determine the fit. These diversified trial runs allow us to minimize our risk of making a big mistake while maximizing our opportunities to expand our horizons. Think big when considering the range of options and small when testing them.
Fourth, review what works and doesn’t and make revisions. Engineers test materials and components to determine the weight load or speed at which they fail. They do this to minimize the risk of disaster, such as a bridge collapsing or a jet engine failing, and to maximize the performance of the machine. Similarly, growth is also an iterative learning experience and the real data derived from our experiments can be processed and built upon if we are honest in our assessment and diagnosis. It is in the after action review that the truth of things is reveled and simple rules are divined.
Frank Capra’s Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” is an example of these stages in action. Everyman George Bailey collects pamphlets and brochures that provide the panoramic pictures of his vague aspiration to bust out of his fusty little town and see the world. The plot begins by showing us how a young and angry George is held back at every turn by his unwavering allegiance to his bungling relatives and friends. Circumstances make George the victim of his close relationship to his dimwitted business partner Uncle Billy who fumbles the finances and the unscrupulous town usurer Mr. Potter who puts him in harm’s way. When everything finally goes wrong George tries to off himself before he is aided by his guardian angel Clarence, yet another ne’er-do-well who has yet to earn his wings. The inept spirit guide manages to conjure up the ultimate experiment showing George what life would be like had he never been born. Loved ones become reprobates, tramps and old maids as he looks on in disbelief. Reflecting on his life and realizing his error, George returns to the land of the living to save the ones he loves – “Each man’s life touches so many other lives.”
Director Capra’s point is unmistakable in that most of us are quite ordinary and it is in working with each other and using what we have that we become extraordinary – “A toast to my big brother George: The richest man in town.” Ironically, the only fully empowered and self-authorizing character in the film is George’s wife Mary who uses this same network of kind hearted muddlers to spring him from his dilemma. Forget George, Mary is the one who gets it. While our better angels may come to our aid it is through our decisive and timely actions that these deeds are made manifest. Growth is our freedom and responsibility. Carpe diem!
In this final section, we will implement the productive practices and make a viable place in our lives where growth happens. We will gather in all that we have learned and use what is available to us. We will resign as nabob and naysayer and release the transfiguring forces that were never under our command. We will write our encomium to the abundance of what is here now and use it in the good service of our personal development and all those that we touch.
Jeff DeGraff
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