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Learning to Stop

We go. From first thing in the morning to late at night our lives are all go. It’s time to learn how to stop.

Go Go Go

Digital and mobile technologies have sped up our world of work and expanded the channels of communication. We are in continuous contact with work colleagues, customers, the community, family and the world. The outcome of our new connections is a new pace of work and the world. There is relentless pressure to connect, to understand, do more, do faster, to solve problems and to keep going.

We have come a long way in learning how to work and live at this pace. We have learned how to filter or at least how to rely on algorithms to filter for us. We have developed new tools and ways of working that make possible the dream of working from almost anywhere there is a signal. We are even rethinking how we organise and manage work.

Learning to Stop

Speed doesn’t equal productivity. Speed simply enables us to go faster in the wrong direction.

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

Peter Drucker

We also have a major adjustment to our work and lives as we adapt to the need to manage a global pandemic. Travel, events and other gatherings are being cancelled. Schools are closing. Quarantines and lockdowns are coming. Advice on working from home is everywhere. We are going to have to stop more.

Wired up on the dopamine hit of our globally connected fast-paced economy we are going to have to unlearn our addictions to connection, activity and speed. The Wall Street journal has been widely criticised for an email about working from home that demands journalists are always on and always responsive. The approach exemplifies the lack of trust, excess of control and focus on speed of response of our modern work. This will have to change.

We are likely to have to go cold turkey on some activities that feed our need for achievement, status or purpose. There are others like social media that might offer dopamine distractions but used poorly will adversely affect our sanity. We can’t turn our isolation into an acceleration of needy connection.

We need to start learning to stop. Don’t answer the message immediately. We need to sit more with our own thoughts and slow them. Meditate if you can. Read a book or listen to music. Have a conversation with those round you. Tackle an old hobby. Be present.

We need to make careful choices now of where we spend our time and how we work. Carefully choosing how we spend our time and with whom is an important contribution to how our communities make it through this experience stronger and healthier. Stopping is the new and urgent learning challenge.

The next while will strain our physical health, the health of our relationships and our communities. Importantly, the challenges are going to put pressure on our mental health too. We don’t need our dopamine addictions and viral emotions crashing that complex mental adjustment. Taking on these challenges will demand we are as present and centred as we can be.

We need to learn to stop because we need to better know the person we find when we do.

Yearning

We all yearn for things. We can use the feeling or we can ignore it. We can’t suppress it. Yearning is an invitation to our agency.

The biggest changes we want to make can often begin as a vague and unsettling feeling, a sense of longing for something better or different. Yearning is defined as ‘an intense longing for something.’

Yearning describes the sensation of disquiet for a change as it captures well the distance to an object, the passive nature of the feeling and that while the attachment may be strong, it is not always as intense as desire or need.

Unlike desire and need, yearning can be vague as to its object. We can yearn for specific thing or person but we can also long for abstractions like better work, satisfaction or happier life. The first hints of a change can be weak, directionless and confusing.

If we choose, we can ignore this longing. It will fade given enough time and a lack of attention. However, it won’t go away. The triggers for the emotion will still be there and we will wonder what sliding doors moments passed us by not acting. We may even come to regret not converting a yearning into an impetus for change. Nobody needs regret and pining.

This yearning, even as at times a vague and directionless sense, is a major signal of disquiet with our circumstances. We cannot be present when we long for something else. This emotion is an invitation to our agency. We get to choose whether we act or we ignore. We get to choose how we respond.

We need to choose and act well. We don’t need to act precipitously. The change we make may not be a direct path to our object. It may not go there at all. If our longing involves others it may be unrequited. The time and conversation it takes us to convince others might also help us learn more about the changes.

Asking ourselves and others why we yearn opens other insights, each a door to remedy disquiet and improve our work and life. We will find other solutions or other paths as we go through this process. Sharing this process with others helps us reach beyond the limits of our own view and potential. We will also discover goals and hopes for which to yearn anew.

We can yearn passively and vaguely. We can only act on specifics. To fulfil the agency of our changes we must respond to our feelings through engaging with others, shared learning and experimentation.

Monsters at the Gates: Enabling Agency

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?
 
