|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!
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.
When I started this blog in 2010, the first article was called “Form follows Function – or does it?”.
I’ve been fascinated by the idea of form following function ever since – and have been trying to work out what might follow function itself.
And so, earlier this year, I played around with the idea with a few friends that there might be a sequence:
- Form follows Function
- Function follows Flow
- Flow follows Focus
- Focus follows Foresight
I presented these ideas at a recent workshop that I was running and Brian Condon, a good friend and one of the participants said that the one “F” word that was missing was feedback!
Now, feedback is different. It can follow anything. So here is a diagram that shows these six ideas:
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!
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!
The arguments raged for ten hours in the House of Commons. The vote was cast. The MPs agreed by a sizeable majority that it was a good thing to let the Royal Air Force bomb Syria. A few hours later, the Tornado Jets were set loose like the dogs of war.
The rest of the country stood by like a confused onlooker. Whatever your beliefs, whatever your fears, however good your knowledge of the situation: none of those would count. In May, the UK’s democratic system transferred our voting rights for another five years to a bunch of elected MPs to take nearly all decisions on our behalf. We’ll all get a vote on whether or not we want to stay in Europe – but that will be equally confusing too. Just like the Scottish No vote last year.
David Cameron’s timing for the bombing Syria vote was lucky. The Paris atrocities a couple of weeks ago certainly added considerable weight to the case. His party held the line, and increased a narrow Tory majority by doing whipping deals with selected allies and the vote for the “ayes” was further buoyed-up by the schism in the Labour party. So the “ayes” had it and the NATO alliance held together because that’s what allies do. Stick together in hard times.
What other solutions were put forward? What other creative ideas were framed? What other, more effective ways of preventing further bloodshed were considered? What were the real options to stop further escalation the a tit-for-tat of a bomb in a beach resort or another vulnerable European city versus drone attacks and bombing raids on strategic Daesh targets in Syria?
I remember visiting Beirut for a day in 1978. I was in transit from Egypt to Cyprus. Middle East Airlines put me up for a free night in a four-star hotel as part of the deal of flying via their country. It was a great deal for the penniless student that I was at the time. I took a taxi around the central part of the city on the way back to the airport. On every street corner there was a burned-out armoured car and a different faction guarding their patch. Nothing much seems to have changed since then.
The UN Climate Change Conference, which started in Paris this week, has given some hope that we might be reaching a level of consciousness that understands that climate change is going to continue to hit random parts of the world as a knight moves around in a game of chess. Although ridiculed by some newspapers for his views, I can see the connection that Prince Charles made about climate change causing drought in Syria which in turn causes a shortage of natural resources (like water), which in turn cause a refugee problem in South Eastern Europe. The world is so connected now – more than it ever has been, perhaps. It is the butterfly effect in action.
We need to think differently and organise ourselves differently if we are going to solve the complex problems that the world is currently facing. I used to think that X causes Y was the only way to think. I’m not so sure anymore. Just look at the weather. Everyone’s weather in the world is apparently affected by changes in water temperature just off the West Coast of South America with the El Niño effect. And so it is with international politics and relations: everything is connected.
I’m sure computer modelling and technology can help here – but we need a lot more than “big data” and analytics and advanced aerial killing machines directed from many thousands of miles away to solve these problems. In particular, we need to understand that each of the world’s primitive fragile systems of fresh water, clean air, natural energy resources and inhabitable land are themselves so interconnected that together they will have the greatest impact on the world’s population migration and quality of life of all of us in the coming twenty to thirty years. Southern Europe is currently under siege from migrants who themselves are refugees from a part of the planet that is fast burning-up. Areas which have traditionally sustained life, but which can no longer do so.
What to do? Commentary by analysts simply isolate the issues. Linking them together does not seem to happen so much. It might be my associative mind, but the inter-dependencies BETWEEN the systems mean that the gaps between the systems might just hold the answers. As regular readers will know, one of my favourite expressions is that: “the answer lies in the space between”.
On first glance, it was very encouraging to see Mark Zuckerberg give up 99% of his fortune to charitable causes. Line up all the rich kids and strip them of 99% of their fortunes. Job done! Yet, reading between the lines, the vehicle Zuckerberg will use will be a limited liability partnership (LLP), not a charitable foundation. The LLP will be allowed to lobby, make a profit and won’t have to give away a pre-determined amount of cash to other charities every year. Smart man, Zuckerberg. Maybe he is onto something.
It is time to think afresh about how we take decisions and how we control the excesses – whether they be banking bonuses, lobbying for vested interests or pollution. Relying on individual human nature won’t solve these problems. Traditional economically-driven regulation won’t hack the course either. The current systems are so stuck in the past; they need a complete rethink.
Waging war by throwing deadly flying machines at an enemy who can only fire back with machine guns and suicide bombers will only dig us deeper into the proverbial. It may well take Zuckerberg, Gates and a few others with purposeful family-centric LLPs to crack many of the problems that our more outdated institutions have failed to solve.
Then again, I suppose that rich families and the dynasties that they create have always ruled the world. All other structures are impermanent, insignificant or mouthpieces of the ruling classes. Mr Zuckerberg for President, anyone?
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!
