When people ask me what I do, I tend to freeze. I dislike labels. If I have to be labelled I prefer to be known as a Polymath. Something like that. And yet that doesn’t help When you are looking for your next piece of work. The market is skewed towards hiring specialists.
The world of HR and recruitment love labels. It somehow makes the hiring process less risky For them when they can you put you into a box. Specialisms, industry knowledge, groupthink. It’s a disease which is rife and one where Renaissance (wo)man stands no chance!
How can generalists become more useful? Some give back by working as a volunteer. Charitable work is very is rewarding But does not pay the bills. Others enter academia to become Priests to the religion that is education.
Others become authors or artists. Yet in business Creativity clashes with corporate straight jackets. Squashed between policies and boring routines We need a revolution! A revolution In the way that cognitive diversity is Recognised, commissioned and rewarded.
Ahah! I hear you say! It’s up to the generalist To market their skills and get themselves a job! However, generalists don’t like being tied-down To particular job descriptions. They don’t like Being put into a box. They are too inquisitive, Onto the next idea before the last has closed.
What if there was a pool of generalists Who could be engaged for an hour, day or week? They know lots of things about many things And can challenge like the Court Jester. Crazy ideas might lead to a great product or service. Who would commission them? Would you? And why?
I’m often out-spoken. It has caused me problems in the past. But I’ve never done anything like this before. I know I am not the only one reflecting these sentiments. Sometimes I challenge because I believe that is what is needed To change the system – or at least to draw attention to The main areas that could and should be improved.
I have met only a few of the people who are here. We live in a virtual world of listeners and applauders. Most online fora are self-congratulatory, ego-boosters for the author. People feel uneasy to join in if there is any dissension or (c)rudeness For fear of going against the crowd like the cheeky monkey That’ll have their legs broken so that they are eaten by the lions first!
Agent Provocateurs, Revolutionaries & Change Agents! Where are you? You can hide away in the corner Whinging & whining about the structures & systems that don’t work. Without the guts or enthusiasm to change anything – mainly because The whole darn system is so fragile, it might break anytime – and YOU don’t want to be accused of being the person who finally broke it!
Where are the innovators, the disruptors, the risk-takers? The folk who are up-ending the Establishment (with a BIG “E”)? Where are the young folk who want to bring on the change? They are in the cool start-ups, earning peanuts – for the chance Of creating something new. And one day, they’ll say: “I was there”! It’s a casino, for sure, but a lot more fun than those tied into BIG E!
Not all ideas come to fruition. You never know which ones will work. But that is not the reason to keep the ideas flowing. There is a big difference between a good idea and an idea which Has support, is properly funded and is successfully implemented. Without good ideas, you never get momentum for real change. It’s a clash between different types of people, thinking and processes.
The only action that comes from this is that the ideas keep flowing. The only leadership required is one of keeping an open mind. The only communications skills required are for active listening. Good ideas will stick and grow. Not-so-good ones will get overtaken. Presence over process. Curiosity over Knowhow and “BIG E”. Keep listening and I’ll keep posting! Give me a role and I’ll step up!
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!
Listen! Stop what you are doing! What do you hear? Listen for those subtle noises That are normally drowned-out In the busyness of life.
Listen more! The chatter, the clicks, the hubbub Listen to the space between the noises They are quieter and even more silent Than the silence you started to listen to – Quieter, even, than the quietest sound!
What else lies in the space between? It is a space to meditate on The past and the future. It is the place of pure presence. Absence of anything, It holds the answer to everything!
Claude Debussy once said, “Music is the space between the notes.” The notes might dance harmoniously, But the rests dance closer to the truth. A hidden message that you can only hear If you listen to for the silence.
In conversation, there are those that compete To drown-out the silence. They do not listen They are on “permanent send”, Not yet charmed by (nor knowing of) the fact That they were given two ears and one mouth For a reason: to listen twice as hard!
Try it for a minute, then an hour, then even a day. Muted by the desire to listen more. Not just to the noise, but more importantly, To the space between the notes That play to the timeless music of glorious silence. The answer lies in the space between.
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.
Sometimes you trip over a word and it takes on a shape. It bugs you until you look at that shape and see something different. Something unusual.
That happened to me this morning. I received a note from a friend of mine who was talking about Elon Musk and his investor dilemma. Whilst typing back a reply, I said: “it’s the difference between an inventor and an investor”. And the shape of these two words hit me! They were so similar – and yet poles apart.
So, as is my wont (an old English word meaning habit or custom that spellcheckers highlight as a mistake, but it isn’t), I set to with the idea that an inveNtor and an inveStor are two opposing forces under tension in any business.
And whilst deciding that this was, indeed, a good analogy, it struck me that so many letters are shared between these two words. In fact, seven out of eight letters are not just the same – BUT THEY ARE IN EXACTLY THE SAME POSITION IN THE WORD! The only difference is the fifth letter – where one is an “N” and the other an “S”. How can two such similar words have such contrasting shapes positions in business, yet share so much at the same time?
To use the old analogy “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, it got me thinking about which planets would inveNtors and inveStors inhabit? I looked up this idea on an astrology website and found that Venus is the bringer of love, beauty and money. So that will do for the inveStor community (though I sometimes find it hard to see how those three words fit nicely into one sentence.
As for Mars – well that is a non-starter. We needed another planet. And so I typed-in “innovation” to find that Uranus represents technology, rebellion and innovation! That will do nicely!
So, inveStors are from Venus and inveNtors are from Uranus. There you go!
Yet that wasn’t enough. I further studied the two words to find that the only difference were the two letters: N and S – and suddenly it hit me! They are also polar opposites on the dial of a compass! I was so encouraged to find even more elegance down this particular rabbit-hole!
Further to discovering this chance pairing, I thought again. Whilst looking at the meanings behind the planets, I came across Mercury, the Messenger God who is know for communication, day-to-day expression and coordination. A vital and often missing ingredient when inveNtors and inveStors cannot see each other’s point of view. What other letter (in the same place as the N and S) could be a catalyst for change? What could be the Mercury that goes between Venus and Uranus (though I know full-well that is impossible in our particular solar system – but work with me on this!)
And so I came across the letter “R”. One of the few that makes sense and is a word. An inveRtor. It has a medical meaning, but I preferred the one used in electricity – which converts AC to DC current and back again. An inveRtor is a converter of energy from invention to investment. Perfect!
So, in summary, we need more inveRtors in business to go between the impossible stances that inveNtors and inveStors take when they stand-off in their own worlds of creativity and resolution. A few more inveRtors that will be comfortable in the space between what is impossible and what is possible. A few more inverRtors that will help inveNtors like Elon Musk save the planet with his fantastic ideas to make the world’s transportation system run on electricity without making all the inveStors run a mile!
As it was such a great rabbit hole to go down (and it is Thursday and I have not written Thursday Thoughts for a while), I thought I would write-up the story. More to follow soon!
Please do leave a comment below if you see any other strange or fantastic happenings on the road from invention to investment.
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!