Welcome to ‘Validation Nation’

Welcome to ‘Validation Nation’ (from Medium.com)

A few short years ago, Oprah Winfrey defined the single link between each of the guests she had on her show across the twenty-five years she was on television. Winfrey said, “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: they all wanted validation” She continued, “Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’”

The ideas within Oprah’s assessment sound pure and clear. From the time we are children seeking the approval of our parents, to the image of who will be present at our funerals, we are fueled by being seen and believing that our lives matter. We need and long for recognition in our schools, families, and every social structure that we are a part of; especially in our work lives. It’s human and very necessary. applause

Executive coach and strategist Joan Shafer notes that recognition is not a monolithic concept. Americans actually under-play basic human recognition by orders of magnitude. A recent Gallup poll showed that 65% of Americans received no praise or any form of recognition in the workplace within the last year. Shafer believes that we are living at a more superficial level, especially inside the workforce and shared, “Underneath the glam, I believe there are millions who are desperate to be recognized, validated, appreciated, acknowledged, critiqued, given feed back, noted, thanked, and much more.”

Yet beyond feeding the basics of a human soul, something has changed with regard to validation and its intuitive origin. Author and trend observer, Van Wishard also laments the ‘surface level’ life that Americans present. He believes that the state of American validation is tied to a near century long decay of genuine spiritual underpinnings and a culture grounded in our shared past.

Wishard observes, “Religion, history, family heritage, pride of collective meaning – all this has been the underpinning of validation in the past.” Looking back in history to the current day with social media, Wishard sees a common link, “The “Great Gatsby” generation; the “Beat” generation; and now the “Facebook” generation. They are all movements about being “known.”

If ‘being known’ is the dominant motivator, Wishard skeptically wonders what our country views as our sources of “valid, validation?”

Without a common definition of validation, the concept has been decentralized in a frenzied, subjective set of silos. We have flown past the basics of “see me, hear me, thank me,” to “you must see me, celebrate me, and everything that is great about me.” In getting to this shallow state, we have lost: inhibition, pause, humility, empathy and the critical skill of self-editing.

The drivers of the validation explosion pivot off of technology enabled hype through constant connection and the American fascination with wealth. With massive wealth comes nothing more than a life viewed only at the surface level for what is physically accumulated; often little regard is paid to depth of character, moral courage and wisdom until the most celebrated and exalted prove all too human.


Technology and social media platforms are producing incredible levels of connection, discovery and knowledge sharing—for which we should all be grateful. Yet the social contract between the individual and their relationship to the larger world is driving us to hype the self to extremes. Our lives, especially when connected so quickly through digital channels, become fake images of the true person swarmed only by acquaintances with cursory views into that individual and what they believe and value. The great paradox of our time is that the emotional distance between us grows deeper with each digitized connection that we make.

Television, one of the most potent amplifiers of a single life, set the stage for the social media explosion that is still unfolding. Years back, America would watch shows like “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” as the country’s collective attention (up to 15M people a night) honed in on a single channel. Whoever was on stage with Carson that night had their lives amplified beyond simply being “seen and heard.” Carson himself became one of the great American market makers for enabling actors, musicians often comedians to have their lives transformed in a single moment. To simply be on with the “King of Late Night” meant an opportunity that few could ever dream of.

In a rich recent documentary on PBS of Carson’s life and impact you can watch an emotional Drew Carey and more stoic Ray Romano talk about what it was like to cross the curtain and onto Carson’s stage. In that moment, time stood still for many comedians. If you “nailed it,” as in the three-minute comedy routine, your career would be instantly transformed.

Drew Carey’s eyes well with tears as he recalls the moment when Carson called him over to sit by his side following his successful first comedy routine. Romano looking back at his first moment on Carson’s show said that everything changed after that moment, “you jump up a notch in the business. Your income tripled. You were validated right away.”


For many years television and magazines remained the dominant platform to rapidly launch and validate an individual. Now we have perfected the channels of validation. We get and give validation from: the brands of clothes we wear, cars we drive, who we are seen with, what rooms of “power we are in,” how many friends we have, the fraternities we join, the awards we seek to receive, the colleges we attend, our rank or title in a company, our “status” with an airline, and the cities or towns that we call home.

