January 16, 2018

If you want to understand organizations (and the world)…

Earth from spaceSomebody said—I can’t remember who—if you want to understand organizations, try changing them. That’s a good insight, in my opinion. Certainly it’s my experience that making changes to organizations reveals all the mechanisms by which they really work.

We can go a little further with this…

If you want to understand how some wider entity works—let’s say the world—try changing it too. That’ll reveal to you how things really happen round here, or not, as the case may be.

That’s what I’ve found. And you?

Abrasiveness loses in the end

Andrew Mitchell MPAn interesting lesson highlighted in UK politics this week…

UK Government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell finally resigned after being abusive to a policeman on security duty in Downing Street (outside the Prime Minister’s Office) several weeks ago. Exactly what was said is in dispute, but it’s clear we can say it wasn’t pretty.

OK, so he was stressed out or something. The trouble is it was a recurring pattern of behavior. And from a government minister especially, it was unacceptable to most. Leaving aside whether he should have resigned, or been sacked straightaway (let’s not get into that here), there’s an interesting lesson about his personal “capital”, or rather lack of it…

BBC Political Editor, Nick Robinson summed up the point thus: “Ultimately Andrew Mitchell was brought down by himself. The arrogance and the abrasiveness which made David Cameron choose him as Chief Whip meant that he had far too few friends when things went wrong. Few ministers, few backbenchers rushed to his defence and instead many muttered that he really ought to quit.”

The takeaway is obviously this…

Those who build up too many enemies take a fall in the end.

I find that reassuring. You may do too.

Nick’s full article is here… http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20013791

How readily do you laugh at yourself?

Three smiling people(Occasioned by a certain politician failing to see the funny side of the routine humor dispensed on its cover by a well-known current affairs magazine.)

What do we do when someone attempts a joke at our expense? Fight back or just shrug it off? The choice we make says a lot about our maturity and affects how people perceive our presence.

If we protest at the kind of joke other targets regularly just ignore, we end up looking like we’re thin-skinned, can’t take a joke, and are overly precious about ourselves. Our complaining just makes fools of us. And we end up giving credence to trivia.

Better to just laugh it off, or ignore the humor altogether. Then we seem comfortable in our own skins, and so more influential, and the ones others follow.

Or even better, be the first to laugh at ourselves.

How do you make sure you rise above the cheap shots?

Why some arguments are pointless, and how to improve your world in 2012

The earth from space with the sun risingHappy New Year! May it be a good one for you and confound all gloomy predictions.

Often in an extreme can be found its opposite. As atomic physicist, Niels Bohr said, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” Items can seem to have several contradictory characteristics.

Light behaves either as a wave or a stream of particles depending on the experiment—two apparently mutually exclusive properties.

Bohr also said, “everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real” meaning everything we experience involves sub-atomic particles with a dual nature of mass and energy. In other words, all is not what it seems. Our senses deceive us.

For us…

When faced with an argument, the useful question is often not which “truth” is right, but what makes the opposite truths whole; what is the picture in which they both co-exist?

It’s profoundly liberating to stop trying to choose between competing truths and instead hold them both in balance.

What changes in your life if you decide there is not one right answer to a question but two opposite ones? How much energy can be saved from pointless arguments either as participant or onlooker?

You’ll find…

It’s a fundamental change in attitude—and experience—to expect two answers instead of one.

Even in ourselves, we often know deep down the opposite of our own argument is also true. Yet we make others play the other part in our own debate, and they will. They’ll give us back the argumentative energy we put out.

We can choose a different way…

We can reconcile our own inner conflict. Then we will be whole and peaceful in ourselves and experience a world around us that is balanced and calm. And that in fact is the only way. It’s an energy thing.

Saving our world, if that’s not too strong a word, can only start within—with our own return to wholeness.

And we can see pointless arguments for what they are.

All the best for 2012.

Clarity doesn’t make good radio

David Cameron at Euro SummitAt the level of the system – how things work – it’s actually very simple: The UK is not in the Euro and should not be part of stronger arrangements to protect that currency. The necessary rigour is yet to be achieved among the Euro members but when it is it will be self-evident that the UK is not part of the mechanism and nor should it be. The whole issue is not a political question. It’s at heart a design problem – designing a currency system more robust than the storms it must endure.

