The European Experiment: A Modern Greek Tragedy

Greece stands at the precipice waiting to see if they’ll be forced out of the Euro while the troika (EU, ECB, and IMF) engage in open economic warfare against the nation under the continued guise of unilateral profligacy. The Greek’s are the ones being punished, but loans aren’t self-originating. Greece’s lenders have somehow managed neither to share in the blame, nor much of the pain. Rather, the banks were absolved and made whole in the wake of the financial crisis. Half of the equation takes all of the blame, and most of the pain. And the pain is far worse than it might have been if it had been equitably shared as the Greek economy has suffered greatly at the clenching fists of austerity.

Now the troika stands – feet apparently firmly planted in cement – claiming they’ve made significant concessions, and that it’s time for Greece to accept the favorable terms they’ve been offered. As Erwin Grandinger puts it, “What we are witnessing in Greece and beyond, in Europe, is an absurd, but not entirely unexpected spectacle.”

We don’t know what exactly Europe has been offering, but if serious concessions were being offered, wouldn’t the high-level details be trumpeted relentlessly? The latest offer from the Greeks has been made public and their supporters are showing alarm at the concessions that are on offer. Still the troika cry for “moar.”  How we’re supposed to square the fact that their unknown offer is substantial and serious, but the known greek offer is neither, is beyond me. Unless we’re somehow to believe that the debtee is offering more favorable terms than the debtor is requesting. Further, with the Germans acting to disrupt the flow of information, I find myself losing enthusiasm for any offer they’re a part of.

It seems that Greece’s choice is this, either allow the troika to continue taking consecutive pounds of flesh, thereby perpetuating and accelerating country’s downward spiral, or sacrifice a limb and move on. Stuck between Scylla and Charybdis the Greeks now have to make a choice. Tsipras had a mandate to seek relief, but none is on offer, so he’s taking the decision to the Greek people.  A referendum is scheduled for July 5th in which they’ll choose whether or not to accept the troika’s unilateral terms.  It’s a bit of a Sophie’s choice to be sure, but it’s one in which, when considering the long-term consequences, a rational choice seems to avail.

Like the rock climber who cut off his own arm to survive, Greece must be prepared to do the same (Yanis Varoufakis has already proclaimed his readiness to do so, a well as his plan to step down if the Greek’s vote to accept the troika’s offer). Unlike the climber, Greece is not alone in the wild. They’ve got a climbing partner who could roll the rock off and help get the country back on its feet. Instead, the troika sits atop the rock admonishing Greece for having put themselves in this position. They’d love to help, really they would, but then Greece wouldn’t learn their lesson and then they’d just do it again with more dire consequences next time. (All the while seeming to forget, or unwilling to recall, their role in delivering the rock to where it currently sits.) Worse yet, others might follow suit. So they encourage the Greeks to keep wriggling furiously as surely they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if only they tighten their belts and push through the pain.

Ian Welsh gets at the heart of the matter.

These people are either very stupid or are doing what they feel they must to keep their jobs and their membership in a very lucrative club. If they were to say, “No, these policies don’t work,” would they keep their jobs?

It’s not that we don’t know austerity doesn’t work, if by “work” you mean “improve the economy more than not being in austerity would,” we do. It’s only ever worked in theory by making very dubious assumptions, and it has never worked in practice.

So, at this point, if you believe austerity works, you’re either an extraordinarily blind ideologue, or you’re crooked, on the payroll, and know what you’re doing.”

But even knowing this, there are interesting twists at hand. The troika seem to believe that the Greeks won’t use the knife. Either that, or they’ve decided that the cost of a “Grexit” would be less than whatever fallout they expect would happen if they willingly took a haircut on the Greek loans. But here’s the thing, the climbing partners are hanging from the same rope. If Greece drops out, the rope may snap just above them, leaving the rest of Europe safely above the break, or it may drag the continent (and the global economy?) down with it.

