Writing

Boundary Questions

Yesterday for me was a day of announcements and negotiating the beginnings of a new transition. The day therefore became yet another day in my life of thinking closely about boundaries. This post is a meditation on some useful boundary questions to consider.

As humans, we love to put lines on our world and our lives. Some of those lines have meaning shared with others. Some are just our own imaginings. We need to separate out our views and those of others. We need to separate the experiences from the imagined or merely expected.

Boundaries tick off achievements, transitions, ambitions and no-go zones. Asking ourselves hard questions about these boundaries can help us ensure they are guiding, but not ruling us. These questions can also help our continued learning and progress.

Lines on the world

For those who like the answer upfront, here are my questions and I will explore the value of each in turn:

  • What is the boundary you will never cross?
  • What is the line that you want to cross but think you will never get there?
  • What do you carry with you wherever you go?
  • What were the last and the next boundaries?
  • What do you need to prosper the other side of that next line?

The Boundary You Never Cross

We all draw lines in the sand from time to time. Some are permanent. It is important to separate the ‘mostly won’t go there’ from the ‘truly won’t go there’ and understand the difference why.

The boundaries you will never cross is not a question of ability or background. Those things can change. The boundaries you will never cross are those that breach your values. Know what is unacceptable to you and don’t go there. Ever.

Desired but Feels Unattainable

as if the edge of
continent contented us with boundary.
Draw a line from A to B. Live there

Bin Ramke, Curve of Pursuit

You need to know this boundary well. Perhaps it is entering a new job, industry or career. Perhaps it is a state of happiness or a relationship. This is one you passionately desire, but feels out of reach.

Remember that passionate intensity and desire. Forget the unattainable bit. Things change. Keep pushing. Understanding why you want this crossing will help you achieve it. There’s always another path.

Carried with You

Borders are places we lose things. We have to set some things down and pick others up. This makes it more important than ever to know what we carry across that line and won’t let go.

These gifts, tools or burdens are our uniqueness. Choose carefully what you always carry. Is it really essential to you? Is it valuable to you and others? Is it even real? Some times in a new land we discover we have been carrying things that no longer exist.

Last and Next

Secretly, and with what feels like good reason,
we’re the pain the people we love
put the people they no longer love in.

Graham Foust, Star Turn

Placing yourself helps you see the paths. At some stages of our life and career, we slip over boundaries without noticing. Knowing the last line helps us see this better.

The next boundary is the one we are preparing to cross. The next boundary is the one we need to find and conquer. We must keep it in view.

The Other Side

Marshall Goldsmith famously wrote ‘What got you here won’t get you there’ about careers and leadership development. People are surprised to discover that their one key trick to success in life and work stops working when they cross a boundary. The rules are suddenly and inexplicably different.

Preparing to cross a boundary is one thing. The next challenge is preparing for success on the other side of the line where things work differently.

I track it, the old paths of a past life.
The martin’s pad foot prints the mud,
claws curled into slivers of an unspoken language.

Heather Derr-Smith, May we meet no line a boundary

HICAPS to Acquire LanternPay

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

In exciting news, today NAB announced that it had reached agreement to acquire LanternPay. This transaction opens an exciting new phase in innovation in healthcare and disability claims and payments by bringing LanternPay together with HICAPS. Very proud to have been a part of the LanternPay journey of innovation to this point and excited about the opportunities ahead to benefit providers and schemes in the HICAPS business.

The AFR Story (paywall)

Adulting

Photo by Artem Podrez on Pexels.com

frightened, elated, sometimes trembling,
sure the weight of the word had come into my arms,
ready to learn what it was that I should do

Dick Allen, The Adult Section

Somebody should do something. Where are the people who will do something? Surely, there is a boss, a prime minister, a leader or a parent to solve this for us. They should have planned better. This shouldn’t be happening. Surely those responsible will step up. Can’t I just play? Can’t I skip the hard bits? Can I have an icecream now and do chores later? Why do others get to play?Why won’t someone step in take the responsibility from our hands and solve this.

