PBTO57: Liminal Thinking – Creating change by understanding, shaping, and reframing beliefs with Dave Gray

Credits: Opening music credit goes to Riju Mukhopadhyay & Pavan Cherukumilli

Who is on the show:

In this episode, we host Dave Gray. He is the founder of XPLANE and author of multiple books including Liminal Thinking.

Why is he on the show:

He is a visual artist and uses agile, iterative techniques like Visual Thinking, Culture Mapping, and Gamestorming to get people engaged and involved in co-creating clear, unique and executable business strategies. His latest book – Liminal Thinking, talks about a core practice for connected leaders in a complex world.

What do we talk about:

In a free-wheeling conversation, we speak about

  • How did he come about writing his book “Game-storming” with Sunni Brown and James Macanufo and his experience of writing the book
  • Empathy Map and he shares a story about a session where he used the map and how it impacts people
  • Why is it so difficult for people to empathise with others?
  • How did his book “Connected Company” come about and what it was all about (Digital Transformation), which led to the question about how to make the transformation?
  • How this led him to his latest book – “Liminal Thinking”
  • The entire conversation around belief and how critical it is for internal transformation
  • What are some of the most simple of things that if done can have significant impact on our lives?
  • The ability to sit back and observe oneself as a third person is a meta ability that can help us bring about significant changes in our own lives. How could one go about developing this ability?
  • Is there a connection between being in the moment and visual thinking?
  • Something that was surprising and interesting while researching for the book – “Liminal thinking”.
  • Who does he considers the most inspiring person and why?
  • What is it that you see in the world that blows his mind?
  • What is the biggest limitation of humanity? Why?
  • What does his creative process looks like? What are his routines that support his creativity?
  • What gives him joy or how does he rejuvenate himself?
  • Where does he get creative ideas from ?
  • What is his learning habits? How does he continue to evolve and grow as a person?
  • Book Recommendation:
  • What he thinks is obvious but people miss all the time (The answer will definitely surprise you).
  • What is one thing he wants you to do as soon as you finish listening to this conversation?

Liminal thinking talks about learning six principles and nine practicesThese nine practices of liminal thinking can be summarised as three simple precepts:

  1. Get in touch with your ignorance.
  2. Seek understanding.
  3. Do something different.

Here is a video where Dave explains the Pyramid of Beliefs from his book and you can find a summary of his book here.

How can you connect with him:

You can follow him on twitter @DaveGray and his website is http://www.xplaner.com.



Be a Better Leader and have a Richer Life

I came across this wonderful video on HBR Video’s that is based on a HBR article by Steward Friedman. He shares some great ideas about how we can go about integrating our professional lives with our personal lives together so that we not only achieve balance but also do better in both aspects of our lives. 
The short 7 min video explains the premise and covers all the topics that he covers in the article. 
I have always believed that we have now entered a time when having separate personal and professional lives is getting more and more difficult. There is a lot of overlap of our personal and professional space, goals and time spent. This means that we need to quickly learn a way to manage all three of them to ensure that not only do we get good at managing all of these but also are able to use them to develop ourselves in a way that both our personal and professional lives continue to improve. 
I do have a plan for myself. Do you have one?

The Importance of Leisure in Improving our Productivity

The Relationship between Leisure & Productivity by Mukesh Gupta


We live in a world where there is a relentless focus on improving productivity and efficiency. We want to do more of everything and do it quick. There is a spurt of books on how to improve our productivity. There are numerous blog posts about hacks to improve productivity. Despite all of this, we are living in a world where there is a minuscule percent of people who are able to accomplish much more than the rest of the population. There is a dearth of good leaders – both in business and public life. In this blog post, I am trying to explore what is amiss and what can we do about this.

Why do we want to improve our productivity:

While everyone wants to improve their ability to produce more, most forget the reason why they want to be more productive. The reasons could be different for different people:

  • For some, it is about accomplishing more so that they can rise in the corporate ladder.
  • For some, it could be about completing their work so that they can find some leisure time to spend with family, friends, or with themselves.
  • For some, it could be about a pursuit of constant improvement.

The point is that we need to know what is our individual reason to want to improve our productivity. This way, we are intentional about what we are trying to achieve by working on our productivity.

The one thing a car needs to speed, is good breaks.

