In this series of posts, I’m exploring the 7 marks of this essential experience of metanoia that I laid out earlier. The second mark of metanoia is that it pushes us beyond reason.
Some time in 2010, a material shift occurred in the awareness I had of myself, my work, and my relationships. Rather suddenly, I found that I possessed a deep and strongly-held point of view on the business community in which I had actively participated for over twenty years. So strong was my point of view that I began to consider writing about it. As the son of an academic, books have always been a feature of my life. My father, only some of whose gifts I have inherited, has written some 30 of them, which is so far 100% more than my personal output. For most of my professional life, I did not think I had anything to say that was worthy of publication. But rather quickly, my point of view changed, and I began to believe that my point of view could be helpful to others. So I began to write.
Many years ago, my first visit to an ophthalmologist produced a most memorable experience. I’d begun to experience difficulty reading, and the doctor unflinchingly opined that I should expect it to “get worse and worse until it stops getting worse but will not get better.” It was a sobering moment – my first glimpse of the inevitable aging process on the still-clear horizon. His prognostication has proven discouragingly accurate, and I am long resigned to the glasses that restore the world’s visual order from the blurry fog in which my unaided eyes seem forever mired. And yet, despite difficulty reading unaided, having heard the doctor’s advice I found that I could ‘see’ better.
Such is the nature of this phenomenon called metanoia, or a change of heart and mind.
When a metanoia occurs, our vision is changed, as though altered by the lenses that let me see the page upon which I now write (not the keyboard – for the screen is too distracting!). And so too a change of heart alters irrevocably the way we see the world. Not unlike the old maxim: “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” when metanoia occurs, we find ourselves compelled by an idea that previously would have seemed incongruous, irrelevant, or unreachable—and therefore “beyond reason”—but now simply will not let us out of its grasp.
Personally, this meant that I began to see every company I came across through the lens of culture, brand and purpose (a third, new element to the traditional two-pronged expressions of corporate identity through brand and culture). It also meant embarking on a writing project of my own and bringing on my gifted colleague Jordan. Furthermore, I found I began to examine through the lens of purpose and meaning just every aspect of life, from my client work to the way my wife and I steward the farmland entrusted to us to live on. If I am to write about this subject of purpose and be permitted a point of view relating to it, then first I must live it myself, or else my writing is a sham and my encouragement to others but the rumblings of a disingenuous charlatan.
For another example of how metanoia draws us in beyond reason, consider the story of Steve Weelwright.
A Freight Train of Conviction
“You’re wanted upstairs, 2 PM.” Joe informed his boss of seven years.
“Today?” Steve asked, in the hope that somehow the inevitable might be delayed, even for a day.
Joe nodded his affirmation, even though he too wished it wasn’t the case. He knew well what lay ahead for Steve, having spent the last month fielding the swirling email traffic that had followed Steve’s last business review.
The business unit Steve led—a pioneering one that had conceived, built, and marketed a consumer product to an underserved market—had a stellar growth rate. Ever since the unit had formed three years earlier, Steve and his small team of leaders had been both heroes and bums to senior management. Sometimes even on the same day.
To say that they had gone about their task in an unconventional way was an understatement. Steve had never once asked for any headcount allocation from the sprawling global manufacturing business of which his product line was just a small part. Instead, he and his team offered everyone from engineers to assemblers to marketers the opportunity to contribute to a thriving business that was prospering in the face of a widespread downturn in the broader product category. Steve’s business was the bright spot on a darkening canvas, a growth story in the midst of a dying technology that was slowly being submerged by the digital tsunami that was steadily drowning entire industries, including theirs.
As he looked at his watch, Steve’s palms began to sweat. He knew that in just 15 minutes he would have to explain himself again, this time without his team, to the CEO whose strategy for the business he had quite simply chosen to defy. It wasn’t personal, but in a way it was. The company had chosen to invest in a technology that was thought by the decision makers, chief among them his CEO, to have the best chance at extending the life of the current business model.
Steve saw their investment as a “Hail Mary” effort with a potential lifespan of a few years, at best. He and his team were absolutely convinced that it was the wrong thing to do. They thought it was off-brand, off-purpose, and off pretty much everything except preserving the margins for just a couple more years. And Steve’s consumer research suggested that even preserving those margins might be a longshot.
For Steve, never much one for rebellion, there was only one thing to do and there was no going back. He knew that his team needed to march to its own drum, and he had taken the risk to act on his conviction. He could even remember the moment that he became certain—as he came to grips with the sixth slide of the presentation deck for the newly mandated direction.
Never much of a religious person, Steve bemusedly wondered whether he might just understand the feeling Martin Luther must have had as he hammered his 95 theses to that Wittenberg door back in 1517. Although Steve could make a long list of potential consequences that would have stopped many in their tracks, he felt there was only one possible direction he could lead. And it was different than the one his leaders had selected. It had hit him like a freight train.
It was as if the truth of it had simply overcome him. “This is completely beyond reason,” he thought, “but it’s the only thing I can live with doing.”
As he fumbled with the security pass in his pocket and stepped aboard the elevator to ride the eight floors to the executive level, Steve wondered if this familiar token of belonging would still be with him for the ride down, or left, sitting on the conference room table, the price of an unshakeable conviction.