The outcomes of such possibilities are anyone’s guess as it’s a wildly complicated scenario. The global economy is seen to be tentatively headed in a positive direction, but there are multiple warning signals. Could it handle a bit of a bump? Perhaps. But is the juice worth the squeeze? More pointedly, is this path being worn because it is the right thing to do, or because some savage ideology demands it? Jeffrey Sachs seems to think it’s something closer to the latter, writing that, “Europe’s demands – ostensibly aimed at ensuring that Greece can service its foreign debt – are petulant, naive, and fundamentally self-destructive. In rejecting them, the Greeks are not playing games; they are trying to stay alive.” Umair Haque adds that it’s “Tragic and embarrassing to see the EU betraying it’s very founding purpose by squeezing Greece for pennies for absolutely no reason.”

In addition to financial impacts, there are also political ramifications to consider. The leadership role in Greece has been passed frequently since the outset of the crisis. Tsipras and Varoufakis currently have the helm, but it wouldn’t likely be long until elections were called if the negotiations go south. (Tsipras is already the fifth person to assume the role of Greek Prime Minister since the outset of the Great Recession.) After years of escalating austerity, Syriza was voted in with a mandate to bring some relief to the beleaguered Greeks. If they aren’t able to make hay, who would get the next shot?

One alarming possibility that waits in the wings is Golden Dawn, a right wing political party which has gone from obscurity, to the third largest representation in the Greek parliament, over the last five years. All of the party’s MPs have been charged with having membership in a criminal organization, so the organization appears to be on thin ice. But if the current negotiations create a vacuum at the top of the Greek leadership, what might fill the void? Having tried one end of the spectrum – to no avail – the possibility of the electorate running to the opposite pole seems ever less remote.  If I seem alarmist here, at least I’m in good company as Noam Chomsky is suggesting the same.

I thought this might have all been a bit of high stakes poker; with the Europeans pushing as hard as they could for as long as they could, before relenting just enough to make a semi-reasonable deal seem palatable at the last minute, but that doesn’t feel like what’s happening now. Instead it seems like an acrimonious, ideologically-fueled bent towards punishment. Greek has wronged and must suffer until every Euro is repaid. But Greece is part of Europe. Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face is a classic blunder. It might feel good in the moment, but you have to eventually look yourself in the mirror.

A picture of a 77-year-old Greek man who was crying while slumped outside of a bank made the rounds on social media yesterday.  He had waited in line at three banks to withdraw funds from his wife’s pension before being turned away each time.  Rather than bitterly point fingers, he stated “Europe and Greece have made mistakes. We must find a solution.”

Loosen the vise. Call off the bloodbath. End this austerity NOW!


The L2C Interview: Anthony Watanabe of Asia Clean Innovations (ACI) on ASEAN Cleantech

I recently moved from Boise, Idaho in the western U.S., to Bangkok, Thailand. (Of all the well-worn paths used by traders and immigrants throughout history, this was not one.) I’ve been to Thailand several times before as much of my wife’s family lives here, but this time things are very different. Instead of a time-bound vacation filled sightseeing and amazing meals, I’m engaging in an open-ended adventure seeking to help businesses cut their impacts on the planet. (Okay. If I’m being honest, the meals are still amazing.)

When I landed in Bangkok a few weeks ago, I needed to find a few friendly faces in the crowd of close to ten million people. I started looking for opportunities to connect with “my people” and I found a workshop, “Partnering for Sustainability,” that was bringing together people from NGOs, academia, and the business sector to wrestle with the region’s issues. The only problem, the event was two days away, and the registration deadline had passed over a week before. I frantically emailed the workshop contact and essentially begged for permission to attend.  Continue reading The L2C Interview: Anthony Watanabe of Asia Clean Innovations (ACI) on ASEAN Cleantech

Can a Tuktuk Ride Change the World? (Meet The Pilgreens)

If changing the world for the better was easy, we’d all be doing it. But it isn’t. It’s incredibly hard. But thinking that you can make a difference is audacious. It takes a sort of beneficent arrogance to set out to push humanity in a positive direction. To believe you will succeed is madness, but to believe otherwise is to surrender. I think of giving up as a form of death, so I’ll gladly side with the crazy ones who are trying to make things better.

The world needs change as we’re headed toward multiple planetary boundaries, so someone needs to take the wheel and point us in a better direction.

