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.
I pulled off a book from my bookshelf the other night with the title of this post. The book is a collection of writings, including nine chapters never before published in book form by Alan Watts. Watts was a British pilosopher, lecturer and author who interpreted Eastern thought for Westerners. He was born close to where I live in Chiselhurst, Kent in 1915 and died in California in 1973. Other more famous titles of his include “The Way of Zen” and “The Book”.
I have copied the article below – which has the same title as the book – which gives a good insight into Watts’ writing – as well as a piece to ponder on this Thursday:
Become What You Are
It has been said that the highest wisdom lies in detachment, or, in the words of Chuang-tzu: “The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror; it grasps nothing; it refuses nothing; it receives, but does not keep.” Detachment means to have neither regrets for the past nor fears for the future; to let life take its course without attempting to interfere with its movement and change, neither trying to prolong the stay of things pleasant nor hasten the departure of things unpleasant. To do this is to move in time with life, to be in perfect accord with its changing music, and this is called Enlightenment.
In short, it is to be detached from both past and future and to live in the eternal Now. For in truth neither past nor future have any existence apart from this Now; by themsleves they are illusions. Life exists only at this very moment, and in this moment it is infinite and eternal. For the present moment is infinitely small; before we can measure it, it has gone, and yet it persists for ever. This movement and change has been called Tao by the Chinese, yet in fact there is no movement, for the moment is the only reality and there is nothing beside it in relation to which it can be said to move. Thus it can be called at once the eternally moving and eternally resting.
How can we bring ourselves into accord with this Tao? A sage has said that if we try to accord with it, we shall get away from it. But he was not altogether right. For the curious thing is that you cannot get out of accord with it even if you want to. Though your thoughts may run into the past or future, then cannot escape the present moment. However far back or forward they try to escape, they can never be separated from the moment. For those thoughts are themselves of the moment; just as much as anything else they partake of and indeed, are the movement of life which is Tao.
You may believe yourself out of harmony with life and its eternal Now; but you cannot be, for you are life and exist Now – otherwise you would not be here. Hence the infinite Tao is something which you can neither escape by flight nor catch by pursuit; there is no coming toward it or going away from it; it is, and you are it. So become what you are.
Source: Become What You Are – pp10-11 from the book with the same title by Alan Watts – (c) Shambhala Press 2003
I have spent the past twelve days in the Alps on a spring retreat doing a bit of skiing. Yesterday we had a enormous thunderstorm and the most beautiful rainbow – like the one above. Somehow, it got me reflecting on a conversation I had with John Varney, a reader of this blog, a few months ago. He told me that he often intersperses his organisational change work with Sufi Teaching Stories. So I went on the hunt for a good one and found the one below. I am interested to know what readers think of using this approach to unlock new meaning to our work in the reductionist world we live in.
The Story of the Locksmith by Idries Shah
Once there lived a metalworker, a locksmith, who was unjustly accused of crimes and was sentenced to a deep, dark prison. After he had been there awhile, his wife who loved him very much went to the King and beseeched him that she might at least give him a prayer rug so he could observe his five prostrations every day.
The King considered that a lawful request, so he let the woman bring her husband a prayer rug. The prisoner was thankful to get the rug from his wife, and every day he faithfully did his prostrations on the rug. Much later, the man escaped from prison, and when people asked him how he got out, he explained that after years of doing his prostrations and praying for deliverance from the prison, he began to see what was right in front of his nose.
One day he suddenly saw that his wife had woven into the prayer rug the pattern of the lock that imprisoned him. Once he realized this and understood that all the information he needed to escape was already in his possession, he began to make friends with his guards. He also persuaded the guards that they all would have a better life if they cooperated and escaped the prison together.
They agreed since, although they were guards, they realized that they were in prison, too. They also wished to escape, but they had no means to do so. So the locksmith and his guards decided on the following plan: they would bring him pieces of metal, and he would fashion useful items from them to sell in the marketplace. Together they would amass resources for their escape, and from the strongest piece of metal they could acquire, the locksmith would fashion a key.
One night, when everything had been prepared, the locksmith and his guards unlocked the prison and walked out into the cool night where his beloved wife was waiting for him. He left the prayer rug behind so that any other prisoner who was clever enough to read the pattern of the rug could also make his escape. Thus, the locksmith was reunited with his loving wife, his former guards became his friends, and everyone lived in harmony.
