5 agreed points about happy prosperous work in the new economy

Mavens of work

FOUR loose communities of internet pundits are watching changes in work with great interest –

1 Professors and academics

2 Management consultants who specialize in organizational design

3 Social media gurus who explain developments

4 Marketers and purveyors of social media services who hope to stimulate demand

A FIFTH group, poets, might have a look from time to time but they probably find our prose dull.

What are we all looking for?

  • We know that the world economy is on a cusp. The industries of the 20th century have reached a point of diminishing returns. And we are definitely moving toward a future of new industries underpinned by advances in biotechnology and other sciences.
  • At the same time, we are communicating across countries and industries at the cracking pace made possible by the internet. Work has become quite different. And so has the leadership of organizations.

What are we pretty certain about?

I am yet to get my head around exactly which industries will boom. It is also not clear which activities will need formal organizations and which we will pursue as-and-when using social media tools like Facebook.

What is clear are the psychological “rules” of our new age.

The 5 points of appreciative inquiry originally described by David Cooperrider of Case Western seem to be repeated over and over again in different words with different examples.

As a case in point, a Thai blog quoted an Education Professor at Harvard who identified 5 competencies for the modern age.

What are the core competencies needed in this century? Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Helen Haste has identified five that we should begin teaching our students. We business managers should also consider how to bring these skills to our companies and careers.

Managing Ambiguity. “Managing ambiguity is that tension between rushing to the clear, the concrete, and managing this ambiguous fuzzy area in the middle. And managing ambiguity is something we have to teach. Because we have to counter the story of a single linear solution.”

Agency and Responsibility. “We have to be able to take responsibility and know what that means. Being an effective agent means being able to approach one’s environment, social or physical, with a confidence that one actually will be able to deal with it.”

Finding and Sustaining Community. “Managing community is partly about that multitasking of connecting and interacting. It’s also, of course, about maintaining community, about maintaining links with people, making sure you do remember your best friend’s birthday, that you don’t forget that your grandmother is by herself this weekend, and of course recognizing also that one is part of a larger community, not just one’s own private little world.”

Managing Emotion. “Really it’s about getting away from the idea that emotion and reason are separate… Teaching young people to manage reason and emotion and not to flip to one or the other is an important part of our education process.”

Managing Technological Change. “When we have a new tool, we first use it for what we are already doing, just doing it a bit better. But gradually, the new tool changes the way we do things. It changes our social practices.”

To make my point, how do these well phrased principles relate to the principles of appreciative inquiry?

The positive principle. Instead of assuming we now the solution and finding a plan to fit, begin with where you are now. Take the first step and see what you learn. (Managing Technological Change.) This is also know as rapid prototyping or Ready Fire Aim.

The social constructionist principle. There is no one view of the world which accounts for all our realities. We need to listen to all our points of view and look for the common linkages between us. These are ever changing as our experiences of the world change. (Finding and sustaining community.) Diversity and belonging are key to modern enterprises. If we neglect either, we rip the guts out of our organizations.

The anticipatory principle. We are doers by nature and like nothing better than chasing after a goal. To achieve a goal, we need to understand how things work, and pay attention to the results we achieve. Feedback, though, comes back to us from all angles and to disentangle what we are hearing, we have to learn about the world and our place in it. Our love of Agency and Responsibility is never clearer than in computer games were we pursue quests and test out our competence with others in competition with “forces of nature” and competing interests. We are being chided to take responsibility. We do so naturally. The trick is to figure out what is under our control.

The simultaneity principle. The world exists only in so far as we pay attention to it. This is not an abstract philosophical point. It is also a point in physics. It doesn’t mean we can ignore what we choose or make things up. It means things change their meaning and their essence when we notice them. And we change when we notice ourselves. David Cooperrider put the principle like this. We move in the direction of the questions we ask. To put this concretely, I don’t go to London. When I start asking where is London, I start moving toward London. If I ask the question a different way, how do I drive to London, I will probably do something different, such as not use the train. (Managing Ambiguity).

