U B U, but Who B Me?

SelfieGood grief. The Oxford Dictionary named selfie as the word of the year for 2013. As irritating as selfies may be, at least they are now clearly defined: “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.”

As it turns out, defining self is a lot trickier. As noted earlier, French mathematician, scientist, and philosopher, Rene Descartes, grappled with this question. He ultimately found only one truth about his existence as a separate and unique entity that he felt was inarguable: “I think, therefore, I am.”

Descartes, who did his best work in the early to middle 1600s, was certainly not the first thinker to try to get his arms around what makes the self—the “I” distinct from all those “Others.” In fact, Plato, working between 427 and 348 BCE, is often credited with being the first Western writer and thinker to think on this thorny thing.

And apparently, the issue is still in dispute. The August/September 2015 edition of Philosophy Now magazine devotes quite a few column inches to continuing this discussion, up to and including some who believe that there actually is no such thing as the self.


With all this controversy, how can I possibly begin to achieve Self-Awareness and understand the first axiom of exponential performance: I experience and explain the universe from my own unique perspective?

For purposes of our explorations, let’s default, with a sigh of relief, to the non-scholarly (but useful) understanding that when you look in the mirror, you recognize the face reflected as being you—a unique individual with your own distinct memories, point of view, attitudes, and potential.

But that just leads us to another Big Question: how did you become you?

To help us find our way through this particular maze of scientific research and philosophical speculation, I’ve created myLayers of Selfhood V01 own simplistic model of how the brain in your body was shaped into the you that you are today. And because I have a wretched
weakness for awkward alliteration, I think of this as my 3B Model: Biology→Beliefs→Book-Learning.

When a little human—you, for example—first pops out into the universe, you initially respond to it as a purely biological being. The basics of your biology are dictated by the genetic material inherited from the egg and sperm that united to form you. Even before being officially activated by that archetypal smack on the bottom from the delivery man (or woman), your body has been receiving and processing inputs from the universe that surrounds you.

As your brain continually receives all manner of stimuli, filtered through your various senses, you unconsciously begin constructing your set of beliefs about how the world works. Neurons fire, and patterns emerge. “When I do this, I get that. I like that, so I’ll do this some more! Oooh, but when I do this other thing, I don’t like what I get. So I won’t do that so much.”

Experiences to this effect happen zillions of times as you interact with your world…mostly Mom and Dad at first, possibly a sibling or two. Maybe a pet. With each observation, your busy brain builds its belief syBrain--side viewstem. Right or wrong, your belief constructs are your own.

As you gain maturity and the ability to handle abstraction, you eventually ease into what I’m calling book-learning…or perhaps borrowed experience is an equally apt term. Either way, the idea is that as a child’s cerebral cortex grows, that brain develops vast new capabilities for making sense of the sensory inputs.

Critical skills emerge, such as understanding language, solving problems, establishing social connections, and consciously making choices. With the ability to understand language comes the ability to possibly accept or adapt beliefs, based on the experience of others.
Three Bears Cover

Why do you think children’s storybooks are chock full of tales that have a moral at the end? You do not personally have to have invaded the home of the Three Bears to learn a lesson about not messing with somebody else’s stuff without permission. In essence, you borrow experience from Goldilocks’ misadventure, and learn something from the book without living through it yourself—hence, book-learning.

As you are probably already sensing, we are teetering perilously on the brink of dealing with some real science here. So having given you the bird’s-eye view version of my 3B model, I’ll pause here and prepare to dazzle you in the coming posts with some fascinating findings from the world of neuroscience when it comes to the Biology of the brain and what it means for one seeking to achieve exponential performance as a self-energizing leader.

Is your brain buzzing with comments or questions? Please post them–let’s get the conversational ball rolling!


The 6 Axioms of Exponential Performance

Lucy SplainingWe’ve already agreed that I’m no Einstein, nor am I Euclid. However, I do have a fair amount of chutzpah, so I’m going to lay out for you my own set of six axioms for becoming a self-energizing high performer in work and in life. Then, in the immortal words of Dezi, speaking to Lucy, I’ll have “a lot of ‘splainin’ to do!!” 


First things first. What the heck is an axiom?

As my favorite elementary school teacher, Mrs. Bourg, used to say, “If you don’t know what it means, look it up!” Thanks to the miracle of the modern internet and our friends at Merriam-Webster, definitions are only a click away! So here goes: an axiom is “(1) a maxim widely accepted on its intrinsic merit, (2) a statement accepted as true as the basis for argument or inference, and (3) an established rule or principle of a self-evident truth.”

