A Recent Undefined Frustration
For quite a while now, I’ve been feeling extremely frustrated. I realized that the dissatisfaction is related to a constellation of factors:
One of the most obvious factors has been a lack of community. While I talk constantly about the paramount importance of tribalism and supportive social networks in fostering health, I have had a very difficult time developing those networks in my current life.
- Another factor was that the frustration was clearly tied into a lack of involvement in creating and developing any new exciting projects with great potential.
- I also knew that the frustration tied into my having great energy, ideas and tools with which to generate such new projects, yet being unsure quite what to channel those resources into and where to find the support I need to do so optimally.
- Another clue is that the onset of the frustration coincided with the drifting apart that has happened in the last year between myself and Mark, the person with whom I developed my company, Emergent Associates, and to whom I’ve turned most for mutual support and creative partnership in the last several years.
All of these factors shed some light on the source of my feelings. But none of them alone was enough to explain it. For instance, while I do lack enough community in my life, I have also found myself uninspired by some of the people I have met who might have offered some. While I want to be involved in exciting projects that channel my energies, I find myself unmotivated by some of the projects easily available for me to work on alone, even if they might give me a constructive outlet.
I knew there was something more specific behind my dissatisfaction, even though I couldn’t yet put a finger on what it was.
Lack of a “Scheme Team”: The Source of the Frustration
Then, during a discussion with a friend, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that there is something I do constantly in my mind, almost from the moment I wake up to the minute I sleep and probably even in my dreams. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. What I’m referring to is scheming.
As soon as I thought of the word, it was like an epiphany for me. Scheming may be the perfect word for what I do most of the time. Other than breathing, there may be nothing that I do more. Amazingly, despite all my efforts to define who I am, I had never before hit on this word that sums up a great part of what I’m all about more than any other.
It was only an instant before I realized that this activity of scheming was central to my recent frustration. Indeed, I was longing for community, but not just any form of community. Yes, I was longing to be involved in exciting projects and to have constructive places to channel my energies and creativity, but not just any places and not with just any people – and certainly, ideally, not alone. What I was longing for was what I’d had with Mark for years. A relationship of mutual scheming or co-scheming. I missed being part of a “scheme team.”
Co-Scheming is an activity that ties together everything that I had been aware of as part of my frustration. It is an activity that builds community, tying into tribalism, as I’ll discuss. It facilitates the generation of exciting new opportunities and projects. And it allows the generation of new channels for pent up energies and ideas. It is precisely what I had with Mark that has been, to a great extent, lost. Scheming with a partner or partners is what I miss more than almost anything in my life right now.
Scheming as Mapping Connections
Let’s talk for a minute about what I mean by scheming. While I realize that the action of scheming technically involves only the verb form of the word, I will be referring to scheming as an activity that, for me, incorporates aspects of all of the meanings of scheme, including the noun forms.
First let’s look at the dictionary definitions of scheme. The American Heritage Dictionary lists several definitions, each of which shed light on why this activity is so meaningful to me.
One of the definitions of scheme listed is:
- A chart, diagram, or outline of a system or object
It is no surprise that as an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a systems thinker and a strategizer, I take great pleasure in charting, diagramming and outlining not only systems and objects, but concepts, processes and ideas of all kinds. This definition of scheme ties in closely to the related word schema meaning “A diagrammatic representation; an outline or model.” Developing schemas is something that I love to do, and am in fact often doing without even noticing.
Having a schema is like having a map. It gives you clarity where you were once lost. It makes the difference between knowing that you’re stuck in some woody area vs. knowing that you are at a set of specific coordinates, what is around you on all sides and what is the best path to get where you want to go. It makes the difference between being in terrible emotional pain and having no idea why or what to do about it vs. understanding precisely where the pain comes from, how to handle it and what it means.
Another definition listed for scheme is:
- An orderly combination of related parts
As a connector, a great part of the excitement of scheming for me lies in coming to understand how things that previously seemed disparate actually relate to each other and work together as a whole. The pleasure of this experience is captured in Albert Einstein’s quote “It is a wonderful feeling to recognize the unity of a complex of phenomena that to direct observation appear to be quite separate things.” In order to develop charts, diagrams, outlines or maps, and use them wisely, it is essential to understand a system in terms of its parts and their relationships, as well as in terms of the whole.
Seeing the world in terms of these diagrams, maps and charts that relate separate parts into interconnected wholes is central to two of the most important pillars of my worldview. It is crucial to understanding the world as holonic or made up of holons – entities that are each simultaneously wholes themselves, as well as parts in sequentially larger wholes. For instance, each cell of the body is a whole in itself, as well as part of a tissue. Each tissue is a whole in itself, as well as part of an organ. Each organ is a whole in itself, as well as part of the body…and so on.
