A reset of the mind

I have recently returned from a holiday on Tenerife. The holiday was brilliant, by the way, but not the reason I’m writing today. I went on holiday because I was tired of what is happening in the UK. Exhausted by our plummeting humanity, the selfishness, the greed, the division. I needed to walk away from it for a while.

I didn’t know why at the time, because my brain was too tired to go through the full processing of my thoughts, but I had an overwhelming desire to sit at the window seat on the plane. I wanted to see the land, the sea, the sky, the clouds. I wanted to experience our world without the people. From up there, looking down, I couldn’t see them, and I wanted, no craved, this perspective. That’s not at all strange, I hear you say. It was for me, though. I am generally a bit scared of heights. I get disorientated. I particularly don’t like when the plane is climbing and the only direction I can see is up. But this time, I craved to see it with a desperation I could not explain. I had to see it, no matter what. I thought about that more than the holiday.

I had been contemplating our plight in the UK and have been somewhat overwhelmed by the direction we are going and to a point, I felt helpless. Then I came across the following quote in the book Perseverance, by Margaret Wheatley:

‘Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.’ – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I had read the book, ‘Women who run with the wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes a number of years ago. Both me and my sister shared it between us. At that moment, I remembered how much wisdom we read…..and then forget. It helped me regain focus in this overwhelming world. It made me remember the compassion in the work we do. The conditions we model to support each other to learn and grow.

On my flight home, my mind was becoming more relaxed. I stepped on the plane with a whole new feeling that I did not recognise. I thought to myself, ‘Do you trust this flight crew and the pilot?’ I decided that yes, I did. I also realised that should there be an issue with the plane there would be a whole group of people dedicated to keeping us all alive. I realised that we all die, so why not enjoy this flight while I can. My fear started to dissolve.

I saw the world from above. I can tell you that I did not move my eyes from the world outside of that window for a full 4.5 hours. I looked into the sky with no fear at all. I saw the most beautiful planet. I felt free and liberated.

My systems thinking journey is taking a new turn. I have been working in a field lately that was not necessarily my choosing. One of social change. I kind of fell into it, quite accidentally. That said, I have done some very powerful and useful work, particularly over the last two years. It was punishing, though. Draining. Working with people who are all feeing what I was feeling when I left the UK on holiday. Working with that every day and supporting others on their journey takes its toll. It has been long hours, filled with emotion. The systems thinking and systems change journey that people are just starting is one I started on many years ago and for me, it is now time for a slight turn in the journey again. I have never been one to sit as part of the crowd. That is too noisy a place for me. I like the edge where there is some solitude, quiet and freedom to explore deeply.

What did my holiday teach me – it is the quiet and deep exploration that I was missing. The negative noises in the UK, driven by our government, had penetrated into my personal space. It is time to kick them out and get on with the deep learning and living again. As quoted in Margaret Wheatley’s book, Perseverance,

‘Love is the only emotion that expands intelligence’

Humberto Maturana

Onto the next stage of my systems thinking journey…….

Advertisement

What Margaret Wheatley tells us about ‘a simpler way’

As I sit here reading, ‘A Simpler Way’ by Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers I feel like I am standing beneath a refreshingly cool waterfall of positivity. Only seventeen pages into the book and I am awash with words like: belief, behaviours, learn, surprise, optimistic, creative, purposeful, meaning, play, freedom, creativity, experiment, accomplish, explore, diverse and identity. I already feel inspired, eager to read on.

I usually like to pull out some key quotes from the books I read. So far, I would be reciting the whole book! To me, I feel they state the obvious. That which is inside of us all, desperate to get out – that we are here to explore, to discover and create, to belong and have meaning in our lives that supports our identity. An identity that we choose.
We are reminded of the errors of Western culture that leads us to believe that ‘the world is hostile, that we are in a constant struggle for survival, that the consequence of error is death, that the environment seeks our destruction.’ No wonder some people wander through their lives full of fear.

We are also reminded that, ‘the universe is a living, creative, experimenting experience of discovering what’s possible at all levels of scale, from microbe to cosmos.’ Life’s natural tendency is to organise, and that act is an act of creating identity. Think about that for a moment. Think about its relevance in terms of the workplaces and jobs people have now. Think about it in terms of the identity of the teams and groups you meet or are part of. How much of the ability and opportunity to be creative and to develop identity do you think members of those groups have? And I wonder what impact this has on them? Does it impact on their belief in themselves? And the group as a whole? After-all, ‘belief is the place from which true change originates’.

In our workplaces we often strive to ‘be right’ but ‘there is no one answer that is right, but many answers that might work.’ This is something that is all too often forgotten. ‘Nature encourages wild self-expression as long as it doesn’t threaten the survival of the organism.’ I wonder how much better we might feel if this approach was applied in our workplaces?

The authors introduce us to the word, bricolage – the process of creating living things, which is a big difference to the analysis we so often use today, where our ‘analytic plans drive us only towards what we think we already know’. They also remind us that ‘in human attempts to construct functioning ecosystems, scientists cannot predict what will work.’ So why do we believe that in our living work systems we can predict and heavily plan for the future? The only thing we can know is that the system will seek stability. We really have little idea what that stability might look like.

