More Love AND More Power

Meeting as equals

We tend to think we have a choice between love and power. We need more of both.

Adam Kahane’s book Power and Love was a revelation to me when I read it years ago. Kahane highlights that effective social change relies on both power and love. We fall short if we rely only on our idealist tendencies to focus only on love or its many other related manifestations, compassion, empathy, generosity and more. Power is always in the room and must always be engaged, if only to be acknowledged. Importantly, denying our own power weakens advocacy.

We are deeply engrained to see power and love as alternatives. From the fickleness of childhood memory, a parent is either harsh or loving. We fail to appreciate that the harshness might have been out of love, an attempt to protect and preserve. There will always be bad and abusive parents, but the many are those who express their love both in tenderness and in a fierce form of protection.

In a world of digital separation, we need more power AND more love if we are to create the change we desire. We cannot increase autonomy without increasing both support for individuals to grow capability and increasing accountability. Both sides of that support can be scary: acknowledging how much you need to grow to succeed and owning your own power to do so.

The standard metaphors of power all invoke distance and uncaring. We need new models that acknowledge we can exercise our power for the love of others, for their betterment and for their realisation of potential. Power need not be extractive. It can be generative and compassionate. For it to do so will take more power and more love.

Trickle down of power, wealth and prosperity is failing us with greater inequality, greater division and a slide to populist autocracy. Reality is that’s not how power, wealth and equality have ever been created. Each have risen from the bottom up by those who embrace more love of their fellows and more exercise of their personal power. If we follow them, perhaps we have a chance to turn the tide.

Add the Call Details

As we wrap our working lives around a new more flexible way of work, there’s a simple habit that can make life easier and more productive: Add the Call Details to a Meeting.

Things Change

The meeting may have been arranged to be exclusively face to face, but in a fast paced world things change. Now we have videoconferencing or audioconferencing at a push of a button in solutions like Microsoft Teams why not allow the option to cover surprise eventualities.

Adding the option prevents the need for last minute emails to bring people in who can’t make it. There’s lots of reasons why that might be the case:

  • People might be running late or from a different location
  • Someone may need to be at home or otherwise working flexibly (especially with illness rampant post-pandemic)
  • Another person may need to attend to maximise the value of the meeting
  • People can be called into the meeting as it progresses where something unexpected arises.

As host, you still control who attends the meeting and should be planning to shape how it runs. You can still be clear who should be in person. However, this simple step should reduce the amount of time spent fumbling around to add people or create a call at the last minute. Your meeting attendees will be grateful and your day will be more productive.

Now that Microsoft Teams and its peers have put calling at our fingertips, we can take advantage of the optionality it offers. Options have value.

Success

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Emily Dickinson, Success is counted sweetest

We obsess about success. Our work, our lives, our loves and our relationships are woven through with focus on achievement, recognition, status and success. Oddly, few are content with their success. Those with the most are often the most dissatisfied.

Success is rarely a measure of happiness and content. Each new relationship, promotion, business achievement, and award starts a new challenge. Nothing is ended. Nothing is complete. Nobody is content to discover that reaching the next level just means fighting a bigger and badder boss. The worst boss of all is our own feelings that there is more to do and more to be. We can’t live our lives for what we will be in the future. We must live our lives today, here, now.

“A winter world. Ways icy. Most men fall”
To speed on ice, pick filthy spots, is all.
Follow the dog’s way; praise it, nose alert.
Feet that go further faster move in dirt.

John Frederick Nims, Wordly Success

A focus on competitive success into the future is also likely to draw us away from what matters most to us. The demands of the marketplace are demands to ‘go further faster move in dirt’. Success demands compromises and tests our priorities, our ethics and our compassion. Too many times in my life, I have had to give up a potential mark of success because I could not live with the taste in my mouth. Success can be cold and metallic, far from Dickinson’s nectar.

The hardest and most important element of a life and a life’s work is to set your own definition of what achievement means and what matters for you. Nobody comes from the perfect place, has the perfect resume, achieves everything they ever want, is loved unreservedly and has untold wealth. External measures of success are for the demanding landscapes of politics and competitive sport.

