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Containers under Pressure

In that part of my world that is coaching, we talk about “containers”. Containers provide the structure to ensure safety when the pressure increases – in a conversation, organisation, society, and our planetary ecosystem.

At its root level, as individuals, we are containers for all those pressures in our lives, and the strength of that container determines our mental and physical health.

What seems clear at the moment is that whichever container we look at, pressure is increasing. This morning, New York is under a state of emergency due to a “historic” weather event. The UK government is a nest of blame games, from Afghanistan to Education and Healthcare funding. Businesses are under pressure as the assumptions made in business plans prove illusory, from labour availability to supply chain stability. The list goes on, and it seems clear the pressures will build. There is much pent-up energy yet to be released from years of a narrow focus on financial growth.

There is a calculus to containers – it is easier to build strong small containers than big ones, and we take a real risk when we scale without making sure we have layers of strong smaller containers. We have no failsafe when something goes wrong.

Under pressure, power moves from the top of hierarchies to the centre of networks, and the implications are significant. First, real power – the ability to do, as against direct becomes local. Secondly, important concepts from sustainability to diversity become a function of linked small groups, not head office propaganda. Thirdly, building diversity into strong team chemistry is far more effective than creating chemistry in a formulaic team. Finally, agility is a natural function of networks of loosely linked groups sharing a purpose. Forcing agility into a hierarchical culture, no matter how good the PowerPoint slides, doesn’t work.

Hierocles, a 2nd-century Stoic philosopher, wrote a book “Elements of Ethics.” He wrote about “self-ownership” and described individuals as consisting of a series of circles. The first circle was the human mind, the second immediate family, third extended family. Next comes local community, then the regional community, followed by the country and then the global community. Hierocles knew a thing or two about nested relationships.

As the pressure around us continues to increase, we might want to take the hint. Firstly, to look after our own mental health, then our physical health, then our immediate circle – for some family, for others close friends, and from there work outwards.

Given the “fire-hydrant” nature of media, always after moving eyeballs to advertising, it is easy to become overwhelmed. We would do well to take a deep breath and deal with what we can, and take note of the first verse of the serenity prayer:


God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr


We are perfectly able to address the multiple, serious issues we face and create something better for ourselves and our children out of the wreckage of the pursuit of eternal growth.

To do so, we need to start with ourselves and build outwards, choosing carefully.

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About the Author

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Complexity and volatility create enormous opportunities for those willing to go beyond the boundaries of "business as usual" to explore the edges of their business. I am an entrepreneur, a coach, a creative thinker, and above all, an explorer of possibility.

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