Where do we go when we understand volume and scale are losing their lustre, and when the mantra of constant growth becomes recognised for the absurdity it has always been?
When we can make or replicate almost anything, anywhere, and replace even the most complicated routine professional skills from legal drafting to medical scan analysis using technology?
To the spaces between. From woodworking, to food, to clothes.
Not so much the high end of luxury brands, but the beautifully made everyday. The locally bonded whiskey. The denim made by masters in a Welsh village. Coffee sourced with purpose. Accountancy software made for people. Things for which there is often a waiting list, and people happy to wait.
What if the jobs we did were like that? One client at a time, done with care, attention and pride that makes us feel good, feeds our soul and contributes to the success of businesses of people we know.
That generates new knowledge, new ideas and beautiful concepts. Services that work and products that last rather then feed the need for ever more recycling?
If there’s an upside to Covid-19, perhaps its that it has demonstrated to us just how much we don’t need, and given us the time to value what we do.
Of course, not everything can be like this – but more can.
Challenging, joyous conversations about what we could do together to create wonderful services and products that matter to people we know, rather than grey ones about why we’re missing budget selling things we’re not proud of to people we don’t.
Whilst the gaps are being exposed in the old economy, it is opening up opportunities in the new one and we all have a possibility to go there.
It is risky, with nothing guaranteed but worth going for.
On the other hand, relying on the old model hasn’t worked out so well.
We all have a choice. A future we accept, or one we create.
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.
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
The time was, only a few months ago that the economy was still considered stable enough to pay us in anticipation of us doing the work .
An employment contract, a supplier contract, it was all based on our record of delivery. Defined jobs, with clear specifications, in a marketplace that was familiar.
Of course, the first harbingers were there, for those who chose to look. The easy outsourcing, the gig economy, reliance on low margins and the satisfaction of regular dividends. Nice. Better not to look.
The Lure of Continuity.
Getting the message across was difficult, and it always has been. When the Impressionists first started out, they could not get their work displayed in the Paris Salon, because it was not considered “Proper Art” by the establishment, who did of course, know. Later, the Beatles could not get record deals “four boys with guitars, really?” the list, we know in retrospect, goes on.
“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible
Reaction to Fred Smith’s proposal for what became Federal Express.
Over time, we built an economy predicated on staying the same.
Of course there would be product innovations, and occasionally disruptions, but the market would accomodate them, and those who understood the way the market worked would always win. Bankers, Consultants. Lawyers and others.
In 2013 David Graeber wrote an article on “Bullshit Jobs”, followed in 2016 by a book of the same name. In it he argued that a large proportion of jobs were “bullshit”-adding no real value to the economy, and even less to the lives of those who did them.
He included Bankers, Consultants, Lawyers and others.
He was easy to dismiss. A renegade and an anarchist even if he was a recognised if controversial academic. Even if he was at the heart of the Occupy movement, and coined the term “The 1%”
As we look at “Essential workers” and the dreadful toll on jobs caused by Covid-19, it appears he had a point.
The huge amount of noise and demands for subsidy are in those areas that he identified as bullshit. By no means all, but enoough to make the point. Jobs that are, in effect hosted by those parts of the economy that create value, rather than just move it around. The part that the Physiocrats, the precursor to modern neoliberal economists, called “sterile”.
No Time for Templates
Art is about seeing things differently, and finding ways to explain that. About reframing, and paradigm breaking.
In the world of puzzlers and mystics, it’s time for the mystics. Logic will not see us past this crisis, or tackle the ones emerging, it is the mystics – the language of artists.
This is no time for templates, from powerpoints to consultants business models. they were built for a different time, by smart people and used parrot fashion by those didn’t. Leadership Books written by those who defined their style in retrospect rather than in advance on values and beliefs.
A Time for Artists
This is a time for originality, conviction and the pursuit of what really matters. A time for the long game of beautiful businesses our children and grandchildren will admire for what they did at this time, not the short term obsession with ugly, unsustainable returns.
We were born original, and only became standardised through education, training and habituation in more stable times.
What we need now is the artist in you.
To be paid for what you create that only you can do. To make a difference to what next. To not watch passively and hope others will sort it.
I have suffered from fear all my life… haven’t you?
Not surprisingly, I have experienced this subjectively on countless occasions. Some of the more interesting ones are skiing down a mountain in Norway before having lessons, landing on a hot LZ in Afghanistan where I was highly concerned that I was going to be being blown up and wondering if my son would come out with all his fingers and toes (we worry us parents) as he was being born.
I have also examined the subject of fear objectively through my study of psychology in my preparation to become a psychotherapist. I learned that fear was two things… it was either a survival trait, or it was a human construct due to the environment you were inherently part of. It’s what we talk about in psychology as something either being subject to nature or nurture.
So I thought… I suppose, if it was under those circumstances I could let myself off for feeling fear couldn’t I? I mean, it wasn’t really my fault… it was either something I was born with or something that I could blame my parents for?
Let me digress for a moment or two… I was always one of those curious children… one of those children, teenagers, young adults and now middle aged man, that very seldomly took things at face value. I often questioned the validity to any so called truths… I often asked why?
