I read quite a lot, and I tend to jot down in a notebook phrases that strike me from the books I get through. On the latest of our regular Originize Zoom meetings on Friday night I shared one of these phrase and it generated a bit of interest so I thought I’d expand on it a bit in this blog.

The quote was:

“To be heard you must speak the language of the one you want to listen”.

It comes from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Kimmerer.

We all speak more languages than we probably realise. Andy Adler who was on the zoom, and comes from a veterinary background, mentioned that whilst doing an MBA that one of the useful things he learned was to speak, amongst others the languages of “Finance” & “Management”. It makes me wonder if a key skill for a leader is to be speak the language of their followers.

Language doesn’t just have to be purely the spoken word. Science, art, music, painting are also languages. Another quote in the same book attributed to Greg Cajete is:

“We understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit”.

So maybe if we want to be fully understood we need to speak with all these four aspects. We know the meanings of the words we say, and we are starting to appreciate how much we say with our body language, but have we yet consciously got to grips with putting emotional and spiritual content into the message we want to convey?

One of the ways to do this is through stories and metaphor. Stories cut across language barriers. However today there seems to be a tend to say things in as short a way as possible, time is money and all that. The salesmen though know the the truth that the scientists do not, “facts tell, stories sell”. As Daniel Pink put it we are all in sales whether we are researchers looking for funding or parents asking children to tidy rooms. Quite often in our Originize conversations we discuss two different groups, the puzzllers and the mystics and about finding a language of the middle, and maybe this another way to improve communication. With better communication comes better understanding and better understanding opens up more possibilities, So here’s to being better communicators in the future.

PS The photo above was taken at Savern in the Alsace region of France at about 10:00am. The ladies pictured had been standing for hours in rain like stair rods. My french was not good enough but I wish I could have spoken with them and learned their story.

Flexing the Courage Muscle

The inspiration for this blog came from a zoom call orchestrated by Richard Merrick last Friday called Setting Conversations Free. During the conversation the idea that our fears are holding us back cropped up a few times, and there were a couple of phrases from Roz Savage, one of the participants, that stuck with me. One was “flexing the courage muscle”, by this we were discussing if we are not used to responding to fear the “muscle” we use to cope with it atrophies, and when fear does crop up we don’t know how to deal with it. The other phrase was that for Roz “moments of greatest growth came from moments of greatest challenge”.

Before I had a horse to challenge (and educate!) me, I used to like to spend time in the mountains, and so I read a lot of old climbing books. One quote that has always stayed with me is this:

“And we come back to our daily occupations better fitted to fight the battle of life and to overcome the impediments which obstruct our paths, strengthened and cheered by the recollections of past labours and by the victories gained in other fields” – Edward Whymper,1871, First Ascent of the Matterhorn.

So it strikes me that being courageous/overcoming fear is a transferrable skill. There is saying that you should do something that scares you every day. We know the benefits of physical exercise for our bodies, so we make a conscious effort go to the gym, run, swim, walk etc. We know the benefits of mental exercise, we do puzzles, we read. However how often do we make a conscious effort to exercise our emotions?

If we want to exercise the courage muscle we don’t have to scare ourselves silly, the accepted figure for improvement seems to be 4%. Just doing something 4% beyond our current capability is enough to bring about an improvement. The key is to do 4% as often as possible, and not to be afraid of failing. Failing is how we learn, we are not born with a fear if failing, if so babies would never learn to walk, but as we grow up we are taught failing is wrong, and so we start to fear. We fear talking to strangers,expressing emotions, asking silly questions, all sorts of things.

The question is what can we do that will exercise our courage muscle that 4% so we become bolder day by day? What is that other part of our life that we can come back from “strengthened and cheered”. For me now, its riding my horse, but exercising the courage muscle could just be something small like asking something of somebody you are not all that familiar with, or speaking out where you would normally stay silent. Gradually you get bolder so when something unexpected and scary turns up in your life you are better equipped to cope with it, or you chose to accept that big challenge that will help you grow.

