In our heads

Barely above water

I felicitate the people who have a Person from Porlock
To break up everything and throw it away
Because then there will be nothing to keep them
And they need not stay.

Stevie Smith, Thoughts about the Person from Porlock

Across a range of different environments, I hear the same story: returning to in person social activity is hard and people are experiencing all kinds of challenges from lack of social graces to anxiety to lack of motivation to feelings of alienation. We have become used to being in our own heads.

The pandemic lockdown experience whether from legal restrictions or personal caution was one in which our interaction with the world became mediated by technology. Yes, there were video calls but also much of our communication experience was text – chats, group messaging, social media and email.

In both mediums, video meetings and text, there is time to read, think, choices to be distracted or participate and the options of distance to leverage. With new options to ghost the world, overall interaction seems to have declined. We have spent a lot more time in our own heads than in a normal year. All that thinking time accumulates.

Hell is other people

Jean-Paul Sartre

Whether you are an egotistical existential philosopher or not, we have all experienced the disruption other’s present to our comfortable thought patterns. It can be an unique form of hell to deal with other’s views, negotiate options or navigate their egos. Withdrawing to the quiet of home seems an attractive option. Losing one’s temper at the perceived stupidity of other’s thoughts that don’t reflect your own is ever so tempting too.

In person interaction is demanding of our time, our thoughts, our emotions, our creativity and our attention. It is far less easy to tune out, ghost or autopilot face-to-face. Importantly , we need to get out of our own heads to succeed in this environment. We need to be social not just do it.

Diverse teams perform better. They also argue more and have lower trust. The challenge and the conflict of social interaction is part of human performance and essential to human creativity. Design programs develop skills of critique to help designers reach beyond the limits of their own vision. The contest of ideas in academia, corporates or politics isn’t a battle of supremacy, it is a process of understanding evolution and creation. No matter how uncomfortable, that social interaction powers our human development. If we resort to our own heads or comfortable social bubbles, all our lives will be more fragile and the lesser for it.

We need time out of our own heads. The art is rediscovering the potential humanity of those moments. Inconvenience fades. Society must not.

I went my way and would not care
If they should come and go;
A thousand birds seemed up in air,
My thoughts were singing so.

Marjorie Pickthall, Thoughts


What do you notice?

There’s a big wide world out there. It is time to notice it and those living around us. The more we deal with the separation of hybrid work and hybrid lives the more important it is to notice others and react to what we are noticing.


Whether because of writing, consulting, my work in innovation or customer experience, I have learned the power of time paying attention to my environment and what is going on around me. When was the last time you looked up? Over the years, I realised that noticing is a habit. We need to step out of our self-absoption and pay attention to others, to our environment and to all the little things that might otherwise slip below our focused attention. Without the consistency of explicit attention, we will fail to notice.

Some times the clues that we need to notice are tiny – a person’s silence, an odd choice of words, the things that they are not saying or not doing. Because many of life’s issues, problems and challenges cause us to stop, withdraw or be silent, it can be harder for us to notice that people are depressed, fatigued or languishing. We can’t all retreat to the isolation of Walden pond even if it is tempting in our busy digital lives. In a world of exponential change curves, many changes start small until they are suddenly not. The sooner you notice, the sooner you can act.

Many times our busy rush means we don’t pick up on the clues or cries for help that others are offering. If we don’t notice, we can inadvertently brush away the first tentative reach out for help or for support. We can make it appear that others aren’t caring simply by not paying enough attention as we go about our lives.

A question I often ask myself “what story does this thing I notice tell me?’ Looking for a narrative, a pattern or a rationale behind the little things can help you to go beyond observation and develop ways that you might engage to learn more. Those narratives can help you pick up on incipient trends and inspire your own creative thinking about what is possible or what might be to come.


We are ever more dependent on our ability to notice when the bandwidth of our relationships is so reduced by hybrid working relationships. Checking-in, checking-up and reaching out become very important activities to support those who matter to us to continue with all their work and life activities. Related is the practice of thanking those who have helped and supported us. We need to notice those who are helping us to get by so that we can remember to encourage that activity and also to know who we need to call on in times of challenge.