They bring to our attention the importance of relationships. The more relationships, the more ‘expressions, more variety, more stability, more support’. ‘New relationships create new capacities.’ And don’t fall into the trap of wanting to be a traditional ‘niche’. ‘Life creates niches not to dominate, but to support. Symbiosis is the most favoured path for evolution. Niches are an example of symbiosis’. Support; don’t dominate! Remember that when we are stuck in a particular worldview we may explain the world of organising in terms of competition and used this to explain the behaviours that we see. It’s time to change those mental models so that seeing support and collaboration predominates over seeing competition and heroes. Understanding our relationships and interdependencies is far more powerful.

The authors talk about the importance of experimentation. Why do we insist on relying on others to give us ‘the answer’ rather than experimenting to see what works? Words and phrases like: experimentation, inquisitive, discovering, new possibilities, expand our thinking are all words and phrases that should be on the tip of our tongues. Sadly, they are not, as we all too easily forget that someone’s experiences can never provide models that will work exactly the same for us. I particularly love the reminder that, ‘fuzzy, messy, continuously exploring systems bent on discovering what works are far more practical and successful than our attempts at efficiency.’ If only we would just believe it! Make errors, learn more, repeat……

‘When individuals fail to experiment or when the system refuses their offers of new ideas, then the system becomes moribund. Without constant, interior change, it sinks into the death grip of equilibrium. It no longer participates in co-evolution. The system becomes vulnerable; its destruction is self-imposed’. You have been warned! Adaptation is key. Moving forward means sharing your information, linking with others and communicating and enabling your ability of self-organisation.

So, what are some of the lessons this book gives us?

  •  Change beliefs – support people in believing in themselves
  • Allow people to explore, to discover, to tinker, to fail, to experiment and to learn
  • Allow people to be part of creating the identity they carry around with them. ‘Every act of organising occurs around an identity. Every change occurs only if we identify with it.’ Identity is the most compelling organising energy available. ‘A healthy system uses its freedom to explore its identity’
  • Seek coherence – we can’t resolve organisational incoherence with training programmes about values, or with beautiful reports that explain the company’s way, or by the charisma of any leader. We can resolve it only with coherence – fundamental integrity about who we are’. ‘With coherence comes the capacity to create organisations that are both free and effective. They are effective because they support people’s abilities to self-organise. They are free because they know who they are’.
  • Create order through freedom – ‘Coherent organisations experience the word with less threat and more freedom. They don’t create boundaries to defend and preserve themselves. They don’t have to keep others out. Clear at their core, they become less and less concerned about where they stop. Inner clarity gives them expansionary range. Such clarity creates order through freedom.’
  •  Understand the link between behaviours and belonging – ‘Large organisations spend a great deal of time and resources on training people in behaviours under such topics as diversity, communications, and leadership. But these behaviours are not a list of rules or techniques. They arise from agreements about how people will be together. Often these agreements are unspoken. We can’t train people to be open, or fair, or responsible if the real agreement is that we must succeed at all costs, or that we have no choice but to keep laying people off. Training programmes can never resolve deeply incoherent messages. Neither can legislation. Behaviours are rooted in our agreements. They change only when we bring to light these unspoked commitments. Our behaviours change only if we decide to belong together differently’.
  • Trust people to self-organise
  • Build connections, relationships, and networks to enable greater capacities and opportunities for sharing information. Focus on connectedness and interdependencies, not competition and heroic ‘leaders’. Remember that, ‘no self can survive behind the boundary it creates. If it does not remember its connectedness, the self will expire.’
  • Focus on adaptability and co-creation, not analysis and heavy planning. The less we rely upon rigid plans and the more we design for regeneration of our ecosystems the more viable we become. And remember, ‘invention always takes shape round an identity’.
  • Do not try and ‘direct’ the system. We can’t do this, we can only disturb it. We can never give an instruction and expect someone to follow it precisely. We can never assume that someone sees the world as we do.
  • Embrace the concept of emergence – this is the capacity we discover when we join together. New systems have properties that appear suddenly and mysteriously. These properties cannot be predicted. The implication is that we can’t visualise our future and work back from that, planning every step in detail. We must start at the beginning and be clear in our intent and willing to discover as we go along. Anticipate rather than plan and acknowledge that we don’t know exactly how the work will unfold.

There is so much more to be said about emerging organisation, but this blog is already very long. I’ll save the emerging organisation topic for a second, separate post as I also want to talk about it in terms of viable systems and the links to information flows. It’s a very important topic, in my opinion, and deserves the space to give it further exploration. So too is the importance of identity – another blog post coming soon!

With that in mind, I will leave you with some quotes I particularly like:

‘Our wonderful abilities to self-organise are encouraged by openness. With access to our system we, like all life, can anticipate what is required of us, connect with those we need, and respond intelligently’.

I wonder, every day, why so many people, organisations or groups of organisations cannot and do not take this on advice on board, instead insisting on trying to engineer human contribution.

‘The systems we create are chosen together. They are the result of dances, not wars.’

‘A Simpler Way’ by Margaret J Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers