We played about in the snow today and as I watched the footprints build and cross and intersect it made me wonder about the paths we make and the tracks we leave. Most people I work with talk with passion about wanting to make a difference, yet these are perhaps challenging times to hold onto such a vision. I think this makes it even more important that we are considered in the paths we take.
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave. Dakota proverb
It’s funny the things that make you look at the world differently. As some of you will know we’ve had a hefty dump of snow in the UK today. Suddenly the familiar becomes unfamiliar and even the simplest tasks that involve going out become adventures. Such a change is also easier for some to deal with than others.
It put me in mind of Jan Carlzon and his ‘Moments of Truth’ approach that helped turn around Scandinavian Airlines, incredibly his book of the same name was published in 1987. It is an approach that focuses on every moment or interaction that allows the customer to form an impression of an organisation. I liken it to trying to see things from a different perspective, to look at our work and world with new eyes.
This is not easy to do as we quickly become too familiar with what we do or our surroundings, as Malcolm Forbes once said
It’s so much easier to suggest solutions when you don’t know too much about the problem.
So how might we make a shift in perspective, we can’t always wait for it to snow! How about:
Asking someone else for feedback or to tell you what they experience, what are the things they notice?
Thinking about what you are doing or the problem you are trying to solve from the perspective of a blogger or journalist, what might they say?
Physically take a different viewpoint on whatever it is you might be looking at, sit in a different chair, turn it upside down, try and imagine seeing it for the first time
Take photographs of your workspace or activity, then really study them, what do you notice that you might not have noticed before?
Take your notebook or tablet device and make detailed notes of everything you notice as you move through your space, or experience your work. Try and make them as detailed as possible capturing everything from smells and sounds to feelings and what you see
Or as I mentioned elsewhere, simply take a brain break, take time out from whatever it is you are focusing on and come back with fresh eyes and a new perspective
I started today’s blog thinking it was going to be something about personal reflections, how over the first few weeks of this New Year I have been both concerned with how I have come to this point in my history and what it may mean for my future. I find my usually optimistic self a little tentative about what is to come in 2013.
Then, through the wonders of connectivity I came across Regular Marvels a beautiful site/blog by François Matarasso that within just a few short minutes of reading had me wondering about my own assumptions about aspects of the arts I have come to know. To wonder about my own aging and how different that appears to me than that of my grandmothers.
Regular Marvels looks to be a project in its early stages but it feels like discovering something precious in the making.
We’ll explore and deplore,
only that and nothing more.
I came across this quote towards the beginning of Alex Osborn’s book Applied Imagination, who was best known for coining the term ‘Brainstorming.’ He was also someone that believed in the need for thinking time. John C. Maxwell in Thinking for a Change advocates the same process. Both suggest the need for making appointments in your calendar for yourself, for just thinking, and keeping a notebook of your thoughts and ideas.
Anyway, back to the quote. I was really struck by it because it seemed to capture so much of what I hear from people these days, and I have probably been guilty of it too. We spend so much of our time and energy ‘fact finding’ or analysing that when it comes time for new ideas and imagination the metaphorical tank is empty.
I have also seen people staring blankly at mountains of data, knowing that it is telling them something but not being sure what it is or how to access it. It is almost as if the exploration has become an end in itself. I wonder what might happen if we spent more time on evaluation and elaboration.
I have had some work to finish for a few weeks now and for some reason it was completely eluding me. I was aware of it lingering in the background but the energy and inspiration I needed just wasn’t happening. Today something shifted while I was doing my e-mails and my eyes wandered across the desk.
I saw something that caught my attention and while it didn’t give me the whole answer it started a train of thought that finally helped me to get started. I’m not claiming it was an ‘ah ha’ moment, I tend to agree with others that there is no single moment of creativity. The fact is I had worried away at this particular problem for weeks and finally all that subconscious work started to emerge and allow me the chance to decide if I had indeed stumbled across anything useful, instead of just feeling stuck. This put me in mind of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s writing on the creative process. He identified five steps (Creativity, 1996: 79) that certainly feel familiar to me:
Preparation – becoming immersed in problematic issues that are interesting and arouse curiosity
Incubation – ideas churn around below the threshold of consciousness
Insight – the point where parts of the puzzle start to fall together
Evaluation – deciding if the insight is valuable and worth pursuing
Elaboration – translating the insight into its final form
We have a bamboo hedge and spent some time today tidying it up, partly because it has got a bit ragged and partly because it was a good excuse to enjoy the crisp morning and get some air. As we trimmed and cut back culms and branches we noticed its structure and patterns anew. Each culm is effectively divided into a number of chambers, the culms get thicker every year, the branches sprout upwards in pairs and they always grow on the opposite side to the previous pair.
