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A more soulful way to manage?

Desert River of Flowers by wanderbored via FlickrDry sterile thunder without rain

Tired of the grind of persuading people to do what’s needed?  Dreading another day with a boss who seems to think you are their metaphorical punch-bag?  Studying management and finding it overcomplicated and unpersuasive?

Some of us manage.  Some of us teach management.  Some of us study management.  And we all seem to be cynical about what we do.

But, of this, I am certain.

We agree the management community spends too much time posturing.  Whether we are on the front line or back at the university, teaching & studying, we dread the nonsense of our days and long for hope and meaning as the parched ground sighs for rain after a long dry summer.

A place that we can call our own

I would like to this post to be a place where we talk about what we really believe and what brings pleasure to our work and our relationships with others.

How do we nurture our souls in the pinch of anxiety and tension of our working days?  What balances our world and brings peace and harmony with people around us?  Are there poems that calm our frayed nerves?  Are there stories we tell to young people who want to hear?  Are the questions we would ask a person older and wiser in quiet moment in the park?

Do you still have hopes and dreams beneath the landfill of management-speak?

Have  you recoiled from the call to shape the world in our image – and choose instead to work with people, rather than against them, even when they seem determined to work against us?

Do you see reflections of what we each think important to do now in our dreams of the future – and do you marvel in the varied beliefs we hold between us?

Do you quietly resist filling your day with mindless activity – and simply concentrate resources, so we can relax and live in the moment today, knowing we can take of tomorrow, whether it is opportunity or disaster that knocks?

Would you share how your nurture your soul at work?

Would you drop a comment and a link to your favourite poetry or photos or leave a story?

I would love to hear how you nourish soul in the soulless workplaces that claim our days.

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Can we build a community around people who want bring their soul to managing and being managed?

I am looking forward to hearing what you think about the rain you bring to relieve “dry sterile thunder” at work

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Your best work environment? I do need to be happy and playful

When the Desert flowers by Martin_Heigan via Flickr
When the Desert flowers

Who we insist we are and will be!

I had to write a proposal over the weekend and I was astonished by the words that seem to come unbidden from my fingers.  Playful language, evocative language, jocular language.  Where on earth did it all come from?

A moment’s thought and it wasn’t difficult to deduce.  I’ve been doing some more conventional work in more conventional organizations. Everyone is so angry, so abrasive, so concerned that they are losing out.

Any good wishes seem calculated.  The smallest problem is a disaster.  Little is an opportunity to create a better and more joyful world together.

My proposal was little more than a response to 4 months in an emotional desert.  The flowers came out at the first opportunity.

Playfulness and joyfulness begets playfulness and joyfulness – I hope

Then I got two emails from people I don’t know – at all.  I had contacted them about their work.  In both cases, it gradually had come through that they were having to make a stand at work to be heard.  They are doing a good job. Smooth.  Polished.  And very, very professional.   But there was an emotional cost – an unnecessary emotional cost.

With no expectation of any sort of reply, I replied to each raising real questions about their work. I also pointed them to connections and opportunities that might benefit them.  They then replied to me with more connections.  They weren’t that interested in my ideas but they liked it that I had created a loop in their lives or reminded them of one that had fallen off the radar.

What is your essential environment?

I’d never thought of myself as needing to be in a playful environment.  I am not playful person.  I don’t come from a playful culture.   And that’s the under statement of the year.  I can at least make people laugh by taking off the favorite phrase of ‘my people’ – we will make a plan.

But I think I need a playful, joyful environment otherwise I try to be the playful, joyful one.  And I’ve not had much practice.

But I sent off the proposal anyway.  It began “I’d be delighted to spend my time in the company of lively burbling . .”

Do you think they will reply – not made here?

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Asking questions about life after the recession

Celebs Face_0320 by EDWW day_dae (esteemedhelga) via Flickr5 stages of grief and the recession

By now, everyone has registered that we are in a severe recession.  We have gone through denial, and we have gone through anger. I wonder, though, whether we have arrived at acceptance and action or whether we are currently going through bargaining, and when that fails, have yet to go through depression.

What do I mean?  At the moment, we are still quarreling over the cuts to make. No. We are still quarreling over whether to make cuts.  This is not action. This is bargaining.  We are still hoping to propitiate the gods.

We flood the Gulf of Mexico with oil and we are surprised when ace negotiator, Barack Obama gives us a bill larger than the additional taxes we need to pay to clear up the credit crunch.  We definitely aren’t that far along, are we?

Anticipating life after the recession

That doesn’t stop me trying to anticipate the end game, though.  It struck me today that the essence of much of our debates is a rather abstract question:  what will be the relative roles of our economic and social lives?

Many pundits think our economic lives will become marginal, not because we will be poor but because we simply don’t have to work so hard to meet our basic needs.  (I can hear you tell me to talk for myself!)

But the structure of economic life is the central question we face and within that question is the question of the relative roles of economic and social lives.

