Structure
Clematis: iPhone

Clematis: iPhone

“Clearly we have not touched the deeper causes of our troubles…. the ultimate source of all these problems is in thought itself, the very thing of which our civilization is most proud, and therefore the one thing that is "hidden" because of our failure seriously to engage with its actual working in our own individual lives and in the life of society."

(David Bohm)

I recently read of a cardiac surgeon who said that 95 per cent of his post-operative patients simply returned to the lifestyle that ‘broke their hearts’.

It’s not an unusual pattern.

In my business, I wonder how many coaching clients or participants on leadership and development programs suffer the same fate as they return to their organisations? Troublesome patterns of power, relationship and identity are resilient and resistant. What is required for people to work with the deeper organisational dynamics they encounter?

As David Bohm says, ultimately, we find ourselves subject to patterns of thought that easily remain hidden, unseen, and continue to structure our lives unless we deliberately bring them into our attention.

As we search for some for the ‘deeper causes of our troubles’; the intolerance and fragmentation in our societies and ecologies, it is thinking that brings form to nations, economies, political parties, organisations, groups, cultures, laws and rules. As our thinking defines and exaggerates our differences, the underlying structures of thought become invisible and, forgetting that our similarities easily outweigh our differences, we move towards conflict and break each others’ hearts.

The images I made on my iPhone, of the trailing flowers over a gateway in our garden, were a brief exploration of the beauty and aesthetics of structure. Daily photography and creativity, taking time to stop, stare and attentively appreciate my surroundings has been a discipline that I adopted about a year ago, after my encounter with ‘burnout’.

It has been a confusing period of recovery and adjustment but the experience has left me sensitised and curious, reflexively asking deeper questions about the mostly opaque assumptions and patterns that inform our work and business lives.

One of those assumptions is that we’re not supposed to stop and stare at the flowers.

There isn’t time.

Yet I have become ever more determined to pause, to stare into the patterns of thought that deeply influence my brief time on this planet. It feels like a radical act.

There are no surprises. My everyday assumptions are mostly based on the fear that I will not be ‘OK’ and manifest themselves in unspoken mantras: work hard, be perfect, fit in, be original, hurry up, and, there isn’t time…

Yet time spent in reflection, individually and collectively, gazing gently into the patterns of our thought is essential if we are to shift the lifestyles that will ultimately break us.

We face ecological and social collapse; the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Let’s take the time. Let’s be radical.

Let’s stop and stare.

Notes:

Take a look at David Bohm’s ‘On Dialogue’ for a fabulous consideration of how we think and impact it has on us. Alternatively, download a copy of ‘Dialogue - a proposal’ by David Bohm, Donald Factor and Peter Garret.

Mark Edwards’ ‘Hard Rain’ project brings the consequences of how we think to life visually. It is both beautiful and deeply disturbing.

I’ve been reading Nicholas Mirzoeff’s ‘How to See the World’ which helps us to understand more of how visual media can change things.

Watched
Norfolk, VA: iPhone

Norfolk, VA: iPhone

“Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”

(George Orwell)

There is an old story of customer service agents who were rewarded for speed and efficiency. They would hang up on every third call as soon as it connected. While confused customers heard the line go dead, the agents were rewarded for reducing the average time spent per call.

New technology and artificial intelligence offer increasing ways to watch and measure ‘performance’ but we need to focus our organisational gaze with sensitivity and care.

As we zoom in on KPIs, deliverables, budgets and targets, we should avoid staring too intently at things we might do while staying blind to the qualities of how we might be.

Of course, these days, our vision is to be collaborative team players in interdependent, interconnected, trusting organisations. Relationship, empathy, connection and collegiality are declared to be foundational to our shared endeavours.

But even though we know our professional lives are supported by others in a web of intertwined relationality, our management systems still incentivise personal accountability, individuality and transaction.

This ‘system world’ is gendered; the high quality connections necessary to deal well with complexity and uncertainty require the empathic social skills of nurturing, maintenance and relational competence.

Activity conventionally seen as feminine and which is ‘disappeared.’

It’s not counted as ‘real’ work.

But the crisis in our social, economic and ecological situation demands that we extend our vision.

Rather than self-enhancement and self-employment, we need to watch for work that really counts. Work associated with emotional connection, mutual development and helping colleagues.

Going the extra mile for each other.

How can we open our eyes to that?

Notes:

Joyce K Fletcher named the invisibility of relational work in “Disappearing Acts: Gender, Power and Relational Practice at Work.

You might also enjoy Jean Baker Miller’s seminal work: “Toward a New Psychology of Women”.

Jürgen Habermas looked at the ‘colonisation of the LifeWorld by the system’ when ‘non-rational’ activities such as love or art are deemed worthless by ‘the system.’

Finally, if you wonder what gender blindness looks like, have a look at “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” by  Caroline Criado Perez

Restoration
The Transformation of Edinburgh: iPhone

The Transformation of Edinburgh: iPhone

Perhaps your purpose is to go through the halls of suffering, discover your magic, and resurface as a doctor of restoration.

(Deborah Bravant)

There are many overused memes and tropes in the world of organisational change and personal development.