I can almost guarantee that the readers of this blog are adults. Yet, we have all thought these thoughts. We have longed for a parent or parental figure to take away the troubles, to make us feel better and to help us find the happiness we lost. Our organisations love to create parent-child relationships that strip from us the difficulties of adult accountability and the conflicts of competing adult perspectives.

The hardest change to make as we evolve to new ways of working is to remove the parent-child relationships from our organisations, our work and our societies. To make our work truly human we need to stand on our own two feet, express our own views fearlessly and fill the adult shaped lacunae we ourselves have created.

Adulting is hard, relational work. Being an adult engaged with other adults demands new conversations, new acceptance of accountabilities, new drive and a clear sense of ourselves. Each of these things will make our work better, more rewarding and more productive for us and others. We need to start now. How can you take on the adult-size holes in the world around you?

 my hand trembled as I took it up
and moved slowly to lift it out of the window     into

the air     a kind of thinking     like everybody else
looking     for a continuing contravention of limits and
of substance

Robin Blaser, A Bird in the House

Exuberance

Saints have no moderation, nor do poets, just exuberance.

Anne Sexton
Let the bubbles of exuberance rise

Moderation

I have a moderate fear my happiness may seem oppressive.
I apologise for the wet blanket of my happiness.

Sara Watson, These Are My Feelings

Society has its ways of encouraging us to be moderate in our expectations and our hopes. Society exists to constrain immoderate behaviour, to restrain the dangerous madness (and also the genius of crowds) and to prevent flights of dangerous exuberance. Our organisations take that further with a rule, a policy and a process for every moment and a suggestion that any flight of fancy might be unduly dangerous.

From an early age we are encouraged to avoid disappointment and manage our expectations. Colleagues will push back on overly enthusiastic and risky courses of action. Projects, strategies, change initiatives, businesses, careers and lives are meant to fail. Everything always falls eventually. It takes real bravery to believe in the lift, to pursue the exuberant flights of the crazy brave.

Oscar Wilde took this to its amusing limits when he suggested that ‘everything in moderation, including moderation’. We need to be moderate in our moderation when dampening our enthusiasm, easing the stretch, and deflating our exuberance means losing the human energy and intuition that drives great teams to even greater achievements. There is a reason much success if begun in wild exuberance. That start is a calculated overreaction to a glimmer of potential.

The very longest swell in the ocean, I suspect,
carries the deepest memory, the information of actions

AR Ammons, Swells

Exuberance

We need exuberance to find the signal in all the noise of our busy lives. We need exuberance to devote time to that signal and to draw from it the potential. We need exuberance to commit to the risk of taking potential and making it real.

The crow wish’d every thing was black, the owl, that every thing was white. Exuberance is Beauty.

William Blake, from ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’

Seeing the potential to make a change, to build something or to become something is not enough. We need a little irrational bubbling energy to lift us through all the forces of moderation and to push us to go after what might be. Dreams are not formed in balance and stasis. They come in a rush of energy and activity. They come to life in wild moments of abandon.

Exuberance challenges pilots

to master the Falling Leaf, perfect the Tailspin,
ignore the Graveyard Spiral, the Doom Loop.

These aviators predict every American will fly.

Dolores Hayden, Exuberence

Exuberance is contagious. Like any emotion, it spreads like wildfire in relationships. Shared exuberance at the miniscule signs of progress is what keeps teams delivering when the nights are long and the challenges many. People want to join in to the energy and the enthusiasm. Much cited by central bankers as the enemy of orderly markets, ‘irrational exuberance’ even has its continuing attractions. People don’t want to miss out on the momentum and energy. Big visions, big ideas and big energy motivate people because once they overcome their initial moderate fears they see the potential and the promise.

Whatever your life’s purpose, approach it with exuberance. Save your moderation for everything else. Your exuberant energy will be a force multiplier for your work, your relationships and the potential of whatever you set out to achieve. The darker the surrounding days and people, the more important it is that you bring your own great passion and own energy to what you want to do.

Joy is not made to be a crumb

Mary Oliver

Logistical Failures

Our society runs on logistics that many of us never need to consider. A crisis brings these hidden processes to the fore. Just as strategy depends on execution, business continuity depends on logistics. Do you understand yours?

