Trying to find better ways of organising ourselves, living and working together for a future fit for everyone.
Consultant at NixonMcInnes, interested in technology and participatory leadership, behaviour change and organisation design, helping all kinds of formal and informal organisations get digital and become more social, from the inside out. These are my personal chunterings.
With the scarcity mentality, things become a zero sum game. If somebody else wins, then necessarily you must lose. Therefore, you must always be on your guard.
When I take a breath, I am in no way denying you of any oxygen. I can have as much as I want, and you can have as much as you want.
In other words, our breathing is not a zero sum game. There are no “losers”. There is such an abundance of oxygen that we need not be concerned with competition.
The abundance mentality is a simple frame for rethinking our worldview and how it shapes our actions.
It’s essential reading for anyone looking to create a more positive culture at work, to break patterns of negative behaviour and poor decision making, or just to
The highlights for me were:
Here is Edward Bear (later named Winnie-The-Pooh), coming downstairs now, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping a moment and think of it. And then, he feels that perhaps there isn’t.
I’ve got a two-year old son, and together, we read alot of stories.
Tonight we started Winnie the Pooh again (I got fed up of reading the same five-page books over and over - there are only so many times you can read ‘Clever Cat’ without starting to grit your teeth) and this quote on the first page made me smile.
It reminded me of myself at my worst, too stuck inside my own patterns of stupid behaviour to consider that anything else was possible.
Sometimes because I’m too scared of trying something different or the perceived cost of just stopping to step back and consider what’s happening. Sometimes because I’ve lost sight of the fact that I’m the one that’s in control of my life, not my emails or someone else’s idea of ‘urgent’. Every time, for all the wrong reasons.
It also made me think of bigger systemic problems, the kind that many of us are trying so hard to fix - the borked capitalist system that creates ever-more productivity, while levels of homelessness and poverty and global income inequality rise - or the food system that farms what we eat to the point where it’s creating an environment that’s unable to feed anyone in the long term.
Systems that in many places, are too stuck in the patterns they know, too scared of the cost of trying something different - to take a step back and look at how to break them.
Luckily, just like me finding my own ways to stop, think and break my own unproductive or destructive patterns, there are loads of great people doing the same with these monolithic systems – helping the people within them to reflect on how they can be different and to do something about them (think Finance Innovation Lab or the Sustainable Food Lab).
Anyway, just a thought from a bear of very little brain, prompted by another. Here’s to less bumping down the stairs.
I’m starting to think that the sum of human experience and possibility is about awareness of and ability to meet needs.
Thanks to NVC (non-violent communication) and learning about Peter Koenig’s Source thinking (thank you Tom Nixon and Charlie Davies), it’s become clear to me that needs are at the core of everything we feel, think and do.
Everything that constrains and confounds us about our individual happiness and fulfillment is either a lack of understanding of our own needs or an inability to know how to get them met.
The same thing plays out across relationships, families, businesses, communities and societies. Where we lack the language and toolkit to see and share what we really need to feel safe and fulfilled, we get into ever decreasing circles of judgement, fear and conflict.
One of the things that holds us back is that we’ve been conditioned to feel unsafe talking about our feelings and needs. We feel awkward, or grasping. Vulnerability and authenticity is something we’ve learned to be scared of.
The irony is that without this we are trapped - never able to realise the very things that will help us be who we want to be in the world.
And without every individual being able to realise and share this awareness of needs, we can’t begin to find ways of compassionately defining ways of meeting them together.
But there’s an alternative - whether it’s using toolkits like NVC or simply by focusing on building more positive, trusting and open relationships, and feeling brave enough to talk about what matters to you, it is absolutely and completely feasible that we can all be more happy, together and create the future we all need.
Right now, if I was to try and create a formula for human happiness, I would sum it up as:
What do you think?
"Meditation practice can help business to suffer less. That is good already because if your employees are happy, your business can improve.
"Meditation can calm your suffering and give you more insight and more right view on yourself and on the world and if you have a collective wisdom, then naturally you will want to handle and conduct your business in such a way that will make the world suffer less."
A quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, an 87 year old Buddhist monk visiting Google and 20 other Silicon Valley CEOs this week.
He first went to Google in 2011 and was the inspiration for their mindfulness programme ‘Search inside yourself’. Apparently there are now meditation rooms in some of Google’s offices.
We might not all be ready for meditation at work, but the popularity of mindfulness at work, and particularly Thich Nhat Hanh being so influential in these big tech companies is a good sign that mainstream business is heading in a positive direction.
This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.
A wonderful perspective from George Bernard Shaw on Alexander Kjerulf’s blog.
Something I could do from reminding myself of now and again. Thanks Alex.
"The cultural issue is fundamentally important. There has to be a change in the culture of these institutions.
"I think finance can absolutely play a socially useful and an economically useful function but what it needs in order to do so, the focus has to be, of the financier, the people working in the banking system, has to be on the real economy, what it does for businesses making investment, what ultimately it means for jobs in the economy.
"And it’s the loss of that focus, it’s finance that becomes disconnected from the economy, from society, finance that only talks to itself and deals with each other, that becomes socially useless."
Mark Carney, the recently appointed Bank of England governor talking some real sense about the systemic failure in banking and finance, and the role of the people within it to drive positive change.
Thankfully, people like the Finance Innovation Lab are attacking this deep-rooted and corrosive problem in exactly this way but we need more like them, and we need more of the individuals inside the system to connect with these truths.
People who are happy but have little to no sense of meaning in their lives — proverbially, simply here for the party — have the same gene expression patterns as people who are responding to and enduring chronic adversity.
People whose levels of happiness and meaning line up, and people who have a strong sense of meaning but are not necessarily happy, showed a deactivation of the adversity stress response.
Interesting new study showing that happiness alone isn’t necessarily very good for you and having a sense of purpose is linked to better long term health outcomes. The magic combination looks like meaning and happiness combined, and having the former in your life is shown to link to more of the latter.
From: The Atlantic
Stress-related sickness has become the main source of absence. Happy workplaces support the bottom line.
Sadly, the traditional approach of driving results through ‘performance management’, tends to focus on problems, weaknesses and failure. This has the opposite to the intended effect – it not only creates cultures based around fear and anxiety, but puts people into a defensive state where motivation and performance goes down.
I’ve just finished a six week online course called Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence - lead by Richard Boyatzis of Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
It focused on two core themes:
emotional intelligence and the other behavioural competencies behind outstanding and inspiring leadership
intentional change theory - the process by which positive relationships facilitate individuals and systems to move through desired, sustained change.
Boyatzis and his associates have been studying this since the 70s - and have built up a good body of longitudinal and case studies through their academic and consulting work. He also uses neurological evidence to explain the effects on your brain and body when we experience great (and also very poor) leadership and management.
For my own learning and reference, and to provide an overview, I’ve tried to summarise the main points here.
I really enjoyed the course, the first MOOC that I’ve taken - I thoroughly recommend it and the next one starts in October. It involved video lectures and a lot of reading, but I benefited most from the reflective exercises, which were very experiential and actually really helped move me on in my personal development.
Resonant and dissonant leadership
So what differentiates effective and outstanding leadership? Put simply, it’s people who have the ability to inspire the following attributes or emotions in others:
Hope - a positive view of the present and the possibilities of the future
Mindfulness - looking at the bigger picture and finding new perspectives
Compassion - an awareness and concern for others
Playfulness - having fun and encouraging creativity
These are people who build trusting relationships with those around them, they take a personal interest in them, and help them connect to a sense of purpose in their day-to-day work through conversation, or how they frame meetings.
To use an example from one of the case studies, part of a change initiative by a CEO of an ailing business was to open each board meeting by attendees telling stories about how the company had delivered on its purpose and mission in the past month.
These are the qualities of resonant leaders.
This is opposed to dissonant leaders. These are individuals who lead through fear or by creating anxiety, focussing on weaknesses, what’s wrong or threats. They might open meetings by focusing on how bad this month’s figures are, what hasn’t been achieved since last time, or try to motivate people by talking about the implications of failure.
