TT 1942 – Listening to Silence

Listening to Silence

Listen!
Stop what you are doing!
What do you hear?
Listen for those subtle noises
That are normally drowned-out
In the busyness of life.

Listen more!
The chatter, the clicks, the hubbub
Listen to the space between the noises
They are quieter and even more silent
Than the silence you started to listen to –
Quieter, even, than the quietest sound!

What else lies in the space between?
It is a space to meditate on
The past and the future.
It is the place of pure presence.
Absence of anything,
It holds the answer to everything!

Claude Debussy once said,
“Music is the space between the notes.”
The notes might dance harmoniously,
But the rests dance closer to the truth.
A hidden message that you can only hear
If you listen to for the silence.

In conversation, there are those that compete
To drown-out the silence.  They do not listen
They are on “permanent send”,
Not yet charmed by (nor knowing of) the fact
That they were given two ears and one mouth
For a reason: to listen twice as hard!

Try it for a minute, then an hour, then even a day.
Muted by the desire to listen more.
Not just to the noise, but more importantly,
To the space between the notes
That play to the timeless music of glorious silence.
The answer lies in the space between.

© Lorne Mitchell 2019

Picture from iStockPhoto 178359962

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The Art of Rounding Things Out

With a large part of my early career spent designing and testing telecoms billing systems, one of the inexact sciences that I still find intriguing is the word: “rounding”.  I remember one client making millions of extra pounds with the Finance Director requiring their new system to round-up every recorded minute as opposed to rounding them down – even though it was against the regulations.

Yet rounding errors and rounding up and down is a small part of the “art of rounding things out”.  The circle is probably the most drawn, painted and elegant symbol in Art that continues to enthral us, whatever age, gender, colour or creed we are:

(Source: https://www.pinterest.com/jhilts/round/)

Rounding things out is an almost innate human need.  And some are better at it than others!  Indeed Belbin allocated one of his nine famous team roles to the “completer finisher” – defined as follows:

The Completer-Finisher is most effectively used at the end of tasks to polish and scrutinise the work for errors, subjecting it to the highest standards of quality control.

Strengths: Painstaking, conscientious, anxious. Searches out errors. Polishes and perfects.

Allowable weaknesses: Can be inclined to worry unduly, and reluctant to delegate.

Don’t be surprised to find that: They could be accused of taking their perfectionism to extremes.

(Source: http://www.belbin.com/about/belbin-team-roles/)

Surely a very useful person to have on any team – particularly as the team comes to the end of a task?  Somehow, though, in the modern world, completer-finishers do not seem to be so highly valued.  Technology firms with meteoric values and no customers just want to get on and create the next feature.  Dreams and visions win over completed circles.

The recent big storms hitting North Western Europe was another reminder for me that we continue to pollute our oceans with plastic – and that we are taking very little effective action to curb the rising trend of more and more plastic being dumped daily into the ocean.

Any rising consciousness of rounding things out is increasingly drowned out by the advertising industry pushing for the convenience of fast food and throw-away packaging.  “Someone else’s problem.  Let me get on with my life.  I’ve got too much else to worry about than where my rubbish will end up!  In any case, I don’t have the space for all those extra sorting bins in my tiny flat!”  Roughly the words from a forty-something London urban female I met recently.  She comes from a different planet from the one I live on.

I suppose that some of my angst on this subject stems from spending a year in Berlin in 1980.  If it could be fed to the pigs, it was.  Otherwise, if it was rubbish, it was very carefully disposed of by folding it up or squashing it.  Disposal of rubbish was very expensive because the number of landfill sites inside The Wall were scarce.  Programmed about such things in my early ’20s, I suppose I have kept a consciousness that most London forty-somethings would think quite abnormal.

I’ve never particularly seen myself as having the characteristics of a completer-finisher.  However, the older I get, the more concerned I am becoming over the lack of importance attached to round things out.  Indeed, after a recent Circular Business Design workshop we ran, I coined a new term “Telosonance” meaning “having concern for where something might end up”.  From the Greek word “Telos” meaning objective or end-result” and an ending sounding like resonance, it creates a word for something that we don’t seem to have in everyday use in the English language.

