|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!
Do you ever wonder at the beauty all around you?
At Nature’s creativity and her ability to have created YOU?
Or do you simply go along in your daily life
Allowing the busyness of business to dumb you down
With to-do lists, email and yet more meetings
That makes you question: “Is there anything more than this?”
How often do we call in the experts – who make things
Far too complicated and in their own interests –
Producing grand reports and missing the simplest of solutions.
The physicists say that humanity was created
On a knife-edge of interconnected events that were most unlikely.
We wouldn’t be here if this creative force had not lined them up.
So how can we harness ourselves to this natural force of creativity?
Orson Welles once said:
“Others create out of experience
But I create out of innocence”.
Zen masters encourage us to seek
New answers from a “beginner’s mind”.
By adopting a child-like inquisitiveness
To everything that is around us
Life suddenly takes on new meaning!
Seeing the world as a baby or young child
Gives us the knowledge (unlike the experts)
That we don’t have all the answers.
One of my favourite jokes is that an expert
Is the combination of an ex – or a “has been”
With a spurt – which is a “drip under pressure”!
We dress them up with titles and put letters after their name,
Praising them in cathedrals to knowledge and certainty.
Yet the more they think they know, the more we know they don’t!
Be inquisitive and ask…
Where did that come from?
And where it is going to?
Create from innocence.
Adopt the beginner’s mind
And the world will become a better place!
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!
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:
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.
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.
It’s fascinating how aspects of Westernised Zen philosophy came out of Hitler’s Germany. Below is the link to a paper called “The Myth of Zen in the Art of Archery” with some extracts below that to prove the point.
‘Eugen Herrigel’s “Zen in the Art of Archery” has been widely read as a study of Japanese culture. By reconsidering and reorganizing Herrigel’s text and related materials, however, this paper clarifies the mythical nature of “Zen in the Art of Archery” and the process by which this myth has been generated.
This paper first gives a brief history of Japanese archery and places the period at which Herrigel studied Japanese archery within that time frame. Next, it summarizes the life of Herrigel’s teacher, Awa Kenzõ. At the time Herrigel began learning the skill, Awa was just beginning to formulate his own unique ideas based on personal spiritual experiences.
Awa himself had no experience in Zen nor did he unconditionally approve of Zen. By contrast, Herrigel came to Japan in search of Zen and chose Japanese archery as a method through which to approach it.
The paper goes on to critically analyze two important spiritual episodes in “Zen and the Art of Archery.” What becomes clear through this analysis is the serious language barrier existing between Awa and Herrigel. The testimony of the interpreter, as well as other evidence, supports the fact that the complex spiritual episodes related in the book occurred either when there was no interpreter present, or were misinterpreted by Herrigel via the interpreter’s intentionally liberal translations.
Added to this phenomenon of misunderstanding, whether only coincidental or born out of mistaken interpretation, was the personal desire of Herrigel to pursue things Zen. Out of the above circumstances was born the myth of ‘Zen in the Art of Archery.'”
To copy YAMADA Shõji’s concluding paragraphs:
“Zen in the Art of Archery continues to be a bestseller. The Japanese language version, Yumi to Zen (1956), which represents the culmination of a circular translation process that rendered Awa’s original Japanese words into German and, then, from German back into Japanese, has altered Awa’s words to such an extent that it is impossible to ascertain his original expressions. Yet, in spite of this fact, many Japanese rely on it to acquire a certain fixed interpretation of Japanese archery.
Faced with this situation, I have attempted to present a new reading of Herrigel and associated documents from a different perspective so as to clarify the mythic function that creates our conception of what constitutes “Japanese-ness.” At the same time, I have attempted to counter the tendency that has prevailed up until now to read Zen in the Art of Archery with little or no critical awareness.
This paper represents only a preliminary analysis of Zen in the Art of Archery. The next step must compare and contrast Herrigel’s account with descriptions of Japanese archery written by other foreigners during the same period in order to bring to light the idiosyncratic nature of Zen in the Art of Archery and the peculiar way in which it has shaped foreign understanding of Japan and foreign interpretations of Japanese archery in particular.
