Repeated small acts of disobedience



The Obvious?

It’s all very well knowing that how we currently work is broken. We can see how things could be better. But how do we start?

Usually we are not in a position to instigate wholesale change. We don’t have the authority or budget. Those above us, and who measure our performance, are stuck in the old way of doing things and have stopped listening to our attempts to paint an enticing picture of a different future. What to do?

Maybe that should be “What to don’t?”? Maybe we have to start saying no more often? Maybe we have to begin to exercise a degree of artistic interpretation of what we are asked to do? Maybe we have to act dumb and slow down things that maintain the status quo and put more energy into things that will bring about change?

Maybe we need to get used to asking for forgiveness rather than permission? Maybe we need to be careful while we are doing so?!

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Lipstick, Pigs, and Dinosaurs

The Obvious?

In more and more organisations senior management realise that fundamental challenges to the status quo are emerging and they know they need to do something about it. The knee jerk reaction is to have an initiative, some sort of change programme: “drive employee engagement”; “develop our people’s leadership potential”; “encourage creativity”.

Those further down the chain are put in charge of these initiatives and get busy doing what you do to run an initiative. But the challenge is that all too often they themselves are the very group who have been previously charged with creating the organisational norms and culture that are the source of the problem that the organisation is now having to deal with!

All too often the result is half hearted at best, disingenuous at worst. In fact the phrase “lipstick on a pig” has become common parlance for the superficial attempts at change that are all too often the result. Pockets of change may be achieved but the prevailing organisational culture reasserts itself.

I am increasingly asked to help with this challenge. Keynotes on working in a digital world, involvement in leadership programmes at business schools, workshops for large institutions trying to adapt. Sometimes it feels like I am spending my career attempting to resuscitate dinosaurs and I wonder if it might be kinder to shoot them and move on. But the sorts of institutions I mostly work with aren’t going away tomorrow. There are no viable alternatives. They have to find a way to deal with this.

I am more and more convinced that all change happens at an individual level – and for their reasons not yours. Superficial initiatives insult our collective intelligence and fool no one. You have to find a way to instigate profound personal shifts in world view. It is an existential challenge for most and we are just scratching the surface.

Much work to be done!

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Real Jobs

The Obvious?

A short holiday in the south west got me thinking about work.

I watched a farmer using an amazing device attached to his tractor to wrap hay bales in black plastic and wondered what Tess Of The D’Urbervilles would make of it. In the scene where she is frantically trying to keep up with a state of the art steam threshing machine Hardy is railing against the inhumanity of the onward march of industrialisation and technology. Before those machines it took dozens of people to do the same work.

The beautiful lanes and villages I was enjoying would previously been filled with locals who had lived in and worked on the land for centuries before the arrival of technology. Those lanes are now filled with people in cars returning to the countryside from their office jobs in cities, trying to recover some of the connection with the land and the landscape that they have lost.

The ongoing march of technology that so worried Hardy continues at an ever increasing pace. The automation of those very same car driving, white collar, knowledge workerS’ jobs is currently looming on the horizon.

Should we be feeling the same concern as Hardy? Will this automation lead to fewer and fewer people being in what we currently think of as “real jobs”? Or will we find new ways to add value to each other, whole new industries that we haven’t yet begun to imagine?

It really does feel as if it could go either way at the moment.

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Discretion

The Obvious?

I write all the time about the benefits of sharing our thoughts and insights with each other. Thinking harder, writing better, and sharing more is my mantra. But there are many times when the stories we want to share involve other people and it is not always easy to decide if and how to share those stories.

Having spent the weekend with my parents there are lots of potential topics swirling around my head. They involve both the good and the bad of family relationships and what those have to teach us about ourselves and our ways of dealing with the world. In some respects these are the very topics that potentially offer the greatest learning, both for ourselves and for others.

But these topics touch on other people’s feelings and identities and to share them would have an impact on our relationships. It would also be a one sided perspective on situations with little opportunity for rebuttal.

The same is true of working with clients. There are many, many times that I am presented with situations which I am dying to blog about that would reveal really important stuff about the workplace. But I decide not to. It feels “unfair”, breaking an implicit trust, being indiscrete to my advantage and their disadvantage.

This is one of the hardest challenges of blogging and one about which there are no easy answers. We all have to work out where our own lines are drawn and when to be brave and when to be discrete.

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Growing up

The Obvious?

We currently face massive disruption with our institutions creaking at the seams, technology racing ahead of our ability to adapt, climate change and rebalancing geopolitics looming threateningly on the horizon. We need to get better at working things out faster and working together to rise to these challenges.

The internet gives us the potential to do this. To learn to think harder, to become more discerning, to share more effectively. It all starts with the next blog post, the next Facebook update, the next tweet.