Meanwhile it suited David Cameron to make a song and dance and pretend to his right wingers that he was being tough with Europe by declining to be part of a new treaty – somewhat convenient politically, but declining was the only conceivable outcome all along. The only reason it’s in doubt is because the Eurozone arrangements aren’t yet as tough as they need to be and so it still looks like the UK could perhaps accomodate them.

Rather boringly, that’s all there is to the story, but clarity doesn’t make good radio (or TV). Clarity doesn’t fill the airwaves and the column inches (or Prime Minister’s Questions), so we have lots of secondary manufactured debate – all of it off the point, and some of it rather destructive. Maybe it has entertainment value, but it doesn’t have much to do with running the country, or the world.

Seeing how things truly work in a systems sense reveals the spurious nature of much of the coverage.

Where else are we rejecting simple explanations that fit when we can explore more complicated ones that don’t?

Is leading revolutionary change always unpaid work?

Mahatma GandhiIn closing, the host feels it necessary to say that he does “real work” too and not all his time can be spent leading on the issue of the meeting – one of the really big challenges of our time.

Doesn’t that strike you as curious?

How come we don’t pay ourselves to work on the really big challenges? How come leading change in society is something we do when we can in our unpaid time?

It seems our economy is organized around paying people to work on the small changes – the incremental, evolutionary stuff, the well-known and the defined.

Big, poorly-understood, ill-defined, revolutionary, leading edge effort seem to be unpaid – not proper “real” work – and perhaps only for the indulgent.

Have we got that backwards, or is it just a timeless constant?

Feedback is not a negotiation

St Pauls with protestors camped outsideThe protestors have achieved a great deal of publicity. Some of them, without intending to, have caused a religious institution (St Paul’s Cathedral in London) to lose its balance (about whose side it’s on), with senior figures resigning.

The protestors are unclear about what exactly they want. Some lobbyists for the other side (the financially greedy, as the protestors see it) ask us to dismiss the protests because “they have no clear demands; no alternative to offer.”

The lobbyists see the situation as a negotiation: “Tell us what you want and we’ll give up some of what we have” (but largely carry on as before).

When someone says they don’t like what we’re doing, it is tempting to say “what do you want me to do instead?” and make a negotiation out of it.

But really we’re getting feedback, and it’s up to us to change our behavior when someone says they don’t like it. That’s the only way to grow as a person.

If we want to be accepted (by ourselves as much as anyone else), WE need to work out what to do with the feedback.

We imagine the targets of the Occupy protestors’ ire care nothing about being accepted. Do you think that’s true?

At St Paul’s, it seems to be taking someone of the Bishop of London’s wisdom to bring stability to the situation. (Dr Richard Chartres impressed many with his address at William and Kate’s wedding.)

So what’s different about the Bishop?

Well, I suggest he has a particular balance that comes from dealing with opposing ideas and reconciling them, and, I suspect, accepting feedback.

How do we know this?

Because Dr Richard has a certain charisma, a presence; and these two things go together: reconciling opposing forces within ourselves increases our appeal to other people. Do this as a lifelong effort and you have a person with the personal authority of the Bishop of London.

And that’s why feedback is best just accepted, and not negotiated away.

And why reconnecting the financial and the ethical will work out well for those that most need to.

What a shocker: Trader acts in accordance with what he values

City traderAs do we all.

Did you hear the surprise?

If the world wide web could gasp, you would have heard it from mid-ocean. A city trader said candidly that he hoped for another recession because he could make a lot of money from one.

Various commentators then rather missed the point and started discussing whether the “man in the street” could make money from a recession, which of course they mostly can’t.

This episode brought into sharp focus a vital principle: Individuals always, always, always act in accordance with what matters to them – not what matters to us, and not what matters to that averaged expectation we call the “public interest.” Expect anything else and we will be disappointed. And what’s worse: Pretend that this isn’t so and we make our thinking and our dialogue worse than useless.

