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Sunday, November 23, 2014

5 Steps to Begin Building a Heroic Culture

My new adventure has prompted me to read many articles and blog posts on heroism to glean a better understanding of the hero’s journey and how it fits into my personal and professional life.  Reading articles such as Elizabeth Svobodo's, a 2014 Hero Round Table speaker, How to be Your Own Superheroand watching Ted Talks like Matt Langdon’s at TEDxMarinette, have helped me to begin looking at heroism differently.  I, like many of us, always looked at heroism as unreachable or unattainable, something that only a few people will ever experience.  I now believe…I now know, we can ALL act heroically.

Ask a child, "Who is your hero?"  What do you think they will say?

We ask this when working with youth in our hero training sessions.  The young heroes in training often name professional athletes, movie stars, and iconic historical heroes such as Martin Luther King as their heroes.  Isn't that what we have been programmed to believe in our society? Hero's make a lot of money (i.e. LeBron James), hero's do amazing things on the movie screen (i.e. Captain America), and hero's are people that take on issues on a global scale (i.e. MLK).
All of these examples, in most of our minds, are unattainable to our friends and us.  We are often reminded by society of the statistics showing many of us will never be a millionaire, we will never star in a blockbuster movie, and we will never have the opportunity to do what MLK did to change people's lives.  We are conditioned to believe that our lives are what they are, never to be changed.  The bad news is we often believe the statistics and look at heroism as a state of bliss, never to be reached by common folk like us.
Here is the good news, we can leave our mundane world of the status quo and all have the opportunity be heroic.  In order to do this, we must first understand the steps it takes to be a hero.  We must be aware of the barriers and challenges that we will be confronted with and have a set of tools to assist us in conquering our fears and removing these barriers.  Defining heroism and understanding the hero’s journey allows us to look at life through a more positive, hopeful lens, while giving us the courage to battle the villains in our life.   Villains come in all shapes and sizes.  A playground bully, the boss you detest, an addiction, a fear, any negative thought or action in your life can be the villain you seek to conquer.  
I have identified 5 steps throughout my reading and my own journey in helping build a heroic culture in the Flint area that I hope will help you change your perceptions and attitude toward the status quo.  If we can all create the reality that statistics are just numbers, simply helping society keep us in our place we will be more willing to leave our status quo and experience a heroic journey.  
I have changed my perspective on heroism and now believe the heroic journey is truly the only way to sustain positive change within our communities and ultimately help change the word around us.

Think of these 5 steps as the beginning actions we must take in order to change the culture of your community, school, or business.  I say beginning because as I read more, experience more, and reflect more, I now know this is not a simple journey.  It is, however, a journey worth taking.

5 Steps to Begin Building a Heroic Culture.

1.    Define Heroism

Defining heroism within your community (school, business, etc…) is essential.  This must be the first step in order to ensure people are on the same page when it comes to the beliefs and attitudes towards success and failures (see Step #4).  I would often associate the word hero with success only, never connecting heroic actions with failures.  I now know that failure, and how we react to failure, is often the key to eventually becoming a hero. We throw the word hero around as if becoming one is as simple as doing one kind act at a time or getting a good grade on a test.  While studying hard for a test and being kind is certainly training to be a hero (see Step #2), we must be very careful not to water the word down, like the media has done in recent years.  Defining heroism will create a clear and concise vision for your staff, employees, and people living within your community.  I encourage you to seek out the experts, ask questions, and network with people (see Step #5) in and out of your community.  
You can start developing a true definition of heroism with your community by following @theherocc @adamhartley2014 @elliejacques @HeroTownFlint @kohenari @ZenoFranco @PhilZimbardo and@HIPorg on Twitter.

2.    Study the Hero’s Journey 

Studying the hero’s journey and overlaying the steps with challenges you have faced (personally and professionally) will help take a metacognitive approach to solving problems and learning from your failures.  The hero’s journey must always include taking a risk and returning to the mundane world to help others complete their journey.  If these two steps are not present, it is not a true heroic journey. Understanding the process and preparing for what the journey will entail, enhances the odds of you taking the first step and crossing the threshold, and gives you the ability to help others.  You can Google Hero’s Journey and read various articles or watch short videos like Matthew Winkler’s TedEd Talk.  The best way to study the journey, and the steps in becoming heroic, is to talk about it with others.  Compare and contrast your experiences in going through the steps.  Whether you are on the playground, taking on a bully, or in the workplace, questioning a policy, the hero’s journey will guide you in accepting your call to action, taking the first step to cross the threshold, and help you conquer your fears.
The seven steps of the Hero’s Journey
Living in the Mundane World, Call to Action, Crossing the Threshold, Connecting and Seeking Assistance from Others, Trials and Tribulations, Results, and Master of Two Worlds.