Much of what we achieve in one life is reversed in the same life by others. Much does not endure beyond our meagre efforts to sustain it. The goal of a fulfilling life is the way, the company in the striving and what we become through that process, not the goals.

Next time it feels like your falling behind, let go of the measure. Ask what matters most to you. Focus your life, your work and your love on that. There lies the best chance to find a success that you can embrace, sustain and carry as yours alone.

I can’t compete: what I’ve done
stands toward the back of the courtyard near the church wall,|
a few fuzzy words from several years ago.
That one of the words has turned a shade of ochre
that’s hard to come by—that I’ve been trying to put my hands 
         on for years—
purely by chance (plus exposure to a few
back-to-back winters) is most discouraging.

Alexandria Peary, In the courtyard

The Hall of Mirrors – Jobs and Job Perceptions

Another liminal space – the hall of mirrors

Anyone who has worked for a while quickly discovers that jobs can be a hall of mirrors where things are not quite what they seem, where the jobs widely perceived to be great are actually awful, and where the best test may not be your bragging rights.

Any independent consultant can you tell you the true test of a job is what your parents tell their friends about your work. Job status is a currency of success. Not fitting the models of hierarchy and familiar company or industries can be hard for people to grasp. When I was independent, my family would often say I worked at Microsoft because my status as a Microsoft MVP meant I had the swag and that was something people could understand.

We also know that many fancy high status roles are full of disappointed people. The work of being in a high status profession like lawyers, investment bankers, CEOs, and entrepreneurs might be attractive socially but the hours, stresses and family demands offset remuneration for many. The actual work in many of these roles is less rewarding than some expect from outside the industry. The pressure can make careers short.

Differences in corporate culture, business models and other minor changes can mean the same role in a different business is actually a completely different role. So many people jump from a business to a competitor chasing money or a promotion to discover they have landed somewhere completely alien. The two jobs only looked alike.

The one question people often forget to ask in a job interview is ‘what would I actually do?’ We are so keen to appear in control and capable that we sell ourselves against the wrong opportunities. Employers can fool themselves by selling the job and not addressing the real challenges.

In my 30s desperate for a great gig, I agreed to be introduced by a headhunter to a founder of an early internet startup as a CEO candidate. My first warning was that the Internet start-up was in the offices of a building full of listed junior mining companies. The founder was a mining promoter who had bought slices of internet businesses to list as a corporate vehicle. He wanted a CEO for the listing. The job was really well paid except there was only one thing to do raise more money and sustain the share price so the the founder and his mates could sell out at a profit after listing. As he gleefully explained the share price couldn’t fall far enough for them to make a loss as their entry price was below a cent a share. My competence was irrelevant. The CEO was just a fancy expensive element of their profits. Somebody else took that job.

The best way to guide yourself through this hall of mirrors is to found yourself in the real. Let go of the focus on fancy industries, fancy brands and fancy titles. Focus instead on the work and its impact. Focus on the quality of the people you will work with and the quality of their relationships. Focus on what you will learn and the capability you gain to do what comes next.

Don’t treat any job as the last one. Focus always on that job as the next one and see where it takes you.

The unheralded corners of the job market are where you often discover the greatest work, relationships and development. These roles are those that might not appeal to your grandma, but create greatest value for you. Choosing this way is most likely to lead you somewhere you want to go.

Ageism: The cost of the journey

Even with labour market shortages and shifting demographics, ageism is still rampant in our workplaces. The cost of ageism is both in the journey and the destination. Why can’t we work to realise everyone’s potential?

An outcome of a photo search for older on a free photo site

Ageism is deeply engrained in our organisational psyche. We obsess over made up generations. We fail to appreciate the ‘war for talent’ is because of an ageing demographic. There’s no 50 over 50. Young guns are prized. Twenty-somethings are venerated as startup CEOs. Development is for younger talent. Transition to retirement programs start as young as 45 when retirement is over 65. As our economies have shifted to services and knowledge we have failed to see the value of experience. We retain mindsets from the days when physical work broke bodies.

The Cost of the Journey

Ageism affects all workers. Everyone ages and the implications are not lost on the young. In my twenties, I observed the hair colour of those leaving the organisation and the thinning ranks of older employees. I decided I needed a second or third occupation for my fifties. I thought my career was over when I hadn’t made general manager young enough. I gave up on a goal to be CEO (even though that proved to be wrong many times over). I ended up freelancing much of my forties after a poorly timed redundancy.

