Heft

I find it an attractive word. With its origin in Anglo Saxon, it is normally used in terms of weight, or effort but there is another very specific use in terms of animals and people, hefted, which is used to describe the relationship between them and the land they live on. Hefted flocks are those that are so inextricably linked with the land they live on that they cannot be relocated.

In the past, up until the industrial revolution, most of us were hefted to where we were born. A function of generations past living on the same land, and the interdependent relationships that developed, we were woven into where we lived. The movement of people from economic necessity as the economy moved from agrarian to industrial broke that bond for most of us.

I came across the term in “The Shepherd’s Life” by James Rebanks. A beautifully written account of life in the Lake District through the eyes of one remarkable man, it opens with definitions of hefted, and goes on to recount how it defines his life and the society of which he is part.

What struck me most was perhaps what we have lost. When our families lost that hefted relationship with the land they lived on, what did they cling to? Rebanks doesn’t mention purpose or values right until the end of the book, and then only in terms of discovering the power of what was already present. The society of which he is part didn’t have to go looking for them, they were part of who they are, and released through their everyday work. I suspect the idea that you might have to define purpose or make a values statement would be ridiculous

So, in our modern day search for purpose and values, perhaps we are starting at the wrong end. Maybe we discover our purpose and values by what we don’t do as we work our way through life (and sometimes from what we do and later regret). Maybe we are born with purpose and have our values inculcated whilst very young, only to risk losing sight of them as we allow ourselves to be shaped by the expectations of others.

And equally, perhaps the same is true of the businesses we start. They are rarely started for money, but rather in an attempt to bring something into being. The primacy of money comes later, in the involvement of others and normally at a point when we have enough money from a degree of success to meet or reasonable needs. I’m not talking millions.

I suspect one definition of hell is the realisation of the impact on others of decisions we may have made in the pursuit of money we don’t really need.

When it comes to how we live and work, I suspect those who are happiest are hefted to something important, even if they cannot articulate precisely what it is. It shows up in how they live their lives and deal with others.

The Fourth Generation

The North American Indians had a thing about generations.

Any action they took were required to not adversely affect seven generations from where they were, and they saw themselves always as the fourth generation-shaped by the three generations before them, and shaping the three generations in front of them.

I think that’s a wonderful way of looking at things, and one we might wish to consider.

Those of us around today have been shaped by three past generations with an obsession with “the market”; taking actions to promote growth and short term returns, based on a consumer attitude, that we now realise will create real challenges for the three following us.

It’s our responsibility. We cannot outsource it, nor find a “solution” in the way we pop a pill for a headache. “Solutions” have an increasingly short half life. They rarely address systemic root issues.

We have to live the change, and take the hits, all the time holding ourselves accountable to those of seven generations on who we will never meet.

The Fitzgerald Paradox

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

F.Scott Fitzgerald

It seems as though wherever we look at the moment, this quote applies.

The rate of change we are experiencing, the variety of options open to us, and the avalanche of different opinions showered on us means that we need to develop and access our first rate intelligence. This is not something we can outsource to another.

I suspect that in retrospect, this period will be defined as the end of an era. It’s difficult to know right now, as generally we don’t realise there’s been a revolution until its over.

All the signals seem to point to the end of an industrial era defined by structured organisations, hierarchies, nation states and relatively consistent “ways of doing things” and the start of something altogether more fluid. On the one hand, the types of job that have characterised the passing era are being increasingly disrupted by technology, and the human values that have often been suppressed for the sake of efficiency are becoming ever more important. We can’t write algorithms for love, purpose and meaning.

Right now, we have to be able to operate in both these areas. We are still dependent on the structures and practices of the passing era, at the same time as we are coming to terms with the emerging one.

In my practice, I often see some excellent work done in the creation of insight. These are often off site, and triggered by accessing those values that make us most human. However, when the off site finishes, those insights are almost always submerged as people go back into the workplace culture they were off site from. The people may have been on a personal journey, but the workplace didn’t tag along. The insights generated may stay with the individual but don’t make it into the workplace. Not infrequently, those who have experienced insight end up leaving in pursuit of somewhere or something that resonates more with their new found perspective.

We need to change that. We need to be able to hold these seemingly opposing ideas in mind whilst retaining the ability to function. If one idea or the other “wins” rather than collaborates we lose something – either our current performance, or our potential future.

I think the need is for “safe space” where ideas can be explored without being judged, and an opportunity created to synthesise new ways of operating that respect each of them.

It is not something that can we can “train” people in. It has to be owned, a product of that unique intelligence each of us has. It has to be nurtured and grown as we would a tender plant, or a young child.

The change is with us, whether we are ready or not.

We have choices to make, if we don’t want them made for us.

To borrow from Marshall Goldsmith, the operating models that got us here, won’t get us there.