Noticing is not enough. We may not perceive the situation correctly. We may not understand at all. We need to engage to better our understanding of what we see and also act to make change or help those who need it. Nobody who is struggling needs to be told that everyone notices that they are struggling and how tough that struggle may be. Much of the discussion around issues such as Black Lives Matter, Indigenous inequality, racism, gender equality or sexual harassment is a frustrating repeated pattern of the wider community saying ‘I noticed this (usually at last). It is bad’ and the directly affected individuals saying ‘I’m glad you noticed. I know it too well. What are you going to do?’

Challenging times increase our need to notice others, notice situations and notice changes. With a better habit of attention we can work to make life better for others through engagement and action.

So what do you notice and what will you do about it?

Portfolio of Purpose

A Portfolio of Purpose

All the talk about purpose can be confusing. In particular we can be vexed by the difference between personal purpose and organisational purpose. The high bar that purpose sets for work can also create the feeling that every single moment of our work life should contribute to personal purpose. As the outcomes of our efforts that benefit others, purpose is not required from one task or one job, the outcome flows from a whole life – all the ways we work, hobbies, volunteering, family and more. We need to manage our personal portfolio of purpose.

Discovering Purpose

Discussion of organisational purpose can make it feel like purpose can be imposed. It can also create the impression that anything not directly to that purpose is less valuable, even where it might matter greatly to you.

Purpose is the outcomes of our effort that benefit others. Organisational purpose is the shared outcomes of individual efforts. The organisation itself has no purpose that isn’t shared by the people who make it up. Both personal purpose and organisational purpose are discovered not imposed. If your organisational purpose was developed by consultants or around a board table, it likely misses some of the subtleties of the culture in practice of your organisation. At worst, that statement of purpose is irrelevant to how the organisation acts.

Engaging with others, it is helpful to have a sense of the positive outcomes that you want to contribute for others. If you aren’t clear going in, you can always discover purpose in the work and in the collaboration. The best way to discover individual or collective purpose is not by what people say but the choices that they have made to benefit others through work. The Purpose is in the Work.

A Portfolio of Purpose

Most of us struggle to make everything we do or every organisation we join, directly relevant to our personal purpose. Life just doesn’t work that way. There is always development work, preparation, administration and overhead in all parts of life. Both individuals and organisations need to do things for money, to learn and to grow. Often your personal purpose is met later along the path and not right now.

Two approaches can reduce the sense of disappointment we feel when we must tackle tasks away from our personal sense of purpose:

  • Recognise purpose comes from all of life: Work is not the be-all and end-all of purpose. For many work may actually be a means to an end to pursue social or artistic purposes that don’t fit well into traditional work roles. The richer and more diverse your life the more likely you are to find ways to express your contributions to others. That also means knowing when to stop the gradual encroaching of work into every aspect of our life and identity. You aren’t your job and don’t let it define you. If your job doesn’t quite fit your sense of self, then embrace the difference. Difference is OK and you only need change role when the difference becomes direct incompatability.
  • Manage a diverse portfolio of activity: Recognise that the perfect job is rare, will likely become the end of a long search and may even be fleeting. Putting all your effort in the job basket can ignore the myriad other ways that you can make a contribution. Look across all the domains of your life and build a portfolio of contributions to others – that portfolio of purpose will provide the greatest chance for you to experience the personal rewards and to discover more about how you can contribute. Like any portfolio, diversity of effort also helps mitigate against disappointment in any one part of your life. There will always be some part of your efforts that are rewarding.

I have been exploring the portfolio life for some time, combing work, running businesses, consulting, advisory relationships, board roles, volunteering and helping friends. Every one of those activities gives me new insight into my personal purpose and new chances to express my contributions to others. The breadth of activities reduces the need for any one activity to meet my highest expectations. I learn and grow as I work across the breadth of this portfolio of roles.

So what’s in your portfolio of purpose?