Balance and Energy

It was a conversation with a wine merchant last week that got me to re-think my idea of balance and then re-reading a horse book helped me make the link with energy. The wine merchant was reflecting that there is a current thought in the wine world that if a wine is high in alcohol, so long as it is high in fruit, then it is balanced and therefor a good wine. He and I did not agree with this, instead being of the opinion that if you have too much alcohol and too much fruit then you missed the precision, focus, and the more subtle and delicate aspects of the wine. So this made me wonder if there is a similar truth of life, if we are balancing say too much work with more intense play are we not just weighing down the scales to the point where they become sluggish and we miss important bits of our lives, or eventually break the scales.

This led me of the description from Mark Rasid of how horses spend their energy , ” the most important part of herd structure and dynamics really boil down to two things. Keeping balance within the herd and conserving as much energy as possible – both as a group and as within each individual”. In general horses conserve their energy for what Mother Nature has programmed into them as being important. That is running away from predators. So again this made me wonder, as humans, should we look at what is really important to us and spend our valuable energy there.

So we can do two things: lighten the load on the balance, and only spend our energy on what is important to us.

I’d like to share with you one of the things that has become important to me over the last few months. I have been spending an hour or so, once per week, on a zoom call with seven other people, most of whom I did not know beforehand. We talk about what we have been noticing. These conversations are proving to be incredibly powerful. We all have different backgrounds, but an urge to share our experiences and observation with each other. Just recently we have been trying to describe this type of conversation, and one of the things about them is the energy that the group generates and how good and inspired it makes us feel at the end of the session. As a group we feel it would be incredibly selfish to keep this to ourselves, so for the next session we are inviting others to join us, though we are limiting it to 50 people. If you I are interested you can register via the link below.


Not Doing

Last week I was chatting with my oldest friend and he made an interesting comment about what I’d written on emotions being contagious. In times of crisis if the CEO of one company takes a particular action then other CEO’s feel they have to follow suit, and if they don’t its only a matter of time before the board is asking why they are not doing anything. A similar pressure exists in the medical profession, it is always easier for a doctor to prescribe a course of treatment than to do nothing, and if the treatment fails then there is always the justification that the illness was too strong but at least a cure was attempted. As human beings I believe we have a strong tendency to take action. When I was searching my photos for one to go with this article I found it difficult to find one of not doing anything. The picture above is the closest I could get, and if you look closely at the ridge-line in the background you will see a tiny line of runners heading for Kline Scheidegg the finish of the Jungfrau marathon.

However not doing can be a most powerful strategy. It is different from doing nothing, Lao-tzu termed it Wu-Wei, not forcing, or not striving. It is not about stopping all actions, but rather it is about not being so engrossed in what should or should not be happening, that you miss what is actually happening. By seeing what is, it is possible to see what may be, and this in turn can lead the way to new and novel ways forward. It does require leaders to be courageous and stop doing and to take the time to observe what is going on.

As Covid lockdown restrictions are lifted and we again have the freedom to act, might it not be wise to take a moment of Wu-Wei to observe what is going on around us and maybe we can see an opportunity to act differently to our peers. It is actually by becoming better observers we make better decisions.

There are many aspects of Wu-Wie, for me as a horse rider I see it in my relationship with my horse, if I get too focussed on what should be happening I miss what my horse is trying to tell me, I miss the information that would allow me to get what I’m trying to do right, to overcome the block. In his book on softness Mark Rashid writes ” It’s not about what we do that starts us on the path to softness, but rather what we don’t do”. Covid has forced a lot of us to stop doing certain things, I hear a lot that managers have found that their staff don’t really need micro managing after all. So again now is a good time to look at what we maybe should stop doing that might make our lives better.

Looking for Leadership

Last week at the stables where I ride the owner commented that four of her lessons had lost their jobs this week, and as she does’t teach that many people, that represents quite a high proportion. The reason seems to be that companies are now being asked to apply for the second furlough grant and are realising that as they come out of Covid 19 their business will not be what it used to be. This seems typical of the nationwide picture. So there are going to be a lot of people suddenly wondering what to do next. There is going to be a need for good leadership, but whom will these people follow?