This view also ties into what may be the most fundamental concept that shapes my overall worldview, that of emergence. I am utterly fascinated by how, when one understands diagrammatically the way parts connect, one can focus in on various leverage points and elements of a system at different levels, and then zoom out to see the emergent properties on the higher levels that embody more than the sum of those parts.
Scheming as Intriguing Strategizing for Change
Now let’s look at one more definition listed:
- A systematic plan of action
This definition of scheme shows that it can involve not only coming to the intellectual understanding implied by the previous definitions, but that it can also include the wise utilization of that understanding in the development of plans. This is very important to me since, as an INTJ, though I do love theorizing, I become very frustrated eventually if I can’t channel that knowledge into a useful application. As one profile says in comparing the INTJ with another type, “INTJs live to see systems translated into substance; an INTP, by way of contrast, is content to design the system.”
And now let’s look at a final definition listed.
- A secret or devious plan; a plot
It is this definition of scheme that adds the intrigue, mystery and edge to the experience of scheming. This aspect also appeals greatly to me as an INTJ. NT’s (rationals) of all types, according to David Keirsey in Please Understand Me II, aspire to be “wizards” that understand, and thus have the power to predict and create desired changes in, the world. The image of the wizard behind the curtain with secret knowledge and plans has long appealed to me.
It is also this definition that gives the word its sinister connotation. But despite the dark aura they create around the activity of scheming, secrecy and deviousness do not have to lead to sinister outcomes. For example, scheming can be simply fun. People may scheme a practical joke or a surprise birthday party.
In other cases, scheming leads to outcomes that are indeed subversive. However, not all of these subversive goals are destructive, and many are even extremely just. The ethics of any particular case of scheming, even at its most subversive, depends on the morality of the thing being subverted and the values of the person assessing the situation. For instance, while it is true that Osama bin Laden secretly and deviously schemes toward ends he considers just, so too did Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the founding fathers of the United States do the same. Scheming can be used for healthy and beneficial outcomes just as surely as it can be used for unhealthy and destructive outcomes. That judgment depends on one’s particular beliefs.
As David Seah explains, scheming involves an ability to question the mainstream culture and to introduce a new set of rules to create change. It is for this reason that mainstream cultures may always have an incentive to look suspiciously upon scheming, even when it may actually lead to improvements.
Finally, Seah explains further that the development of plans in secret can spring from motives other than just trying to hide immoral behavior. For instance, it can serve to protect new and vulnerable ideas in their early stages from the harsh judgment of the world before they are ready to be shared. Thus, while scheming certainly can be a part of immoral or destructive behavior, its secrecy can serve other purposes, both logistical and ethical, and can lead to improvements in society.
The Origins of the Word Scheme: Putting it All Together
While all four of the aforementioned definitions describe aspects of scheming that play a role in why I love it, a look at the word’s origins further reinforces the insights. The Online Etymology Dictionary has the same listing for both scheme and schema. It says:
“1553, “figure of speech,” from M.L. schema “shape, figure, form, figure of speech,” from Gk. skhema (gen. skhematos) “figure, appearance, the nature of a thing,” related to skhein “to get,” and ekhein “to have,” from PIE base *segh- “to hold, to hold in one’s power, to have” (cf. Skt. sahate “he masters,” sahah “power, victory;” Avestan hazah “power, victory;” Gk. ekhein “to have, hold;” Goth. sigis, O.H.G. sigu, O.N. sigr, O.E. sige “victory”). The sense “program of action” first is attested 1647. Unfavorable overtones (selfish, devious) began to creep in early 18c. The verb, in the sense of “devise a scheme,” was first recorded 1767. Color scheme is attested from 1884.”
The ideas of shape, figure and form and coming to understand the nature of a thing relate strongly to the first two definitions I listed involving charting and outlining or finding an orderly combination of related parts. Once that process is done, one in a sense has intellectual mastery over the subject and can hold it, grasp it – one “gets” it - and thus has the power to use that knowledge in the world through programs of action.
That is precisely how I’ve found that scheming works for me. I start by noticing a circumstance, skill, process or aspect of the world that I don’t understand but wish to. It is scattered, unstructured. I only see various parts of it, and can’t yet understand how it all fits together. When I manage to create a schema, chart, or outline and understand the system, when it takes shape in my mind, I feel just that sense of power and ability to now apply it in action. I can then begin to strategize a plan to create change in the world and in my life.