Yammer for Continuous Improvement – Adapting to Change

Yammer groups and communities are a powerful way to manage continuous improvement initiatives in your organisation. Quality and continuous improvement work requires distributed advocates, customer insights, problem solving and adaptive change. Yammer delivers the capability to bring your employees together in one platform for these important and valuable conversations.

Connect Your Continuous Improvement Champions

A powerful place to start is to bring together your continuous improvement experts and champions in a community of practice to share information, insights, expertise and learning. Given the many kinds and models of continuous improvement, even this discipline can become siloed around techniques, philosophies and even jargon. Everyone working on making the organisation better can connect and understand each other’s work, whether they call what they do Lean, Agile, Product, Kaizen, Quality, Continuous Improvement, Productivity or some other term of art. Having this community of practice work out loud together connects your continuous improvement employees and initiatives and makes them discoverable by the wider business. Both members of the community and the wider organisation can learn the approaches in use, how problems get solved and how change happens to benefit the whole organisation.

Share Customer Insights: Value, Pain points, Issues, Broken Processes and Escalations

Continuous improvement work needs to be guided by customer insights and feedback from employees. It can often be hard and costly to gather this on a project by project basis. Yammer groups dedicated to key customers, lines of business or process can be a place to gather continuous feedback from customers leveraging the interactions of employees across the breadth of the organisation. Frontline staff are a key source of insights but often don’t know where to find the process owners or those who can help address issues. Give them a group to share those issues. Operations employees are another key source of lessons on processes and products needing improvement. Help them to connect with the right people to address their issues.

Solve Problems Together

Your quality and continuous improvement advocates can leverage Yammer to work directly with employees involved in the work to solve the problems identified. They can also leverage Yammer for ideation with the input of the wider organisation and to draw in expertise as required from a range of people across the organisation, both known and unknown. Yammer is a powerful coordinator of an organisations talents and capabilities to fulfil strategic goals and to facilitate adaptation.

Create Sustainable Improvement & Change

Embedding quality and continuous improvement initiatives in the organisation requires ongoing change management. That change begins with people understanding the initiatives early, being engaged in their development and having ongoing ownership and advocacy of the initiative beyond its life as project. Finding advocates for your change initiative through Yammer, engaging them and them empowering them to continue the change is a key benefit to your continuous improvement initiative

The goal of all continuous improvement work in your organisation is to create greater value for employees, for customers and for the organisation. Yammer groups and communities are a great way to connect the whole organisation around that important strategic work.

Future-dated Obligations

Nowhere to be

The last year has left us a lot of time to spend with our own thoughts. At the same time we have been surrounded by a relentless algorithmic march of should. Let go of these future-dated social obligations and find some freedom to live now.

The Algorithmic March of Should

Because we carry our mobile devices, we use social media and consume other media, we are constantly told what we should do. Some of this social pressure is advertising. Some social pressure comes from content marketing dressing up advice and suggestions as obligations. Much of the rest is the ongoing argument about contested social norms, expectations and all our other future dated social obligations. Government public service announcements have proliferated. Safety warnings surround us. We live in a relentless should culture. Nobody is ever really cancelled, just told overwhelmingly what they should do, be and believe.

The challenge with should is that it is directive, absolute and can get in the way of decision making today. We become so concerned with what we should do, who we should be, where we should get to and what we should achieve that doing anything at all now can start to feel impossible. It only gets worse when the advice as to what we should is so often confusing, conflicting, unsupported by research or unsuited to our unique time and place.

We experience this most when much of what we are told we should comes from outside of our community, our experience, our wishes and our capabilities. If we are able to engage, understand and negoatiate these social obligations we have a chance to adapt to its exhortations, to understand better and to take it onboard. The canny obligers will tell us that engagement or understanding is also not allowed. We should just obey. Without that engagement, any social obligation is just another voice shouting should.

There is nothing wrong with the many intrinsic social obligations that each of us can choose to live today. Societies function because of our civil society of norms and laws that community members absorb into their lives. It is not a question of unfettered independence, civil society too depends on our willingness to act for others, often with nothing but pain in return. Legal obligations are not in argument here, just a wide range of pressures from social norms to useful advice to other’s often unreasonable expectations.

