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Five Boundaries

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This year I have been working with boundaries, partly as research and partly as self-care. In this work, I have found asking myself where I stand in relation to five key boundaries are important in improving my mindfulness as I go about my life and work. This is not a listicle. These five are not definitive. There is no significance to these five other than they are the first five that I am working on.

Why Boundaries?

Boundaries are just concepts – abstract, intangible & changeable. They are like lines in the sand or on a map, always crossable & transgressable. As humans we make boundaries all the time – norms, taboos, place making, markers of transition and so on – help, prohibitions, guidance and other social structures. We can also confuse these boundaries with more solid, more normative and unchangeable structures.

Most of these boundaries are aids to our memory, choices and decision making. Some are of significance because they mark lines where liminal states occur and where transformation happens. I have started looking into these boundaries because they are an artefact of human and organisational culture. They also have a significant shape on our personal decisions, emotions and actions. This post looks mostly at five key boundaries from a personal perspective.

My Five Boundaries

Choice and Obligation: This boundary is whether or not I have a choice in that moment. We talk a lot about choices but we live lives of choice and obligation. You can escape obligations to others if you live in society and some of the most important parts of life are bound up in obligations, not choices. The boundary is rarely fixed. Obligations stretch, change over time and are created by our ongoing actions. We can choose to ignore our obligations, but it is a choice with consequences. I am trying to be more aware of where I stand at this boundary and how my actions move the line.

Self and Others: This boundary seems obvious, but can easily be distorted. Am I working for myselves or others? Are my needs being met here? Is this really me? Do I really want this or am I doing so to please others? It’s easy to get sucked in as a cog in a larger narcissistic experience and to have little sense of self. Our society and organisations are full of narcissists and narcissistic practices that don’t allow for the space where my self lives. Narcissistic thinking doesn’t recognise an other. Others are all extensions of the narcissist. A narcissist assumes others act on their direction and know what they know. Without space for an other in their thinking, it falls on me to create space for my self and to defend my self. Is an Instagram post really by, of or for me? We also need to recognise that the Other can be threatening, strange and inexplicable. Mindfulness can help me sort through these demands and ensure my needs are being met.

Work and Non-work: We live in an age where work can follow me anywhere and when a portfolio career can bleed the boundaries by creating multiple overlapping and expanding domains of work. There is a need to check out, to stop work and spend time on non-work. Expanding the domain of the non-work is an important and includes inbetweening non-work into the work domain. A subversive act can be as simple as taking a poetry book to work to read in the park at lunch. Walk through an office holding a poetry book and you are sending a signal.

Public and Private: I share a lot publicly because I am passionate about workingoutloud. However, I am very conscious of what sits behind the public boundary as the private. Of late, surveillance capitalism, the rise of engagement addiction, and a greater awareness of the lurking audience has seen me be more deliberate in this boundary and in moving more behind the private curtain. Unpublished posts rise in number and deleted drafts are now more common. I have always been mindful of what I share and had specific rules to follow. Now I am cautious in my choice of disclosures as well, while retaining a bias to the benefits of openness.

Comfort and Discomfort: Am I in the comfort zone? Am I taking enough risks to learn, to grow and to challenge myself? I have a huge capacity for risk and I have developed capabilities to manage discomfort. The danger is that I can be creating discomfort simply to practice these skills. The query I now ask is how to I feel? Do I need more or less comfort in this moment and task? Discomfort without control is not a positive experience. A comfortable moment is often the perfect tonic in a cycle of chaos. I don’t have to feel guilty to choose comfort or discomfort. They aren’t normative. They are just emotions and usually outcomes of other experiences.

Plato quoted Socrates as saying ‘an unexamined life is not worth living.’ I wouldn’t take it quite that far. Managing our lives and taking care of our selves in the process requires us to be more mindful of the boundaries we encounter as we go about our lives and work. These are the boundaries which are significant to me today and a little insight into why. What are yours? I expect that they will be different as everyone is grappling with different situations, challenges, obligations and choices as to where to draw the lines.

The test of mindfulness in these boundaries is not that every decision or action in our life is fully plotted and mapped. As noted above, all of these boundaries can be adjusted and we should make those adjustments freely when required and deliberately after due consideration. The test is whether we reflect on the nature and guidance of these boundaries when we need to do so.