The poetic principle. The poetic principle is not poetic! But “the good, the true, the better and the possible” is. Most of us had poetic language beaten out of us at school and college Dry, wooden language became a mark legitimacy and is popular with the powerful because it conceals their motives. When we are firmly in charge, we reject the emotions and motivations of our audiences so we don’t have to acknowledge their interests. By using dry language, we can claim that our interests are truths – so convenient! Poetic language engages the interests of others. It is emotional. It is not deliberately emotional. It is explicitly emotion. And we use emotional language to find the common basis of our separate and sometimes conflicting interests. To say emotional language is honest negotiation sounds unpoetic – but that is what it is. Many people in power, including teachers, are disconcerted by the demands of Gen Y to approach issues from their point of view. How can this be organized, they cry? Well I have taught a 850 person class of Gen Y. They do evaluate every lecture with the question : what does this material do for me, right here, right now? They behave like 850 demanding CEO’s. Once we’ve got over our surprise, it works. Stand and deliver! We look at the emotion – their point of view – and the range of their points of view – and deliver the material accordingly. They learn more. They learn the substance. They learn what to do with the content we are teaching. They learn about the range of perspectives in the class. They apply the material. Isn’t that what we are asking for – engagement? To engage we have to come from their point of view – not ours which we concealed in pompous language.

We seem to be on a plateau of understanding

It strikes me that professors, consultants, gurus, geeks and poets have come up different sides of a hill and found themselves on flat piece of ground. We seem to concur, for now, on the essential ingredients of “new work”.

I’m sure these principles will be refined in due course. And it is good for each of us to rephrase them in our own words using our own examples. It helps us understand their nuances and limitations.

They are clear enough for now, and they appear in sufficient sources, though, to teach.

They are also clear enough to try out in practical projects.

The next goal

From now onwards, I am only going to scan theoretical pieces to see if they are saying anything new.

Otherwise, I am looking for examples of collective action and how the principles worked in practice.

I think I am interested in active experimentationhow we learn about these principles, deliberately or accidently.

If you have an example, do let me know.

Poetry in HR?

Psychology and no poetry

I studied psychology and taught work psychology for many years.  I arrived in psychology from the physical sciences and found the hard core experimental and measurement approach quite familiar.  Indeed as a youngster, I might have fled had I been asked to deal with poetry.  Literature had been my worst subject at school by quite a long way and I simply lacked the frameworks for understanding what poetry offered.

Poetry in management theory

One of the pleasures of the school of positive organizational scholarship is that it embraces poetry.  Indeed, poetic language is one of the five original principles of appreciative inquiry.  Leading exponent, David Cooperrider, coins many a melodic expression, the best known being: the good, the true, the better and the possible.

Poetry in government

As he accepted his nomination for Secretary of Energy, I was delighted to see Nobel Prize winning physicist Stephen Chu quoting the words spoken by William Faulkner when he won his Nobel Prize in 1950.  Speaking to a world concerned about the ramifications of nuclear power and nuclear bombs, Faulkner said:

It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.

He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.

The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.

It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.

The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Poetry in business and HR?

If this is good enough for the Secretary for Energy and the White House, then it is good enough for factories, banks, shops and insurance brokers!

Do you employ a poet and an artist?  Do you think a style of HR that lifts hearts, reminds us of courage and honour and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of our past and are the glory of our present and our future, together?

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5 point comparison of Hero’s Journey, Appreciative Inquiry, and Positive Psychology

Starting with a simple framework

For the last year, I’ve been systematically reading around appreciative inquiry, positive psychology and the mytho-poetic tradition of leadership and I’m at a point where I can see commonalities in the way management, psychology and literature approach leadership.

Corporate poet, David Whyte, makes a good argument that life cannot be reduced to a 7 point plan. I don’t want this to be the end of my exploration. Positive psychology is a paradigm shift, though. And paradigm shift’s are dizzy-making. People starting out in this area might find this five point schema a useful set of “hand-holds” as they orient themselves to a new way of thinking. I would be interested in your comments.

