FUTURE PROOF. REALLY?

‘Future proofing’ is a beloved phrase in off-site meetings and away days and strategy sessions.

It always sounds hilarious, however many times its repeated.

Can any plan or project be somehow protected from whatever (as in whatever) the future might bring?

Thinking that you are immune from the future, and the changes that are coming, is surely even more dangerous than never thinking about the future at all.

Being certain has a rigid quality, doesn’t it?

Trying to imagine, and then imagining some more, feels more flexible; more open.

Its 3 years since David Bowie died, and recently BBC6 tweeted an interview from 1999 (yes, 20 years ago) between Jeremy Paxman and David Bowie.

David Bowie https://twitter.com/BBC6Music/status/1084588629488488449?s=19

Our genius hero is imagining the future of the internet. Way out there.

Our leaden (certain) interviewer is still extrapolating from the familiar.

David Bowie is looking ahead and seeing – clues to be followed, mysteries to open up, opportunities and dangers that can’t quite be defined.

BowieNet was way ahead of its time.

Perhaps because the mind behind it was far too brilliant to fall into the pedestrian certainty trap of trying to protect against the future.

The opposite of ‘future proofing’?

At the next away day to plan the future, do as the man said, try anything that channels ‘ but he thinks he’d blow our minds’.

CHANGE, DENIAL, AND REINVENTION

Changing a culture involves choices; what to keep, what to lose, what to grow.

Or does it?

Two helpful gurus suggest more contemplation.

Terry Pratchett was characteristically forthright:

‘If you do not know where you come from then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going.

And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong.’

While Buddha….

‘If you want to know your past, look into your present condition.

If you want to know your future, look into your present actions.’

The contemplation route is little longer and a little harder.

It should be.

Changing course in a business, a career, a life, is always more nuanced than a mere traffic light exercise can describe.

And the keep / lose approach tends to play to our vanity; we can hide away parts of the story that don’t suit.

So brands with a long history are tempted to re-invent themselves by losing an important part of their story; businesses choose to forget their origins in the process of reinvention.

Successful and healthy change is steered through full awareness of all the story’s ingredients.

What those wise gurus are protecting us from as we try to change is simple.

They are saving us from denial.

OVER TO YOU, THEN…

Our working lives involve such a simple idea.

We can all be better, we can all do better.

Terms such as – performance review, skill set growth, competencies interview – are all about ‘fixing’ something. Us.

This deep down assumption is a tricky thing for any business, group, or team sincerely trying to change to a more modern, less machine-like way of working.

Supporting rather than managing, trusting, encouraging networks and autonomy, concentrating on impact rather than process, is surely the sort of environment most of us would choose.

It is happening. Open minded charities, community based businesses, some areas of health care and education, innovation teams within established commercial businesses are all experimenting with new, humanising ways of lifting everyone through self-organisation rather than command and control structures. There are some great success stories.

But not everywhere.

And interestingly, the default analysis in these cases is that the teams, the people involved, need ‘fixing’ first.

That may not be right.

Is the answer to be found in comparing a business to a nation state?

Professor of politics Andreas Wimmer has just published a book called ‘Nation Building: Why Some Countries Come Together While Others Fall Apart’.

The unquestioned logic in ‘the West’ is that building a nation involves introducing democracy.

Yet this clearly hasn’t worked.

As nation & history after nation & history are examined, the author makes clear that a nation is built in reverse order.

Something important has to exist first: identification with some sort of collective purpose.

Healthy and real links between groups and ethnicities, between citizens and the State, alliances that bridge divisions: all build up a shared identity, and combat the ‘zero sum game’ mentality necessary for power grabs and abuse.

Then democracy. India is an example.

Might this help the introduction of a self-managing culture in businesses?

There’s a sneaky suspicion amongst some who have been burned by attempting such a transformation that the Leaders of the hierarchy, reluctant to really change, act out in an ‘over to you, then’ way.

Perhaps the first step is to encourage networks to organically build some sense of shared identity and purpose .

And then a self-organising transformation might stand a chance.

 

 

 

 

INTERNATIONAL (CHANGE THE STORY) WOMEN’S DAY

The resolution to mark an International Women’s Day every year on March 8 was made at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen late in in 1910.

From socialist and universal suffrage roots, via the UN endorsement in 1975, the day is now positioned as both joyful and serious: an opportunity to celebrate successes while continuing to press for rights and reminding everyone of the distance still to go in wrongs to be righted. (#MeToo?)

Do we make the best use of the day?

I chanced upon an article about International Women’s Day with the sub-heading ‘Is it still needed?’

The answer was an audit of global abuse of women, by men. (Truly alarming.)

Having lived through several waves and re-frames of feminism, and having built a professional life of enquiry into how organizational cultures, and leadership, can change…..that answer to that question raised a whole heap of worry for me.

The data is real. Yet it encourages a divisiveness between men and women that cannot be helpful.

Let’s link two influences: stay with me.

The first influence thread is Jung, and his exploration and description of ‘archetypes’.

The second is a book (it won the Royal Society Science book of the year in 2017) called ‘Testosterone Rex’ by Cordelia Fine.

Ms Fine unfolds a partisan and enjoyable and mind-opening thesis that behaviour differences between men and women are not scientifically determined by a hormone called testosterone. Some of the science around that biological / chemical drive theory of what we call male (and female) behaviour is wrong.

Which would mean much of what we think we know about men and women – and think unchangeable – is a social construct.

And back to Jung. His notion of archetypes is deliciously elusive, but so so important. The archetypes of mother, father, sage, trickster, serpent, gold etc are not actual ‘types’ of people or of objects.

