Ep 131: Content vs. Context
Context is what lies beneath the content. In this episode, Adam Quiney talks about content versus context and the importance of distinguishing the two in relation to leadership. This is something important that leaders need to hear since missing the context is what actually leads many of them to go in circles. Adam gets into the importance of context and beliefs, and why this can be quite elusive. Tune in and learn how to spot the context, see the bigger picture, and be able to make that significant change.
Listen to the Episode Here:
Content vs. Context
These are conversations in Service of Causing Leadership. The idea of these conversations is that you go and practice being a leader in the moment rather than go, and then lecturing people about these concepts. As soon as you’re talking about leadership, it’s not that you’re definitely not practicing leadership. It’s that talking about leadership has distinct from being a leader. What we’re interested in here is supporting you to be a leader, to practice the quality of being the leader moment by moment.
Content Versus Context
We’re going to be talking about Content Versus Context. We’ll be talking about why we as humans spend most of our time operating the content with people. We’ll be talking about why context is elusive and why we don’t spend much time there. We’ll be talking about how those two facts are what leads to people going around in circles so often. Why so often we try to create change but can’t quite figure out why it’s not working and how context is determinative in that. That’s the thing that’s missing.
Before we get into that, as promised, I’m going to plug something right at the start of the show. For the next few weeks, you’re going to read this plug. It’s The Client Creation Course. It is a phenomenal course. It’s ten weeks in length. By the end of this course, where you will be is with a completely new relationship to how you create clients. You’re going to stop calling it sales because you’re going to learn that no one likes selling, no one likes being sold to, and that whole notion doesn’t really work. There’s a better, more powerful, and freer way to create clients. That’s what we teach you. We have you unlearn a lot of the stuff that’s in the way.
Where people find themselves at the end of these ten weeks is with a whole lot less anxiety about creating clients and rediscovering a real joy in connecting with people and finding like, “This is way easier than I thought, way easier than I created in my mind. All of these courses, algorithms, or things I meant to do, I don’t like doing them. I’ve been doing them because I think I have to, I should, or I meant to. This is much more fun.” From you showing up to life in that place, the results happen almost automatically. It’s not automatic. We give you a bunch of steps and teach you how actually to do the work and move forward but what happens is that the way you relate to this practice of creating clients, fundamentally shifts and that has you show up to life differently. When we change the way we show up to our lives, everything is different.
That’s a nice segue into Content Versus Context. What we’re doing in this Creating Client’s Course is creating a new context from which you can relate to creating clients. Without further ado, let’s talk about what the heck that even means. Most of the time, we spend most of the conversations we’re in with people in the content that they’re bringing. If I come and say, “My boss is a dick head,” and you go, “Why is your boss a dick head?” We’re talking about the content that I’ve brought. The content is what’s on the surface. If I say, “My wife always, blah, blah, blah. She’s so mean and she slapped me in the forehead,” and you say, “That’s annoying. She shouldn’t do that.” That’s a conversation rooted in the content.
The Three Parts Of Context
The context is what lies beneath the content. It’s the fundamental relationship I have to whatever the thing I’m talking about is, out of which my content springs. I’m going to make this clearer. I’m going to approach it from a bunch of angles. Context is the reason that we make changes that make the most sense in our life and yet they don’t seem to create the shifts that we want. You’ve probably noticed this. Context and the lack of it is the reason most people in most support conversations tend to have themselves moving around in circles, talking, and talking, but failing to create any transformation. Finally, our context determines everything that we attempt to create in the world and yet ironically, we’re rarely able to see the context while forever remaining at the effect of it. The context is like the water that you swim in. It completely affects everything that you do and yet you cannot see it because it is all pervasive. Let’s talk about what this actually means. We’re going to start by defining what is a context, what makes it up, how to start to spot it, and then why is it so challenging to create a shift when we can’t see it.
A context is ultimately a particular relationship you have to something, which then determines how you experience that thing. You can and do have a context about literally anything and everything. You have a context about white people, black people, money, God, religion, your parents, your children, working hard, making money, driving, renewable energy, the person who cut you off in traffic, people at large and the way they drive in traffic, the apples you bought at the store, and so on and so forth. It’s about anything. You have a continual context. It is the lens through which you relate to whatever’s in front of you. There is no escaping this. This is why getting out objective truth is almost mythical because everything is going to have a lens. This is the notion of an observer.
