Friday, May 16, 2014

Shifting systems

I fly back to Adelaide from Melbourne tomorrow, after a week here of meetings and meaningful conversations.

The strongest recurrent theme has been the challenge of change.  In particular, how can we translate doing good work (at an achievable scale) into something that shifts the system.

Stand-out messages
  • growing new ways of being must happen from the inside and in togetherness; neither works by itself (Brigitte)
  • we must meet the system where it's at (Onur)
  • nobody has a compelling narrative for scaling up collaborative practice and transform systems at larger-than-project scale
And some more flowing thoughts...

There is unanimous agreement that the work we're doing, whatever it is, does not fit 'the current system' and ways of doing things.  This is an unresolved question of mine... are we really working towards a 'new paradigm', or are we just working on different, alternative improvements to what we have?  Should we aim to transform the system to something distinctly different, or should we just find ways to improve what we have?  I still am not convinced of the need for paradigmatic shift, but I have noticed that most of us assume this

This good work has variously been described as (real) collaboration, authentic, feminine, life affirming and cocreation— and I'm sure there were a couple dozen other variants too.  I does seem though, that we'd all agree that we're working in fundamentally the same direction.  Even if we all think our way is the best way. : )
as far as I can tell, this 'thing' we're all working for is indistinguishable from the concept of cocreation that we seemed to all share at Ci2i.  In fact, the definitions of collaboration that have come up are much more cocreative than I would have thought, leaning in particular on concepts of emergence and shared creation.

I have also noticed that many of these clued-in practitioners of collaboration are working for exactly the same thing as us cocreators, simply retaining use of the word that we have shied away from thinking about the alternative future system we'd like to (co)create might be getting ahead of ourselves.  This future needs to grow and emerge.  It cannot be built.  Being too visionary might be a counter-productive imposition of the ego

In fact... it might not be possible to create a macro-scale system that reflects the values that we hold.  Even if our ways of working are an alternative paradigm or philosophy, we may be heading instead towards an integrated synthesis that balances the tension between distinct patterns of practice: On the one hand life affirming, cocreative microcosms (especially in interpersonal and group contexts where we know it works and is incredibly rich), that are destined to remain nested in fundamentally inhuman systems.  Hmm...

If this is the case, we will be able to improve our experience of participation and the efficacy of our efforts, but will the world still be f#$*ed?

www.jsbaxter.com.au
@JohnSBaxter

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Onwards and upwards in 2014

If you've been following along for a while you may have expected a new year post about what 2014 would hold for me.

I've done this because I like a bit of public accountability, and because I know many who read this blog face the same challenge, "how to be in this world".  I'm happy to be a case study.  And so, late as I am, I write about 2014.

I didn't write up a 2014 resolution in the wee hours of 2014.  I didn't even post until four months into the year.

In fact, looking back at my notes, I didn't undertake an annual planning process at all!

So what's going on?

My planning focus has changed

It may not even be called 'planning' any more... I have veered away from 'plans', or at least a traditional planning paradigm.

One blog post in particular has been really influential.  It advocated setting up processes instead of making plans.  (I'll copy some links at the foot of this post.) It spoke a truth that I had already felt and kind of knew already, but making it immediate and personal in a way that I could implement directly.

I have really struggled for years to balance the need to plan and have direction, with the repeated experience that any plans are redundant by the time I got around to referring back to them (which I didn't tend to do, because they were too complicated to ever be front of mind)

So now, instead of plans I have:

  • simple, clear general visions or ideas of the future - the current overriding vision in my life is "operating Realise as a sustainable, growable business"
  • simple, clear, flexible day-to-day processes & systems that should take me there (e.g. have a few coffee meetings, 2-3 exercise sessions, and a half day of reflection each week)
  • a few theories or models for change, that underpin plausible stories for development about how my actions will enable realisation of my visions
  • an iterative, reflective process about how things are going, challenging and continually rewriting my theories, the plausibility of my stories, and the actions I need now to move forward

I don't really know what to say

Because of —or despite— my present approach to planning, I don't really have anything to share.

"Hey, in 2014, I'm going to break even and lay the business foundations I can grow out of in future."

Other than that, everything else is up in the air - any other personal goals are secondary to my business as my foundation.  The longer term picture is still way too cloudy.  I had some general ideas and sketched up a goal pathway later last year, but I've abandoned these distractions because it really doesn't seem relevant for where I'm at.

Lay the foundations.  Participate.  Reflect.  Iterate.

Does that really need to be said?

I'm just not 'here' very much

I am waiting to see how my business and other 'production' avenues fall into place, and this just doesn't seem that relevant to where I'm at.  I'd love to be sharing more, because I have plenty I could share, but it's not a priority amidst everything else.


