How many dimensions do you operate in?
Behold yon miserable creature. That Point is a Being like ourselves, but confined to the non-dimensional Gulf. He is himself his own World, his own Universe; of any other than himself he can form no conception; he knows not Length, nor Breadth, nor Height, for he has had no experience of them; he has no cognizance even of the number Two; nor has he a thought of Plurality, for he is himself his One and All, being really Nothing. Yet mark his perfect self-contentment, and hence learn this lesson, that to be self-contented is to be vile and ignorant, and that to aspire is better than to be blindly and impotently happy.
―Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
You must be careful not to confuse correlation with causality in assessing the happiness we can find…
Financial planners, like most of us, live in a two-dimensional world of measurable data—time and money: how much time, money, and cash flow do our clients have to optimize their life dreams? Consider the broader question: how do we create the “muscle” to fully live into the n-dimensional world of the dreams we long to inhabit?
As a nerdy junior high student, I read a fascinating book called Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. Author Edwin A. Abbott tells the story of what life looks like from the perspectives of a point, a line, and three-dimensional creatures like us to describe the mindset of a world of four-dimensional creatures.
Note that for simplicity’s sake, neo-classical economic models usually have two dimensions: present/future tradeoffs and labor/leisure tradeoffs. This binary approach likewise limits our visions of retirement planning to either hopeful (“I’ll retire when I’m 67.”) or hopeless (“I’ll never be able to retire.”). (More on that in a future blog).
Clayton Christiansen’s How Will I Measure My Life? opened my eyes to this binary thinking of work/money as two-dimensional thinking. No matter how far out we go into the positive X-Y quadrant—how much money we earn, what impressive titles or client lists we build, we could inadvertently remain at zero on the Z-axis! A story from my family will make this come to life.
I recall one Christmas wanting to expand my girls’ horizons by getting them a robot arm that they could help Dad build. (OK, that toy was really for me). While my younger daughter, then 6, was the more interested and tried to help me out, she lost interest soon after her big sister. I thought, “Oh, they’ll probably want to play with it once I finish building it.” Once I had completed the arm, no one played with it much—not even Dad! That robot arm was an expensive lesson in that the most fun any of us got out of that arm was the experience of making it—the Z dimension. Neither the time expended—X dimension—nor the money spent—the Y dimension—really mattered. I couldn’t tell you today exactly how much that robot cost nor how long it took us to finish it. The lasting value of the toy was really in the experience together and the memories of both the joys and disappointments of that experience—the Z dimension.
That lesson was not lost on me. Later, when I received a substantial bonus, I chose to use the cash toward an experience: a once-in-a-lifetime cruise of the Alaskan Inland Passage. To this day, our family considers it one of the highlights of our life together. (Similarly, while my wife and I love the addition to our house a few years ago, I remember fondly the experience of making hundreds of decisions to make the addition just so). [Christiansen, 438]
Here are two ideas about expanding Z-dimensional living:
- Explore the Z dimension with your clients, co-workers, and employees. How might you help them tap into their dreams?
- Consider: when do my X-Y thinking and acting get in the way of n-dimensional living?