When a horse is taken out of the herd, and is feeling insecure and afraid they also look for leadership. That leader is often us. One of my favourite horse authors, Mark Rashid, talks about how horses choose a passive leader, ” …before a horse (or person) can be considered a passive leader, it must first exhibit the qualities that make it desirable to be chosen. Those qualities are, quiet confidence, dependability, consistency, a willingness not to use force.” These four qualities are what make the horse trust us, (passive leadership does not describe how the leader behaves after they are chosen, but how they are chosen in the first place).

So this got me to wondering do humans have and innate need for leadership? If so what qualities do we desire in our leaders for us to choose them?

Susan Scott wrote in Fierce Conversations, ” In any situation the person who can most accurately describe reality without laying blame will emerge the leader, whether designated or not”.

So as we emerge from Covid 19, and the demand for leadership is greater than ever, we need to choose our leaders carefully. It is going to be critical that we have given though to the qualities we want from those whom we choose to follow, and that those leaders show that they have a firm grasp of our reality.

Increased Uncertainty

As we emerge from Covid 19 the future is probably more uncertain than it has ever been. So I’d like to share a story with you about emotional contagion and how confidence can help.

The scene in the the photo above may not look scary, that is unless you are a horse! This is what I encountered when I was on my way to ride earlier this week. My certainty of a nice ride in the sun was changed to a question of will we get through this hazard? Will my horse spook? Will I fall off and be injured? These may seem like small worries compared with Covid 19, but the brain tends to processes them in a similar way.

So how did things turn out on my ride? What did I do to help?

Horses are extremely sensitive animals, and are highly tuned to our emotions, (non verbal communication). They have to be, they are flight animals and their lives depend on it. Sometimes we forget as humans that our emotions can be just as infectious as virus. So as a leader its important we give off the right emotional signals. My horse was looking to me for leadership, to give her confidence and assurance that all would be fine.

So what actually happened when we came to the roadworks was she hesitated, had a look at the bump, I calmly asked her to walk over it, I gave her a bit of time to think about it, and she decided to walked on. There was no kicking hard, no shouting, or trying to force the issue. It was all about confidence, emotional contagion, mine to her, not the other way around!

I once hear a story that in the army troops would be more likely to follow a commander into battle if they had confidence in him.

So as we come out of Covid 19 let us be aware of the effect our own emotions and confidence can have to inspire others.

One of the things we do at http://www.Originize.net is to have inspiring conversations so why not join us?

Communication at a Distance

Whilst not everyone has been able to work from home during the Covid 19 outbreak a significant number of us have been doing so. We have saved time on our commute to the office, and the zoom and telephone calls we have made have maybe been more focused. A lot of people saying that they are more productive.

However we live in a heavily interdependent society and we need others to achieve our aims. We are in fact that we are defined by our relationships with others. I heard a prominent entrepreneur say on zoom the other day that one of the key things to his company surviving and thriving under Covid 19 was the relationships he had built up before the pandemic. So maybe it is worth taking a closer look at the way we are communicating and building our relationships at a distance in the current climate.

Conversations can be of various types.

There are those with an agenda, that are focused on achieving a goal or outcome. Others have no agenda, they are unstructured, informal, born out of curiosity and a need to just understand something. Finally there are those more like conversations around the coffee machine, nothing to do with work but discussing how you feel about something, what matters to you. These help define who we are. All are necessary and it is important to ensure we recognise and make sure have all three. However it is the second and third type of conversation that is more likely to build relationships, come up with creative ideas, and maintain mental wellbeing.

Whichever type of conversation you are having when it’s not face-to-face it’s easy to miss some of the more subtle forms of human communication. It is the gestures, the tone of voice, small movements that tell us how a person is feeling about the subject.

As basically all the decisions we make are emotional decisions, being aware of how a person is feeling about something is key. By actively looking, listening and asking the right questions we can have better conversations.

So with this bit of extra time we have got, as well as increasing our productivity, why don’t take the opportunity to focus on the type and quality of the conversations we are having, or maybe talk with someone we wouldn’t normally speak with, and find out how they are feeling. Maybe there is something we can do to help?

One of the things we have been doing at Originize is seeing where conversations can go, and it’s been a bit like Alice down the rabbit hole…..

So make you have the right conversations, and get the most out of the conversations that you do have.

If you want to you are welcome to join ours at www.originize .net