September 19, 2017

Archives for January 2013

To change the whole, stop trying to

Earth from spaceGiven the large scale challenges facing the world, it’s tempting to get on a mission of changing the whole system, thinking that’s the only way we can make progress.

Trouble is…

Pick any major issue you like and it’s easy to show that the system which determines it is incredibly complex, well beyond our individual ability to comprehend, much less control. Attempt to change the whole and you’re likely to be rebuffed, and if you persist in trying to change the whole, funnily enough, you make it harder for the whole to change, because you build up resistance and block the energy flow.

Sit with this for long and you realize the most you can do is something smaller. You can only change what you’re in touch with. However, the more you are connected to other people, the more they will change too, and the more you are wise in what you do, the more successful your change will be.

Once enough people get that they can’t change the whole; and instead take the small actions they can take, then the whole starts to change.

It takes a certain acceptance—of our significant insignificance, you could say.

And a certain belief—in the power of small action, and the power of connection.

Do you give them time to think?

Group of people listeningDo you even give yourself time to think?

Culturally, in the West at least, we behave as if we’re expected to move into action quickly, and usually we are.

But what if the action we take isn’t the right action?

An action taken in haste is often exactly the opposite of what a measured response would be, one that is sensitive to the longer term, systemic effect. Reacting to the symptoms of a problem, otherwise known as events, often makes the underlying fundamental problem harder to solve. Some time to reflect might develop that understanding.

We have a choice…

React to events, or give pause and address the underlying issue?

Worth bearing in mind when we deal with other people, whether professionally or personally and it applies to families just as much as to organizations. Developing either is more successful when we appreciate the system we are dealing with.

Buddhists would say: Right vision, right intention, right action, in that order, and with emphasis on vision.

Creating the space for others to think before they act is likely to bring you better results, especially in the long run.

Just remember, you’re swimming against the cultural tide in doing so. And that’s why it matters.

Are you an architect or a gardener?

House and gardenIt is said that “The policy maker should act as a gardener not an architect.” In other words, the policy maker will do better to support good ideas that emerge rather than direct from on high.

I connect that with experience of some organizations that assume new ideas cannot come from external sources and innovation can only be initiated within. But they have no monopoly on knowledge.

On the other hand, sometimes the leader really does know best.

When it comes to change, do you direct as an architect, or nurture new growth as a gardener?

Do you develop a vision and then command its realization, or do you hold space for new things to emerge?

The art, of course, is in holding these opposing dynamics in balance.

Are you a model of not knowing?

Group working on a projectOr do you always give an answer even if you’re not sure?

One of the greatest gifts a leader can give their team (and themselves) is to show that it’s OK to say you don’t know, or at least it’s much better to say you don’t know than to pretend you do.

Here’s the benefit…

When we accept we don’t know, we open ourselves up to new data and the learning we need, and we ensure our decisions aren’t corrupted by false information. Model that and we’ll create a culture of transparency. Pretend we know and everybody’s feedback loops get confused, including our own.

It sounds so obvious, and yet our egos tend to get in the way.

For some, the “Italian Flag” method (from Patrick Godfrey and others) can help. Traditionally, a judgement call in a review, for example, might be seen as having two outcomes: OK or not OK, go or no go, green or red. Add-in white as a possibility and we have: OK, not OK, and don’t know, and of course, the colors of the Italian flag —green, white and red. And we have the chance of uncovering uncertainty.

That’s a technical approach.

At the human level, it’s simpler… The words “I don’t know” will do.

How do you model not knowing?

I’ve decided to make available the notes (6 pages) from a talk on leadership I gave recently. These include specific insights into how to get organisations to learn and change and increase their performance. You can get a copy here…

Brinksmanship: A relationship skill?

Hotel meeting roomWe rather admire the ability of the tough negotiator; the one who secures a favorable outcome at the last minute when the other side blinks first.

Perhaps that’s a component of a versatile skill set; part of the rough and tumble of public or private life, strangely somehow contributing to the bond between the people involved. It certainly sometimes seems that way.

And yet…

Brinkmanship precludes the collaboration that might lead to a creative solution; an outcome that is more than the sum of the parts. If the last minute is all we ever have, how can we generate something new?

Perhaps we can aspire to something more than brinksmanship.

Perhaps the mark of the true leader is taking us beyond confrontation and creating the space for new solutions to emerge.

What do you think?

What we need to learn next might be “counter-intuitive”

Woman reflectingIn fact, it probably is.

We tend to dismiss new input which doesn’t fit with our view of things, simply because it doesn’t feel right. Our unconscious tells us something is “off”. “Intuitively” we know something else to be true.

Or do we?

Could be that the new information which feels counter-intuitive is the very thing we need to pay attention to; the very thing that is showing us our “worldview” needs an update; that the unconscious patterns we’re so used to following need rearranging.

Real growth in our knowledge begins with a little discomfort. The more important the learning, the more likely it will feel ill-fitting at first.

As Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching…

“Mystery is the doorway to understanding.”

Be open to the counter-intuitive. It can teach us a lot.

I’ve decided to make available the notes (6 pages) from a talk on leadership I gave recently. These include specific insights into how to get organisations to learn and change and increase their performance. You can get a copy here…

What if they were doing their best?

Three people in a meetingWhat would your response be then?

We often feel other people have let us down in some way, or maybe they’ve let others down, or even themselves. We feel they could have done better.

Maybe they could.

Or maybe, actually, they couldn’t…

Maybe, in fact, they were doing the best they could at the time. Or at least, we’ll make more progress if we assume they were doing their best despite how it might seem.

The thing is…

We really don’t know what else is going on in people’s lives. We don’t know what else they’re having to take into consideration.

The NLP discipline has this as an expectation—in fact, it’s stronger than that—a requirement that practitioners act as if “people make the best decisions available to them at the time”.

Over the years, partly through my own mistakes of course, I’ve learned just how much mileage there is in this principle—just how different things are when it’s recognized.

We’ll get a better outcome if we cut other people (and ourselves) a little slack and accept they were doing their best. Sure, we might well seek to shape things for the future, but that’s different. Also, we might need to decide whether “their best” is acceptable relative to commitments that have been made e.g. to an employer. Again, that’s different.

People truly are doing the best they can at the time. It’s a characteristic of living systems. Putting it another way, given everything they had to consider including their own and others’ interests, they didn’t know how to do any better, because if they did, they would have done it. They need something they don’t yet have. Perhaps we can help them learn whatever it is they need to learn for the future.

Try a little forgiveness in the present. There’s more chance of influencing the future than the past, and more still if we accept people are doing their best at the time. And that goes for you too. When we apply the principle to ourselves, more often than not the world around us gains when we stop beating ourselves up about past mistakes.

I’ve decided to make available the notes (6 pages) from a talk on leadership I gave recently. These include specific insights into how to get organisations to learn and change and increase their performance. You can get a copy here…