You know the feeling. When you are flowing with effortless ease. When everything is “firing on all six cylinders” And working in harmony. Plans and ideas move into place, with no friction And all things work in the way they were designed to be.
Flow isn’t just a great feeling; It’s also one of the main contributors to the success Of any great project, team or company. The dividends are great for those that design for flow. They become faster, more efficient, more successful And out-perform those around them that ignore her.
How can we work better with this mysterious thing called flow? Flow starts to move in the channel of the listener. She takes the easy route: the path of least resistance. Like a stream or river heading down to the sea. She flows around any obstacle, rock or pebble To get down to the next pool and onwards to the sea.
Flow is fragile when she appears and is hard to retain. She can vanish and nobody knows where she has gone. The strange thing in a business is that no single person Is responsible for creating or destroying her. Nor does anyone really have the overall power or responsibility To get her back when she is gone!
Without flow, everything slows. Deadlines slip and budgets bloat. People get irritable and start blaming one another. Games are played that increase the blockages Which makes flow vanish even faster. She is as mysterious and transient as the Queen Bee!
Jazz players call it “being in the groove”. Each player feels the beat Each one dancing with harmony, discord and periods of silence. In the moment. There’s no score, just a few hidden rules to be broken. Performing with no effort, she demands hours of practice. Whilst listening for the beat, flow rewards those that study her. Invisible and ephemeral, we love to play with her hidden mysteries.
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!
There is a tension between Willing something to happen And going with the flow. Will tries to control the situation. As Flo becomes less attached, Will becomes more so!
Flo has a wisdom about her Acting with Grace and effortless ease Such that magic often happens. Will can’t understand how she does it So he tries even harder To control the situation.
So who wins? Will or Flo? Flo and Will are not natural partners: They are like Fire and Water. Too much heat and Flo evaporates In a puff of steam: she’s gone! Off to find consolation in condensation.
Too many of Flo’s watery ideas Extinguish Will’s fiery inspirations Which dance from one flame to the next. They are no match for the bucket Of intangible wishy-washy water that Flo Throws on Will’s energetic flickers of intent.
So is there any resolution? Indeed! Erf can help by grounding the situation. He provides a hearth and channel So Will and Flo can co-exist in separation. Ayr can also help Will to focus his fiery resolutions As well as Flo, crystallising her thoughts with a chilling wind.
In any polarising situation, two forces Will flow better when a third comes into play. Dilemmas are broken with new vibrations Played out with the different elements, Each one needing some of the other to find The sweet spot of our creative genius.
(To my friend Bee, who reminded me all that I have forgotten about the magic of the Four Elements!)
Autumn leaves start to turn And she blows her chilling wind. The rain now feels colder and wetter Than the September kind, Flooding the parched earth And bringing a new spring.
It’s time for a clear-up (Or is it clear-out?) Out or up, no matter, stuff has to go… To make space for new things to come. A sort of Spring clean in Fall (There are no words for it… yet)
The strange thing about this time of year Is that releasing those things that you no longer use Can be seen as leaves falling from a tree They may still be of value to others: One man’s waste is another man’s water It’s the want not, waste knot!
Do we REALLY need it? Do we have a PLACE for it? Will we really USE it enough to own it? Do we LOVE it any more? When was the LAST TIME we used it? Won’t we bee better off if we RELEASE it?
Where there is tension, let it resolve. Where there are liabilities, let them be settled. Where there are past traumas, let them rewind. Where there is resistance, go with the flow. Where there is anger, let you have peace. Where there is darkness, let it be light!
Want not, for there is an abundance for all. Horde not, for others may have more need. Release yourself from things that no longer bring you joy. (For me it’s unread books and unplayed musical instruments) Untie the want knot and release yourself from stress. Come, join the revolution!
At the end of every quarter, I move into the centre of the circle. The centre is constantly shifting and changing. Sometimes it can feel a bit stuck in place or time. Othertimes, it has everything spinning around at 100 miles an hour. But there is always a still centre to be found somewhere in there. Calmness in the eye of the storm.
It is that centre that I seek out every three months. To give me space. To take stock. To look backwards and forwards at the same time. To celebrate what has been done. And to meditate on where we might go in the future.
This week is a particularly special time of the year. The hard work of opening-up the combs and extracting the honey is over. We have an angel called Heather who helps us with that part. It is now time to bottle the sweet amber nectar. Some say it’s been a bad season for others. But we have been fortunate this year. It’s looking like a good ‘un!