Have you ever been in a situation where you say something that you regret later? For example, I was with a close friend the other day trying to “help” her work through some problems. The suggestions that I made to her were taken the wrong way and the conversation broke down. Purely because I put too many of my own thoughts into the flow.
It made me think: I wondered whether there was a way we could communicate without putting our own ideas, suggestions and bias forward? In my research, I came across a whole system of communication that originates in psychotherapy that allows you to do just that!
The originator of the approach was a guy called David Grove (whom I never met) – who died far too young four years ago in January 2008. The ideas behind the system have various names – but one of the best-known terms is that of “Clean Language” – popularised in an excellent book published shortly after Grove’s death called “Clean Language” by Wendy Sullivan and Judy Rees.
Rooted in the idea that we all live with our own very personal, subjective metaphors, the technique allows the person being questioned to explore those metaphors without any judgement or bias from the interviewer or therapist.
The basics of using Clean Language are simple:
Keep your opinions and advice to yourself
Ask Clean Language Questions to explore a person’s metaphors (or everyday statements)
Listen to the answers and then ask more Clean Language questions about what they have said
If the person being asked the Clean Language questions is seeking to change, then the change can happen naturally as part of the process. It is not a technique to force change on anyone! I have found that there are equally useful ways in which to use the method: whether it is gathering information on a project, interviewing someone or asking children about their own worlds that they live in.
In the book there are twelve basic questions in Clean Language with a further 19 “specialised” questions. However, to get going, other articles refer to the five basic questions which are designed to help clients add detail and dimension to their perceptions:
1. “And is there anything else about [client’s words]?”
2. “And what kind of [client’s words] is that [client’s words]?”
3. “And that’s [client’s words] like what?”
4. “And where is [client’s words]?”
5. “And whereabouts [client’s words]?”
There is a great video on the use of Clean Language in therapy – with some interesting results:
Another strand of this line of research was published in an earlier book “Metaphors in Mind: Transforming through Symbolic Modelling” by James Lawley and Penny Tompkins in 2000. There is a short two-part article by Lawley on some of these ideas as they apply to organisations which can be found here: Metaphors of Organisation – an angle to this whole work that I find fascinating. There is also a quote from Gareth Morgan at the start of the article which sums-up some of the ideas:
“All theories of organisation and management are based on implicit images or metaphors that persuade us to see, understand, and imagine situations in partial ways. Metaphors create insight. But they also distort. They have strengths. But they also have limitations. In creating ways of seeing, they create ways of not seeing. Hence there can be no single theory or metaphor that gives an all-purpose point of view. There can be no ‘correct theory’ for structuring everything we do.”
To open up our thinking, Morgan seeks to do three things:
(1) To show that many conventional ideas about organisation and management are based on a small number of taken-for-granted images and metaphors.
(2) To explore a number of alternative metaphors to create new ways of thinking about organisation.
(3) To show how metaphor can be used to analyse and diagnose problems and to improve the management and design of organisations.
I wish I had known this a month ago before the encounter I described at the beginning of this thought. The outcome would have been very different, I’m sure. I’m also very interested to know if you use any of these ideas in the work that you do. Please comment below if you have any thoughts or observations. In the meantime, try using clean language in your everyday work and play – it is a really useful tool – even if you are not a fully-trained psychotherapist! It is so clean it can’t hurt anyone – and can actually be quite fun realising how much of our own “stuff” we put into normal conversation.
I have always been fascinated by what makes up a good story and the effect that is has on the way we think about the world and our place within it. I have only recently came across the work of Joseph Campbell and his seminal work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. In the book he explores the underlying pattern of the heroic struggle from each of the great myths from around the world. He then goes on to uncover an underlying sequence of typical “hero-actions” which are embedded in each of these stories.
George Lucas (the creator of StarWars) was so impressed by Cambpell’s work that he wrote the StarWars epic using his ideas. We are very fortunate that a series of six programmes summarising Campbell’s work and his ideas were recorded just before he died. You can see the first (and subsequent) videos on the (rather whacky) internet site below – though it is obviously much better to buy “The Power of Myth” DVD on Amazon or elsewhere and watch it legally:
Campbell neatly summarises one of the heoric struggles with phrase early-on in the six-part documentary:
“where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world”
The orphan archetype is possibly the most common storyline that Campbell uncovered. Moses, Romulus and Remus, Cinderella, Oliver Twist, Mowgli, Tarzan, Superman, Annie, King Arthur, Frodo Baggins, and yes, Harry Potter – as well as Luke Skywalker.