Moreover, it is necessary to reposition Herrigel’s first essay on Japanese archery within the milieu of the Berlin of 1936 when the storm of Nazism was raging. Finally, it will be necessary to trace the process by which the ideas in Zen in the Art of Archery, the revised version of Herrigel’s 1936 essay, were imported back into Japan and widely accepted, creating the illusion that the archery of Awa and Herrigel represented traditional Japanese archery. I hope to address these issues in the future.”
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!
Poem by Clinton Scollard
Had I the power
To cast a bell that should from some grand tower,
At the first Christmas hour,
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
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!
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!
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!
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?
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!
Yesterday I flew from the UK to Germany to have the first meeting this year with a client that I last worked for ten years ago. Getting up at 4.00am and struggling through the security gates which reminded me of a cattle ranch and then twisting and turning through the duty-free glitter path that is the only way to get to the plane at Stanstead Airport, I took a short 20-minute taxi ride to the client’s office that turned out to be more expensive than the flight itself! It was a beautiful day and I had a good two hours before the meeting to walk down memory lane. I needed to make sure I was energised and that my mind was clear.
The most surprising thing for me was that the client faced pretty much exactly the same challenges that they faced when I was last there. It was like seeing an old friend in the street that I had not seen for a while and saying “Wow! You haven’t changed a bit!” They were stuck in a rut. And what is more, they acknowledged the fact. It got me thinking: how difficult it is for all of us (and large organisations in particular) to adapt and change.
Whilst chatting to a friend today, the exact same thought arose in a different way. We were reflecting on what we had achieved in 2015 and what 2016 holds in store for us. Like wine, we tend to describe the past year as a “good year” or a “difficult year” or even an “annus horribilis” – depending on what has happened.
I think I would call 2015 a year of transition. What one word would describe this year for you?
Yet another friend said that their work has gone very well in the past year (to the detriment of everything else) and that he was way off on the objectives he had set himself which were to spend more time with his family. Success is both personal and relative – not just from individual to individual – but also in terms of the emphasis we put on specific relationships and projects. Everything has an opportunity cost associated with it. Life is a balancing act.
For example, in the first six months of this year, I became very distracted by a project which meant that I took my eye off the ball for several other things in my life – both personal and business. Setting a balanced set of aims and objectives at the start of the year is so important. Reflecting on the objectives that I set myself at this time last year, I completely underestimated the passion that I had for this unplanned distraction.
Understanding the dependencies and trade-offs that need to be made is so important. Yet we are emotional creatures and can often be overtaken by distractions and unpredictable events that come at us from stage left. Planning for unexpected turns is also important. As the great Peter Drucker said: “It’s not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning.”
But perhaps the most difficult thing in all of this is to break old habits. This is the case with my client in Germany – and is also so true of myself as we move into 2016. In order to change, you need to jump out of an existing pattern and create a new pattern – like the goldfish jumping from one bowl into another in the picture.
Some say that if you practice a new habit for 30 days, then it will stick. I tried that by giving up alcohol for 6 weeks in mid-October. Those friends who got a bit worried need concern themselves no more! I started again last week. Which just proves that the 30-day rule doesn’t work!
The creation of a new habit requires the displacement of other habits that you need to stop. And it needs to happen so that the new pattern becomes unconscious behaviour. Yet, when you jump to a new habit pattern, it can be quite lonely for a while.
Unless you can create a substitute pattern that is more fulfilling and purposeful, the tendency is to jump back to what is familiar. All the 12-step programmes understand that. The first step is always to admit that you are powerless to the particular addiction or pattern. In doing so, you become conscious of it and can change it.
Think about it. Which patterns do you want to dissolve or move away from in 2016 to give yourself more time to do the things you really want to do? What entrenched (perhaps unconscious) patterns do you want to jump out of? Write them down and share them with a close friend or relative. Get some support on the shift to a new pattern. It is much easier like that!
That’s what I hope to do with my German client. Given that they are conscious and want to change, we will start by describing the new fish tank. All the good things about the new environment and the benefits of being there. Then finding one or two fish that will make the first jump. A bit like “Finding Nemo”. The good news is that there are plenty of fish to choose from and I believe that, 10 years on, the temperature in the current tank is a bit too warm for comfort.
Please comment if you see any other analogies or have any relevant stories to tell! In particular, let us know what patterns you want to jump out of and let us know how you are thinking of doing it!
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.
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!
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.
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 email@example.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.”
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!