Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Edge on Success: From Success to Significance

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no lack of enthusiasm". Winston Churchill

I have certainly had my share of successes and failures in my life. In fact, failure seems to be a rite of passage to success. I wouldn't want to give the young people the wrong idea - if you can go straight to success and skip the failures by all means ... do that. The point is - don't fear the failures, embrace them, because they make the successes all that much sweeter.

2011 WCK Canadian National Kickboxing Champions
I took a management seminar early in my career where the speaker referred to a progression we move through in our professional lives: from Survival to Stability to Success to Significance.

The idea of a progressive movement through these stages of existence identifies, not only the growth we experience as Humans, but also that success is not an end in itself but a step towards Significance. We all move though this process in our lives with varying speed and efficiency. Significance is where we use lessons learned in Survival and Stability and the resources we acquired through our Successes to give back and help others.

Significance will mean something different to each of us - and it will mean different thing at different times in our lives. For the most part it has to do with giving back that which we have received so abundantly. The metric by which we will gage our Significance will be based on our internal moral compass. The critical point here is that we ought to always move through our lives with the understanding that we are capable of Significance. By acknowledging this we save ourselves from falling into the mediocracy of Stability or the indulgence of Success - both comfortable states in their own right.

Even though we know that we are headed towards Significance, most of us have little or no idea of how this will manifest itself in our lives. An orientation toward goals or a vision based on our internal compass is important. If we narrow it down much more than that we run the risk of selling ourselves short or missing it altogether. It has been my experience that I really don't know what's good for me. My successes have mostly involved me getting out of the way and working hard.

If we are true to our beliefs and put 100% of our attention into doing "the next right thing" in our day to day lives we will move through this process in the most effortless and efficient manner. Conversely the harder we try to project and force this to happen the harder we will work and the end result will be watered down.

As you move though the rest of the day, week, month, year and so on apply 100% of your attention and energy on the task at hand. Focus on those things that support you in your efforts to get more of the things you want in your life. If you find yourself doing something that is working against this end - STOP. Regroup quickly and do something else.

As you look back and take inventory you will see that Significance has manifested in ways far more fulfilling and substantial than you could have ever engineered. This is my experience and has worked for me in a all circumstance over the last thirty years.

Best, Sam Edge

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Edge on Othering

Lately I have been focusing on writing content and building my new website - Edge on Strategy. This new site will become my flagship and eventually this blog, Notes from the Edge, will be incorporated into it. Until the other site is stabilized I will be sticking to monthly posts. 

In my last post I wrote about conflict and the power of dialogue. Today I am going to continue this theme and touch on a subject that has had a significant impact on me and how I move through the world - Dualism. 

Simply put Dualism is the world view that man is separate from his surroundings - even separate from other men (or women). 

[Note: this whole discussion could be about men and women.] 

Dualism, in the modern context, comes from sixteenth century French philosopher; Rene Descartes. However, the dualist world view has been around long before that. Cartesian Dualism places doubt onto all that can be doubted and reduces a thing to that which can no longer be doubted. According the Rene, we are supposed to arrive at a cardinal or undeniable truth through this process.

From this came existentialism and:  "Cogito ergo sum" or  "I think, therefore I am".  

At the centre of Cartesian Dualism is the mind - which is different from the brain. The mind encompasses the entire person. Descartes could doubt the existence of the physical world, but he could not doubt the idea that his mind existed because the very act of doubting one's existence proves that one actually exists; otherwise, who is doing the doubting? The only thing that Descartes was sure existed was his mind; therefore, the farther away from his mind he got the more doubt as to its existence. (confused?)

Cartesian Dualism influences both religious and secular thinking. It became the root of scientific and legal thought - where nothing is tangible or real until proven to be so. This new thinking took hold during European Colonization and the quest for the New World. Cultures and races that were much different from what had become the ideal human - the caucasian, heterosexual male - were seen as "the Other". The farther from this ideal, the easier it was to dismiss their suffering. By this reasoning, subduing and dominating entire cultures with opposing beliefs, and complexions, was both logical and morally correct. 