One of them is ‘transformation’.

It is tempting to believe that we can look outwards, reach into living systems and change them. In fact, we are urged to work at scale and attempt some kind of second order change where the rules of the game are rewritten… and call it transformation.

Yet human ‘systems’ have a way of honouring their provenance and working against our simple, egocentric methods.

We call it ‘resistance’.

I’ve been working with a small group focussing on the commitment it takes to promote systemic change and shift. For each of us, rather than transforming something ‘out there’, it seemed that our efforts found new resonance and connection when the inquiry shifted towards restoring something already ‘in here’.

With the move to ‘restoration’ the internal doubts, struggles and resistance we felt started to fall away.

Our shared question became; “How can we recover and restore within us the qualities, experiences and characteristics that we seek in others?”

A question that might prove to be paradoxically transformational.

A few weeks ago, I wandered (wondered?) through Edinburgh and my picture shows that, like every living system, the city is constantly renewing, shifting and changing.

But regardless of the changes, I’ve always loved the essence of the place. Its life and character is a wonder to behold.

The City Council speaks of ‘transformation, but I hope that the cranes avoid transforming Edinburgh into something that it isn’t - and rather restore it as a fabulous expression of what it has always been.

Notes:

Of course, Arnold Beisser’s ‘Paradoxical Theory of Change’ is ringing in my ears as I write. In brief, Beisser believed that “we change when we attempt to become something we already are, rather than something we are not.” I find it’s a phrase that provokes a whole different slant on our conventional ideas of ‘performance’ and ‘appraisal’.

I’ve been re-reading Peter Block’s ‘Community: The structure of belonging.’ now in 2nd edition. Peter is critical of large-scale ‘transformation’ and notes how members of small groups bring each other to life: “Instead of surrendering our identity for the sake of belonging, we find in the small group a place that can value our uniqueness.”

And remember Margaret Mead’s words; “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Steve MarshallComment
Dedication
Ashridge: iPhone

Ashridge: iPhone

“What if it truly doesn't matter what you do but how you do whatever you do?

(Oriah Mountain Dreamer)


Reflecting on a video session where we had been exploring the implications of seeing and hearing each other differently, the conversation became considerate, thoughtful, and respectful. As we spoke, one of the group named dialogue as a practice to which we might dedicate ourselves.

The word seemed to float among us before being repeated:

Dedicate.

Yet even if we might softly dedicate ourselves to a vocation, fashionable organisational rhetoric requires a harder, tougher response to the demands of work. 

Desire, discipline and determination are the keys success. We must get up early, stay up late, cultivate a morning routine, double down at our desk, strive to get things done. Focus. Go the extra mile. Work hard. Persevere.

Just try harder.

But Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s words start from a place of knowing we are already enough.  

Later in ‘Prelude’ she asks: 

“What if becoming who and what we truly are happens not through striving and trying but by recognizing and receiving the people and places and practises that offer us the warmth of encouragement we need to unfold?”

Our time undoubtedly requires us to act with moral and physical courage, yet we should leave our striving and ambition behind.

If it really doesn’t matter what we do, perhaps we might choose to dedicate ourselves to a gentler, more considerate way of being with ourselves, with each other and with our world.

Notes:

Many of us know Oriah Mountain Dreamer for The Invitation, but The Dance is just as insightful.

I’m entranced by the ancient Tibetan notion of Shambala Warriors. At the time when the Earth is in great danger, the Shambala Kingdom emerges in the hearts and minds of the Warriors. Yet they wear no insignia or uniform and know that the danger is within our minds, manifest in our choices and decisions. The ‘weapons’ they bring to the battle are compassion and insight. 

Steve MarshallComment
Appropriation
Taken: Sony α

Taken: Sony α

“To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge - and, therefore, like power.””

(Susan Sontag)

As much as I usually manage to avoid the phrase ‘take a photograph’ or, even worse, ‘take a shot’, I’m always uncomfortable about the acquisitional language that accompanies photography.

As the shutter clicks, I tell myself I am ‘making a photograph’, but a little shiver tells me that I have ‘captured’ the image.

Usually, someone else’s image.

And the shiver is reflected in the feeling that, for many people, to take a photograph is to take a soul.

So I hope the photographs we might make together are respectful, compassionate and hold to the intention of helping both subject and the viewer mutually see each other as well as themselves.

Yet the shadow of appropriation falls across our Western language and our collective psyche.

We speak of my job, my team, my friends, my organisation, in a way that denies the reality of how we are appropriated by our contemporary work and social arrangements rather than the other way round. And the overlay of personal identity and professional occupation means we can give our power away too easily or deny ourselves the opportunity to change, to transition to something new.

We are made by our relationships, our work, our colleagues and our friends. They define us.

But we shouldn’t let them take our souls.

Or allow our relationships to appropriate us.

Notes:

Susan Sontag’s brilliant ‘On Photography’ has been around for a while but is still as relevant as ever. Likewise, John Berger’s, ‘Way’s of Seeing.’ The 4-part BBC program that informed the book is available on YouTube.

Or have a look at David DuChemin’s, The Soul of the Camera. It’s a masterful piece.

Steve MarshallComment