The rush to reopen global economies in the Covid pandemic has revealed yet more frailty in global supply chains and the logistics behind many service businesses. As returning workers get disease and spread it to their colleagues we see rolling shutdowns In factories, trucking, warehousing and all the way forward to retail and restaurants.

We even see these infections forcing logistical issues in our healthcare systems from lack of testing capacity, lack of supplies to workers struggling with leave, illness and exhausting shifts relentlessly.

Again and again in crisis times it is simple logistics that causes greatest pain, lack of housing and clean water leading to illness, lack of food leading to unnecessary death and lack of building materials slowing recovery.

People often ask how can it happen? Modern logistics systems are complex systems and lean inventory management can lead to multiple potential points of failure and the prospects of cascading failures. Whiplash effects can develop as critical commodities are overordered, stockpiled, diverted from other uses and substituted.

Governments, Business leaders and their boards need to understand their supply chains and how they will perform in fair weather and foul. This work must involve tracking supply chains offshore and understanding alternate sources of stress.

Planning for failure should be a key part of crisis planning and business continuity exercises. Allowing for redundancy and contingencies should be a key part of mitigation plans. While in sunny days you may rely on deep labour and supply markets, we have seen that nothing of the source can’t be relied on when weather turns foul.

Bring these key processes and employees into your strategic and risk planning. It’s no excuse if you don’t know or can’t find your supply chains. Make sure key executives know your key suppliers and their suppliers if need be.

Customers and other stakeholders won’t take excuses and rain checks when it matters. Worse still your lack of planning may contribute to wider systemic failures or downstream affects that delay a crisis response. Make sure you understand all your logistics risks.

Flow 2022

And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?

The sky is a shirt wet with tears,

the road a vein about to break,

and the glass of wine a mirror in which

the sky, the road, the world keep changing.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Before You Came

After 2021, I swore that I would not start 2022 with a resolution. I was planning to let the year be and make of it what I could and what it allowed. Helen Blunden provided the perfect theme for my year on Twitter – Flow.

Flow opens up a range of meanings that resonate with me now. The first is the recognition of the passage of time which I feel keenly these days. Isolation, deferred plans and as yet unrealised dreams sit uneasily on me as time passes. In a global pandemic, it is hard not to consider that the sand may flow out before I get it all done. When I get the chance, I will make the most of my urgency against this flow.

In contrast, I am also much more inclined to ‘go with the flow’. Expectations and plans are tyranny when the circumstances are so volatile. I lost a third of my New Years’ Eve guests when a rapid antigen test showed the wrong stripe for one party. We make do and we make the most with what is possible without regret. We are carried along by circumstances and must recognise they limit our influence. We do what we can, not what we wish.

This is not water running here,
These thick rebellious streams
That hurtle flesh and bone past fear
Down alleyways of dreams.

Countee Cullen, Harlem Wine

Water flows and always finds its level. It’s the same way our dreams and desires push us along even when the circumstances are against us. Even when we go with the flow, we are still carried to the sea. We merely choose how we arrive there. The force of our desires is a source of energy and momentum for our lives if we let it flow. Damming this flow is so often counterproductive.

Flow is rarely a straight line. Water (& air) flow involves swirls, eddies and all kinds of curves along the path. Another reason why airborne Covid infection is so random. Turbulence is an everyday experience in these complex dynamics. We can be carried a long way of path or trapped in circling for a while before the passage resumes. These swirls can change the course of great rivers cutting off some destinations as isolated billabongs, even as we still move forward.

Flow in the sense provided by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly reminds us that there are many rewards to be had in the efforts along the way. Balancing challenges with growing skills and living intensely absorbed in the present moment feels called for in this time of ours. As 2022, progress I want to choose to spend my time in flow when I can for the satisfaction and the productivity despite whatever circumstances surround me.

My thirst, my desire without end, my wavering road!

Dark river beds down which the eternal thirst is flowing,

and the fatigue is flowing, and the grief without shore.

