The Antidote to Exhaustion is Not Necessarily Rest

Good Morning Innovation Pioneers, David Whyte speaks to the world in the way that only a poet can.  I’ve interviewed him a number of times for radio programs I've hosted.  And, was once honored to have him visit the Ranch where we shared a bottle of good red wine in the wine cellar.

The title of this  post “The Antidote to Exhaustion is Not Necessarily Rest” is from his book Crossing the Great Unknown.    Here’s a small excerpt from a web site on the book

I looked up at Brother David, the nearest thing I had to a truly wise person in my life, and found myself almost blurting.

"Brother David?"

I uttered it in such an old, petitionary, Catholic way that I almost thought he was going to say,"Yes, my son?"But he did not; he turned his face toward me, following the spontaneous note of desperate sincerity, and simply waited.

"Tell me about exhaustion," I said.

He looked at me with an acute, searching, compassionate ferocity for the briefest of moments, as if trying to sum up the entirety of the situation and without missing a beat, as if he had been waiting all along, to say a life-changing thing to me. He said, in the form both of a question and an assertion:

"You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest?"

"The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest," I repeated woodenly, as if I might exhaust myself completely before I reached the end of the sentence. "What is it, then?"

"The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness."

He looked at me for a wholehearted moment, as if I should fill in the blanks. But I was a blank to be filled at that moment, and though I knew something pivotal had been said, I had not the wherewithal to say anything in reply. So he carried on:

"You are so tired through and through because a good half of what you do here in this organization has nothing to do with your true powers, or the place you have reached in your life. You are only half here, and half here will kill you after a while. You need something to which you can give your full powers. You know what that is; I don't have to tell you."

I was reminded of this recently when viewing a performance by a highly skilled magician.  I funded much of my College from performing as a Magician.  Starting at the age of 12 I studied magic, performed, created and marketed magic tricks, juggling kits and other products.   As I look back I often wonder at how I found the energy to do it - especially at that age.

The memories of creating the magic show sparked memories of other monstrous  investments of time and energy that I've made over my life that each would not be considered “natural.”  These include: building the Eureka! Ranch - business and facility,  rebuilding 150 year old buildings in Cincinnati and Prince Edward Island, to producing and performing on a National Radio Show, TV Shows, creating and a Non Profit focused on helping parents, to helping create an entirely new field of study called Innovation Engineering with 100+ videos and 4 semesters of courses to my search for how to make the world’s greatest pizza.

As I sat enjoying a glass of good red wine with my girlfriend/wife of 37 years I connected to the quote from David Whyte.   It was suddenly clear to me that the secret to my energy in each case was not my unique vision, skill or gifts.   No.  The secret to my energy was wholeheartedness.  Or in the language of Innovation Engineering Meaningful Uniqueness. 

In each case I was “all in.”   The result was endless energy to overcome all challenges.  I had endless energy to do as Admiral Peary said “Find a way or make a way.”

Greg - the Innovation Engineering Institute Statistician recently made a discovery that indicates that wholeheartedness might also be the secret to innovation success.  He reviewed projects in IE Labs that shipped to identify patterns in them.  Surprisingly, he found that innovations that “ship” actually grow in value by about 28% from DEFINE to DELIVER.   This is in direct contradiction to industry wisdom and experience.  Ideas are known to grow smaller not larger as they go through the development process.

A review of the history of these ideas that shipped finds that the projects have as many if not more or larger death threats than other ideas.   Further digging indicates that a key to success might well be a  “wholeheartedness” from the project leader, management coach and IE Black Belt.   Quite simply the people were “all in” on the mission.   The project mission remained constant - the ideas changed - and in some cases changed a lot.  Note: this should not be surprising as it is how the Innovation Engineering process is designed.

Could it be that innovation projects don't die. Rather, project leaders and coaches give up on them from exhaustion because they don't have wholeheartedness.

This is another way to say something that you've heard me say many times - the importance of intrinsic motivation to innovation success.   The academic research is clear on the subject - and it's also clear to the poet David Whyte.

BEWARE:  When you are “Whole Hearted” don’t be surprised if you feel negative blow back from others.  Some will be “passive aggressive” - working against you quietly - some will be more active in their confrontations.  In each case the root cause is often jealousy.   They are jealous of your energy, love, passion and faith in your wholeheartedness.

Inherent in the human condition is a desire to believe in something - to belong to something - to be a part of something greater than yourself.

When you are wholeheartedly engaged in doing something that could change the world - you have endless energy - and the naysayers want some of "what you're on". And if they can't get it - they don't want you to enjoy it either :).


That's a way of saying - as I return to Cincinnati from my summer journey to Prince Edward Island - that I have more energy than ever.    Getting deep into writing the Innovation Engineering book has grounded me in deeper wholeheartedness.  The process has sparked new ideas and insights that make me more excited than ever our ability to "change the world by transforming innovation from a random art to a reliable system."

Get ready!  Get set!  There is much to be done.

Your cheerleader and supporter


p.s.   As you would expect the secret to success with the relationship between myself and my girlfriend / wife of 37 years and children is also wholeheartedness.

The photo is from a  trip last week to Alaska where we rafted to see Eagles - boated to see Whales & fished for Salmon.