The Two Levers of Impact Making
Awareness & Configuration
A few years ago, when I decided that I wanted to make a more significant impact with my life and work, one of the first maps that I came across to navigate this journey was the famous Golden Circle by Simon Sinek. The core idea of Sinek’s map is that inspiring leadership always starts with “why”. How” and “what” come after.
What I found fascinating is that while the how and what can be learned or imitated, the why or meaning is unique to every person or organization. As Viktor Frankl wrote, “the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour.”
The Golden Circle made a difference in my journey. Yet, something was missing for me. Where is the “who”? And where is my “why” coming from?
In my quest, I found another powerful map and an equation.
I discovered the map in Atomic Habits, James Clear’s book on habit creation. He calls it the Three Layers of Behavioural Change. The three layers are, from outside-in, outcomes, processes and identity. As Clear writes, “Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.”
According to this map, every change involves all three layers. What really makes the difference is the direction of change. A lasting change should begin from identity, the innermost layer. Again, while processes and outcomes can be replicated, identity is unique. Yet again, where is my identity coming from? What drives it?
In his book Principles of Topological Psychology, published in 1936, psychologist Kurt Lewin defined a simple yet powerful equation: Behaviour is a function of the Person in their Environment. Lewin’s idea was that people’s behaviours — what they do — are always informed by who they are and the environment in which they are operating.
At that point, I had a good sense of where I should point my quest, but I still needed a hint to begin my journey.
Little did I know that the clue I needed would come from wisdom channelled into this world by the ancient Vedic sages more than 3500 years ago.
With the guidance of my mentor Sujith Ravindran, I learned from that wisdom, a body of ancient Sanskrit texts known as the Upanishads, that Awareness informs Configuration.
This simple yet profound truth was what I needed. It also sparked the writing, with Sujith and Elliot Leavy, of the book SUBTRACTION, the Subtle Art of Unleashing Boundless Innovation. I’ll share more about it later.
The Two Levers of Impact Making
In our book, we define configuration as a combination of many parts:
- what we do and how we do it
- what we have and how we use it
- our behaviours, habits and rituals
- our language and symbols
- our physical form
- how we show up, look and move
In short, everything that can be observed, sensed or experienced by others.
Awareness is a more elusive subject. In the book, you will find a comprehensive exploration of it. For now, let’s keep it simple and say that awareness is the source of the assumptions and beliefs that inform our experience of the world. Assumptions and beliefs that also inform our systems, structures, and how we manifest and relate to the environment in which we operate, our configuration.
So, expanding from Lewin’s equation, Sinek’s circle and Clear’s model, thanks to this millennial wisdom, we can state that we make an impact through a configuration informed by our awareness.
To increase our ability to make an impact then, we can act on two levers: awareness and configuration.
There is plenty of studies, knowledge, frameworks, systems, tools and models to help us improve our configuration. Quite understandably so. When we want to create an impact like those legendary leaders or organizations that truly made a difference, the easiest and faster way is to study, model, learn and replicate their configurations.
Yet, only a few reach similar results. And even less do better.
The majority don’t become as legendary as the original.
At least until they don’t find their unique spark.
Paradoxically, the legendary individuals or organizations that we dissect, model and replicate didn’t usually follow an existing path. Sure, they build on those who came before them, but they create their own new and unique way. The way that, in hindsight, we try to model and replicate.
Studying, modelling and replicating the configuration of legendary innovators is essential but not enough to become legendary ourselves.
While we study existing configurations, we need to turn our gaze inward towards the second lever: awareness.
When we do this, we create a loop in which our expanded awareness informs a better configuration that, in turn, nurtures and fosters the expansion of our awareness.
We can agree that there is a real world, an objective reality that we all share. At the same time, we must confront the fact that as human beings, the ways we experience that reality are inherently unique and subjective.” — from Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray
A configuration can be objectively defined, measured, and modelled, which explains why most focus on configurations. We acquire new knowledge and skills to add to our own configuration by studying, exploring, reverse engineering, dissecting, measuring, and modelling successful experiences.
Instead, the journey to expand awareness is intrinsically subjective and unique to each individual or organization. It can not be simply modelled on someone else’s journey. It can’t be measured with numbers.
Expanding awareness requires a rather different approach. We must practice the art and craft of subtraction.
The practice of subtraction allows us to look into and beneath our beliefs to subtract the conditioning limiting our potential so that our awareness can fully expand and infuse our configuration of boundless creative power.
That is the reason that led us to the writing of SUBTRACTION, the Subtle Art of Unleashing Boundless Innovation. We wanted to support innovators in their journey to become legendary by giving them a map to work also on the second lever to make a meaningful impact: awareness.
This book will help you plot your journey inward to expand your awareness so you will be able to mould your unique configuration and amplify its potential to make a truly significant impact.
If you are:
- an emerging entrepreneur or innovator who wants to make — or are already making — a meaningful impact in the world;
- an institutional disruptor or a heretic in your organization or community who senses a new and different truth from the status quo;
- an activist leader who wants to make change happen in the social, political, economic, ecological, or other fields.
You should join Unleash the Legendary Innovator Within, a 3-month certification program that will help expand your awareness. The program opens in Chennai on April the 30th 2022.
For more info and registration check out the program’s website: https://www.thesubtractionexperiment.org/india2022/