This kind of behaviour inevitably creates a culture dominated by negativity and instead of inspiring others to achieve, is about scaring them into doing what’s ‘needed’.
Of course, this approach can drive performance in the short-term - there are countless examples - but it doesn’t create sustainably successful businesses.
One of the reasons that this is very important is because emotions are contagious - the mirror neurons in our brain mean emotions spread from one person to the next in milliseconds. Anxious, stressed out, controlling leaders create anxious, stressed out, controlling workforces.
If you can think of a gig where everyone was having an amazing time and didn’t want it to end, or a meeting where everyone’s been frustrated and desperate to leave, you’ll know what this means.
For more on resonant leadership, emotions and emotional contagion, check out: Primal Leadership - The Hidden Driver of Great Performance
The core competencies of great leaders
The ability to inspire others in this positive way and build these kind of resonant relationships is driven by three sets of core competencies:
Emotional intelligence: the ability to recognise, understand and use emotional information about oneself that leads to or causes effective performanc
Emotional self-awareness: recognising one’s emotions and their effects.
Emotional self-control: keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check.
Adaptability: ﬂexibility in handling change.
Achievement orientation: striving to improve or meeting a standard of excellence.
Positive outlook: seeing the positive aspects of things and the future.
Social intelligence: the ability to recognise, understand and use emotional information about others that leads to or causes effective performance.
Empathy: sensing others’ feelings and perspectives, and taking an active interest in their concerns.
Organisational awareness: reading a group’s emotional currents and power relationships.
Coach and mentor: sensing others’ development needs and bolstering their abilities.
Inspirational leadership: inspiring and guiding individuals and groups.
Inﬂuence: wielding effective tactics for persuasion.
Conﬂict management: negotiating and resolving disagreements.
Teamwork: working with others toward shared goals. Creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals.
Cognitive intelligence: the ability to think, or analyse information and situations, that leads to, or causes effective performance.
Systems thinking: perceiving multiple causal relationships in understanding phenomena or events.
Pattern recognition: perceiving themes or patterns in seemingly random items, events, or phenomena.
Depth of technical expertise or knowledge is not shown to improve leadership performance - it’s these behavioural competencies that help people lead, influence and adapt through difficult and complex challenges.
The typical MBA or management training course is at best shown to only very slightly improve performance in these areas, and very little of that change sticks.
However, the good news is that these are behaviours that can be developed by anyone over time given the right practice and support. While IQ is stable over a lifetime, these intelligence competencies are dynamic and learned.
This means change is possible, through practicing and testing new behavioural competencies, reflecting on what’s learned and continuing to develop (in a safe setting to begin with).
Positive and Negative Emotional Attractors
Resonant leadership invokes what Boyatzis calls the Positive Emotional Attractor state - where people feel that heady combination of hope, mindfulness, compassion and playfulness.
This has a measurable effect on our brains - fMRI scans show that these positive experiences stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System and with it the Default Mode Network or Social Network parts of our brain. We feel good, we become more open to possibility, more in tune with and able to connect to others, more optimistic and confident in our own abilities.
Dissonant leadership - where we are ‘performance managed’ or lead through fear and anxiety invokes the opposite - the Negative Emotional Attractor state. This stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System, and with it the Task Positive Network. This is part of our ‘fight or flight’ toolkit. We get defensive and our brains go into survival mode - our ability to connect to others, to be mindful or to be open to possibilities is dimmed and we’re only really able to focus on the task of riding out the challenge.
Although we need to spend time in the NEA - it’s what helps us grow, it’s what helps us survive - too much time spent in an environment where negativity rules leads us into chronic and annoying stress. Over time it also actually inhibits neurogenesis, the growth of new brain tissue, and effectively leads to death of neural tissue over time.
The time we spend in the PEA state is that which helps us thrive - to experience new possibilities and to be hopeful about our ability to realise them. Spending more time in this state actually supports neurogenesis and effectively helps make us ‘smarter’.