Pablo Neruda, [Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs]

Flow also reminds me of the practised deliberate movements of Qi Gong combining slow motion with mindfulness and breathing. As I launch into 2022, I want to preserve as much rest, relaxation and mindfulness that I have been able to create between Christmas and New Years. I also want to recognise that all the skills I wish to develop take deliberate, consistent and careful practice.

My last theme of flow is to recognise that some solids like glass are actually flowing, just on time scales beyond our perception. For someone who works in and drives change in large systems, it can be a comfort to know that what looks solid may be amenable to change in the right circumstances. So much of my work is engineering circumstances where change can flow in the hands of those with agency.

So as I amble into 2022, I have chosen to go with flow.

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

Robert Burns, Afton Water

PS the story of glass flowing is largely a myth on any reasonable timescale or range of temperatures.

Wow! That was some Year! – 2021

The Rope-a-Dope Year comes to a Close

I noted at the end of 2020 that the pace of change would continue and the feels would not go away. Sadly, I was right. For much of this year it felt as if we were playing Rope-a-Dope with digital change, new variants and our emotions.

So much happened this year and it stretched us in new ways, not all comfortable or desired. We found our strength in communities, in the magic of science and in our relationships with each other. For that we can be grateful. We leaned too heavily on resilience and discovered it is a spring, not a buttress. Too much force and it will compress. We also found the weaknesses in the mob, anger and ill-informed debate, those will be challenges we need to tackle for some time.

So here is a year in review.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

Most Popular Posts for 2021

The most popular posts on this blog are often determined by others with far larger audiences and far greater influence. Some things catch and sustain themselves or find an ardent supporter. I can never pick what people will share. I am grateful for their support.

Here are the most viewed posts of the year:

  • Ten Counterintuitive Principles of Change Agents: Exploring the way change really works and why it isn’t about what you want. Struck a deep chord in those working for change
  • Anticipatory Obedience: A sleeper from 2019 on organisational resistance that caught fire in 2020 for all the wrong reasons. It was widely shared by anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers and others who loved the title and didn’t read the post. First time I have been tempted to delete a post. Instead let’s help people challenge the uniformed networks by drawing them out into the rest of the blog.
  • Liminal Spaces: A late 2020 post that struck a chord throughout 2021 about the opportunities that come from exploring boundaries and thresholds
  • Breaking Down the Value of Collaboration: Another 2019 slowburn on drivers of value in collaboration. Is everything old new again? See below in Work Ahead for 2022
  • Resignation: Why the Great Resignation is hardly inevitable and we can’t rely on resilience. Maybe in 2022 we can look after each other better.

Like this blog, a hodgepodge of interesting topics across a wide range of domains but reflecting echoes of our challenges this year.

The Posts I loved for 2021

The following posts are those that dug deeper into themes or challenges that resonated with me in 2021:

And as a bonus there is Listing 100 things that make someone special – a little exercise that might just make someone’s day.

Cool Things that Happened in 2021

Work Ahead in 2022

In 2022, I expect a range of new adventure many of which will stretch me to learn new things and to grow in new and likely unexpected ways. The topics you can expect me to explore include:

  • Growth and Strategy: particularly as I continue to work on growing the LanternPay health payments business
  • Agency and Potential: how we enable others to realise their potential and exercise their agency. I still believe this is the path to better performance and sustainable change. In this topic lies my long promised and not yet started book.
  • Relationships, Collaboration and Yammer: Old things are new again as Yammer plays a more prominent role in Microsoft Viva and as people realise that community is a missing part of their future of work strategy.
  • Boundaries and Liminality: To succeed in a portfolio life, you need effective boundaries to shape focus and stay sane. Not there yet.
  • Poetry: expect the poetry dropped through posts at random to continue. Another strategy to stay sane.

Be safe. Follow the best public health advice you can get from experts. Enjoy the celebrations that bring a year to an end. Let’s do this all again in 2022.

Headspace

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

The last two years have put us deeply into our own heads. We need to re-engage with the world and the relationships that the world brings, as difficult as that is in a continuing pandemic.

