Tetris Engagement

tetris3_highresOnly a few years ago, engagement seemed like lego. Get the right elements, put them together, and Bingo! – employee engagement, client engagement. Easy.

Now, it seems more like a maniacal version of Tetris. lots of elements, coming from different directions, at different speeds. For all of us, our attention is bombarded by everything from checking our phones 200 times a day, to the mental clutter of coping with what those messages suggest, let alone the rapid erosion of the assumptions we made when setting of on our current project.

Engagement as Tetris. If you want it, focus on it. One person at a time. Or lose.

Spreading ourselves thin…….

thinWe can deal productively, with, at most 150 relationships. Those who mean something yo us, and to whom we mean something.

Beyond that we get to the equivalent of “your call is very important to us….”

This is a challenge when we realise the future is all about relationships. increasingly, algorithms can take care of the rest.

So, how mny communities are you part of? Do you know your 150, and do they know you?

I have found this to be  a challenge. I have widespread interests, and building up the contacts is a by product, but when I got to over 2000 on LinkedIn, i realised that I was becoming invisible. Something of a paradox, but the more people I am connected to, the bigger the obligation I have to ensure I am paying attention to them. 

So I decided to bite the bullet, and cut it back to 150, those to whom I am willing to pay attention to, listen to, share with, and connect with each other arounf things that are meaningful.

have chosen to be a significant part of three smaller, focused communities, where the works gets done. It works.

Being properly visible to a few beats being invisible to many.

 

 

 

…For which I get up in the morning

Ikigai

At the heart of living the life we can is a sense of purpose. The Japanese have a typically beautiful and elegant expression. “Ikigai”, or loosely,  “for which I get up in the morning”.

Engagement is a hot topic inthe world of HR, with much research to demonstrate it’s commercial power. That’s only the tip of it, a side show, in my humble opinion.

We can be actively, passively, or dis-engaged, but even at our most engaged, it is a shadow of the power of comIkigai-EN-optimized-PNGmitment – which is engagement to the power of purpose.

An organsaition may engage you, but almost never can it give you purpose. Purpose is a pre-existing state. You may have your purpose clearly defined, or like most of, have it as a continually emerging, evolving, living thing. Finding the right community, and sometimes an organisation, can give it wings.

We live in times when managing our “signal to noise” ratio is a challenge. We check our phones 200 times a day, sleep less, and self medicate with everything from shopping to alcohol.

However, sitting there, patiently ,is your purpose. The story waitng to be told that was inside you when you were born, and that is waiting for you to stop being a bit player in other people’s stories.

When we realise that we see the world not as it is, but as we are, we gain authority over our lives. As David Bohm said, “our mind creates the world, and then says, “I’didn’t do it!”

Our purpose exists, we just need to give it the space to emerge. As it does, and we engage with what really matters and facilitates our purpose, things change.

 

 

 

Marginal vs Exponential

images

We have an option of two futures, marginal or exponential.

This was brought to mind this week by two things; absolute awe at the determination, discipline and applicati0n of all the athletes in the Olympics, and secondly, an intiative by Jamie Smart, that if you’re a coach, or are are involved in transformation in any domain, is worth checking out

If you know the game you’re in, marginal gains works. Whether it’s compound interest on your account, or mining the data for an insight to gain 1/1000th of a second on your lap time, it works. Where it doesn’t work, is where the answer doesn’t lie in the data.

When the answer doesn’t lie in the data, it will, without doubt, lie in your senses. Learning to trust your senses is a journey, and the path is one of transformation, not linear gains.

Both are vital. People, and organisations that develop fastest sit at the conjunction of the two. Sweating the data, and being open to the insanely possible.

Marginal gain is low risk, but incremental. 1% a week will double your performance in what you do in eighteen months.

Transformation is exponential.  To use an well known parable, if you were to put one grain of rice onto the first square of a 64 square chess board, two on the second, four on the fourth an so on, by the time you get to the 64th square, you have a plie of rice bigger than Everest.

There is room in our lives for both. Being clear, and mindful,  in our choices – whether are we going for safe marginal, or risky exponential, is something we can make choices on.

Every day holds the possibility of two futures.

 

Stormy Weather?

Drops of rain on glass , rain drops on clear window

Hill walkers have an adage – “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”.

So, maybe, with the economy. With a lot of fevered competition around as to who can create the doomiest scenarios, we are very likely to have to weather some storms even if as seems likely, they may be self induced, until such time that the weather clears.

Venturing out in stormy conditions can be exhilirating. To enjoy it requires some simple but essential precautions. Perhaps we can learn from them.