The honey itself pours into the jars in a vortex of swirls Sometimes left-handed, other times right. Never straight-down like water. As each jar fills, the trick is not to stop the flow too early, Nor too late before the honey overflows onto the floor and makes a mess. There is a rhythm to it which becomes quite meditative. Like all skills, it is a combination of practice, timing and feedback.
You are never quite sure how many jars you will fill. Nor how many total pounds of honey you will jar. The mystery of not knowing whether this will be a record season. But it really doesn’t matter. It is what it is. I don’t worry too much about which particular flowers they have come from. They make their own unique, delicious blend.
Harvest time is such a natural time of the year to close circles. The celebration of the friendships made And a time to reflect on those who have passed. Now to get ready for winter. It’s going to be a cold ‘un, they say. Time put the winter quilts into the tops of the hives. The circle is closed.
The older I become, the clearer I become about one thing. Life is all about flow. And the current modern madness that we see in society is mainly due to us being “out of the flow” and not “in the zone”.
What do I mean?
Last week, a friend asked me to act as a witness at a local planning enquiry. It was no normal planning enquiry. It lasted five days and had barristers for the prosecution (the district council) and the defence (my friend). It was more like the hearing of a legal case in a court of law.
I was asked to turn up as a witness on the final day last Friday. Having just come off a week’s training in presentation skills, I thought I would put them to the test. I knew I had a very short slot (10 minutes maximum). I decided to take up five. I wanted to create maximum impact. How should I go about it?
A bit more context. My friend and his wife allow me to put my eight hives on their land. Their land is an oasis of natural flora and fauna – itself nestled in an ancient woodland in area of outstanding natural beauty. It is so unique, it has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (or SSI).
My friend and his wife live onsite to manage the woodlands. They also allow me to keep eight hives on their land. They were merely seeking permission to extend their project for another three years. They live off-grid practicing the most sustainable living of any family I know. To be applauded and copied, you would think, – particularly in this modern era of climate change and sustainable living. But no. The establishment was not happy. My friends might set a precedent. We might have hundreds of woodland owners taking to living in the woods and becoming feral. And that is not a good thing, apparently.
The previous four days of inquiry and inquisition had been hell for all involved. An important stand against the erosion of some law written somewhere or a total waste of precious government money? Not for me to decide, but I tend to believe it was the latter. The final day was for supporters to give evidence. Throughout the whole week, no one turned up to oppose the proposal.
I arrived at 09.30 and got the first speaking slot for the day. I did not speak on behalf of myself. I petitioned on account of the bees that I keep! Everyone knows that bees are under threat. I described the project as a colony of bees might. Appreciating my friends generosity allowing them to have the bees on their land and at their gallant efforts to protect and conserve the nature in these ancient woodlands. At the end of the short talk, I stood up and offered everyone in the room a pot of this year’s honey. The courtroom melted. I was so in the flow or “in the zone”. It was a deeply moving experience. It was brilliant!
From Wikipedia: In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone It is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields (and has an especially extensive recognition in Occupational Therapy), though has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in some Eastern religions. Achieving flow is often colloquially referred to as “being in the zone”.
Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow.
1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
2. Merging of action and awareness
3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience
Earlier this week I took on two new mentees. Folk who have been washed-out of the corporate system. “Over fifty and out”. Both trying to face the new uncertain world for post-corporate man. Again, faced with a challenge to know the right thing to do, I constructed a short course in realignment. Before plunging into the more standard questions that treat individuals like 20th century companies – like “what is your personal mission statement”, I reflected back on what had worked for me in the past when I was a mentored twenty years ago. The first step in the process was to write six to eight stories (or vignettes) where I felt good about something I had achieved. Each story took about a page to write-up. The common theme for me was that at some stage in all stories across I was “in the flow” or “in the zone”.
In the run-up to 2016, I am going to use the weekly Thursday Thoughts slot to build on the idea of filling our lives with events where we are truly “in the zone”.
If you are interested in exploring these ideas in the last few weeks of 2015 and launch yourself into 2016 with new energy and enthusiasm, then as an exercise, I suggest that you write down six to eight events in your life that you were “in the zone” and achieved something extraordinary for yourself or others.
What was the context?
How did you feel?
What were you experiencing when “in the zone”?
Who were you in service to at the time?
If you feel inclined, please pick the best story and share your experiences with us!
