A quiet revolution

It’s been said that we don’t know there’s a revolution going on ’till it’s over.

Up until that point, we see anomalies, departures from our familiar norms and are slow to come to terms that this is the new normal.

We can see this at a variety of levels, although where I am noticing it most is in the relatively mundane day to day working of organisations, particularly small and medium sized ones.

They don’t have to be very old – twenty years is plenty – for those who founded them to have lived through a quiet but profound change in the relationship they have with new talent.

Twenty year ago, organisations still had the power to choose. More people wanted jobs than there were jobs available. Clear job definitions and qualifications gave them a menu of people to choose from. Over the last twenty years, those jobs have become commodities. Lots of people can do them, from many locations, for ever decreasing prices. And where that isn’t cheap enough, machine learning, AI and automation steps up to the plate.

Lots of options for employers, but the results are increasingly asymptotic. Price may go down, but quality does not go up. Same output for lower input.

Which means that we now have a whole new tribe to deal with. Not just some easy label like “millennial”, but a whole new demographic. People not just with skills, but opinions and purpose. People who want to do something unique, something that matters, something to be remembered for. People with a voice.

Artists.

Artists comes in all shapes, sizes, and ages. They are a real challenge to employ on conventional terms, because it’s not about the conventional metrics of pay and conditions. They are looking for fellow travellers.

Artists are super empowered. Given the right vehicle, the right environment and the right company they can can help those they work with to achieve “escape velocity” from the mundane to the remarkable. to escape the “soggy middle” of price based competition to building loyal followers who get what they are about.

Look around you. How many artists do you see? Those who do not have to be with you, but are there from choice because it’s where they can do the work they want to. Those who will make a real difference to other than the cost base. Those who are in a race to the top, not the bottom, of their potential.

If you don’t see any, then the revolution may just be passing you by.

The people who can make the difference you need have a choice.

..….and in the way these things work, this from Seth Godin just dropped into my inbox.

The Power of Reflection

We can only live our lives looking forwards and understand them looking backwards.

The faster the pace of life and change, the more we pay attention to where we are going, without necessarily reflecting on why.

Every complex system has a reflective capability, a feedback loop.

For us, our bodies have the parasympathetic system to balance the fight/flight dominated sympathetic system. It’s there to protect and inform us.

We however have an (almost) unique appetite for overriding it.

The work of B.F. Skinner shaped a generation. We have designed behaviourist reward systems – bonuses, appraisals, SMART goals etc. – that really work, although their real power is not long term performance, it is short term rewards seeking or punishment avoidance.

We can reward people to death. We can create systems so powerful, so addictive, that both animals and people can be induced to work till they drop dead.

The Japanese even have a word for it. Karoshi. The main cause is heart attack due to starvation diet and stress. no balance and no feedback (although I guess death is an extreme form of feedback)

Organisations are no different. We are seeing organisations around us suffering from Karoshi every day. Death through overwork and resource starvation brought on by lack of reflection.

Taking time out to reflect, to notice, to listen to our own, and our organisations bodies is not inefficient. It is the stuff of development, contribution and survival.

We all have a choice of two futures. The one we’re living that is designed for us by others, or the one we choose for ourselves.

The difference between the two is reflection.

Stepping Stones

I’ve just had the pleasure of working with an extraordinary group of people considering the bigger pictures we are all part of. Four days away in a glorious quiet setting, in the countryside.

I always find it astonishing how noisy silence can be. The questions it asks of you, The things it brings into focus. The areas we notice that we just don’t understand, and happy for our ignorance to be a trigger.

I felt humbled and inspired by those in the group – some of whom had jobs of huge potential impact for our safety, sanity and survival, others in roles that didn’t really demand of them what they could offer. All of us giving space for clarity to lend a hand to our efforts.

What struck me was the difference between people’s goals and their vision. The former often very clear, the latter constantly emerging. A little like stepping stones in the mist – the ones near to us giving us clear but limited choices, our the vision for the longer term clearly affected and shaped by the ones we choose, and the destination always an aspiration.

Physics tells us that without noise we cannot detect signal. What we need are the right filters. Some of those are frameworks. I have a huge collection, from Marcus Aurelius to John Boyd, all of which help, none of which provide the answer.

The answer always emerges from the quiet, when that part of us that is always there can make its voice heard. our genius, our muse, our soul. Take your pick.

It’s never been more important. The noise factories are in full production, shouting in our ears and assailing our attention with a mix of disconcerting messages.

None of them are right for us.

Our truth, our next stepping stones are known only to us. They will take us where we need to be, if only we take the time to look for them.