So I did this exact thing when I questioned my thoughts around fear. I, like many others, suffered from some level of fear around what might happen to us all in the middle of a pandemic with no solid ending on the horizon. The fear of uncertainty does this to us… it’s a powerful thing because, well, to state the obvious… we don’t really know when it’s all going to end and that’s not a comfortable thing for anyone to be a part of.
But then I began to question… what’s driving my fear in this instance? Is it rational… have I been born with this fear… is it a construct of my mind… can I do something about it?
My answers came not from science this time but from metaphysics… the philosophical study of self.
I came to understand that yes, fear is quite necessary if we are to survive. It’s what stops us from holding our hand over a burning stove or walking too close to the cliff edge but if it’s fear around something existential, then we always have a choice. We always have a choice to do something different…
I then realised that in this type of situation, if we wanted to take back control of our lives we needed to ‘step out’ and do something different. We needed to start telling a different, more hopeful story… we needed to have courage… quite simply we needed to have the courage to act.
Conversations, at their best are beautiful things.
They are a dance of possibility as we pass ideas backwards and forwards, help each other shape them, notice things in the space between ideas and create the start of something.
In the search for efficiency however, we appear to have weaponised them. We treat them like processes, looking at value extracted versus time spent. Dialectic. Not a dance, so much as a tennis match, hitting with ever greater force as we look for weakness in our opponent.
There is a place for this. In stable conditions, with known rules, like the Law Courts, or a manufacturing process this type of dialectic is powerful – testing ideas and improving them.
However, in conditions of uncertainty when the reality is that none of us know what’s coming next, it’s dangerous. We create false certainty to bolster our case and make assertions based at best on assumptions, and at worst on manipulation.
Doubt is uncomfortable, but Certainty is absurd
It seems right now, we’re having far too many of these ugly conversations. Trading off the balance between saving the hospitality industry against the likelihood of a second wave; trying to restore an economy that was dysfuntional rather than using this shock to shape something new.
We have huge opportunity the other side of the pain that is now inevitable. It could be a great story, but it has to be crafted, not bodged.
To craft it we need to bring to it what makes things beautiful. Grace, Gratitude, Intent, Generosity and Courage.
We do not have time for the destructive power of ugly conversations
We are the most creative, resourceful, inventive form of life yet seen on the planet of which we are part. It is what has got us into this mess, and what will get us out of it.
I have to confess to becoming quite frustrated by the constant stream of helplessness being unleashed by many sources in the media, and the attitude of businesses that have made billions for shareholders in recent years as they display various forms of learned helplessness.
a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is thought to be one of the underlying causes of depression.
Whether it manifests as businesses whose future relies on continuing the damage they cause, or talented, unique individuals waiting to be rescued by one initiative or another, it underestimates us.
Of course it’s tough. On many counts. The old system that got us to here no longer works effectively except for a very few, who have already garnered more from it that they can reasonably use. We do not yet have any idea what the future will look like. Old data is of limited use and the future hasn’t arrived yet.
We are in a place between.
Every major change takes a similar form.
There is a place we are leaving to which we cannot return, Departure.
A time of reflection, insight, fear, and transformation. Liminal space, A place between.
And a point where we take our experience before, what we have learned, and emerge into a place where we integrate it with what we need to do now. Integration
Right now, we are in the place between.
Can’t go round it, can’t go under it, can’t go over it, got to go through it.
We are at a point where we discover the real difference between resilience – an ability to get back to some form of where we were, and anti fragility – the ability to harness what’s going on and grow from it. Personally, as a Society and as a Species.
Money is only a tool, a servant. We have maybe forgotten that.
We need to think differently.
Risk is the wrong measure
For all of our lifetimes we have been operating in a system we thought was the way things are, rather than what it has been, a moment in time.
We have made a fetish of assuming it would continue by turning risk management and efficiency into mantras. Risk as a function of probability and impact, and efficiency as leaving nothing in reserve in pursuit of short term gain.
We have known about the possibility, indeed the inevitability of a pandemic, but have chosen to choose it wouldn’t happen on ourwatch. Oops.
We now have to invert thinking from risk to possibility. Same formula, different mindset.
There is a well known framework created by Dave Snowden in 1999, at the beginning of “VUCA”, that I keep on my wall
It is similar to a much older framework – The Maori idea of turangawaewae, meaning a place to stand.
In a place between, we are in the chaos space. Our approach has to be to cling to our sense of meaning, our own individual purpose as our compass, try things and adapt. Darwinian evolution at its best. The survival not of the most fit (for the old place) but of the most adaptable to fit into the new place, wherever that is.
Agility, not as a model for consultants, but as individual practice, for real.
Release the Human
Nietzsche tols a story about a Master and his Servant, and how over time the servant subverted the master thinking he could do a better job. It didn’t end well.
We have been going down the same path, believing that systems, AI, processes would make us more efficient in an economy somehow frozen in time. There is of course, no process, no AI that will sort out where we are now. Covid is a symptom as well as a problem. We have created an economy where other symtoms are available, and waiting their turn.
This is a time for humans. For those unique qualities we have. For our ability to work together.
