Making Meaning with Mary
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Meet the designer and leader of the Design Management and Arts and Cultural Management programs at the Pratt Institute, Dr. Mary McBride. She describes herself as Person, Poet, Professor. She is a passionate believer in mindful innovation and Leading as if Life Matters. This episode explores some of the challenges of training the next generative of design leaders and how as innovators and designers we are all tasked with finding and making meaning in the chaos.
Learn more about Mary:
- Mary McBride of Pratt Institute Encourages Design Leaders to Turn Challenges into Opportunitites.
- Professor Mary McBride is Chair of the Arts and Cultural Management and Design Management graduate programs in Pratt’s School of Art. She is also Executive Editor of Catalyst and author of behavioral simulations, case studies and articles. Her work has been featured in three books.
Making Meaning with Mary
Rob Brodnick: Welcome to the Positive Turbulence podcast, Stories from the Periphery, where we journey to the edge to talk to Turbulators about their experiences creating positive change.
Karyn Zuidinga: Hi, I’m your co host, Karen Zadinga. The Pratt Institute is one of the top schools in the world to go to if you want a career in art, design, or architecture.
It is home to two groundbreaking MBA like programs in design management and arts and cultural management. These programs bridge the worlds of design and design thinking with the hard nosed world of the MBA.
Rob Brodnick: Hi, I’m Rob Brodnick. In this episode, we’ll meet the designer and leader of these programs, Mary McBride.
Mary also leads the International Strategic Leadership and Stewardship Practice for Strategies for Plan Change. and is an international renowned speaker. She describes herself as person, poet, professor. The
Karyn Zuidinga: Positive Turbulence podcast is brought to you by AMI. AMI members, through idea exchange and candor, encourage each other to openly explore topics of interest and support mutual learning and personal development.
AMI actively promotes diversity and perspectives. An environment of high energy, action and fun, AMI members value and respect the contribution each member makes in achieving the organization’s goals and mission. Learn more at aminnovation. org. Also, we’d like to thank Mac Avenue Music Group as a contributing sponsor.
To hear our theme and other great music, visit macavenue. com. We started by asking Mary about the story she wanted to tell, and she said she wanted to focus on positive turbulence and to get into some of the ideas in Rob’s book, Innovations in Strategy
Mary McBride: Crafting. All of the people who talk about turbulence are so much more correct.
Creative leaders are meaning makers. Everything just stops when you do a merger and an acquisition because the meaning making function in the organization goes silent. You know, everybody knows that there’ll be new meanings made. Nobody knows exactly who’s going to make them because the leadership team makes the meaning and everybody else, you know, it’s the Tom Tom and amplifies the meaning and spreads it around so that it’s not only that.
You stall on your customer service functions and you tell people, gee, I don’t know what’s really happening, but you don’t know how to make meaning of your life, your future or where the organization is going. And the longer it takes for organizations to really transition leadership and the teams that that involved, the more the meaning making function goes mute.
And I think the recovery period around that. So I was I was very impressed by this idea that the top sets the meaning making agenda. And also, I think that Rob and Stan are also onto something when we talk about cultures, that it’s the leader who really is the chief culture officer. And if that culture says, you know, it’s about navigating and exploring, then that’s what the culture will be.
Rob mentions, or somebody mentions and always mentions, Steve Jobs talking about failing fast. I think people weren’t in the room when Steve said that. What he said was essentially, Get it out the door quickly so we can get it back in the door and refine it. And maybe he used the word failure, but it’s not the idea of get ready to fail.
Let’s get ready to learn. And I think that’s implicit in what Rob has here too, that the only way you’re going to serve positive turbulence is to see it as a learning opportunity.
Karyn Zuidinga: Can I just jump in with a question or two? What I’ve seen a lot in corporate culture is that it seems to me I’m experiencing, uh, leadership either being unaware of their function of meaning making or intimidated by that function of meaning making.
They seem to be unwilling to embrace that idea. Is that something you try to somehow in the program teach towards? Like, how do you cross that bridge?
Mary McBride: Karen, that’s a great question. My way of examining it, in my own head, is that there is a difference between people who try to make sense of the world Mm hmm.
And people who try to make meaning of the world and multiple meanings of multiple worlds. And my experience of whatever we might stereotypically define as a corporate culture, not all corporate cultures, they’re so busy making sense of what’s happening that they don’t have the time, the inclination and possibly the skill set to weave it into a story.
that can cohere action into advantage getting and opportunity seeking. They’re just like, well, let me explain to you what happened last quarter and let me tell you what we’re trying to do with that to make sense of the next set of probabilities that we’re going to handle. That’s making rather than meaning making.
Really very, I smell it, I taste it. If it’s not tangible, they don’t know what to do with it. And meaning making requires sense making, but it is a level of intangibility that I think leaders. Get nervous with. Yeah,
Rob Brodnick: I completely agree with that. I, you know, it brings to mind the sense of agency. And I think if you take meaning making and add a sense of agency to it, you know, that’s at the essence of leadership.
And we have our organizational players, our sense makers who are observers and not necessarily participants. And we see that when they step into a leadership role, They take that sense of agency where they can impact and change the world and they change from sense makers to meaning makers. Mary, I completely resonate with that perspective.
And, you know, turbulence is about disrupting people’s sense making patterns and to try to make new meaning by creating shared meaning in our organizations and moving culture forward. So I love the way you put that. How
Karyn Zuidinga: do you, how do you do that? Like. I was having a conversation last night with a lovely couple who are both CFOs, who both struggle with this because their CEOs are only sense makers, right, based on the conversation.
And in fact, perhaps even not even quite getting that place. But that’s another issue. But how does that struggling CEO, or how does that CEO who’s only a sense maker, cross that bridge? What do they do?