All this noticing made me reflect on yesterday’s blog and the value of taking time out. This wasn’t necessarily what I had planned to do with my morning but it really reinforced the value of taking time to look, think and feel. This week I am going to work hard to spot the patterns in other aspects of my work. It has also started me thinking more about curiosity and I want to look at that in more depth in the coming weeks.
Anyone who has done any training with me will recognise this phrase, while it does make a bit of a change from the usual ‘shall we have coffee,’ I do in fact mean it literally. Take yourself off for a while and give your brain a rest, use some different connections.
I was pleased to find a similar sentiment in Nicholas Bate’s book ‘Beat the Recession.’ It is packed full of all sorts of action ideas – well 176 to be precise. Under the heading of Tough Decisions he talks about making good decisions by taking time out. He entreats us to look after our brains and to give them a break.
Go home early and watch a film. Take a walk in the park at lunchtime. Go to bed with a great novel. Start swimming. Start walking more…Take your notebook to the cafe…
Whatever you do it is a good idea to give yourself a break from time to time.
Confronting the brutal questions (and facts) is an approach developed by Jim Collins (2001, 2009) from The Stockdale Paradox, which highlights the challenge of holding unwavering hope at the same time as confronting the brutal facts. Having listened to the news today it feels like this is an approach we all need to develop.
Admiral Jim Stockdale, was a United States military officer who was held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. As Stockdale told Collins, he never lost faith during his ordeal: “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
The paradox is rooted in the fact that, while Stockdale had remarkable faith in the unknowable, he noted that it was the most optimistic of his fellow captives who did not survive the ordeal. They could not contemplate the brutal reality of the situation they found themselves in.
Sometimes asking the brutal questions and confronting brutal facts is vital. If this set of questions is not brutal enough for you, feel free to amend or add!
Are you happy?
So, you’re in charge. So what?
Do you or others put personal interests above your business interests?
What is working best in your business today? What do you do to contribute to it?
What is not working in your business? What do you do to contribute to it?
When was the last time you really talked to your customers/audiences/users about what they really, really want from you?
Are you prepared to give them what they want?
What are your most treasured assumptions about your people, customers, markets, products, services and yourself? What if one of them weren’t true? What would you do then?
Are you out of your depth?
Now, having looked at your brutal questions, what are your brutal facts? What are you going to do about about them?
I had the proverbial flu over Christmas and it has made me really mindful of my energy levels at the moment. I had to do some pretty intensive concentrating this morning and was acutely aware of when I was alert and when I was fading, more so than usual.
I made sure I took some reasonable breaks, had healthy snacks with me and gave myself permission to daydream from time to time nonetheless by mid afternoon I was having to work hard to concentrate.
This evening I came across The Energy Audit and had some fun playing with the questions. Actually it was quite a useful piece of reflection, particularly seeing what emerged in terms of the four areas the audit looks at:
You do have to sign up to the site to get your scores, but even thinking through the questions might prove useful.
I am loving the anarchy on Stargazing tonight (BBC2).
A panel of cosmologists, astrophysicists and comedians are demonstrating beautifully that it is OK to say we don’t know or that there may be multiple answers.
As someone often involved in qualitative research, the phrase ‘physics envy’ has come up on more than one occasion and yet even with their calculations and scientific measurement the presenters are still talking openly about best guesses. This is not a criticism, far from it, I am delighted.
I often work with people who expend so much energy looking for certainty only to be constantly disappointed that it never materialises. Of course uncertainty causes anxiety but as I was once told …
Confusion is your learning edge
It would be great to be able to be more mindful of our search for certainty, which is ultimately about a drive for control, and accept that through not knowing comes learning.
Stargazing summed this up beautifully with a great conundrum – it is as hard to perceive of a finite universe, as it is an infinite universe.
It was also good to hear lots of talk of beauty from scientists…