Scheming is about shaping ideas and coming up with new, and potentially culture-changing, possibilities. It is a process of innovation that has the potential to shake up the status quo and that has an alluring sense of secrecy and forbidden excitement to it.
A Life of Scheming
I think I’ve been scheming for nearly as long as I can remember. When you consider all of the aforementioned definitions and ideas involved in the word scheme – shaping information into structures (or schemas) that can be used, dreaming up applications for them and/or developing those, often secretly, into something you can launch into the world – this may be the activity, other than breathing, that I do more than anything. So it’s no surprise that almost immediately when I hit on the word, it made immediate sense and memories began flooding back from my whole life.
As a child, I was constantly scheming. At younger ages, this fell mostly into the aspect of developing frameworks for understanding. I remember, for example, studying the organization of my Safari Cards, marveling at how all of those different creatures fit into a schema by which they could be sorted and understood. I remember creating models in my mind to help me memorize the world capitals and understand geography, literally mastering the map. I remember creating processes and models for mastering card games, brain teasers and math problems by trying to map in my mind the underlying organization and tactics.
As I grew, I learned to apply scheming to any environment I was in or any interest I took up, and began moving beyond intellectual frameworks to plans of action.
In school, I learned to create schemas for each subject I had to learn. Perhaps even more beneficial, Mega-Memory taught me how to create mnemonic schemas which served as meta-schemes for learning just about anything in school. These served me well all the way through medical school, where the volume of information is tremendous and absolutely requires efficient schemes to possibly digest. And in fact, after feeling completely overwhelmed about a week into medical school, the first thing I did was sit down and develop a special scheme for approaching my first classes.
- As a teenager, I learned my lesson after getting involved in a few get-rich-quick schemes, the types of schemes that give scheming a bad name.
- I developed schemas for sorting my baseball cards, as well as schemes for collecting them speculatively to make money. This led to my first mail order business, selling a booklet advising others on my schema for making money with baseball cards, another scheme in itself.
- When I took up basketball, I learned to break the sport down into its elements, see how they each connected, created a workout plan to master each element and watched as my improved overall game emerged. This led to another mail order business, when I wrote up several booklets based on my scheme for improving one’s basketball abilities.
- Chess provides a great example of what it means to scheme in all aspects of the word. As a beginner, the game appeared to consist of a bunch of random pieces moving all over the board. But after dividing the game up into the opening, middlegame and endgame, and systematizing the milestones to aim for in each phase along with common tactics and strategies for various pieces and combinations of pieces, the game began to take a shape that empowered me to beat others who lacked that schema.
- Recently, I got hooked on a video game, which is rare for me. I’ve been going back and playing it often when I’m down and the reason is interesting. I started playing this game with no idea how to do well at it, or how to make sense of it. I was just playing randomly. As I played more I started becoming familiar with the various boards (the parts) of the game. I became familiar with the various types of moves and strategies. I found very specific leverage points (ie: aim at this spot right here on this board to get the most points). Soon I was getting scores on the all-time high score board. Do I care about the scores? Not at all. I just get a rush of satisfaction at honing my scheming skills and then seeing them work in practice. It reinforces my feeling that I can apply that same skill to other areas of life successfully.
Over the years, I’ve been fascinated by schemes that attempt to give structure and strategy to an incredible range of aspects of life including:
- Improving our democracy
- Understanding and optimizing human development and personality
- Mastering, playing and creating music
- Becoming a better public speaker
- The process of initiating and developing healthy relationships
Indeed, in a way, nearly everything in which I’m interested – and especially which is featured on this site - could be seen as related to a scheme. In fact, one of the areas in which I scheme the most lately is in what goals to pursue next with this website and blog.
The Excitement, Camraderie, Origins and Rewards of Co-Scheming
So, as great as scheming is, what’s even better than scheming? Co-scheming.
While key moments of insight and understanding surely brought a sense of excitement when scheming alone, nothing compares to the shared excitement and camaraderie that I’ve experienced during moments of scheming with others. In fact, the drive toward scheming along with others is so great in me that often my first reaction upon creating a scheme on my own was to call up others and try to get them as excited about the idea as I was. It’s just not that fun scheming alone forever.
It’s important to distinguish co-scheming from simply collaborating. Most of us have collaborated with others on tasks in school or at work. But this is not necessarily the same as co-scheming. David Seah does a great job of explaining the subtle distinctions between working with collaborators and working with co-schemers (or as he also calls them, co-conspirators). Both are important, but as he explains there are subtle but crucial differences in the experiences.