The dualist world view clashed with most tribal cultures, who see the world as a web of interconnected systems, and allowed the Colonists to disregard their suffering and even engage in cultural genocide. It is this dualist thinking that lead to mistreatment of indigenous people in the Americas - from the atrocities of Pizarro and Cortez in South America to the annihilation of whole tribes in the U.S. and the legislative and religious abuses in Canada. Parallels can be drawn in Ireland, the Gaza strip, Apartheid and the War on Terrorism. In all of these instances there are elements of the dualist mindset at the heart of the dispute.

To some extent we all have groups we identify with, "Us", and groups we consider to be separate, "Them". This dualist world view feeds off of polarizing views and cultures and breeds contempt and unrest. The effect of dualism over the centuries has given way to a cultural predisposition in humans to what anthropologists call "othering". If we’re feeling guilty about the way we've treated a person, or group of people, and we're having trouble reconciling that guilt with our own moral and ethical code, we resolve these feelings by othering people. When we dehumanize people, we are able to deflect our empathy and justify, or at least tolerate, their mistreatment.  

So, from a Cafe in France to our foreign policy, to our workplace, to our marriage, to our family of origin - we find ways, often subconsciously, to put distance between us and the Other to allow us to conduct ourselves in ways that would be unacceptable to a human of equal standing. We do this as individuals, social groups and societies. 

An extreme example is the mistreatment of people during a war by othering them based on race, religion and political beliefs - think McCarthy inquests or prisoner of war camps. A more common example is the social outcast or black sheep. We are able to subject them to harsher treatment, ridicule and punishment by othering them.

This has been true in my life - I have othered and I have been othered. The great thing about being a human is we can use new information to become better people. Moving forward, I will be alert to the phenomenon of othering - and where I can I will effect positive change.

I found this to be a useful piece of information that helped me make sense of my life - I hope it does the same for you.

Best Sam

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Edge on Conflict (part 1)

I've written 77 posts totalling more than 100,000 words since starting this blog in September, 2012. Early on I wrote a post that I later revised "The Science of Muddling Through".

In this post I stated:

"... I will [continue to] review my direction as I set out on the course of this Blog and as the need arises I will change courses. I am going to focus my writing on what I am best at - Fatherhood and Planning. Combining these topics follows one of my core beliefs. That is, children make families, families make communities, communities make nations and nations make up the world. So by creating healthy children in happy families we are doing our part to make a better World."

A year and a half later I still hold to this belief. My posts have generally stayed on topic; however, a much clearer central theme has emerged: Conflict. Specifically, I have provided tools, also called "hacks" or "habits", to help identify, manage and avoid conflict in our lives.

By understanding, managing and avoiding conflict we are able to achieve more of the things we want in our lives. The quote by Sun Tsu from the Art of War sums it up best:
Knowing the other and knowing yourself ~ in one hundred battles no danger.
Not knowing the other but knowing yourself ~ one defeat for every victory.
Not knowing the other or yourself ~ in every battle defeat. 

 I continue to muddle and make adjustments along the way. To this end I have started a new website: EdgeOnStrategy.Com that will focus on strategic thinking. This Blog will remain a stand alone site however it will be affiliated with the new site. As a reader, the impact will be minimal, however, there will be growing pains as we move through this transition period. For content I will continue to share my experience and insights on getting along with the other humans and doing the next right thing.

Colliding World Views

In my experience perception has been one of the most significant causes of conflict. I've written about internal influences on perception - the science behind how personalities effect our perceptions and the conflict this can create. I've also written about external influence on perception such as childhood, education, culture and family of origin and conflict that this creates.

By doing this I have presented a dialogue between "nature and nurture". This approach of using a dialogue between ideas to arrive at a full picture is at the centre of my perceptions. As a student of the humanities, dialectics was a model central to my studies and generally accepted by my peers. I have carried this bias with me for twenty years and stand behind it's usefulness to this day.

The problem is not everyone a) know about dialectics, and b) agrees with it.

First off, it is a model that came from Marxism and carries the shadow of the big red cloud of Communism with it. The original application of dialectics was the social theory that capitalism (thesis) + communism (antithesis) = socialism (synthesis). This application did not stand the test of time; however, the underlying model has many real world applications:

Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis

For boomers who grew up under the shadow of the World Wars, when communism posed a real threat to the western lifestyle, a social theory like dialectics can be tough to swallow.