Future-Dated Obligations

There is a lot that needs to be debated about externally imposed social obligations that stretch into our future. To separate the charlatans and the manipulators from the well-meaning, we need the ability to engage in debate, review and decisions around these obligations. Shutting down engagement won’t convince anyone, improve anything or achieve enduring change. All that happens is the conflict or crisis is kicked further along. Anyone who suggests the topic is undebatable needs to be queried.

Before you take on a raft of future-dated obligations from others, make sure you understand your own needs, wants and desires. Be prepared to engage, to test its applicability and ultimately reject where ill-suited. Be present in your own life and choose what comes in based on your understanding and own expectations. Be gentle and forgiving where you fall short of your own standards and generous when you or others fall short of those social obligations that the others impose.

All those people shouting should want something from you, usually it is only your attention or your wallet. Before you do today and decide what your tomorrow holds, give them your engagement.

Be kind

They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.

—Carl W. Buehner

Shine a little light

it may be that
kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world

Michael Blumenthal, Be Kind

Over the weekend, some feedback came back to me through networks of how I was perceived in a former workplace. That feedback was simple – ‘Simon was so nice’. While nice may not be the richest adjective, I came to understood that my kindness to others was appreciated. While I doubt that view was universally held, it was comforting to hear that my efforts in relationships were appreciated. Kindness, generosity, an interest in others and a willingness to help are rare enough in large organisations to be remarkable.

When you put yourself into the shoes of others and seek to understand their situation, it can be hard to engage with people in any other way. There are evil people and they are best avoided. However, so many poorly performing people are confused as to their goals or distorted by the systems in which they operate. In my experience kindness leads to reciprocity and trust and they are on the list of the few things that can help someone to better behaviours. Leaving a little kindness behind as you go about your day makes even unpleasant situations more bearable.

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar

Traditional Proverb

Collaboration is one of the few superpowers that we mere mortals can invoke. How else can we borrow the assistance of others – their knowledge, their efforts, their capabilities and more? Kindness oils the wheels of collaboration opening up to us access to a force magnifier of productivity as our networks lean in to return the favour. Don’t view kindness as a reciprocal transaction. I have received way more generosity than I have ever given. Even more extraordinarily, I have received it from strangers who know people in my network or simply saw my kindness to others.

we know the moment kindheartedness
walks in. Each praise be
echoes us back as the years uncount
themselves, eating salt. 

Yusuf Komunyakaa, Kindness

It takes no more effort to be kind and often it takes less when you remove all the scheming, shouting and unintended reactions to unkindness. Kindness need not be confused with being soft. The world yields to those who are purposeful, but kind in their relationships. Everything we do, we do in relationships with others. A little kindness goes a long way on those well networked paths.

PS By the way our productive network relationships don’t end at our social media relationships. They only begin there. As much as it can be tempting to be smarter or sharper or one-up in that medium, don’t. Keyboard warrior, troll, that guy on Linkedin and reply guy aren’t terms of endearment and aren’t titles that lead to greater or more productive things


When I hear words
I have uttered to you and forgotten
They are like birds

Sally Ann Kinsolving, Surprise

We have learned a lot about surprises in the last twelve months. Whether it was the shock of a global pandemic disrupting our work and our lives, how much we can get done working from home, the power of freak weather, how far some people will stray from rationality in the name of ideology or who was up to the challenges of supporting us through the year (and who wasn’t). We also were surprised by who was ready for the transitions and who wasn’t able to adapt enough or at all. The surprises of the last year have the potential to teach us a lot.

Humans evolved around the African savannah where surprise is rarely a good thing. We long for the safe, comfortable, stable and predictable. Our brains even tend to default to a linear projection of activity forward in steady ways. This longing can be so strong that we are willing to ignore or suppress the reality of the shocks and surprises that impact us everyday. We do so particularly when those surprises are calling for us to change or make change.

