Messy

537141_pasta_noodles_1We’ve been largely educated to see the world in segments; in specialities that we can use to solve problems.

For a long time, that served us well. We have learned a huge amounts in these segments, and will continue to mine them.

However, we also now know enough to understand that they are not separate at all.

They are interdependent, random, and change by the moment depending on everything from our knowledge and mood to the company we keep. In the parlance, they are level 2 chaos – we are part of the challenge, not observers.

When things get messy, it’s who we are that matters, not the badges (Qualifications, Professions) we wear.

As we approach the project that is 2017, things promise to get messy. 2016 looks like it will have been a dress rehearsal.

Whether that mess is joyous or calamitous is for us to decide. It will be whatever we choose.

Three things we can do to make it joyous:

  1. Be clear on our sense of purpose. How will the world be better when you leave because you’ve been here?
  2. Understand what you love to do, and do more of it. (Hint: The world doesn’t need more money)
  3. Pick your partners. When it gets messy, you’ll need them as much as they need you, and that’s not the time to find out the mistakes you have made.

Into the unknown

flash

One of the challenges of revolutions is that we’re not sure we’ve been in one until it’s over.

  • Those of us in our forties will be physically capable of working to 90.
  • The nature of the job is changing. The job horizon is the end of the project you’re on.
  • The competition for your next project is increasingly likely to be a form of automation as another person.
  • Knowledge is ubiquitous. What you know is a commodity.
  • Big organisations are cumbersome. Elephants may be able to dance, but only like those eliminated early on in Strictly.

Welcome to 2017

  • You’re future wellbeing is a factor not of qualifications or experience.
  • Understanding who you are, your purpose, and how you might serve that is the new MBA.
  • Your organisation cannot protect you. Even if it wanted to. It’s more vulnerable than you are.
  • Your opportunities are immense.

Think of it like your fitness training regime. Once you know how to use the machines, once your Fitbit is telling you what your metrics are, you’re into routine maintenance. constant incremental improvement at what you are doing. Your coach can advise, tell you how to improve, and motivate you. But that’s a finite horizon. It’s a project. In reality, you rarely need a coach for the routine stuff. Paying somebody to help you warm up and cool down is not smart.

It’s the next bit. The next project. The one where neither you, nor your coach knows the way. New territory. It changes everything:

It’s going to stretch you beyond reason. You need a coach, but as a fellow traveller, not a guide. She’s learning and discovering every bit much as you – but you’re better together. You need their skills, not so much for what they know, as who they are and what they are committed to. It’s like the move from the climbing wall to free climbing on the moon.

We can get consumed in delivering the here and now project, using what we know, being praised for it, and well rewarded. But if you’re not scared, you’re not learning. If you’re not learning, you’re likely condemned to a series of similar projects and ever reducing fulfilment. Your next project should scare you.

2017 is not a year, it’s a project.

 

 

Competition vs Creation.

o-creative-person-at-work-facebook

Image: Huffington Post

There’s a line in Joi Ito’s book “Whiplash” that resonates for me:

“Competition just isn’t interesting anymore”

I think he’s right. At a time when we can create unique offerings that resonate with our uniqueness, regarding ourselves as being in competition means we’re trying to persuade somebody to buy our version of a product or service already in existence. or in other words, on the route to being a commodity.

When we have high levels of fixed assets, or legacy technology, or shareholders to support,  we often have little choice other than to have a competitive mindset, but when product and service lifecycles are vanishingly short at the same time as creation has never been easier, it’s an increasingly risky place to be. And a choice (albeit a tough one)

Whether or not we believe the hype around intelligent machines, it seems pretty certain they will have a significant impact on those jobs based on process and repetition, and if that’s what we do for a living, there’s some change headed our way.

The future of work is human. As humans, we imagine, create and bring the unknown into existence. It is that capability that will define our lives as change accelerates, much more than competition.

Creation is interesting. Competition can’t compete with it. Be human.

Change doesn’t care if you’re ready.

f6ffa8a1527259831c17b28fbe926b1aWithin my lifetime, male life expectancy has increased by over 50%, and it seems likely the first person to live to 500 through medical intervention has already been born.

Also during this time, the invention of the computer chip and the internet has created an engine that moves change from rapid and linear, to continuous, exponential, and chaotic.

Despite this, we have yet to grasp the implications. We still educate our children for jobs, and expect to retire comfortably in our 60’s, supported by an economy predicated on constant growth. We are regarding the harbingers of radical change, from climate change to BREXIT and TRUMPIN, as anomalies – a brief blip before normal returns. That seems unlikely.

The intersection of longer lives and exponential change looks likely to dismantle the way we work. By their very nature – love of certainty and a bias to entropy, conventional organisations will struggle, and their lifespans will continue to decline. Relying on them for jobs and economic growth, let alone social growth, seems foolish.

As we become increasingly connected, we become more economically isolated. We can no longer afford to be dependent on organisations for our living. At the same time, independence leaves us vulnerable. The way forward it seems is interdependence.

Productive interdependence changes everything about the way we work. If we are going to live longer in increasingly volatile times we need to rethink notions of careers, education, and retirement.

At the heart of this reframing is our sense of self – of our purpose, our abilities, and our responsibilities to each other.

90 years in jobs we don’t like is a daunting thought.