This is a clear example of how deep emotional, and often subconscious, responses based on perceptions and world views that land us in conflict. The assumption that a dialogue between ideas is stronger than a polarized approach can produce conflict. For example, the nature vs nurture argument can trigger responses rooted in religion. Even for people who don't practice religion. Inadvertently we have stepped into the evolution vs creation debate and all the baggage that comes with it.

The preconception I have towards dialogue was learned - like any other habit. Most experts say it takes three months to form a habit. In my experience, it takes the same amount of time to form a new idea. Perhaps this is why semesters are three months long - or a happy coincidence?

When we first encounter a new idea it is uncomfortable.

Especially when it conflicts with another idea that already has taken hold. This is why most of the ideas we have today were learned when we were young - often from our families. When we were given bad information at an early age it can be tough to overcome.

This is certainly true for me. It would take some pretty convincing evidence and time to change my core belief that a dialectic approach is better than a positional one. This self-awareness however can help me manage and avoid conflict. Returning to Sun Tsu - if I know I am predisposed to dialogue and my peer is predisposed to positions then I can make the conscious choice run, fight or negotiate as the situation dictates - rather than react blindly based on old and sometimes faulty information.

In summary, one of my central beliefs is: "dialogue is more productive than positional thinking". Not everyone shares this belief and this can create conflict that could be easily avoided. Following my own belief there must be opportunity for dialogue between my core belief and a more positional one. As I write this I can see a certain hypocrisy in my own world view in that I am positional about dialogue.

Hmm... I'll have to work on that.

I've stumbled onto a topic that is worth a deeper look than one post. My next post I will look at another source of conflicting world views - dualism.

Best Sam

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Edge of Insanity - Why?

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" Albert Einstein

*** Note: For the purpose of this article the terms "addict" and "alcoholic" are synonymous.


Just over a week ago Philip Seymour Hoffman did what addicts do - he died. His death struck a very personal chord with me and I have been wrestling with how, or even if, I should react.

There is frustration and anger as we all grasp for meaning from this tragedy. The anger is not being directed at the drugs, his personal problems or any conflicts he may have had. It is being directed where it belongs - towards the disease of addiction itself. A disease the American Medical Association characterizes as a

"chronic dysfunction in the brain memory, reward and motivation circuitry".

In 2012 Hoffman was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous with twenty-three years of sobriety. He had a single drink at a celebration for the release of his movie The Master. That one drink opened the floodgates.


In recovery it is accepted if you don't take the first drink you will never get drunk. Those afflicted with the disease of addiction experience an absolute loss of control once they start. They may stop after a few drinks, a few days, a few months or they may never stop at all. It's like getting hit by a train - it's not the caboose that kills you - its the engine.


There is no logical reason why any alcoholic drinks or an addict does drugs. They can be depressed, happy, employed, unemployed, loved too much, not loved enough, single child, middle child, spouse left, spouse came back...

Around and around and around it goes as the addict and those in his life ping pong blame back and forth for something none of them understand. Something that doesn't add up. Where blame can't truly be assigned because everyones doing the best they can - as bad as that may be.

When everyone else stops. When all logic points to stopping - the addict just wants more and more until ... oblivion. In spite of level thinking in other areas and seemingly keen personal insight they still take the first drink.


Hoffman was at the top of his career with a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Capote (2006). He attended the best treatment program in 2013 and had all the support and resources one could imagine. But it wasn't enough. He died alone in his bathroom with over seventy packets of heroin and a needle in his arm.


Friend and fellow recovering alcoholic Aaron Sorkin wrote an article in Time Magazine where he quotes Hoffman as saying:

"If one of us dies of an overdose, probably 10 people who were about to won't."

His point was that the publicity from his death would serve as a wake up call to other addicts and save lives. In truth, the impact of his death is likely to help many people. It is tragic that this talented, intelligent, successful man saw real value in his own death. He saw the value in his own despair and hopelessness, yet he was unable to find the value in himself as an inspiration and role model who survived and kept his addictions at bay for 23 years. Such is the insidious nature of addiction. It is a parasitic disease that latches onto the very spirit of its host.


Sorkin also writes: "We should stop implying that if he'd just taken the proper amount then everything would be fine. He didn't die because he was partying too hard or because he was depressed – he died because he was an addict on a day of the week with a 'y' in it."

That's Why.