 

It’s not mine to solve

I’ve been solving problems my whole life. Solving problems is hard and can be emotionally draining.  The best self-care comes from managing boundaries well in this challenging situation. The toughest lesson to learn is when not to start and when to stop. I need to draw a line when it’s not my problem to solve.

An Excess of Accountability

Accountability is a great thing. Concern, compassion and a willingness to act are strengths on which you can build a career. Practiced regularly, these become deeply engrained habits and a foundation for your reputation. Not many people instinctively run towards a problem offering help.

However, a strength overdone can be a weakness. An excess of accountability can lead to disempowerment and dependency of others. Without care, a passion for solving problems can become an expectation that you will catch all the falling knives while others watch on from safety and supply commentary. Concern and compassion overdone can become condescending and unhelpful interference. A fine tuned awareness of problems can be seen as negative or unnecessarily alarmist, if others don’t agree. People learn by solving their own problems. Solving them all too quickly can impeded learning and cause recurrence of issues.

Navigating Boundaries

Navigating these boundaries requires us to ask ourselves a series of questions as we work on problems. Remembering to ask these questions in a situation of urgency or crisis is even more important. Lack of clarity doesn’t help anyone when an issue is urgent.

Here are the questions that I have learned to ask myself & others:

  • Whose problem is it? The best person to solve an issue is usually the person who has most to gain or the most invested in the issue. Clarifying who owns a problem and ensuring it is escalated to that person is often all that is required. I don’t need to own resolution of every issue and I need to recognise I may not agree with every way that problems are solved.
  • Do others see the issue? If I am the only person who sees the issue, my job is to draw it to the attention of someone who is best placed to own it. I don’t need to solve it. I just need to see if allocated to someone who can consider how big an issue it is.
  • Do others agree it is a problem? If I see an issue but others don’t see a problem, I need to resolve that conflict. I may need to gather some evidence to support my position. I don’t need to solve the issue to resolve the conflict. In fact, it is preferable that I don’t because I likely do not understand why it isn’t an issue.
  • What help does the problem owner need? Ask the person whose problem it is what help they need. Listen to their answer. If they don’t need help, don’t insist. They are an adult and able to make their own choices.
  • What help am I best placed to provide? Enthusiastic amateurs are great but they are rarely helpful in solving problems. Ensure that you are providing help from a strength. If it is not your strength, suggest someone who can do better.
  • When am I done? Problems have a habit of growing into challenges, quests and life long pursuits. Being clear on what is done for you and for the problem is important. Stop working on the problem when you are done.
  • How did I do? When you contribute to solving a problem, it can feel like success is all that matters. If we don’t take care, we can undervalue our contributions, particularly when the problem is large and complex. Judge your performance on what you contributed against the needs, not the problem as a whole.

What questions do you ask to ensure that you are adding value to solving problems? How do you look after yourself in the rough and tumble of challenges?

Change Gibberish

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In projects we often here people say ‘we need to create a new language’. Words are a weak form of change. Actions matter more.

New Words for Snow

Symbols matter in large scale change programs. New symbols can be a powerful way to signify that change is occuring and to reinforce the new expectations. These symbols can reinforce and help propagate the change messages by being a sign that things are different and provoking discussion.

A common form of these symbols is the idea of creating ‘a new organisational language’. New ways of describing the new ways of work can be part of a suite of symbols for change. However they aren’t the only symbols and in many regards can be the least useful.

We have all heard the idea that ‘eskimos have more words for snow’. Eskimos don’t necessarily and the types of snow is not limited by our language. At the heart of some people’s view of the need for new language is the idea that we can’t know or interpret the change without language. That’s not how humans work. Language is a tool of communication. It is not a limit to understanding. We know things we can’t describe yet. More importantly for change, we can do things we can’t describe too.

In change, often the most important thing is not the new jargon, the most important thing is to explain the change in simple language that helps people connect the changes to what they do today and what they need to do differently.

Change Gibberish

New languages can easily end in change gibberish. The meaning of new words and phrases are often unclear. Imposing alien language means people haven’t developed their own sense and use of those words in practice. People can and will interpret these phrases in ways that suit their perceptions and their agendas. 