For me, the difference comes down to the sense that co-scheming requires a more passionate shared commitment to a cause and to each other, and a higher likelihood that the cause is somewhat revolutionary or innovative. Like David, I find it much easier to find collaborators, but far more rewarding and bonding to find co-schemers. Like him, I also find it a much more joyful world when I have a co-schemer in my life.
What is it that is so rewarding about co-scheming? For me it’s about certain special moments that arise in the process.
- It’s the middle of the night phone call expressing a new world-changing – or at least life-changing - idea in a breathless frenzy, desperate to share it before it is forgotten.
- It’s the conversations so engaging that you talk for hours without even feeling the time pass.
- It’s the mutually reinforcing excitement of making a discovery together that so perfectly blends each of your inputs that you can’t possibly attribute it to either person alone, but only to the team as a whole.
- It’s the bond that comes from having a unique shared worldview that you have developed together and that hardly anyone else on earth fully understands.
- It’s the suspense as you gradually put into play a clever plan and await the results together.
- It’s the feeling of competence and empowerment combined with support and closeness as you celebrate a successful outcome together.
- It’s the “us against the world” feeling that comes from having a partner in crime.
For me, there’s nothing else quite like it.
No doubt there are those who don’t enjoy scheming as I do. And certainly there are those who prefer to scheme alone. But, for me and many others, it’s simply much more fun having someone to celebrate the successes with and much more secure knowing there is someone to support you and share the risks and downturns when things don’t go as well. In addition, the more competent and motivated people you have on board with your scheme, the more credible it may seem when you put it into play in the world. And ultimately I love the way that scheming brings people together and forms a special kind of bond. I can say that I have bonded with the people I have schemed with in ways I haven’t with probably anyone else.
My own hypothesis is that there may be an evolutionary basis for the pleasure I and others take in the experience of co-scheming. Humans evolved in tribes, small groups of people in which they had to work together every day to survive and find their own way under only their own rules. They had to figure out the land, how to hunt and get food, how to get along with each other, how to do everything together. And they had only their fellow tribe members to turn to, a condition that all but ensures passionate commitment to the group’s worldview and to each other.
You can imagine a great deal of scheming and strategizing going on in that setting. In fact, the entire process of cooperative hunting itself, especially as practiced before the advent of high-tech weapons, is, to me, a model example of scheming at its best. Thus, to some extent, we may be hardwired by our evolutionary heritage to find great pleasure and excitement in this process of co-discovery and planning with other people we care about. Co-scheming may be very close to a foundational human activity, something for which we have enormous emotional payoffs built into us.
It is for all of these reasons that I really envy people who have shared great success in a longtime sustaining relationship with a co-schemer. I can hardly imagine anything that would be more fulfilling or that has been so fulfilling for me to the extent that I’ve had such success. Perhaps the yearning for such a co-scheming situation is one element in why so many people long to be part of a great team or a band. And you can find such co-scheming partnerships that have changed the world – for better or for worse – in almost every area of society.
- Think of Bill Gates and Paul Allen.
- Think of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
- Think of Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger.
- Think of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.
- Think of Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
- Think of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. (In fact, I’ve often said that at moments of great connection with a co-schemer it reminded me of the kind of back and forth that must have happened with Lennon and McCartney).
I could go on and on with the examples.
My Co-Scheming Highlights
Several years ago, I worked at a startup software company. While this didn’t work out in the end for me, during the time that I was there I had some of the most fun and fulfilling co-scheming moments I’ve ever had. My boss at the company was more like a peer than a boss, actually younger than me, a brilliant programmer and very ambitious like me. He also was skeptical of many mainstream methods and was eager to innovate new ideas that would make an impact and change our industry.
I will never forget the fun and excitement of sitting up late at night at the computer with him in the tucked-away loft that served as our office, dreaming up new ideas together, watching him do the programming to implement them, plotting the company’s next exciting moves and then celebrating together as they paid off, validating our insights and schemas as at least partially accurate. Time and again when asked about my high points in life, I’ve thought of those nights co-scheming.
The successful Instant Runoff Voting campaign that I coordinated in Ferndale, Michigan was another example of fulfilling co-scheming. A small group of us, highly committed and passionate and willing to explore and create, met weekly and shared constant communication as we developed a strategy and map for revolutionizing the election system. It was a lot of work, but also very exciting as we’d share new ideas, often hitting on something we’d never thought of before, and celebrated successes in the campaign, whether obtaining a new important endorser or donation or seeing our PR scheme pay off with some big publicity for our cause in the news.
