Orienting ourselves, our careers and our businesses at the current time is at best confusing and at worst worrying. Our conventional methods – product design, market segmentation, channels – all seem to go awry, buffeted by the storms of geopolitics, platform technologies, attitudes to work and much else. It can often feel like some global game of whack-a-mole, running around trying to find the right customer, at the right price, in the right location, at the right time, even as they keep moving.
Perhaps there’s another way. Long before Europeans were navigating the seas, Polynesians were making long journeys across oceans. They took a different view. They regarded themselves as stationary, and by paying close attention to ocean swells, bird flight, the stars and all manner of other natural phenomena, “called the island to them.” (There is an excellent short paper here by Chelllie Spiller. Brought to my attention by Johnnie Moore)
We are educated, trained and encouraged to shape ourselves to fit into systems and processes and accept them as some truth, as somehow, the way things are. Thus, we sublimate our natural enthusiasms, talents and instincts, and follow the path of conformity and process in the hope of a regular and increasing monthly salary supported by a stable and benign employer.
At the start of my career, that was a reasonable strategy. However, as time has gone on, technology, globalisation, and a steady increase in the rate consolidation of businesses into giant global enterprises have made it less so. As a result, navigating our way to an “island” to live on is becoming ever more challenging.
Perhaps it is time to consider calling the island to us.
Our lives are defined by the relationships we have; with each other, with our work, and with our sense of purpose. If we pay attention to those and express them clearly, the work we want is more likely to find its way to us.
It is a big ask for those who are dependent on a regular monthly salary. Images of starving artists spring readily to mind. However, it is much easier to ignore the idea, carry on regardless and hope all will be well. Perhaps they will, but the odds are against it. Power is moving from the top of hierarchies to the centre of networks, and networks are fractal. Robin Dunbar gives solid evidence of the networks we depend on – five very close people, fifteen good friends, and fifty associates. When things are fluid, these are the people who will help us shape our lives. They are the foundation network that will connect us to other networks that, in turn, will enable us to “call the island to us”; joining us to work we want to do, with the people with whom we want to do it, makes life a joy. We need to cultivate them, because work won’t love you back.
It’s a big jump, and we don’t have to do it all at once.
But, with discipline, we can carve out a couple of hours a week to talk to those who will help us to stand still in the storm of what is going on to notice what is happening around us and what is important if we are to bring the island into sight.
These conversations are happening all the time—unhurried conversations with Johnnie Moore, Beautiful Businesses with Alan Moore, Ian Berry on Wise Leaders. Have a conversation with yourself whilst reading “Cascades” by Greg Satell – a wonderful insight into how networks work. The people at Originize.
Or talk to me, and I’ll help you to find the people you need and ways of calling the island to you rather than chasing your tail.
But start, no matter how slowly or how small, to find the island you need.