Reflections, 5th December.

On my mind this week.

In the midst of all the fragmentation, blaming, recriminations and other symptoms of the uncertainty we are experiencing, new ideas and opportunities are emerging if we can only see them. Ways of working, collaborating, and changing the way we live, travel and consume, all of which we need to entertain.

Many of them challenge accepted practice and vested interests. That does not mean they can be easily dismissed. Turning people and ideas into enemies is a lazy and counterproductive way of dealing with them. The challenge of leadership today is to find ways of engaging with those people and ideas we do not understand, like or trust. That in turn means we have to try new things, often without the comfort blanket of data, trusting our intuition and senses, and be prepared to learn through serial small failures. All of this, of course, we know – it’s been the stuff of thought leadership for well over a decade, although, of course whilst nice in theory requires courage to try. We’d rather watch.

However, in a world of Covid the sequel, storms in our own temperate climate that knock over the power grid for thousands of people for days, and the forced hurrahs of a COP26 that made lukewarm progress which relies of vague promises more than current action, we can watch no more. “They” may have to change, but so do we. Ouch.

I’ve been reflecting on what that means for me, the work I do, and who I do it with. I have the considerable luxury of being post mortgage with grown up children, so have more flexibility than those who do, and that feels like an obligation. If I don’t experiment with how things work, what right have I to expect it of others?

The challenge of course is that there is no text book, case study, or expert for the times we are in. Plenty of opinion of course, but mainly from observers rather than practitioners. There are no Gurus for now, so we have to do the work to be our own.

Here are my experiments that are going live:

Firstly, to change the balance of what I do. During Covid the first, I. like many others had far more time to learn by reading and talking. It was energising, enjoyable but had limited impact on the things I want to impact – people’s relationships with themselves, their work and the planet. As we started to come out of lockdown, there was a glorious few weeks where the amount of “doing” increased and led to a wonderful learning loop – think, do, assess, reflect, repeat. But that period was very short – in no time at all, the “doing” started dominating and whilst it might make my accountant smile, robbed me of the time to pay enough attention to those who has sustained my learning during the pandemic, and I was headed for the other end of limited impact – too much doing, not enough learning. So, action number one – head back to the “Goldilocks” zone. Block out time in my diary, tame the monster that my automated diary scheduler had become, turn down work that doesn’t offer real learning, and pay attention to my small, precious, valued, community and those clients striving to do what matters – they are all the places from where my motivation and learning flows.

Secondly, focus on what matters to a greater extent than I have been. I love variety and diversity in what I read, and lockdown had been like a retreat. However, If I am to make the impact I feel I can, I will have to concentrate. For me, that means enabling and feeding conversations that matter. Lighting and kindling many small conversational ‘fires” that thrive on purpose, curiosity and experimentation and connect them to each other until we have a blaze,. Trust that blaze to find its own direction.

Thirdly, recognise that the enormous bank of knowledge I have built over fifty years of practice, whilst valuable and comforting, does not contain the answer. I have to learn new things by doing. For me, that means finding ways of working with things I cannot accept, overcome or ignore and which I often do not like or trust. If we are to leave the old behind, and find ways forward, I think there will be a lot of that to be done. There are some great teachers out there, and they need a hand.

It is often said that if we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem. What Bill Torbert also said, quoted less often, is that if we’re not part of the problem, we can’t be part of the solution. It’s time to recognise that responsibility, engage and step up. More people, more steps, more often. We need to be in the game, not watching it.

Three things is enough. As we approach the Winter Solstice, it’s a reminder to reflect on where we are and that things will change. With us, or without us.

Things that have inspired me this week.

The artistic side of Storm Arwen.

Found via the Hiut Denim newsletter, a wonderful example of the force of nature as the winds turn a wire fence into a thing of beauty.

Shut up and Listen. This Ted talk is one of my all time favourites. Passionate, insightful and funny with a real lesson. An evergreen.

A Failure of Imagination. This truly inspirational ten minute video came via Alan Moore’s wonderful newsletter, and it’s a must watch. A stunning exercise in beautiful simplicity with not an MBA, a business plan, or a growth consultant in sight.

What day is it? the pandemic has disrupted our relationship with the metronome of work that is the week. A great article from Aeon Magazine on the history of our relationship with the seven days.

Covid is not an old person problem. Nassim Nicholas Taleb strikes again. As we get older, we die because we get old. If we allow ourselves to think it’s ok for the old to die of Covid, what about heart disease, diabetes, cancer…… I have a vested interest of course, but it’s an interesting philosophical and moral point.

On making Enemies

We . . . control internal conflict by projecting our violence outside the community onto a scapegoat. . . . The successful use of a scapegoat depends on the community’s belief that they have found the cause and cure of their troubles in this “enemy.” Once the enemy is destroyed or expelled, [the community experiences] a sense of relief and calm is restored. But the calm is temporary since the scapegoat was not really the cause or the cure of the conflict that led to his expulsion. . . . Too often our identity, and in particular our sense of our own goodness, is dependent on being . . . against someone or something else. . . . We need the other to be wicked to know we are good and whether or not they are actually wicked is beside the point.

René Girard

A closing quotation

‘The work is yours, but not the fruits thereof.’

Bhagavad Ghita.

Have a great week everybody.

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