      Because the barbarians are coming today.
      What’s the point of senators making laws now?
      Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
 
– CP Cavafy ‘Waiting for the Barbarians
 
There are monsters at the gates. There always are. The answer is not fear. The answer is for us to take our agency, find our hope and make change.
 
 

Monsters at the Gates

 
 
We do not need to look far to see the barbarians. Threats abound. Digital disruption, viral epidemics, climate change, racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice dominate our attention and generate personal and community fear.
 
The fear is real and very human. Since the birth of humanity in the savannah our finely tuned sense of fear has been a key part of our survival as a species. The amygdala hijack of fear is deep in our animal brain. We are rushing towards freeze, fight or flight before we even have time to rationalise the alternatives.
 
The threats are real and manifold. We must not diminish or amplify fear to our ends. That’s not realistic, productive or sustainable.
 
We need to remember that freeze, fight or flight are responses, designed to foster safety for animals in the face of a threat. Our amygdala is giving our brains a head start and the tools to exercise agency in the face of our fears.
 
The danger we face is that our response stops at freeze. We cannot be like Cavafy’s Romans and Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon ever rationalising our waiting. We need work to give people agency, information and degrees of freedom to mitigate the negatives and work through their fears towards hope and change.
 
 

Enabling Agency

 
 
Every threat is as bad as it is. What matters is not how bad as it is, but what we can do about it. We need not focus on the threat. We need to focus on the hope and the agency that we have. We have to move beyond freeze and into action.
 
We need to recognise that at the heart of all these threats is an invitation to change from business as usual. Nothing changes until we shift mindset from ‘Someone should make it go away’ to ‘We have to do something.’ Not all of us can contribute due to power, privilege, economic or other circumstances, but we can each do what we can. Power is rarely surrendered. It must be made.
 
We have agency to tackle our monsters, once we acknowledge that they won’t solve themselves:
  • Digital Disruption: No external force is going to transform our organisations to equip them to survive and thrive in a digital economy, not even the fancy consultants. We need to manage the transitions for our role, team and organisation ourselves. Change agents are critical and can start now (They will have. Go find them). Start small, share information, build collaborations, experiment and you are more likely to have success than some enormous transformation project. Do it not for your glory, but to help others. Meanwhile increase the transparency and discussion of the need for change to prompt and enable others to do the same.
  • Viral epidemics: There’s no magic vaccine (for at least 18 months). Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Work from home, if you can. Don’t gather with others when you are ill. Increase distance for a while. Avoid panic buying. Recognise you do this not for yourself, but for others. The herd needs protecting. Spread practical messages and support others to take action to protect themselves and others. We can take particular care of those at most risk, both in health and economically.
  • Climate change: There is no imminent global solution to be implemented independently of our actions. We can each make decisions now to reduce our footprints and improve the impact of rising global temperatures. It will be inconvenient, but we don’t do it for ourselves. We do it for others. We can come together to advocate for larger societal and global changes. We can ensure that we consider not just the changes, but their costs.
  • Racism, sexism and other prejudice: No magic wand is going to remove prejudice from the human psyche. At times the threat can feel overwhelming. Remember these experiences are start individual and roll-up to the collective. Practice empathy. Challenge and hold to account those expressing, reinforcing and practising biases. You are acting for others and may experience inconvenience. Act where you can to foster change. Give those experiencing prejudice the freedom to show others a better way. Be an ally. Join in actions of change against collective and institutional prejudice.

Will these steps change the world and remove all fear. No. What they will do is start the process of change in the face of fear. They are ways that we can start now.

Hope

We need to remember that we should not minimise fear.  These threats are real. The antidote to fear is not fearlessness. Foolhardy change agents fail, bear great costs and hurt others.
 
The antidote to fear is hope. We must confront fear by owning our own agency and kindling our own hope. The human spirit can hold both fear and hope at the same time. The human spirit may even require both. Now is the time to imagine and discuss how we can be better. Our best performance as a species is when we respond to our fears by holding on to our hope and pursuing our better actions.
 