As a manager, I have hired so many talented older workers and discovered the breadth of what they can contribute. I have worked with many to develop new career opportunities and new skills. Despite their success in winning and performing in the role, some have been sceptical that they could keep it. The culture of ageism is so deeply engrained that despite their obvious contributions they expected me to move them on. Unnecessary stress hangs over all work. This stress is greater when combined in intersectionality with other forms of discrimination.

No talented person young or old should live in fear of ageing at work. Nobody should view their financial and emotional security tied to a Logan’s Run process where regardless of your potential your life is over at 45. The cost of this is not just on the older workers. This deprived organisations of workers full of talent and experience, both young and old. Talented people of all ages leave when you don’t respect the older worker.

We know horoscopes are make-believe. Generations are a marketer’s confection. We need to stop believing a birthdate determines potential or performance

Hire talented people. That’s it. That’s the advice that ends this nonsense.

But right now, the seasons fermented

To fullness, so slip into something light

Like your skeleton; while these old

bones are working, my darling,

Let’s dance

Barbara Cooker, Reel

The Awkward Squad

I first came across the idea of an Awkward Squad in Sophie Henaff’s detective novel about a division of French police comprised of other teams’ rejects. The idea has a long lineage in business and the military where putting trouble together is seen as freeing others to perform. More importantly, celebrating and empowering your Awkward Squad can be a powerful step to leverage and integrate difference.

Difference Matters

Our organisations are systems of standardisation, whether we realise it or not. As a consequence, everyday processes and interactions can isolate and alienate those whose inherent approach to work is different. What drives that difference to the standard is incredibly diverse and should be irrelevant. We cannot make people into others. We must work with their strengths and their potential.

The literature that diverse teams and organisations are better performing is clear. Diversity matters, whether it is the power of diversity to better reflect stakeholders, shatter groupthink or bring extraordinary new talents to bear on work. The best performing teams that I have been lucky enough to work with were often viewed by other teams as the Awkward Squad and then showed them how to perform.

Celebrate Awkward

Remember that the designation of difference is not a choice of the individual. Difference is an outcome of systems and cultural norms in the organisation. Those norms and processes drive counterproductive standardisation in the name of efficiency, ease and an unspoken inhumanity. These processes drive out the awkward.

Robots are standardised. Humans are not. The cost of driving out the different falls on everyone’s inability to express their uniqueness.

Often the only way people and organisations begin to appreciate difference is to feel and acknowledge those moment of awkwardness. Many people don’t appreciate that their experiences, perception, thinking or approaches are different until they that feel that discomfort. Many leaders are blithely unaware of the awkwardness they create. If we hide awkward, we lost the learning experience. We hide the ability to leverage difference.

Embrace your Awkward Squad in any way you can. Network people together so that those who think, act and are different can find the likeminded collaborators. Form special project teams to solve the most challenging issues and celebrate the creativity that results. Hunt for talented people being excluded by redundancy and performance management and give them another chance better suited to their talents. Be explicit that Awkward is ok, in fact, valued and great.

Buried in your organisation today is a team of talents that feels they don’t fit. They are planning to leave. That is not their issue. It is yours. They can’t and shouldn’t change who they are. It’s up to you to value their work and create the opportunities they need. Everyone will benefit.

The Girl Called Snowy Rivers

There was movement at workstations, for the word had passed around
the data from Old Insurance had got away
And had joined the dark web forces – it was worth a billion pounds,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted hackers from workstations near and far
Had mustered on the notice board o’ernight
For the hackers love hard hunting where the wild web data hides
And the server sniffs the darkweb with delight.

There was Harrison who made his pile when his Exploit saved the bank,
The old man with his screen white as snow,
But few could hack beside him even when his screen was fairly blank,
He would go where’er man and keyboard could go.
And clancy@stackoverflow came down to join the team
No better coder ever struck a key;
For no hacker could throw him while bandwidth would stand,
He learnt his hacks while coding web3.

