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String Theory Example: The 30 Year String and Mort's Career

Another practical example of string theory, a bit different but very relevant, comes from my friend Mort.

Mort is a serial CEO who, at retirement age, sold his most recent company. We had lunch last week so he could pose a really interesting question.

Mort had just been to see his doctor and then gone to a school reunion. The doctor suggested that his current good health is probably going to continue for another 30 years. His high school mates (including three doctors) had told him that at their age he should be happy to get two more healthy years. When lunch arrived Mort asked me how I'd approach this problem.

This is not my normal business topic. I've been writing about problem solving, figuring out how to address and resolve really difficult problems in our businesses. He reads my work, and wanted to discuss how to apply it here. I like and respect Mort, and I like and respect difficult problems. So we got into string theory.

The basic idea is simple enough - there are two answers to the question of how to open a bag of grain that is sewn shut. You can pull at the string from either end of the closure. One end of the string is difficult to move and it gets more so as you jerk harder. However, pulling on the correct end is easy, one tug and you have success. The solution to get what you want isn't to pull harder. The solution is to choose the right end of the string to pull.

We spent most of lunch looking at the different ends of the string for this problem. Trying to decide which doctors are right was the difficult end. The more Mort relied on the answers from Doctors, the more knotty it all got. The right end of the string turned out to be Mort choosing to look at how he felt about his own abilities. When he looks at his sense of himself, he feels capable and ready to act from that. This end of the string is tied to his internal, primary, reference. When Mort looks at his sense of himself, he feels capable and ready to act from that. He is confident in himself.

The right end of the string became this question:
"If you were 18 years old, and had this 30 years question, what would you do?"

What made this work for Mort is that he put himself in two positions. One is that he is governor of himself. When he decides that he is able to craft his future, he works from his strengths. Those strengths have helped him create and run successful businesses. He's pulling on the string from a position of internal strength. For Mort that is a thinking model.

The second position is that when he gets proactive, the string immediately feels easier for him. When he is reactive, it does not work as well, the string feels tangled. He senses this more than thinks it; it's a feeling model for him.

Taking a half hour to choose the right end of the string allowed Mort to choose the right path for moving forward with his career. It made the decisions much simpler.

What's his choice? He picked up his coffee and said: "I better start a new company."




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