 

 

 

 

 

The art of being provoked

gill-large_transfng083d4dwmls34bz1qmew29ejvwjlj5dkoqgg2w9aoImage:Daily Telegraph

AA Gill was an extraordinary provocateur. He was able to frame, beautifully and with biting wit, things that I mostly disagreed with. Which is why I valued him, and will miss him.

It took me a while to move beyond automatic responses to what I disagreed with so strongly, to an ability to look at it dispassionately, and reflect on it. There was always value and insight to be had behind the emotional resistance.

Provocation is a valuable skill, but not as valuable as the art of being constructively provoked.

 

 

The Limiter button

cruise_controlI my car, there’s a limiter button. In a country with widespread, varied, and highly policed speed limits, it’s a surpisingly useful device. It stops me exceeding a speed limit when I’m just getting from A to B, and distracted by the many other things I have to pay attention to.

Which is fine when there’s a speed limit. But when there isn’t, I can enjoy driving – putting all my attention into driving, and deriving great pleasure from it.

I think for most of us, it’s the same at work. We have many “speed limits” – other’s opinions; power; group norms – the list is extensive. So, to deal with it, we set  our own limiter buttons. We perform as well as required to be secure, but rarely more.

I think the challenge is that this become a habit, and can spread to all aspects of our lives. We are capable of far more, and of deriving enormous joy from it, but we forget we’ve set the limiter, so end up travelling at the limit set by others.

The button is a choice we make. It’s not compulsory.

 

The other end of the telescope

telescope1“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” -R. Buckminster Fuller

Our dislike of change is visceral. Our natural state is to be threatened by it. Uncertainty triggers the same neural circuits as fear, and generates similar responses – fight, flight, freeze.

But what if we looked at it differently? What if we learnt to handle it in the same way as those who face danger for a living – by understanding it, and harnessing it rather than be controlled by it?

The change we fear is not going away. It is accelerating. 7 million people on a resource constrained planet, all within digital reach of each other powered by ever more creative technology. Random is the new normal.

The future is messy. The certainties we like to deal with – processes, procedures, routines – all of these will increasingly be dealt with by intelligent machines. Algorithms don’t care how complicated things are – they can do complicated all day long.

That leaves us humans to deal with the messy stuff – the complex, unpredictable, unexpected, scary things. We’re way better than machines at that (for now at least) providing we can get over our fear of it.

In his book “Anti -Fragile” Nassim Nicholas Taleb offers us a way of thinking about this. He argues that the opposite of fragile (which is how many of us feel right now) is not resilience, or robustness. It is not about “recovery”. It is “anti fragility”.

Rather than look to recover from shock, we need to use it to energise ourselves to create new models and ways of doing things. Rather than run, fight or freeze in the face of change, we need to improvise. To welcome change as an engine for growth.

That means changing our relationship with change. We need to learn to love it. Unlike Machines, we can create and originate, not just produce.

It is our humanity that is the key, not our efficiency, or obedience, or power.

If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less” General Eric Shineseki.

Strictly Change

imagesChange is one of those we love and hate. We love to cause it for other people, but hate it being done to us.

At the present time, it seems as though we are immersed in it, and that it has very many faces. It however is not the enemy, it just is and it is how we engage with it that creates the challenge.

As Robert Gallagher points out, “change is inevitable – except from a vending machine”.

So how can we engage with it, and turn it from something we hate, to something we can at least live productively with, and maybe even come to love?

Firstly, understand that it is not something external to us, it is a dance we are in. The reason that most “change initiatives” fail is because we think somebody else will take care of it. The reality is that we cannot separate ourselves from it, and that we have to find a way to “dance” with it.

If we can do that, we can engage with it, guide it, and take the lead. Yes, we may have to learn to do things differently, and learn new skills, but we can choose to lead, not follow.

Secondly, people do not need protecting from it. It is easy to make assumptions, particularly in organisations dealing with the vulnerable like Charities, that we can somehow protect people. Not only can’t we, we do them a disservice by trying. We can however do something far more powerful – we can create a “circle of safety” for them. A “space” where they can say how change is affecting them, listen to them, and support them as they learn to dance with it.

The most important skill we can develop is to empathise with them, Empathy is not a “soft’ skill, and it is not sympathy – it is about understanding – about “walking a mile in their shoes” and helping them see a way through.

Thirdly, we can recognise that turning change to growth happens in small groups. Within all organisations, there are people who share worldviews, attitudes and experiences, and who naturally form “tribes” to support each other.

Research shows that we cannot manage more than around 150 meaningful relationships – those who we know well enough to be able to strike up a meaningful conversation with based on shared experience, and that great change happens when we work with them to tackle it.

We all have a natural fear of change, and life is easier when we trust the people stood next to us.

Lastly, recognise that we are all leaders now. We all have the opportunity, and responsibility, to lead those who may be behind us in getting to grips with the changes we face together.

Leadership is a privilege, but as Simon Sinek points out in “Leaders eat last”, it carries a price. To lead, we have to put those we lead before ourselves, and that is not always easy.

Being afraid of change is natural. It is not weakness – but it is a choice.

The change we are in the midst of right now, from Technology to Trump, may seem like a peak, something that will go away, or go “back to normal”.

It almost certainly won’t.

If we stand still, it will seem to accelerate, and get away from us. If on the other hand, we embrace it, and pick the right partners, we can learn to dance with it.