On ‘The Tonight Show’ Carson only asked you to the couch if you had talent and everyone had a good laugh. In our validation nation we are invited to a buffet of confusion and multichannel posturing that activates the unhealthy sides of our psyches. ‘Millennials’ have fallen victim to the technology and constant connection the most—yet none of us are immune.

America has a ‘top ten’ list for every topic that any demographic wants to view. ‘Top ten’ places to: live, see, go, eat, travel, and explore. We have lists for the ‘best’: colleges, campuses, courses, and professors. We have lists for the ‘best’: doctors, hospitals, sports figures, and much more. There’s nothing wrong with any one of the lists except that they are subjective and seek to celebrate only by exclusion not inclusion. We must ask: why have these lists become so important to us? How did millions of Americans in the 20th Century ever make any decisions without them? What is our Pavlov-ian urge to be associated with what is stated on anyone of them?


We also like to validate America herself. A term often used to describe our country is ‘exceptional.’ There are those who will argue that you are less than American if you even question what that means and how its measured. It’s a false and fruitless discussion. I too want America to be seen as exceptional. But the evidence of our ‘exceptional-ism’ is scant compared to what we are lacking. From our infrastructure, political stasis, and educational system to children being gunned down in kindergarten, we have a long way to go. Being exceptional doesn’t mean declaring it as truth without doing the gut wrenching work behind the aspiration.

As Oscar season is behind us, it’s easy to see that also have an award ceremony for every profession— just as there is an award for every child who “participates” in something. There is an incessant supply of content on television award shows that amplifies validation. From the ‘Grammys’ to ESPN’s ‘Espys’, to the ‘Webbys’ to the National Association of Funeral Director’s annual ‘Award for Excellence,’ we push validation from the moment an inspired child gives their acceptance speech in a mirror, until someone buries us in the ground with “funeral excellence.”

We must ask: why do we have so many awards? What do these awards really do to the individuals who receive them? How long do the after-effects of the award stay within the individual and continue to matter? If every one gets an award for nearly anything, haven’t we transformed the power of recognition for human achievement into hyperbolic, marketing enabled pageantry?

We have also sub-divided the country into two very different colors of validation: red and blue. Elections are no longer contests of ideas and great debates. Elections simply create winners and losers. When Obama won, that victory validated the 50% of the country who voted for him. Winning makes the other side seem incoherent and irrelevant. Yet that loser often represents nearly half of any population. Winning amplifies the belief that ‘our ideas’ held the day. Since we have no middle ground of debate and dissent, Americans cling to their echo chambers of political validation: MSNBC for the left, and Fox News for the right. Rare channels like C-SPAN offer an oasis where no side is validated; individuals and ideas are presented and different points of view can be heard.


In the digital age, “social validation” is the new tonic. Social validation involves those who are your “friends,” “followers,” “fans” or others offering you the transient and hyper inflated currency of: comments, likes, reviews, shares, tweets, re-tweets, eyeballs, tagged photos, page views, downloads and much, much more. Nothing wrong with the technology and the connectivity but the behaviors that it drives us towards through the digital currency of validation should frighten us. What’s at stake in all of this is who we are as a country and the culture we have become. We cling to the fleeting sugar highs of validation that always lead to a painful crash.

There’s also some hope in all of this as the human need for recognition gets redefined. My belief is that the generation after the Millennials, will recoil from all this hyped nonsense. Let us hope for a flight to quality where recognition of real human achievement will be amplified by a few trusted, authoritative and transparent sources; a time when validation for accomplishments becomes tightly re-coupled with excellence.

In validation nation we have exploded the concepts of ‘halls of fame.’ Yet there are still some halls where the price of admission is not only extraordinary professional excellence, but also character and courage. Twenty-five years since he played his last game, the gatekeepers of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown N.Y. have never validated Pete Rose. Recently, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were denied admission during their first year of eligibility. All three were accused or admitted to using steroids.

This year, three far less famous names will actually be admitted to the hall, including a “bare handed” baseball catcher who died in 1939 named Deacon White. In a ceremony, on what is usually a hot summer day in July, Deacon White will be added to the most sought after room in all of baseball lore. He will be validated in Cooperstown, NY.