The relationship that led to the formation of my company, Emergent Associates, has been the longest-lasting and most successful co-scheming experience I’ve had to date. Mark and I met at a time when we had both read Daniel Quinn’s work and were deeply impacted but unsure of just what to make of all of the ideas and feelings it was stirring in us. Neither of us had yet solidified a schema that reconciled Quinn’s ideas with our previous worldviews or that could generate clear answers on what to do with our lives in light of this new knowledge.
We spent years in discussions, helping each other give greater shape to Quinn’s ideas in our minds, and putting them in the context of fields like Systems Thinking. Later we added tools and concepts like Appreciative Inquiry (AI), Personality Typing, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), Flow and others to our schemas, giving greater shape, and bringing a sense of deeper understanding and ability to apply our knowledge.
In fact, the period right after I learned about Appreciative Inquiry was probably the single most exciting period of generativity I’ve ever been a part of. Both inherently and passionately driven to make sense of the world and our lives, and spurred on by the powerful new paradigm of AI that had been thrust into the mix, there were days when Mark and I shared a hundred emails back and forth in a flurry of new ideas and insights. There would be elated phone calls when a new and thrilling idea came to the surface that would change our thinking forever. It was a period of constant mutual discovery. And in the end we had synthesized many other schemes into our own process for coaching and consulting that fostered human empowerment and development.
We eagerly applied our schemes to ourselves and our own lives. And throughout it all we were constantly scheming other new ideas and projects, as well. The excitement of possibility was always in the air between us. This culminated in the formation and development of Emergent Associates, an actual entity that gave literal shape to our ideas so that we could then promote and use them to help ourselves and others.
Thus, my company is both the product of co-scheming and an entity through which I apply various schemas to co-scheme with others regarding their own lives, businesses and projects. People come to me with a particular issue – a relationship, a business idea, even their very direction in life – for which they have no workable schema, no framework or plan for how to approach it. I guide them using my own schema, taking them through a process by which we develop a plan, a scheme, with which they can optimize their situation. This process of co-scheming with partners and clients I’ve met through my company has also been extremely fulfilling.
Casting for the “Scheme Team”: Passionate, Committed, Likeminded, Action-Oriented Visionaries Wanted
So this brings me back to my recent frustration. The course of my relationship with Mark, and ironically the application of the very schemes we developed together, has led to him moving more toward a focus on other projects and relationships in which I am not as deeply included. You see, Mark’s authentic path, as described brilliantly in his piece Forcing the Balance, has always revolved strongly around music and the arts. In fact, in the course of developing our own ideas, we even created a schema for the development of creative and artistic projects and, through our mutual coaching of each other, he gained a stronger impetus to start his own company, Potluck Creative Arts.
While I’m thrilled that Mark is following his authentic path, this divergence from our previous relationship has left a real hole in my current life. I really miss the excitement of having as closely committed a co-schemer as Mark was for me in developing new ideas and projects over the last several years. I’m longing for a partner or partners in crime, yearning for co-schemers. In other words, I’m in the market to be part of a new “scheme team”.
What qualities would ideal co-schemers of mine have? While I don’t want to limit the possibilities too strictly, I can identify several qualities that, based on my experience, I think would increase the likelihood of a sustainable and mutually enjoyable dynamic:
- An inherent passion for the activities of scheming and co-scheming – People who love shaping information into useful structures, making sense of it, and applying it in new and innovative ways. People who love marathon discussions leading to rapid fire insights. People who will be just as excited as I am to place or receive a late night phone call to share and celebrate a new discovery. People who, if they weren’t scheming along with me, would probably be scheming with others or sitting and scheming on their own because it’s simply something they are driven to do.
David Seah explains “A co-schemer is a natural catalyst to other co-schemers, generating energy.” and “They leave you feeling energized, not drained” and are able to “keep up”. Furthermore, he explains that co-schemers “constantly talk about ‘the Cause,’” “prod each other into results-producing action,” and “happily celebrate every result.” In order for these things to be true, there has to be an equal level of passion about scheming. It’s all about energy. In my experience, if the energy levels are unequal, the relationship and projects will fall apart. I’ve often ended up feeling in certain situations working with others that I had more drive to talk, prod and celebrate results than they did, and that has almost always coincided with the beginning of the failure of the project or relationship.
- A relatively similar worldview to mine so that our values and purpose are in line – In other words, I’m most interested in co-schemers with compatible schemas. As Seah says, “A co-schemer buys into your idea completely, because it’s their idea too” and is passionate about “the cause.” Just as it is important that co-schemers have relatively equivalent passion about scheming itself, obviously it is imperative that if scheming relates to a cause, they have a shared level of commitment to that cause.