Mary McBride: Well, I think first we need to value both. I mean, think about it. I mean, where would we be without our olfactory senses, our sight, our ability to hear?
I mean, it’s really wonderful. I don’t want to be in a forest without it. Synthesis that needs to, I’m not even sure synthesis is the right word. There’s something that needs to happen that coheres those sense elements. into something that sends a signal to my brain, move to the right or move to the left.
You know, call it the executive function, if you will. And then as Rob said, you need to have the agency to follow that whisper. Because if you just follow what one sense tells you, and in this culture, it’s the visual sense, typically. If you just follow that one thing, you could get really to the wrong place.
So, you know, you’re a designer, Karen, and I think this is something that people who are, as my physician says, exquisitely sensitive, whether they’re trained in design or creativity or not, people who may even have capillaries closer to the surface of their skin, you know, we sense it, we feel it, and we blink it, in Malcolm Gladwell’s sense, we sort of get it cognitive really quickly, and if you have agency, You can move it.
And I think there are lots of places to get stuck in that sequence. Like, wow, I’m kind of on fire with all the things that I’m taking in. This environment is turbulent, it’s overwhelming. Or, let me go meditate for hours and take this turbulence and see if I can make it into something planful. And then, whoops, I’m not so sure I really want to go and take action on it.
But I think the kind of thing that Rob is referencing in this book and that Stan talks about is we need to do all three of those things. We need to use every sense that we have, get coherent patterns going, and know that that’s all they are. They’re coherent patterns. They are not even maps.
Karyn Zuidinga: So how does that tie in to what you’re doing at Pratt?
Where’s the, like that, the comment you made earlier about creates an MBA experience without the toxicity. Weave that together for me.
Mary McBride: You know, and I want to be careful with the MPA I mean, technically we’re an MPS, but we’re a business curriculum for creative and culturally interested people. And what’s toxic About what I call the framework of the fifties is that they will keep dragging us back to the fifties.
So in the fifties, we weren’t really looking at limits in the fifties, it was sort of sky, the limit on costs, especially here in the United States, not necessarily true in the bank, so called vanquished countries like Japan, where they learned to use every single thing. So the toxicity comes out of the fact that it hasn’t moved.
It hasn’t grown. It’s the food you don’t want to eat that you’ve left in the refrigerator too long. It doesn’t mean that it was bad to begin with. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But now it’s growing mold and it really shouldn’t be used by organic systems. It needs to be reimagined. And what we’re trying to do in this program is saying, let’s let’s honor where we come from.
I think that’s really important to be respectful. Let’s refuse blame, although there’s always plenty of it to go around and let’s be who we are. People who can use our imagination to create possibilities and move those possibilities into cycles that can create profitability and prosperity. So we call that triple bottom line by design plus culture.
You always need to know the cultural frameworks that you’re operating in, whether you’re working in financial services or software, and you need to know China’s different from Japan is different from the United States. So let’s see if we can get that top line revenue growth by really managing our materials and our methods and our mindsets to create new possibilities where profit is not the opposite of prosperity.
Mm hmm. Where they go hand in hand.
Karyn Zuidinga: Wow. Okay. And again, I know a lot of creatives, a lot of designers who, you know, rise to their organization and get to that leadership place and then they fail because they just, they don’t have those tools to manage or they step too far away from their creative selves.
You know, I’ve certainly experienced that as I was running my consultancy is that I spent all of my time in the administrative part of the realm and I got little touches. of what I’m actually really good at. So how do you balance that?
Mary McBride: I think it’s, uh, it’s an interesting question. You know, when I started on the road to business school, I remember a musician, a friend of mine, who had just finished saying, Don’t do it.
I was originally trained as an actor and a comparative literature major, you know, an arts person. Mm hmm. And he said, Mary, you’re a writer. They’re gonna take all your adjectives and adverbs away from you. And I remember saying, Sid, adverbs away from me. Well, at the end of the program, I couldn’t find my way to say hello to an adjective or an adverb because I had been moving everything into business prose.
Boy hits ball. Maybe around the corner, if it was relevant, but you know, the basic eight words to a sentence, one sentence to a line, maybe two if you can do it, nobody’s going to read more than a paragraph. So, I’m a writer, so I learned how to write that way, and I lost my adjectives and adverbs. Well, three years into my career in business and financial services, I realized that leaving out adjectives and adverbs was a pretty treacherous thing, because people…
Can only be defined with adjectives and adverbs. Otherwise, they’re objects. The world needs a little more amplification than world. The beautiful world, the struggling world, the fragile world. If it was just a world, it was just another objectification of something. So when I built this program, I make a promise to anybody who comes into it.
It says, you’re not going to leave your creative self behind. And I usually tell this story. The self that you are, your values, your… adjectives, your design skills, everything is coming with you, including your heart and some of your craziness. Just claim you’re crazy. But what we’re going to do is give you vocabulary.
We’re going to give you practice sessions. We’re going to give you coaching and we’re going to give you models so that when you walk into a room with people who Only speak in other ways. You have the language you need. And having said that, we screen out people if they say, I really love to make models and do architecture more than I like to do anything else in the world, because they’re not right for our program.
The people right for our program are the people who say, I love making models, I love doing architecture, but I find that now I’m interested in organizing processes. I’m interested in organizing people. I’m interested in organizing possibilities in some kind of an enterprise world. Those, that’s the market that we have.
The others should really stay doing what they love more than anything else to do and drive a cab. When I was making my living as a writer, I was driving a cab, I was perfectly happy. And then I wasn’t. I discovered organizations, I didn’t do it to get money, I did it because Peter Drucker had one line in a book, the organization is the single most powerful organizing and the force in the world today.
