Someone asked me what one word or phrase I would use to take me into 2018, leave behind those ideas, things and people you don’t need anymore and create something new and vibrant.
I thought for a moment and then said “I use the term “Lighten Up! quite a lot.”
It gives you the chance to drop those dead-weight ideas, as well as the things and even people who drag you down. It also gives you permission to become more conscious and, literally, “enlightened”. It is a good one, too for losing those extra few inches around the belly and becoming lighter on your feet!
The lighter you think, the lighter the world becomes. You need fewer words to connect with people. Your emails become shorter. You need fewer “heavy” conversations. You laugh more. Life becomes much more fun and interesting because you are not held back by the shadows of past traumas nor fears of the future.
And if you look into the light, you can’t see the shadows of the past anyway!
“LIghten-Up!” It works for me! Try it. It might work for you too!
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!
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!
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?
Picture the scene. A young child who has done something wrong. A parent standing tall over the child looking on in disgust or anger. The young child cowering, knowing that they should not have done it – whatever the act was. The parent erupting: “You did it on purpose, didn’t you?”
Doing something on purpose, in this case, is doubly bad. It adds to the criminal act because it was “on purpose”. It is the difference between manslaughter and premeditated murder. Somehow, when a crime is committed, when it is done “on purpose”, then it is so much worse and carries a heavier penalty.
Picture another scene. A company gets amazing results. Profits are up. Revenues are up. The workforce has high morale. The CEO is asked: “Why are you are doing so well? How did you make so much profit” He or she answers “Our primary objective isn’t to make a profit – although it is nice to make a profit so we can develop better services for you. The main reason that we are doing so well is that we are all in service for a higher purpose”.
Think of some recent technology successes: Google and Apple. Each one highly profitable, yet much more importantly, each one serves a higher purpose. “Do no evil”. “Putting a ding in the Universe”. Interestingly, in its early days, Microsoft had the mission of putting “a computer on every desk and in every home”. In 2013, Microsoft changed its mission to “morph from a software company to a devices and services company”. In doing so, their purpose became clouded (literally) in confused corporate-speak and financial engineering. As soon as the purpose (or mission) is framed in terms of profit or puts shareholder returns above everything else, the writing is on the wall that the organisation to become less successful.
Such a powerful phrase it is, then. “On Purpose”. It shows premeditated intent. Driven by purposeful desire, it can create extraordinarily beautiful things. It also drives people to follow great leaders – not because of the ego or personality of the leader, but because the whole tribe/team/organisation believes in a higher purpose beyond the power of a single human being. It is why great religions have such enormous followings. Abraham, Buddha, Christ and Mohammed. Each, in their own way, started a religion which today still have many followers.
Purpose also drives revolution and could be seen as the lifeblood of change. The events in Paris last week were a tragedy, attacking the French libertarian belief system to its core. The repercussions are still to be played out in terms of hardening European borders, increasing the checks on people travelling to and from Europe as well as the need to control the mass migration to Europe from North Africa and the Middle East. In some cases, it is a cash of ideas, ideals and purposeful intent. In another, it is driven by a desire to find a better life for yourself and those who depend upon you.
However hard it is to imagine a cause is so strong for someone to want to blow themselves up in martyrdom, history shows that there is nothing new to such an extreme act. Religions are full of martyrs – often given god-like attributes after their demise. For someone to die “on purpose” or in total alignment with their belief system is somehow at the extreme end of heroism and martyrdom.
Back to the first scene that I started with at the start of this piece. What is most interesting is whether you saw yourself as the child, the parent or an onlooker? Think about it!
At an individual level, many of my close friends in their late forties or early-mid fifties are in transition from a full-time career in corporate life to a much less secure “portfolio career” in post-corporate life. Is it at times like this that you really do question your own purpose in life. You think “what is this all about?”. “Why did I spend over 10/20/30 years working for such-and-such a cause and end up with …..?” It is a time for reflection and searching for a deeper meaning in your own life so that it can become more purposeful.