“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far go together”
This is a well known, and well worn saying. That doesn’t stop it feeling true.
Now is the time to choose who you’re together with. Not as a herd to shelter in the middle of, but as a small group (rule of thumb – five as a leadership group, no more than 150 in total) to do something meaningful.
Look at your LinkedIn Group, and ask yourself how many of them you have had a dialogue with in the last three months and what the relationship is. Are you hanging on them, are they hanging on to you, or are you doing something together?
This is a precious moment, where none of us know. That gives us the opportunity to entertain the possibility of doing something new.
For the short time we are here, we are here for a reason.
When I was young, I spent a time fascinated by photography.
Preoccupied with Technology….
It was in the days of dark rooms, messy chemicals and expensive film you could not afford to waste. My budget was twenty four photographs a week, and every shot I wasted an expensive and painful mistake.
I became really quite technical proficient, and could juggle aperture, shutter speed and ISO really well. I had good teachers. Technically, I wasted very few shots.
I retained an interest, but other interests intruded, cameras became better, and digital efficiency bade farewell to the expensive film problem.
It became easy to automate settings, and with no pressure on costs, plus the magic of post production and photoshop, the technical challenges became less interesting.
Fast forward several decades, and the interest is returning and I discovered something important.
….I Had Never Really Learned To See
It started with a really simple challenge. Some bluebells on my daily walk. Everything time I went past, they had changed a little. They looked different at different times in the day. They became obscured by the trees coming into leaf.
I’m grateful for digital technology. Back in the day, the photographs I have taken would have represented several months budget.
I still haven’t got the shot I want, and will now have to wait till next year. The difference is, I now know what to look for. I know the land, and the effect of the times of day.
I could fake it I guess, in post production; but to what end? The craft, the joy of it is in seeing the original. I think it’s a relationship.
It’s not just Photography.
As I walked up and down to the woods it struck me that maybe we have forgotten how to see important aspects of our businesses.
It’s easy to automate all the things that add human light and texture to a relationship.
When we automate a human interaction, we make it transactional. I know what you’ve bought, when you bought it, and how efficiently you were served, but I have no idea how you felt about it, why you bought it, or how it’s changed you.
Perhaps it becomes like Stock Photographs. One shot, a good average representation, used by lots of people in lots of different contexts. Efficient. Soulless.
Experiences become data points. We can analyse lots of different ways of looking at historical data in new ways, and become better at forecasting broadly what might happen in future in a particular set of cicumstances.
Versus a unique and memorable shot of a moment in time. An insight into who someone is, as much as what they did. A building block in an effective relationship.
The danger is that we categorise and generalise and in the process can lose the ability to see what is really happening. Algorithmic Groupthink.
We need to learn to see
Just about everything we expected this year to be, last year, has been upended.
Whatever our plans were, they were wrong.
The same is not true of what we hoped for our business or ourselves.
The circumstances have changed, giving us new opportunities if we choose to see them as well as removing the ones we had expected.
The longer we spend grieving about the changes we did not expect, the less time we have to notice the changing light and shadow of what is happening now and capturing the moment.
No more than Five for a leadership team, Fifteen for a management team, One hundred and fifty people for an effective organisation unit. We cannot meaningfully integrate more than 150 people into our lives. remeber their names, notice their lives, think about them. More than that and we end up in the vast expanse and shallowness of social media. Connection in name only.
Anthropologists understand story.
Jim Rohn, a coach, has asserted that we become the average of the five people we most associate with. Psychology and neuroscience as well as intuition back him up.
Now, more than ever, with vast swathes of all media either complaining about whose fault Coronavirus is, or offering digital equivalents of snake oil, choosing who we associate with is important.
I notice that those who shout loudest often have no “skin in the game”, but are quite happy for you to trade yours and watch – either for attention, or money, or both.
The people to associate with are those who value you for who you are, understand that they don’t know the answer, but will by your side as you find out together.
In the Right Surroundings
We get the most out of great stories in the right surroundings. The surroundings bring context, atmosphere and shared experience.
Who ever listened, rapt, to a great story huddled round a radiator?
Fires, crackling and flickering, give us a shared focus and bathe us in warm light. They keep the spirits our our doubt at bay. They are sociable and memorable. Precious moments in time.
Great stories, like great leaders, are merchants of hope.
As we sit here, socially distant we do not have to be socially isolated. What people see of you as you Zoom or Teams away speaks volumes. Not only how you’re dressed, but what’s behind you. It shows what interests you, and where you’re comfortable. Clever “green screen” backgrounds are efficient, but as evidently false as a Bank’s marketing promise.
Turn up as who you are, where you are like it matters and you’re pleased and relaxed to be in the company of others. You don’t have to impress. You just have to be real.
At an Imperfect Time
There is never a perfect time; only perfect timing.
If we can balance real pleasure in the moment being lived, whilst accepting its passing we can start to do some good.
Whether we choose to see the present time as one of looming danger, or emerging opportunity, we are right.
The difference is the stories we tell ourselves, and the company we keep.
Imperfection presents us with a perfect opportunity.
Do one thing in pursuit of your story. Today. Perfect timing.