Before you go: some planning gems




jsbaxter.com.au
@jsbaxter_

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thinking about this slippery thing called 'leadership'

Can we think about leadership not first from "what it is", assuming there is "a thing called leadership" as our starting point,
but instead from "what do we think this 'leadership' thing is supposed to do?"
That is, what are the functions or impacts of a thing we might call leadership?  How do we think it would work?  What are the theories of change about the impact that our behaviours might have (that reflect what we might call leadership)?
This way, we might not be able to be clear what leadership "is or is not", but we can at least make solid, verifiable claims about things that happen in the world (patterns of personal influence), thus informing how we can behave in order to more effectively realise our intent in communion with others.

www.jsbaxter.com.au
@jsbaxter_

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Getting better at learning

I think I've built up a pretty sophisticated practice for learning, development and personal change over the last five or so years.

Which I guess is just the practice of influencing 'me'.

I'm pretty savvy with habit formation, developing simple frameworks to guide intended actions, kaizen and lean learning through rapid iteration cycles, different methods for learning content, GTD everything, visualisation and channeling role models, operating in complex environments, diminishing returns on investment... these are just the things I've written about or drew on today (that I can think of).

Whatever it is I want to be or do, I'm pretty comfortable that I can map out a way to get there, or at least somewhere close enough, or close enough to my potential to say QED.

I look back at my enthusiastic efforts to systematically create myself, of only four years ago, and it seems like another world.  I was a crazy man!  How could I drive so much enthusiasm into travelling round in circles!?  I'd say my capacity for learning is an order of magnitude better than back then.

But even so, I look at where I am, and everything I want to be is still light years away...  or at least one, or two, or ten years...  It's hard work, all this change!  And it's never ending.  There is always a lifetime of change around the corner that I don't even know about yet.

Still.  How much bloody harder was it four years ago?  How much harder must it be for those that don't have the tools that I do know?  How on earth do people get on?

And what must it be like for those who are so much better at it than me?  What is it like to be an order of magnitude better again?  Does it get easy?

If you're one of those amazing people out there then please, say hello.  I have so much to learn from you!


jsbaxter.com.au
@jsbaxter_

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blogging - when and why

Blogging for me is just a particular form of having a conversation.

I end talking about people's personal blogs frequently enough, or about the blog they plan to start... or perhaps most often, the blog they have lying dormant.  Many people sense it's worth blogging, but aren't clear about what what and why.  But many people don't seem to know how to catalyse this sense into actual writing.

I don't write a good blog, but I do have one, and I do write for it - occasionally.  And some of the posts are okay.  Some people seem to read it.  And I'm happy with how it's working facilitating my social connections online.

In the middle of last year I was writing some highly important, super intelligent, completely irrelevant and largely unread posts on the state of the world.  It was a waste of time.

I started this blog just to record my experience trying to set out for myself and make things happen in the world (and make a life/profession out of it - hence, Professional Adventurer).  A lot of what I'm doing and learning is worth sharing, because I know others out there want to be able to take this pathway.  And I don't want it to be as hard for them as it is for me.  And I just wanted to keep in contact with people that I probably wasn't going to be sitting down to drink beers with every other week.

My blog got shit when I started trying too hard.

So now, I don't.  Now I just converse.

There's an organic vibrancy to conversation.  In response to what's happening in conversation around you, things you want to say emerge within you.  They bubble up inside you and exert pressure on your larynx.  When a suitable opportunity arises you say it.

It doesn't really matter whether you're right or whether your 'thing' is going to save the world.  It's a social activity mostly, so you go with it.  Our brains are pretty good at creating things organically (and collectively) out of conversations that are worth saying, so we let it go and have faith.  Most of the time we just listen.  

So most of the time blogging for me is like this.  Nothing more and little less.

Normally I'm having a conversation in my head.  It seems like a valid thing to share, and I have an opportunity to sit at my laptop and type it up.  So I do.  And then I hit the publish button.  If I'm feeling adventurous I'll share it too.

It's easy and it just happens.

So if you're stuck maybe give it a shot.  Don't let trying too hard get in the way of having a conversation.


www.jsbaxter.com.au
@JohnSBaxter

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Changing Lives

Transforming lives is the heart of meaningful change.  So it's worth reflecting what has impacted on our own lives to get a sense of how we can enable change for others.

I was reminded of a few of my own, hearing Sam Manger's story of how he ended up doing Transitions Film Festival Adelaide - inspired by his experience of TFF in Melbourne.

I'm sure you can think of many examples in your own life similar to these...

Learning about the politics of social relations on 'year 13' exchange in Russia in 2004
High school social systems can be turbulent and unpleasant, but there is a wonderful simplicity to them.  It's something else trying to manage relationships in an exchange position living with families and schools with their own complexes, different cultures and a diverse (often perplexing) set of expectations.  I was totally unprepared, didn't realise how consciously I needed to manage these relationships, and I failed.  I learnt my lesson the hard way.