In thinking about your own purpose, I like to think of an analogy with the Global Positioning System or GPS. I used to do offshore sailing back in the 1980s and early ‘90s – when the navigation was all based on charts using pencils and compasses and triangulation to work out where you are. How the world has changed! Via the GPS system, you can now know exactly where you are – even if it is thick fog outside. A Guiding Purpose Statement (or GPS) should do the same for you at major transitions in your life.
Over the next few weeks, I am creating a programme to go deeper into some of these ideas. If you would like to find out more, please do email me at: lorne(at)objectivedesigners(dot)com and I will send you an outline of what I am thinking about – plus a few questions that might help us create something that is a bit different and special.
The main purpose is to create a group that can support folk as they transition from a more structured (corporate) part of their lives to a portfolio career where you have to take more personal risks and seek deeper meaning in what it is you do and how you express yourself. I’ve been through it myself – and have some lessons I would like to share – but I am sure many readers will also have equally valid ideas and suggestions to help others through this period of their lives.
By the way, on my search for more meaning and purpose, I have come up with my own GPS: “To help people communicate more effectively”. It helps me to bridge my interests in telecommunications, media, marketing and conversational flow between systems. I’m currently refining it to be a little more tangible, but it will do for the moment. If I can help you in this mission – or, indeed if you can help me become more effective in my mission, please also email me!
The older I become, the clearer I become about one thing. Life is all about flow. And the current modern madness that we see in society is mainly due to us being “out of the flow” and not “in the zone”.
What do I mean?
Last week, a friend asked me to act as a witness at a local planning enquiry. It was no normal planning enquiry. It lasted five days and had barristers for the prosecution (the district council) and the defence (my friend). It was more like the hearing of a legal case in a court of law.
I was asked to turn up as a witness on the final day last Friday. Having just come off a week’s training in presentation skills, I thought I would put them to the test. I knew I had a very short slot (10 minutes maximum). I decided to take up five. I wanted to create maximum impact. How should I go about it?
A bit more context. My friend and his wife allow me to put my eight hives on their land. Their land is an oasis of natural flora and fauna – itself nestled in an ancient woodland in area of outstanding natural beauty. It is so unique, it has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (or SSI).
My friend and his wife live onsite to manage the woodlands. They also allow me to keep eight hives on their land. They were merely seeking permission to extend their project for another three years. They live off-grid practicing the most sustainable living of any family I know. To be applauded and copied, you would think, – particularly in this modern era of climate change and sustainable living. But no. The establishment was not happy. My friends might set a precedent. We might have hundreds of woodland owners taking to living in the woods and becoming feral. And that is not a good thing, apparently.
The previous four days of inquiry and inquisition had been hell for all involved. An important stand against the erosion of some law written somewhere or a total waste of precious government money? Not for me to decide, but I tend to believe it was the latter. The final day was for supporters to give evidence. Throughout the whole week, no one turned up to oppose the proposal.
I arrived at 09.30 and got the first speaking slot for the day. I did not speak on behalf of myself. I petitioned on account of the bees that I keep! Everyone knows that bees are under threat. I described the project as a colony of bees might. Appreciating my friends generosity allowing them to have the bees on their land and at their gallant efforts to protect and conserve the nature in these ancient woodlands. At the end of the short talk, I stood up and offered everyone in the room a pot of this year’s honey. The courtroom melted. I was so in the flow or “in the zone”. It was a deeply moving experience. It was brilliant!
From Wikipedia: In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone It is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
Named by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields (and has an especially extensive recognition in Occupational Therapy), though has existed for thousands of years under other guises, notably in some Eastern religions. Achieving flow is often colloquially referred to as “being in the zone”.
Jeanne Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing an experience of flow.
