October 18, 2017

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.

Respect and goodwill go a long way

Barack Obama and Mitt RomneyLeaving aside the politics, and the relative merit of either presidential candidate…

Mitt Romney made an interesting comment—interesting in the context of the theme here: “I learned as the Governor of Massachusetts that the best achievements are shared achievements, that respect and goodwill go a long way and are usually returned in kind.”

BBC Washington correspondent, Jonny Dymond’s impression was that he had spoken in a voice “that, for once, seemed to come from the heart.” Finally, in the eleventh hour of the campaign, whether through exhaustion or desperation, one candidate seemed to find a new authenticity, at least in the eyes of one observer. From the uninvolved position of the other side of the Atlantic, it’ll be interesting to see if that makes any discernible impact on the outcome.

Meantime, support for the principle of co-operative working from an unexpected source, even if he has own reasons for saying so at this point.

Jonny Dymond’s full piece is here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-20192615.

Is slow adaptation the price we pay for democracy?

High Street sceneIn the West in particular, we believe in democracy, almost without thinking, but is it being abused?

You see…

When we elect a leader, we need them to lead, even if, in fact, we don’t like the consequences for us very much. That’s their job – to lead. That’s what we put them there for, not to spend their time working on getting re-elected.

But are we complicit? When the time comes to re-elect, do we reward the strong leader, or the politician who tells us it’s all going to be OK (when we suspect it isn’t)?

Modern political leaders often don’t seem to truly lead. They conceal uncomfortable truths. They are obsessed with opinion polls. They duck the tough decisions that we might say it’s their duty to take. They push the problems down the road, as the challenges all the while get more serious. Witness the Eurozone, Rio, public debt, and more.

And so problems don’t get handled.

Is the price we pay for democracy slow adaptation to change and weak response to crises?

How could it be different?

And is it a bit like this in organizations?

Do you take the tough decisions you need to take?

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?

What’s the social function of competitive sport?

Rugby playerHow do we benefit from playing or watching competitive sport? Clearly there are health and fitness benefits from active participation, but what about the social benefits of a game?

The behavior of some of the followers of some sports might seem to preclude any social benefits, but even in those cases, the individuals involved are gaining a social benefit by belonging to a “tribe” of some sort, even if the rest of us would rather they didn’t.

Watching a game of some kind is obviously, at its best, fun, exciting and even invigorating. We bond with our fellow supporters of the same side, but what about the opposition? Does a hard-played, seriously-supported match strengthen relationships with the other side? And if so, how does that work? Presupposing that’s a desirable outcome, what does it depend on?

Is it about shared experience? Or an opportunity to work off a certain kind of energy?

Perhaps if we have the maturity to see ourselves as not just part of the tribe supporting our favorite team, but also part of that bigger tribe of fans of the sport, for example, or even just fans of high achievement in anything, then we deepen relationships with the other side.

What’s different in those sports where antagonism with the other side prevails? Is it down to a greater need to define ourselves as against another side, as NOT something? Does it indicate a lack of any other sense of identity?

Here’s my take on what’s worth thinking about…

1. Our ability to be aware of our own tribal behavior.

2. Our flexibility and willingness to align with a broader tribe when that’s what matters.

3. A sense of identity that isn’t defined as being NOT something else.

These points might apply to other situations perhaps, including ones where the stakes are higher (if that’s possible!)

What do you think?

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?

What can we learn from Aung San Suu Kyi’s continuing appeal?

Picture of Aung San Suu KyiAung San Suu Kyi’s continues to attract great affection, support and interest both within and beyond Burma.

What The Economist (Nov 20th, 2010) describes “as the abiding affection and respect Miss Suu Kyi commands” is due not least to “her grace, courage and good humour” and, I would add, “integrity”. The lesson for us all, I submit, is the power of these qualities, including in everyday life and the workplace.

North Korean leadership – irrational or just not understood?

North Korean leadership – irrational or just not understood? And a suggested takeaway (no, not a Korean carry out (!) – an idea to use).

North Korea’s leadership is frequently referred to as “irrational”, but maybe it only seems irrational because we don’t understand its way of looking at the world – a very different viewpoint and values. Would the Chinese call the North Korean leadership irrational? Probably not. Being that bit closer, they may see how North Korea’s actions make sense in Kim Jong Il’s “map of the world”, frustrating though they may be for the Chinese, and dangerous for everyone.

At a slightly less dramatic level – only slightly, mind – somebody recently called “irrational” another party in a dispute. Same applies. Unless a person is mentally ill (perhaps Kim Jong Il is), there’s really no such thing as “irrational”. If somebody’s decisions don’t seem to make sense, it just means we don’t understand their perspective, and instead are trying to evaluate using our map.

Here’s the takeaway I suggest…

If you think you’re dealing with irrationality, accept instead you don’t understand the other’s perspective, and look for the explanation – it’ll be there. You don’t have to agree with it, just accept their right to have their own perspective. Then you’ll stand more chance of figuring out what to do to solve the problem.

And the underlying principle…

“The map is not the territory” – so said Alfred Korzybski in 1931, with echoes by NLPers since. Our model of the world is a pale shadow of the world itself. Mine is different from yours and neither are the same as the world itself. You have as much right to your model as I have to mine, and we both know much and yet also very little.