As Terry Windling so succinctly puts it:
“The orphaned hero is not, however, a mere fantasy cliché; it’s a mythic archetype, springing from some of the oldest stories of the world. This archetype includes not only those characters who are literally orphaned by the death of their parents, but also children who are lost, abandoned, cast out, disinherited by evil step–parents, raised in supernatural captivity, or reared by wild animals.”
Christopher Volger (in his book The Writer’s Journey) created twelve distinct stages to a good story:
1. Ordinary World
2. Call to Adventure
3. Refusal of the Call
4. Meeting the Mentor
5. Crossing the Frist Threshold
6. Tests, Allies and Enemies
10. The Road Back
11. Resurrection of the Hero
12. Return with the Elixir
So there you have it. The twelve stages to telling a good story based on Campbell’s “Monomyth” – or common pattern for all good stories. Try it. It really works. Whether you are narrating an important case study that is being used as an example to help you sell a product or service at work, or giving a bed-time story to children, the underlying drama always touches a chord. And it is fun to hold the attention when only you know where you are going to end up! Ah, yes. That is the other trick. It is important to know where you are going to end up (roughly) – though I find some of the fun of story-telling is that the story itself can unfold in unexpected ways. The Hero always finds his or her way through, though!
Oh, and by the way. Steve Jobs was an orphan. Which is probably why his real-life story has touched us in so many ways in the past week.
In a week where the Murdoch media empire appeared to lose its power, I came across this video “The Story of Stuff”- perhaps the most important “News of the World” that Murdoch’s empire was at the heart of ignoring.
Even if you have seen it, watch it again: it will make you think again about how the world works.
It is interesting how, with the launch of Apple’s Lion operating system we are still seeing “Design for Obsolescence” as one of the main design principles from what many say is the best design company in the world. It’s time for Apple (and the rest of us) to re-think design for the 21st century so that we can close the circle, not keep pushing the 99% waste down the pipe. Designing for Pull has to be a major factor in this redesign philosophy – and something I will come back to in future posts.
Although this is almost exactly a year old and quite US-centric, the video below “Innovation at the Edge of Electricity” was made. It has some great stories that may well make the minds of anyone living in the US or Europe boggle at how true innovation is happening in the developing world without any “help” from regulators or lawmakers.
As technology is forcing industry convergence, it is not just the Western-style Telecoms regulation that is getting in the way, but the rules and regulations from the Electricity and Banking Industries too. For instance, look to Africa, not Europe or the US if you want to see what true innovation is on mobile payments.
Many of the stories are particularly helpful when we think at how we should rollout faster broadband to the so-called “Final Third”. Innovation has always happened on the edge of the network. Surely it is time for us to include some of these new ideas from the “edge of electricity” and adapt them to our own requirements. Or will we let the regulators carry on regulating our service industries to die a slow, painful death?
On doing some research into the great Afghan-Scot mystic, Idries Shah, I came across this brilliant piece in his book “Learning How To Learn” 1979 pp85-88:
One of the keys to human behaviour is the attention-factor.
Anyone can verify that many instances, generally supposed to be important or useful human transactions on any subject (social, commercial, etc.,) are in fact disguised attention-situations.
It is contended that if a person does not know what he is doing (in this case that he is basically demanding, extending or exchanging attention) and as a consequence thinks that he is doing something else (contributing to human knowledge, learning, buying, selling, informing, etc.,) he will:
(a) be more inefficient at both the overt and the covert activity;
(b) have less capacity of planning his behaviour and will make mistakes of emotion and intellect because he considers attention to be other than it is.
If this is true, it is most important that individuals realise:
1. That this attention-factor is operating in virtually all transactions;
2. That the apparent motivation of transactions may be other than it really is. And that it is often generated by the need or desire for attention-activity (giving, receiving, exchanging).
3. That attention-activity, like any other demand for food, warmth, etc., when placed under volitional control, must result in increased scope for the human being who would then not be at the mercy of random sources of attention, or even more confused than usual if things do not pan out as they expect.
CERTAIN PRINCIPLES MAY BE ENUNCIATED. THEY INCLUDE:-
1. Too much attention can be bad, (inefficient).
2. Too little attention can be bad.
3. Attention may be ‘hostile’ or ‘friendly’ and still fulfil the appetite for attention. This is confused by the moral aspect.