Context itself is composed of three things. It’s our way of relating to a particular thing. We have a context about hats, for example. The first component of a context is our beliefs about the particular thing. This is everything we believe to be true or false about a particular thing around which we have a context. These may not occur like a belief to you. They may and often will occur like abject reality. This could be stuff like, “Money is the root of all evil, money has no meaning, money makes you sad, or money makes you happy.” To make money, you have to work hard. People that work hard for money are suckers, people that made money without working hard are lucky or got it some way by cheating. You can see, we could create a billion different beliefs about money and you’ve probably got a whole bunch.
Money is one of the things that is chief and foremost in our perspective in the modern era. We’ve got a lot of beliefs about it. That’s the first part of a context, the set of beliefs that we have around this thing. Second are the actions we take as a result of the beliefs that we have. These are all the things we’ve learned to do and the ways we’ve learned to show up as a result of what we hold true about this particular thing. The beliefs that we have guide and dictate the ways we act in relation to this thing about which we have a context. Beliefs lead into actions.
If you have a belief that making money requires working hard, you may naturally look for the places where you can work hard to make a bunch of money or you may have decided that you don’t want to work hard and therefore figured out ways to live and get by without needing a lot of money. You may also take actions like preemptively judging or deciding that the people you see that have a lot of money, must work hard or if they don’t seem to be working very hard, they’re cheating the system somehow. They must be crooks, thieves, lucky, have family money, or something along those lines.
This suite of actions ensures that our beliefs remain true and is consistent with them. Even when there’s an exception like seeing those people that are working hard, they’re brought inside the context and made to fit. We find ways to fit them inside of this. “You have to work hard to make money. If those people over there have money and aren’t working hard, there must be some way they’re cheating the system. That’s because my beliefs are true.” We don’t relate to these beliefs as beliefs. We don’t even usually see them. Our beliefs tend to be in our blind spot. They’re the way we relate to the world or the thing we see the world through rather than something we look at. As a starting point, we don’t even relate to them as beliefs. We relate to them as that’s the way it is. This is the way it is with money.
We’ve got first component is our beliefs about something. The second component is the actions we take as a result of those beliefs. Our beliefs feed into our actions. Our beliefs guide our actions. The third part of a context is the world that gets created around us or the environment as a function of our actions. That world will be consistent with those actions. If I have a belief that you have to work hard to make money, if I want to make a bunch of money, I’m naturally going to seek out positions in jobs where I can work very hard and that will put me into a career that requires working very hard and rewards me with money for doing so. I’m going to be surrounded by people that are working very hard to make a bunch of money. This can be a little bit hard to imagine but this is the way it works. Our actions create a world around us consistent with them.
Let me give a weird belief. Let’s imagine that I have a belief that talking to strangers on the bus is weird. I’m going to take a bunch of actions consistent with that. I’m going to never talk to strangers on the bus, no matter what. I’m going to judge people when they talk to me on the bus. I’m going to listen to them through the lens of, “This person’s a weirdo. Where’s the weirdness?” What we look for, we tend to find. If they blink weird, “I knew it. This person’s a weirdo.” I’m probably going to judge people doing that with friends naturally. I’m going to find my way into relationships where that same belief and those same actions are mirrored in a way we collude with each other, like attracts like. I’m going to be in a friendship with a bunch of people that co-conspire with me along these lines. I’m probably not going to hang out with a bunch of people that go up and talk to strangers on the bus because I’m going to find that embarrassing. I’m going to stop taking the bus with that person and so forth.
It’s a weird example but we end up from our actions, which are guided by our beliefs, creating a world around us that is consistent. Here’s the fascinating part. That world around us then proves true and reinforces our beliefs. Our beliefs dictate our actions. Our actions create a world around us consistent with those actions. The world around us proves the truth of our beliefs. It feeds into itself. The context is self-reinforcing. This is why it’s so challenging to deal with. This is why when a coach, a leader, a therapist, your friend, or someone who’s gotten into this stuff tells you, “It’s your story.” They’re wrong. On the one hand, they’re right. It is a belief. You could adopt any belief. What, “It’s your story,” completely misses is the fact that the world around you is a world you’ve created that is consistent with that belief.