If you have been involved with efforts to communicate values in organisations you will have seen the chaos that results when we expect words to do the lifting on the meaning of actions. I don’t need to hear another discussion where people take completely different views of what the values mean. It is all too common to hear conversations like ‘I am Accountable. I don’t like that you are saying that I am not Accountable. I think you aren’t being Respectful’. In these discussion the magic words often get in the way of a deeper understanding of the change. Like the story of the tower of Babel, new language can impede understanding. Magical change words have become change gibberish when everyone interprets the change differently.

New language explains new ways of working. The ways of working give meaning to the words and are the most powerful symbol of the changes. If you want to explain your new language and develop a consistent meaning for the people, match the words with consistent and visible practice.

Liminality, Boundaries and Self-care

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man – Heraclitus

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Not The Same River

The myth goes like this: Once upon a time (in a place that looked a lot like the 1950s), things were calm, stable and prosperous. Change was slow and planned. Jobs, careers, marriages, friendships and communities were forever. It was easier to cope.

Heraclitus calls bullsh#t. He lived from 535-475 BC. He was aware enough to look through our desire for predictability and stability and see that even in the ancient world 2400 years ago change was everywhere. Imagine sharing that meme so widely without an iphone or the ability to embed text on an image file and pop it on Instagram.*

We are enveloped in change. Change is how we perceive time, measure our lives and it is the very point of our work and daily tasks. Human beings are engines to create liminality. We are constantly creating change to make this moment a threshold between a lost past and a new way. Because we are social, we are also participants in everyone else’s change creating an exponential effect of all this transformation.

While we may prefer stability, we are engines of transformation, pushing through each threshold on a massive scale. We push ourselves to make more change faster and for more people. Our increasing global connectivity has increased the scale, the demands and our awareness of the need for change. Even global thresholds are no longer limits for our desire for change.

Boundaries, Liminality and Self-care

Change and its demands are tiring. Ancient cultures made rituals of liminality infrequent because the move to a new state was demanding in preparation, transition and afterwards. For those, like Heraclitus, who look through faux stability to the underlying flux, the endless liminal state can be draining. There are demands everywhere and constantly.

One of the greatest demands of this change is our agency in change. Making the decisions to act or not to act, how to act and so on, imposes an ongoing burden. We like repetition, habit and routine. After every change we create new ways of being. Constantly being asked to exercise our agency is draining.

Imposing boundaries becomes a new act of self-care. Ancient cultures created staged transitions to mitigate the challenge of continuous adaptation. We can learn from their wisdom. Just as humans are change machines, we are also machines of creating boundaries. Just look how we have divided our planet, its people, resources and so on.

We can care for ourselves by setting our own boundaries (and not just accepting those imposed by society or others). If we invest time in being deliberate around what we do and won’t do, help and won’t help, what matters and what doesn’t. and so on, we begin to shape our role in the flux in ways that help us to manage the change. We can try, but can’t do everything. Personal productivity and human sanity demands that we make choices and that we give those choices time to have effect before choosing again.

We cannot escape the ‘in-between’ spaces. Our human nature is to continue to create them. The ongoing flux of our world brings them to us constantly. Our agency demands we create new change. Pretending we live in a stable mythical 1950s-style world, is simply a delusion, both today and to the memory of that era. Living in a delusion is ultimately more dangerous. We must engage with the reality of our world as it is. However, we do not need to be passive in that engagement.

We need to choose our own boundaries. We need to choose them well. They are an important part of our self-care in the ongoing flux.

It’s frankly amazing comment on our lazy meme culture that so many of the images with that quote on it are not of rivers and almost never someone standing in a river. Mountains seem to be the commonest replacement.

 

Thank you to Fiona Tribe and Pauline Holland for inspiring this post.

Related reading: Bruce McTeague on the in-between

 

 

#YearofYammer: Yammer isn’t just a communication tool

Yammer isn’t just a communication tool. Forget the fancy new features. Focus instead on what Yammer is here to do for your organisation.  Yammer is a strategic talent and capability coordination tool and if you aren’t using it to power your strategy you are losing massive value.

If it looks like a communication tool…

This #YearofYammer is a big one for Microsoft’s organisational collaboration product. However, there is a danger that in the rush of the exciting new UI and features in the new Yammer, we lose sight of the core potential of the product.