And I thought, wow. That was a big idea, and I dug in, I went to business school, and I thought, that’s my medium. My medium is the organizational space. But I didn’t do that because I wanted to make more money. I mean, I made more money, and I could have made more money maybe enacting and driving a cab, too, but I think money is the way that you trick yourself into doing stuff that you don’t want to do.
Ah. It’s also the thing that rewards you energetically when you know you’re in the space that you want to be in. And the money that comes in is always just what you need, and ample to give to other people. And I’m not just, you know, preaching the culture of, you know, I have… All those words out there, you know, that you can just pull mana down from the heavens.
I can just say in my life, the more I’ve loved what I was doing, the more I was able to get all sorts of energy in. The ROBs, the Karens, the AMIs, the support system, the travel, and the necessary currency to keep it all going.
Rob Brodnick: I’m thinking, Mary, about the program, and you’re training Turbulators, your thought vessel to hold the Catalyst magazine and the journal.
So you’re creating these turbulators and they go out into the world and they upset the status quo, they push back, they add the adverbs and adjectives to the business speak and create nuanced ways to see the world. So I’m curious, how do you keep the turbulence positive and what’s the positive side of the turbulence that these catalysts are creating?
Mary McBride: want to understand your question, how do I keep it positive here, how do they keep it positive as turbulators in their own words?
Rob Brodnick: For the program itself, you know, how does the program, under your stewardship, how do you keep that impact that they’re having on the world positive, in a sense? And what is positive?
Mary McBride: well, I think you just got to the core of the question. What is positive? And it was in my notes about positive turbulence. I’m not so sure that turbulence is always positive, nor am I sure that it ought to be. But I do think that Everything we experience in life, to go back to your idea, Rob, everything we experience in life at some point hits the agency button.
You know, I’m sure that I’m not alone in this conversation in having things happen to me that I would not at the time have considered to be positive. And you could send me to 10 years of therapy and la la land and I would not at any point describe these things to be positive. I would say what I learned by having to navigate that set of experiences made me who I am today.
And I insist on being an agent of positive possibility in the world, not Mary Poppins. It’s just like, okay, it happened. Let’s go. Mm hmm. I started
Karyn Zuidinga: thinking about you as a cab driver while you were speaking just now. And you know, you’re, you’re looking at cab driving as a way to, to pay the bills, right?
While you’re writing and thinking about things. If you had to go back and, and talk to that earlier version of yourself, do you have advice for her? That creative person that, you know, is thinking and obviously doing, but just finding a way to put
Mary McBride: it together. I don’t, because I always kept a daily log of my life, you know, from the time I was, I don’t know, very young.
Young enough though that I don’t remember when it started. You know, there are benefits to growing up in a dysfunctional family. You know, you don’t have to talk to yourself because the so called adults in the room don’t seem to have left the room. So I began very early on to say to myself the things that I needed to hear.
And so I think that that cab driving actor, writer, financial service, coach self, all the time got the same information. And it was, if you don’t talk to yourself. and tell yourself what you need to know, make the sounds you need to hear, you’re always going to be a little disappointed in the world, because the sound we need to hear is the sound of our own heart beating.
Mmm. And I couldn’t hear that sound unless I took out my journal, I couldn’t hear that sound unless I went to get a cup of coffee at Bagel Bob’s, I couldn’t hear that sound unless I went to the beach. I was not fortunate enough to hear that sound necessarily with those people who were my community of care.
So I decided… You know, Marilyn Monroe said it much better, because I didn’t belong to anyone, I belonged to the world. Now she was on the bad end of things, so far, so good for this cab driver.
Karyn Zuidinga: You know, it’s a wonderful way of putting it. So many of us don’t do that. We get stuck in our victim story, we get stuck in the things that are happening to us, rather than thinking that we actually have some agency.
Mary McBride: Somewhere. I think agency is the beginning of turbulence and I’ll turn it over to Rob. If you’re an agent, you are a turbulator because what is is only that.
Rob Brodnick: Well, I think, you know, it’s the keeping the turbulence positive part that is, is a challenge. And if you look in the short term view, we have our immediacy and we take, you know, the eyes of a child and it’s all about me and I am.
Self centric and my world and I’m proving what’s happening around me and, you know, as we become players in our systems around us, whether it be our organizations, our families or society as a whole, we begin to shift the center from self to other. And that shift, I think, impacts what it means to be positive.
And so, if I am part of a group and I’m focused on my own needs, I can keep my turbulence positive by self reward through what I do within the system. And we see many leaders and CEOs of organizations run their companies that way. It’s all about me and my company. And then there’s a shift that occurs when we become more culture centric and society centric, what positive is changes, and it’s not necessarily about what I am receiving or my company is receiving, but it’s about how are we bettering the larger systems.
And so I think there’s an evolution of what positive means from the self to others, to the whole. And Mary, I’m thinking about your program and the things that you write in Catalyst. I see a very high order expectation for positivity. We’re going to take a 30 second sponsor break here to tell you about AMI.
An AMI meeting is not just your average collection of speakers around the theme. It’s an end to end curated experience. It’s a thoughtful, connected, influential community. It’s peer learning in a super creative environment. Learn more at aminnovation. org If I could come back to you with a little bit about how do you reframe the mind of the learner to be from the self centric to the organization centric to the society centric because I think your program does that in a sense.
Mary McBride: Well, you know, Rob, maybe there’s a point at which we write another book and it would be generative turbulence because the way that we try to do that is avoiding judgment about positive or negative. Knowing that what is, you know, something is good for someone, it turns out not to be good for someone else, which I think is part of the way the business paradigm needs to be re imagined.
Things are going to, we’re going to create harm in the world. You know, there’s almost no way to walk around the world even consciously without having some impact that somebody might define as negative. So the way that we work with it here in the program is stuff is happening. Take it, use it. And work with it in a creative way and a strategic way.