Maybe the “art of rounding things out” is a similar idea as Telosonance?  Except that it is the consequential action that follows a concern or feeling that things, people or places are not lined-up to complete the disposal of the thing-in-question in an elegant way  – in other words – “to round things out”.

I’m not sure the Finance Director of the dodgy telecoms company that I worked with those many years ago would have worried about any of this, but it is a subject that is close to my heart at the moment.  I truly believe that we need to applaud the ways that completer-finishers think about problems.  Sooner or later, we are all going to have to worry about where things end up and help find elegant ways to round-out and clear up the mess that we have made over the past 100 years.

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Connecting Dots, Throwing Javelins and Grassroots Movements

We all love them, don’t we? Whether it is the weather, election results or even horoscopes, the human psyche is intrigued by those who believe that they can predict the future.

Yet, in the past few of years, things that seemed to have been stable and predictable have had an uncanny knack of not being so! Brexit, the rise of Trump, global weather patterns, crazy valuations for Tech companies. Some trace this unpredictability back to the financial crisis of 2008. Others pin it to the rise of globalisation. Yet others believe that the real culprit – climate change – can be attributed as far back as the industrial revolution.

“Leaders of Hope” require a good dose of “back-to-front thinking” to inspire people to follow their vision of the future – only to become disillusioned and frustrated by the system. The pendulum swings and “Leaders of Fear” take over and simply look in the rear view mirror to say how things were great in the past and that “Back to the Future” is the answer.

With linear thinking, we tend to post-rationalise decisions and make them look logical after the event. Ever more so in large corporations and national governments. Steve Jobs put it so well when he talked about connecting the dots in his Stanford commencement speech

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

So we come to trusting the dots that will connect us to a positive future – and also trust in “gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever….” to get us there! That’s not very precise or scientific. Certainly not terribly rational and not very easy to measure either!

So, maybe all this objective setting stuff we strive for is baloney? 

In my experience, Jobs was correct. Most decisions are made from spinning around looking at various alternatives and then having an intuitive hunch that things would be better if they lined up in a direction where you have a fuzzy idea of the target zone or outcome. As time progresses, things become clearer.

I call this the “White Javelin” approach. We have a Javelin that we can throw in any direction, but we choose to throw where the light shines brightly. Once we have thrown it, we move along to pick it up and then decide where to throw it next. It is better if you keep going in one particular direction. Otherwise, you keep going over old ground and spinning around like a dog chasing its tail!

Fulfilment becomes an intuitive sense of progress towards a fuzzy outcome, which needs to feel good before each throw.  If your daily work does not give you the autonomy to decide the direction of throw or they give you a needle instead of a javelin, then I suggest you quit!

As I’ve grown older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve also become increasingly aware that everything is connected. Literally. So the desired outcome in one country, system or domain will have undesired consequences in another. The current North Korean-US war of words is but a simple example.

So, with all the unpredictability and variability of system outcomes, maybe we need a new set of meta-objectives or meta-goals that we can start to organise ourselves around so we can work out best where we throw our white javelins.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals were a noble attempt to do this. Yet a global, top-down approach is probably only going to help fix a minor part of the problem. As Arnold Schwarzenegger stated in his message to Donald Trump on reneging the Paris climate agreement: “Like all the great movements in human history, our (clean) future starts with a grassroots movement in our communities, our cities and our states.”

It gives hope to mere mortals that there is a clear path to a cleaner, brighter future through grassroots activism, clear personal intent and envisioning end-results that are for the betterment of our local communities.

Whereas linear-thinking approaches had a good chance of succeeding in more stable and predictable systems, we need new ways to shape a purpose, objectives and outcomes for a particular problem set – outside the boundaries of corporate self-interest. (what Ian Ure in an article on LinkedIn calls his “magic ingredient” – which inspired me to write this one). 