I was invited to an intriguing event last Friday where I learned about the plans for something audacious. Something crazy.

Continue reading Can a Tuktuk Ride Change the World? (Meet The Pilgreens)

Embrace Radical Intrapreneurship! – Rebel Jam 2015

I’m doing a Q&A session on 6/27, with Simon Terry as my host, as part of the Rebel Jam 2015.  I’ve included links to my slides, as well as a couple of related posts on the idea of radical intrapreneurship.  I hope to see you there.

Slides: Embrace Radical Intrapreneurship!

Are you a Radical Intrapreneur?

Unleash the Radical Intrapreneurs!

Are you being commoditized?

Seek Lasting Engagement at Work

We must be doing something wrong. We say we prize engagement (why wouldn’t we?), but we don’t do a good job of achieving it.

The alarm goes off. We hit snoozeand bury our heads. It goes off again (ugh). We throttle the vile machine, drag ourselves out of bed and lumber towards the day. Does it have to be like this?

Are you excited about your work? Is it a fulfilling endeavor that you’re proud to take part in, and which you enjoy doing? Or is it more of a grind?

A recent Gallup survey found that only 30% of U.S. workers are “actively engaged and inspired at work,” while 50% of us aren’t engaged, and the rest were actively disengaged.

Work is just tolerable for half of us, and a fifth of us are miserable.

This is woeful.

Are the bulk of us destined to spend our lives working in unfulfilling roles?

As the survey revealed, work isn’t a slog for everyone. Nearly a third of us are well engaged with our work. What gives for them? Are there really people who spring out of bed on Monday with the anticipation of a child on Christmas? If so, how did they get there? Maybe some of them are just lucky – having fallen into the right opportunity, or grown up knowing what they wanted to do and having the wherewithal to get there, but I’m guessing there’s typically hard work that goes into figuring it out.

Let’s think about this for a moment in terms of McGregor’s Theory X (People are lazy and have to be monitored and coerced to get them to do their work.) & Theory Y (People are intrinsically motivated and can flourish when given the right conditions in which to do so.). I think this is often viewed as a dichotomy, so I thought I should call this out as McGregor did not think of these as binary options, but rather as poles on a continuum. Perceiving the theory as intended turns the idea on its head. I think this is worth mulling over for a moment as we try to consider the engagement problem anew.

So what makes the difference for the fortunate few? How do they get there? If you asked me, I’d say it depends as I believe there are multiple paths to engagement. It could come from a great work environment, or having a boss that inspires the best in you. It could also come from working for a cause that you really care about, or having coworkers who are like family.

Flickr/EAC 43

You need fuel and fire

For this, I think we have to get a couple of things aligned. The first of these is passion. Engagement is the desired outcome, whereas passion is the driver. “Passion is the force which can help you achieve and maintain engagement.” I think of it in terms of fire. You want heat, but by itself heat is not self-sustaining.

Passion is the flame which provides the heat.

Further, while flames are needed to produce heat, flames are dependent on a fuel source to keep from being exhausted. Purpose is that fuel. In other words, purpose is meaning. Passion is excitement. Engagement is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow. If we want to be engaged in our work, we should work to understand and align these factors.

The Passion/Purpose Engagement Matrix displays the potential pitfalls of lacking alignment. If passion and purpose are low, active disengagement probably ought to be expected. The farther we go into that corner, the better it fits the concept of Theory X, but I would ask that we consider whether that should be an indictment of the employee, or of management? As John Hagel writes, “it is not surprising that passionate people often flee the confines of larger firms.”

As purpose goes up, but passion stays low, we move over to the non-engagement quadrant. There’s meaning in the work, but for whatever reason, there’s no excitement. Fuel abounds, but the work doesn’t provide a spark. We may not be destructive with our efforts, but we’re surely missing an opportunity as there’s no way to link the meaning which exists, to the heat which is desired when the excitement isn’t there.

If we slide over to the upper left quadrant, we have the spark, but without purpose, how long can it last? It’s like a bottle rocket – taking off fast, but quickly exhausting whatever fuel was there. (Pop!) I’ve been here before – thoroughly excited about a new work opportunity – only to find myself deflated and questioning what had happened just a few months down the road.