Most Americans will have no clue who Deacon actually was and why what he did mattered. He exists in the one channel of validation that our human minds simply can’t comprehend nor control- the afterlife.

Deacon’s accomplishments had to be discovered, studied and put into a context in order to celebrate his actual achievements. That’s a level of validation that rings true.

Congratulations Deacon. I see you, I hear you and I celebrate you— wherever you are.

Author In Books-24X7 by Skillsoft

Earlier this year, Danielle Sauer introduced me to Shawn Hunter; both work for Skillsoft- a unique learning and training company.  This summer Shawn and I met in NYC for a studio interview about concepts and ideas from “Consider.”  Skillsoft has a unique collection of authors and thinkers on topics relevant to their client’s training needs.   I am really pleased to be added to this excellent platform. In one clip I talked a bit about ideas that are marinating in my mind related to my second book (still a ways off).

Clips from the hour long interview are now available on their “Books 24X7″ web site–if you are a subscriber.  Skillsoft did supply  me with a a high-lite reel of some of the topics we discussed. Here is a link to that reel:Skillsoft Clips

Romney & Obama on Making Time to Think

I wrote about the think time habits of Lincoln, Clinton and President Obama in “Consider.” As the 2012 campaign unfolds, I have pulled a few quotes from Romney and Obama on the subject.  It turns out that both men are end of the day thinkers.   Not sure that this habit will turn the election, but their late day thinking speaks to the bias towards action that drives their day.   The demands on these two men relegates reflection to the sidelines and at a moment when they are most tired; what we ask of them as they make the case for the most important job in our country tells us a lot about the insanity of the process and the forced tradeoffs that they both make.    Mitt Romney was recently asked about his habits by Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes” and here is what he said:

PELLEY:  Presidents and presidential candidates are booked down to the minute. And I wonder if you ever have a moment to be alone with your own thoughts. If so, when?  And what does that mean to you?

ROMNEY:  Well, at the end of the day, usually at about ten o’clock, things have finally wound down. And I’m able to spend a little time. I talk to Ann. She is on her own schedule. And we — we spend fifteen or twenty minutes on the phone. And then I read. And I think. I think about the coming day and think about what I want to accomplish. I pray. Prayer is a time to connect with — with the divine, but also time, I’m sure, to concentrate one’s thoughts, to meditate, and — and to imagine what might be.

In 2009, President Obama was asked by CSPAN’s Steve Scully about his think time habits and here is what he had to say:
SCULLY: When in your day or in your schedule do you have time to think?

OBAMA: Well, you know what? I try to make time during the course of the day. I mean usually I’ve got some desk time during the course of the day where I can review materials that I think are important for decisions that I’m going to have to make later in the day.

I tend to be a night-owl. So after I have had dinner with the family and tucked the girls in, then I have a big stack of stuff that I have taken up to the residence. And I’ll typically stay up until midnight, just going over stuff and sometimes push the stack aside and just try to do some writing and focus on not the immediate issue in front of me, but some of the issues that are coming down the pike that we need to be thinking about.

And there are a whole host of those issues. I’ll give you a good example. We don’t have I think the kind of comprehensive plan to deal with cyber security that the country needs. Now, there is not a cyber attack right now. There is not some emergency virus right now. But that’s a big critical system that is vital to our economy. It’s vital to our public health infrastructure.

And so you’re figuring out how do we set up systems where government is working with the private sector in a way that doesn’t put a crimp on innovation and discovery, but also make sure that the data is secure and the American people are protected. That’s something where you got to get the wheels turning now. And so we’re doing that.

There are a range of examples like that that if you don’t build in some thought time, end up being pushed aside by the constant churning of events.


Announcing THRUUE INC. Creating High Performance Cultures via Reflective Thinking

I am really pleased to announce that I have co-founded what we believe is rather unique consultancy that takes the best of “Consider” and applies it to new ways for organizations to imagine who they are and why they exist.    Below is the full press release.


