Structure Rules!

A Framework For Creating Real, Lasting Success —
With Whatever You Have To Work With

“Structure influences behaviour.”

Peter Senge
The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization

Our lives, work and relationships are underlain and influenced by (usually) unseen guiding structures.

They arise from the way we put together—connect—components such as desire, vision, choice, plans, practice and perception of reality.

In some structures, action leads to real and lasting success. In others, it does not.

Stuck In An Oscillating Structure; Going Nowhere

When, for example, Ed—a businessman who’d fallen on hard times—signed up for Life Design Coaching, he told me he desperately wanted to change, but couldn’t.

“I tried everything,” he told me.

“Five years in therapy. $20,000 for motivational sessions with the likes of Anthony Robbins. Thousands on change and self-help book, and courses.”

“But, none of it worked? I asked.

“No! ” said Ed. “It all worked—but only for a while.”

He paused, then added, “I felt as if I was on a kid’s rocking horse, flailing back and forth between approaches—spending time, energy and money—but not getting where I wanted to be.”

Changing his structure changed his life and career.

Read Ed’s full story.

How Structure Gives Rise To Action And Results

Many clients come to me stuck, and unable to create results. They blame circumstances, outside influences, and other people. Others think something is wrong with them. A few assume both inner and outer circumstances are to blame.

But Ed, and other clients did not fail primarily because of circumstances, outside events or personal deficits. They failed because the structure underlying their thinking and actions prevented them from consistently moving toward desired results.

Water flowing along the path of least resistance
Photo by David Bartus from Pexels

The Path Of Least Resistance

You are like a river. You go through life taking the path of least resistance. The underlying structure of your life determines the path of least resistance. You can change the fundamental structures of your life.

Robert Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance

Sadly, the idea of “structure” puts off many people. They see it as confining, limiting their freedom and creativity.

The wrong structure can be limiting, but other structures free you to create what matters. Think of the difference between a jail cell and a ladder. Or a rocking chair and a bicycle.

Effective structures lead to desired results because they limit your focus, and channel your energy toward desired results.

In a testimonial, a photographer who’d upped her personal and business success, wrote:

“When Bruce first talked about “structure, I cringed. I didn’t want to force myself into a mold. But, no! He meant a framework in which to organize my ideas and actions, so my actions followed a path from where I was to where I wanted to be, to the results I most wanted to create.”

As Orson Welles said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”

From A Heap To A Whole

You can have all the components you need to build something such as a bike. But, unconnected, they are merely a heap, not a whole. Unrideable.

When you structure and connect your bike parts appropriately, the heap becomes a functioning whole. Energy flows in a forward direction. You move where you want to go.

A woman cycles along a gravel path in the Canadian Rockies. On her left are spruce trees and bushes. On her right, a wide flowing river. In the background, mountain peaks poke into a cloudy sky.
Taking you where you want to be

The Tyranny of Dysfunctional Structures

While some structures take you where you want to go, others restrict you to moving back and forth between conflicting desires. Still others lack the energy to move you at all

The “Yeah, but… Structure

The “Yeah, but…” reaction is an example of a results-killing, rocking horse structure. It leads to frustrating, startstopstart… patterns of behaviour. And few results!

A graphic illustrating oscillation in life and work. On a white back ground and icon of teeter-totter-like structure shows a line with "Do It" written on one end and "Hesitate" written on the other. The line rests on a triangular fulcrum
“Yeah, but…”

The “Yeah” generates energy. Then the “but” negates it. No energy; no action; no results.

When clients shift from a “Yeah, but…” structure to a “Yes, and…” structure, they find it much easier to create results they’d previously failed at.

Structural Conflicts Occur When Two Or More Desires Compete

Structures that take the shape, “I want to create this AND I want to create that…” can lead to dichotomies of desire that frustrate your efforts to create either result.

“I want to get fit, AND I want that burger too.”
  • Life vs work.
  • Time vs Money.
  • Eat vs Lose weight.
  • Rational vs Intuitive.
  • Family vs Career.
  • I can do vs I can’t do.
  • . . .

Such dysfunctional structures also arise in organizations or businesses.

For example, one automaker’s execs stated in the company vision and branding that, “Quality is job one.” But behind the scenes, they sent informal messages to managers and supervisors to, “Get’em out the door fast!”

The two desires conflicted, causing cognitive dissonance, and a morale problem. Though the company shipped more cars, quality suffered. And profits.

Is Balance The Answer?

Black and white graphic of two kids on a teeter totter made with a log and a plank. A young boy on one end, an older girl on the other.

Making desires equal sounds good. But it can lead to failure to create both.

When people struggle with competing desires, they often perceive the situation as a problem, then try to “fix” it by balancing their desires. But trying to “balance” two opposing desires is like trying to balance a kids’ seesaw.

You can achieve balance, temporarily, but even the slightest change can undo it

For example, I worked with a client who desired material success and a simple, environmentally responsible lifestyle. Two potentially conflicting desires.

When we dug into his structure, this is what it looked like.

My client’s energy and action followed the figure-eight path of least resistance described by the arrows. As he moved toward material success, the pull of a simpler, richer life exerted its power. Then, when he cut consumption, he felt the pull of money and things again.

In such a structure, it easy to feel frustrated, stuck, even trapped. Or that something is wrong with you. This structure often leads to frustration and burnout.

But, the good news is, “It’s not you; it’s your structure!

Integrate Desires To Create Lasting Results

In the Life Design Framework you integrate desires. Your most important result is supported by creating secondary results—for their own sake, and in support of your primary result.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to maximize two variables at once. So the key to creating multiple results is integrating them in a hierarchical, “Yes, AND… structure .

You can organize work to support your life. Or organize your life to support work. Either works. It’s the same with simplicity and success.

Black and white graphic showing how to organize success to it supports simplifying. SIMPLICITY is above. "Organize success so it supports simplify is below. In the space between a bold arrow points up.
Black and white graphic showing how to organize simplifying to it supports success. SUCCESS is above. "Organize simplifying so it supports simplify is below. In the space between a bold arrow points up.

“Creating,” said jazz great Charlie Mingus, “makes the complicated simple.”  

Or, as Senge says, “You can have your cake and eat it… just not all at once.”

Person stands alone on a spit of land jutting out into the ocean. He's enjoying a simple moment, looking across the water to a mountain range. Overhead the multi-coloured clouds of a storm front is approaching, and eating to a sliver of blue in the upper left corner
A Simple Moment

Where Does Solving Problems Fit Into This Approach?

Problem solving works well for technical and mechanical problems. But, in our lives, most of what we call “problems” are not problems and not solvable.

They are existential challenges; opportunities to create what truly matters.

“The greatest and most important problems of life are in a certain sense insoluble…. They can never be solved, only outgrown… Some higher or wider interest arose on the person’s horizon, and through this widening of view, the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms, but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life-tendency.”

C.G. Jung

By adopting and applying the Life Design Framework, clients activate the stronger urge to create what matters most.  Energized by that deep urge, they more easily rise above difficulties and circumstances to create the results they long for, in life, work… whatever

“All the great things,” said Robert Frost, “are done for their own sake.” 

Embrace And Transcend Problems—Create The Life You Want

From Solving Problems To Creating Desired Results

Books by Bruce Elkin

Thrive! Creating what matters most, by Bruce Elkin.
Simplicity and Success, by Bruce Elkin.
Emotional Mastery, by Bruce Elkin.
Creating Sustainable Success, by Bruce Elkin.
The ABCs of Emotional Mastery, by Bruce Elkin.
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