  1. Wear the right clothing. In our work life then, we can translate this into having a very clear resume that demonstrates our skills, capabilities and achievements. Keep it up to date, and make it accessible wherever people see you. On your website, social media, wherever.
  2. Carry the right kit. In periods of rapid and unpredictable change, skills and capabilities become obsolescent very quickly. We might be well enough equipped for where we are now, but what about for where we might want to go? Acquiring skills has never been easier or cheaper. There’s not a lot of excuse for allowing ourselves to become stranded on a little island of mediocrity, no matter how comfortable it might be just now.
  3. Have a map and a compass. I think it was Sun Tzu who observed “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there”. In times of change, it becomes easy to follow the golden penny, and to become a bit part player in someone else’s story. Today, more than ever, we need to be clear about just who we are, and what we want to contribute while we’re here. The clearer that becomes, the easier it is to choose the paths that open up to us.
  4. Let people know where you are going. It’s easy to believe, under pressure, that we’re somehow on our own, in competition with everybody else. Easy, but not true. There are always people out there who will help us, just for sake of doing it – we just need to be in a position to let them. If you have points 1-3 right, you will be an easy person to help.

Storms don’t last. Enjoy them while you can.

 

The BREXIT fallacy?

scream

A whole new industry seems to have born out of a referedum decision that will trigger acton over something between the next two to six years.

A quick survey of web sites, magazines and other media will soon show a wide variety of consultancies pushing expertise in BREXIT strategies. This is a great market for people who don’t know what’s happening, to sell to other people who don’t know what’s happening.

So what is BREXIT, really? In many respects, it is a classic “Black Swan” event – one of those areas that in retrospect was very likely (if you alienate enough people, for long enough, and give them a stick to beat you with…) but on the run up was seen as a foregone conclusion, and something that a fear based campaign would ensure. That didn’t work so well then.

However, BREXIT is only one facet of what is going on. It may be have been dramatic, but baby BREXITS are happening each day, and the likelihood is that there will be other large, BREXIT like events before ever this BREXIT has been realised.

This is now the way of things. Normal is not coming back, it’s aleady here.

Individuals and businesses don’t need a BREXIT strategy; they need to become what Nassim Nicholas Taleb termed “anti fragile“.

Taleb has a habit of foresight, and this view was no different. He argues that resilience (the ability to recover from the unexpected) is not enough, and that to thrive we have to be able to grow from the energy of the shock – to become “anti fragile”

This is good news, even if uncomfortable, for individuals and small businesses who can ride the energy waves of shocks, rather than be smashed by them (more difficult for big businesses, with a history of success, and the infrastructure to prove it.

There are however, some basic rules:

  1. Dont be taken hostage by things you can’t control – everything from unrealistic bank loans to eye watering mortgages. If you can’t pay them off in times of shock, you belong to the debt, not the other way round.
  2. Don’t be trapped by ego driven careers. You are you, not your career. The world doesn’t care about your career, but it does care about what you might achieve if you exercise the unique genius that you have.
  3. Have a clear awareness of your purpose, even if it’s not clear to you yet. We are all born with a story inside us, even if we dont realise it. The challenge of our life is to tell that story, not just be bit part actors in other people’s
  4. Pay attention to who you spend time with. Science increasingly backs up Jim Rohn’s line that you become the average of the five people you most spend time with. Look around you right now.
  5. Learn something new everyday, and integrate it into who you are. Build from the inside out.
  6. Even if you’re with a big, rock solid corporate, pay attention to points 1-5. The hardcore you lay beneath your foundation was rock solid once, just like Lehman, or Kodak, or…..

Most of all, don’t be distracted by those who say they have a BREXIT strategy for you. They don’t, but they do have their own, which is to sell you a BREXIT strategy.

Your dont need consultants for your strategy, maybe you just need to accept that BREXIT is just an everyday affair, and you need to be prepared for that. See point 4 above.

You already have enough. Ignore the fear that many will try to sell you. Be clear and confident in who you are, don’t get taken hostage, choose who you work with, and most of all, tell your own story, not someone else’s.

Target Fixation

target-fixationAnyone who has done a basic riding course, or raced, or flown as a pilot will tell you about “target fixation” – the natural risk we face of colliding with what we are focused on.

A major cause of accidents for beginners at cycling is that they focus on what they want to avoid, rather than where they want to go.

We more we look at the apex of an approaching corner, or a pot hole in the road, rather than beyond it to where we want to go, the more we increase our chances of hitting it.