Global Executives Embrace Power of

‘Reflective Thinking’ to

Re-imagine Organizational Purpose

Global executives are experiencing a new way to command attention and stay relevant in the age of immediately with the help of top thought leaders at Thruue, Inc. As organizations struggle to perform against expectations and command attention in the age of immediacy, top thought leaders at Thruue Inc. are helping executives reinvent their corporate purpose/vision, and make transformational decisions for future relevancy and growth.  Thruue Inc. is dedicated to the belief that only by enabling reflective thinking can big ideas emerge to drive action and evolve culture within high performing organizations.

Internationally recognized author and strategist Daniel Forrester and seasoned consulting and service industry veteran Matt Lane founded Thruue Inc.   Best known for it’s innovative process of “reflective thinking,” Thruue Inc. works with Global 2000 corporations, high tech growth companies, government agencies and major non-profits to overcome stagnation and emerge with clarity.

As a noted student of General David Patraeus, Thruue co-founder Daniel Forrester emphasizes, “We are living in an age of data overload where organizations and their leaders must make the time to ‘get the big ideas right’ as General Petraeus taught me.  Those big ideas must then be driven to implementation within a culture that is clear, aligned, and focused on results if you desire to stay relevant and in demand.”

Recently, some organizations ranging from universities to financial institutions have come under fire because of crises resulting from their organization losing its sense of purpose and thus its culture was not aligned to the right ideas and values.   Conversely, organizations today who are clear about why they exist are able to focus on getting the big ideas right.  They create a culture aiming for high performance and thrive-versus their competition.

“We believe culture really matters because it provides the basis for sustained high performance.  Powerfully defined Purpose, Vision, and Values lay the foundation of strong culture that is meaningfully aligned throughout an organization.  As a leader in your organization, your people are looking to be inspired and led in a consistent and meaningful way,” says co-founder Matt Lane.

With operations in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., Thruue Inc. serves senior executives and boards within the corporate and not-for-profit industries worldwide.  For more information regarding Thruue’s offerings, visit www.thruue.com

About Daniel Forrester and Matt Lane
Daniel Patrick Forrester is a business strategist and navigator of organizational and cultural change impacting commercial, not-for-profit, and government entities. He is also the author of Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Matt Lane is a seasoned consultant who has worked with the leaders of organizations across the globe ranging from Global 2000 companies, large government agencies in the US and EU, non-profits, and early stage technology startups. His areas of expertise include business strategy, people/talent management, large-scale program management, organizational development, and creating high performance cultures.

Webinar/Interview with SkillSoft August 8, 2012 @ Noon

Please join in for this one hour interview as we explore themes from Consider and much more.   Please register by clicking here:  Skillsoft: Conversations in Leadership         

Shawn Hunter, Executive Producer of Skillsoft’s Leadership Development Channel™ and 50 Lessons, hosts Q&A sessions with innovative thought-leaders and best-selling authors to discuss the latest insights from the business world.

While technology allows us to act and react more quickly than ever before, we are taking increasingly less time to consider our decisions before we make them. In Consider, Daniel has distilled the lessons in leadership and habits of reflective thinking that made the difference within the recent financial crisis, war in Iraq and in recovering from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

During the webinar, Daniel will share stories and examples from Consider which demonstrate that the best decisions, insights, ideas, and outcomes result when we take sufficient time to think and reflect.

About Daniel Forrester
Daniel Patrick Forrester is an author, strategist and navigator of organizational and cultural change impacting commercial, not for profit, and government entities. He has worked with the top leaders of organizations from every facet of American life and commerce. He frames and facilitates moments of profound reflection where disruptive initiatives are launched; or he helps organizations question their relevancy, plan for the future and often reframe the language and ideas that bolster why they exist. His book Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization has been celebrated as a top non-fiction title impacting the lives and work habits of leaders in organizations around the world.

About Shawn Hunter
Shawn Hunter is Executive Producer for 50 Lessons and the Leadership Development Channel (LDC), a live and on-demand video learning portfolio. For over a decade Shawn has interviewed, collaborated with, and filmed hundreds of leading business best-selling authors, CEOs, and Fortune 1000 practitioners in an effort to assemble this product. Shawn originally created the LDC while President and co-founder of Targeted Learning Corporation, acquired by Skillsoft in February 2007.