1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
2. Merging of action and awareness
3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered
6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience
Earlier this week I took on two new mentees. Folk who have been washed-out of the corporate system. “Over fifty and out”. Both trying to face the new uncertain world for post-corporate man. Again, faced with a challenge to know the right thing to do, I constructed a short course in realignment. Before plunging into the more standard questions that treat individuals like 20th century companies – like “what is your personal mission statement”, I reflected back on what had worked for me in the past when I was a mentored twenty years ago. The first step in the process was to write six to eight stories (or vignettes) where I felt good about something I had achieved. Each story took about a page to write-up. The common theme for me was that at some stage in all stories across I was “in the flow” or “in the zone”.
In the run-up to 2016, I am going to use the weekly Thursday Thoughts slot to build on the idea of filling our lives with events where we are truly “in the zone”.
If you are interested in exploring these ideas in the last few weeks of 2015 and launch yourself into 2016 with new energy and enthusiasm, then as an exercise, I suggest that you write down six to eight events in your life that you were “in the zone” and achieved something extraordinary for yourself or others.
What was the context?
How did you feel?
What were you experiencing when “in the zone”?
Who were you in service to at the time?
If you feel inclined, please pick the best story and share your experiences with us!
It is August and the holidays are here! For many, July and August are the months for rest and recuperation and spending time with family on holiday. For those that live in the northern parts of the Northern hemisphere, it is a time for getting some sun on our skins before the longer winter months kick in again.
For many, it is also a time of reflection. For although the calendar year starts in January, September is the start of the academic year and August is the gap before the start of the new year. I have found that many businesses are tuned to the academic calendar – either directly (like a University or School) or indirectly (because many of their employees have children who set a cycle in the family geared around their academic needs).
So it got me thinking. Most of my great ideas have come from a time when I am not thinking about day-to-day stuff. Those magic, “Eureka!” moments when a problem you have been working on suddenly becomes solvable.
By not being hampered by the grind of meetings, actions and to-do lists, we can solve old problems and creating new ideas. Finding a gap in the year’s day-to-day grind to think big, think outside the box or just not think at all and let nature take its course often relaxes you in ways you can’t achieve at other times of the year.
There is an old saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as long as we speak. And so it is with the summer break. There is a gap in proceedings where we can listen. Not just listen to those who we work with. But listen to ourselves. Our inner mind. Our inner bodies. Our inner spirit. We can refresh each other with the rest and easy living that we often over-ride in the rest of the year.
So, back the Art of Business Conversation. For my own part, I have been working on a new way to look at businesses through the conversations we have. The Art of Business Conversation, if you like. As simple as ABC. Except it isn’t, is it? It is quite complicated.
There are several different types of business conversation (which I aim to explore more in future posts). The most intense are often wrapped up in emotional outbursts or things unsaid.
The key is to find space within the conversation to reflect. On an annual cycle, this time of the year gives us time to reflect on the longer-term relationships we all have with the businesses and people we work with. Either as employees; business owners; customers; suppliers; that funny, over-used word “partners”; or simply the friends and relations that weave in and out of those conversations.
And that is where the idea of Zen comes in. Zen is the space between. Zen is the effortless flow. Zen is the silent, observant onlooker onto our busy world of nothingness. Zen is the state to get into before returning to the ABC of business, academia and all those things where we sequence stuff and continue our practice of the art of business conversation.
So, enjoy the break. Listen to the silence. Observe the subtle messages coming from the conversation with yourself. Say nothing and say everything. Come back refreshed and energised to take on the new challenges that you discover in the hidden moments of this August recess.
I’ve always been fascinated by colour and believed that men and women see colours differently. So I was both interested – and not surprised to see what researchers have found on the subject. It proves that men and women not only prefer different colours, they also see more hues of colour than men. Men, on the other hand, prefer shades. Perhaps it goes back to our ancestors, where women were more attuned to gathering different types of fruit and men were looking for subtle shadows of beasts behind a bush. Who knows? Makes you think, though!
By the way, my favourite colour is blue! But I was surprised that no men liked purple! It was my favourite colour once as a teenager. Before I turned to red – and eventually to blue. I wonder if others have changed their preferences through their lives?
Oh, and just for fun, why not put down your favourite colour in the comments box below – and we’ll see if the research is borne out by those who read the blog.