I read somewhere that, the very existence of breaks in an automobile is what enables us to drive fast. If there were no breaks, our ability to go fast and still stay alive, would drastically diminish. A very similar thing happens when it comes to productivity. The very presence of leisure time and breaks from work, enable us to continue to stay relevant and productive.

Taking a break from work regularly allows your body and mind to recuperate and refresh. This also allows our sub-conscious mind to work on things that we are struggling with, in the background. This is process of sub-conscious work has led to many a discoveries and breakthrough thinking moments. This is even better if these breaks are fun.

In my opinion, taking a fun break regularly does offer us the following benefits:

Helps us manage our stress:

It is well-known fact that we can be much more productive if we operate under optimal stress – not too much and not too less. Taking regular time off for leisure activities can help us reduce and manage our stress levels such that we are able to maintain the balance and thereby enabling us to be extremely productive.

Helps us become creative:

Fun breaks allow the conscious mind to engage with something while allowing the sub-conscious mind to continue to work in the background on the topics that we are struggling with. This specifically is helpful in creating connections that can help address the topic that we want to address. This is so due to the fact that when we are focused on a particular topic, we are too focused and at that level of focus, it is difficult to find connections. To find these connections we need to take a 50000 ft view instead of the 100 Ft view we take when we are focused on the task.

Helps us remain healthy:

Breaks are important to regulate our emotions. We are all emotional animals and it is important to feel the full range of emotions in order to be healthy and productive. Continuous focus on work alone makes us miss our other emotions. This will either take a toll on our physical or emotional health. So, to remain healthy, we need to take regular breaks. The more fun they are, the better they are.

Improves the ability to focus:

If there is one thing that can have a significant impact on our productivity, it is focus. Taking regular leisure breaks helps us to build our focus muscles. Just like you need to give your body some rest after a rigorous exercise regimen before the next bout of exercise is critical to build our stamina and muscles, frequent leisure breaks allow for our mind to relax before the next bout of focused work. These breaks allow us to train our mind to become ultra focused, which in turn leads to a significant improvement in productivity.

In Conclusion:

I have found that a small 10 min break every couple of hours of intense work helps me remain creative, engaged, focused and ultra productive at my work. I have used this to be able to maintain this blog, a podcast, a video channel and write a book, all while still having a full-time job, where I excel.

I do need to work on my private life, where as a father, husband and son, I haven’t taken so many fun breaks as I would have liked to. But now that I am intentional about it, I am sure that this will change as well.

Question that you need to answer are the following:

  1. What is your purpose to improve your productivity?
  2. What is the frequency of leisure breaks you need? Is that daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual?
  3. Are you integrating these in your calendar and plan for them? If not, please find sometime and do plan.

This is one topic that is critical and needs all our attention. So, pls stop doing whatever you are doing and answer the above questions. Be intentional about your quest for productivity.

Why We Behave Badly and What Can we Learn from that Behaviour

Why We Behave Badly & What Can we learn from it by Mukesh Gupta

Today, I did something bad. Something that I had decided to never do. Ever. Yet, I ended up doing exactly that same thing. What I did seriously undermines one of my most important tenant in my personal manifesto – to stay healthy – emotionally. What I did took a toll on me and even more so on the person on the other side.

I immediately felt sorry after whatever I did. But, does that help? No. The damage was already done. I did apologise, because it’s the right thing to do…

The words we say are like arrows.. They fly at the speed of thought and can’t be taken back. Only this time, the arrow stuck a blow that i had not intended.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever done something so terrible that you don’t ever want it to get out, lest all hell break loose? Have you ever done something so terrible, that you can’t even dream of doing it.. ever..

Did you feel in the moment that you were not in control? Did it feel like someone other than you took over you and your senses? That is exactly how I felt..

The question now is the following:

What can I do to limit the damage already done? Is there anything that I can do to ensure that this never happens again?

Limiting the damage:

There are only 3 things that we can do, if we have done something terrible to hurt someone.

  • Feel the guilt: We need to feel bad about what we have done. Genuinely. Fully experience the guilt that comes from such an act.
  • Apologise: Once we have fully experienced the guilt, go ahead and apologise to the person whom we have hurt. Remember that it is up to them to decide if they would give you forgiveness or not. You can not force them to forgive you and move on. It is their decision to make.
  • Forgive yourself: Once we have apologised sincerely, it is important that we forgive ourself for what we did (whether or not you were forgiven). It is important that we forgive ourselves to enable us to move to the next phase, which is to learn from what happened, understand why it happened and put in place systems in place to try to make it much more difficult for you do something similar.