And one was there a teenage girl, small and fairly thin,
She was something like a hacker undersized
With a touch of Marvel hero – three billion box office at least –
And such are by web geeks quite prized.
She was quiet, alert and wiry – just the sort to surprise –
There was courage in her quick impatient flair
and she bore the badge of smarts in her angular pocket size
And the bright blue colour of her hair.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt her power to stay,
And the old man said, ‘That chick will never do
For a long and tiring white hat hack – girl you’d best stay away,
These hunts are far too rough for such as you.’
So she waited sad and wistful – only Clancy stood his friend –
‘I think we need her on the team’ he cried;
‘I warrant she’ll have keys when wanted at the end,
For her charms and her hair ain’t easily denied.

‘She calls herself Snowy Rivers, she’s tattooed up her hide,
she’s waited bars twice as hard and twice as rough,
Where patrons smash glasses on the walls on either side,
To discuss which crypto is strong enough.
And This Snowy Rivers on the dark web makes her home,
Where run Russians and the cartels in between
I have seen full many hackers since I first commence to roam
But nowhere yet such a hacker have I seen’

So she went – they found the data on the web marketplace
They raced away towards the servers there
And the old man gave the orders, ‘Boys lock it in cyberspace,
No use to try for fancy coding now.
And, Clancy, you must locate them, try and pin their site.
Code boldly, lad, and never fear the clock
For never yet was coder that could keep data in sight
If the crims gain shelter of the Eastern bloc .

So Clancy code to pin them – he was hunting on the sly
Where the best and meanest hackers hide their loot
And he raced his CPU faster, and he made his fans cry,
And he shouted, as he found them through their boot.
The data halted for a moment, while he tried to tie it down,
But it saw lawless Crimea across an API
And it charged beneath his blocking leaving Clancy all the clown
As off into the Eastern bloc it did fly.

And Eastward, ever Eastward, the wild data held its way,
To where borscht reddens and oligarchs grow rich;
And the old man muttered fiercely, “We may bid the mob good day,
No man can stop the canny tovarish”
When they saw the last packet leave, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The Eastern Bloc used Cyrillic, and the hidden ground was full
Of spies and mobsters, and any slip was death.

But the Girl called Snowy Rivers left her headset red,
And she swung her ponytail round and gave a cheer,
And she launch Russian expletives like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.
She was right among the mobsters when they threatened with a kill,
And the hackers on the speakers all stood mute,
Saw her ply the cruel quip fiercely, she was right among them still,

As she raced across Crimea in pursuit.
Then they lost her for a moment, when language changed again
Somewhere beyond the Urals, but a final wink exposes
a distant server of stolen data and hard men,
While the Girl Called Snowy River calmly poses.
She social engineered them till her mouth was flecked with foam.
She followed like the FSB on the track,
Till the mobster decided better, offered to swap the data home,
For a photo of the tattoos on her back.

And down by Surry Hills, where the coffee culture thrives
and coders collect their options at par,
Where the code is clear as crystal, and the CEOs come alive
At midnight in the cold and dingy bars,
And where by The Overflow the Ubers beep and stay
where t-shirts, and the shredded jeans are black,
The Girl called Snowy Rivers is a household word today,
And the coders tell the story of her hack.

With apologies to AB ‘Banjo’ Patterson

clancy@stackoverflow

I had written him a email which I had for want of detail
Sent to where I’d met him down co-working years ago;
He was coding when I knew him, so I sent the email to him
Just as spam, addressed as follows to clancy@stackoverflow.
And the answer came directed in language unexpected.
(And I think the same was written by a bot gone too far.)
A MIME server wrote it and verbatim I will quote it :
‘Clancy’s gone web3 coding. This email ain’t where he are’

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-coding ‘down the crypto’ where the cowboy coders go;
As the market slowly crashes, Clancy types smiling at the slashes,
For the coder’s life has pleasures that the HODLers never know.

His socials have friends to meet him and their trolling greets him
In the murmur of the feeds and memes, both new and old,
And he sees the vision splendid of a backlog e’er extended,
At night the wonderous glory of coding fingers growing cold.

I am sitting in my open office where a coffee cart low whistle
struggles feebly over all the open necked shirts and chino pants,
pingpong games rebounded between the standing desks surrounded
by a whiteboard, spreading strategy nobody ever understands.

