Sitting in the fire

I’m always intrigued that those people and organisations who say they want change But really mean that what they want is for others to change.

Their own “elasticity” regarding change is often limited, for understandable reasons. They have a lot invested in the way things are – infrastructure, reputation, credit ratings; the list goes on. Incremental change is acceptable, but rarely enough. The end result is that product and organisational life cycles are reducing.

Change doesn’t much care about their sensitivities, and is moving faster, and more unpredictably than they are.

For a number of reasons, the word ‘dyad” has been cropping up for me a lot recently. A dyad is simply a pair, but the relationship between the pair is where it gets interesting. Harmonious dyads often seem not to cope with change very well. Vested interests. Old boy networks. They have similar world views, don’t conflict, and are invested in the same things. Sparks rarely fly, and on the occasions they do are quickly extinguished.

However, the nature of change means that they are unsustainable. No organisation can handle currently levels of highly charged complexity.

Conflicting dyads on the other hand, where the sparks fly and ignite, is where the real change happens. It’s uncomfortable, and means ‘sitting in the fire”.

You’ve got to have a really good reason for sitting in the fire. It’s uncomfortable, uncertain and you may get burned. On the other hand, the really good stuff gets forged there. It’s where the magic happens. Alchemy.

For a number of reasons, in my work, I have found myself recently sat in said fire, uncomfortably but determinedly. What was at stake was too important not to, and I’m fortunate that I have enough independence, and enough support, not to have to jump out because the mortgage needs paying. That’s a privilege, but also a choice.

The change is not instant, and sitting there feeling as though your nether regions are more than medium rare is painful for a while, until the fire works its magic and what needs to happen becomes clear.

Then, it’s something of a brand new day.

It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about creation. Relationships may change. People may see you differently, and indeed, you may see yourself differently. Brand new day. And whatever the weather, the sun is shining.

Here are some of the conflicting pairs I’m seeing right now;

  1. The needs of the individual and the needs of shareholder owned businesses.
  2. The power and potential of individual purpose and organisational needs for compliance.
  3. Conventional administration and bureaucracy versus artificial intelligence.

Each of these has enormous potential for productive change, but to do so, we need to get our backsides more than warm.

Alchemy requires Fire starters and Fire carriers as well as fire sitters.

Footnote. I’m reading Novacene by James Lovelock. He’s 100.

How can we not be in awe of somebody who thinks and writes with this clarity in his 101st year? An Alchemist if ever there was one.

Growth

Generally speaking, it seems that most of the posts we see on business or personal growth fall into two categories; therapeutic, or instructional.

The therapeutic works on the basis that we’re somehow not good enough, that we’re flawed, failing and need help.

The instructional works on the basis that we’re insufficiently trained; that we need to be taught, by those who are better than us.

Both have their place, up to a point, but only if we believe the purpose of our life is to fulfil others requirements of us.

If, on the other hand the purpose of our lives is to use the unique gifts we have been given, the unique perspectives we hold, the intent we have for our lives to use them to leave the world a better place than we find it, then they don’t.

Our lives have an expiration date. Between now and then, we have a choice to make.

Awareness

It’s been twenty years since the U.S. Army coined the term VUCA to describe the challenging environment we found ourselves in the post Cold War period.

And if we thought it was VUCA then, what do we think it is now?

Yet, most of the people I talk to seem to regard it with detachment, rather as they might drive by an accident that’s happened to somebody else, or environmental change. As though somehow, it affects other people, not them.

Other people’s jobs will be automated, not theirs. The conditions enabling populism are caused by other people. Shame about the bees.

They hang on grimly to the edge of the cliff, even as the cliff edge crumbles.

The shame of this is we’re not doomed, and if we understand what’s happening around us we can do something about it. Buy an electric car, eat less, get involved.

The opportunity to make a difference is huge, even if seemingly scary.

If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance a whole lot less.

U.S Army Gen. Eric Shineseki

If you haven’t noticed, temporary has gone from being a phase to a permanent condition. The length of time our functional skills stay relevant, the mean time from a business becoming average to failing, your job description.

Underpinning all this is another uncomfortable probability. We cannot train as fast as the conditions around us are changing.

The things we have worked for – qualifications, promotion, networks – no longer serve the way they did when we sought them.

To thrive in the conditions we find ourselves in now require something altogether less quantifiable. We need to travel inwards, to understand what really matters to us, what we are prepared to commit to, and what we are willing to forgo.

To bring to the surface and work with what we sense as much as that we can prove. To not go with the crowd. To develop our own unique voice and use it.

To choose our friends like we choose our causes – with a willingness to commit to them.

It’s about the alignment of our stories. For a while, our story and those we spend time with – employers, politicians, partners – share common purpose, although over time, they change and we change. First gradually, and then suddenly we find ourselves far apart.

Whenever we enter a relationship with another we create three entities – them, us, and the relationship. Each has its own life and direction, and each needs to be nurtured. Ask anyone who’s been successfully married for a long time; the marriage has to be respected every bit as much as the spouse.

It applies to our jobs every bit as much as our partnerships.

USAF Colonel John Boyd – “the fighter pilot who changed the art of war” was a rebel, an original thinker, and in my view one of the clearest thinkers on coping with the sort of conditions we face today.

He regarded situational awareness (he used the German “fingerspitzengefuehl” – literally fingertip feeling) as one of the prime attributes for successful survival. Not just what’s going on “out there” but also internally – our own health, beliefs, purpose and anything else that contributes to our sense of “being”. He used to counsel his students that

“You have a choice. You can be someone, follow the rules, fit in, or you can do something you believe in. The first will get you promotions, good jobs and an easy life. The second will be difficult, but will give you a life worth living

Tomorrow will be different to today. Things will happen that set in train things that will happen further down the track.

The least we can do is to take the time to be aware of them.