A look around my site or a conversation with me will give you an idea of my worldview and some of the causes that I care most about. I have a worldview that bridges several categories including valuing personal growth, evolution and social justice, and incorporating a deep emotional and even spiritual awareness, while remaining skeptical and rather scientific and eschewing most new-aginess. I am very open to ideas considered strange or “fringe” by the mainstream, but am resistant when those ideas cross the line into what I see as delusional or outright kooky. Not every single thing that I work on has to be deeply tied into my worldview, and I’m certainly open to a wide range of ideas, but working with those who do share my worldview simply increases the chances of developing projects that truly inspire us and about which we are passionate.
- A committed partner who values a growing, generative, supportive relationship – While I can enjoy someone with whom I simply discuss theories and work on projects from time to time, ideally I value people with a passion for the relationship itself. Schemes and ideas come and go, some work well and some fade away, but with the right committed partner a shared history develops that can be built on and channeled ongoingly into new and exciting ideas. The relationship – the connection and dynamic between the co-schemers - itself becomes the foundation for sustainable generativity.
Furthermore, a sense of true partnership and support develops when working with a person who, as Seah puts it, “has your back when things go all pear-shaped.” In some of my past co-scheming situations, unfortunately, when things got pear-shaped, my co-schemers lost interest and abandoned each other in ways large and small. Compare this with some of the co-scheming teams I mentioned before who often worked together for a decade or even, as in some of the cases mentioned, for many decades.
- Someone with whom I can be frank - While I want my co-scheming relationships to be supportive, considerate and respectful, I also prefer working with people who are not so politically-correct or thin-skinned that I have to hold back what I’m thinking. Part of the bond that builds up in optimal co-scheming relationships, I’ve found, comes from the feeling that you can share just about anything with each other without having to worry about anyone taking offense too easily.
- Someone who blends a subversive mindset with a sense of justice and ethics – I would love to work with people who also enjoy the “secrecy and deviousness” of scheming, yet are ethical and want to use that aspect of scheming toward ends that empower and awaken ourselves and others, and foster beneficial states such as health, deep satisfaction, sustainability and community.
- Someone committed to taking risks and action to make things happen in the real world – As mentioned earlier, one of the marks of the INTJ is that we crave application. We love to discuss and theorize, but without eventual application what is the point? One of my biggest frustrations has been when I’ve talked with people at length and reached an idea that sounds exciting and feasible and then it becomes clear that, for reasons ranging from lack of time to fear, they are not willing to match my commitment or initiative to take the idea into action. I love a good discussion and not every one has to lead to a project. But I feel a real hole in my life when I’m not working on exciting ideas with other committed people that have the potential to become reality.
- Someone visionary – A person who can see beyond the status quo and imagine new possibilities. As Seah puts it “They can readily envision and communicate what the world would be like when The Cause comes to fruition.”
- Compatible sense of humor – This is sort of an X factor. It may seem unimportant to the practice of co-scheming and yet looking back at my history, it’s clear to me just how important this is. Seah says “They laugh at your obscure jokes.” and “They are serious about The Cause, but not so serious that they can’t joke about it.” Although I tend to focus on the excitement that comes from discovery and celebration of success, there is no doubt that many of my best memories of co-scheming involve times we laughed together for hours and bonded over that. An irreverent sense of humor is a definite plus.
When co-scheming relationships have been working well in the past, most or all of these elements seem to have been present in the situation. When they have failed or simply run their course, it seems to have stemmed from at least one of these factors not being, or no longer being, present.
As I write this, I’m watching the Emmy Awards and, for the 1000th time, I just heard someone win an award and talk about their great creative partner and how they couldn’t have done it without them. Whenever I hear that, I wonder just how many great projects are inside of me that I can’t do without the co-scheming partners that I haven’t yet met – perhaps partners with many of the qualities listed above.
The Pros and Cons of Similarity and Complementarity in Co-Scheming
There is one other issue I want to mention that relates to finding compatible co-schemers and that is the balance between the desire for similar partners vs. the benefits of complementarity.
Having similar personality types often allows for a great bond and closeness to form on the basis of deeply shared experiences and understanding. For example, Mark and I are both INTJ’s on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, evolutionary and systems thinkers, and our similarities played a key role in why we were drawn to such closely related ideas and projects for several years. Having similar personality types can increase the likelihood of sharing important factors previously mentioned such as a commitment to scheming, to certain causes, and sense of humor.
