Reflections 12th December

On my mind this week.

I think that quietly, in the background, many of the unthinking practices we exercised before the pandemic are being dissolved. The nature of meetings, the commute, leadership, and the very nature of the organisation itself. All are being called into question.

I think those practices thought they had got away with it, supported as they were by much of the hierarchy who relied on us complying with them. And then, just as we thought it was safe to go out again, we get Omicron. The virus itself is probably not the issue, but rather its continued exposure of those unthinking practices to scrutiny in a week that has demonstrated that truth, integrity and trust are regarded by those in power as options where they can untick the box. When those who lead, legislate and set the tone and example for others who lead organizations of lesser importance, we have a challenge.

The thought it has triggered is the idea of “reach.” Just how far does our message, and our reputation carry before it loses impact and relevance? I’ve written before about the notion of the “chain of leadership” in organizations – the links that give direction from the top relevance and credibility. I think that right now, the links in those chains are getting ever shorter. And of course, it’s not just top down, it’s sideways. Facebook was described to me earlier this week as for old people, and Twitter as for angry old people. The messages that matter are carried on encrypted networks invisible to those outside them, unless, of course, they are leaked.

The thought of which took the idea a stage further. If the links in the trust chain are getting shorter, how do we get important things done? Adam Kahane points out in his work on conflict that when we don’t agree with, trust, or like those we have to work with, we have four options. We can adapt, or to put it another way, suck it up. We can rebel – independently, or collectively if we believe we can summon enough power. We can exit  – leave the game altogether, as perhaps the great resignation suggests. If none of those are available to us, we must collaborate.

That  puts collaboration into a whole new light – far away from the fluffy, idealistic notions of shared vision and compromise to grinding out workable agreements that will keep things together long enough to work things out. In the current climate, its not difficult to see every meeting as an example of low level, unstated conflict that has to be handled. Engagement? An HR pipe dream. Much of Kahane’s work has been conducted with those who, outside the meetings, were quite prepared to plot to kill each other. In a week where the CEO of fired nine hundred people over Zoom, conflict management seems much closer to the mark.

As this situation seems likely to be with us for a while as the uncertainties continue to swirl around us, what does it mean to us as we try to do our best work so that we can emerge into the other side of all this in better shape than we went in?

We are all different, in differing circumstances, so I cannot suggest rules or solutions, but I can make observations from my own experience as food for thought. I gave up the voluntary hierarchies of corporates twenty years ago to embrace a less secure but more satisfying path of earning a living doing things I believe in with people I like whose purpose I share. Less money, more soul. The brutal reality of that is that conventional marketing, social media, and most other forms of attention grabbing became irrelevant. The work that matters came via referrals via word of mouth, and the conversations I curated. The reality, in turn, of that meant that there were fewer than fifty people who determined what happened for me. Sometimes I did business with them directly, but far more often with people they directed toward me. Those fifty are my friends and my sales team, and my job has been to keep them “fed”. In Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” terms, I am a maven and connector. I make a point of studying leadership and social change, thinking about it and sharing those thoughts with my fifty, and beyond via this blog, because you never know who you might bump into. Those conversations become a hive of sorts, as I refer them as they refer me. A sort of consultancy version of the honeybees “waggle dance.”

As the pandemic hit, and the nectar quickly started to run out, It was time to up the study and experimentation to understand what was really going on. That meant lots (and lots) of reading, and the Originize experiment to share observations with others. The unexpected revelation was how quickly meaningful, joyous, creative, and productive relationships could be formed with people I have never, and may never, meet in person. The result was that my “fifty” has evolved and became more powerful than before the pandemic. I have found that my own work. and theirs, is far richer as a result.

There have also been important lessons in that short time when we were “going back to normal.” As volumes picked up, and activity on social media increased, there was more to respond to and more opportunities to initiate. That came at a price in the form of the demands on my attention, and the attention I was paying to “the fifty.” It was a great lesson that relationships don’t scale, And I am working my way back to paying the fifty proper attention. My apologies to them for the slight lapse that came from distraction.

I think that whether we work for ourselves, or an employer, it makes sense to pay proper attention to our “fifty” (or one hundred perhaps for some – although I suspect none of us can deal, with any quality, with more than one hundred)

As go yet further into complex uncertainty, relationships matter more than any other factor – for our business, our reputations, and our well-being.

We would do well to pay proper attention to them.

Things that have inspired.

We are not separate. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass” was one of my favourite books of 2021. Here she talks with John Hausdoerffer, and Gavin Van Horn about our relationship with all living things.

Africa. With Al Yankovich. Because it made me smile.

A journey through the Understory. A forty-minute journey through Tongass. What we are facing really means. Visceral.

Finding our own way. Via some spectacular snowboarding .

Power and Love, I have been blown away by Kahane’s thinking on social change and conflict. It has changed the way I think about how I do what I do. Here’s a twenty minute summary.

An extract that is sitting with me.

Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change. . . . And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites—polar opposites—so that love is identified with the resignation of power, and power with the denial of love. Now we’ve got to get this thing right. What [we need to realize is] that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. . . . It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our time.”

Excerpt from: “Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change” by Adam Kahane. 

Next week, I’m going to review this extraordinary, important year. Until then, have a great week.

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