Asking lots of “W” questions is a good place to start. Why?, What?, Who?, When? and Where?

Too many “How?” questions asked too early on creates early “solution-thinking syndrome” which gets in the way of exploring alternative approaches and landing points.

Equally, too many “Why?” questions too early on can also be counter-productive because the answer might simply be: “Just because!”.  W can also stand for “Wait” – like  “all good things come to those who wait”.  Counterintuitive, perhaps, but powerful, nonetheless.

I believe that the world is a mysterious, magical and mystical place, well beyond the ken of any single human being. Science and reason are useful tools, but by adopting the Zen-like “beginner’s mind” with an inquisitive sense of discovery, prediction becomes less important. Each day brings magic moments with new discoveries and new areas to explore with our individual throws of our uniquely crafted white javelins.  We need to stop listening to the Merchants of Doom and become our own Leaders of Hope.

Go on! Throw it as far as you can and see where it lands! It will only be good! 

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The Best Source of Innovation

The news this week that the upwards-ever-upwards iPhone sales are finally stalling was a stark reminder that even the greatest companies struggle to keep the juices of innovation flowing year-on-year.  The Apple Watch couldn’t replace the iPhone and the iCar (if it ever arrives) is still a few years out.

Most companies that I study or consult to are in an innovation crisis.  They know they must innovate in order to remain competitive and keep growing (or simply to stand still).  Yet how often does the innovation agenda become demoted to “novel” efficiency drives and cost-cutting initiatives?

It begs the question: where is the best place to source innovation?  Many of my clients in the telecoms world look to technology suppliers.  They continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of products and services that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  Yet I already have an iPhone 6s.  Why do I want a Plus?  I upgraded from an iPhone 4s to wait for the 6.  I think I’ll hang on until I see something really new and different from Apple.

evolution of lighting, with candle, tungsten, fluorescent , LED

Innovation can come from suppliers – but you can’t really differentiate your company if that is all you rely on.  Such is the fate of many telecoms companies: they continue to develop new features on top of their already bloated stack of product features that were offered last year.  The latest gizmo.  The latest bell or whistle.  A price war starts and the cost cutting initiatives cut even deeper.  No, suppliers, are not the best answer.

What about the young folk who have just joined the organisation?  Straight out of University or School, they bring a fresh set of thinking.  They are the next generation!  Surely they hold the answer?  Give them a difficult problem and let them brainstorm their ideas to create something truly whacky.  Too risky, I say!  They will not understand the product and how it is used, yet.  They might come up with some good ideas., but   Good ideas are not the same as innovation.  The newbees are not the best source of innovation either!

So where should we go next?  To customers, of course!  Customers that use (and misuse) your existing products and services!  Customers who suffer day-to-day from trying to work the processes that you have under-designed and waste your customers time and effort.  They are loyal customers until they suddenly vanish.  And if no one contacts them to see where they have gone, then innovation dies on the vine!

Customers are an incredibly cheap this source of innovation, too.  Not just cheap, but very valuable!  By asking a few simple questions of customers every time you interact with them, you can increase your profitability, customer loyalty AND innovation in one fell swoop!

And what are those questions?  Well, you will have to read the next few Thursday Thoughts to find out my thoughts on this.  In the meantime, try and work out what you think they might be and comment below!

Oh, and thank you so much for reading this far.  I hope, at least, it has made you think a bit more about one of the most important aspects of business and human life!

 

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Had I the power to cast a bell…..

Bell

A Bell

Poem by Clinton Scollard

Had I the power
To cast a bell that should from some grand tower,
At the first Christmas hour,
Outring,
And fling
A jubilant message wide,
The forged metals should be thus allied:-
No iron Pride,
But soft Humility, and rich-veined Hope
Cleft from a sunny slope;
And there should be
White Charity,
And silvery Love, that knows not Doubt nor Fear,
To make the peal more clear;
And then to firmly fix the fine alloy,
There should be Joy!