Understand why it happened:

When I looked at some research done in the area of emotional reactions, I learnt that the part of the brain that is responsible for emotional reactions – amygdala is the oldest part of the brain and gets activated in times of stress or any other heightened emotional states. This part of the brain is responsible for the fight, flight or freeze response that we have for certain kind of stimuli. The stimuli that generates this kind of response can be different for different people.

I, for one, have realised that I react in un-characteristic way in certain situations and with certain people. When I think about it, I know that some situations, some words or actions have that kind of impact on me.

I realise that I lose control of my pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain that is rational and helps us make a choice, rather than react to stimuli, which inherently makes us different from animals and uniquely human) when I am faced with a certain situation where I am feeling extremely vulnerable or when someone questions my integrity or intentions. These are my hot buttons or triggers.

Anytime they are pressed, I react in a way that is not consistent with the person that I am or I want to be. This is exactly the time my amygdala takes over and makes me fight, take flight or freeze.

Earlier today, was one such reaction – I fought, said and did things that I never wanted to say and do in the first place.

This is usually the case in all such scenarios. If you lose control of yourself next time, look at the situation, place, people, what they said/did, how did you feel. Then try to recollect a time when something similar happened. Did you react that is consistent to fight, flight or freeze response? If yes, you have just found a hot button or a trigger that can make you behave uncharacteristically.

Everyone of us has such hot buttons or triggers. Some of us have a low threshold and more triggers than others. But all of us have them. This is also uniquely human.

What can we do to make it difficult for us to do this again:

Once we identify the triggers or the hot buttons, we should not stop there. There will be a strong tendency (ok strong in me, maybe not so strong in you) to use this as an excuse so that we can blame the other person for triggering you by pressing the hot button, to rationalise our behaviour. BEWARE. If we do this, we are no better than any animal in the jungle. If that is the identity that we want to strive towards, then by all means, go ahead and do that. I strive to be better than that, much better than that.

So, instead of using this as an excuse, I want to flip it. From being a negative trigger that makes me lose control, I want to make this a positive trigger that helps me improve as a person. How can we do that, you ask. Here is how:

  • Use the power of imagination: Imagination is another uniquely human trait that enables us to experience anything that we want to. Bhagvad Gita says  – Everything that we know is a figment of our imagination. All our belief’s, our culture, our idea of society, of success/failure, right/wrong. So, lets use that power of imagination and re-live the moment. Act out the entire scene, in its entirety, including the person who said or did things that pressed your hot buttons. Then imagine different ways that we could react to the trigger. What would it look and feel like to freeze or to fight or to run away. What would it feel like to not do any of this and stay grounded and in control. What might we say differently? What might we do differently? How does that make us feel? How does that make the other person feel? How do they react to this new stimuli? Try something else and experience the same thing again. Try something else and keep doing this till you find an approach that leads to an outcome that is positive for both you and the other person. If you are truly forgiven and if you really trust this other person, involve them in this exercise as well. Once you have identified the course of action that best suits everyone in question, we need to practice it multiple times using our imagination, so that when it actually happens again, we are ready. By confronting our hot buttons or triggers, we get them to lose the power they hold on us.
  • Don’t press other’s hot buttons: If someone could press our hot buttons, consciously or sub-consciously, we could do the same to others as well. So, we need to think about our own behaviour to see if we did/said something that triggered the amygdala of the other person. If possible, ask the other person if you did so and if it would help them feel better and respond differently, if you did not repeat your behaviour.


Being human is messy. Emotions are messy. In moments of stress, we think and act as if we don’t have a choice. But we always have a choice. As long as we keep learning from each one of these mistakes, we can continue to grow as an individual and at the same time enjoy the pleasure that comes from having strong emotional friendships or kinship. Relationships are messy. However, it is these messy stuff and how we deal with them is what makes us uniquely human.

I hope I am able to seek and get forgiveness for my act of today. I do hope that you are able to do so as well, whenever you end up in a situation like I did today. Be absolutely sure that it will happen and be prepared for it.