Grow your Own

Very few gardens are the same.

They may be a similar size, maybe on a modern development where most of the houses look similar.

But the gardens are unique.

They reflect the personalities of those who tend them.

The pots, the types of flower, the layout.

Those who tend them like to spend time there, enjoying what they have planted and nurtured. It helps them feel whole.

At what point did we decide that “work” had to be different?

We benchmark, we measure, we compare, we run scared of variation from what we’ve planned. We fear being judged.

Gardeners revel in difference, and unexpected arrivals. When the dahlia they grew turns out to be a different colour from that they had anticipated, they don’t fire it, they just plant it somewhere else in the garden where it fits.

Weather happens. Forecasts are usually approximately right, but precisely wrong and every now and again we get a real storm and have to repair the damage it caused, but we don’t blame anyone.

And when the sun shines, and all is in bloom, we sit down and enjoy it, until the autumn, and time to enjoy preparing it for the winter we know is coming.

“When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”

Tim Gallwey, from The Inner Game of Tennis

When we run our businesses, our careers and our lives in expectation of what it might be one day (often measured through very narrow criteria) rather than enjoy what it is today, and take pleasure in what it might one day be, we pay a heavy price. Our lives have an expiration date. Each day matters, and mortgaging it to the future generates burden rather than joy.

We can run our businesses and careers in the same way as we garden. For the love ot it.

Wonder, appreciation and joy are not restricted to snatched moments or holidays, unless we choose to live that way.

Orientation

If we’re navigating into unfamiliar terrritory, we need three things.

  • The best map we can find,
  • The best compass we can lay our hands on,
  • And to know where we’re starting from.

Each of these three things carries it’s own challenges.

The map of course is a reduction, done by somebody at a different point in time. It will tell you where things are in relation to each other, show geographical features, and help you understand differences. It will not show you what the weather’s going to be like, or the animals you might come across, or who else might be there. The map is not the territory.

The compass has it’s own idiosyncracies. Compasses point to magnetic north, not true north, and magnetic north moves around – known as variation. They are also subject to deviation, which is determined by the surroundings of the compass – the materials in a boat for instance. To find true north, you have to correct for both variation and deviation.

Neither compass nor map however are a great deal of use unless we know where we’re starting from, and what we’re looking for or where we want to go.

The same of course is true for our lives, careers and organisations.

Today, the conditions we find ourselves in are deeply uncertain. Others are offering us maps, but don’t talk much about the territory we might find ourselves in (because they don’t know). We need to make our own assessment of the conditions we might walk into.

Our own internal compassess are subject to their own forms of variation (the assumptions we make, the heuristics we use and the unconcious biases we have) as well as deviation (the communities and organisations we are part of, the hierarchies in them, the culture and how all these affect what we “see”)

As for where we’re starting from, that’s always contentious. Where we think we are, and where others see us is often very different. A great appraisal might convince you you’re in a great place and can see your surroundings clearly, but the organisation may itself be lost.

In conditions of uncertainty, we need to make sure we’re grounded in reality.

We need to orient, and to do that we need to make sure we have our own map, compass and understanding of where we are, and where we’re trying to get to.

Using other people’s equipment is a high risk venture

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.