Headspace

Judgment is in the head somewhere; it keeps sums
Of pleasure and pain and gives belated warning;
This is the first place everybody comes
With bills, complaints, writs, summons, in the morning.

William Meredith, Thoughts on One’s Head

I did something unusual last weekend. I travelled to Adelaide to spend two days with friends and family at the Adelaide Test of the Ashes. After two years of isolation, there was something quite magical about one of the greatest cricket ovals in the world, the uneven pace of test cricket, the adventure of travel, the hum of crowds, and the banter of great company. At the end of two days I felt like a much newer human.

What made the difference? Getting out of my own head.

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

Stevie Smith, Thoughts about the Person from Porlock

The last two years have been time for introspection, time for obsessions, time for anxieties and much more. They have not been easy and a source of all kinds of new and different stresses. What we have lacked most of all is the distraction of company and community. Sadly, our digital communities can substitute for the connection of physical gathering but they are often designed to reinforce our introspection, obsessions, anxieties and more. Their business models depend on our engagement.

Humans are social creatures. We need to be out of our own heads and in the world interacting with others with all the complexity and challenges that brings. We also need time outdoors whether that be sitting in the sun, walking through a different city or lying by the banks of the Torrens watching the Christmas party boats.

Of course, we need to stay safe. The group I travelled with were all vaccinated, we took care, followed the public health guidance and we wore masks. Safety can be a part of engaging with the wider world and resetting our heads.

Rue, Not Rage

Too much time in our own heads brings about an intensity of emotion. Our thoughts have nothing to feed off but other thoughts. We lose perspective and it can lead to the kind of intensity that brings on rage, unconstructive thinking and other negativities.

We can all do with some time sitting in the shade staring at the sky and finding ways to convert our rage into other emotions. We can rue what is lost while still finding the presence of mind to engage with the here and now. Perspective comes from the world outside, not within our own heads.

A weekend away out in the world with company has helped me to better see my privileges, my opportunities and my challenges in a better light. None are diminished. They just sit in a more comfortable and at times more rueful relation to each other. For late 2021, deep in the second year and the fourth or fifth wave of a pandemic, that itself is an achievement.

Take yourself out into the world (armed with all the best public health protection). Sit in the shade of a glade somewhere. Leave the chats, tweets, socials and video calls for another day. Chat aimlessly with friends and strangers. Most importantly of all get out of your own head. Give yourself that break.

The Expectancy is Over

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We have always waited. Now in our post-lockdown phase of life as things return to their urgency, waiting has a new dynamic. We have entered the Expectancy.

How much of our life is waiting?

Research in the UK estimates between a year and five years waiting in queues alone. Americans spend 13 hours annually waiting for customer service. Anyone knows these kinds of stats are rubbish. They are projections off averages. We know the real answer is that we spend all of our life waiting.

I was waiting for something
to arrive. I didn’t know what.
Something buoyed, something
sun knocked. I placed my palms
up, little pads of butter, expecting.
All day, nothing.

Jane Wong, The Waiting

Waiting isn’t a task that is exclusive. We get on with things and we wait at the same time. Every minute we aren’t wholly absorbed in the present is waiting time. Waiting to wake up or go to bed. Waiting for a cup of coffee or toast. Waiting for that call or that email or that text. We live in the Expectancy because it has trained us to ever look forward and to calmly or wildly wait.

Waiting is our best achievement and our best excuse. Why hasn’t something happened? Well we are waiting for…[insert anything]. The more complicated our organisations and their process have become the greater the Expectancy’s grip on our lives. It’s just not possible to complete that until the end of the day, this sprint, another quarter or our next prioritisation.

Waiting is a solution.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

CP Cavafy, Waiting for the Barbarians

Overthrow the Expectancy

We have become so used to waiting that we hardly notice it happening any more. A pandemic slid into our readiness to wait and took hold. Lockdowns came and went. We waited for vaccines and test results. Our futures were delayed. Our tasks stretched out. We held on. We adapted to new time cycles. We added more waiting onto our lives full of the Expectancy. We started to become experts in the Rope-a-dope of waiting out the storms.

We need to overthrow the Expectancy. We need to rediscover Now.

