Bill Eckstrom: Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life at TEDxUniversityofNevada (Transcript)

Complexity trigger number two: Someone can help you get there. This is the role of parents, teachers, coaches, and bosses. Because left on their own, people will consciously or subconsciously select the comfort of order. And they then need to be pushed into complexity in order to continue growing. My youngest daughter spent most of her high school life training to play tennis, and her coach was pretty familiar with our work on complexity and the Growth Rings. So, I called him up one day to check on Maddie’s progress, and I was able to phrase my question like this, I said: “Hey, Lee, how long has it been since Maddie’s been pushed deep into complexity?”

Lee’s response: “Hmm, funny you’d ask Bill. We got there yesterday. She broke down into tears on the tennis court.”


Well, knowing how tough my daughter is, and the fact that she never cries, told me she was deep into complexity. But, friends, this is where critical developmental decisions are made because the old Bill, the pre-Growth Ring Bill, would have intervened and wanted to know what was making her so uncomfortable. Then I would have done everything I could to try and get her happy again. What I really would have been doing is removing the complexity, and putting her in order. I actually would have been stifling her development.


But the new, post-Growth Ring Bill relished in his daughter’s discomfort. And it was the coach’s next words that told me everything I needed to hear. He said, “Bill, I’ve got to tell you, it took a heck of a lot more to get her to the limits of complexity this month, than it did last month.” Discomfort was causing her growth.


OK, but what if you’re not lucky enough to live or work in a robust high-growth environment? What if you’re stuck in order, even worse, stagnation? Well, the great news is, everyone can trigger complexity at any time.


So, complexity trigger number three: Trigger it yourself. Take a journey with me back to Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950s. Imagine, if you will, a young girl, who’s black, and she attends an all-black high school. And she takes the city bus to get there and home, which wasn’t unusual in that era. And on March 2, 1955, she boards a bus to come home from school, and she sits near the back, in the first row of seats where blacks were allowed to sit. And as the bus continues to fill with white people, there’s eventually no more room in front of the bus. And according to local law, she needed to move further back to create room for white people to sit.

You see, Montgomery had an order in place that when followed, led to a very predictable outcome: repression of people with little conflict. But 15-year-old Claudette Colvin had just spent the last month in high school studying black history, and she was understandably fed up with the historic and existing atrocities. And so on this day, she decided she didn’t like Montgomery’s order, and by refusing to give up her seat, she sent a community, our laws, and our entire country into complexity. Yes, nine months before Rosa Parks made her famous decision to stay put, it was a 15-year-old girl that was handcuffed, dragged from the bus, and taken to prison. It was Miss Colvin, not Rosa Parks, who first fought the law, and by the way, was also the star plaintiff to testify in the famous lawsuit that went all the way to the US Supreme Court.


So, I use Claudette’s actions not to heighten awareness of race issues, although that’s not necessarily bad, but I used it as an example of every issue, of every situation in an ordered environment. It’s a real and perfect example of complexity forcing people, our communities, and our courts into discomfort, and the downstream impact that can occur anytime someone elects to move from order.


Dr. Serene Jones, in a recent book, summarizes this concept very eloquently. She said: “The constant facade of order hides the wilderness that is craving to seep out and teach us that life wasn’t created to be what we think it is. Beyond words, we must experience the wilderness to be taught what cannot be otherwise known.”


So, friends, it’s not the discomfort of losing a job, it’s not having a child break down on the tennis court, but it’s order you should fear the most because it is a threat. And order-disrupting people like Jesus, Galileo, Claudette Colvin, Aspen’s trainer, and maybe even a few of you have already proven — now, think about this — it’s not the complexity-triggering individuals or events you should fear the most, but it’s your own willingness to accept or seek discomfort that will dictate the growth of not just you, but our entire world.


Thank you very much for allowing me to be a part of this.

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By Pangambam S

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