Friday, May 14, 2010


I woke up this morning and thought, "Ah hah! Topeka! I've got it!"

Now, all I have to do is try to explain it in the limited context of writing a blog before work. Hmm... Please bear with me as I give it a shot. Thank you in advance for your indulgence.

The Problem with Words
Most of us tend not to know what the words we use mean; instead, we know how we've heard them used. Further, most of us tend to confuse words with their meanings.

For example, principle is a word that has several meanings. Among them are a foundational scientific concept, and, a moral or ethical rule. The common thread among the various definitions is core-ness; principles are foundational elements of a system. We have engineering principles, principle elements in chemistry, principle employees in a corporation, moral principles and so on.

Although the word principle can be applied in many contexts, when one talks about a principled man, he usually means someone who is moral, who is good, who does the right thing regardless of the circumstances. Because of this, when we talk about one's principles, we tend to think of externally defined moral and ethical values.

In our discussion of having a code, I suggested that we use the dictionary definition of principle and apply it to each of us. What are the principles (foundational elements) of Mark K? What are the principles of Iris? ...of Joy? ...of Sree? ...of Teflon?

What is important is not the word principle, but it's meaning in the context of our discussion: foundational beliefs on which all others rest... internally defined and acted upon rules of conduct... the core of who each of us is... that which defines us... and so on.

However, because the word principle has multiple meanings, and because we've so often heard it used in reference to morality and ethics, it seems difficult to hold on to it's application within the context of our discussion. We pivot off point with phrases such as, "Well, for me, principle means..."

We forget that we're not talking about principles, we're talking about this stuff that we've labeled principle for the sake of our discussion.

Pivotal Thinking
Holding context is one of those things that seems to escape most of us. My friend Mark K is an amazing pivotal thinker1 (read: king of non sequitur). He can turn a conversation on a dime, flipping from context to context to context.

I used to try to reign Mark in at the pivot point, but decided it would be fun and challenging to let Mark take the conversation wherever he would while keeping track of all the threads and the pivot points--something akin to playing multiple chess matches at once. As Mark would exhaust his non-sequitorial prowess, I would reel in the conversation, neatly reverse-spinning on each of the pivot points and addressing the open questions along the way.

This had been our mode of interaction for, well, for pretty much as long as we've known each other. That is, until last weekend when, much to my surprise (and to Iris' surprise), after several pivotal thoughts, Mark noticed that he'd pivoted. He then proceeded to reel himself back in, recalling each context as he neatly returned to the original discussion thread. It was re-Mark-able.

If you've ever found yourself in a discussion asking (aloud or otherwise), "How'd we get here?", it may be that you've mastered pivotal, non-sequitorial thinking. A key enabler of non-sequitorialism is being overly-literal2, not recognizing the use of a word within a context, but instead, jumping down the wormhole of external or previous definitions.

It's Not About Having A Code
The big ah-hah for me this morning was when it occurred to me that many of you might be thinking that having a code is about having a code. It's not! Having a code is just a tool that enables self-awareness.

As we diligently delve into deriving and defining our custom, individual codes (laying down all externally defined, adopted principles), we expose the variance between who we say we are and who our actions and beliefs say we are. Further, as we dig into the ways we vary from context to context, we create the opportunity to discover what really drives and motivates us, increasing our self-awareness.

As our self-awareness increases, we have the opportunity to accept our incongruities or to make changes to reconcile them. In either case, we become people who continually learn to live more deliberately.

Life is About Ah-hah Moments
As I think about all this, I realize that, for me, life is all about ah-hah moments, creating them for myself and for others.

It's an amazing sensation when you get to that point of critical mass in information, thought and awareness, where suddenly everything comes together. It's the experience of passing the accident that caused the rubbernecking that led to the hour-long traffic delay and suddenly being able to accelerate to 70 mph. It's the moment where something that you've been wrestling with for hours (or days) goes from impossible to easy. It's seeing it. It's hearing it. It's getting it.

I love to be able to share my ah-hahs with you and to be inspired to greater ah-hahs by what you have to say in response. Perhaps we should rename our blog, Ah-hah! or Topeka! (or is that Eureka!)

Go out there today and create some big Ah-hahs!

Happy Friday,

1For those of you who missed the paragraphs above, I'm not employing the dictionary definition of pivotal thought.
2Note that there is a significant difference between being literal and being precise, but we can talk about that another time.


  1. Teflon, I had this exact same chain of thought upon reading your last post & responses to it: first getting caught up in what 'code' means, and later realizing that it's really about becoming more aware of one's operational processes. I came to see that not only do I not want an externally-imposed code, I don't even want to 'impose' my own code on myself - ideally, I want my code to emerge as a pattern from my own recent/past actions and beliefs - I'm only identifying the pattern or guiding principle, not creating one. And with time, if that code happens to change because in my experience it seems to work better, so be it. The more basic and easily applicable my code is, the more integrated my life seems to be, and the more peace and happiness I enjoy. My confidence and general sense of security would be directly proportional to the number of potential life scenarios my code can handle.

    Here's a blog topic suggestion for you - how do we define 'working better'? I'm thinking it would be: being effective both in the moment and long-term, handle tasks as well as relationships... what else?


    be a more useful way to operate

  2. Sree, I love where you're going with this. It's about being fully aware and deliberate.

    From that perspective, it would seem that abiding by your own code is not an imposition, it's just a mirror (as you pointed out previously). You think "Wow, I'm looking really good today!", and then you hold up your code to check yourself out.

    I think that we humans are quite peculiar in terms of how we define our codes and our codes define us; it's kind of a ping-pong match between ontological and epistemological processes. We can look at our behaviors, and through pattern recognition, codify our manifest codes (ontological to epistemological translation). However, our structured and defined codes tend to influence our behaviors (more or less). It's a causal feedback loop.

    This seems to be a distinctly human phenomenon.

    Lately, as I've talked to my ontology-oriented friends, it's as though the "just-being" version of ourselves is somehow "better" than the epistemologically-oriented "thinking and structuring" versions of ourselves. It's almost as though we're trying to rid ourselves of the latter, as though the two versions of being were somehow in conflict.

    On the other hand, more and more, I see them as strengthening one another. I like the idea that our code changes with our experience, but I also like the idea that our experiences change with our code. To choose between the two is an unnecessary dichotomy, one that denies our humanity, and one that undermines the potential we gain from embracing both.

    It also occurs to me that the most mature and developed codes would likely be the least sophisticated. I would see evolution leaning into simplicity, not complexity.

    I'm not certain if confidence is code-related or not. However, I could see that one would definitely find his path easier if his code handled a diverse set of like scenarios rather than a narrow one.

    "Working better?" is a great topic. Hmmm....

  3. A word as the dictionary defines it is "merely" how someone(s) considered "wise" describes the meaning to the best of his(their) considered opinion.
    I actually like the word guideline better than code. Although one could think of guideline as trivial, I can define it for me as my innermost indicator to/for the actions I am constantly choosing to perform. But Teflon, you do seem to be saying that in its ultimate simplicity, ONE code for everything you do is possible. What would be an example? clio

  4. Hi Clio,

    Ahh... that would be the question.

    An example might involve the use of authenticity: one might decide to be completely open and honest at all times.

    Pretty simple. No qualifications. No exceptions. No redefining authenticity to fit the situation.

    Then you might try it on for a week and see how it goes. During the week, you might experience no dissonance between your code and your actions. You might make a lot of changes to your actions to comply with your code. You might end up with a super-complicated code.

    The simplicity of the code would be a reflection of the simplicity of who you are in how you operate.


Read, smile, think and post a message to let us know how this article inspired you...