Being present is the beginning. Making sure that this minute exists for us and we are here in it. The Expectancy will fight back. It will bring us things to wait for in every moment of the day. Our job is to be present enough to see them for the imposters they are.

But being present is not enough. We also need to start creating the lives we want now without waiting, without hoping others will bring it to us on a platter. They won’t. Owning our own actions is the start of us moving beyond waiting. Whatever we do today creates new options for tomorrow. Instead of waiting for gifts from the future, let’s plan to control our own options.

Out of your whole life give but one moment!
All of your life that has gone before,
All to come after it, – so you ignore,
So you make perfect the present, – condense,
In a rapture of rage, for perfection’s endowment,
Thought and feeling and soul and sense –
Merged in a moment which gives me at last
You around me for once, you beneath me, above me –
Me – sure that despite of time future, time past, –
This tick of our life-time’s one moment you love me!
How long such suspension may linger? Ah, Sweet –
The moment eternal – just that and no more –
When ecstasy’s utmost we clutch at the core
While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut and lips meet!

Robert Browning, Now

The Game of Thought Leadership

What if thought leadership is just a game played for the experience and the attention?

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

Last week on Twitter, I came across a discussion of NFTs as a potential online game. That discussion led to an intriguing analysis of the Qanon phenomenon in the US from a game designer. Reading the latter piece I could not miss the similarities to the practice of thought leadership.

https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/simon-terry-thoughts-arent-leadership/id1465071720?i=1000544128526

I am critical of thought leadership as an abstract practice of influence. As I note in Mark LeBusque’s Simply Pratically Human podcast, much of that thought leadership has a bubblegum flavour, sweet and satisfying at first but ultimately bland and discarded. Thought leadership when practised at its most viral feels like a game. We see the characteristics of a game replicated in some of the common experiences of the genre.

Apophonia

So much of thought leadership depends on the connection between random things to build narratives of meaning. All the ex-post facto expositions of the value of strategies and actions that weren’t used are examples of this. Importantly, highly effective thought leadership often works because it sends people out in the world to make connections that aren’t there.

Eureka Effect

One reason that thought leaders rely so heavily on platitudes is that they want people to have the warm comfortable glow of recognition. Plus as you take your platitude out into the world you will discover lots of people that endorse it. Social proof is comforting.

Looking at the World Differently

If a thought leader can get you to see the world through their lens, then their influence grows. You will confirm the value of their vision as you go forward checking the world against their tests. Confirmation bias is real so there’s a great chance you will find what you looking for.

Proving what doesn’t exist

Pop psychology may have a reproduction crisis, but most good thought leadership is unfalsifiable. Try proving that it doesn’t work. The tests are either impossible or too complicated for the average person to be able to check.

A Knowing Inside Community in an Outside World

Thought leaders gain influence as the gain acolytes. It is therefore essential to distinguish the knowing inner community of followers from the wide world that has not yet realised the value of the thought leadership. The greater this distinction the more compelling the thought leader’s influence and the greater their ability to sustain a following. Stepping into some of the discussions from followers of common thought gurus can be an alienating experience. Harold Jarche has highlighted this in his discussion of ‘knights and mooks’.

The Payoff

Games have their rewards. For thought leaders the payoff is the ability to monetise their influence with a community of followers. There is always another book to sell, a course, a membership, or some next level of monetisation.

For that community, it can be an experience, a feeling of belonging, a sense of superiority or a degree of comfort that the world is more easily knowable and that success is more easily attainable. In large part the payoffs for followers are illusions, comforting illusions, but illusions nonetheless. What drives and sustains thought leadership industry is the returns to the thought leader and their facilitators.

Leading More than Thoughts

In a world that infinite scrolls on digital devices, it can feel comforting to be absorbed in compelling thoughts. Sharing these thoughts can reflect positively in one’s reputation and influence. However, leadership in our world demands more than thoughts. We need action and we need action at a collective scale. Entertainment will never take the place of real agency.

We are in desperate need of moving beyond stages, audiences, acclaim and all the other games. Let’s go and make changes to make this world a better place.