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The Responsibility of Noticing

One of the first things we learn in management 101 is that if we are given
the authority to delegate, it does not absolve us from responsibility.
Listening to the news this morning, a lot of us seem to forget that.

Consider for a moment those areas that are critical to us that we seem happy
to delegate and dismiss. This month, the “Red List” of birds in
danger was published. It now stands at 70, compared to 36 in 1996, out of a
total population of less than 250 species, or around a third. What are we so
busy with that we do not notice that trend for ourselves?

Or perhaps the furore and anger around where, when, and how we socialise
during this Christmas season. We have a wealth of data, just as with Omicron
none of us can yet predict its impact. We have enough information to decide
without being told, and to balance the risk we face individually against that
we expose others to.

And then there is the wellbeing – mental, physical, and financial of those
around us. We do not need reports to identify the trends we sense.

There is a responsibility in noticing, because if we notice something we
have to decide as to what to do about it. When we’re busy, it’s often easier
not to notice.

The data is valuable, but secondary. If we fall off a high building, we do
not need to assemble the data to know it’s probably not going to end well. So
it is with biodiversity, mental health, poverty, and climate change.  

We would do well to take the time to notice first-hand, rather than delegate
it to news channels and social media, because that condemns us to a life in
virtual reality, created by other people with their own agendas.

We are responsible for what happens next.

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Positive Disengagement

Disengagement gets a bad rap. People in HR hate it, and consultants line up to offer fixes. I think there is a positive side to it.

As we believed we were coming out of lockdown, and were being encouraged to go out more, fly more and return to the office, the amount of time people I know had to reflect, individually and together, around what is really going on diminished.

That precious white space started to disappear as people attended face to face meetings, or commuted, or went out. The analgaesia of meetings increased, whilst the food of conversations decreased.

I think there are two sorts of disengagement – the passive sort, where what we do just does not give us the stimulus or recognition we want and feel we deserve, and the active sort, where we deliberately stand back and observe. This latter type is often promoted as mindfulness or meditation, which, while valuable, is only part of the productive disengagement story.

We cannot determine the character or nature of a system within itself, and attempts to do so will produce confusion and disorder.

John Boyd, 1976. “Patterns of winning and losing”

Often, it is difficult to see how what we are doing fits in to the idea we have of our lives when we are busy doing the things that need doing today. Being busy is a habit, and not always a good one.

I have a very clear memory of a time many years ago, when as a buyer of cakes and desserts for a major retailer, my train home was delayed by leaves on the line. In that moment, putting down what I was working on, I asked myself where this fitted into my life – was my major contribution whilst here going to be supplying unhealthy, frivolous, factory-made products to people who couldn’t be bothered to make them for themselves? The answer was clear, and I acted accordingly. At this time of year, I often make a nod of appreciation to fallen leaves.

Disengagement is most productively done in good company – people who know us and appreciate us for who we are. Quiet, unhurried conversations about what matters, whether over a drink or over Zoom, can put things wonderfully into perspective. They are worth making time for.

As we are all encouraged to re-engage with the workplace, we would do well to make sure we have the pace to productively disengage, to look at what we are doing and where it is taking us.

We might not like the answer, but at least we will be honest with ourselves.

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Reflections 28th November – a day late…….

The view from my office.
A thirty year relationship.

On my mind this week.

One of the things about technology is that it enables us to create what we think is good material and then lose it with a button click. That’s why this week’s reflections are late. Sorry.

Ho-hum. Start again and learn from experience.  The thread running through my week has been the connection between relationships and the responsibilities they carry.

It starts with our relationship with ourselves. From around the age of two, when we develop a sense of self, our relationships get complicated. There is the person we really are, and the person society wants us to be. The creative, curious, rebellious self that is the stuff parental sleepless nights, and the compliant, applauded, self that enters the world of work with a first-class degree valued by the “market’. Economics. Marketing. An “Ology”. Somewhere between who we are, and who are shaped to be, is our individual genius. Our relationship with who we really are matters, and it is far too easy to lose sight of it.

Then, there is the relationship with those around us. From a personal standpoint, I live in two different worlds. My own upbringing involved many moves, and associated transient relationships – potentially close, but terminated before fruition. At the other extreme, I married into a family that was very close, and had been over many generations. On one side, I can trace my family back ten generations, but know few of them, and have no substantive relationships. On the other side, the family I married into goes back at least twenty generations and has a strong link through those generations. What is more, it is a Yorkshire family, and the links matter. After forty-five years of marriage, I am just about accepted and appreciate it, together with the loyalty that accompanies it.

Then, there is the relationship with where we live. I have lived in the house where I’m writing this for over thirty years, and the house itself has witnessed the entire span of the Industrial age. As I write, I can see the River Derwent in  the valley below. Four miles downstream is the first factory of the modem age, the Derby Silk Mill and fifteen miles upstream, Cromford Mill, which signalled the start of the Industrial age. The house I live in, and the trees I look at every day, have seen it all. The house, the trees, and the land that I am fortunate to be associated with are not assets, they are responsibilities and I respect them. They make me welcome, give me context, and give my ego a right going over. I have a responsibility to look after them as best I can.

I’ve taken to thinking about the responsibility I owe the relationships I have on a scale from one to ten; with ten high. Ten is easy – family, close friends, and the place I live. Seven is more problematic – it represents decision time – do I invest in this relationship, or push it down the order? Five is easy – choose what to invest in  to make what matters real.

Technology makes relationships theoretically easy -we can connect to an almost infinite number of people and ideas. Responsibility, however, is a much harder taskmaster. Robin Dunbar posits that we have a limit to the relationships we can genuinely nurture, and his work feels intuitively right. If we can only really nurture a limited number of relationships, we must be very mindful of which ones we choose.

Comanche social activist LaDonna Harris has identified the four cornerstones of indigenous wisdom – relationships, responsibility, reciprocity, and redistribution.  We are touching on the first two here, and I’ll come back to the past two in a future post.

For now, however, the notion of taking responsibility for the relationships we acknowledge is more than enough to be going on with. There is a lot to acknowledge, and we have a lot of work to do.

Things that have inspired me this week.

Safety

I enjoyed this conversation between Amy Edmondson and Rita McGrath, triggered by the notion of psychological safety. Much to reflect on. I hope you enjoy it too..

Suffering

is a powerful ally, even when it hurts. This from Adam Grant on why.

Hype.

Much as I like to go to London, I prefer coming back. It gets a lot of attention and money, and a lot of hype, but is not, for me, all it’s cracked up to be. Here’s a list of people doing great work who are not in London, just to show why.

Trees

I love trees, and I’m not the only one. they are as individual as we are. This, from Psyche Magaine, says why beautifully.

Philosophy at work.

It matters. Here’s why

Genius.

Between the quiet of meditation, and the energy of action, is a space for that which inspires us. Poetry, a walk in the country, and Music. When it comes to music, I’ve long been a big fan of Jerry Granelli, and as my friends in the U.S.A. celebrate Thankgiving, here’s why.

A Quote that energised me.

We have tamed a lot of things, from nature to people. It comes at a price.

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

Antoine de St Exupery. The Little Prince.

Have a great week.

Again, apologies this was late. I hope you get something from it.

This is a time to be grateful, and to take responsibility.