I met up recently with an old friend. She has decided to give up work in March. The hospital she has worked in for many years as a family therapist was transferred from the private sector to the public sector last year. She is giving up because the (UK) National Health Service (or NHS) that has now taken over the hospital has made the unit a “national asset” and patients are being referred to it from across the country. She can no longer practice as she used to because the patients are disconnected from the families that should support them when they leave hospital care. Costs have also gone up because of the additional remote support that need to be given to both patients and their supporting families. In addition, she finds the extra “meetings about meetings” and paperwork completely stifling.
It reminded of a similar problem that is embedded within the UK prison system. It has been proven that offenders are much more likely not to reoffend once they leave prison if they get family support during their term inside. Yet most prisoners are deliberately sent to another part of the country to do their time. Families (often poorer than most) cannot afford regular visits. So the likelihood of prisoners reoffending when leaving prison goes up.
In each of these cases, I suppose the patient or the prisoner could be seen as the “customer”. Yet these two state-run systems have been designed without the customer’s requirements (or real needs) in mind. They have been designed at the expense of other measures (such as top-down political targets, reduction in costs etc.)
The current business fads of rationalisation, outsourcing, off-shoring, cost-cutting and factory call-centres seem to have driven traditional sane local business practices and have allowed madness to prevail.
I can’t prove it, but I believe that local, common-sense sanity has to create more flexible, cost effective public services over the prevalent national (or international) managing-by-abstract-measures madness. But that is a very difficult case to prove when big egos, big technology, big politics and big finance have each, in their own way, presented measurement madness as the new religion.
Maybe measurement is, itself, the root cause of the problem. Maybe we should be suggesting a new way to educate the cohorts of ignorant managers and measurers.
Taiichi Ohno would have thought so. One of his great quotes fits well here:
“People who can’t understand numbers are useless.
The gemba (or real place) where numbers are not visible is also bad.
However, people who only look at the numbers are the worst of all.”
As we come to the end of the summer break, for most of us, school, university or work starts afresh. I say, for most because, like with all generalisations, there are always those who break the rule. An increasing number of friends seem to be moving into “retirement” or “semi-retirement” – breaking the pattern of a life-time by taking more time off. Two of my children are starting University – a break from the long years of study at school to the less structured, more fun time at Uni.
And the little word “break” got me thinking. It seems to have so many meanings. It runs to many definitions in the dictionary – both as a verb and as a noun. It can be:
- destructive (as in – “break a glass”)
- illegal (as in “breaking the speed limit”)
- liberating (as in “break out of old patterns”)
- exciting (as in “breaking news”)
- disappointing (as in “break my heart”)
- the point of profit (as in “break-even”)
- time to eat (as in “breakfast”)
- very confusing for someone not fluent in English (as in “break a leg”)
For such a little word, it has so many different subtle meanings and so many different ways to combine itself with other words to mean so many different things!
Yet, with all of this, I always see the start of September as the opportunity to break from the past and focus on the future. For some reason, even more so than with Christmas or Easter. Perhaps we are all subconsciously programmed by the school year – whether as students, former students or parents. Yet there are those who will always break the mould and find other beginnings and endings in their year and not agree with me.
Great word “break”.
The speed awareness course that I wrote about last week focused on stopping distances.
Since then, I have been thinking a bit more about reaction times – because that is the part that, as a driver, you control. Once you put your foot on the brake pedal, it is all down to physics.
It also reminded me of the sequence that I was taught when learning to drive: Mirror > Signal > Manoeuvre.
Yet, even before looking in the mirror, there is the thought or intent to move the car in a new or different direction.
So the whole sequence looks something like: Thought > Intent > Mirror > Signal > Manoeuvre.
And that got me thinking about work.
How often, in business, do we start by looking in the mirror – and we expect to be inspired by looking at the figures of last month’s performance?
How often do we start moving things before we signal to the wider group affected by the change?
In today’s frenetic online world of tweets and likes and such things, the opportunity to act without thinking, to press the “Buy Me Now” button before remembering you already have enough (books, clothes, food…<insert your particular collection obsession here>) for your needs.
How often do we act before we think about the consequences?
How often do we manoeuvre before thinking?
And what about this strange word, Manoeuvre. Is it spelt right? And what does it really mean?
I looked up the second part of the word (oeuvre) and found this:
OEUVRE = A work of art – Synonym = Work
Etymology: Today’s word was borrowed so recently from French, we have not yet resolved its pronunciation in English. It devolved from Latin opera “works,” the plural of “opus.” Sanskrit apas “work” and German üben “practice, exercise” derive from the same ultimate root.
The interesting thing, I find, is that holidays a good time to move out of work mode and into work of art mode. It allows you to look at your life as the creation of a series of works of art and puts a different emphasis on the process or the day-to-day grind and allows you to review your creations in the past year and those that you wish to create in the coming year. I always have a small notebook handy so I can jot down ideas on new works of art. Notebooks are much more fluid than a smartphone. Not sure yet whether an iPad is as good. Don’t think it is.
So, basically, before you start the next round of your Man-Work (or Woman-Work), it is best to take time to think. Think about signalling to those around you that you are going to create this new work of art – and even before that it is worth looking in the mirror to check there is no one behind you that is going to get in your way. Oh – and before ALL of that, it is worth thinking about the implications of changing direction and creating new works of art that might affect other users of the road you have chosen.
Have a great holiday if you are still to go – and hope you got inspired if you have already been! In any case, think before you man-oeuvre your life towards the creation of your new works of art!