Mindfulness went mainstream ages ago. Why is that?

Ah, it has ‘full’ in it.

A possible pace change or respite or breath-take time has become, courtesy of current business productivity practices, another opportunity to do more.

The concept masquerades as an opportunity to turn inward and re-charge, but has quickly become another productivity tool.

An amazing array of businesses across all sectors now routinely incorporate some version of mindfulness-like activities into development and training programmes.

Like the school curriculum, another pursuit is squeezed into an unchanging time frame, with unchanging resource levels.

Is truly empty space ever available?

And would any of us recognise it?

‘Beware the barrenness of a busy life’ said Socrates (possibly rather threateningly).

He characteristically gets to the nub of it all.

When busy-ness and productivity drives activity, something very serious happens.

Stronger than displacement, more critical than focus or commitment, more worrying than having no time for reflection, is one unintended consequence of ‘not believing in stopping’.

Socrates uses the word ‘barren’.

There is no longer any potential or possibility.

By excluding one state that is a sure-fire way to replenish and nurture and nourish – doing nothing – we are rendered unable to create or to recognise possibilities or potential, any more.

This is what the burn-out state of many current clients really involves.

Rather than finding themselves, however occasionally, in what Gestalt theory teaches us to call ‘The Fertile Void’, they find themselves simply…void.

Emptiness can be full too – of ‘stuff not yet happened or identified’.

But first, the trick is to find it and embrace it and be in it.

The space really is the place.


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.






A few years ago when everything was in black and white, an Art Director of my acquaintance found himself in an unscheduled closeted meeting with many, many drinks.

The cocktail list was limited, but just varied enough to generate all those feelings of experiment and excitement and fun that sustain unwise activities.

Yet a very wise observation was the result.

He and his companions began to note the true constraints of that list.

A deceptively limited range of ingredients was offered within the assorted combinations.


‘Just like that bloomin image library we’re all using’ he mused.

And we were away.

He was living through, he said, the gradual reduction in the visual bravery and imagination of his teams – and himself – because everyone was working with the same cocktail ingredients.

Everyone was drinking from the same well. (An obvious analogy in retrospect)

This came back to me the other day in a Leadership development session. (No cocktails)

Everyone was very certain of their own positions, the approaches available, and of what was possible.

All were working, of course, with the same ‘inputs’.

Perhaps none of us have realised the subtle unintended consequences of gradually reducing the ingredients, the limits, the stimulus with which we work – whatever our field – over time.

It’s not that the work is impoverished. (Although it surely is.)

It’s that our identification with what we have in our hands seems to become stronger: too strong.

In the absence of fresh experience and perspective, we hold the cocktail we have chosen as a sort of self-identifier.

And find it more and more strange to imagine, whether that is a different point of view or a different self.

Sure, it takes a bit of effort to keep encouraging new ingredients and possibilities to flow into your working life. But it’s vital.

First step might be to create from experimental ingredients a brand new cocktail.

Called ….’Possibility Generator’ perhaps?


The White Queen told Alice that in her youth she could believe “6 impossible things before breakfast”.

Six impossible things? Piece of cake.

Stopping believing in something that has always seemed unassailably true is much tougher I reckon.

I lay before you: a team workshop using female archetypes, an Irish referendum result, and an animated film.


In Jung ‘s collective unconscious live the archetypes that drive or inform or influence our instinctive and unlearned patterns of behaviour: images and stories playing out in our psyches and lives. In a professional context, they can be a truly helpful way of understanding a situation and of finding new narratives. Female archetypes are famously exploited by storytellers and filmmakers and include descriptions such as.…amazon, father’s daughter, lover, maiden, mother, queen, huntress, sage, mystic, survivor….. We can find ourselves somewhere in there, can’t we?


The stories that won the day in Ireland on Friday seem to me to transcend all of them.

After seeing the indescribably beautiful and perfect film ‘The Breadwinner’, that archetype list again just falls short.

Does a ‘patriarchal bias’ extend …..even to the most widely accepted model of our human unconscious?

Not so impossible.

What a great development for #metoo, to rediscover and rewrite female archetypes.

Time for #whotoo.image2





You may have muttered it yourself today.

‘Never enough time to think’?