After the July/August holiday period, I always enjoy the first week of September. I see it as the beginning of a new year. Not the calendar year, nor (in my case) the academic year, but the start of the year for new projects. People return from asynchronous communication through the holiday period to ramp-up for the more synchronised Autumn/Fall workload. Like a car moving from third gear to fifth gear or a plane taking off on its flight to the end of the calendar year with a destination ending in a runway towards the next holiday period at the final part of December. If the financial year starts in January or April, it is the time when new ideas are incubated for the budgeting cycles three to six months out.
With the pick-up in this workload comes the re-prioritisation of relationships. The number of sales calls I have received in the past few days exceeds those that I had in the whole of August. In a similar way, the number of calls that I have made to prospective clients to re-open conversations from earlier in the year has also increased. People are open-minded to new conversations and new opportunities whilst there is a bit of time to play with new ideas. It is also the start of one of the most busy conference seasons.
All this got me thinking….
What do the following have in common: spam (the email kind), a pushy salesperson and one of those irritating calls trying to sell you some personal accident product you don’t want?
They all involve PUSH. It is amazing that so many folk still make a living at it when we all know that salesmen don’t SELL: people BUY. Good sales folk understand timing and cycles and simply line up their products and services so that they are the easiest and most top-of-mind for the prospective customer to pull off the shelf when the are ready to buy.
But it is not quite as simple as that……
Do you ever remember putting a hole in the bottom of two tin cans and then stringing the cans together with a long piece of string to make a crude telephone? I often cite this as a useful metaphor for how we might think about the way we communicate with our customers (and suppliers) in business. It isn’t about ignoring pushy sales folk and only pulling when you are ready. It’s about something I call “@TENSION”. Let me explain in terms of a children’s playground with the tin can telephone.
Firstly, there are those kids in the playground that don’t want to play the game at all. Their attention (@TENSION) is somewhere else. They are into another game with other kids. They are not in our game. So we will exclude them.
Then there are those who are interested in the tin can telephone game. They pick up one can. They need someone else on the other end of the string to play with. So they pull someone from the playground to pick up the other end of the line.
By “feeling the pull”, understanding who is pulling, why they are pulling and how hard they are pulling, we can gain important insights into interest, motivations, demands and communications skills.
Further, by understanding these different aspects of pull, we can seek out those who will play our game and give each other interesting and rewarding experiences. Given the right amount of “@tension”, new players will respond with delight and enthusiasm – not least because they are being listened to and communicating in ways that are proportionate to the pull that they are giving.
However, if you pull too hard on their string, you will become an irritant and get dumped. If you don’t pull enough, the other end of the line will lose interest because they cannot communicate and move onto another string. I call this “subtle pull”. You have to pull at roughly the same strength as the other end is pulling. Appropriate response. Sufficient @tension for the line.
You can’t push string. You can only pull it. Too much pull from either party and the line breaks. Oftentimes for good!
So the next time you think of a customer or supplier or player in your game, just think about an invisible string that connects you to them. How taught is it? Is it completely slack? How much “@tension” has it got? How much are they pulling? How much pull should you give “in the moment” to be effective at continuing the conversation? Who has their ear to the can and who is talking into it?
And at this particular time of the year, how many strings will you tighten. Will you be listening or speaking? Can you really manage those ten strings when you could probably be more successful in just focusing on three or four?
So it’s back to school for the children and back to the subtle pull of business relationships for the rest of us! Good luck with all of your new projects and ventures get the @tension that they deserve!
It is August and the holidays are here! For many, July and August are the months for rest and recuperation and spending time with family on holiday. For those that live in the northern parts of the Northern hemisphere, it is a time for getting some sun on our skins before the longer winter months kick in again.
For many, it is also a time of reflection. For although the calendar year starts in January, September is the start of the academic year and August is the gap before the start of the new year. I have found that many businesses are tuned to the academic calendar – either directly (like a University or School) or indirectly (because many of their employees have children who set a cycle in the family geared around their academic needs).
So it got me thinking. Most of my great ideas have come from a time when I am not thinking about day-to-day stuff. Those magic, “Eureka!” moments when a problem you have been working on suddenly becomes solvable.
By not being hampered by the grind of meetings, actions and to-do lists, we can solve old problems and creating new ideas. Finding a gap in the year’s day-to-day grind to think big, think outside the box or just not think at all and let nature take its course often relaxes you in ways you can’t achieve at other times of the year.
There is an old saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as long as we speak. And so it is with the summer break. There is a gap in proceedings where we can listen. Not just listen to those who we work with. But listen to ourselves. Our inner mind. Our inner bodies. Our inner spirit. We can refresh each other with the rest and easy living that we often over-ride in the rest of the year.