To all of us, our context does not occur as a story. It occurs as a concrete reality. We can prove to you it’s the reality because we have good evidence surrounding us. That’s how we’ve created our world. This is why it’s so hard to help people change when you give them advice. This is why positive affirmations fail. With a positive affirmation, all we’re doing is trying to change our beliefs and hoping that will be enough. If I believe this enough, eventually things will be different. It doesn’t work that way. We can change our beliefs but then we have to start acting in alignment with those new beliefs. As we do so, that’s going to jar against the world that we created around us. This is why people struggle so much to transform. It’s because as they try to take on new actions, they bump into that world and because we try to do this on our own, we don’t have much support. It’s like the world pushes us back and we don’t have someone with any altitude to support us to see beyond this.
The metaphor for this that I like to use is imagining you’re in a forest. You don’t know you’re in a forest. All you can see is the tree in front of you. You’ve got this thing you’ve got to get to. I don’t know what it means or whatever that thing is but the tree is in the way. You’re like, “I gotta get past this tree. I’ve got an ax. I’m going to cut the tree down.” You cut the tree down. “I feel good.” You take a few steps and you see there’s another tree in front of you. You’re like, “Got it.” You cut that tree down. You take a few more steps.
There’s another tree. At this point, you’re frustrated but you’re like, “I’m not a victim to this tree. I’m going to figure out what there is to do.” You go and you decide you need to buy an ax sharpening tool and you need to buy a bicep workout tapes that you can swing that acts for longer, build up your endurance, and cut through trees faster and stronger. You do that and you get better and better at cutting down trees more and more efficiently. The trouble is that it takes you deeper into the context because the problem is not that you are not good enough at cutting down trees, it’s that you’re in a forest and you are unable to see that.
This is what most of us are up to. Further, we are in the forest with the same people that we are trying to support. This is why most leaders fail to create real transformation for people. The results that most leaders create with their direct reports are results that those people are already reliable to create. “This person’s great and moving through trees deeper into the forest.” To create that result, they would require being able to step up, get beyond the forest. To remove themselves entirely for it can’t happen. The leader themselves hasn’t done the work to be able to distinguish this forest themselves because they’re trying to do it on their own. It is that water we swim in. We can’t seem to see this stuff on our own.
What tends to happen is everything gets colored through this lens. This is why when you have a friend who’s complaining about something and you try to tell them what they should do or maybe they’re feeling generous, vulnerable, or charitable and they ask you for advice about what they should do, this is why they’ve always got a reason why it won’t work. This is why you can say, “You need to do this.” They’re like, “That won’t work. I could try that but I know it won’t work.” It’s because inside of their context, which you are not necessarily a part of, all of your solutions they won’t fit. If you were to talk to someone who’s like, “I hate working hard but I don’t want to be poor.” You were like, “Why don’t you do this?” If they have that money context we talked about, they’re already going to be explaining to you why. “That would be all right for some people but it wouldn’t work for me.” Their context will not allow for the possibility you are trying to provide them. This is why we can’t solve people’s problems for them.
Here’s another metaphor we’ll use. Imagine you come across someone like a direct report. Somebody who starts working for you and you find them in a hole. What most leaders try to do is, “Let’s help them get out of that hole because inside that hole, they can’t do the work that they need to do here.” The leader helps them build this ladder and the person gets out of the hole. Next day, you find they’re in that hole again. You’re like, “What the heck? Let’s build that ladder.” You try to put them in ladder building classes. You teach them to build a ladder faster, which is an amazing solution, except that the problem is that this person keeps blending into holes. By helping them build a ladder and not having them see the entirety of their problem, the context itself, you actually speed up their cycle through it. That’s what most of us end up doing. Rather than helping people breakthrough and create the impossible, we instead help them speed up the pattern, the cycle that they seem to be stuck in.
Working With The Context
How do we work with this? The first thing is you can’t do this work on your own. It’s almost impossible to do it with a friend, furthermore, because most of your friends tend to be bought into the context you work with, that context you have. You really need a coach, a leader, someone like that’s off the court that has done some of this work themselves and can help you distinguish this. The second thing is that the best way to support people is to help them see the pattern they’re in. That person that we talked about in the forest, what they want to do is move forward. “Help me move forward quickly.” We, as a leader, start to help them see the overall pattern. Help them look at this. Help them distinguish this. They’re going to get frustrated because they’re like, “I need to move forward.”
