Talked to Your Masterless Warrior and Asthmatic Wizard Lately?

Imagine a scene out of a science-fiction fantasy novel where an ancient wizard stands atop a cliff overlooking a battle between two warring clans. From here the wizard sees not just the entire landscape, but also the entire significance and context of this conflict. On the ground, the warrior feels every clash of swords, tastes every splatter of blood and mud, and smells the sweat and stench of the living and dead.

The warrior and the wizard, the tactician and the strategist, the one who lives in the moment and the other who is mindful of the future… these two archetypes represent in a simple way the tension between the small and large frames of thinking and acting.

For the seasoned warrior, there is a keen awareness and connection with the immediate environment. Years of experience has imbued this warrior with an almost magical instinct for doing the right thing. For the boxer who strikes at the right moment or the facilitator who intervenes, they both show an incredible tactical ability to move and adapt to the situation.

Now pull back in time and space where we see the one round of boxing or the one-hour meeting in the context of many such meetings, embedded in personal stories, embedded in the human story, and you find the aged wizard. Perhaps the wizard sees that the boxer is fighting for his family like in Cinderella Man, or that the facilitator is brokering a deal between arms dealers like in Lord of War.

In other words, what the warrior does only has meaning in the larger frames. Nevertheless the wizard can only be fully expressed in those tactical frames. The two work together in dynamic and dramatic ways.

Today, we have the problem that both of our warrior and wizard selves are atrophying. The safe bosom of civilization has eroded our ability to be autonomous warriors, to be keen observers of life. At the same time, the voice of the wizard who thinks systemically and globally fades into background as theoretical or academic noise.

Consider for example a debate on gun control I heard on the radio. The opponents of gun control declare, “I have a right to defend myself and my family.” Certainly at the level of that moment where you or your family’s life is threatened, you should be able to defend yourself.

At the level of society however, one might imagine that having large numbers of people carrying weapons who do not have their background or training checked would have implications. And what of the assumption that everyone has good anger management, has good judgment, or even honourable intentions? Without the ability to think and act from the larger vista of the wizard, the warrior is lost.

There is a reason that warriors in the past lived by a code. The code represented a connection with the transcendent frame. It guided their actions so that they can live the good life in the long run. Without the code… without the guidance of the wizard, the warrior becomes a mercenary for hire easily exploited by others. They become like Ronin.

So what does this mean for us?

It means that while we must train our ability to be like self-authorized warriors who engage directly with the reality of the moment, we must also train our ability to imagine potential futures and make meaning of unseen forces like the wizard. This is no small task. When we are busy doing what other people are telling us to do, and when we are busy running our day-to-day operations, there is little time to think our own thoughts or make our own meaning.

Allow me to leave you with these questions.

To the warrior in you, how clearly are you seeing reality in this moment? What is your code of conduct?

To the wizard in you, how much time are you investing in exploring areas of life that do not have immediate, practical benefits to you now at this moment? How broadly are you searching for meaning? How deeply are you looking?

Chris Hsiung
U Venture
Better Life… Better Business

The Strategic Wedding

My fiancee and I practicing with the focus mitts.
My fiancee and I practicing with the focus mitts.

As I sit here planning my own wedding (mere weeks away), I am struck by how planning a wedding is like planning a military campaign. Asides from the possible metaphor of love and war, the planning process between the two share many conceptual similarities. Both involve tactical, operational and strategic framing. Both require you to think about why you are doing this in the first place. And both require well developed capacities to succeed.

One of the tremendously helpful constructs from military strategy is looking at a given campaign from different frames of action, a concept developed more fully by the Action Studies Institute. By looking at a wedding from different frames of action (tactical, operational, strategic, foundational, transcendent) I can more effectively make it happen because quite frankly, the human brain is not capable of holding simultaneously all the details around hosting a 200 person party. It allows me to zoom out, look at the big picture, and then zoom back in to make sense of the bits and pieces.

What are these frames? Allow me to explain with some direct examples.

Most people who have planned events start with the day in mind and then work backwards thinking of all the tasks (tactical level) required to make it happen. Small tasks like getting boutineers and ordering bouquets can be grouped into higher level tasks – ordering flowers. These larger tasks could then become a full fledged operation that could be assigned to a person – the flower “captain” – who would take on the responsibility of ordering, delivering, and setting it up according to the specifications of the mission parameters such as colour scheme or the bride’s preferences.

The coordination and interlinking of the various operations (flower person, food person, decoration person) become a part of the strategic frame. You think about higher level objectives. What will be the look and feel of the wedding? How will these various operations be funded and supported? For instance, do I need to train someone on how to run my laptop? Good higher level objectives provide guidance for all operations.

As important as supporting and directing the operations is attempting to anticipate critical problems both external and internal to the “team”. While it’s always possible that vendors may fail to follow through (what? no food for guests?), the stress on family members may be such that they will not be able to address the issue. The strategic frame is not just about anticipating every possible problem, but developing the capacity to handle unanticipated problems. When you pair an open bar with a party, well, you simply have to accept that unexpected things will arise!

Thinking at the strategic level does not come naturally. As human beings, we are far more inclined to focus on the immediate needs and tasks. Our inclination is to get tactical. We are far less inclined to step back and work on the bigger picture. In business, we focus on execution. In addressing complex social issues, we jump to action. Rarely do we step back and ask whether what we are doing is helpful.

Frames of Action Map by Action Studies Institute
Frames of Action Map by Action Studies Institute

Even more difficult than thinking at the strategic level is thinking at the foundational level. This is the level of asking what this mission is for in the first place. Much like a couple asking themselves why they’re getting married in the first place, the discussion could be explosive because it challenges fundamental assumptions – why do you love me again? And yet, it is such a critical question because all the planning and strategizing means little if the foundation has not been well-formed. We could return to the occupation of Iraq by the US and see that not only was their strategy flawed (shock and awe for a “quick” war), but the reasons and purpose for the mission was based on a false premise (no WMDs or proven links to Al-Qaeda).

Why don’t we spend the time to test our foundational frame? Part of the reason is that we don’t want to face the fact that our cherished values and beliefs might be misguided, distorted, or plain wrong. Who wants that? The other reason is also a weak understanding of what humanity and life is all about (the transcendent frame). Without an understanding of the human story, our understanding of ourselves and others are likely to be limited. If life is in fact all about looking good and achieving status, then marriage will serve one sort of purpose. If life is a process of becoming a better human being, then marriage would serve another broader purpose. The study of life and wisdom is a life-long journey as repeatedly preached to us by the sages of the world.

Each of these frames interact with each other in interesting and dynamic ways. Each requires its own sets of capacities and ways of thinking. War or love, business or life… all can benefit from developing strong frames. Granted, a military campaign differs from wedding planning in that there are higher levels of uncertainty with opponents who are generally invested in killing you. On the other hand getting together a big multicultural family together for the first time has it’s own adaptive challenges!

I know that in a few more days, my conscious mind will be consumed by the operational details of making the wedding happen, but I hope that both my fiancee and I will be able to remember what this is all about and why we’re on this life journey together in the midst of the biggest party we’ll probably ever have. The wedding may go nothing like we expect, but our life will continue to flourish regardless.