The Five Principles of Appreciative Inquiry

I’ve organised the schema around the five principles of appreciative inquiry. Other authors have expanded this list. I’ll stick, for now, to the initial five points. To those, I’ve added five stages of the Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey, too, can be expanded to much greater levels of detail. And then I have added five quotations from David Whyte’s poetry to illustrate each principle.

The result, I hope, will be to show you the parallels in the different strands of positive thinking and give you a starting point for deeper and more elaborate understanding.

1. The positive principle

The principle of positivity is simply that we want to know what we do well, and then do more of it.

The first stage of the Hero’s Journey begins with The Call – our perception of the world which underlies our personality and our sense of the contribution that we and only we make to our community, and the people around us. This is a personal view. It is not a matter of being extraverted or conscientious or whatever. It is a sense of our unique story, and who we are and how we contribute to any story unfolding around us.

David Whyte speaks eloquently to our sense of who we are, which we often notice in its absence: “anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you” (Sweet Darkness). We are very attuned to the loss of our story and we are brought alive when we make our story salient for ourselves again.

The first stage of any intervention, whether it is searching for what we do well and will do more of, whether it is finding vocabulary for strengths and virtues, whether it is our sense of our own narrative: the first stage is to bring back that sense of a personally unique story and to feel the flush of well being which observers see immediately as the light being restored to our eyes.

2. The social constructionist principle

The social constructionist principle is this simple. We all have a slightly different perspective of events. We want to hear the diverse versions of reality from as many people as possible in their own words, or voices, to be technical.

In the Hero’s Journey, the first stage of The Call is often followed, or accompanied by, The Refusal of the Call. We are usually clear about what needs to be done, and our part in the story – indeed I have never met anyone who is not – but we also persuade ourselves that we believe is not needed, not possible, and not wanted.

What we are really doing is bargaining with the world. David Whyte might say we are living contingently. We are saying, I will listen to my voice if you do. We don’t trust our own voice.

Group interventions are very often concerned with recognizing multiple voices. Interventions in workplaces are often to do with listening to employees. Interventions in the family are to do with listening to everyone.

Individual interventions are usually to do with trusting ourselves. We express the starting point as other people not trusting us or being unsure of our place in the world. To move beyond this point is something we all need to learn, though we find it much easier when someone somewhere trusts us first.

I like David Whyte’s line: “You are not a troubled guest on this earth, you are not an accident amidst other accidents, you were invited . . .” (What To Remember When Wakening). Having a sense that no matter how bad our uncertainty or predicament, that we are in the right place, and that our very journey brought us to this place, that we belong: this sense helps us have the courage to engage in the conversation and add our voice to others.

3. The anticipatory principle

The anticipatory principle is well known by anyone who uses goal setting effectively. A fuller envisioning, involving a very comprehensive vision of what we will be in the future, is far more motivating. NLP uses this principle to imagine even what other people around us will be thinking and feeling. Certainly, visions compete, and a fuller positive vision will engage our attention and draw us towards it.

In the Hero’s Journey, the corresponding phase is probably meeting the Goddess.  In this stage we are inspired by a story that is larger than ourselves.  We sense an emerging story, or the field around us, and are able to articulate the frontier between ourselves and circumstances in ways that our compelling to us all.  Ben Zander, conductor and teacher, uses this technique brilliantly in “Everyone gets an A”.

 

David Whyte also stresses how much our own vision converges with our sense of the world and how we are what we can envision.   “When your eyes are tired, the world is tired also. When your vision is gone, no part of the world can find you” (Sweet Darkness).

At this stage of any intervention we encourage imagination, the fuller and the more comprehensive the better.

4. The simultaneity principle

The simultaneity principle is illustrated with this catchy phrase: we move in the direction of the questions we ask.  The future is now.