And yet…

It’s extraordinary how often we hear policy makers, commentators and others talking as if we can expect individuals to behave in the common interest – traders to always want economic prosperity. Now they might, but only in so far as they personally value the “public interest,” and they may well be under-delivering for their employer in doing so.

Please forgive me if all this is obvious to you.

(Whether international policy makers and regulators should allow large markets in financial instruments that contribute nothing to public good is another subject.)

Here are some everyday takeaways…

If people behave in ways that surprise us, it means we don’t properly understand what’s driving them. So what are we missing?

If we want people to behave in a different way, we need to change what they see as important somehow.

The most deep-seated drivers of behavior are usually unconscious ones, long since programmed in, probably around age 10. As Milton Erickson said “most of your life is unconsciously determined.”

You probably see lots of examples of people not understanding the drivers in a situation, or even not realizing that they need to. What tales have you to tell?

Is our instinctive, defensive response to competition the right one?

When the going gets tough, when markets contract, when budgets decline, when promotion is rare, our instinctive response is to retreat and defend what we have. Parts of our brain that kept us alive in a more dangerous world respond vigorously to the threats we perceive. They compel us to withdraw from any circumstance where we could be vulnerable, such as a situation where we share our knowledge and resources in collaborating with another.

This response to threat can be so strong it’s barely a conscious process at all. The strength of our defensive reaction leaves us with a certainty that it’s unquestionably the right one.

But is it? Does our hasty retreat from collaboration serve us?

Perhaps the most effective response to scarcity and threat is the exact opposite, to collaborate, to share what we have, to form new teams, to focus on our strengths, and allow others to do on our behalf what they do best, even though that requires sacrifice. Then the whole may succeed on the bigger stage and our individual outcome may be better than if we’d acted alone.

Suppose it does serve us to collaborate: How do we make this happen? How do we take our people along with us?

One key is articulating a compelling future so that the long term gain seems worth the short term pain.

We need high levels of integrity and to seek that quality in others. To be trusted and so involved in the best opportunities, we need to be seen as a mature and honest collaborator.

We need the skills to work intelligently with the interests and values of all and balance these to optimise the whole for the ultimate gain of all.

Are our defensive responses to increased competition with colleagues, other departments, other organizations, other countries, the responses that should guide us? Or are we better to resist our primitive instincts and collaborate rather than defend? And if so, how?

How do you respond to competition?

If what happens isn’t what you expected

A mistake we sometimes make is expecting people to act in a way that isn’t aligned with their interests. They won’t do that. Not ever.

You hear people saying things like, “They should do such and such”. What they really mean is, “It would suit me very well if they acted in line with what I want to see happen.” Well, it isn’t going to, unless they have direct authority over the other person or they share the same values.

One example that comes up often is commentators saying that entrepreneurs and business owners “shouldn’t sell their businesses”. Instead, they’re thinking, they should press on with the slog of growing their operations and continue, or even increase the risks they are running with their personal finances for the public good rather than take the rewards of their efforts. The commentators are dreaming if they think this is going to happen, unless the personal interest aligns with the public interest.

Another example is expecting market traders to act in line with the interests of the wider economy. That isn’t going to happen either, unless it suits the individuals concerned, and there’s no point in talking about it as if it is. You hear this issue overlooked in the media on a daily basis.

Please don’t make the mistake of expecting people to behave other than in line with their own interests. It won’t happen. If you need someone to do something different from what they’re doing, you’ll need to change their interests somehow or help them understand what their interests really are – show them the value, change the rewards or even appeal to the importance of their relationship with you. Remember also some of the interests are unconsciously held values – ones they’re unaware of – probably the most important ones, in fact. I’m not saying people never have altruistic interests. Sometimes, or even often they do, in which case they will act in line with them, but if they don’t, they won’t.

My suggested takeaway: Understand the interests in a situation and expect a future that flows from that. If you want to influence that future, work on the interests. Anything else is a waste of time and will lead to confusion.

If what happens isn’t what you expected, it means you didn’t understand the interests properly.

Has that happened to you? It certainly has to me.