It’s my birthday today, the beginning of my 54th orbit of the sun.
Like most people these days, I’ll get a lot of birthday messages in calls, texts and across social media. And I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this is a two-edged sword — it’s great to feel loved and supported, it’s great to be recognised, but once you thank one person, you’ve got to thank them all.
I like to think I can write, so for a few years I tried to think of something unique to say in reply to everyone who sent me a message or posted on my feed. Then that got too much and I took to just 👍 everyone’s messages on Facebook. It didn’t feel great. This year, I thought they deserved more than that and started using the ❤️ button, because I really do appreciate them thinking of me, but I’m not able to think of something special and unique to write in thanks to everyone who posts. Jeez, I’m either an ungrateful self-important dickhead or a copy-and-paste automaton, thanks for the great choices, Facebook.
And that’s if/when there’s something to celebrate. Have you ever been the person tasked with keeping a big network of family, friends, colleagues or school mates up-to-date with someone who’s suffered a hospitalisation or serious illness? Keeping a lot of people in the loop on the latest about someone’s health can be draining. I feel like I re-live my own emotions about it each time I spend time updating people.
But today something much more interesting dawned on me…
The theory of The Extended Mind
I first saw David Chalmers speak about the theory of the Extended Mind at TEDxSydney in 2011. In 1988 he and Andy Clark published a paper “The Extended Mind” suggesting that your written notes constitute a memory storage device our mind relies upon in the process of cognition. That our minds might be more than just the contents of our skulls, but that objects, tools and even other people might be part of a fuzzy web of things that help us ‘be’ ourselves.
Chalmers’ TEDx talk resonated with me then and it still arises in my thoughts to this day. I still look out for reading material about new advances (and criticisms) on the theory. There’s a great summary of all that published by MIT Press if you’re interested.
The extended mind of a team
I was reading something recently, a study on why great leaders can become failures when transplanted from one organisation to another, or from one team to another. I’ve searched and can’t find it again so I can’t reference it for you directly, sorry, but perhaps someone reading this can provide a link?
The gist of it was: the success of someone in a leadership position depends not just on their skills, experience, communication skills and hard work – it’s also how well those things are supported by the skills, experience, communication skills and hard work of the other members of that team.
In effect, the performance of the extended minds of the team are what should be evaluated, not the performance of the team leader.
Whether you prefer to believe that the team is part of the extended mind of the leader, or whether the team plus the leader equal one whole extended mind, it’s an interesting concept.
Why stop at business and leadership performance? Wouldn’t the same hold true for all our social and familial relationships?
Which brings me to the people who reached out to wish me a happy birthday today.
Perhaps my social web is not just a burden of obligations. It’s also part of what makes me, “me”
As I said, it’s my birthday today and I have a lot of people who’ve taken a moment (or even a few minutes) to let me know they care about me. Some of them care because we’re related, some because we’re emotionally close, some because we work together, or once worked together, or once climbed a mountain, played in a band, or made a documentary together.
I think we’d all agree that we’ve inherited much of makes us great from our upbringing and the traits and learned behaviours that come from our parents and our siblings. And the sporting teams and sports coaching relationships we’ve been part of – obviously those have been part of what shapes us into who we are today. Then there are teachers, and managers, mentors, coworkers, bosses and industry leaders, inspirational writers, actors, musicians, dating relationships, long-term romantic relationships, BFFs and best mates.
In short, I am who I am because of all of you. It’s me who should be thanking you on my birthday.
The person I am, the values I hold, the goals I strive at achieve and the values I hold dear, have all been moulded much more by all of you than by me.
The way you’ve supported me emotionally, logically, logistically and with your complimentary skills have allowed me to get better at what I’m good at, to focus on achieving what I’m here to do in the world, to feel supported and valued and welcome, to support you too, with what I have to give.
So this birthday, I will still ❤️ all the messages I received on Facebook and Instagram. I will still try to find something unique to each of you in my reply on Twitter, Facebook Messenger, Slack, SMS and iMessage.
But please, if you made it far through this blog post, accept my thanks for being part of my extended mind. You (all) complete me.