3.  Understand the Bystander Effect

The biggest eye opening reading and research I have done in the past month is learning about the bystander effect and how we as humans are naturally looking for excuses to not act.  Many times our heart tells us to take action, while our brains tell us to stay back and be safe.  Understanding the research behind why we don’t act will ultimately push us to act.  A study in 1968 at Columbia University studied group think and how people react to dangerous situations alone, compared to when they are with others (see article here).  Researchers brought in students to complete a survey and after a few minutes blew smoke into the ventilation system.  They brought in 3 groups; individual students, groups of three that were strangers, and groups of two that were friends. The results showed that we are more prone to act when we do not have others to influence our decisions.  Individual students reported the smoke within a few minutes 75% of the time.  This is compared to 38% of the groups with three strangers and only 10% of the students in the room with friends reporting the smoke.  There are many research studies that point to we are easily swayed by the social norm and often diffuse responsibility when others are present.  Understanding this about the human brain, we become more cognizant of situations when we should follow our hearts and not our brains.  Dangerous? Possibly, but there will always be a sense of danger in acting heroically.  The greatest danger is not acting at all.
*Acting dangerously and taking a risk is not always defined with physical actions.  For many of us, going against the social norms of our friends or family is taking a risk.  To be heroic, you do not have to put your life in danger.  My hope is no one has to take that kind of risk.  Acting heroically could be telling a bully “ we do not treat people that way” or telling a family member that their racist jokes are not funny.

4. Have a Growth Mindset

Bystander Behavior is often rooted in a fixed mindset.  “This is how it has always been” and “ I was never good at…” creates perceived barriers for us to act heroically.  I use the word perceived because that is exactly what these barriers are, hypothetical.  They are not real unless we make them real.  Having what Carol Dweck calls a Growth Mindset allows us to look at the heroic journey as the ultimate goal.  Success and failure is just part of our journey.  We need to start defining ourselves by our efforts and our perseverance throughout the journey, not the wins and losses we experience along the way.  To act heroically, we must know what it feels like to fail and know how to pick ourselves back up to use our failures as fuel to move forward.    We must look at the word fail as the First Attempt In Learning.  A true heroic journey (See #2) includes going back to the status quo and helping others find their passions, showing them what it means to persevere through their failures.  Unless we experience this ourselves, we cannot help others through their journey.  Having a growth mindset changes our perceptions and attitudes about our personal and professional life.  Teachers change how they grade their students, business owners change how they involve the lowest paid employees, and communities, such as Flint, redefine themselves after a big corporation packs up and moves out of town.  While having a growth mindset alone will not make you a hero, it is virtually impossible to act heroically without it!
*Carol Dweck is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and is one of the word’s leading researchers on motivation and intelligence.  
Having a growth mindset often allows us to see people in a more positive light, giving them opportunities to grow and improve.  Hero’s are successful when they make people around them better.  Fixed mindset people often look at others as competition and not colleagues.  Step 2 of the hero’s journey is looking for assistance and connecting with others to help you though the journey.  Dweck’s work points to people with growth mindsets are more likely to work with others and look to always improve.

5.  Build a Heroic Learning Network 

The researchers at Columbia University stated,“The failure to intervene may be better understood knowing the relationship among bystanders, rather than that between the bystander and the victim.”  Social norms, influence from other bystanders, and the diffusion of responsibility are real barriers to acting heroically.  There are examples of good people throughout history acting inhumane in situations because others around them deemed it acceptable.  There are also many examples of people doing nothing because, like in the Columbia research, they “didn’t think it was a real threat.”  Kitty Genovese was murdered on the streets of New York and no one came to her aid. The newspapers reported that over 35 people witnessed her being stabbed multiple times and did nothing.  The witnesses interviewed stated they, “…didn’t want to get involved” or “…I thought it was a drunk brawl or lover’s spat.”  While a simple phone call to the police may have saved her life, no one stepped up and intervened.  Apathy, carelessness, group think, and the diffusion of responsibility is often prevalent in bystander behavior.  Reaching out and connecting with people interested in heroism, discussing the research behind why we act and why we stand by, and building a network of people that are willing to take action when problems or potential problems arise is the only way we can fight the gravitational pull of the status quo.  Just as social influence can act in a negative way, if we surround ourselves with people willing to take risks and act heroically, we can create a new social norm.

*The researchers at Columbia reported that some of the bystanders that did not report the potential danger of the smoke had doubt that the smoke was real and did not want to be embarrassed or create a seen if there was no real danger.  Heroes are not just problem solvers but problem finders.  Building a learning network of people that see the action of investigating a potential problem as heroic is key.  The potential of danger must always outweigh the potential of a false alarm.  To act heroically will almost always mean you are going against the norm and being a positive deviant. 

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Dr. Adam Hartley

Dr. Adam Hartley
"If you are not on the edge, you are taking up too much room". -Jim Kitchen