The problem is that their need to move forward is what stops them from seeing the greater pattern and thus keeps them in the same cycle. It’s worth noting that as you help people see the bigger picture, they might be at first, quite resistant to it because it won’t feel like moving forward. It will feel like stopping or slowing down. When we’re so used to moving forward in this society, stopping or slowing down actually often feels like moving backwards and yet that’s what we must do. The way I like to explore a context with someone is to have them get clear. “What are your beliefs about this thing? What are the actions you take as a result of that? What’s the world that creates for you? What can exist in that world? What can never exist in that world? What does that make impossible?”
This won’t solve their problem. It will help them see the entirety of what they’re in. From there, they can start to take different actions. This work is a lot like imagining an iceberg that someone’s trying to move. As we know, 90% of the iceberg exists under the water. What we do societally is that we try to move the iceberg by poking at that bit that’s above the water because that’s where we can see. All your efforts to move it by poking there is likely going to rock it back and forth in the water. You may be able to move that iceberg with a lot of effort, a lot of time, a lot of energy, but you could do it so much more efficiently if you were able to see the entirety of the picture. That’s what this work is about. We’re helping people see the bigger picture so they can take actions with way more insight and awareness.
To be clear, when someone starts to take actions that are in opposition to this old context, when people are like, “I’ve got to believe that money requires working hard and I want to break that up because I don’t want to have to work hard. I want to make a lot of money because I want to have a big impact in the world.” First, you’re going to help them see this whole pattern, then they’re going to have to start by creating some different belief about money.
From that different belief about money, ideally I want to create something that’s completely unrelated to the existing belief rather than a fix. The fix would be, “Money is easy to make.” That’s going to the other direction in the same wagon. Instead, we might like, “Money is a function of my connection with human beings.” A totally different relationship to money. “Would it be possible to make a bunch of money without working hard inside that belief? That money and the amount of money you see is a function of how connected you are with other human beings.” Sure. If that was true, if I empowered that belief and made that belief true, then yeah, totally, great.
Their next step is to go and take actions from that new belief, even though the old beliefs are going to be screaming in their ear because that’s the way it works. As they take those actions, they’re going to bump up against the world around them they’ve created that says, “This won’t work and here are all the reasons why.” That’s the place where people usually want to quit. That’s the place where people had to breakdown and want to turn away from the progress that they’re making. That’s one of the many areas where having a coach can benefit so much to support us in seeing why we seem to be bumping up against us, why it feels crappy. It feels crappy because you’re dismantling something that’s been there for a very long time and that you’ve learned to rely on to stay safe.
That is everything that we’ve got for you. What do you do with all of this? You distinguish it. You work with people to see it. I think a lot of people often want to know, “How do I do this with myself?” I don’t know what I can provide other than the first thing is to say, stop trying to see it for yourself. The best thing you can do is concede to yourself that you can’t. I cannot spot my blind spots. I cannot see my context that would be me trying to see the thing I see the world through. It’s not that it forever remains hidden, it means they’re trying to do it on your own is a bit of a fool’s errand. The opportunity always is to seek support.
This is why we can go deeper with the support that we can go by ourselves. If you don’t believe that to be the case, then maybe you’ve got a context about leadership that’s not going to open up very much for you. It’s going to be pretty limited because why would anyone need the support of a leader if it’s not true that they can go deeper with some support? Why would everyone try to do their own thing? Unless, that’s the way a lot of the world shows up.
That is where we’re going to end. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you have questions about this, feel free to reach out. Send me an email at, PR@AdamQuiney.com. If you enjoy these episodes, please share them. Please write us a review on iTunes. Let us know. It feels so good when you guys write in and say, “I loved that episode. It provided me something. It makes it all worthwhile.” Next time, we’ve got another along with the Spectrum Series. We’re going to be talking about unity and oneness. That’s the same quality of unity and oneness. If you know someone like that or you think you might be one of those people that stands for unity amongst all of us, an oneness to the human tribe, if you like, this is the episode for you. Don’t miss it. Love you, guys. Have a good week.
About Adam Quiney
I’m an obsessive perfectionist, high-performer, former lawyer, and now an Executive Mentor. I know what it’s like to succeed easily and quickly. To blindly put my happiness in the hands of achievement.
All the success, money and possessions in the world couldn’t cure my boredom. Couldn’t produce a loving, intimate relationship with my wife…and definitely couldn’t fulfill me.