In the last spot, with purpose and passion aligned, we have the possibility of lasting engagement. But here’s the bad news. Even if we land there, I don’t think there’s anything that can be done to guarantee that we’ll stay. But I do think that knowing what got us there, and staying mindful of that, could greatly increase our chances.

I say we give that a try, and if things go really badly we can fall back to Plan B and take the Blue Pill.

Flickr/Simon and His Camera

Can we find our ‘you-shaped’ hole?

This leads me to a great quote from Nilofer Merchant, whose idea of Onlyness is one I recommend getting well acquainted with.

Instead of trying to be weird in a normal world, maybe be normal in a weird world. In other words, you should always go where there is a ‘you-shaped’ hole in the world. Don’t wait for permission, give yourself permission. Don’t wait to be seen, see yourself. Stop waiting for a big idea, because you can make your idea big. Instead of waiting for a place to fit in, make a hole in the world that is right for you. In other words: own that spot in the world only you can stand in, the place of your history and experiences, visions and hopes … stand in your Onlyness. It is a position of real strength and from that place, you can dent the world.”

Think about this. If what you’re doing now doesn’t fit well, start looking for a better fit. Or, see what you can do to change the shape of the hole you currently inhabit to make it more ‘you-shaped,’ as I doubt there are many of us who will find opportunities which fit us like Cinderella’s glass slipper. Instead, I suspect it’s more like a new baseball glove which has to be broken in a bit before it’s ours.

So if you’re wearing a bulky, catcher’s mitt, but you know you’re meant to play short stop, by all means work on making that change. But if you’re in a role that could be ‘you-shaped,’ then I think it’s best to try to break it in a little better before you give up on it.

What do I mean by that?

I think you have to put in some serious effort towards making any role you assume suitable. That will take time, effort, and intentionality. You need to understand the things that will help you bring purpose and passion to your work, and you’ll have to think about how to integrate those factors. Further, you’ll have to build the trust necessary to stretch the role. Nothing breeds breathing room like a little success. Get on the same page with your boss. Learn what they really want from you and exceed their expectations. As you do that you’ll likely find the constraints loosening.

As you build up confidence, you can think about how to approach the tweaking of your role. Can you have a direct discussion with your boss about it, or is it something that’s better dealt with indirectly? Can you volunteer for opportunities that are interesting, or tackle a need without being told?

Note of caution: Whenever we work to change the roles from what’s been defined, there’s going to be a bit of risk attached to the effort. Depending on the circumstances, it could be a lot of risk. Please take care to assess the circumstance and be cognizant of your risk tolerance and personal situation. Pushing against a rigid system could lead to fulfilling growth and self-actualization, but given the current job market, it’s probably better to hedge a bit towards caution.

What do you do if you don’t know what fills your cup?
Fortunately, Aaron Hurst’s new venture, Imperative, has put something together which can help. The Purpose Profile is a brief survey which helps us determine what our motivating factors are. I found the survey while researching this article and was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. At the end of the survey, the results told me that my imperative is “to drive systemic change to make the world more just by facilitating the transition from knowledge to wisdom.”

I wouldn’t change a word.

It’s time to start figuring out what revs our engines. You could visit to take the Purpose Profile, or whatever such inventory you have access to and begin figuring out what your ‘you-shaped’ hole looks like. Poke and prod at the one you’re in to see if you can make it a better fit. If you find it’s a lost cause, look for the next one.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all turn off the first alarm (Who needs a snooze button?), leap out of bed into our Lycra-tight ‘you-shaped’ holes? We may have a long way to travel, but working towards purpose is a noble cause. Let’s set ourselves to this.

As Lao-Tzu wrote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Let’s take that first step today.

This post first appeared in SALT Magazine.

Upcoming Talk: Foster Intrapreneurship to Earn Engagement

I’m giving a talk next week for Bangkok University’s Innovation and Knowledge Management Club (iklub), in which I’ll be discussing the upside of fostering intrapreneurship.

Full details are available here.