So that more people can benefit from understanding it and that’s what we’re trying to do here is we’re just trying to move with what’s moving and Create more possibilities for more people to explore some of those will turn out to be negative I mean take something like self driving cars, which is my personal nightmare.
I know Elon Musk Stays up worrying about virtual reality. I’m worried about the combination, but I think self driving vehicles just defy every understanding I have about city planning because there’s still the old parking garage. I want to see the self driving vehicle maneuver its way up to the seventh floor of a parking garage in New York City.
Nonetheless, these kinds of disruptions, these things that create turbulence, they are, they’re probably not going to, we’re not going to move them backward. So, given that that’s a possibility, how can we work with that to generate more flourishing? More thriving rather than more people going faster to the same stoplight.
I think that’s my perfect metaphor for business that’s sort of stuck on steroids, more faster to come to the same complete economic stop when economic cycles start to go down. You can call it bubble or burst here. We say, how do you keep moving through all that stuff, finding the joy in it and making prosperity out of it?
And we’re not naive. We know that businesses need to prosper. And we’re very fortunate. Our businesses, the ones that our folks go into are prospering and also making profit because who doesn’t want people like Karen? Who doesn’t want people like Rob? Really? Who doesn’t want people like Mary? Because we can think we can act, we can plan and we’re creative.
Rob and I were having
Karyn Zuidinga: a conversation a while ago about really the essence of positive turbulence and to me you just described it because it, it really is about that sense of, it’s not managing change, it’s certainly not trying to control change. What it is, is learning to go with the flow of change and to, to take what’s happening both positive and negative.
And ride it in a way that will bring positive benefits, right? That whole idea that, oh, change is coming. There’s no, it’s not, not happening. Right.
Mary McBride: Yeah, I think it’s being changed. That connects positive turbulence. Yeah. You know, as Gandhi said, be the change. Mm hmm. tantric buddhism says don’t wait for the buddha to appear and stop flagellating yourself.
Just be the buddha and see on a day to day basis How that changes your behavior. We’re it we are change How we aggregate our molecules together in concert to have stuff happen is how stuff happens We’re part of a biological system that’s constantly in
Rob Brodnick: flow. One of my mentors would always say to me, the best way to change your system is to be part of it and to engage in things.
And, you know, we, we have a lot of leaders today that are watching things happen within organizations, governments, subcultures, and, and whatnot. And they try to affect it. I
Karyn Zuidinga: see this all the time with young people too, right, that sense of, you know, know that you can change things, know that you, like, you don’t have to sit sort of helplessly and wait for the world to happen to you, you can go out and be a turbulator in your
Mary McBride: world.
And you can even change the past, you know, having been a person who had a past, as we all do, I can look back at a photograph and I can see some things. And I can look at the same photograph and I can select to see other things. That doesn’t mean I’m unaware of photograph one. How I choose to look at how things happen influences me as a Turbulator.
Absolutely. And so I can always say to people, I hear it. 27 things are going really badly, and that is just true and awful. And, if we just move the camera a little bit this way, how’s your dog? And I think that’s what organizational leaders and people at every level of the world need to do. It’s like, right now I feel like I am living through one of the most turbulent You know, the U.
S. military calls it VUCA, Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous, and I think they got it right. I’m living through a period that I would not even pretend to understand. I’m pretty good at understanding things. And I can go back in my own life and remember when I was, I couldn’t understand anything that was happening in my world.
But I’m here, and I’m happy, and I’m whole. And that enables me to have confidence that other people and me will do that with the turbulence we’re experiencing today. We will be whole, we will be happy. We will navigate this. And I think the best way to do that is with aspirational appetite, some degree of recording and planning and a big Mary Poppins umbrella.
Rob Brodnick: Tell us about that umbrella, Mary. Well,
Mary McBride: you know, I think I can only speak from my own experience. Hopefully it’s happened to other people, but someone once asked me what I, I believe in, and I said, I really, as E. E. Cummings said, I believe in spring because I can, at least so far, with climate change. And I believe in the kindness of strangers.
And at most parts in my life, when I really thought it was going to be Thelma and Louise, I knew that I could get lift from something around me, whether it was a Rob or a Karen or a trans person that I met for coffee, or just something that I saw on TV, a book that I read. Or, the fact that the wind just shifted and I felt it differently on my face.
And that there was a reason to just keep going. Now, I don’t know, I guess some religious traditions call that grace. I just call it the Mary Poppins umbrella. For whatever reason, I’m able to make those leaps of faith, those moves across caverns, that I think are not at all predictable. If you could have predicted my life from once upon a time and long ago, I would never be on this podcast.
No. And I think that unless you’re a dentist, you know, doing oral surgery in a particular, in pediatrics, and you knew that’s always what you wanted to do, and probably because your dad was, I don’t know anyone who really imagined that they would be in the place that they are. But we knew it. We knew what it smelled like, what it felt like, what it tasted like, and we knew we needed to be where we needed to be.
Rob Brodnick: There’s some kind of pre sensing there, right? I mean, it’s as if we know the world that we want, and we co create it, and then when it happens, it becomes obvious, but when there’s that dissonance between What we are experiencing currently and and kind of the way we see things that should be it adds energy, right?
It kind of motivates and I think there’s something about that future pool Right this this idea of this future and in terms of turbulence I keep shaking the system until it comes better, right? you know I have this idea of how things could be and how can we just like shake it up a little bit because the pattern That it has settled into is is not satisfactory and it’s not just for me, but it’s not healthy For everybody to be behaving this way and I think right now, you know without getting political There’s a lot of examples of what i’m talking about right now We’ve got to shake we’ve got to shake a little harder because the pattern that people are accepting is just not healthy It’s just not healthy
Mary McBride: Yeah, we’re back to toxic again.
It’s not only not healthy, it’s, I think it’s ruinous. And I, that possibly, that’s true of any pattern. I mean, imagine if you still tried to walk in your, your bronzed baby shoes. There’s nothing wrong with them when you were a baby, but once you’re an adult and they’ve been bronzed, they’re no longer suitable, no matter how attached you are to them.
So, it’s that inner knowing. That when it’s done, it’s really done.
Karyn Zuidinga: Wow. I’m just, I’m just so absorbed with these thoughts that all these things that, you know, you know are true within yourself and you kind of don’t, sometimes you don’t even dare to think them, right? That it could be better. That you have an opportunity to change the world.
That you, even if it’s only your part of the world, that so, so often in our lives, we don’t, we don’t give ourselves permission to think we could even do that. And yet it’s obviously possible.
Mary McBride: And apparent in the fact, anybody who gets on a podcast, anybody who has enough money to get a headset, anybody who’s sitting in the princess suite here, or in Major Tom’s outfit, or wherever you are, any one of us is the obvious miracle.
Because babies don’t always thrive. Babies don’t always live. People don’t even make it sometimes into the fifth year of life. We’re way past that. And we are. At least attempting to thrive. So I think if I had to kind of pull all of these elements together, I would say what have, what have I heard? I’ve heard the ability to co create, knowing that you’re part of the creative energy of the world, and giving yourself permission to take out your own particular paintbrush.
agency. You can take the paintbrush out. You still have to dip it in the paint. You have to be able to stand back and say, I’m going to change that even if I love it so much. The ability to generate possibilities, as Rob said, not just for your particular personal self, but for the people and the world that you love and cherish.
These are elements of strategy making that organizations, if they employed them, would have happier workers doing more interesting things, working on the so called wicked problems of the world to create profitability and a more prosperous place. At least it seems so to
Karyn Zuidinga: me. Wow. Like, wow. Take a moment.
That’s beautiful. For you, what big challenge or what big reality are you going to start working on co creating next? Like, what’s your next
Mary McBride: thing? I think it depends on the stranger that shows up, the whisper that I hear, the sense that I have in the bottom of my stomach that something is rumbling in a, in quotes, positive way.
At least there’s enough disruption for me to be interested. And, you know, Robert Frost once said, a poet is someone who waits for something to occur to them. As a person who’s made a living in strategy, I don’t want to go. Out of the closet on that one.
There’s a part of me that’s always listening, always waiting for something to occur to me. And there’s a part of me that’s very vigilant that if I don’t believe it, if I don’t have energy around it, then I’m not the person who should be involved with it. So somewhere between knowing that the stranger does arrive, And you know, maybe at some point the stranger is death, I don’t know, we’re all mortal, we’re all finite.
Strangers show up, mystery happens, and energy leaves. And then it comes back again. But not if you try to hold on to what you have.
Karyn Zuidinga: Hmm. Such wisdom. Such beautiful words. What advice would you give someone, so you’re a, I don’t know, a manager of innovation somewhere or a VP heading an innovation team, or a CEO that is, you know, knows you need to innovate, but is afraid, like they’re stuck.
You know, if you could be that voice, that whisper that shows up for them, what would you say?
Mary McBride: I would say that it’s not important what word you use. You can innovate, you can dream, you can imagine. What we need now is something we may not have needed before, or something maybe we had before, that we now need.
I’d like you to literally re member, to member back together again, to re consider, to re imagine. Pulling all the disparate parts of our past understanding together to create a future. That we know we can smell, feel, and taste, but we haven’t decided what we want it to mean to us yet. And focus in, in your innovation workshops, on what meaning do you want to make in the world.
I’ll give you an example from one of the things we’re going to do in Japan is we’re going to visit a place called the Blade Museum. And this was introduced to me by my co professor. It’s so funny how these things happen. He said, I saw this really cool thing. It’s on the Blade Museum, where young people and people who are not so young, who have had some kind of an injury, or were born without a foot, can suddenly get this very cool prosthesis.
We’re not talking about a crotch or an ordinary prosthesis. It’s very cool. And it allows in great movement, but it’s very, very expensive. It’s a precision instrument. And so when we go to Japan, let’s see if we can go there. So as luck would happen, the Mary Poppins umbrella, as luck would have it, I’m talking to our partner for the trip and she says to me, Oh, I really want to do that because nobody knows this about me, but my brother was born disabled.
And my parents just crowdsourced on Facebook the opportunity for him to get to the Blade Museum to get one of these devices. And I am so psyched about this. She’s in Thailand, my professor is Japanese, I’m sitting here in America, and, you know, this, all this stuff is happening, and I’m like, Okay, there’s the energy, you know, there’s the, there’s the universe saying the trip to Japan is fraught with aggravation as it is, is actually the right trip to be taking.
And then I’m thinking, now this is innovation. It’s really the kind of innovation that we need to be doing because now I’ve seen the pictures of a four year old, a seven year old, a 30 year old who has never been able to walk without a crutch, play hockey. Move around a field and they can only rent them because that’s why it’s the library you can rent them You have to return them because they’re such expensive objects And I’m not even saying everybody in the world should be able to have a prosthesis I don’t know people learn how to do different things I saw a guy in India walking a mile on one leg with the biggest smile on his face that you could ever have seen and still My energy right now is moving around, that’s what I would say in a room full of innovation.
I would show that tape and say, stop making stupid stuff and start imagining that everything is possible. Everything, I’m really good with the math, everything can be worked into a spreadsheet. We can do this, just decide what is meaningful work, what is a meaningful future. And stop trying to make the past come alive again without getting too political about that.