On the other hand, similar strengths often coincide with shared weaknesses. For instance, while both Mark and I have a number of talents to bring to a partnership, neither of us can do high level computer programming or stellar graphic art and design, and neither of us is a great salesman. Like most INTJ’s, we are both willing to lead when necessary, but prefer not to always have to, which could at times lead to a vacuum of desire to consistently take the reins to drive projects forward. While the similarities between Mark and I have generated a lot of great ideas, the fact that we also have similar lacks has played a role in why our success has been limited.
Thus, as wonderful as similarities can be, there is also obvious sense in co-scheming with people that have skills and approaches that you lack. I happen to be an INTJ who is fairly even on the Thinking/Feeling preference. Therefore I can bring a lot of skills related to both the NT (rational) and NF (idealist) categories of Myers-Briggs. I love connecting with other NT’s and NF’s and great success can definitely come from such a similar combination, alone or through bringing in others to a limited extent to perform tasks that neither of us are good at. But it can also be extremely rewarding to co-scheme in a deeper way with other types.
For example, an INTJ/ESFP combination can be an incredible dynamic, as the action-oriented ESFP provides the extraverted energy, initiative and great people skills to bring the plans and strategies that come so naturally to the INTJ to greater fruition. A guardian (SJ) type who shared my basic worldview would enjoy carrying out some of the logistical tasks, such as legal and accounting procedures, that I absolutely dread.
I’m open to working with all types of people as there are pros and cons to all arrangements. In some cases, two partners can form the core team that drives progress, while in others, more people may need to be brought in to various extents. In my experience, such relationship dynamic issues begin to play out naturally through conversation and, watching with a keen eye, co-schemers can become aware of how their personalities interact and what it says about how to proceed and what challenges may arise.
Furthermore, in the best of situations, co-schemers will catalyze growth in each other. I believe that we are drawn to close relationships not only with people that we always get along with, but also with those who can periodically challenge us in key ways. As Glinda says in the song “For Good” in the musical Wicked, “I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something that we must learn. And we are led to those who help us most to grow…If we let them, and we help them in return.”
One of the most important qualities in a truly supportive co-schemer is the ability to understand that, due to both our similarities and our differences, there will be times when we will press each others’ buttons. While there are many cases in which such a dynamic does indicate true incompatibility, it can also signal the presence of an extremely powerful source of “creative tension” between otherwise highly compatible partners. In addition, such a situation can offer an invaluable opportunity to practice healthy communication and catalyze mutual growth by working through these challenges. In this way, reconciling the similarities and complementarities between ourselves and our co-schemers can become one of the most important projects of all.
What I Bring to a Co-Scheming Relationship
Because of my past experiences, I come to any new scheming partnership with a lot of schemas already worked out and a number of specific tools in my arsenal – the same ones I use with clients of Emergent Associates - that can be applied to generate ideas. I bring my strategic systems thinking mindset, along with a love of innovation and experience developing projects in a variety of areas ranging from education, technology and business to personal growth and politics. All of my greatest successes have come about in an environment of co-scheming and I’m ready for the next opportunity. All that’s really missing is the right co-schemer or team of co-schemers, my next partner or partners in crime whose talents, skills and passions can mutually catalyze with mine. Could that include you?
The Optimal Process and Goals of Co-Scheming: Personal and General Comments
It’s one thing to find compatible co-schemers. But what might we generate together? If co-schemers are “partners in crime”, then, as Mark once asked me, “what is the crime?” Let me share some thoughts that relate both to my own personal scheming interests, as well as to some general ideas about the potential products and process of co-scheming at its best.
It’s a testament to how much I love the very process of co-scheming that, if the relationship is enjoyable and generative, then, within my ethical boundaries, I can enjoy creating almost anything together. In my capacity as a coach and consultant, I love the process of applying my ideas and techniques to drive co-discovery and co-creation so much that it hardly matters what we’re working on – a business, a song, a thesis paper or someone’s life plan - as long as I enjoy the structure of the relationship. This is what allows me to work in that capacity with clients of all different types, and it can also allow me to work with partners and co-schemers of various types in other capacities.
In a way, I am like a rather versatile catalyst. As I discuss briefly in my commentary “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”, my talents lie in the scheming process itself, and I often rely on others to assist in the concrete aspects of product or service creation. Many times, the content of the project stems from the particular talents of my partners, while I lend my operational and strategic talents to improve and hone their skills and ideas, channeling them into an optimal plan.