Attending my first Australian Literature lecture with David Brooks
David Brooks is amazing, and I certainly hope Australian Literature is still kicking along in the backwaters of University of Sydney so that other students have the opportunity to learn with him.  Nevermind that the classes were interesting and engaging - I was inspired by being so directly connected to the actual world I lived in, studying writers who lived and wrote about my city, learning from a lecturer and tutor who knew them and often edited their journal submissions and published commentary on their work.  The only other time I remember doing anything that really connected to the broader world was reviewing the newspaper in year 12 economics.  It was inspiring to feel for the first time that I was a real human being with a right to engage in the world.

Taking up civic responsibility with the University of Sydney Motorcycle Club
A little later in my first year of uni I stumbled into my first real role of civic responsibility, as Treasurer of the university motorcycle club.  I went along because I wanted to hang out with some fellow bikers, and I put my hand up cos they needed it - and I could add and subtract.  As far as I can tell, this is the first time I exercised any civic agency, having previously taken a lot of interest in social science, economics, the labour market and other fun things - but only at an idealistic level.  I haven't looked back.

Having my assumptions turned upside down by the movie Economics of Happiness
I'm pretty grateful for the grounding year 12 economics gave me, but the Economics of Happiness was the first time I'd had my core economic assumptions challenged.  Much of the film is pretty dogmatic and suspect itself, this is true, but it did open my eyes to some of the limitations of economic rationalism that I'd previously taken as gospel.  Many of you will know my general disdain for mainstream economics, and its impact on decision making and our social and business structures.  Much more than just academic questions, this film forced me to reassess all of my own values relating to our economic systems.  I can see in this brief experience the seeds of my present respect for localism, sustainability, and probably even my passion for agency.

Economics of Happiness was going to be my very first post on this blog - but that ended up an unpublished draft owing to my first experience of really making something amazing happen, at the Global Sustainability Jam 2011.  You can read about that on my very first blog post.


While my writing is much better, the threads of inspiration are still clear.  A dozen other examples have come up in the writing of this... not least of which are moments of inspiration offered by the heroes I wrote about in my last post.  My past blog posts offer insights into many more as well.

So what can we take from this?

I don't know about your examples, but mine make a few things pretty clear...
  • the most transformative experiences are very rarely planned or predictable - all of the above were serendipitous
  • tiny things can make a big difference to the right people at the right time (butterfly effect)
  • most of the time when you enable a transformation in someone's life, you'll never know about it - and you won't capture any of the value you create either

I'm not sure what this really means though.  It suggests to me that philosophies of change need a level of sophistication higher than we're accustomed to. I have been reflecting recently on culture, memetics and planning for serendipity, and I sense that these are the types of things that will bring that extra level.  But we need to understand how to wield them.

In the meantime, keep creating experiences and and opening up possibilities for people - and keep learning how value flows out of them.


www.jsbaxter.com.au
@JohnSBaxter

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Keep marching, my heroes and my friends

Sometimes I sit and watch my balance depleting, and wonder what my work adds up to.  I'm investing all my energy, my time, my money - for what?  I'm going nowhere.

Then something catches my attention, I remember 'me' from a year or two ago - and I think maybe I'm doing alright after all.

Most of the change in me come from one thing: aspiring to be more like the heroes that are my friends.


archer10 on Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/archer10/7296289784/

I remember how I failed at 'social' when I started work in the Victorian Government.  Friday Night Drinks were unpleasant for all around me.  I tried all sorts of bullsh*t 'self improvement' initiatives that got nowhere - the thing that drove the change was the example of one of my peers and her infectiously charming banter.

It was inconceivable a year or two ago, but I get complements these days on my presence and how I host events.  It's only because I can channel those I'm lucky to know.  When I wonder whether it's possible to do amazing things, I think of those around me that already are - and know it's true.  When I wonder whether to fight when the odds are stacked against us, I'm inspired by friends who give their all to make this world a better place for others - not because they know they will achieve their dreams, but because they know the least they can do is everything they possibly can.

You probably know people like these.  The inspiration they provide is infectious.  We can be told, we can make a decision, and pour effort into being new and improved.  What sticks is following the change manifest in those we look up to.

Every act of kindness, generosity and excellence is an example of something better that we may one day become.  I can't be grateful enough of the wonderful friends that show me the way.

Little makes me prouder than seeing in myself shining little bits of those I admire - perhaps except the idea that if I keep on going, I may pass these gems to others too.

These people, my friends, are my heroes.  You might not realise it yet, but 'these people' are YOU.

Your efforts probably mean much more to those around you than you'll ever realise.  Keep being excellent.  Keep marching.

On behalf of us all - thank you.
x


www.jsbaxter.com.au
@JohnSBaxter