Transitions always take longer than we’d like and than we anticipate. One of the biggest reasons for the difference between how long transitions take and how long we think they should take is that we overestimate our ability to change on the fly and underestimate the sticking power that comes from the one-two punch of personal habits and social expectations.
I’ve been living in a particularly intense transition for nearly a year, so I’ve had plenty of time to think about this and work through the frustrations of not quite being there yet. To catch everyone up, when I stepped in to run and transition Live Your Legend after Scott Dinsmore passed last year, it catalyzed numerous changes to my work in my own business and shifted a lot of what I had just done for years to new teammates that we had to hire to keep things going. We doubled the size of our team and tripled the amount of op-hours available to get stuff done.
In a very real sense, transitioning Live Your Legend also meant I was transitioning Productive Flourishing, albeit in different ways. During these dual transitions, I cut back on the number of clients I was working with out of a combination of necessity and principle – out of necessity because I simply didn’t have the responsibility bandwidth to serve as many clients during the period, and out of principle because attempting to do so would not have been fair to all parties involved. I learned long ago that the limiting factor to how many clients I can work with is not time, energy, or attention per the usual, but rather the more amorphous responsibility load I was carrying at that time. Scaling up and transitioning two teams pushed my responsibility load to its capacity.
It’s crazy to think about, but while transitioning these two teams, we:
- Slid into an accidental rebrand of this website due to switching to the Rainmaker platform
- Continued to produce one episode per week of the Creative Giant Show and even ran a couple of months with two episodes per week
- Released the Guided Business Review
- Started the Creative Giant Campfire
- Produced two new ebooks
- Curated numerous resource pages, including our extensive book recommendation list
- Co-hosted Aligned Thought Leader with Jeffrey Davis
- Increased the number of speaking gigs from the year prior
- Conducted a few strategy retreats with clients
- Tripled our daily email list growth
- Reworked our confusing planner lineup to the more streamlined Momentum Planners
As we got Live Your Legend transitioned and my work downscaled there, I decided that I was not going to simply backfill that responsibility load with more new clients but instead spend more time making Productive Flourishing my actual priority rather than giving it the hand-me-down time that it had been getting for a few years. Obviously, the fact that we had a few more employees greatly influenced this decision, as it was unfathomable to just let them go. But there was also the reality that we were getting more of the right stuff done — we had done in a year what we’d been meaning to get to for three or four years.
Those Were the Easy Transitions
The story above is not the main story when it comes to transitions, though, because those were the easier transitions. The harder transition I’ve been sitting with is transitioning back to being a maker first and business manager second. Since at least 2010, my manager role increased substantially to the point where it became my primary focus. During the recovery years after Angela’s reset and the car accident, my creative bandwidth plummeted and didn’t really start returning until the beginning of 2015, so I was just beginning to flex my regained creative wings when Scott passed.
If you’re keeping score, that meant that I’d been in manager mode for at least six years. The chief difference between maker mode and manager mode is the types of questions you ask yourself every day. It’s a gross over-simplification, but the maker asks what new thing he’ll create this day and the manager asks what new problem he needs to solve today. The last six years coupled with the eight years of military leadership and management means that I’m now great at solving problems — let’s go ahead and call that my 10,000 hours — but the internal drive to actually sit down and ship something isn’t there to the same degree that it once was. The daily siren calls of problems to solve are much louder than the siren calls to create something.
The real challenge is the combination of immediate feedback and mastery that comes with solving problems that’s counterpoised with the lack of feedback and not-quite-mastery that comes with making. A realization over the last few years is that I’m really good in a crisis but meh in calm waters, but I don’t want to live my life in one crisis after another just because that’s where I shine. It takes its toll on one’s soul to live that way and I’ve learned to be good in a crisis because of my experiences, which means I can also learn to be good in calm waters with practice.
I’m not yet good with the calm waters I’ve made space for. The creative impulse has also not automagically shown back up. The deep work that I’ve made space for and set a goal to do isn’t happening on its own. The siren call of problems to solve can easily overtake my days. I don’t sit down to read as much as I used to when I had space and time.
And making a crisis out of it is self-defeating. It’s simply a transition from the way of being I’ve been in for the last six years and a way I’m wired to be. The gift of neuroplasticity is that we can change our wiring; the curse of neuroplasticity is that “what fires together, wires together”, meaning that continuing to do the same activities reinforces the same wiring.
The Inertia of Social Expectations
I mentioned in the beginning of this post that it’s the combo of social expectations and personal habits that keep us in a transition zone. It can be considerably harder to work through social expectations and ways of being with other people than it is to change your own habits.
For example, diet changes and addictions are difficult above and beyond the physical side of things because you often have to change the ways you interact with other people. Being the Killer App in a team means that it’s natural for things that fall within your genius zones to keep coming your way. Being the action guy means that other people can wait on you to make something happen rather than taking the initiative on their own. (These latter two are what create and reinforce founder’s mojo in an entrepreneurial context.)
This leads to the evergreen tension when it comes to the size of creative teams: smaller teams are more nimble because there’s less collective inertia to work against when it’s time to change, but the smaller the team, the more likely they don’t have the capacity and capabilities they need to accomplish the team’s goals. An additional complication for me is that I enjoy collaboration more than I do solo creation. It’s more fun to build something together than to just do it on my own.
So the transition for me has not only been around learning to be good in calm waters and rebuilding deep work practices, but also learning how to be the maker while training, coaching, and getting out of the way of others who are managing what I’ve been managing intuitively for a while. It helps that I’ve seen a lot of my patterns and coached others through it, at the same time that I’m human and thus expect to move through it faster because of my experience with it.
To be clear, my teammates are fantastic and are picking up things in months or quarters that took me years to figure out. As the saying goes, “a fish stinks from the head” and therein lies another transition tension: doing the work to improve as a manager/leader displaces doing the work to improve as a maker. It takes longer to improve in both dimensions and we’re neither at the point where I can totally let one dimension go nor at the point where I can be acceptably mediocre at one yet.
Groups show the same adaptability as neural networks, so thus share the same tensions with the added complication that it takes longer for groups to adjust than it takes for individuals to adjust. We’re on the right road making great progress AND I think we all can feel the transition tension as we get there.
We’re Always In Transition
It’s natural to want to be through and done with transitions. Rarely do we want to stay in the climb instead of being on the top of the mountain looking down at the valley below.
And yet, we’re always in transition because, as Heraclitus said millennia ago, “change is the only constant.” Living in this continual flux is simultaneously the source of our triumph and the source of our suffering. We can make things harder than they need to be at the same time that we can imagine that things may be working out exactly at the rate they need to be.
Some days, I make things harder than they need to be. Some days, I see that things are working out exactly at the rate they need to be working out and can let things be. Most days, I do both.