Organisations of all shapes and sizes report staff experiencing being ….overwhelmed. With not enough time to think, decisions and actions are made and taken on the hoof. The emphasis is on ‘just get things done’. Soon, those who ‘just do’ are valued over those who ask questions. The driving force is all about efficiency, completion, and moving on.

There’s another force around ‘no time to think’ that we never talk about.

A moral one.

In the May/June edition of ‘The Idler’, Andrew Smart reminds us of one of the many benefits of idleness by re-introducing the work of Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), a political theorist and philosopher who was particularly interested in the relationship of ‘thought’ to totalitarianism and freedom.

In her book ‘The Life of The Mind’, she explored the idea that stopping to think (avoiding thought-less-ness) was an activity of positive moral good.

Andrew Smart summarises her argument:

Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional standardised codes of expression and conduct protect us from reality. True engagement with the world, and morality, requires that we stop to think’.

The woman who for ever will be associated with the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ in the public consciousness suggests that the ability to stop, observe, become a spectator, and think can condition us not to do wrong.

It makes you see ‘protected me-time’ in a totally new light, doesn’t it?


If the business you are in involves life and death and safety, then it will be hard to laugh at the words ‘best practice’.

Health care, transport, looking after small people, for example, bring such responsibilities that the need for some place-marker for standards of professionalism and necessary achievement seems obvious. Of course it does.

The question is whether ‘best practice’, which sounds so desirable, is a sufficient place marker: whether the beliefs and assumptions it drags in its wake are ….damaging.  These assumptions include-

  • what works in one place will work in another,
  • everyone operates in an identical way,
  • that proven success in certain contexts means success in all contexts,
  • that following an agreed process trumps responding to an unprecedented situation in a new way.

Its machine thinking, isn it?

Yet when you learn something, and finally master it, has it not been adapted in some way and become your own? Have you not changed, and been changed by, this skill as you (unique you) practice and integrate it into how you operate?

The collision, leading to integration, between you and the skill generates something new.

The meeting of you, and the practice, is a productive meeting that generates outcomes and outputs that were not even imaginable before.

Best practice is about what has happened in the past.

Best practice is about replication.

Where is the possibility, the potential, for exceeding and improving?

When learning a foreign language we soon come across the concept of ‘false friends’ – words from the new language that sound familiar, but have a completely different meaning.

A lot of business speak is like another language. We can usually spot the mendacious or vacuous elements. They make us laugh.

Its these false friends that we should really watch out for.

They trap us in the past.





When and how do you know that ‘busy’ is turning into ‘overwhelmed?

I’m beginning to think that its happening in every organisation with which I work at the moment.

Grown up, senior, reasonable, people are at a point of deluge.

And heres the odd thing.

I don’t even think it’s the ‘work’ as much as what appears to be relentless…. bureaucracy.

A Potter-esque miasma of ‘stuff that has to be done in order to..’ enfolding everyone.

How did it happen: that the flowering of creative developments of technology seems to have resulted in an endless array of – surely basically bureaucratic – apps and systems to help us organise, manage, and submit information in various formats to various places?

The associated oddity is that a discussion about this seems to generate the same bonding warmth that might once have been achieved by talking about a book read, or a film seen, an idea shared, or an event attended.

It’s as if an important part of the invisible glue that might hold colleagues together is becoming a sort of shared resignation about the systems to be battled with, the processes to be endured, the submissions to be repeated.

It’s not a new thought

‘All the labour saving machinery that has hitherto been invented has not lessened the toil of a single human being’

said John Stuart Mill (1806 -1873)

But perhaps recognising the ‘psychological violence’ done to us by these burdens gives fresh urgency.

I think that subversion is the best way to start tackling this.

Certainly, L&D courses in resilience training, performance optimisation, work/life balance (what does that even mean in these situations?) are springing up everywhere.

(Some may be helpful)

But don’t they fulfil the role of field –hospitals?

Getting overwhelmed people back on their feet, to go over the top again?

I recommend a slow beneath the surface gnawing away of the system; a gradual embrace of ‘no’; a sidling up to the joys of successful, creative evasion.

Rather like termites might, over time, weaken the foundations of the most impressive edifice, we shall gradually chip away at these bureaucratic demands.

A new happiness at work suggestion: become a kindly termite.