That’s a bad strategy for Bank of America. It’s a bad strategy for the United States of America. You cannot go backwards. And we can’t go forward. So we hunker down in corporations and nations about what we romanticize. As a past. That’s pretty turbulent stuff. I would say that’s negative turbulence when you insist on peddling backward against the tsunami That’s turbulent and crazy, but not crazy in a very creative or interesting sense Yeah.
Just crazy making.
Rob Brodnick: You may have uncovered something here that I think is interesting and back to that, what is positive? And we’re taught our histories, we’re schooled about where our culture has been and, and we form these images in our minds. And then, you know, as our agency allows us to influence, we spend energy returning to ideals.
That may no longer be relevant. And so back to that. What is positive? How do you keep turbulence positive? There’s something there about this optimism for the future, this hopefulness for something that could be that’s not. How does that connect to positivity? You know, the people who are mired in the past.
who are fixated on returning to this ideal versus those that are sort of optimizing our futures through positive turbulence. Does that resonate
Mary McBride: with you, Mary? It does, Rob. I just, and I’m a very future organized person. And still I found in my own life that AA kind of got it right one day at a time. And I would say in my own life, it’s kind of one.
Event at a time, one moment at a time. If I’m having a day that is not the day I want to have, I need to turn the channel. I need to go out and take a walk around the block. I need to help somebody figure out how to find their way around New York city. I need to. You know, look at a window, imagine, look up at the sky.
I really think that we’re creating futures in every moment of our life, and everything else is kind of a fantasy. If I’m waiting to create a future after my next strategic plan, as we sometimes do in organizations, I’m already dead in the water. I need to be creating futures by the way that I walk into a room.
I need to be creating futures by the way that I invite people into conversations who wouldn’t have been in that room. I need to be creating futures by knowing that the room is pretty soon going to be way, way, way different from a room. And I need to hold all that at the same time as I’m putting notes on the board that say past, present, and future.
But we all know it’s all happening all the time. So how do you use your agency to have the now? Become the tomorrow that you want to have. Isn’t that strategy? You know, and that’s what you talk about. It’s strategy. It’s creativity. It’s design thinking. It’s like, it doesn’t happen tomorrow. It happens now.
It happens right now in this podcast. It happens with the way that we treat each other. And if it doesn’t, it can’t happen on the edit floor.
Rob Brodnick: It’s a mindset shift. You reorient yourself from, you know, the ideals of the past to the possibilities of the future. So for those of us that are trying to create that mindset shift, how do we stimulate that in others?
How do we help them get out of the histories into the futures? What can we
Mary McBride: do? I’ll give you an example of you. I think you do that. I’m not… being, you know, you know, I’m not flattering you here. This could end up on the cutting room floor. The way that you do that is you enter into a system called AMI, which is a wonderful system.
We all love it. And every system is enabled by new energies. And some people enter a system with energy that wants to only take what they can get from a system. Other people enter with the idea that they’re going to transform the system because they’re bringing so much to it. And some people enter in They explore, they navigate, they infiltrate, and they become the system.
And then, the system is a little different because of it. And I think that’s future making in the everyday. And that is, at this point in my life, really the only thing that interests me much, other than power and leadership, is future making in the everyday. I don’t have time to wait for a future. I’m not even sure I believe in it anymore.
Buildings fall. Things happen. I just want… Every moment of my life to be meaningful and I know that that’s a naive notion because like you and Karen I sit in meetings that I could try to make meaning of them all I want I just have to say that was a 40 minute necessary hygiene break
With my future making in the everyday except I managed not to attack someone or be attacked by them The game of thrones over right on to my next adventure, yeah, we
Rob Brodnick: all have those moments, right
Mary McBride: And anybody who says they don’t is, you know trying to get you to join their spiritual camp, which is not likely for me We all have interactions with wonderful mortal human beings and interesting organizational processes.
And I think the luxury of my life is I actually have come to love that stuff. I love it in the sense that I can love an uncle without liking him. You know, I just love it because I always leave with a list of 24 things I’ve learned. Usually none of them up on the whiteboard.
Karyn Zuidinga: Yeah. How do you even follow that up, Mary?
It’s absolutely true. We all have those moments where… Yeah. You know, if I have to listen to one more Canadian talk about the weather, I would
Mary McBride: be…
Karyn Zuidinga: I may do damage to somebody. Like, it really… But it’s worse
Mary McBride: when you listen to the Chief American talk about the weather. As if it
Karyn Zuidinga: were climate. Well, this is true.
Also true. But in those moments, you just have to say, okay, that’s where they are talking about the weather, and you can imagine instead comparing the crystalline structure of sand and snow, and you can go to another place. You can, you can consider other things that are happening. In that conversation that is really just about talking and it’s not about
Mary McBride: connection.
And you remind me of how could I make this pragmatic because I’m a Virgo and I need to do that. We’ve all had classes and certainly we have them here where it’s not the most thrilling moment you have as a person who’s sitting in the more little seat as compared to the large seat. And so on our course feedback form.
Where it says, you know, what did you learn? How important was it to you? Blah, blah, blah. Well, you know, there’s that chance to say, we hated every single moment of it, you know? There, there is one box that says, even if you hated every single moment of it, pick two to three lines that you could construct based on the fact that you took this accounting class that you could use in a job interview.
Or to get yourself promoted at work or to introduce yourself to somebody interesting at a networking event So even if you hated every minute of accounting you ought to be able to say You know, I never realized when I was doing so many creative things that there is a certain creativity About a spreadsheet and maybe even sometimes it’s used a little too creatively and leave it at that And start the conversation, but do not tell me that you spent 42 hours sitting there blaming someone else for what you weren’t getting out of it.
Because that is a waste of a class and a waste of a life. So stop blaming and start framing what you want to achieve, and using that agency, that power of co creation, and that future building in the moment to move yourself Toward where you want to be as the person you think you want to be. Wow. So that’s beautiful.
