Sep 10

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Act your way into a new way of thinking

Denise Kalos, our VP of Corporate Solutions, recently sent around to the O'Reilly senior management team a fabulous quote from Richard Pascale's book Delivering Results: "People are much more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking, than think their way into a new way of acting."

How true. We like to believe that we think, we analyze, we decide, we change, but in fact, so much of our thought is a response to what we do and experience. While Pascale was writing in an HR/business management context, his insight is perhaps even more important in the context of social change. It reminds me of another great line, which my wife likes to quote, from Buckminster Fuller: "Don't change the man. Change his environment."

You can see in so many ways how our environment -- both physical and social -- changes who we are. To give only one small example, people growing up in the age of computers are as different from their merely literate predecessors as they were different in turn from people in pre-literate societies. The interesting question is when the changes reach enough of a tipping point to become truly transformational.

P.S. Very cool to be able to find the original source for the first quote via Google book search. As it came to me, it was simply labeled "Richard Pascale, Stanford Business School." (Unfortunately, couldn't find the original of the second one.)

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Comments: 7

  Jon Udell [09.10.06 12:11 PM]

"Very cool to be able to find the original source"

And, to track the meme! From this it does appear Pascale is the original source:

Fascinating to see who cites him and who doesn't.

  Joel [09.10.06 02:03 PM]

I believe the second quote is attributable to Cesar Chavez:

"You know, if people are not pacifists, it's not their fault. It's because society puts them in that spot. You've got to change it. You don't just change a man - you've got to change his environment as you do it."

  Thomas Lord [09.10.06 04:05 PM]

"easier to act your way...." is a very catchy mantra and useful but.... what's it really mean? it's actually all about thinking your way into a new way of acting, paradoxically enough.

The mantra encourages one to recognize *in the moment* when their old ways of thinking are blocking them from new ways of acting and, in light of the mantra, to resolve to act differently at that point of time. In short, the mantra aims to lead those who adopt it to engage in self-directed re-framing of those thought patterns that get them stuck.

CBT is neat stuff.

A teacher of mine, long ago, had a variation which I paraphrase as "It is a mistake to mistake worry for work."


  Bernard [09.11.06 01:04 AM]

Is GB Shaw outdated in Maxims for Revolutionists? We indeed like to believe that all progress in the world depends on people who persist trying to adapt it to themselves?.
Truly, it can only be a bidirectional process, as this is what most appropriately defines life, from unicellular organism up to us, gathering food and... ideas.

However "civilization did not arise as the result of a benign environment which allowed humanity to indulge a preference for living in complex, urban civilized societies," as Nick Brooks of the University of East Anglia told the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

  Jim Rait [09.11.06 02:54 AM]

Your thought stirred some memories of learning...
Two quotes:
1. Churchill said, "we shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us." On October 28, 1943 at a meeting in the house of lords.
2. Marshall McLuhan said: "we shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us."Peter Senge in his book "5th Discipline Handbook" talks of the need to operate in a triangular Domain of Action (Guiding Ideas; Innovations in Infrastucture; Theory, Methods and Tools) in order to achieve change. For enduring change we need connect this with the Domain of enduring change (Attitudes and beliefs, skills and capabilities, awreness and sensibilities). Ultimately learning is judged by results. Maybe I'll post some more on my blog!

  Justin Walters [09.11.06 08:26 AM]

There is this huge sense of irony in this post, which will I know be almost entirely offtopic of this blog but I felt like mentioning nonetheless.

"Act your way into a new of thinking" reminded me initially of some of the writings of the early philosopher, Blaise Pascal, who basically shares last names with Richard. That may possibly even lead to a mixing up of the two sources if you try to track the meme online. Also, on more basic terms, this mantra is a very simple description of "faith".

  Kevin Farnham [09.11.06 09:15 AM]

Instances of world-changing discoveries and inventions that have as their source young adults are easy to find in almost every field of human endeavor -- the young Einstein in Physics, Keats and so many other poets, etc.

What is new to older people is the "given," the starting point, that which is taken for granted, by the young. Having never experienced "World -1" (the world in which their parents grew up), they have heard of the ideas which informed that world but it's a second-hand story because that world does not exist anymore.

The world/environment that is the background and basis for young people's creativity and discovery is a world that already required adjustment of thinking processes by their parents in order for it ("World 0") to be assimilated. Hence, it can be easier for the young to create/invent "World +1" than it is for their parents, who can be blinded both by their experience of "World -1" and by their perceptions of the direction of evolution that created "World 0" out of "World -1". For example, forecasts of what the world will be like 25 hence that are created based on projection of the changes in the past 25 years are so often incredibly off target.

The young have incredible freedom of thought, of consideration of what is possible, simply because they are so intimately in touch with the Now, and know the world of their parents' youth only as hearsay. They have a scepticism about the past, and even about their parents' accounts of and interpretations of the past (to the enormous annoyance of the parents), and their parents' understanding of the present.

Hence we see growing to 60 Million members before almost anyone older than 30 has heard of the site...

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