On my Mind
I’ve long used Evernote to capture and organise the many things that interest me. I love its simplicity and the ability to tag and search. However, that’s also a challenge – taking the time and getting the focus on what to search for. Inevitably, the items that are “front of mind” are symptoms of what I need to address, not causes, and getting to a cause requires patience – and space.
When an uncomfortable mass of things is calling out for attention, I have found that the best thing to do is leave them alone for a while. Take a walk in the countryside I am fortunate to live in the middle of. Listen to some music – anything that doesn’t have an objective attached to it. When I come back to the mass of things I walked away from, they’ve somehow rearranged themselves into something not just more manageable but which captures my attention differently, and that all-important search term comes to mind.
Worthwhile ideas seem to have a hard time getting our attention. If they are important, they are most likely very inconvenient for the status quo, whether that is our personal habits or our corporate culture. It’s really easy to ignore them and either take refuge in the comfort of some imagined future or to procrastinate and just push them over into the long grass of that liminal space where what we need is to be found but refuses to be hurried.
It’s tempting to think that this results from the contemporary pressures we create for ourselves in the way we work, the noise generated by social media, and our perpetual focus on efficiency and “performance”. Whilst I think they contribute, the challenge that new ideas have taking root is perennial.
What has brought this home for me is reading Gal Beckerman’s exceptional “The Quiet Before” which explores how important ideas incubate. He identifies a remarkable consistency, extending from “The Republic of Letters” in the seventeenth century to the confusion that reigned in the early days of the pandemic. In short, there are three forces at work; firstly the innate conservatism of those in power, secondly the noise of popular opinion that polarises the new and creates an illusion of examination, and lastly, small networks of those who nurture the new idea, often out of sight, and develop it until the conditions are ready for it to take centre stage.
Important ideas need processing time. They arrive incomplete, like flat-pack furniture with no instructions. They need to be experimented with, shared, respected and cared for, by those who see what might be, with the patience and determination of great teachers. (I’ve always liked the imagery of Elizabeth Gilbert in “Big Magic” where she posits that we don’t have ideas, but rather that they are already out there, looking for the right host.)
What stands out for me though, is that, right now, sandwiched somewhere between the fearful conservatism of those whose comfortable worlds are threatened by the changes we know we need to make, and the “fast food” diet of easily consumed noisy memes, sensationalism and disinformation on social media are people who are working on ideas that will really move things forward. They are rarely in the same organisation, often under resourced, and struggle to get their voices heard.
So the key question becomes how we enable and support them?
We have a good grasp of the network science of movements and the animal spirits that drive them. Well summarised by Malcolm Gladwell in “Tipping Point” – the mavens, the connectors and the sponsors who between them create the conditions for viral spread. But that’s not what concerns me here – what does is where they are and how they can be helped. How do we create connections between the mavens and the sponsors we need?
The foundation of resilience is realising that there is no superhero about to rescue us. It is down to us to do what we can, where we are, with what we’ve got. That means doing the hard work of thinking, questioning, and having a stance, not leaving it to someone else. In his daily post on Friday, Ryan Holliday noted that
“Socrates did not set up desks for his students, sit in a teacher’s chair, or reserve a prearranged time for lecturing and walking with his pupils.” On the contrary. “He practiced philosophy while joking around and drinking and serving on military campaigns and hanging around the marketplace with some of his students, and finally, even while under arrest and drinking the hemlock. He was the first to demonstrate that our lives are open to philosophy at all times and in every aspect, while experiencing every emotion, and in each and every activity.”Ryan Holliday, Daily Stoic.
Philosophy – literally, “love of wisdom” is an everyday activity for those mavens, sponsors, and the more people practice it, the more connections to what is trying to emerge are created.
At the heart of philosophy is conversation. At the heart of conversation is small groups of people who spend time together discussing what is important, not what is urgent, and at the heart of the change we all seek is those groups connecting to each other around common purpose. Grounding ourselves in genuine dialogue rather than relying on the bland assurances of those in power, or the hysteria of those in search of eyeballs to advertise to.
It’s a big change in behaviour for us, and I think it’s important when we have mental health challenges at record levels, and face challenges that are likely to increase them further.
We owe it to ourselves and those we live and work with to create connections and have meaningful conversations about what matters.
According to McKinsey, we spend $1.5 trillion on our “wellness” – defined by them in six sub categories – better health, fitness, nutrition, appearance, sleep and mindfulness.
What strikes me about this is how individual it is. I think wellness is, and always has been, a function of the health of the societies we are part of. Like wealth, wellness is not much fun if it’s only you.
I think we need to create space, at every level, for something more akin to group wellness. Some scheduled time every week, to spend time with those who matter to us, free of the corrosive pressures of financial performance, to talk about what we’re noticing, what matters, and how we feel about it.
A place for sharing and support. To find ourselves in community for it’s own sake, somewhere to belong, and somewhere to contribute. Somewhere with time to process what is happening in our lives.
We need the space, on a regular basis, with people we know and trust. Something well beyond snatched holidays. Something we can rely on, that becomes a habit. In previous generations, it might have been church, or the pub (probably both) or other activites that acted as social glue in communities. Just because virtual communities have become ubiquitous doesn’t mean we can do without that glue.
We have found this to be the case at Originize, mostly as a happy accident when a short term experiment morphed into such a virtual community. It’s an easy model and hugely adaptable and because it’s not run for money, and free of any pressures to “perform”. It’s been really important to us during the last two years, and whilst it is morphing as the pandemic gradually recedes, looks likely to remain so.
Much of what we need is in our own hands. It doesn’t have to be bought or provided, it can be created as a way to balance the vital “inner work” of personal welllness with the “outer work” of community wellness. It’s not as though we need to be taught – we have been human communities for over two hundred thousand years. We’re hard wired to be communities, it’s just perhaps that we have become distracted for a while.
As we face the challenges that have not gone away – climate change, biodiversity loss, inequality and local poverty – we will need the time and space to process what matters to us, away from the pressures of work, and the frantic cacophony of social media.
What’s inspired me this week.
The work we’re doing at New Artisans is a constant source of inspiration. Who wouldn’t want to work somewhere like this?
A Meditation on Truth
15 mins of pure Jazz Joy.
Art does not lie down on the bed that is made for it; it runs away as soon as one says its name; it loves to be incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what it is called.”Jean Dubuffet
People, Ideas, Machines – in that orderJohn Boyd.