 
 
 
 
“Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for one the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us! What do you say? It is true that when with folded arms we weigh the pros and cons we are no less a credit to our species. The tiger bounds to the help of his congeners without the least reflexion, or else he slinks away into the depths of the thickets. But that is not the question. What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in the immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come — ”
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
 
 
 
 
 
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.
-CP Cavafy ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’
 

Postscript: Thanks also to Richard Martin for reminding me of Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark. A book I loved and which is a much richer exploration of our need to act and sustain hope. Read it.

Doubt as Nemesis or Muse

Big decisions should trigger doubt. If not, they are either too safe or an illusion. Doubt applied well is a useful check in our decision making.

I’ve made a lot of decisions in my career. The biggest ones were always filled with anxiety.  The most important, most valuable and riskiest decisions were often full of things that were deeply unknowable. More often than not, that unknowable included myself, I would doubt my capabilities, whether I could do the work and whether the decision was even mine to make.

As I made these decisions, I would have told you that doubt, especially self-doubt, was my nemesis. I was wrong. Doubt was also my muse. For the right balance, we need inspiring optimism and some doubt.

Doubt as Muse

The worst decisions I have made in my life were all free of doubt. In each of these decisions I fell victim to either overconfidence or illusion.

Overconfidence – Doubt as Critical Friend

When you are flush with overconfident certainties, there is value in the doubts of a critical friend. We have all seen people enthusiastically play the role of nemesis in decision making. We have many terms for this role: devil’s advocate, critic, black hat, blocker, cynic and more. These roles are often framed as opponents and run the risk of hardening overconfidence, dividing people into factions and fostering a move towards faith and illusion in decision making.

When managed well, my doubt has often been able to be harnessed into the role of critical friend. It is not an opponent. It is helping me to succeed with ‘unconditional support and unconditional critique’. Doubt unpacks the overconfidence and lets me get closer to a realistic assessment of my capabilities, my goals and my situation. I have a chance to learn. Doubt makes me work harder to do a better job. Doubt as muse can push as to find newer and better ways to go, inspiring us to look harder and deeper into our decisions.

Illusion – Doubt ripples Narcissus’ Pool

One of the most dangerous times to make a decision is when we have fallen in love with our own illusions. Just as we can fall in love with our idea of another person, rather than that actual person, the ideas that we love so passionately can be our own self-satisfying illusions. Like Narcissus staring lovingly into the pool, we have lost our grounding and our way.

Groupthink is a common organisational example. Everyone in the room is so in love with the illusory facts and decision under discussion that they reinforce their own mistakes, biases and prejudices. They also ask themselves “what on earth were we thinking?’ as soon as they have to explain the decision to a doubting public outside of the room. 

Equally dangerous are the decisions we take on faith. The narcissistic culture of many organisations invites us to ignore the world outside and just believe in the story, the illusions and the quality of the decisions. Whether through actual narcissists running the organisation or processes that reinforce that thinking, these moments of faith can be enthralling if we don’t retain our doubts.

Introducing doubts into these illusions ripples the pool and gives us a chance to find our grounding again. These doubts can be as simple as asking “what would need to be right for that to happen?’ or ‘what else could go wrong?’ One of the key values of diversity in organisations is introducing new ways of thinking and seeing the world to help introduce new inspirations and new doubts into this collective decision making. Diversity can mean transitional phases of lower trust in teams but unconditional and unfounded trust is a danger.

We make better decisions when we consider risks and when we are grounded in the world. Doubt can help us shatter our individual and collective illusions and make better decisions.

Doubt as Nemesis

In either category, doubt crosses into nemesis when it becomes intolerant of failure and unrealistic in its concerns. At this point, it is a hindrance to decision, action and success. 

We all must retain a bias to action. Inaction under doubt is an organisational killer and a path to personal disappointment. 

Most of the time the doubts that block our decision making are less significant and the decisions are less momentous than we feel in the moment anyway. We like to imagine our lives as full of heroic forks in an ever rising road. More often they are winding paths that rise and fall with all kinds of double backs and loops to navigate.  Many of the decisions that we think are earth shattering turn out to be capable of subsequent adjustment, improvement or revision. We need to keep doubt as nemesis in its place.

Doubt hangs in every human moment and expands exponentially in groups. We cannot gain by ignoring it. We are better to embrace it and let it guide us forward as a critical friend.

 

PS If your decision feels safe, you are in the comfort zone, go find some doubt and try again.

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