It always seems strange to me then that in organisations, we spend our time looking at what we want to avoid. We spend a lot of time looking at problems and analysing risk, rather than looking at possibilities for growth, or impact, or opportunity. Even just a quick look back at the BREXIT campaign is instructive – by focusing on the downsides, it seems we are going to encounter them. I wonder what might have happened if we’d looked instead at where leaving, or staying, might have offered possibilities?

There’s an interesting working paper from MIT Sloan with the catchy title “Identifying viable “need-solution pairs”: Problem solving without problem formulation“. A serious read, unless you’re into this type of thing – but important.

At the heart of the thesis is that focusing on solutions to identified problems restricts us. If on the other hand, we focus on identifying possibilities, the solutions to problems appear more effectively, and move us beyond conventional solutions. A classic example they quote is roller luggage:

“Mr. Bernard D. Sadow, now 85, had his eureka moment in 1970 as he lugged two heavy suitcases through an airport while returning from a family vacation in Aruba. Waiting at customs, he said, he observed a worker effortlessly rolling a heavy machine on a wheeled skid.

“I said to my wife, ‘You know, that’s what we need for luggage,’ ” Mr. Sadow recalled. When he got back to work, [Sadow worked at a luggage company] he took casters off a wardrobe trunk and mounted them on a big travel suitcase. “I put a strap on the front and pulled it, and it worked,” he said.” (Sharkey 2010)”

At a time of volatile and unpredictable change, our brain’s natural focus is often directed by fear rather than reward. The last thing we want to do is welcome the threat we see as a platform for possibility, let alone ignore it and look beyond it to where we want to be.

But that’s what we need to do.

Of course we need to understand and manage the risks we see as best we can – but not to the exclusion of possibility.

Mind where you place your attention.

Plan A or Plan B?

Ejector Seat

Plan A and Plan B are different.

We are often exhorted to avoid a “Plan B” mentality, as it involves, or even invokes, a failure mindset. At the same time, we are encouraged to think lean, to test MVP – “minimum viable product”, and to make “persevere or pivot” decisions based on evidence  and experience.

Plan A can be the stuff of heroes, even if heroic failure. The Light Brigade had no plan B. Neither did Lehman. When it works – like Dyson – it works really well. When it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

One of our well known retailers may have promoted a legend of “Plan A, because there is no Plan B”, devised I suspect via more or less conventional strategic processes. In its current situation, I do wonder though whether the shareholders may have one.

On the other hand, Dyson is a legedary Plan A company, and has done rather well.

Plan B can be inspiration of insight, of a stroke of genius ignited by a willingness to lift our nose from the grindstone. Twitter started out as Odeo, a podcasting platform that found itself threatened by iTunes, Given two weeks to find an alternative, the team came up with the idea of microblogging. That seems to be working quite well.

The key of course is whose plan it is, and that in turn comes down to purpose. If an individual, or committed team, is driven by a clear sense of personal and collective purpose – a compelling sense of being involved in something worthwhile, in something bigger than ourselves, then we are in control.

If we are working with people who share or support that purpose, stronger still. If the role we fill supports both, take a bow. Plan B is not a priority. You are in the company of Whole Foods, of Zappos, of the Acumen Fund, and many of the inspirational charities and “not for profits” that change lives.

On the other hand, many of us find ourselves in places less certain, where the purpose of owners, leaders, managers, staff and clients sit in a diverse array of different purpose.

In these cases, the collateral effects of a BREXIT vote, or a shareholder decision, removes the fragile certainties on which our jobs rest. Unless we have purpose, we end up in reactive mode, chasing shadows, and less than happy. In these circumstances, having a Plan B is vital.

For most of us, Plan A and Plan B are different but complementary.

Plan A is about us, our purpose, and our capability of doing something meaningful. It doesn’t have to be huge (although that is good!), but it does need to have meaning. With a clear sense of, and commitment to, meaning and personal purpose, we find the resilience to always move forward. Even when surrounded by what seems at first sight, collective idiocy, we can still find our way. It may change over time, but it is us who change it.

Plan B is about where we exercise Plan A. We can choose who we work for and with, about the obigations we take on, and about our ability, if needed, to pivot. The challenge we face is not to let Plan A become hostage to Plan B. When money, or ego, or debt tie us to Plan B, Plan A suffers. Plan B can be changed my many forces, very few of which are under our control, but to which we can adapt if we have a clear Plan A.

Plan A requires the hard work of reflection – who we are, what really matters to us, what we are prepared to do to get it, and to keep the end in mind as we pursue it.

If short of inspiration, read “What to do when it’s your turn” by Seth Godin. If that doesn’t do it, mail me for others.

