Fight or flight.

My last article created a bit of a stir.
I think I understand why.
It came to light during a brief conversation with a consultant.
When I was asked my opinion about a well-known industry axiom.
I expressed ambivalence.
And was immediately met with aversion.
I tried to explain my contrasting view, but was cut off.
“I’m not interested,” he said dismissively.
And walked away.
I felt a visceral antipathy.
I found out later that he teaches and recommends said axiom.
An so he has attached his identity to it.
I felt bad for him.
I mean, what choice did he really have?
Fight or flight, right?
I’m not being flippant or dramatic.
The man experienced a strong physiological reaction to me.
As if I pointed a deadly weapon at his head.
Because his brain couldn’t differentiate between the annihilation of his body.
And the annihilation of his identity.
To his conditioned mind, both are the same “self.”
And so when it was threatened, it instinctively responded.
In this particular case with flight.
That same reaction is increasingly prevalent in today’s modern world.
Instead of calmly and intelligently dealing with cognitive dissonance.
People either rail like hell against whatever threatens their beliefs and identities.
Or they simply tune it out.
Fight or flight.
It’s a sad and dangerous scene.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote:
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
And Viktor Frankl wrote:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
First-rate intelligence (consciousness) and freedom.
They’re directly proportional.
Or fight and flight.
And so are they.
The choice is ours.
And so are the very real consequences.

Identity is destiny.

Three simple words.
Identity is destiny.
An executive mouthed them to me after a talk.
He meant it as both undeniable and auspicious.
“Our organization’s identity is its unique advantage.”
He probably believed the same to be true of individuals.
I see it quite differently.
Like him, I see the statement as self-evident.
But it’s not an empowering aphorism.
Especially in times of rapid change.
It’s a cautionary adage.
Because what is identity?
Identity is a story.
An invented narrative that connects our past to our future.
A linear mental model of ourself or our group.
Especially relative to how we appear to others.
Whether it’s our family, friends, company or industry.
Identity is a collective construct.
Built around socially consequential qualities and beliefs.
The illusion that identity is destiny is really quite strange.
Consider psychological and sociological studies.
People think they tell us who we are and what we should expect.
The same is true of personality and brand assessments.
But what they really describe are how we’ve been conditioned.
It’s like studying polluted water.
And then telling us how to swim in it.
It’s based on what we’ve become.
Not on what we should be or could be.
And that’s a shame.
Because we’re living in turbulent times.
A dynamic world of possibility.
One that requires fresh thinking and bold action.
And for that, we need to kill our comforting stories.
Go back to the source.
And purify our minds.
The choice is yours (and mine).
Either we break free of our manufactured identities.
And be a lively force for change in the world.
Or we stay in our stories.
And stick to our knitting
The former will bring us exciting lives.
Ones driven by our unique essence.
And filled with spirited and meaningful action.
And the other will bring us more of the same.
And comfortable sweaters.
Which we’ll most likely need.
In the cold, barren future of irrelevance.

Note: This piece was inspired by a wonderful conversation with Michael Covel of Trend Following. Here’s a link to the interview: