Reflections 17th July

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

On my Mind

Shifting Sands

As I’ve taken notice of what is happening around us, the image that kept forcing its way to the front of my mind this week was sand dunes and changing landscapes. Those schoolboy experiments with grains of sand, or rice to demonstrate the idea of “self-organized criticality”, where we discover that eventually adding one grain more, or a chance breeze or vibration, causes the whole pile to collapse and change shape.

Those breezes and vibrations are coming at us thick and fast right now. As I write this, we’ve just been checking up on elderly neighbours as we head into temperatures in the high 30’s at the same time as we have scheduled power cuts for maintenance work. I listened to farmers early this morning facing the reality of closing down, stuck as they are between the hard place of aggrressive retailers and the unstoppable force of the consequences of Brexit. The prospect of an Autumn and Winter of high energy prices and restricted availablility as Russia restricts supply and capital fights over the remains. And all this as we are treated to a demonstration of political leadership selection here in the U.K. that looks like a cross between a posh version of “Dad’s Army” and Ianucci’s “Death of Stalin”.

We don’t even have the comfort of being victims. We’ve done this to ourselves, and we’re not alone. Every other country has it’s own version, even if their piles have not yet reached the same level of criticality as ours – they are heading the same way. What we have all done is monetise communities, making them marketplaces open to the whims of those outside them with more than enough money to use them as they will as they seek even more.

The challenge we all face is that even though we may sense that point where criticality self organises, we don’t know when, or how it will turn out – just there will be a whole load of grains tumbling about until a new landscape emerges.

At the same time, we live in a world of astonishing techology, an increasing awareness of the need to live differently, opportunities for self driven learning, and an ability to connect with others, create initiatives and develop businesses regardless of where we live. The opportunities as the dunes change shape are enormous. The important thing, I think, is to be a free flowing grain, able to move and connect as the breezes and vibrations hit us.

Open an old rice storage jar, and their are always clumps stuck together that won’t make it through the sieve. Many organisations right now are like that, which makes them slow to change. The “great resignation” is far from over, and nothing now to do with the pandemic. As the WEF showed last month, it is about relationships and ways of working, and as the sands shift under the weight of myriad forces they are being subject to those organisations who have not understood the pressures will suffer.

What makes for a free flowing grain?

Quite simply, the ability to move independently, as the sands start shifting and we find ourselves on the move, whether we like it or not.

I think that means:

A distinct identity.

Something that reflects our uniqueness. A skill or a craft that we can exercise independently of any organisation if we need to, something that others find valuable.

Organsations are changing. Ted Bauer points out, in robust terms that middle management is f’n dead. Middle management, and all its works, from 360 degree appraisal to easy recruitment is going with it. Organisations need clumps, and technology is making clumps history.

Peter Korn is a great example of a free flowing grain. This 15 minute summary of his work is an inspiration and I think essential viewing as we think about what we might each do. (click here to watch on youtube)

(click to watch on youtube)
A hook

Something we can do, that few others can do, that if it were done would make a difference (from Buckminster Fuller). Something purposeful to talk about and make meaningful connection as our world gets rearranged.

This is taken from Alan Moore’s wonderful newsletter, and a beautiful reminder of what we ‘re all about when it comes down to it.

A great moment of reflection, and space to think about it.


Escaping the clump.

Dependence is deadly when the sands shift. Independence is great, but lonely and a point of vulnerability. Interdependence, working with others as peers, by choice, is powerful.

I have long admired Dan Pallotta for his provocative work in the Charity Sector, and seeing him move from words to songs, and finding new allies as he does so is such a great example of a free flowing grain.

Know who you are looking for.

As we find ourselves swept along as the sands shift, it helps to know who we are looking for. What do we need, that others do better than we do, and who need us in the same way. The basis of interdependence. Thinking about that before the sands move will help us in the meleé.

“One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”

Eleanor Roosevelt.

A Closing Thought

We cannot predict what will happen, but we can be fairly sure something will, and doing the work that enable us to flow freely when it does seems no bad idea. You can find others doing this work at New Artisans.

In the meantime, have confidence in yourself. Shifting sands offer us all an opportunity.

I think this, from William Ayot, captures the some of the forces shifting the sands beneath us:

The Doodle at the Edge

Another meeting, another agenda, another
list of buzz words, initials and initiatives.
PSU is entering phase three
While the CDR wants G2 to go to level five.

If we go the full nine yards on this one.
If we get proactive, get out of the box, get
our team together and on the same hymn-sheet;
if we hit the ground running, if we downsize HR,
If we get the money on board, and our asses into gear,
then we can change something, make a difference,
change what the other guys changed last week.

Meanwhile, the god has left the garden;
the muse lies minimised in the corner of our screens.
Not dead, not buried, but ignored and unseen,
like a doodle at the edge of an action plan.

Me? I say make a sacrifice to the doodle:
pick some flowers, speak a poem, feed the tiny muse.
Draw, sing, paint or dance, and you'll bring the gods
back into the boardroom: the laughing, smiling
weeping gods of the night-time and the wild.

Have a wonderful week.

Stay cool in the heat.

Misbehave a little. Don’t be a clump 🙂

2 responses to “Reflections 17th July”

  1. We are all in transition. The question is what kind are we in. There is a growing separation between the elites and everyone else. It is happening at the networking level and the structural level. This realization has led me to see that the essential transition that we are in is from globalization to localism. What has happened in Sri Lanka is the canary in the coal mine. It is a signal that all crises are local. Middle management is only dead if you stand above them, looking down, and only to see obstacles and costs. However, from the local level, they are essential for gathering people together to strategize and to facilitate their local leadership initiatives. If the elites are abandoning middle management, it means they are being liberated to do what middle managers do best, lead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. Particularly with localism – which in many ways redefines the middle. We are a butterfly’s wing flap away from Colombo in many places, not least here in the U.K.
      I find increasing resonance with your work, and that of Jon Alexander (Citizens) with the challenge to move attention away from what we cannot change to what we can, and developing that narrative to make the small changes that matter, and let them aggregate. Greg Satell with “Cascades” also resonates for me. The trick, such as it is, is starting in whatever way we each can.


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