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Dancing on Stage. Artisanal Relationships

“I am my own maker”

Corialanus. William Shakespeare.

We are at the end of hierarchies and control, though many organisations have not understood that yet. It was fine, good even, in the age of scientific management and organisation-as-machine and male, military models of leadership. Order and Action were the order of the day. Change as something to be subdued and managed.

No longer. Creativity and Relationships are what matters in this next phase. Order and action will return much later – likely after all of us working for a living are long gone.

Change will take care of itself. It’s way beyond something that can be managed. It always was really – which is why so many “change management” programmes fail (except for the consultants). If we want to influence (not control) the change we’re in what matters now is our relationships.

Not just with each other, inside the neat boundaries of an organisation.

Firstly, it’s about our relationship with ourselves. We all have unique capabilities and understanding, and something to contribute in the short time we’re here. the relationship between what that is, and what we spend our time doing, is important. It’s at the heart of what we loosely term “wellness”. If you don’t have a healthy relationship with yourself, everything that follows here is academic.

Next, it’s about our relationship with those around us. Our family and friends, those we live with, and only then those we work with. We often get this order wrong, losing ourselves and those nagging feelings of doubt in a deep immersion in work. Your employer loves a dependent relationship. It enables control of you, and your costs to them.

Then, our relationship with the planet that hosts us. We have just spent ten generations regarding it as a limitless resource we could use at will (It may have made just about everybody on the planet better off, but in doing so has made the gap between the unimaginably wealthy and the crushingly poor far, far larger. Being slightly less crushingly poor is not something to shout about) The planet is now letting us know, in no uncertain terms that our time is up. We need to get our act together, or we face eviction. Understanding that everything we do has a consequence somewhere, from every mile we drive or fly, to every piece of convenience from fast food to mobile phones extracts a cost we have to recognise and repay is important. Abusive relationships will not last.

Artisans understand this. They do the work they are called to do, for contribution way, way more than money. It reflects in what they create, who they create it for, and what they use to create it. Some of them may well just have saved your life, or the life of someone you love during this pandemic. They dance with those around them, both organic and inorganic rather than take them for granted.

In “Sand Talk” Tyson Yunkaporta talks about four tenets of Aboriginal wisdom. Connection, Interaction, Diversity and Adaption.

It is I think that simple. we just have to do it will everything around us. Dance.

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Taking the Stage as things change around us.

 All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,

William Shakespeare. As You Like it.

Smart man, our William. The challenge for us today I think is that we’ve forgotten the last line.

Our education, training and organisations suggest we are best to concentrate on one part, and that the part takes place in the context of the work we do. Specialise. Focus. Perform.

It used to more or less work, not so long ago, within my lifetime, when the “job for life” was a notion. Within the scheme of things, it has collapsed quickly – within a couple of workplace generations. Boomers were brought up to it, Millenialls, rightly, ridicule it.

There is a wealth of great work considering the parts we play. C.G Jung explored it at great depth at a personal level with his archetypes. Torbert and Rooke did seminal work on leadership styles. There’s a whole industry offering different flavours and colours of psychometric offering to demystify who we are and how we best fit. The part we do / should play on stage.

The challenge is that we have developed a fixed notion of the stage. Not just Capitalism, but Shareholder Capitalism. The last decade has politely called it into question, but not so much as to offend it let alone notice it is crumbling. After all, our economy has been built on it, and if it crumbles, it’s more than a nuisance.

Shakespeare knew better. Our current model had it’s entrance around two hundred and fifty years ago, and its on its way out. It will take a few more decades perhaps, but all the signs are there. Academics from John Bagot Gubb to Yuval Harari to Niall Ferguson have been noticing it for a while as the rest of us have just been busy carrying on regardless.

There’s a lot been written on archetypes from the brain achingly complex to the simplistic, and I find the most valuable those that honour the original work of Jung and make it accessible, rather than those that try to reinvent and package it. (I use two books in parallel – Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – the original which requires effort, and Archetypes at Work which adds interesting angles and is a more practical approach).

The trick I find is to balance them, to attend to the mystery of Jung, and at the same time apply the essence of his wisdom. We need to think – really think. (and if you’re in the reading mood, Adam Grant’s latest Think Again is a good companion).

Archetypes at work breaks them down into five broad categories – Order, Action, Change, Creativity and Relationships. It’s a good basis for thought.

The last century, as the Industrial age peaked and then moved inexorably into decline, favoured Order and Action. As it dissolves into uncertainty and leaves the stage, Change, Creativity and Relationships become the leading characters. That’s not what most of us have been brought up and trained for, and it’s disorienting.

We have been allowed to regard creativity and relationships as somehow “soft” and optional, and change as something to be managed. We couldn’t be more wrong – creativity and relationships are fundamental and build the stage upon which order and action take their part for a while. Change, the liminal process which reconfigures the stage and those on it, is a fierce and uncompromising animal. More creative destruction than HR’s poodle.

The challenge facing all of us now is what part we want to play, and on which stage. As individuals, we have all the archetypes (and their shadows – another story) within us, but most of us are characterised by only two or three. In this period of change, we would do well to access and understand the others. We are going to need them.

For organisations, it’s a much more challenging issue.

As individuals we can make choices, do the work, and harness our innate humanity within a lifetime. Organisations cannot make choices, and do not recognise their lifespans until the Administrators call. They tend to have extended zombie phases, haunting the stage and frightening the audience, but doing little of value.

The corporate stage is crumbling, being eaten away by a combination of hubris, greed, short sightedness and technology. Not a good place to be.

This is a time of creativity and relationships. Time to be an artisan, not a functionary. To create our own part, on a stage we choose.

To quote Seth Godin, a time to choose ourselves, not wait to be chosen.

To develop your own Practice.

To do the work.

More on this over the next few blogs. I think, as we leave (hopefully) lockdown, it’s going to be important.

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Opening the Curtain on a Different Act….

Image: Khan Academy

When we go to the theatre, there’s a simple device to let us know things are changing.

We move to a new Act. Whether it’s a three or five act play, there’s a structure. It’s variously a symbol, or a ceremony depending on your point of view, but the thing is, we know change is arriving. There will be a change of pace. New actors will appear. There will be a twist. The intent of the characters will start to emerge.

It’s a shame we can’t do that with our leaders. Too many seem to think they are still in a previous Act, and continue to do what they’ve always done even though the audience can see the changes.

We are leaving an age of relative certainty – not at the detail level, but we knew the rules in the last Act. We knew who was in charge, how the system worked and how to play our part in it.

We seem to have started the next Act. We can see it and sense it, but iit seems nobody has told our leaders. Hirearchical “thou shalt” hubris is in full swing, whether it’s dictating people who don’t want (and often don’t need) to return to the office, or businesses that should have adapted demanding government support for unsustainable business models. The rules are changing. The King id dying.

This is where it will get interesting. We are coming out of the “phoney war” where Covid was a real shock, but also not the main story. It diverted our attention as though it was the single thing we had to deal with, when of course it wasn’t and isn’t.

We’re not just into a new Act, we’re into a change of scenery, and some very new characters.

More of that tomorrow.