TT2003 – Calling For More Generalists

Image by Miguel Ángel Ramón from Pixabay

When people ask me what I do, I tend to freeze.
I dislike labels.  If I have to be labelled
I prefer to be known as a Polymath.
Something like that.  And yet that doesn’t help
When you are looking for your next piece of work.
The market is skewed towards hiring specialists.

The world of HR and recruitment love labels.
It somehow makes the hiring process less risky
For them when they can you put you into a box.
Specialisms, industry knowledge, groupthink.
It’s a disease which is rife and one where
Renaissance (wo)man stands no chance!

How can generalists become more useful?
Some give back by working as a volunteer.
Charitable work is very is rewarding
But does not pay the bills.
Others enter academia to become
Priests to the religion that is education.

Others become authors or artists.  Yet in business
Creativity clashes with corporate straight jackets.
Squashed between policies and boring routines
We need a revolution! A revolution
In the way that cognitive diversity is
Recognised, commissioned and rewarded.

Ahah! I hear you say! It’s up to the generalist
To market their skills and get themselves a job!
However, generalists don’t like being tied-down
To particular job descriptions.  They don’t like
Being put into a box.  They are too inquisitive,
Onto the next idea before the last has closed.

What if there was a pool of generalists
Who could be engaged for an hour, day or week?
They know lots of things about many things
And can challenge like the Court Jester.
Crazy ideas might lead to a great product or service.
Who would commission them? Would you? And why?

Share

Lunch Boxes at the Embassy

We met twice in 2019.
Lunch boxes at the Embassy.
He was once a beekeeper.
We had fascinating and ranging discussions,
All listened into by unknown ears
From a foreign country.
Last time I saw him was in court
After they arrested him.
Now he’s in Belmarsh Prison.
We pray for him every day.

As a New Year’s Resolution,
I’ve decided to re-join the local writing circle.
This week’s exercise is a short story in 55 words.
This is my contribution

Share

TT1946 – Where to Find the Answer

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screenshot-2019-11-13-at-14.37.31.png
Have you ever noticed
When you have to decide between
Two different points of view,
Or two contrasting futures …
The best answer is almost never found
At one extreme, nor the other?

Have you ever seen leaders
Giving passionate speeches about a future
That requires short-term pain for long-term gain?
Dividing those who can stay (on uncertain terms)
Against those who will need to go to “save the ship”?
All in the name of some grand plan no one understands.

Have you ever wondered if there might be a better way?
We oft need reminding that you can’t follow fear.
Fear doesn’t know where it’s going.
It only knows where it’s not going.
Through the confusion of fear, uncertainty and doubt,
The spin-doctors weave a web of contradictory messages.

Why is thought-control through fear so common?
The “leaders” are even more fearful of losing their positions.
They oft say nothing, for fear of any negative reaction.
They become angry and throw tantrums like a 3-year old child.
They cannot see their way forwards through the confusion.
They become tired, despondent and ill.

Apparently it was Eleanor Roosevelt who once said:
“The past is history. The future is a mystery, 
But today is a gift – which is why we call it ‘The Present’”
As we move into the time of the year where we think
About which gifts to exchange, have you ever thought
That giving love in the present moment is all that’s needed?

“Deal” or “No-Deal?”; “Blue or Red?”; “Haves” or “Have Nots”
Where can we find the best answers to all our struggles?
Settle into a place of stillness and quieten the mind.
Then focus on a higher purpose: centred in love, not fear;
One that both excites you and is of service to future generations.
You’ll find that the answer lies in the space between!
Share

TT1944 – On the Benefits of Hindsight

When you look back in life
Have you ever noticed that
Many things have happened to you
Because of a set of chance coincidences?
They appeared in mysterious and magical ways
Which were not obvious to you at the time.

Steve Jobs said: “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.”

Do you trust your dots connecting in your future?
I was in the garden one lazy afternoon when
A strange cloud appeared in the sky
Weaving like a numeration of starlings.
A moment later a swarm of tiny dots landed
Just twelve feet in front of me!

That chance landing of a swarm of bees
Has taken me on a life-long journey of wonder and
Study into the magical world of the honeybee.
I’ve never met anyone else who experienced
A swarm landing directly in front of them –
But I am sure there are others, somewhere!

Steve Jobs further postulated:
“Believing that the dots
Will connect down the road
Will give you the confidence to follow your heart
Even when it leads you off the well-worn path;
And that will make all the difference.”

Do you have the confidence to follow your heart
Even when it leads you off the well-worn path?
What surprising coincidences or dots have lined-up for you?
What special places, people or natural happenings
Have lined up for you in magical ways?
Tell your story and please share it below!

Share

TT1942 – 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

Share

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.

Share

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! 

Share

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!

 

Share

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!

Share

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!

Share