4. When people need a great deal of attention they are vulnerable to the message which too often accompanies the exercise of attention towards them. E.g., someone wanting attention might be able to get it only from some person or organisation which might thereafter exercise (as ‘its price’) an undue influence upon the attention-starved individual’s mind.
5. Present beliefs have often been inculcated at a time and under circumstances connected with attention-demand, and not arrived at by the method attributed to them.
6. Many paradoxical reversals of opinion, or of associates and commitments may be seen as due to the change in a source of attention.
7. People are almost always stimulated by an offer of attention, since most people are frequently attention-deprived. This is one reason why new friends, or circumstances, for instance, may be preferred to old ones.
8. If people could learn to assuage attention-hunger, they would be in a better position than most present cultures allow them, to attend to other things. They could extend the effectiveness of their learning capacity.
9. Among the things which unstarved people (in the sense of attention) could investigate, is the comparative attraction of ideas, individuals, etc., apart from their purely attention-supplying function.
10. The desire for attention starts at an early stage of infancy. It is, of course, at that point linked with feeding and protection. This is not to say that this desire has no further nor future development value. But it can be adapted beyond its ordinary adult usage of mere satisfaction.
11. Even a cursory survey of human communities shows that, while the random eating tendency, possessiveness and other undifferentiated characteristics are very early trained or diverted-weaned-the attention-factor does not get the same treatment. The consequence is that the adult human being, deprived of any method of handling his desire for attention, continues to be confused by it: as it usually remains primitive throughout life.
12. Very numerous individual observations of human transactions have been made. They show that an interchange between two people always has an attention-factor.
13. Observation shows that people’s desires for attention ebb and flow. When in an ebb or flow of attention-desire, the human being not realising that this is his condition, attributes his actions and feelings to other factors, e.g., the hostility or pleasantness of others. He may even say that it is a ‘lucky day’, when his attention needs have been quickly and adequately met. Re-examination of such situations has shown that such experiences are best accounted for by the attention-theory.
14. Objections based upon the supposed pleasure of attention being strongest when it is randomly achieved do not stand up when carefully examined. ‘I prefer to be surprised by attention’ can be paraphrased by saying, ‘I prefer not to know where my next meal is coming from’. It simply underlines a primitive stage of feeling and thinking on this subject.
15. Situations which seem different when viewed from an oversimplified perspective (which is the usual one) are seen to be the same by the application of attention-theory. e.g.: People following an authority-figure may be exercising the desire for attention or the desire to give it. The interchange between people and their authority-figure may be explained by mutual-attention behaviour. Some gain only attention from this interchange. Some can gain more.
16. Another confusion is caused by the fact that the object of attention may be a person, a cult, an object, an idea, interest, etc. Because the foci of attention can be so diverse, people in general have not yet identified the common factor-the desire for attention.
17. One of the advantages of this theory is that it allows the human mind to link in a coherent and easily-understood way many things which it has always (wrongly) been taught are very different, not susceptible to comparison, etc. This incorrect training has, of course, impaired the possible efficiency in functioning of the brain, though only culturally, not permanently.
18. The inability to feel when attention is extended, and also to encourage or to prevent its being called forth, makes man almost uniquely vulnerable to being influenced, especially in having ideas implanted in his brain, and being indoctrinated.
19. Raising the emotional pitch is the most primitive method of increasing attention towards the instrument which increased the emotion. It is the prelude to, or accompaniment of, almost every form of indoctrination.
20. Traditional philosophical and other teachings have been used to prescribe exercises in the control and focussing of attention. Their value, however, has been to a great measure lost because the individual exercises, prescribed for people in need of exercise, have been written down and repeated as unique truths and practised in a manner, with people and at a rate and under circumstances which, by their very randomness, have not been able to effect any change in the attention-training- This treatment has, however, produced obsession. It continues to do so.
21. Here and there proverbs and other pieces of literary material indicate that there has been at one time a widespread knowledge of attention on the lines now being described. Deprived, however, of context, these indications survive as fossil indicators rather than being a useful guide to attention-exercise for contemporary man.
Attention upon oneself, or upon a teacher, without the exercise of securing what is being offered from beyond the immediate surroundings, is a sort of short-circuit. As Rumi said: ‘Do not look at me, but take what is in my hand’.