So, back the Art of Business Conversation. For my own part, I have been working on a new way to look at businesses through the conversations we have. The Art of Business Conversation, if you like. As simple as ABC. Except it isn’t, is it? It is quite complicated.
There are several different types of business conversation (which I aim to explore more in future posts). The most intense are often wrapped up in emotional outbursts or things unsaid.
The key is to find space within the conversation to reflect. On an annual cycle, this time of the year gives us time to reflect on the longer-term relationships we all have with the businesses and people we work with. Either as employees; business owners; customers; suppliers; that funny, over-used word “partners”; or simply the friends and relations that weave in and out of those conversations.
And that is where the idea of Zen comes in. Zen is the space between. Zen is the effortless flow. Zen is the silent, observant onlooker onto our busy world of nothingness. Zen is the state to get into before returning to the ABC of business, academia and all those things where we sequence stuff and continue our practice of the art of business conversation.
So, enjoy the break. Listen to the silence. Observe the subtle messages coming from the conversation with yourself. Say nothing and say everything. Come back refreshed and energised to take on the new challenges that you discover in the hidden moments of this August recess.
I was recently asked to comment on a blog exploring the idea as to whether or not it is “critical to follow your heart”. It got me thinking (quite a bit). Oh, and I make no excuses for the apparent New Age flavour to this post. It’s just how it came out!
In such a fragmented world, where academics and book writers are rewarded for micro-ideas that can be framed into sound bytes (such as the one above), I find it interesting to call on history and the ancient wisdom of the Hindu/Buddhist Chakra system. In this system, there are seven centres of energy within the body. Each system nowadays has a colour of the rainbow associated with it. The heart charka is green and is at the centre of the system.
One of the main issues in today’s world seems to be that the mind (indigo) and communication (blue) centres are so energetic – with our so-called “knowledge society” coupled with “mass broadcast media” that the other (lower) forms of subtle energy get drowned-out.
Maybe this is an age-old problem? For there is also an ancient buddhist saying that “the longest journey in life is from the head to the heart”.
Anyway, I am currently doing some research on how the seven centres of chakric energy can become better balanced – not just within the context of an individual – but also in organisations AND society in general.
Without a higher purpose, life becomes meaningless.
Without mind that is connected to serve others, life becomes ego-centric and selfish.
Without clearly articulating what you want for yourself or your organisation, others won’t understand where you are coming from and ignore you or misinterpret your ideas.
Without being allowed to truly express your feelings, life becomes emotionally blocked.
Without a sense that you are truly empowered, life becomes deeply frustrating.
Without a co-creative connection with others in your family or tribe, life becomes lonely.
Without a place to call home, life becomes frightening.
And so, to the main discussion about whether or not it is critical to follow your heart.
On thinking about the idea, I came to the conclusion that it isn’t just when the heart-centre is “in flow” – or we are “in the groove” that we get that feeling of life-is-good. It is when ALL the energy centres are aligned to create an organic energy that is more than the sum of its constituent parts. It is at such times that we, as human beings, are most connected to our fellow human beings – and to the natural world around us.
In terms of organisations, as regular readers will know, I look for much of my inspiration in the work that I do a as a beekeeper. I find the universal energy which is generated in abundance from the colonies of bees that I keep is indescribable – it has to be felt to be understood. The ways that the movements and (unrecordable) energies from each tiny, individual bee are compounded to create a colony that vibrates and energises the space around for the greater good of the colony is not too dissimilar to an organisation or society where the subtle forms of energy are recognised, amplified and aligned to a higher purpose. Religious movements are one obvious answer. But there are many other examples – some with “good” objectives. Others perhaps, with more dubious ones.
I’ve also come to believe that intuition and flashes of inspiration (Ahah! moments, if you like) are not from us, but come to us when we most need them or call upon them. The egoic state sees itself as the centre of the universe. But spiritual practice is about removing the ego and tuning into more subtle forces of universal energy that pull you. It is as if you are plugged-into connected consciousness and more aware of the subtle energies that might give you a greater chance to allow your energy to be mixed in more rewarding, unique ways.
So, it probably is important to follow your heart (over your head). But true connectedness comes when each energy centre is in alignment with the whole. It is then that we give up pushing and allow ourselves to be pulled. It is then that all the dots are joined-up and where everything makes sense after the fact. This was so well articulated by Steve Jobs when he delivered his famous speech to Stanford graduates:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward,” Jobs told the Stanford grads. “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. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Trouble is, it’s very difficult to put all this stuff into a few sound-bytes and broadcast them over Twitter – or even a blog post like this!