——————————————————————————————

A very happy Christmas

and Joyful New Year

to all readers of Thursday Thoughts!

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Thinking Outside-In: A Thinking Tool for the Festive Season

Looking at “Major Tim” the Astronaut talking from space on the TV last night, it got me thinking.  How cool it must be to get outside of the earth’s atmosphere and look back down on the earth!

iStock_000012803322_Large

It triggered another thought.  One particular type of thinking I find very useful is called “Outside-In” thinking.  It takes a perspective of looking at an individual, a family unit or an organisation from the outside looking inwards.  Some call it out-of-the-box thinking.  It is a way of thinking that allows us to step outside of the box and get a more objective perspective on how we fit within each of the social units within we operate.

This type of thinking can also be used in a number of different ways.

Firstly, looking at your the key personal relationships that you have with others:

  • How do you, as an individual, relate to those close around you?  Take stock of what has happened in the past year.  What were the good times and what were the not-so-good times?  How can you build on the good and release the not-so-good?  Which relationships require a little kindness to improve the energy between you both?
  • How do the folk that you care about relate to one another?  How could you assist in strengthening those relationships by listening and understanding both perspectives?
  • It can also be a useful tool to work out what presents they would like to receive.  Think about the last few conversations you have had with them.  Who knows?  They might even have dropped some hints!

A small water drop fall on water surface and jump back before the second one to collide with it.
A small water drop falls on a water surface and jumps back before the second one collides with it.

Secondly, it is useful when looking backwards and planning forwards:

  • What events or activities did you lead and enjoy – and how many others shared in your leadership and enjoyment at the time?  How can you build on these activities in 2016?
  • What themes do you want to improve and carry forwards into 2016 and how can they be accelerated by asking for some outside-in help?
  • List out the challenges you face and work out who do you know who could help tackle some of those challenges in a different or disruptive way.
  • Which activities and themes do you want to wind-down or stop – so that you can create more space for those that you want to build.  Who can you offload the activities onto without losing the overall momentum of the theme?

Color-Wheel-in-Chaos-000006203692_Full

Finally, as a tool for improving your business relationships. It is so very powerful when you get direct outside-in feedback from customers, employees, suppliers and business partners:

  • How does the organisation that you work with appear to others?  To customers?  To suppliers?  To those who work for it?
  • What insights can you see that others are blind to?
  • How can you work those into some actions that will help you and the organisation become more effective and be a more enjoyable and rewarding place to work?

So, as we enter the period where we have cleared our desks and are stocking up for the festive season it is worth looking forward to the challenges and projects that we want to take on in 2016 and spend a bit of time thinking outside-in.  I’m sure you will find it useful.  Please do write any thoughts on how else you and others could use this type of thinking.

And good luck to Major Tim and his space travels into 2016!

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Give Thanks! Fire, Aim, Ready.

Last week we explored what it was to be “on purpose”.  The various meanings of the word and the importance of living a purposeful life or working within a purposeful organisation.  It has been very encouraging that so many readers have commented on the post and that the ideas resonated with many of you so well.  Thank you also for the feedback: it is always welcome!  I wish you all success in thinking more about what it is to lead a more purposeful life and continuing the quest to find more meaning in it and in the work you do.

This week I want to deepen that thinking and explore the relationship between purpose and the main aims (or goals) that cause us to line-up the activities that we perform as we go about our day-to-day lives both at home and at work.  I believe that this process is at the heart of what it is to be successful.  Indeed, success is a very personal and subjective thing.  Sure, others might judge your success – but that is by THEIR opinion, not yours.  It is important to shape the factors that will make you successful by moulding them out of what you are and what you want to be.  Sourced from your passions and purpose, as it were.

It is a perfect time of the year to look back and look forwards.  Particularly as today in Thanksgiving in the Americas.  Even if you are not from that part of the world, it is a useful exercise to be grateful for all that has happened to you in the past year and for the friendships and experiences you have had.

