On Stage

going on stage

A large part of what I do with clients involves me standing back and noticing what’s going on for them, internally and externally in areas that are hard to monitor with data, but which can be sensed.

A large part of my “off site” load is reading and monitoring trends (I am a recent convert to Blinkist and Feedly which are great tools for filtering what to pay attention to)

What I am noticing is that the vast majority of articles, and good percentage of books that are written seem to be written for actors on a corporate stage. Full of different aspects of how to play your part better, find better “agents”, get noticed.

Person as role holder on a business stage in some form of soap opera.

I’ve often wondered what happens to actors in soap operas who have been playing a role for many years. Who goes home at night – the person, or the part? When do they notice?

I think that the most important task we have while we’re here is to be open to our calling and ready to listen to it when it appears. To make the fullest contribution we can with our unique individual talents. Not easy when the role is full on, but vital none the less.

William Stafford wrote it beautifully:

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among  things that change.  But it doesn’t change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread.

We are in times of unprecedented change that will change just about every aspect of how we work, and will rewrite many of the soap operas we are part of today. No matter how well we have played the part, it won’t stop our character being written out of the script.

What will matter, more than ever is who we are and the thread we are following.


Craft vs. DIY

Over the last hundred years we have got used to their being “Expert Answers”, “Best Practice” and consultants of all stripes have made very good livings from them.

The trouble is, they no longer work. The challenges we face are so complex, so multi faceted and so connected, solving problems by analogy no longer does it. The fact that it worked for someone else, somewhere else, sometime else does not mean it will work for you.

That leaves a dilemma. With so much call on our attention, how do we proceed. Consultants offer “band aid” relief but rarely long term solutions. There are thousands of good books and videos out there by reputable authors, but who has time to read enough of them to get a good balanced view? The battle for talent – recruitment and retention – is brutal.

We can adopt a DIY approach – doing the best we can with who and what we know across a range of disciplines from accountancy to the impact of machine learning, and end up with flat pack answers. Functional, cheap, and fast but no different to other people’s answers. Probably fine for the functional areas of operations, but not for those areas of relationships, purpose, connection and design, which are the stuff of original thinking.

Or we can adopt a craft approach to the areas where the difference really gets made – leadership, connection, compelling purpose. The things we are remembered for. Making a real and lasting difference to people’s lives.

Flat pack is fine for the kitchen table, but people will notice the difference between the artistry of the chef, and the convenience of a ready meal in the food you serve on it.

We can’t be craftswomen or men at everything we do, but that’s no reason for not dedicating yourself to the craft of something people will remember you for.

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.