I blame Nike.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the ‘just do it’ line, and two decades of swooshes have changed us all.

All fixes are quick, now.  Throw your energy and will at a problem and you will prevail. But listening to those responsible for making real change happen, from the Board to the Bored in any organization, soon reveals that the gap between this cheerleading and everyday reality can be a very painful place.

Is it because we try to change too fast?

Do we all expect too much? Of ourselves, of others?  Or do we expect too little? Perhaps self-absorbed?

If current thinkers are all too busy winning to help us out, then maybe thinkers of the past may encourage fresh reflection.

Love him or loathe him, Sigmund Freud never disappoints.   He was 74 when he wrote “Civilisation and Its Discontents”.  And his work is relevant because any organization is a sort of ‘society’, a sort of microcosm of a civilization.

Freud explores the human experience of creating, and belonging to, a civilization or society.  Just as with an individual’s psyche, the experience is one of constant struggle. The struggle is between conflicting drives and impulses: the drive to connect and love and belong -v- the drive to pull away, and to aggression.

In creating a society, or organisation, that brings certain benefits to all, individual members suppress certain natural instincts. This brings both unhappiness and guilt (the mechanism for suppressing those natural instincts)

Oddly, this can help us. We can now think of our organisations as always dynamic- a constant forcefield pattern of forward/back or up/down or in/out.  And we can acknowledge a reality – that ‘discontent’ is a natural and intrinsic aspect of any organization, a mini- society.

For Leaders, it suggests moving from not having tried hard enough (not having ‘just done it’) to watching with care and compassion for opportunities to shift that normal, human balance of happiness and discontent wherever it humanly can be.

Organisations aren’t machines.

Swap the running shoes for some Freudian slippers.



A Japanese proverb (literally: ‘7 falls, 8 getting up’) extols resilience, and is the title of the incredibly accomplished second book by the young Japanese autistic author Naoki Higashida.


Both this and his previous book, “The Reason I Jump”, are translated and introduced by David Mitchell (‘Cloud Atlas’, ‘The Bone Clocks’, father of an autistic son) who highlights the insights, understanding, and awareness that Naoki shares about the ways in which the intention behind communication can be lost or confounded.  And it made me think of Leadership communication mis-steps that have been discussed with me recently.

No, the parallel is not that Leaders may be autistic.

The parallel is that a gifted autistic writer is so engaged with when and how these mis-steps happen, that his analysis and explanation may also help ….’neurotypicals’.

Two small themes feel very useful.

Naoki analyses how one day instead of saying ‘thank you’ to a carer, he says – and has no control over this – ‘have a good day’. The moment is lost, his meaning is lost, and the possibility of connection is lost. He describes how he and the carer are standing in the hall near a pair of shoes. His mind (again, unbidden and not under his control) connects and references the previous occasion he was standing by these shoes: when it was relevant to use the phrase he had spent a long time learning..…‘have a good day’.

A coachee this week, while ‘neurotypical’, described a similar sort of process.
By trying too hard to….. ‘be a leader’, she had replicated this very dynamic. By referencing an admired, a prototypical, leadership response rather than attending to what was needed by her team member there and then, true connection failed. Naoki cannot re-wire, but we can; we can make the effort to respond to the particularity with which we are faced, and not channel previous, or other people’s, encounters.

Naoki is touching, too, when he describes the damaging effect of criticism. He describes a constant wrestling with an awareness that a mistake has been made. The last thing needed in the whole world is repeated additional criticism from others. Don’t ‘neurotypicals’ feel this too?

Two small reminders in a surprising book packed with insights: deal with the current situation (not a remembered or imagined one) and dial back the criticism. Thank you, Naoki.