In the Hero’s Journey, the corresponding phase is atonement with the father.  At this stage, we stop waiting for the world to recognize our inspiration.  We “cross the Rubicon” and take full responsibility for driving our plans forward.

“Crossing the Rubicon” is difficult though.  And it begins with attempting to formulate the question.  It begins with small actions in our immediate surroundings.  In times of severe stress, it begins by looking at the horizons, by looking at what is close up, and becoming more aware and more present.

David Whyte captures our emotional paralysis:  “Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take” (Start Close In)

So many interventions begin with “the beginning”: doing something small that is un-threatening.

5. The hopeful principle

The hopeful principle is is concerned with language.  It is concerned with narrative and rhythm.  David Cooperrider, who has led much of the work on Appreciative Inquiry, uses the principle often: “the good and the better”.  Martin Luther King’s well known speech “I have a dream” illustrates it too.  As does, the oratory of Presidential nominee, Barack Obama.

In the Hero’s Journey, I see the corresponding stage as the Return.  It is the time when you bring your dream and the transformation of yourself home.  It is a testing time, as anyone knows who has lived abroad and returned home.  It is time of integration and communicating as a leader with people around us.

 

David Whyte reminds us that our journeys are undertaken together: “Your great mistake is to act the dream as it you were alone . . . Everybody is waiting for you.” (Everybody Is Waiting For You)

The final stage of any intervention is working through relationships with people around us.

Taking it to the people

I am going to post this now.  It needs some more links but WordPress is driving me mad with its arbitary editing while I am typing.  So up it goes and I will add some links tomorrow.

I would love your comments!  I see positive psychology as ready now to pass on coherent frameworks that could be applied by people in various walks of life. I have outlined some basic courses for people who are interested in approaching the filed systematically.  I would be grateful if you would have a look and let me know what you think.

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Belonging

“Belonging” is the theme of our age

And we see the theme in contemporary poety: “The House of Belonging” from David Whyte ~ “calling you into the family of things” in Wild Geese by Mary Oliver.

Belonging is a hard concept to grasp

Michael Bauwens has drawn this picture showing different understandings of belonging:

  • me as part of a family
  • me as in let-me-be!
  • me as let-me-be(come)
  • And me as going part of the way on the journey with you.

The last is simple explanation of co-creation, the theme of Barbara Sliter’s blog, Co-creatorship, that I came across in the last week or so too.

Belonging in steps

In my own evolving grasp of the concept, I am thinking in THREE steps:

#1 Curiosity

Can I begin the day with curiosity? Which birds are singing? Who is already up-and-about? What will the day bring that is totally unexpected and surprising? No”to do” list for me! Just an early morning welcome to the unknown as it is evolving around me.

#2 Sureness

Can I begin the day with sureness? Can I be sure that my interest in the world will help shape it into a better place, alongside the interest of everyone else. The birds, the cat, the neighbor whose petrol mower is already going and shattering the peace, the motorway 20 miles away, the cup of coffee beckoning, the blogosphere which should be ignored this Saturday . . . That my interest is valued and creates safety for others.

#3  Wholeheartedness

Can I be wholehearted? Can I approach everything I do today with energy, enthusiasm and warmth? Can my wholeheartedness for some or even most of my tasks (it is Saturday!) bring me pleasure and create more energy, enthusiasm, warmth for others, people and tasks?

At the end of the day .  .  .

Can I look back on a day when we have been surprised at what we have accomplished together?

Is the end of my day about something other than the race that we have won or the people we have vanquished?

Can I be surprised at what we discovered together, and how we continue to surprise each other?

Do we go forward to another day, not dizzy with excitement, but astounded, that we have found hidden depths in ourselves with all our failings and limitations? The hidden depths of ourselves and others.

And do other people feel it too? Not necessarily with bear hugs and noisy applause.

Just gentle appreciation of how much their hopes and dreams, their wholeheartedness, brought warmth and enjoyment to the day for me.

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