The first chapter in my book is called “We all need to grow up”. We need to start…

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Sunlight is the best disinfectant

The Obvious?

I have just been listening to a Longform podcast interview with Noreen Malone who wrote the New York Times cover story about women raped by Bill Cosby. She talks about how some of the women had been ignored when they tried to tell their stories previously and what a large part social media played in the surfacing of the stories now.

We are seeing this power exercised more and more. Sure there is a risk of vigilantism and mob rule, but if we all exercise our judgement and “volume control” on which stories to amplify and which to turn down, we have at our disposal a powerful tool for good.

We will also start to manifest this power inside our organisations and learn to control their worst excesses and abuses.

I don’t think management really understand this yet.

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Staying with discomfort

The Obvious?

Institutions, corporations, and the old order generally, are struggling to keep up with the levels of disruption and change that we are seeing. Old stories no longer makes sense and we are groping forwards for new ways to understand and manage our world.

There is much theorising being done about “the future of work”, or “new society”. But there is a real risk of leaping too soon for the comfort of a new “solution”. A formula that appears to take the pain away, that seems to explain everything.

My sense is that we have too much to learn to be doing that so soon. We need to peel away more layers, pick at more sores, dig deeper into why things don’t feel right. We have had decades of the capitalist, corporatist, “buy stuff till you die” story and we now have the opportunity to collectively work out a new, more inspiring one.

This is a much bigger opportunity than many realise and will take longer than we expect. Staying interested in why things feel wrong, why they fall apart, what our role in all of this is, is a once in several generations opportunity. We should make the most of it.

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Most people

The Obvious?

“Most people don’t…”
“Most people are…”
“Most people like…”
“Most people feel…”
“Most people think…”

It is so easy to preface our statements with “Most people”. It feels as if it gives what we say additional authority, as if we are sharing an incontrovertible truth. But we’re not. We’re just sharing our opinion and often simply projecting aspects of our own character.

Most people don’t think of themselves as most people!

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Busywork rots the soul

The Obvious?

So much of what takes up people’s time at work is pointless.

Meetings that are in the diary that no one can remember their purpose and that rarely agree anything; forty page reports that you are asked to rewrite or reformat a dozen times and that you know no one is going to read; pitches for work that inflate everything so that both purchaser and supplier can look more important but that are really only an indication of an intent to work together; project plans and strategies that bear little relation to how things turn out and join the large pile of their predecessors gathering dust on a shelf.

You know this and I know this, the people around us know this, but no one wants to admit it. No one wants to confess how out of control it all is, how nervous they are of stopping moving long enough to realise that they have forgotten what the point is (if they ever knew it).

Whole careers get wasted like this. This seems sad.

We can avoid this soul destroying nightmare if we break ranks, if we find the courage to be the first to ask that scary, and apparently dumb, question: “Why are we doing this?”. Follow it up with: “Do we need to do this?” Keep asking these questions and maybe others will break ranks and join you.

Maybe some, just some, of the madness will stop.

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Public Speaking

Aside from death, public speaking is a strong number two in relationship to what most people fear most. That says a lot given what number one is on that list, but getting up in front of a group of people is a unique skill that varies as far as ease and comfort when you look across the spectrum of people who attempt to do it.

Simply put, you’re either really strong at speaking publicly or you flat out just don’t like doing it.

For those who fall into the latter category, your lack of public speaking skills most likely is holding you back as it relates to career advancement or being viewed as the person your boss or management goes to when they need a presentation put together or someone in the office to really drive home a particular point or close any number of deals.

Your goal as someone who isn’t very comfortable or competent as a public speaker shouldn’t be to overnight become some sort of success story of epic proportions. What you should be thinking about is filling that gap that is the happy medium so that you’re at least somewhere in the middle to above average pack so that you’re not consistently being left out when it comes to something important on the docket or agenda at your workplace.

So how exactly do you go from a zero to at least a 7 or 8 without much work? Well, the work part has to be there, but it is possible. What you want to do is focus on the people who are 10 out of 10s and think about how they frame the speech, how they understand the audience and put forth the type of eye contact or non-verbal communication that works well on all levels.

You’ll want to stay away from jokes and humor, but rather focus on who is listening to what you have to say and build the public speaking session out from there. As you frame your speak, keep the transition simple. Don’t be afraid to write out a simple 1, 2, 3 outline so that you’re able to easily move from one topic to the next without worrying about how you’ll get through the speech without it feeling as though it is out of sync.

In other words, don’t be afraid to dumb down your approach.

Sometimes simple often is just as superb as being overly wordy or trying too hard to impress.

Your skills might never be magical or monumental, but getting them beyond mediocre also works well for what you’re intending to accomplish.

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