Euclids ElementsOur old friend Euclid is known to have lived and taught mathematics in Alexandria, Eqypt, during the reign of Ptolemy the First. He is typically credited with being the “Father of Geometry,” largely due to having written what has been called “the most enduring mathematical work of all time, the Stoicheia or Elements.” This breezy best-seller (a mere 13 volumes) was in common usage for more than 2 millennia.

All of those 13 volumes of real mathematics (in contrast to my cheesy faux formulas) grew out of a short set of assertions that Euclid and his fellow thinkers believed to be intuitively obvious, even to the casual observer—that is, his 5 axioms.

According to geometer and Professor Emeritus at Brown University, Thomas F. Banchoff, “The great advantage of expressing geometry as an axiomatic system was that it no longer was necessary to memorize long lists of independent facts about the nature of the universe—one only had to know a small set of axioms, and by applying to them the rules of inference, one could reconstruct the entire collection of geometric truths” (from Beyond the Third Dimension).

upward spiralIt is in this spirit of simplicity that I offer my own six axioms of exponential performance. They encapsulate for me the bedrock elements of how to approach work and life in a way that is beneficial to all concerned. Starting from these principles, you can construct a vast array of techniques for discovering and designing the Congruent Opportunities that you need if you’re going to maximize your Career Fit and Well-Being, create a powerful virtuous cycle of performance, and become self-energizing.

To provide some grounding for the six axioms, I’d like to share a little story about my strategic partner and friend, Trisha Craven…also known as YaYa (because, you see, she is waaaay too cool and fun to be called something as prosaic as “Grandmother”).

First, a little background…the “begats,” if you will. Trisha and her husband, Bruce, have two very impressive sons: Travis and Patrick. Patrick and his wife, Katie, have a precious and precocious daughter, named Madden. As the first grandchild in a close and very loving Southern family, little Miss Madden has quite a bit of attention lavished on her. You might say she’s the poster child for that good old-timey phrase, dote on—“to bestow or express excessive love or fondness habitually.”

Center of the universeFortunately for Madden—and for everyone with whom she eventually interacts—YaYa makes a regular point of gently reminding this much-beloved little girl, “You are not the center of the universe.”

Indeed, each of us needs to always be mindful that every person has value. That those others with whom we interact can have vastly-different-yet-perfectly-valid viewpoints. That all humans deserve to be treated ethically, with dignity and respect.

Even so, each of us—Madden, YaYa, you, me—is unique. Which has its good points and its bad points, as the 6 axioms demonstrate.  So, at last, here are:

6 Axioms for Achieving Exponential Performance

You are not the center of the universe, but…

A.1: Self-Awareness. You experience and explain the universe from your own unique perspective.

A.2: Self-Control. You are the only person in the universe that you can control, and you are the only person who can control you.

A.3: Choice. You always have the power to choose.

A.4: Collaboration. You are more likely to achieve your goals (and enjoy the process) when you work with others in a way that maximizes their strengths as well as yours.

A.5: Congruence. You are more likely to consistently make good choices and collaborate effectively in an environment that aligns with your strengths and your driving purpose.

A.6: Accountability. You are accountable for your impact on the universe.

I sincerely hope that as you read these, you thought, “Well, DUH—that seems pretty obvious. In fact, it sounds a lot like the stuff that my YaYa told me when I was growing up!”

Great! “DUH” is the modern equivalent of “a maxim widely accepted on its intrinsic merit… and an established rule or principle of a self-evident truth.” An axiom.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the first three axioms focus on the self—who “I” am. Our journey toward achieving exponential performance begins with the self, and how you personally maximize your own performance and become self-energizing. I refer to this as the “I”-Axis.

But the self rarely, if ever, functions in total isolation. You know yourself, control yourself, and make your choices in the context of a universe filled with people who are not you—the “Others.”  I refer to this as the “O”-Axis. Therefore, this journey incorporates tools for understanding and maximizing performance for yourself while also maximizing those Others who inhabit your universe.

When you achieve true alignment of the “I”-Axis with all of the     “O”-Axes in your sphere (O1, O2, etc.) everyone’s career fit and their well-being are elevated to the ultimate power: Performance to the nth degree!

Pnth formula in red

If it’s any comfort to you, that’s the end of the funky fake formulas. But it’s only the beginning of our exploration of the 6 axioms and the supporting psychometrics, psychology, and neuroscience that inform them. I hope it won’t take 13 volumes, a la Euclid. But it’ll probably take more than 13 blog posts. Please hang in there with me, and please, please share your thoughts and questions by leaving a comment! I promise I’ll respond.