A leader sees greatness in other people. You can’t be much of a leader if all you see is yourself. Only equals make friends. A man or woman who sees other people as whole and prepared and accords them respect and the same rights has arranged his or her own allies

Maya Angelou whose leadership, works and wisdom with be with us forever.

More Poetry at Work

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The magic of social collaboration is when you become part of a conversation, then others bring their insights.  After the last two posts, this has become poetry week (or so it seems).  

Two Quick Reads

My last two posts discovered two further good reads on the power of poetry:

Deeper Reading

For anyone who wants to dive deeper into this topic, I can recommend:

Action

Lastly, go to your favourite bookstore and buy a book of poetry. There is no better way to realise the power than to dip into the inspiration of a collection of great poems.

One book can make a difference. My journey into the power of poetry began when a good friend, Geoff Higgins, gave me a copy of Seamus Heaney’s The Haw Lantern. Geoff did me an enormous favour because great poetry is a passion that can sustain a life of creative work.

You could do worse than to decide to follow this practice by the wise Lois Kelly:

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A Poem as Knowledge Work

A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep. – Salman Rushdie

The moment of change is the only poem – Adrienne Rich

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood – TS Eliot

Poetry is pure knowledge work. Poets take their art, sensibilities, training and deep domain expertise to create a work of pure knowledge, a piece of literature.

We accept that a poet might use elements of the following processes to create their work:

  • Engaging with the world
  • Taking time for reflection & seeking inspiration
  • Working drafts, experimenting, throwing away failures, restarting often and trialling different approaches and ideas
  • Building on patterns, influences, themes and ideas shared by others
  • Collaborating with others, seeking the guidance of colleagues, peers, editors and audiences to improve the work
  • Creating new forms, practices, breaking rules and pushing the discipline of the domain
  • Questing after perfection and never quite realising it. Paul Valery famously said “Poems are never finished, just abandoned

Poetry in this way is an example of knowledge work’s pursuit of effectiveness, over efficiency. The best poems are the result of distilling human experience, creating a leap forward in capability and dazzling in their rich human value.

As much as we may joke about a roomful of monkeys with typewriters writing Shakespeare, we know it cannot happen. Yet many organisations seek to manage knowledge work as a monkey business, concerned solely with the efficiency of the process of knowledge production. This mindset rejects the potential of the elements above and seeks to apply industrial process management to knowledge work. An example is the concern that collaboration in organisations might be wasteful or time consuming.  That concern misses the engaging and creative potential of collaboration.

There is much knowledge work that can be improved. Even poets quest for better more impactful creation.  However, they focus of their improvement is increasing the value of the output and not reducing waste in the process.

We can minimise down time. We can reduce errors and waste in the process.  We can turn the process of knowledge creation into an algorithm. But like poetry created by monkeys, we must acknowledge that the great human potential for connection, emotion, creativity and innovation has been lost in that process.

Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history – Plato

Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth – Samuel Johnson

Always be a poet, even in prose – Charles Baudelaire

No Island. Connected.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 

John Donne
Recently, discussing corporate culture and disruption, I was asked how is it that organisations cling to old views in the face of disruptive change.  How do people whose businesses are threatened still deny the need for fundamental change.  Many of these organisations cling to the past even when their performance has already begun to change for the worse.
As we talked familiar patterns of conversations in these organisations came to mind:
  • fad spotters who declare the inconvenient trend will is temporary or suits only marginal customers or competitors
  • past successes who can’t move beyond what worked before
  • boiled frogs that never don’t jump out until too late
  • safety first who fear loss and demand certainty, less risk, better proof or ROI
  • ostriches who see only what is convenient and celebrate variation as reversals of the trend
  • the wiser who know better than their colleagues, customers and competitors
  • premium providers who forget premium means more valuable and more relevant
  • technicians who see the great unravelling of the trend ahead because of a better technical solution or a flaw in the new technology
  • underlying performers who adjust away the difficulties to show sunshine underneath
  • tried & failed who know that their organisation’s failures define the limits of all future success…

I could go on this way.

One thing is common in all of these patterns: the individuals in the organisation have ceased to take inputs from their external environment. The organisation has become an echo chamber for business as usual views and any inconsistent information is discounted. 

The problem is easily rectified: engage people in the accountabilities of the real world –

  • start listening to customers and the community
  • start engaging with people beyond your own industry
  • start reading things you have not read before and 
  • start talking with people you don’t usually meet

No organisation can survive as an island.  An organisation that opens up to even the smallest amount of genuine engagement with its community discovers new insights.  This immersion and engagement will also drive to embrace new accountabilities for change.

Nobody can be an island.  We all need to be engaged in our communities.  Listening and engaging in the world outside the organisation is the surest first step to avoid the toll of disruption’s bell.