One issue that has bedevilled discussion of Yammer over the last few years has been a relentless focus on it as a communication tool. Workplace by Facebook launched with a strong emphasis on real-time communication. That tool was never clear on its position in market, tried to create a new category, to compete with Slack and ESNs simultaneously and deeply muddied the market in both the team chat tools and wider organisational collaboration platforms. Yammer and the other ESNs could not help but be drawn into a discussion of the state of their communication features. The launch of Microsoft Teams with a strong focus on real-time communication within teams increased the sense of a gap in the feature set. Voices arguing for a different role for Yammer and the ESNs were drowned out.

Amid all the new features and UI, the recent #YearofYammer announcements were quite clear on the position of Yammer in organisations. This positioning is consistent with the Inner and Outer Circle model that Microsoft has been discussing for some time. The key use cases that Yammer has been tailored to meet are:

  • Leadership engagement
  • Organisational wide communications
  • Communities and
  • Knowledge sharing

The Yammer site on the Microsoft Tech Community is even briefer and more closely aligned to the Value Maturity Model emphasizing:

  • Transform culture: connect, share and co-create
  • Inform and engage
  • Harness collective knowledge

Communication is clearly a part of each of these activities. Then again, communication is a part of everything. Communication is a core part of work and a fundamentally human activity. Just because communication occurs on Yammer doesn’t mean it is should be treated as just a communication tool. If you focus your Yammer implementation solely on communication, users are likely to ask why they should bother given the range of communication tools that they have available to them. You might want to help them understand not all communication is the same.

Each of these uses of Yammer goes to a much larger value to your organisation. If you focus solely on communication, you will miss a much wider and much more important potential.

Putting Talent and Capability to Work for Your Strategy

Yammer is a talent and capability coordination tool. Yammer is how you engage, align and enable your people to create new value to fulfil your organisational strategy and its goals. The power of Yammer and its Outer loop is to bring the breath of your organisations information, talent and capabilities to bear on the challenges that you need to address. Even more importantly, you can develop a culture of transparency and engagement where employees themselves lead that process.

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In a fast paced global digital economy, organisations need to be able to leverage their knowledge, talents and capabilities rapidly to meet market needs and to address issues arising from change. Many organisations are looking to become more agile, flatter and more responsive to achieve this. However, as traditional organisations begin to develop these elements of their strategy, four problems quickly stand in the way of success:

  • Alignment: People can’t engage in your strategy if they don’t know the goals, don’t know who is doing what and can’t align their work to delivering the desired outcomes. This is the commonest problem across organisations and why there’s so much need for meetings to address the issues created by misalignment.  The organisation needs to Connect together
  • Shared Context: People who can’t share context, literally cannot understand each other. Many of the legendary battles of corporate life are created from a lack of a shared context: head office vs field, sales vs marketing, product vs engineering, IT vs business.  The organisation needs to Share together
  • Engaging all the knowledge, talents and capability: The biggest waste of value in organisations is inability to leverage the knowledge, talents and capability of the people in the organisation to achieve the strategy. Organisations don’t know what their people know, can do and could do if given the chance. Reducing this waste accelerates value creation for strategic goals. The organisation needs to Solve together
  • Scaling change, innovation and continuous improvement: No organisation has a shortage of ideas. What is missing is scaled execution. Key to that scale is also the ability to encourage local change and adaptation aligned to strategic goals and outcomes. If every change initiative has to come into one or even many central pipeline, decision and funding process, then you are losing momentum immediately. As processes like the Toyota Manufacturing Process and continous release software development have identified, the potential value of scaled local change is enormous. The organisation needs to Innovate together.

Bringing a large part of your organisation together on Yammer gives you a platform to Connect, Share, Solve and Innovate led by your people in pursuit of your organisational strategy. This is the fundamental use case that communities, knowledge sharing and leadership engagement will support. This is the end to which all the conversations and collaboration on the platform will be devoted.

Organisations that focus their Yammer communities on their strategy and tackling these challenges see exponential increases in value creation. The steps are clear. The work required to build value creating communities across your organisation is the work to be done on Yammer.

The Busy Paradox

Last year was exceedingly busy, for good and for bad reasons. The good was a rush of achievements in many domains of work and life. The bad was a feeling of being overwhelmed, falling behind, missing out and a constant storm of pressures. If you had asked me in the dying days of late December the latter was in the forefront of my thinking.