At the same time, it is also worth looking forwards.  Thinking about the habits that you want to grow, or the ones that you want to release.  Thinking about the ideas or relationships you want to nurture and the ones you want to celebrate or change.

There is an old phrase “Ready, Aim, Fire” that covers the stages you go through when firing an arrow at a target.  For a bit of amusement, I decided to reverse the order of these three steps to see what new thinking might emerge.  It ended up as  “Fire, Aim, Ready”.  Not a very significant sequence of events if you want to hit a target, you might think.

FIRE

But wait!  What if we use the word “Fire” in some slightly different meanings: FIRE that you are fired-up by – or FIRE when you have a “burning platform” that needs immediate attention – or FIRE when we fire someone from work or a relationship.

If you write down your purpose and underneath put the three or four things that are firing you up at the moment or that they need immediate attention, then FIRE becomes a good first step to deciding the few things on which you should focus.  Either because they are important (as in fired-up) or because they are urgent (as in burning platform) or else you want to be rid of it (as in “you’re fired”).  What few things do you want to add, act on urgently or get rid of in your life?  For me, I have a bonfire worth of business books that have been lying up against the wall on the landing for the past year!

AIM

By listing-out these few aims (or goals) and then understanding what sort of change is needed in your life, you can then try to envisage what life would be like with more (or less) of the factor.  New role at work, more time with family, change-out the car, less time tripping over books.  That sort of thing.
At this stage, it is so important to write these ideas down on a bit of paper.  Sure, a computer will do, but somehow writing them down on paper and referring to them on a regular basis helps speed the process to achieving the aim – and either adding to or subtracting from the fire!  They need to be the bigger things in your life.  Otherwise, you will bury yourself in a long to-do list.  If this happens, try to pick the top five or six ideas and work on them.

READY

If nothing else, by doing this exercise in the next few days, you will be in a better position to shape your ideas, projects and activities as we move into 2016 and be ready to design some bold, boring or fun New Year’s resolutions over the next few weeks ahead of the rush.  Typically, in the past, I have jotted my resolutions down on a paper napkin with a hangover from the holiday period on 1st January and then throw them out with the rest of the excess paper a few days later!  It is only in the past few years that I have become a bit more disciplined – but I still have a way to go.

Writing out your aims and then having the discipline to review them regularly reaps the rewards.  Not least, by the above definition of success, you will be much more effective in aligning your activities to your purpose and living a more fulfilling life!

———-

Next week we will focus on how you can measure your aims (or goals) by breaking each one into a series of defined objectives.  Not only will this allow you to envision more clearly what success looks like, but it will also let you recognise success when you arrive at your destination sometime in the future!

If you are interested in digging deeper into these ideas in the New Year – as well as wanting some help to accelerate success in achieving your aims and objectives, then please do email me at lorne@objectivedesigners.com and I will send you some additional information in December.

And to add a Zen-like koan at the end of all of this just to get you thinking even harder (or not at all):

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” 

Lao Tzu

———-

Oh, and some of you have kindly asked about my friend’s planning application that I wrote about two weeks ago.  The inquiry has been adjourned until 21st December – so we might well not know the outcome until the New Year – but I’ll keep you posted when I know the result!

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The Art & Science of a Successful Product Launch

Steve Jobs became the iconic figure standing in a black turtleneck sweater introducing the next wave of Apple’s innovation in the noughties.  Year-in, year-out, Apple perfected the pre-launch leaks, the launch itself and the post-launch record-breaking.  It is difficult to find another company that has done this so well and with such theatre.

jobs launch

The challenge with online businesses is that the drama is more difficult to choreograph than pulling the world’s best tech journalists into a Silicon Valley theatre.  And yet there are many principles that can be carried over into the online world that work in the same way.  It goes something like this:

Pre-launch Information > Launch “Theatre” > Post-Launch Compound Growth

I have had the fortune of studying under a person for the past year that seems to have perfected the online product launch.  So much so that many, many other successful online coaches, consultants and trainers copy his techniques.  His name is Jeff Walker and his product is called the “Product Launch Formula”.