Where will work fit into our lives after the recession?

Within this question is the role that economic activity plays in a healthy existence.  We like to work.  We may not always like the conditions of our employment or or relative status, but we like to work.

Poet David Whyte thinks our character is tempered by the fires of work.  We express ourselves through economic exchanges.  We grow through economic exchanges.

Maybe this question should be the starting point of imagining our radically different collective futures.  What kind of economic interchanges do we believe are worth pursuing?

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English Philosopher Alan Watts on Living Now

Carpe Diem or Slow Down and Smell The Roses?

I think Alan Watts might have decried Carpe Diem.  Seize the day!  He would have teased us for being in hurry and not savoring the moment.

Living in The Now is So Very Hard to Do

Living in the now, living mindfully, is very hard for Western-reared people.  Though we are here, now, we constantly worry about what happened last year, last month, last week, yesterday.  And when we are not occupying ourselves with our past, we worry about the future.  I must do this.  I must prevent that!  We have no time left for now.

We are also pretty suspicious about living now.  It seems self-indulgent to just stop and enjoy my coffee.   I rather suspect that we in the West interpret being mindful to living what Seligman pleasurably, as opposed to living with engagement and meaning. We are obsessed with children eating marshmallows, or not, as the case may be.  The reality is that we are obsessed with marshmallows!

We Desperately Want to Live in The Now

Alan Watts’ philosophy challenges us because it is alien to us.  But we seek it.  The idea of picking three tasks to do a day in an agile sprint or a personal kanban is a bid, I think, to justify our deep need to pay attention to what we are doing.

3 Videos on Alan Watts Speaking about Play & Work

I was brought up within a Western frame of thinking so I will stop here and embed the videos.  Each is about 10 minutes long, so maybe budget 40 minutes.  Know that you are a child of this age and that you will find it hard to block 40 minutes and to sit still that long.  Make some coffee, find a comfortable chair, put a pen and pad next to you  for the extraneous thoughts that will pop into your mind, and take the opportunity to relax ~ to deeply relax in the company of a man who knew how to enjoy life.

Hat-tip:  These videos were posted on YouTube by Broodbox

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1001 things we learn from live performers

#1  my career is a journey to find my people

A good performer jumps on stage, looks out at the audience, and thinks, “Here I am!”
A great performer jumps on stage, looks out at the audience, and thinks, “There you are!”

Steve Rapson from Art of the Solo Performer
contributed by DW from Connecticut, USA

and for #2 thru #1001 visit Music Thoughts

 

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More bad news coming. The internet will expose more institutional spin

I know my institutions and can read their behavior

Many years ago, I friend of mine was negotiating his salary with his employer.  To aid his efforts, he paid a friend who was an employment agent to advertise a job just like his and to offer a wonderful package.

My students at the time were all excited.  The advertisement vindicated their choice of major.  Yes,  if they worked hard, they could follow an institutional path and be rich!!

Not even knowing my friend’s devious scheme (I found out later), I dismissed the advertisement with a contemptuous, “It’s a scam”.

See, I knew three things that my students didn’t know:

  • The prevailing salary rates, not just in my profession, but in sister professions of accounting, marketing, etc.  I knew what the market thought was reasonable.
  • Business conditions and the amount of gross profit available for institutional careers (you know the one’s guaranteed by the taxpayer no matter how much you mess up)
  • That people run institutions lie.

Before I worked as a work & organizational psychologist, I too thought institutions were honorable

I remember the first time I fell for an institutional scam.  It was a painful experience and it took me years to get over it.

We trust institutions

When we are young, we believe that institutional leaders are honorable.  Institutional leaders go to great lengths to make us believe that because that is their job.  After all an institution is only an institution if it is stable and trusted.  So they will tell you anything to have you believe they have done their job.

But we should remember that to check whether they are trustworthy

And that is why we must not trust them.  We must ask for evidence.  Hard, cold evidence.  What are the career paths in the organization?  Where are the statistics?  What are the future scenarios for the organization?  Can you look at them?

An institutional leader cannot use his own spin as evidence

Lord Mandelson is doing the right thing by making universities show students the destinations of graduates An institutional leader cannot hold up his own spin as evidence that he has succeeded in making order and stability for us.  He was to show us the evidence.

In the days of the internet, data on the institution’s performance should be freely available

And I am afraid that if that in the days of the internet that if that evidence is not freely available on the internet in slurpable form – meaning that you can download the  input data, not the processed data – then they obviously have something to hide.

Harsh words, I know

But remember my friend, and remember how my students were taken in.

Ask questions and the first question is ~ what happens when I ask?

First sign of scoundrels running the organization

If they don’t want to answer, or if they set up a meeting where we are doing all the answering and our questions come after they have made up their minds, then they are frauds.  Then they are frauds and and we have found them out.

Disappointing, of course.  Doubly disappointing.  Trebly disappointing.