When I sit back and reflect with care, the positives outweighed the negatives by some measure. However the nature of busy is that there is an urgency and an immediacy of the negatives. We feel overwhelmed by what is to be done. As a wise boss of my once said:

When you stare at the pile of sand ahead, it’s easy to forget how much we have already shifted

The Busy Paradox

With this challenge in mind, I started 2020 with a focus on being aware and deliberate about my busyness in both work and life. This deliberate intent includes having some priorities, planning what can be planned and saying no more often. No is the greatest and most underused prioritisation tool. I aim to let go the anxiety of busyness with deliberate practice.

After a week of new practice 2020, time mostly on vacation, a paradox of busy is clearer to me. Doing nothing has been amazingly productive. This paradox has two corollaries:

    You do a lot while doing nothing
    There’s a lot of nothing in doing a lot

Less is More

The best defence against busyness is focus. Know what little you are doing and you will achieve more. Lack of focus destroys productivity, purpose and ultimately energy to achieve what you want.

When you are focused you are surprised by how little time tasks take. Focusing on only one thing is the best way to get it done. Work in progress, switching time, interruptions and other distractions are the enemy. Focus is key.

1 Awareness is a Problem

As part of my preparation for the year ahead, I started making notes on the meaningful things that I did each day. These simple bullet points highlighted to me how much meaningful achievement there was in each day of ‘doing nothing’ on vacation.

While I was telling myself I was doing nothing, I was blithely unaware of all the work I was doing. Much of the pressure of our busy lives come from this work. These every day achievements are unrelenting. These pressures are often greater for women who may be experiencing uneven workloads in the often unrecognised managing life of family or relatives.

To manage through our busyness and take care of ourselves we need to be realists and be conscious of exactly how much work there is. We can’t ignore important work just because our attention or the attention of others is focused elsewhere. If we want to look after ourselves, we need to take breaks and give ourselves the latitude to do nothing properly.

Importantly, take care to check the validity of the stories you are telling yourself. If you don’t you can end up frustrated by a flawed vision of reality.

2 There are Lulls in any Storm

If we don’t accept there are lulls in the storm of our always busy lives, we miss the opportunity to recover, relax and do more. Our unwillingness to accept down time, leads to all kinds of unhelpful behaviours:

  • Forcing the pace of activity
  • Over committing to fill the lulls with more work
  • Over-complicating work with makework
  • Confusing duration with effort
  • Digital distractions to fill time (email and social media is a major culprit here)
  • Multi-tasking, especially the unproductive versions with partial attention to multiple concurrent tasks or excessive switching.

If there is a lull in our work or life, we need to make considered choices as to how to use that time:

  • Is it time for a break? Me time is OK. So is Us time to be shared with others.
  • Is there something small and defined that I could do while I wait? Many tasks are much quicker than we think (or at least the next step in the task can be completed quickly)
  • Do I need to think about how to do this better or differently?
  • Who can help us?

The approaches, effort and achievement are what matter in life, not the time taken. Don’t feel obliged to fill lulls just to be busy. Nobody values busyness and time served. Everybody values effectiveness

A final word

As your 2020 develops, I wish you much less so that you can achieve more

Carrying Mountains

A final thought for 2019:

These mountains that you are carrying, you were only meant to climb – Najwa Zebian

We make our challenges more complex than they need to be in manifold ways. When our challenge is simple we make it complex. When our challenge is small, we make it large. When our challenge is unclear we set out for perfection. When the challenge demands a team, we go it alone.

The best proof of our talents is not solving the bigger problem that is all absorbing. The best proof of our talents is solving the challenge quickly and having time for Life.

Question your challenges. Is the goal clear? Is there less that can be done? Is there an easier way? Can you get help or a new perspective? Can you stop carrying the mountain and climb it instead?

A simpler life awaits you in the answers.

Reflections and the Work Ahead in 2020

Wishing all the readers of this blog seasons greetings and best wishes for 2020. Thank you for continuing to follow along.

I have had a regular practice on reflecting on the year of work at the end of each year. That reflection is also an opportunity to set some goals for the year ahead. I missed last year’s opportunity in the rush. Here is this year’s reflection and some plans for 2020.