A system of necessity much elaborated
becomes allowances very possibility

AA Ammons, The Surprise of an Ending

Most organisations spend far more time perfecting forecasts, approving business cases based on forecasts, managing performance to forecast and otherwise smoothing out the future than they do on the risk management of surprises. Yet surprises are inevitable. Most annual plan achievements are the outcome of getting to the numbers still after the surprises happened. We rarely reflect on what is lost or what are the costs in that process.

As Daniel Kahneman, notes above, the world is surprising. The world is even more surprising when we set out to make change, to improve things or to create new things. We never quite know in these scenarios what we are going to get. However, the inevitability of surprise is not an excuse for ignorance it is an imperative to plan for surprises, to build in agility and to adapt. Most surprises aren’t that surprising if you consider the risks and opportunities and plan for eventualities that are on the spectrum of possibility. Preparation helps mitigate the shock and panic of surprise on the African savannah and the modern organisation. Knowing whether to freeze, fight or take flight is essential preparation.

You will be surprised. Expect ‘mistakes’ to disrupt the certainty of performance expectations. Plan and prepare for it.

It was misfortune on that cold night
falling on someone’s house,
but not mine

Jackson Wheeler, How Good Fortune Surprises Us

Yammer for Communicators

Planning your use of Yammer

Yammer is a tool that looks straight forward to many communicators. It is an employee communication tool so we can use it to broadcast to employees. This mindset is why so many communicators focus first on the number of employees on the platform and the communication features available. Employee engagement matters and so do the breadth of features available. However, highly valuable and strategically powerful use of Yammer is about more than numbers and buttons wrapped around broadcast messages. There is a critical opportunity that simple broadcasting to employees in Yammer misses. Yammer is both a communication tool and a collaboration tool for communities. This two-way potential opens up new opportunities for interactions and new power to your communication strategies.

Communication AND Collaboration

This two-way potential of Yammer is critical in this time because it highlights how we need to respond to the uncertainties and challenges facing our organisation. Rather than pretending they don’t exist or ironing out differences in the name of security, we have the opportunity to leverage our whole organisation’s talents and capabilities to navigate and adapt. That’s ultimately what we come together in organisations to achieve. Yammer magnifies the power of organisations to leverage talents and capabilities. The communicators in organisations play a critical role in supporting this process.

Organisations exist to change to meet the needs of customers and the environment

Communicators are very familiar with planning broadcast messaging in an organisation. We work from the audience, through objectives, to the message, delivery and call to action. In thinking about the power of the two-way communication opportunity, communicators can use similar questions. It begins with understanding who is in the community and what purposes they share. That planning develops by recognising the the process forward is a two-way interaction. Communicators need to think through how to start the conversation, how best to engage that community and ultimately the work that they want achieved together.

Planning out the engagement

Planning for a successful collaboration must also leverage the understanding of communities in the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration. Communities are comprised of people who come together to share purpose and build trust. Organisations are comprised of many overlapping groups like this. If you want to engage these groups on Yammer or any other collaboration tool, you will need to work through how those people connect in purpose, share sufficient context to work together and begin to solve common problems with the capabilities of the organisation. Psychological safety, working out loud and the degrees of freedom to make change become critical accelerators of value on that journey and what ultimately powers the value of the work. The Value Maturity Model Canvas is a tool to enable anyone planning a collaboration to work through questions aligned to this model.

The Value Maturity Model of Collaboration

At a high level the role of the canvas is to map our the key questions aligned to the Value Maturity Model: who needs to connect, what do they need to know to solve what problem. Even these simple questions can guide a communicator in thinking about how they can better leverage Yammer for greater value in their organisation.

Do you understand the who, what, how and what if? for you? for your employees?

Planning in this way is important for communicators who want to leverage the benefits of Yammer because it will enable them to adopt more valuable use of the platform Yammer offers an organisation and also support other leaders that they advise to do the same. Swoop Analytics has mapped out a range of personas of user behaviours that reflect different value in the use of Yammer. You can see how these personas move from passive, to communication only and ultimately to two-way interaction that fosters the wider network.