They are entirely symbolic. But powerful. Their potency appears when the circumstances of a situation or a relationship, through millennia of human experience, conjure them as instantly recognised forces. Think of grammar and language. ’Grammar’ itself doesn’t really exist; but becomes vital as the scaffolding upon which meaning, via language, is made.

Both these influences invite us to recognise and consider shifting our unconscious constructs. We can develop the archetype, we can change the story.

Lots of progress has been made since the first IWD in 1911.

But have our social constructs of – the perfect mother, the ideal father, success in the world, changed much at all?

If Jung and latterly Fine are even only partly right, do we not have the power at some level to change them? To move away from the oppressor / victim story?

If on International Women’s Day we could begin to enrich and expand – with stories, examples, conversations – what we mean and understand by’ mother’, ‘father’, ‘hero’, ‘businessperson’ for example, some serious change – for everyone – could begin to happen.

That really would be a celebration.

UNEXPECTED ITEM IN TRAINING AREA

It’s so easy to give the ‘take some time out to think’ advice: much harder to act on it.  Like daily exercise and early nights we all know that we would feel better.

But who can just drop the ‘priority got to do’ list? Everyone’s daily reality now is of demands and pressures that require constant vigilance to keep chaos from the door. (Or if it’s already there, from breaking through).  Inevitably, it can feel hard to justify some hours out of the office to think. To think about change, say, or leadership, or simply to share experiences.

Thus most training days, almost whatever the subject, involve detailed agenda,
minute by minute day plans, and usually plenty of reading material for extra heft. While completely understandable, this can all become a justification process of
such effectiveness that real, long lasting benefits can be squeezed out.

Because ironically, the biggest ‘ahas’ are unplanned and unexpected: occurring
when space opens up to let them happen.  Again and again I hear reported that it was the unplanned discussion or encounter that produced a new thought or perspective.

If you are able to ‘take some time out to think’, and find yourself reviewing any
power-packed training on offer, check for some space and time that isn’t
completely accounted for.

Oscar Wilde’s take on this was that ‘To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly
modern intellect’.

Go a step further: demand the unexpected.

WILDLY OK

It was time for a big discussion amongst the whole group, so a couple of us watched and listened as the conversation cricket got underway.

When the fast bowlers had got a bit tired, the skillful slow bowlers began to dominate. There were clever little placings of un-returnable comments: spirit–sapping observations about what was going on in the organization.  A classic stream of ‘we’re just not good enough’.

It’s usually better to let this all play out.  But I didn’t want to miss any shifts in mood. (Ever since Kim Jong Un re-habilitated the word ‘dotard’, it does feel important to keep some sense of youthful alert energy going, don’t you think?)

So I kept a tally, literally, of the ‘damning’ versus the ‘possibly encouraging’ deliveries, and a tally of how they were returned. It’s the first time I’ve tried to chart visually what happens in a group as the tone and nature of the ‘ball in play’ changes.

We know from Freud that what’s really going on at a group level is a honed and habitual self- criticism. It’s a sort of super-ego ‘bait and switch’ script of mis-directed yet comfortably recognisable judgements.  Oddly, when you record the points made by the critical group-voice, you begin to realise what a bully this voice can be. It becomes clear how limited is this script: and so repetitive.

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Only as the scales began to turn again, with non –judgement, and the discussion of small nuggets of work that had gone ‘not too badly’, did anything of value or real interest to the group surface. We’ve talked before here about finding more subtle and helpful interpretations of ‘positive’ v ‘negative’.

The ‘keeping score’ experiment revealed a simple reason for seeking to help such discussions re-balance. The critical voice may be a necessary ritual, but it brings only the known. It can bring nothing that is new. The more supportive balanced voice begins to bring some self-understanding, to suggest real possibilities.

The other Freud tip here is that contradictory feelings exist, and must exist, at the same time. Hate and love, trust and suspicion and so on. So the trick in these real conversations about difficult areas of change is not to let the critical voice drown out the supportive voice: to watch out for that super – ego dominance with which we are all so familiar.

Your organization may be a much more balanced creation than you feared –
wildly OK, even.

 

 

 

 

UNUSUAL COLLABORATION

The designated adult in any situation will remind everyone at some point to collaborate. From play room to board room we have all heard ‘Just play nicely’, or ‘I want you to work together on this’.

When any re-organisation or transformation programme is announced, the term ‘collaborate’ will appear right up front. We talk as if collaboration were a little second -nature habit that we just temporarily forgot about.

But it isn’t.

Lots of ‘change misery’ is caused by an unconscious taking for granted of what is in truth a profound, particular, and valuable skill. Collaboration is not like breathing: it takes practice, it is learned.

Sceptical?

Consider animals, as Dr Doolittle nearly said.

An intrinsic dynamic of animal behaviour is ‘resource guarding’. In any sub-optimal environment (which means anywhere that doesn’t feel completely secure and benign) a dog, say, will display what appears to be hugely aggressive behaviour if the food supply (for example) is approached by a stranger.

The gradual training to trust that that there is no threat, that more food will appear is one of the most highly regarded and prized behaviour change programmes that experts in the animal behaviour field offer.

Back to human animals.

Collaboration at any level involves sharing. Sharing resources. In any hierarchical structure (Safe? Benign?) we have all seen behaviour that might be called aggressive – or unhelpful. It is designed to protect resources: a natural and valid behavioural response to an unsafe environment.

The word ‘rob’ is hidden in ‘collaboration’. An unconscious but powerful fear lurks there. If you really want collaboration, then first set up the conditions for collaboration.

Encourage and support a culture that is not a zero-sum game.

Reassure everyone, kindly and patiently, that they no longer need to aggressively guard resources.

Collaboration can begin when the growling has stopped.

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