Reflections on The Year that Was

Innovation is Work. Hard Work.

Across a number of work, board and other advisory roles this year I have been working on innovation in its many forms. None of it has been easy. All of it has been hard work with ups and downs, setbacks and real need for persistence. Much of it reflects the adage that ‘most overnight successes are a decade’s work.’

Above all, this year has reiterated the need to be clear on the problems that innovation is seeking to solve. Those problems shouldn’t be assumptions. They should come from listing and engaging the market and also from ongoing testing in the market. The path to success is not paved by genius or talent. The path to success is hard work, persistence and iteration.

Persistence includes the need to push through in face of failure. Let the doubters and the critics have their say, but focus, set goals and keep pushing for change.

Transformation isn’t the work of a Hero. It is a Community effort

We often see transformation expressed as the work of a hero (my choice of gendered language is deliberate). Transformation is the opposite of an individual effort. Transformation is the work of a community coming together to scale change and to build something new that leverages their collective talents and fulfils their collective potential. That work must include everyone and leverage their many diverse contributions.

You can never forget that your work exists in, for and depends on a community. I had doubts this year on whether another International Working Out Loud week was needed. However, the response of the global WOL community to taking the inspiration of a WOLWeek and making it their own showed me that I was wrong. Sometimes you don’t understand the value of your own work until you see it in the community context.

The organisational design challenge at present is scaling change. We are iterating towards new solutions that leverage accountability, transparency and alignment to accelerate adaptation. Encouraging and enabling communities to come together to lead their own transformation in relation to the opportunities they see and the talents that they have. The skills of community management and agile change will be critical in the decade to come.

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Collaboration

Collaboration matters more than ever to the strategy and success of organisations. All organisations need to be leveraging the collective potential of their people to create new value.

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More effective and more valuable collaboration is the key ingredient in organisations addressing their challenges with speed and effectiveness.  I recently posted an overview of my learnings from the last decade of collaboration. If I would add anything to those insights, it is the importance of taking a relationship view over a transactional one and keeping clear the differences between chat, conversation and collaboration which is more important with the rise of new work apps.

Aware Aligned Action

Earlier this year, I shared some insights into the drivers of value. Keeping value at the centre of our work remains key.

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Personal Leadership

The pressures of the work this year made it clearer to me that personal leadership is a key part of success in the modern era of work. The pressures will not grow less. We need to make choices and take action on our work and our lives to give ourselves back control. Those choices most importantly involve saying no and setting boundaries.

Those boundaries include setting digital boundaries in an era where there are more addictive demands on our attention. Unplugging, meeting face to face, finding time to read, converse and relax became ever so important in 2019. Trust and understanding come from shared context and deep relationships and that take time, effort and engagement. Rapid digital conversation can give us chat, but conversation and collaboration require us to give and to invest more.

The Work Ahead in 2020

I sat down on Monday night and mapped my 2020 workload. 2020 promises to be a year that is busy with activity, projects, deliverables, learning and commitments. Across my work, consulting, advisory and board roles, I will be stepping up to the next level of activity.

At the same time I am also planning to take on some additional creative challenges and set some boundaries so there will be great demand for creative solutions and a real continuing to learn the lessons of mindful choices, personal purpose and productivity. Busy isn’t an answer or an excuse.  Busy is a challenge we must all beat. I will be stretched in the year ahead.

I will continue to focus throughout the year on the future of work, the power of community and accelerating the value of collaboration. As noted above, this is core capability to underpin all of the activity and opportunity ahead. Excitingly, we are increasingly seeing organisations all around the world focus on the potential of collaboration and working out loud. Stay tuned as I will share the lessons of this work on this blog.

Reviewing my 2017 reflections and the update for 2018, the elements highlighted still hold as areas of work. In 2020 two additional areas, seem urgently in need of work: enabling the continuity of a functional civil society in a global economy going through transformative change and addressing our sustainable future.  In 2020, two challenges will be on the forefront of the work that I do:

  • supporting the transformation of disability, health and care through enable consumer choice and control and new ways of efficiently managing care through LanternPay.
  • enabling new degrees of freedom in work and scaling agile change in communities to deliver the innovation, transformation and human work we need through Change Agents Worldwide.  That includes finishing the book and addressing the themes that I discuss in this Disrupt Sydney talk.