  • We don’t get what we want.
  • Institutions by definition should be honorable.  So we don’t get what we want AND we know we have frauds in our midst.
  • Institutions are usually paid for by the taxpayer.  We don’t get what we want, we know you are trying to cheat us AND we are paying for you.

My priorities when you use public money to cheat me

Hmmph.  Well for now, my priority must be to get what I need and want.  Then I will participate to clear out the rotten institutions.  Then I will think about recovering my money from you.

Is that the right order?

For the young & inexperienced

And if you are young and inexperienced, stop trusting institutions who don’t trust you with hard, cold data.  Spin that they have done their job of making a safe, orderly environment for you is not evidence. Ask for the evidence.  If they don’t have it, act accordingly ~ warily ~ get what you need and in due course, expose their shenanigans.

 

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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.

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Work-bingeing, flu, procrastination?

Day Two at Xoozya

I strolled into Xoozya on my second day planning to spend the whole morning quietly in my office exploring the communication system and making the list of skills I thought I should maintain and those I thought I should learn in the near to medium future.

Crisis is the patron of procrastination

On my door was a yellow sticky, “Help, we have a proposal due today and we may not get it in on time.  Could you help out?  We need help proofing.  Mary, @maryjane”.  I unlocked my door and dumped my keys and bag in the bottom filing cabinet drawer, powered up my desktop, and searched for @maryjane.   Games designer putting in a proposal to use games as a research tool.  West block.  I picked up the phone and said I would be right over.  Nothing like an emergency to aid a little procrastination.

Flu – how clean is this desk?

I grabbed a pack of tissues and wipes – this is the year of the great flu epidemic and office desks are notoriously unhygenic – locked the door behind me, and headed out to the west block in search of @maryjane and her team.  7 grueling hours later, we’ve converted the files into pdf and sent them off.

Work-bingeing

Where did Day Two go?  Tired and no further forward.  That’s a terrible feeling isn’t it, and the fatigue after a work-binge is awful.  We want to work but can’t think straight.  For that matter, we can barely remember what we were doing before.

7x as productive

We don’t often apply ‘industrial management’ ideas to creativity but “Boise” has done.  He studied the productivity of academics.  People who work little and often are 7x more productive than people who binge-work.  Binge work is disruptive.  We ‘come down’ emotionally and physically, feel terrible and need time to recover.  We also have to spend time picking up the threads of what we are doing.

Little-and-often

Little and often is the golden rule.  Write every day.  Work on your main project every day.  Gather a few resources for the next project.  Spit and polish and go home!

Go home!

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Complicated is horrible. Complexity is beautiful.

Oh, I am so irritated.  I’ve been doing tax returns all day.  They have to be one of the most irritating things in life, and not because someone is taking money off us.  They are irritating because they are convoluted, fiddly, and complicated.

There are plenty of other complicated things in life too.  Airports with signs that send you anywhere except where you want to go.  Bosses who change their minds quicker than change their socks.  And road signs!  Zemanta, the Firefox Addon which searches the web while you write your blog, found this humbdinger of signage from Toronto, dubbed ‘The Audacity of Nope‘.

The opposite of complicated is complex

Instead of the stop-start sensation we get when details are allowed to disrupt the flow of the whole, complexity is when the parts come together to make something bigger themselves – like the mexican wave in a home crowd.

Is eliminating complicatedness and creating complexity the essence of professional life?

Do architects create buildings where we flow, never having to stop and scratch our heads, or to backtrack?

Do brilliant writers grab attention our attention in the first line and take us with them into a world where we follow the story without distraction from out of place detail?

Do leaders describe our group accomplishment, and draw us into a collective adventure, to play our part without constant prodding and cajoling?

How do you create complexity in your work?

In what ways do you help us experience the whole where parts fit in without discord?

  • What is the ‘whole’ thing that you make?  If you can’t name it, can you visualize it, or hear it?
  • What are the essential parts of the whole, and the linkages between the parts that are essential to form the whole?
  • What are the signs that you look out for that the whole is ‘forming’, or ‘not forming’, as it should?
  • What are the extra bits of help that from time-to-time you add for the whole to come to fruition?

I’m interested in the complexity you manage, and the beautiful and satisfying experiences you add to the world.

Come with me

Share your experiences with us?

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Is engendering curiosity a pertinent goal in positive psychology?

How do you explain the simultaneity principle of positive psychology?

Last week, I gave a talk on positive psychology to psychology students at the University of Buckingham. I structured the talk around the five principles of appreciative inquiry which I used to explore positive psychology and the poetry of David Whyte some months ago.

As I linked each principle to what we might do in our lives, when we coach others, and when we design organizations, I felt a little inadequate on the simultaneity principle.

How can we simply explain ideas of emergence and exploring one’s relationship with the world to beginners in our field?

Is curiosity the quality we are hoping to create in our approach to life?  Is curiosity a virtue to be engendered in organizations as part of job design?

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