Plan B requires us to treat the more superficial attractions of those we work for as just that – Dispensable. We can seek out those organisations where our own sense of purpose, aligns with theirs, and the role we fill strengthens both. If we can’t find them yet, that’s ok – just keep plan A centre stage while you do the equivalent of a resting actor flipping burgers. For ideas on a framework to construct your Plan B, have a look at Business Model You.

Bear in mind, career decisions are as open to “Buyers Remorse” as overpaying for that new car. Don’t fall for it. Being taken hostage is just too easy.

Plan A is your life.

Plan B is how you spend it.

 

 

 

 

Step Forward

take-me-to-your-leader-1Given current events, this seems an appropriate question to reflect on today.

In more stable peiods, leadership is less of a challenge. We can identify traits, behaviours, and models and for many years, many people have made a very good livijng training people how to lead.

In the currrent more, er, fluid environment, leadership becomes at the same time much more demanding, but paradoxically, much easier. It becomes about who we are.

When things are as they at the moment, no amount of training, marketing or PR will hack it. Authenticity rules, and any deviation toward a “designed position” stands a very high risk of being seen for what it is – a form of manipulation. If the last three months teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that.

Napoleon Bonaparte said that “Leaders are merchants of hope”. We might do well to remember that.

Today, more than ever, leadership is a disposition, not a role.

If you can answer the following questions without hesitation, then you are one:

  1. Who am I – the real me, or am I being asked to be something other than who I am?
  2. What do I want to achieve with my life that is about more than me?
  3. What are my values – what will I NOT do, what lines will I not cross?
  4. What is my “stance”, or my intention right now? Does it match 1-3?

Everything else – your skills, gifts, networks and experience are all assets to help you deliver what only you can deliver, no matter how small it may seem. We need it from you please.

We all have a choice in fluid times. To watch, or to step forward.

It’s a big  ask, but it’s a choice. Understanding why we’re doing it, how to do it, who to do it with, and what to do. Personally, I believe it’s better than being a spectator.

 

 

The Purpose Platform

give me a place to stand dr kehres

We crave certainty – it’s one of the fundamental, hard wired features of the brain. The only real choice we have is to be clear about that on which we wish to be certain.

As organisations have grown over the last few generations, both neceesity and experience has moved us away from community, family and beliefs as the focus of our certainty to the workplace. A secure job, a secure pension and a good credit rating has become the focus of our certainty. Yet……

This has been eroding quietly in the background for some time. For the most part, it has suited us – experts and lay people alike – to regard what has really been signal, as “noise” – anomalies that will correct themselves. It remains like this, until signal will no longer be denied, and a “black swan” event occurs – most recently, BREXIT.

Both research and experience demonstrate that people vote based on feelings rather than logic, and that those feelings will be generated by that which repels them most. Yet despite this, campaings were run that made that which most repelled become the politicians – the messengers more than the message, and as a result, we ended up with a Black Swan event. The assumption that we would put a desire for economic certainty over a deep seated sense of unfairness proved catastrophically wrong.

We now face an extended period of increased uncertainty, so, if we are not to lose the plot, where do we get our certainty from now?

The answer I think is that it is where it has always been, but for many has been submerged beneath the external drive for us to comply, to compete and to be economically successful. It lies in our own, individual, unique sense of purpose.

We all have one, even if often we’re not sure what it is. There is no quiz, test or consultant who can tell you what it is, but we all sense it.

It is at the heart of where we perform at our best, and sense reward from doing it for its own sake. It always involves something that is bigger than just us, and always involves, in whatever way, helping others. It is central to our growth, and our resilience. It is “somewhere to stand” that is within our own gift, not determined by others.

It is different for each of us – for some a cause, others a belief and others an exploration.

If we acknowedge it, even just the vague sense of it, we can change things. In “Enabling Genius” we identified three elements of understanding where our “genius” might lie – Desire (of which purpose is part), Identity (an understanding of who we really are, our “authentic self”) and mindset (the way we think).

With a sense of purpose, of our “individual genius” if you will, other things become more evident. We can make better choices about who we wotk with and support – in particular, organisations (and politicians!), and the roles we undertake that grow others, through  the organisation, and ourselves.

Rather like fitting your own oxygen mask in place first so you can help others in an emergency, so acknowledging your own, innate, individual purpose is a first step to increasing your sense of certainty, and with that the route to personal and organsiational growth.

Uncertainty is not the enemy, it’s relying on others to provide it for you that is.

If this interests, have a look at Dan Pontefract’s work in this area.