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observing Outcomes

by | Feb 4, 2021 | Cat Stevens, observe, Outcomes

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By my Junior year in High School, I had found at least the beginnings of who I was becoming.  Now officially on the Debate Team, I spent the summer at a camp for Debaters at TCU.  Yes… I am a real nerd – who actually spent 2 weeks preparing, studying, and practicing the debate topic for all of the NFL that season … not THAT NFL – the National Forensics League.   but for now, I was spending August of 1974 studying Presidential Elections…

…With some of the smartest students from the Southwest, we were all there in Fort Worth – a cowtown – doing some deep research into how our political system actually worked.  It meant many hours in the library looking into things like the Electoral College, National and Regional Primaries, even thinking about a Parliamentary form of government here in the US.  And while we were doing that, a committee was hearing evidence of malfeasance of the current president. The Outcome that was capturing the entire world happened while I was there.  

The paradox was not lost on me… theory was becoming real – will our system actually work – or are there critical weaknesses we would need to actually address?  We would end our days after rounds of debates, critiques, meals at the cafeteria… to return to observe on TV what had happened in DC.  I remember one evening, like many others, when the President came on and announced it was over… he was resigning.  And in our group of 100ish kids about 15, regardless of leaning politically, we were stunned… looking at each other like “what does this mean for us?”

Cat was similarly enjoying the success of his first 3 albums… mostly all written while confined to a bed nearly dying from TB…. Having proven he actually had observed some things that resonated, he now dug even deeper into his own journey… and was perplexed.  The weird title of the album, “Catch Bull at Four” is drawn from Kuòān Shīyuǎn’s ‘Ten Bulls’, a Zen series of poems and illustrations. It explores an individual’s search for enlightenment, and their subsequent return to society to pass on the wisdom they’ve gained. Yet, he recognizes this struggle as a necessary stage before he can progress forward.

As we have all observed with varying degrees of disdain, horror, fear, and anger this year, like Cat I have stepped back into the inner world of what is within my own control. It is not an easy path, and the metaphor of wrestling with a Bull seems about right most days. Leaders also have the paradox of both dealing with what is here now, and hoping to guide and project what could be/should be the “right” Outcome in the future. 

What I have found worked best both now and during those High School years was to step back. If everything points to one Outcome, the “popular path”, often it is hiding something that needs deeper reflection. And, the paradox is making a simple step forward often changes what you can observe… IF you stay somewhat detached from being sucked in. 

A leader I was working with just this week fell into this trap – the pressure to decide crammed an issue onto the table before they or the team was ready… and forced to make a decision. The Outcome that someone was pleading for left everyone else in a bad place.  As we talked it through, we could now step back… think about what is not obvious, what is missing, what they don’t know. It led to better questions, and also, that what was really unclear was the Outcome … that this leader needs to steer towards.  Without that clarity of purpose, to return to Cat’s metaphor, the Bull was winning.

As I got better at Debate, one of the keys was asking great questions.  They should be simple, and easy to answer in a way that would eventually lead to the Outcome… I wanted – winning. Observing the Senators each night, we saw masters at it, each day tried new approaches, and I eventually became very skilled at it. With the year starting up differently than any other year, what lessons from your past can you re-observe to change your own Outcome?  Like Cat, is the Bull I have been wrestling with taking me … I Can’t Keep It In. 

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