Karyn Zuidinga: right, Mary, I’m going to take that and I’m going to wear that all day long. I’m just going to like, you know, use that next time I’m in a meeting with my team and we’re talking about the client and how the client is being, you know, this or so or that. I’m going to start saying, stop blaming, start
Mary McBride: framing, you know.
Or as you know that old phrase, don’t give me the wine without the cheese. It’s either going to be a party, it’s not going to be a complaint.
Karyn Zuidinga: Right? Yeah. I like
Mary McBride: that one too. Thank you both very much. This has been rather wide ranging. I’m very fortunate this week, last couple of days ago, somebody came in from Vienna to interview me about something.
I thought, Oh my God, this is going to be, and we just had a lovely conversation about racism and everything. So you and Karen have also, Karen did say, no, it should be fun. I’m like, I never believe that I’m a Virgo. This has really been fun. I feel like I’m learning too, and you’re so helpful. I guess the only thing I would say is, I don’t sometimes know what all the fuss is about, about innovation and positive turbulence, or any kind of turbulence, because it has, you know, I gave a quick reference to growing up, but for me, the world is always a pretty turbulent place.
I mean, my expectation is not that it will be calm. Now, I have two houses by the ocean, so that just tells you that, you know, I guess I am expecting a certain kind of calm, even though I know, you know, about how fast sea waters rise. But I know that that’s a fantasy. I know every time I look at the sea, that it’s much more powerful than me.
I look at my… Aging bodies since I was 8 to 13 to 21 to not 21 anymore and I say, you know, the container will not always contain everything that I would like it to contain in the way that it does. And the more I try to contain. What will emerge anyway, the more I get a terrific migraine. So I’ve never had the luxury of engaging in an idea, even as a Virgo, that there was any kind of stability to life.
I didn’t ever have to learn about quantum theory and waves and particles. It was something I always knew and you know, it just happens to be true. It was something I found sublime in the sense that the sublime is also grotesque. You know, there’s an element of the terrifying and the sublime, and there’s an element of the Heathcliff and the romantic and the sublime, but I never had any illusions about permanence.
Now part of that could be growing up. I don’t know. Part of it could be, that’s how I came into the planet. But everything, all the time, is turbulating. And I think our only goal here in this program is to wake people up to that reality so that they can be awestruck by it. And not mobilized into inaction.
So they’ll be somehow able to be awestruck and get down on their knees, or awestruck and pick up a pen, or awestruck and do something. But not awestruck in such a way that you have no agency. But wow, what a world. What a world! Like, wow!
Rob Brodnick: It’s an I totally agree with you. I mean, that resonates with me so much.
I think about our, you know, what we see. You said earlier that a lot of how we perceive and make sense is visually based. And if we look at the spectrum of light energy that truly exists out there and what we can actually take in, it’s a tiny little sliver of the whole. And I think part of, I mean, turbulence exists.
It’s all around us. And I think part of the making it positive part. Is opening up your aperture and, you know, we force control systems on the world around us in order to have this feeling or sense of control and it brings a comfort and it’s like, Oh, we’ve got this now it’s a steady system. It’s laminar.
It flows in the direction we think is going to flow. I’ve got control of it. I can now rest it when just the opposite is happening. We’ve actually just put blinders on and we’re not, we’re choosing not to see the complexity and turbulence that’s all around us. And when we open that aperture up, we realize it’s a crazy complex world and turbulence is happening all the time.
How do we keep it positive? How do we make something better out of this, the energy that’s flowing in all these avenues around us? So I think that mindset, that aperture opening, the agency and engagement is how we move to a better future. I love what you said.
Mary McBride: I love what you said. That’s another word, engagement, that’s come up, but you just actually articulated it.
The willingness to engage, you know, when the turbulence happens. Where are you in relation to it? Judging it? Not so good. I think the engagement piece is part of the agency piece, is part of the co creation piece, is part of the, you know, dare she say it, strategic piece. That, you know, okay, what’s next? Not forever.
Just next. And then there’s next, and then there’s next. You know, the thing that, if you just go back for a moment, the military calling volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous as compared to the way we’ve been just talking about it, I think volatile is not a word that I resonate to. Yeah, everything is uncertain.
Complex, it is. And ambiguous, it always was. It’s the volatility that I think you get the hard and edge. Of what could be called leaning toward negative turbulence. Because volatility is not the same to me as turbulent. It’s not the same to me as whoops and wow. It has an element of red flashing light. And that’s not to say that the military is wrong.
It is a very volatile world. I just don’t want to get, I don’t want to build too much under that column. I would rather build under the complex, uncertain, and ambiguous and see how that affects. The so called volatility.
Rob Brodnick: Yeah, I think volatility is a value judgment. I would replace it with the word energetic perhaps and volatility is is like I said a value judgment where you see that energy as being a negative kind of energy and given what the military sets out to do and You know, the, the world in which they live, yeah, it’s pretty negative.
The energy that emerges from war and conflict is volatility in a sense, but translating to more positive kinds of systems. I think it’s an energetic world and it can be volatile if you take that mindset and that worldview, but it also can be just the opposite and produce wonderful effects of that energy.
Yeah, I, I like that. Take the V out and replace it with something
Mary McBride: else. V for victory over, over, over, uh, that, uh, violent. If you think that disruption is harmful, then it’s volatile. I’m extrapolating here. If you think that disruption Is helpful then it’s not Anything but that you know, and I try when because we all have upsets in our days You know, I went through a recent surgery and I thought well, this is pretty turbulent And I don’t see it as particularly helpful It seems pretty harmful because it’s disrupting all of my routines And then I just used it as an opportunity to write a little story About you know What is like to go on the gurney with a lot of people that you haven’t met who suddenly are intimate in your life and think about Whoa, there’s so much to be learning here.