The value of users differs – from communication to value creators and value multipliers

In its recent Yammer Benchmarking report for 2020, Swoop Analytics has also identified that groups in Yammer move through a very similar continuum. This reflects the fact that network collaboration is often fractal with patterns repeating at different level. The pattern is so similar that I have adapted their image for personas to reflect the different types of groups moving from inactive through to value multiplying. Communications professionals in organisations can play a key role in helping groups to interact in more valuable ways. If you are planning to leverage groups, remember announcements and sharing groups are useful but the real value comes from a deeper two-way interaction.

The value of groups differs from communication to value

No two organisations are the same. No two groups are the same. No two employees are the same. You will get the sense that there is no one pattern for success in Yammer for communicators. In fact the uses are extraordinarily diverse and reflect the growing value of two-way interactions through the maturity journey for individual users and also for the groups together. Whether you use text, images, video, GIFs, Q&A or something more to start your interaction, you are only just beginning a journey of change together with the employees of the organisation.

A myriad of valuable use cases. As many as you have employees and work challenges

As role models of communications best practice and as advisors to senior leaders, communicators can play a key role in enabling all employees in a Yammer network to understand how best to leverage the platform. While Yammer may support organisational top-down messaging, two-way means it is also powerful as a vehicle for peer-to-peer and bottom-up conversations, work and change initiatives. Fostering productive mindsets and behaviours across the employees, groups and organisation will help power this change. Those mindsets have been described on this blog before. Importantly, these mindset challenge traditional communications models of trying to get a message and its delivery perfect every time. Because you are planning for interaction and engagement, there is a chance to improve the messaging and its understanding over time. Thankfully there’s also the ability to edit typos in Yammer these days. Open, generous and purposeful listening and engagement from all employees whether senior leaders or frontline employees will be the foundation of the kind of trust that multiplies value and speeds organisational agility.

Changing mindsets around work and communication – not everything is about perfection

The two-way potential of Yammer as a platform for communication and for collaboration is what enables it to play a key role in helping organisations to adapt to change. Open communities, groups and a culture that enables employees to foster change will help lead that transformation. Ultimately an organisation’s success depends on how well it aligns its people and leverages their known and unknown talents and capabilities in performance and needed change. We can’t know everything all the time, but we can create a platform that enables people to share what they know, do what they can do to help and campaign for necessary change. The communicators in organisations have an important role to play in taking Yammer far beyond an employee communications platform to an open platform to leverage talents and capability for strategy and change.

If you are interested in how best to leverage Yammer in your organisation, reach out to Simon Terry and request a copy of the Collaboration Maturity Model canvas to help with how you and your employees can create greater value through everyday work.

In a world without care, it is concern all the way down

Care enough to create change?

Introduction: Concerned but Uncaring

In the fifth week of a customer experience nightmare over a fundamentally simple transaction, I am in the midst of a stark reminder of the difference between concern and care. Every agent I deal with in my customer experience disaster is deeply concerned at the incovenience, the delays, their failure to deliver over and over again and concerned that this be fixed. At least, the scripts they cite endeavour to convey that concern.

However, neither they nor their organisation have any care for me. The system is established to move me through a series of deeply concerned transactions with no interest in the overall care for the customer. Nobody has enough care that the process doesn’t work to change it. Everyone accepts their role in the broken process to pass the customer on to the next broken process. Achieving an outcome for the customer is lost in the concerned delivery of tasks that never end.

In a world without care, it is concern all the way down.

Enough Concerned Voices. We Need Care

Everywhere I look I hear deeply concerned voices. So many of our global challenges are roiling debates of earnest concerned voices. We have battles to demonstrate our great concern and the conflicts of our concerns. There’s so much concern that we lose sight of people, action and the specific outcomes of change.

In all this concern, we have lost sight of the obligations of care. Care is not talking. Care is action. Care is taking specific actions for specific people to achieve meaningful outcomes. Care is delivering an unique individual or a unique group a specific outcome that matters to them.

Care involves moving beyond transactions to change the system to deliver better outcomes for those specific people.