Because negative experiences are much more powerful for us human beings, it’s important for us to balance our positive to negative experiences by around 3-6:1 in a work setting, if we’re to grow and stay out of the chronic stress zone. Some research says that a happy marriage is characterised by a positive to negative ratio of 5:1!
The cycle of intentional change
Intentional Change Theory is the process by which a person, organisation or large group - team, business, community, society - experiences a long-term, sustained change. As it’s name suggests, the theory states that the only sustained change is one that’s actively desired.
Complexity theory helps us to understand that organisations are complex systems.
For individuals and larger groups, change is experienced as non-linear and discontinuous. Instead of a steady and obvious process it appears as five discoveries, or points of emergence. These discoveries emerge as the result of time spent in the positive, PEA state, with resonant people that help us feel that combination of hope for our future, mindful of the bigger picture and other opportunities, connection to others and/or playful and creative.
The five discoveries are:
1. The ideal self: the discovery of a new possibility of how to be, and a clear articulation of a desired future state.
This is very different to the ‘ought self’ - the change that they think they should make, but have little desire to, or that they’re told they need to make by a manager or boss.
The future vision has various components such as the values you aspire to, an image of the future and a belief that you can achieve it.
The important thing is to articulate it - if you don’t, the chance of making those goals real falls to 5-10%.
2. The real self: a true understanding of how others experience you that shows the strengths to build on and the gaps to fill.
This is only done after an understanding of the ideal self, so that you’re testing how people experience you against how you want to be, not collecting unnecessary feedback and data on other strengths and weaknesses.
Ways to do this include 360 degree feedback surveys, asking 10-20 people to tell you a story when you were at your best or finding people to share your vision with and get their take on where you are now.
Interestingly, research shows that men tend to overestimate their abilities and women, particularly professional mothers to underestimate them. It’s important to consider this ‘estimation bias’.
3. A learning agenda: a plan of new skills and behaviours needed, or existing ones that need maintaining to to achieve the desired future state. This has to consist of things that the person/team/group are genuinely excited about, not onerous tasks they have to tick off.
4. Practice and experimentation: the process of testing out these new behaviours, one by one, gathering feedback from the people in your life and reflecting on the experience to further grow and develop.
5. Establishing trusting relationships: creating relationships in which people can share their vision, and get support through the process, to help them to keep moving forward.
Leading someone through this process is what Boyatzis calls Coaching with Compassion.
As I described, the PEA state is the zone in which these discoveries take place, where people’s minds are open to new possibilities and they are full of hope and belief.
Necessarily when they go into practice and experimentation, or feedback, they’ll experience the NEA - the stress or anxiety when pushed out of their comfort zone - but this is also necessary.
The trick is to keep coming back to spend time in the PEA state and move forward, which is why developing more trusting, open and resonant relationships in your life is so important to support a desired change.
Resonant leaders help create the conditions and relationships where people are more likely to have these discoveries. And by helping people in leadership positions experience these discoveries for themselves, they are better able to help others to do so.
Multi-level and systemic change
Where an individual is trying to create a desired change, it’s important that they share their vision with various people in their life, in and out of work. If they have a partner, they can also create their personal vision, and then form a shared vision. If they serve on board, they might share their vision with others they trust in that team. Again, the key component here is openness and trust, in order to make a vision real.
It’s equally important that the new behaviours are tested out in all areas of life, not just at work, if they’re to become truly embedded. Sometimes, trying out new behaviours is scary, and choosing a safe environment in which to start is sensible.
If a team or organisation is the subject of a change programme, under this theory shared visioning is very important, following a process of personal discovery.
Having resonant leadership at many different levels of the system is equally important in maintaining performance or creating desired change - because unless there are people throughout the organisation modelling the desired behaviour, supporting others and providing the glue - then the system will just slip back into it’s normative state.
Check out these two case studies for examples of how ICT and the development of resonant leaders can be used to bring about cultural change:
What inspired me
Just a few of the things that I was left with:
As I said, I massively enjoyed the course and this is only scratching the surface. The beauty is in the exercises and the experiential nature of them.
I recommend giving it a go if you have the time and have found this interesting.