I wrestle with big questions. Here are a bunch that inspire my work and the experiences that gave birth to them.
When I was six, my parents divorced. Ever since then I’ve wondered: Why is it so hard for smart people with good intentions to get along?
Three months into medical school, I dropped out, thereby ending two generations of male family tradition. This launched a second question: Why do people get trapped in someone else’s story, and what does it take to author your own?
In my early thirties, I was single and unhappy about it. A coach made what was then a stunning observation. She said that my approach to having conversations with women was, well, dumb. This made me curious: What if the most malleable part of human and organizational life—the stuff you can change— isn’t goals, structures, or even culture, but conversations?
At age 36, my wife and I lost our first child, a daughter. She was born a few weeks too soon and died in my arms. In the period of grieving that followed, I learned how many people experience similar losses and how rarely anyone talks about it. Why, I wondered, is it so difficult to talk even with close friends about painful experiences and intense emotions?
During this period, I discovered positive psychology. Studying the science of resilience and beginning new habits derived from it contributed to my healing. I got intrigued by the following question: What allows some people to bounce back from hardship when others wilt and crumble?
In my forties, while writing my first book, Practice Greatness, I learned about deliberate practice: what it is, how it works, and why it matters in sports, music, math, and the performing arts. I spent many hours reflecting on how, as a kid, I had gotten better at soccer and track and how in the first two decades of adulthood I had become adept at conducting interviews and synthesizing ideas. What would it be like if we applied the principles and practices of deliberate practice to leadership and organizational life?
Recently, I turned 50. Although it wasn’t a total existential crisis, it came pretty close, which surprised me. For several months I had the nagging sense that if I died today, my life would have fallen short of fulfilling its deepest purpose. So I resumed a passion project that had been on the back burner for years and started speaking up more candidly about our society and culture. Each time I “let things fly,” I felt on fire. So now I wonder: When you are doing work that both draws on your deepest gifts and aims toward your noblest purpose, how can you not experience the wonder of flow?