If you are concerned, you have started the journey to care. To complete that journey you will need:

  • Understanding of those affected by your concerns
  • Clarity of their goals and how they want them to be achieved
  • Compassion with their circumstances and the experience that you create
  • A passion for action to create change for those people
  • Willingness to care about those who share your concerns, find them and collaborate with them

Concern without care is simply theatre. Empty voices shouting into the wilderness will not enable the change we need. We need to partner our concern with care to deliver the meaningful action that will make change.

Care in community is the way forward. We can leverage our concerns to make the first steps to change.


Of brick and scale, I can say

There are other unfathomable things
that speak to both moment and beyond.

Anne Coray, The Egyptians Had It All Wrong

We tend to think of success built in stone and steel. However, both of these substances can be brittle when it is time to flex. Long term success is about our ability to flex, to learn and to build new capability.

The last year has been a massive shock to the global economic system and our own personal experience of work and life. We are coping with a significant magnitude of adaptation in a compressed timeframe. The forces of those changes can reveal our capabilities and our organisations to be flexible or brittle.

Flexible enough?

If you have seen the cities of Asia, one of the extraordinary sites is the bamboo scaffolding around construction sites. That scaffolding of sections of bamboo tied together can reach many dozens of stories high. The material is cheap and plentiful. Tied together by expert teams it is also flexible enough to cover the needs of construction crews and survive moonsoons.

I live in a house that is over a hundred years old. It is a weatherboard. The foundations aren’t always great and much has been replaced over time. The walls shift and crack a little. However, while a house has been here for a hundred plus years it is not the same house. Over that time it has been renovated, renewed and changed in an ongoing way to suit the needs of its occupants and the wear and tear of use and weathering. The ability of the house to flex can be an advantage in storms, heatwaves and other sudden changes.

Our bodies too go through a process of renewal. I may not be as old as my house, but I know that every part of my body is adapting to changes, renewing itself, learning and growing. Luckily I haven’t broken bones but I know that it is a consequence of the body facing too much stress and being unable to flex. Something has to give.

I must renew my bones in your kingdom,
I must still uncloud my earthly duties.

Pablo Neruda, Still Another Day I

Built to Last?

Careers and lives need to flex and be renewed, but that isn’t always part of our discussions. We can tend to see careers as monoliths built stone by stone, reinforced by steel. This discussion can bring a brittleness to our experience of careers. We assume that the stone and steel is the outcome of successes, when much of the advancement in our careers follows failure. Our flexibility and our growth comes from these moments. Failure helps us adapt because we can become too settled and cease to keep adapting to what comes next. Small shocks help us correct cause before bigger shocks arrive.

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias

We have all met people who have risen quickly, one success on another. These careers like steep towers of stone can look impressive. Surprisingly many of these careers are not deeply planned. Success followed success and the stacking of stones inevitable. However, these people and their careers can be particularly brittle. Continuing that run of success can become central to a person’s identity. They chose to succeed, not the path. Pretence creeps in to cover gaps. Image overcomes the focus on listening, learning and adaptation. Fixed mindsets of the drivers of personal success don’t prepare people for the shocks that always come.

Success can also make our relationships brittle. Instead of a fluid two-way flow of information and authority, like in a wirearchy, we become increasingly fixed on power relationships and managing the flow of information. Building the capability of others which was once part of our success becomes a threat to our position. Without the flexibility and support of a network we are tied into a rigid structure of unforgiving relationships. Power increases the expectations and if not carefully managed can reduce our ability to flex and adapt.

All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness

David Whyte, Consolations

Long term success is built on the flexibility of renewal. Lifelong learning is a key attribute of the ability to anticipate, to build capability and to recover from shocks, breaks and loss. None of us are born predestined for a path, a career or a life. We make that life in the living and by how we adapt and change to the circumstances as they arise.

What got us to this point is much less important than how we adapt to this moment. Success in our last role or career can provide a foundation but the work is how we build something suited to the challenges of now. The heart of this flexibility is asking ourselves “what do I need to do to succeed in this moment now and to prepare for what might come next?”

but when the spill
comes the brook will have
another heap
in its way, another
shambles to get
through or around; or
over: how much time does
a brook have: how much
time a brook has!

AR Ammons, The Brook Has Worked out the Bend