On Renewal
 Yellow Rose. (iPhone)

Yellow Rose. (iPhone)

"Look at everything. Don't close your eyes to the world around you. Look and become curious and interested in what there is to see."   (John Cage)


I've become fascinated by the way our experiences of life beautifully ebb away before the seeds of renewal begin to show themselves.  Although 'good practice' says that I should 'deadhead' the yellow roses at the side of our house, I'm learning to honour their process and see the colours they show as their petals naturally fall.  

Over the last couple of weeks, I've had enough time to 'look at everything'. 

My reckless complicity with the relentless demands of the last few years has left me suffering from 'burnout' - which, unless you have been through it, seems like a ridiculous, imaginary condition.  Even from within, it feels very odd.  For me, there is the sudden recognition that the world is completely monochrome, that work has taken over everything and you are missing in your own life.  Only slowly, and through a haze of continued exhaustion and distress, do glimpses of colour start to return along with gently emerging question, "What was I thinking....?"  

Clearly not much.

But I was doing a lot. And now, as I take a tentative peek at my email inbox, I see the continued assertions from the management media to 'increase personal  productivity' and the hacks that 'get stuff done.'  But actually, as I look back, I realise I was moving too fast to read them. First in the office, last to leave. Working through each weekend. No diary 'white space.'  Skipping on sleep - no problem.  On my phone when I'm on vacation.  And if I can just get that next task done.  And then maybe just that one too...

As friends and colleagues have kindly checked in with me, the theme of their messages has been, '...really sorry to hear that.....but not surprised....'

Honestly? Neither was I.

So now, as I wrestle with the shame of not living up to my own expectations and the stigma of poor mental health, I'm photographing flowers.  Slowly.

It's a daily (digital) practice that has been associated with healthy behaviour, mindful reflection and improved well-being.  I know it's going to take a while and I'm determined to give myself the time I need as I shed tasks and commitments.  

I'm looking carefully at renewal and I plan to see the colours as the petals fall.



Fast Company claims that 'Creative Burnout' is inevitable - but offers 10 ways to beat it.

You might like Ruth Davey's article on the PhotoVoice website where she explores how to see your life, work and the world with fresh eyes.

Have a look at Paul Stanley's Peripheries website or his @visionanalogue Instagram feed for his daily flowers. 

This article by Liz Brewster and Andrew Cox describes the use of photography for everyday well-being.

Finally, take a look at Dave Ulrich's beautiful  'Zen Camera: Creative Awakening with a Daily Practice in Photography.'


Every Conversation is a Negotiation
 A fleeting moment; 'Seen.'

A fleeting moment; 'Seen.'

Sawubona ~ "I see you."
Ngikhona ~ "I am seen."

(Zulu Greeting)


At the heart of my work is a will to offer witness and I'm always grateful that visual methods let me literally 'see' people.  Yet, like in any 'conversational' exchange, there is aggression and vulnerability implicit each time I make the invitation of a portrait.  As I raise a camera to my eye, I know that the negotiation, "...Is this OK..?" will take place in a fraction of a second.  

We all share a need validation and, as any therapist, coach, dialogue practitioner or even Oprah will tell you,  people want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’

This fundamental negotiation is often missed in business as we strive for faster, bigger, better.  Curt emails are the norm as we seek efficient brevity. New projects are announced by addressing who is in charge, what the task is and who will fill the required roles.  In our urgency, questions of identity and connection are ignored. Yet when business projects unravel, it's rarely because a team lacked technical capability; rather their relationships fell apart, competing agendas emerged, other priorities came to the fore, people decided they would be better off elsewhere.

High control, top-down management is becoming less viable these days.  In our complex, networked world we prefer to put faith in trust and relationship rather than transaction. As I convene groups, I use a process based on Jack Gibb's TORI model which places trust and mutuality at its core. The model suggests we should guide members of a team or group through 4 questions:

Who am I? (What is my purpose? Am I clear about what is important to me?)

Who are you?  (Can we work together? What will help us connect well?)

What will we do?  (Can we agree on a shared purpose and pursue our aims together?)

How shall we do it?  (What roles will we need? Who will be in charge? How will power, responsibility and achievement be recognised?)

As we foreground questions of trust, identity and connection, we set the ground for honesty and spontaneity which, in turn, enables the creativity and clarity that is critical groups to both find and successfully resolve their purpose.  

And, as we each feel seen and heard, we can begin to feel the sense of the Zulu term Ubuntu ~ "I am because of who we all are."



Jack Gibb's TORI model and references for his work can be found here.

I've probably risked cultural (mis) appropriation of Ubuntu but "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity" feels like an increasingly important philosophy upon which to base a shared vision for the world.




Steve MarshallComment
Under the Wire (Revisited)
 'Under the Wire 'selfie.

'Under the Wire 'selfie.

"A friend of mine once described dialogue as a state out of which we are continually falling."  (Bill Isaacs)


My 'corporate' conversations, whether in change consultancy or academia, can often feel like they have fallen a long way from meaningful dialogue.

This week, a bid for an executive education project, which would also work as a cultural change intervention, demanded a high quality meeting of minds but it felt like we would never get close.

We were in pitch mode... which means I am in a suit and tie. It's approaching 30 degrees in London and I'm already thinking that a cultural change into shorts and a T-shirt would be helpful. I'm fighting back the scratchiness, telling myself that 'I don't do pitches' and evoking the 'Under the Wire' selfie of the early days of my doctoral work in creativity.

My selfie was a response to the question, "What does it feel like when you are doing your best work?" Back then, the best I could manage was a picture of a mud daubed organisational fighter, trying to do good work 'under the wire.'  

In the intervening years, I've become more confident, sure of my craft, and hold better boundaries around what is an appropriate relationship for often demanding transformational work.  But space and time for good conversation can be severely constricted.  In the pitch meeting, we were invited to respond to a  'need'  detected by HR partners, translated by the L&D team, using documentation prepared by the commercial team and channeled through 'relationship managers'.  

Yet the real conversation that I needed with the client was simple, much more direct. 

It starts when we look each other in the eye and the client says:

"We seem to be struggling. We don't really know why. Can you help us?"

Those opening words demand significant authenticity and vulnerability.

My response requires similar authenticity and vulnerability.

It goes like this:

"We're not sure.  We don't really know either.  But we will try our best to help you learn your way through this... "

A real conversation doesn't need Powerpoint and it doesn't need a 'pitch'. It doesn't require confrontation, or guarded, oblique questions and tick sheets. Status gestures like expensive suits are unnecessary.

But it does require us to wash away our masks and fall back into dialogue.  



I'm not sure that Bill Isaacs' 'Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together' has been beaten as an introduction to the structure of helpful conversations.

Similarly, I still see folk referring back to the 'contracting' section of Peter Block's 'Flawless Consulting.'

And don't worry about the selfie... that stuff washed away.  Eventually...

Steve MarshallComment