And To All A Good Night


For me, the holidays are about rituals. For my family growing up, these were snow and lights and kringla and tons of relatives and artificial trees (hey, we have allergies). December 25 would come, always accompanied by a trip to church, a nice dinner, and presents around the tree. While the order of events would shuffle from year to year, these were the anchors which held us in place, reminding us about the season we were experiencing.

As the years have gone by these rituals have slowly dissolved, replaced by the logistical difficulties which prevent them. My wife’s family has become almost like my own, which is wonderful from a love perspective, but further compounds the difficulties around holidays. (Between my family and  hers, we live in three different states and two different continents — if we were to take a round trip to see everyone in only our immediate families, it would cover over 20,000 miles.) The ritual activities that have made the holidays feel like a holiday have been crumbling for years now, and I feel the pent up urgency of something new coming more poignantly than ever before.

I suppose life is like this, as seasons change and customs shift. Life contracts and expands, and our experiences cover the gamut of life, some of which are disorienting and off-kilter and some equalizing and balancing.

The older I get, the more I grasp the cycles of life. Like waves that gather, crest, break, and repeat, most things in life seem to have a natural beginning and ending. Summer gives way to winter. Flowers bloom then wilt. Day gives way to night.

Perhaps finding a way to make peace with the endings is what allows us to really celebrate a new beginning. Perhaps it is our acceptance of the calm of darkness which makes the freshness of a sunrise so wildly invigorating.

So in the interest of that, I wish you all a truly good night.


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Bureaucracy: The Shell As Hard As Steel (& What Comes Next)

Leadership, Life

Today, I have one question I’d like to ask you.

It’s just going to take a bit of setup to get there.

Recently I’ve begun doing some research into the works of Max Weber. Though you may not know his name, he is widely considered to be “one of the three principal architects of modern social science” (to quote Wikipedia), along with Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim.

What’s most interesting to me about Weber’s work is his focus on bureaucracy. While this certainly isn’t a sexy topic, it’s pretty safe to say that it’s a subject which affects both me and you on a daily basis. From classic examples like the DMV (*collective sigh of exasperation*), to elected or campaigning politicians (*collective eye roll*), to the TSA line at the airport (*collective groan*) to the dreaded yearly performance review at work (*one more sigh*), we are all regular victims of these systems.

This is where our friend Max comes in. He says there are three ways to organize the power/authority in a society:

  1. Charismatic,
  2. Traditional , and
  3. Legal-Rational.

They’re pretty much exactly what you think. Charismatic leaders get to lead because they are seen as charismatic or gifted. Traditional leaders are put in place because of a cultural tradition — think monarchies. Legal-Rational leaders are seen as authorities because the legal/bureaucratic system in place gives them the power and permission to do so. (For a bit more on these levels go here.) Weber saw these stages as a hierarchy of sorts, a kind of “tribe evolution”– an inevitable social growth pattern. Cultures that evolve will naturally advance from a Charismatic model towards a Legal-Rational one.

He also foresaw the negative effects of this growth: something he called “the shell as hard as steel.” A Legal-Rational model of power naturally creates something called bureaucracy, which in turn delivers an oligarchy where a few rule over the many. As this happens, it systematically generates a confining, dehumanizing society. (Sound like anything else I write about?) Also translated as “the iron cage,” this is the inescapable result of a Legal-Rational system.*

So, at long last, here’s the question:

What if there’s a #4…?

What if there’s something that’s more evolved than Legal-Rational?

I think there is, and I also think it’s on the way.


*Read more about the “iron cage” here. It’s worth your time.


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Your Great Idea Doesn’t Matter


We are quickly moving into a world that is filled to the brim with ideas, information, and knowledge. There has been talk for many years about “knowledge workers” and a “knowledge economy,” but as we can clearly see (and maybe even more importantly, feel, through the overwhelming information deluge which floods us daily), there is no simply no shortage of ideas anymore. If anything, we are approaching the point where it’s simply too much for most of us.

This is why your great idea doesn’t matter.

To be fair, my great idea doesn’t matter, either. (As an “idea guy,” this is quite painful to admit.)

The marketplace is saturated with ideas, information, and knowledge. In economic terms, the supply is beginning to outstrip the demand — and as we know, this simple equation determines what is valuable.

So in a world that couldn’t care less about “another great idea,” what actually matters?

In a word: execution.

In this kind of world, the right questions are things like:

  • What can you do to bring your great idea to life… in the real world, helping real people?
  • Is your great idea practical, tangible, and actionable?
  • Does your great idea actually solve a problem that needs solving?

If not, we just don’t care.


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