Life. Be in it.

Life is too much important a thing ever to talk seriously about it. – Oscar Wilde

Life. Be in it. – Australian Government Advertising Campaign

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We race towards the end of the year and a decade. When once our lives might have been calming down into holidays, we feel more pressure than ever: pressure to deliver, pressure to be busy, to keep up, to be on, to do more.

Our always on ever present digital companions offer us the options to be absorbed and to be absorbing all the time. Oddly, this pressure to do more, mostly results in less: less satisfaction, less entertainment, less sense of purpose, less fulfilment. We have discovered a digital expectation gap that is ever growing – the difference between what we can see might be and what is.

I was reflecting this morning on my desperate desire to waste a day, when it struck me that I wasn’t planning to waste anything. I was simply allocating my time in a choice that involved celebrating life. Like Norm of the famous Australian government fitness campaign, I wanted to ‘Be in Life’ instead of charging through it. Our time demands more mindful present choices than ever. We can’t be reactive or just carried by the flow of busy. We need to decide. We need to choose the life that suits us best. Every single day.

So in the spirit of prompting reflection on what really matters here are a few prompts that have been guiding me over the last decade on how to Be more in Life:

 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do. with your one wild and precious life?” ― Mary Oliver.

“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” ― Mary Oliver.

 

Late Edit Postscript: My one final piece of advice is this: Embrace your potential to be a Dark Horse – we are each unique and we do better to emphasize our uniqueness than battle to be similar.

Transactions vs Relationships

Effective collaboration in organisations is built on relationships. Employees and their leaders need to move beyond thinking of work as transactional interactions and focus on the opportunities to adapt and improve within relationships.img_2387-1

The Need to Be Perfect is Transactional

A transaction is once and done. It has to be perfect. There is no going back, no improvement and no adaptation. You have to get it right then and there.

We have engrained a machine metaphor into thinking about our day to day work. This approach reinforces our views that work is transactional, a flow of inputs into outputs executed with perfect efficiency. Email communication even reinforces this model with its inbox and task oriented form of work.

This metaphor flows on to the use of social collaboration tools like Yammer when there is a sense for employees that they need to be perfect in each transactional communication. Employees, and especially their status conscious leaders, express concerns that they might say the wrong thing, make a mistake, or they might not act on every message.

Collaboration is not a transaction. It is not once and done. Collaboration is about a human flow of give and take in an ongoing relationship. Much of our work now is knowledge work that demands relationship interactions. We need to know more than our inputs. We need to be able to evaluate information, build on it, interact, challenge and create together with others to produce the value that our organisation’s need. We have moved from machine input-output to a creative iterative human flow.  

Relationships are Adaptive

The Value Maturity Model starts with connection because it is a reminder that collaboration is an activity that is founded on human relationships. Importantly, real human relationships support the kind of iterative activity that enable value creation collectively.

If you have ever read a transcript of a conversation, it becomes quickly evident that when humans interact they don’t speak whole perfect sentences. A conversation is an exchange with people talking over each other, making assumptions, correcting themselves, building on shared context, addressing misapprehension and working together towards shared understanding. Collaboration in social collaboration tools reflects this kind of iteration and development. The stages of connection and sharing build trust and shared context that enable people to work in much more efficient ways even if they don’t communicate perfectly.

Employees and leaders should not fear a lack of perfection.  Instead of focusing on a single interaction, they should focus on the power of relationships built to deliver collaboration and value creation at scale. The gain from developing these relationships and using the potential of the platforms to influence others, solve problems, scale change and innovate far exceeds the potential embarrassment of a single interaction.

Relationships are adaptive because they are built on shared purpose. Just like everyday conversations, we forgive mistakes and imperfections when we are in a continuing relationship with another person. A leader or employee who views these tools as a relationship gets the chance to go back, improve and adapt, leveraging the relationships and trust that they have built. When we talk about working with others with authenticity and empathy we are describing this process of learning and adaptation, along with sharing a few weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Employees who treat the tool transactionally will be judged on their interactions alone.

Leaders and employees need to focus on the power of the tools to support the work they do with others to connect, share, solve and innovate at scale.  An ongoing focus on the value of these relationships will accelerate their success and reduce the risks of each individual interaction.

Thanks to Steve Nguyen for asking great question