Once a year, Jeff generously presents his methods and approach in a set of three free online courses (which will be available for the next week or so) to those who are interested in learning more about this fascinating subject.  The third video also contains a very valuable Product Launch Blueprint which you can download and use in your own business.  It is a step-by-step guide that gives you a great framework that gives your clients fantastic value even before you launch your product!

I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to online internet training – but I honestly have to say that Jeff is possibly up there with Steve Jobs when it comes to that cool, Californian way of explaining complex ideas in really simple ways that mere mortals (like me) can understand.

I thoroughly recommend that you try to watch Jeff’s three videos over the weekend so that you can go back to work on Monday to put a few of them into practice (or into your plans) to help you launch your next product, project or set of ideas.

Click on this link to access Jeff’s Product Launch Blueprint.  I’m sure you will find something of value.

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The Heart’s Intuitive Intelligence

Last Thursday, I had a meeting with a business colleague.  We had only met once before – but somehow the energy felt really good between us.  Conversation flowed.  Ideas bubbled to the surface.  Creative spirit abounded.

During the conversation, it became apparent that I had talked in our previous meeting about intuition.  I had forgotten this – but it  is something I have recently become very interested in.  In summary, it’s the idea that the world is far too “mental” and that many have lost touch with their intuitive guidance system – based around the heart.  I’m also a strong believer in the idea that everything is connected.

And so it was, just by chance (as happens when browsing the internet) I came across this video below:

I don’t know too much about the organisation behind the video – but just love the overall theme, messages and visuals.  It somehow helps us to remember things we have forgotten or lost – so we can get back into the life-force and remember who we are.

Sit back and enjoy!

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Spring Forward, Fall Back

Last weekend, for many of us, the clocks went forward and we lost an hours sleep.  Many in the West celebrated Easter – either by going to Church or gorging themselves on chocolate.  Perhaps both.  March ended and April began.

Today remained bitterly cold – and although some of our smaller daffodils are out, the larger ones are still tight in their spring green wraps.  We seem to have been locked in a strange weather pattern in the UK for a year now – with March being the coldest on record for 40 years.  Many forget that this time last year we had 18 months of drought.  Whoever did the rain-dance this time last year sure did a good one!

In China and other countries in the East, it was a holiday – the Qingming Festival.  This festival has various translations including: Pure Brightness Festival; Clear Bright Festival; Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day.  Traditionally celebrated on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox,  it is a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime and to tend to the graves of their departed ancestors.

Tomb sweeping

The festival’s origin is credited to the Tang Emporer Xuanzong in 732. Wealthy citizens in China were reportedly holding too many extravagant and ostentatiously expensive ceremonies in honor of their ancestors. Emperor Xuanzong, seeking to curb this practice, declared that respects could be formally paid at ancestors’ graves only on Qingming.  The observance of Qingming found a firm place in Chinese culture and has continued to root itself in many other parts of Asia.  Any excuse for a holiday!

The idea that we come out of the winter and into pure, clear brightness – and spring-clean the tombs of our ancestors does not really have an equivalent in the West.   The Christian Church displaced many of these more pagan traditions for  celebrating Spring by defining it as the most important festival of the Christian calendar: Easter.  The chocolate companies partly displaced this with Easter Eggs and everything chocolate.  We don’t really have an equivalent celebration or holiday to go and sorting out our ancestors’ graves on one particular day of the year.  I suppose the closest we get is the idea of a “Spring Clean”.

Whatever your belief system, though, Spring is a magic time of the year (if is ever  going to be allowed to break free from the cold clutches of winter this year).  It is a time of hope.  A time of renewed energy.  A time for cleaning those parts of your life that need cleansing.  A time for being positive and leaning forward.

Spring is sprung and the green shoots are surely going to break through soon!  Happy Qingming Festival – and may your ancestors’ graves be much cleaner today than they were yesterday!

Source: Wikipedia, http://www.chinatouradvisors.com (picture) and my Garden

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