And it was helpful if that writer within ever reemerges. I mean, for the moment, it just kept me entertained. But if I sat there, this is harmful to all of my routines. And when can I get back to work? I’m sure my recovery would not have been so quick. Mm hmm. Mm. Yeah. So, I do think being anti fragile requires that you find a way, and Viktor Frankl said it better than anyone else in the world in his book on, you know, Man’s Search for Meaning, that, yeah, I’m in a concentration camp.
I don’t think I control the ability to get out of it. And still, here, I define how I approach this reality. And when you can be as courageous as that man was and I am not that person, when you can find that quality of being and that quality of heart, then everything Is able to be a way to be in the world with other people as the difference we all are.
Rob Brodnick: Yeah. Disruption is really, uh, specific to the point of view you take, you know, being in New York, Mary, I know that the people who constructed and supported the medallion system were very happy with their stable system. And when Uber and Lyft and others came in and said, listen, we’re going to do it differently now, all of a sudden, you’re not forced to take a yellow cab, you can find another way to get around.
And with all the ride sharing and now micro commuting efforts with the scooters that are appearing in all the cities and whatnot, very disruptive times. And for many, we’re experiencing the benefit of disruption. I have a much better experience in the back of someone’s car, you know, moving around LA than I do when I’m in a cab.
For sure, but you know, you’ve got to adapt and I know that those that hold the medallions are still pushing back on Uber and Lyft’s insurgents into the city, but I, you know, from a broader perspective, I think it’s a good thing to evolve because that system, as far as I’m concerned, was stuck in a toxic environment.
Now, as a New Yorker, you may have a different perspective on that. I’m, I’m speaking from
Mary McBride: California here. Well, you know, as a person who had to go through, I won’t even go into the details of the exam to be a taxi driver, including the physical examination for the first seven women cab drivers that ever entered the New York City system, I am 100 percent with you.
I almost bought a medallion at one point. Having said that, Uber doesn’t even do a criminal background check, or didn’t do criminal background checks on people. So, you know, there’s that. The one thing I would say, though, because I know it, is that about 85 percent of the traffic in New York City now has a T in the license plate.
And the roads were never designed to do that, let alone the scooters and the bicycles. And that’s the kind of positive turbulence disruption innovation that I find really abhorrent. Because it’s a couple of people with a spreadsheet. And post its talking about how cool it would be to do something without any desire to understand complexity.
But then, you know, it’s a little complicated thing that they can iron out the complications in. But life is complex, city living is complex, and the economic systems on the real level are highly complex and they affect people’s lives. So back to Karen’s question of if I were in a room of innovators, I would say, stop thinking that this is cool, and start thinking that auto mobility…
is at the core of the automobile. But there are many ways to be auto mobile, including this mobile device, without cluttering my city or San Francisco with tea license plates. Just because it’ll create an Uber, great economic value for some people, it’ll create a Lyft, great economic value. I will predict this.
Madam Zora will say this. I think these systems are going to start tumbling down big time because for what they take from public space, the value that they create is really minimal. There were many, many other ways to imagine this. including enabling a medallion system not to be run like an old banking system where everybody stopped at three o’clock and you wanted to kill the cab in front of you.
But they were held hostage by fleets and taxi and limousine commission and public policy. But there were very many ways to invigorate an already existing transportation system. What new isn’t always Something completely new that’s really a variation on the old. I mean you got me started uber lyft, etc They are not new.
They are a variation on an old And really complicated clumsy transport system. We could have done it better We absolutely can do it better, and it’s unworkable. I live four miles from Manhattan and Brooklyn. Used to take me ten minutes to go from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Now it can take me two and a half hours.
Rob Brodnick: Unintended consequences.
Mary McBride: Why is this the better, why is this an innovation? Yeah, yeah. It’s an ecosystem and we don’t really manage it. You know, I have that phrase that I think I invented ecosystem of decision making and when we do strategy here, we have the people who participate in the program map the ecosystem of decision making.
And at what point, at what scale, the ecosystem of decision making begins to be more inclusive of other things and build back from the highest. You think you’re going to build the business and get those people to the table now. Don’t wait to involve them when you’re at the first fifth iteration of your ask from the venture capitalist and you’ve already destroyed New possibilities get them on the white page immediately So yeah, but that’s the creative.
That’s the fun part. You just happened to hit my yellow cab driver self. Then we can’t be smug about this. We can’t think that what’s happening in Syria, which is highly planful and a proxy war, is turbulent as people run. from chemical warfare and bombs and attacks. I want to be very careful personally with my side of this, that we don’t appear to be people who live in la la land.
Not all turbulence is turbulent. It’s planful and people are not advantaged by volatile, violent disruptions in their lives, whether they be economic or military. And I think, you know, please call that out somewhere in your podcast. Because, you know, I, I listen to some things and I think, what planet do they live on and how advantaged are they?
Karyn Zuidinga: Thank you to podcast, is the source of so many of our guests, and of course, the founder, Stan Gruskiewicz, is also the author of the original book, and dare I say, the first meaning maker of Positive Turbulence.
Rob Brodnick: AMI is a pioneering nonprofit organization comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations and societies.
AMI identifies leading edge innovation, shares experiences, sponsors research, and recognizes innovation and creative processes. Find out more at aminnovation. org. And thank you to Mack Avenue Music Group, our contributing sponsor, for providing our podcast soundtrack, Late Night Sunrise. If you want
Karyn Zuidinga: to find out more about your hosts, Positive Turbulence, our guests, or check out our very cool and very diverse reading list, head over to PositiveTurbulence.
com. Until next time, keep the turbulence positive.