Experts agree that 10% of the population suffer from the disease of addiction. For them every day clean and sober is a miracle. Yet even with all we know today about this disease for most of those afflicted it is fatal. Addicts die. If not from overdoses, car crashes or murder, then from secondary causes such as hepatitis, HIV, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes or suicide.

Some of the lucky ones get locked up for the safety of themselves and others.

The medical profession can identify an addict under a CAT scan. They can see what's broken they just can't fix it. Despite all of this, there is still a tremendous amount of shame, self loathing and prejudice associated with addiction. It is hard for most to understand those who just can't say no. Even the addict themselves don't understand. Although only 10% of the population has the disease, it is hard to find someone who has not been affected.

Lives are ruined and families destroyed every day because of addiction.

I am personally invested in this story. I have experienced recovery and relapse - I was clean and sober from 1996 to 2008. Then and I had a single drink - but for some reason I lived to tell my story. I struggled with relapse and recovery through until 2012 and have been sober now almost two years again. I don't share this part of my story often; however, the events of this week shook me up and made me realize how lucky I am to be sober and have the power of choice back in my life.

Hoffman's death gave me some perspective.
Best Sam

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Strategic Edge: Simplify

I am pretty excited about a new website I'm building. Unfortunately, I'm a writer not a website builder so it's been a high learning curve and it is taking up a lot of my time. It is almost ready for launch though - I'll keep you posted.

When there is a lot going on focus becomes critical. It's easy to get sidetracked and off chasing pretty red balloons. Right now, I don't have the luxury to indulge my adult A.D.H.D. When I add the time it takes for my passions and my responsibilities there's nothing left over. In fact, there's a time deficit. This is nothing new. I've been operating at maximum capacity plus 10% since I was 12.

Those of you who've followed me for a while know I experienced a burn-out a few years ago. My health went to hell and I started drinking again after over a decade of sobriety - it wasn't pretty. The road back to health has been slow. One of the biggest lessons I learned was:

Doing more and going faster is almost never the answer.

This was one of the lies I told myself that kept me from my true potential. When I ran into a challenge I beat the challenge into submission. This only works until it stops working - for me it worked until I was forty and then I ran out of gas. Not only was my tank empty but I was blowing blue smoke out of every orifice and had developed a speed wobble over 50 mph. I had to stop and take a good long look at what what had worked and what hadn't. 

I found that I was always successful when I took a focused, strategic approach. 

As a community planner, strategy was a major part of what I did. In it's most simple form, a strategy begins with three questions:

  1. what do you have?
  2. what do you want? 
  3. how can you get it? 
The way forward is simple - eliminate everything that doesn't help answer these questions. We hear about the value of simplicity all the time. I'm not going to tell you to give all your stuff away. I still like stuff.  But there's a lot of stuff that is just clutter. And it's not only material things that cause clutter. People and emotions can cause more clutter than anything.

So that's what I've been doing for the last few years - gathering the good stuff and purging the clutter. It not easy. It takes time, self awareness and brutal self honesty. A lot of what I've been writing about here on Notes from the Edge is about managing the emotional stuff that stands in our way.

After tens of thousands of dollars on self-help programs and books and thousands of hours of self examination, I have come to understand that my feelings are motivated by two things. 

Love and Fear - everything I do is motivated by one or the other.

So my quest for simplicity is to keep all that is motivated and promotes love and purge everything that is motivated by and promotes fear. Sounds easy if you say it fast. The truth is I came to this epiphany a few years ago but it's a lifetime process. The good news is we have a strategic approach to follow.

Start today! What do you have? What do want more of? How can you get it?

Who are the toxic people? Start to politely distance yourself. Write down some fears. The big ones are easy - death, being alone, finances. What are these fears keeping you from? Get rid of some stuff. A messy closet is the sign of a messy mind. For guys: do you have any cut off t-shirts or pre-ripped jeans? For gals: you have any mom jeans or bedazzled whatever?

For the love of God purge that stuff!!

I loaded all my CD's onto my iPod and computer years ago. Nothing I have plays CDs anymore but I still have hundreds of CDs spilling out of my entertainment centre. WHY?

Depending on where you live, the weather is about to get really nice after a long winter. Use this time of year to simplify your life and de-clutter. Make 2014 the year you started taking control of your life. The year you got focused and strategic.

Live Long and Prosper.