It’s been an eventful week full of conversation around what I referred to last week as a sense of “quickening” – that as yet not well defined but quite tangible sense of things moving. Maybe Spring, maybe the anticipation of greater degrees of freedom and all added to by the death of a remarakable man who displayed such a remarkable and quiet sense of quiet duty. The end of an era?
Whatever it is, it has had a presence in the conversations, and a notion of “radical simplicity”. As things “quicken”, just what are we going to pay attention to?
We’ve discovered much of what we can really do without in the last year, as well as much of what we can’t and it seems the the things we can’t all have a thread of simplicity running through them. Relationships, animated conversation, laughter, a notion of what really matters. Despite that, the shallower things we haven’t been able to have that are beginning to jostle for attention, ably supported by lobbying and advertising by those whose narrower and shorter term interests are served by them.
If however we reflect on what we’ve learned, what do we really want “next” to look, feel and sound like? Personally, it’s a matter of foundations. There’s much I’ve valued during lockdown, including the quiet, more time to walk outside, varied, interesting conversations, profound conversations with people I have yet to meet in the flesh, and a chance to rethink my own personal “next”.
Which is where the idea of “radical simplicity” has come in. I read, write and think for a living, so what I produce is a function of what I allow in, and one of the things I wrote about earlier in the week was the idea of “content versus intent” – an appraisal of what was occupying my attention compared to the intent of those who generated it. Were they rewarding my attention or just consuming it in order to point me at what they wanted me to do? Far more of the latter than the former, so during the week I had a digital spring clean. Out went HBR, MIT and a host of other publications that in my view have gone stale over lockdown. Out has gone all social media (except LinkedIn, which is on probation). Out has gone travelling to routine meetings I can now do on Zoom. And my reading is changing. I am an avid reader, partly for pleasure and partly for professional fuel. Out has gone the “ten traits of” and “future trends” type of books as we increasingly understand there are no formulas for success and no real ability to predict beyond a few months. They were perhaps more relevant when things were more complicated than complex, but now, as complexity compounds, we are thrown far more into our own original thinking, and the company in which we do it. If we are so busy that we have to outsource our thinking, we have a real problem.
In the space created by the ejection of digital detritus is room for reflection and what Johnnie Moore terms “unhurried conversations”. Taking twice as long at half the intensity to accumulate four times the benefit of being able to listen, and be listened to. Giving the long term a much greater presence than frantic worrying over the uncertain short term. Reading for insight far more than content to feed those conversations, and choosing more carefully who I have those conversations with to generate greater challenge and prevent assumptions becoming easy truth.
For me, radical simplicity is a path. Difficult to do all at once, otherwise I’d write a “how to” book. It’s a little bit at a time, but often. Spring is as good a time as any to start your own cleaning.
This week’s books.
It’s been something of an Ori Brafman week. I find his work stimulating, in particular:
Radical Inclusion. A thought provoking piece, written with Martin Dempsey of the US Army, on how we can improve our understanding through who we listen to beyond out comfortable circle. Really important right now at atime of “quickenng”
The Starfish and the Spider. A few years old now, but still at the front of my “go to” bookshelf. A great look at the power of truly decentralised organisations when things are, well, like they are now.
Also, The Good Ancestor by Roman Krznaric. A public philospher on long term thinking in a short term society. A book I’m reading form insight more than content. Not as good as a conversation, but way better than another “how to”
Handshakes and Hugs. We’ve missed them, but should we return to them? (spoiler – I think absolutely. Staying alive by practicing being dead seems an exercise in futility)
Safety is Fatal. We need each other to be. An obsession with safety diminishes us.
A multidisciplinary approach to thinking. From the ever worth-it FS.Blog.
We’re animals. Embrace it. Great short article from Aeon Magazine.
A Podcast. There’s thousands around. I rather like these…….Thanks to Andrew Curwen.
And a video. Rod Beckstrom on Starfish organisations. Done back in 2007, I think it applies more today than it did then. I’ve put the longer version here, because I think its worth the time
Have a wonderful week.