This is what happened, for instance, at the startup software company. I had no special software programming talents or understanding when I began there. But what I was able to do was pick up those principles very quickly and then help create and drive strategy and innovation on the platform of the prototype product they had created. Similarly, I had no special knowledge in the field of education, but was able to partner with a teacher to catalyze development of an alternative educational curriculum. I’m flexible enough on the content of the project that some of the things I’m willing to work on may even seem contradictory with each other, but this just reveals again how central the process and the relationships are to me above all.
Another important point is that a co-scheming situation can ideally be a long term endeavor that develops in strategic stages. Therefore, not every scheme has to be directed immediately toward the overall goal. For example, sometimes, at the most meta level of all, an early co-scheme may serve simply as a test of the relationship itself before moving on to work on more and more challenging schemes. Early schemes may also be dedicated to developing and testing tools that will then be needed in later projects. Other schemes may be devoted to obtaining publicity or credibility to then use in later projects toward more important outcomes.
Schemes for making a living and bringing in funding have a special role to play. You may create a scheme to form a business or bring in some income which can then be used to fund other important schemes with different goals. Making a living is the foundation of everything, the base of the hierarchy of needs that all living creatures must fulfill to support any other activities. So there is an especially important role for schemes that can support making a living for the participants, as was the case at the software company and in the formation of my own company. The primacy of making a living makes potential business opportunities that bring in an income, while still being in keeping with my values and allowing for autonomy and freedom, especially exciting.
The schema that is most lacking in our world today, the one that many of us seek most deeply and that Daniel Quinn discusses especially directly in My Ishmael, is a schema that gives us insight into how to live healthy and fulfilling lives. In his work, Quinn reveals that one major aspect of such a schema comes from looking at tribes, the social structures in which humans evolved, since they shed so much light on how we are hardwired to live. To me the ultimate scheme would be the creation of a sustainable social network, community or tribe because this is a scheme that has the potential to become a lasting foundation for lifelong scheming.
Such a scheme has the capability to fulfill numerous levels of the hierarchy of needs while simultaneously providing a desperately-needed example for a culture mired in individualism and unsustainable social structures. Finding and experimenting with alternative ways of living may have the most far-reaching impact of any innovation. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
Other ideas that intrigue me and that I’ve discussed with Mark are the creation of a think tank, economic development project or institute – entitites dedicated to creating and/or funding further schemes and projects. Here again you see my predilection for projects that serve as foundations for generating future projects.
All that said, it is obvious from my website or from talking with me that I do maintain particular specific interests that are closest to my heart. These tend toward schemes relating to personal growth for ourselves and others, social justice, innovative uses of technology to spread healthy, if perhaps subversive messages, tools or technology that beneficially improve efficiency in a given area, and especially projects that manage to combine some or all of these goals. Ultimately, the bottom line of improving our world and of all successful projects and businesses lies in helping to find ways to meet people’s needs, especially crucial and currently unmet needs.
Connection and Dialogue: Preludes to The Catalytic Magic of Co-Scheming
But ultimately, there is no way to predict what might come out of a co-scheming relationship, or where it might come from, in advance. After reading Ishmael threw into crisis my understanding of the world, I concluded that while I was certain of nothing else, I was sure that I needed to get in contact with likeminded people for discussion and support. Unsure of where it might lead, I started organizations like the Detroit Ishmael group and the Friends of Ishmael Society, and attended several Ishcons. These groups and experiences did indeed put me in closer contact with others who helped me make sense of what I was experiencing and to feel less alone. Eventually that path led me to meeting people who made a huge impact on my life, including Mark, and to the greatest period of generativity in my life.
In my post on the unsustainability of civilization, I conclude similarly that the only certain answer I know is that those of us who are likeminded need to come together, connect, and allow a process to begin unfolding in dialogue. When it comes to co-scheming, I feel the same.
So, if you are interested in exploring, let’s talk. As we talk more, if there is a connection, things will begin to take shape. A co-scheming relationship is itself emergent, more than the sum of its parts, and one of the most rewarding aspects is in coming, over time, to understand the map, the diagram, the chart of how the parts of that relationship work together. When you have that, you have the power to create amazing things through that relationship.
But, even then, nobody can predict precisely where it will lead. Carl Jung said “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” When co-schemers come together with the right chemistry, they stimulate and catalyze each other in ways that cannot be predicted. Part of the magic of co-scheming lies in the unforeseen ideas and innovations that effortlessly begin to flow when the right combination of partners meets the right generative tools.
I’m waiting here with some of the tools and lots of passion. Let’s talk and let the emergence begin.
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