In place of a dark mode screen, I see the sticky notes’ sheen,
full of plain words, yet still a muddle to any huddle spectator,
I see ideas slowly dying and hustling staff inside-crying,
in the workshops with the muffins and the agile facilitator.

All the hurrying people daunt me, and their masked faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in the busy queue to eat,
With their eager eyes and greedy and stunted plans so weedy,
For bizfolk have no time to code, they have only time to meet.

And I sometimes briefly fancy I’d like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at coding, where the riches come and go,
While he faced the matrixed gloom of the Teams and the Zoom
but no doubt he’d scam the office, clancy@stackoverflow

With humblest apologies to AB ‘Banjo’ Patterson

Corporate Kintsugi

We fill the cracks in our work processes with golden fixes. We then fall in love with their beauty.

Their hands touched mastery; now they demand an answer.

Mariel Ruckseyer, from The Book of the Dead

I’ve written before about kintsugi. Humans aren’t perfect. There will be breaks and repairs and workarounds. Making them aesthetically pleasing and convenient is sensible.

However, in organisations, corporate kintsugi becomes its own art form. Processes are broken and we develop elaborate manual interventions. We need to fit agile into the waterfall processes of the organisation and we fall in love with our reporting, stage gates and delivery trains. An MVP was proof of our speed to market, but when we still love the pilot jerry-rigging a decade later we need to move on. Often, the gold lacquer with which we make our repairs is greater than the porcelain. Whole departments and silos exist to beautify the cracks.

Just as relying on resilience isn’t resilient. developing a competitive advantage at corporate kintsugi is undermining your performance. Stop falling in love with the fill-ins at work. Repairs are fine but the thousand little compromises that undermine and reshape the work need to go.

It will be sad to discard the clever little interventions that covered the gaps. You may need to make work less complex and less exciting as your take out these golden bridges.

Better work is the prize. Let the corporate kintsugi and its practitioners go.

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

WS Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening

Dislocated

Living and Working in a Fog: Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

feeling you are in the wrong place or you are not connected to the things or people around you

from the Cambridge Dictionary definition of dislocated

Location was once a certainty. Things were only where they were and nowhere else. The global pandemic has accelerated a digital dislocation of a massive scale. We are yet to adjust.

I imagine in the quiet cottage of his brain
the sepia of this desert city,
wind, dirt, grit that scuffs your skin.
Wish him gentleness in the shade of shadows.

Loretta Diane Walker, Imagining My Neighbor

We are dislocated. Our favourite places are closed. Our work patterns are disrupted between home, work and third places. Our travel patterns have become alien. Restaurants, cafes and bars are closed and new businesses have opened in their place. Much of the world comes to us through our screens and our phones. It is all quite strange.

Familiar patterns of location, travel, commuting and entertaining are disrupted. We are dislocated by new digital options. People are losing the niceties of social interaction in a physical space. Rudeness, anger and frustration are the result. Frustration at the physical movement of people shows up in our traffic, our movement and a general sense of impatience with the physical world. Dislocation is not a comfortable place.

Once again instinct has taken him where he’s needed; where the unexpected transforms routine into celebration.

Stuart Dybek, Travelling Salesmen

Organisations are pleading for the return of their employees to the office because the social benefits of connection, learning and work are real. Informal interaction doesn’t happen in the zoom call. You can’t belong to a chat.

We are all somewhat dislocated by the disruption to friendships. We need to gather to close these gaps and tell lost tales. All my catch-ups with friends of late must begin with all the stories untold since 2019. We know the public and the shared. The private and the secrets are mysteries and disturb the surface of those public lives. We need places to share secrets. Quiet bars and deep booths work, so too the kitchen, the queue, the cafe and the cool of the porch.

To end this unnerving sense of dislocation we need to fall in love with place and with new places. We need to return to the romance of our being there. Whether work, life, love or simply being, we need to step beyond the screen and be in a place. We need to be there with others. Only then will we be able to ground ourselves again in the tangible venues of our connection to others.

The fall of romance, the hold of the tender new,
programs aloft, every nerve to shudder:
ghosting monitions of the incomplete.
Either will the aching swells, apart from bliss.

Fiona Hile, Forget the Stars