Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shout Out to the Things I Care About

Earlier this year I had a mini revelation.

I have for a while had unease with the story of the good life that I had come to take on.   That story says that we Find The Problem With The World, then dedicate our life to the odyssey of that problem (Our Passion), and in the end find The Solution (thusly Saving The World, and of course being The Hero of The World, not that we'd ever admit it out loud).

I knew this story was counter-productive, but I didn't know what else I was supposed to do if I wasn't trying to understand The Problem and find The Solution.

I found an alternative in Meg Wheatley: we should strive to keep connected to what we care about.

Like so many revelations, I didn't know at the time whether it would be of any use.  It clicked a puzzle piece in a satisfying 'aha' moment (inspiring this blog post), but I couldn't say whether it would lead to anything.

In the months since I have been sitting with this alternative intent, to see where it takes me.

The first thing I realised is that I care about a bunch of things which are not The Problem (or what I might say at a networking event is My Passion).

At the time I was infatuated with my new nephew.  I was having dreams about him for goodness' sake!

I also realised how much I appreciated my new nephew as an opportunity to spend time with my sister... something which, if I'm honest, hadn't happened that much since we were mere bubs ourselves.  We always* got along fine, but never had too much to do together.

I realised how I didn't just 'like' parkour and my movement practices, but that these are really important and fulfilling for me.  I, likewise, have been known to have parkour dreams.  (Cat passes like you wouldn't believe!)

It took no realising to be aware of the obvious subject of my affection, my wonderful Michelle.  It goes without saying— though today, on our two and a half year anniversary, it can't hurt to note the obvious. (xx)

Which leads me to the second thing I realised about what I care about... which is that caring about all of these things is okay.

The World Saving Hero complex is a total stress.  When your life story is the Saviour of the Earth, you ain't got no time for that.  There are not enough hours in the day to be Mr (or Mrs) Fix It, let alone trying to be all of these other things as well.  There is not enough space in your attention to be anything other than the Savior; dedicated, committed, focused (neurotic?).  There is not enough warmth in your heart to be anything other than the bleeding heart on the cross of humanity.

It is pretty clear that if I'm going to Save the World, there is actually no room for any of the things in my life that I care about.  Every one of those things, from the people I love, to the food that sustains me and the movement that nourishes me — each of these things is an obstacle in my Hero Journey.  I must either discard them, or live with them as festering welts of resentment and guilt — compromises hidden within the footnotes of the story that I tell about myself.

The life of the hero is broken.  If we start to think that we must fulfill such lofty ambitions, we invite the pathology of losing touch with the things we care about.  If we lock ourselves into the story of Our Self, The Saviour, we are committing the fatal falseness of turning our backs on the truth of our being.

But when you let go of the pretense of heroism... all of these other things we care about become okay.

It is part of our fundamental humanity (our fundamental existence as an organism), that we are not uni-functional machines.  We are not mere cogs in the machine of salvation... but rather rich expressions of life.  We mean many things to many other people, and serve many other functions to many other beings.  We are one of innumerable subjects in the vast web of creation.

In the new story of self, the story of life —a story which reflects back onto us the reality of the living universe we see around us— we need not find the Problem nor the Solution.  Our role is to integrate the diverse and complex feedback which we receive from the world (which includes from within ourselves— not that it is possible to make a distinction), to trust in the whole-body intelligence agent that is our human being, to embrace its functioning and to embrace the truth of those things it tells us is important — the things we care about.

And if we care about different things... well that's okay.

Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then I contract myself;
I am large, I contain multitudes.
—Walt Whitman

That's what it means to be alive.

The world is an abundant richness of life.  We are not machines in the hero story of salvation, but living beings, emanations of the wonder of the universe.  The fullest possible expression of our being only comes in communion of our diversity.

So I accept now that caring is okay.  May I embrace my multitudes.  May I continue to live a full life, a fitting mirror of the abundance of creation, in communion with the innumerable things that I care about.

May you do so too.

// This post is my 'plus one' post of the #31Thousand project

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Skeptics - Facilitator's Best Friend

As a facilitator, one of the scariest things we can come across is the skeptic.  This is scary whether they are skeptical of the intent and possibility of the gathering, or of us, our role and our plan as facilitator (much less of an issue, but personally harder to bear!).  But they can also be one of the greatest assets of the group... I always try to remind myself of this, and to act with the courage to make the most of their contribution.

I normally open a gathering with a check in (round the circle, person by person, with a name and a few words), which is prime opportunity to uncover such skepticism — the best possible result.

After 'hellos' from myself and often from the sponsor or convenor, and after a statement of the story and intent for being there, people are in a suitable frame of mind to check in with the intersection of their own personal history, and the shared path they are joining.

In ideal circumstances, a simple invitation like "how are you feeling about what we intend to do today" works wonders.  In less than ideal circumstances, it might take a bit of work to uncover the subtext behind people's guarded responses... this can be tricky, but worth trying to open them up, perhaps with a "I sense there is a bit of unspoken reluctance... would anyone like to speak to that?"

Either way, if we're lucky, the skeptics will have been open enough to share that "we've been here before, I don't think it will work, and I'm not optimistic about the plans we have for today, they won't amount to anything".

If we're properly unlucky, these people have been forced to be there, which lands us in a kettle of fish we need to navigate to getting them properly engaged.  But for the moment I assume they have chosen to join us in the gathering, as has everyone else.

Now is the decision moment... where we decide to cover our backside and fudge around the issue by reinforcing our authority and what positive responses we heard from the group... OR to embrace the challenge for the gift that it is.

I know different people have different styles of facilitation, so this may not apply for everyone, but for me, the primary goal of facilitation is to host the right quality of space for people to get into really genuine and meaningful conversations.  This is like a biodynamic farmer, every single one of which will tell you that their number one focus is the quality of their soil.  I guess that makes me a biodynamic facilitator...

So with that in mind, it is easier to see the skeptics for the gift that they are.

These people are supporting the quality of the soil, by demonstrating qualities that are perfect for meaningful conversations.  They are not troublemakers (yet ; ), but leaders of the group!

What's more, they are inviting us to be humble and vulnerable enough to accept the tension they are inviting in to the group.  This is the perfect kind of challenge to ourselves model the kinds of behaviours that no amount of description or permission-giving will enable: being grateful for all contributions, accepting difference, opening ourselves up to be vulnerable to change.  Imagine the quality of conversation that would be possible if everyone demonstrated these behaviours!!

So this is the perfect opportunity to respond, with genuine gratitude, something like
"thank you to those who have shared their skepticism openly... this is exactly the sort of honesty that will make for really powerful conversations today... and thank you as well for joining in today despite your skepticism... that dedication as well is valuable and will hold us in good stead... what I have heard is that there is skepticism from a few people around [fill in the blank] ... have I understood that correctly?"
Hopefully yes!  But if not, it will quickly be clarified.
"This is definitely a challenge worth being mindful of, and I'd like to make sure we keep this in mind over the course of the day.  I think for the time being though it is worth us plugging ahead with the plan to [do the next thing / follow the plan / whatevs]... is everyone okay with that or do we need to spend a bit more time here and make sure we're going in the right direction?"

Whoa!  We've invited confirmed, card-carrying skeptics in the group to torpedo the whole workshop!

If anyone does pipe up and say "yes it's all wrong and everything needs to change!", then we're in trouble!  Especially if they try to hold the stage for a three hour monologue to do so...  But at least it's out of the way early, right?  All plans are out the window.

It's not so bad though.  I have been in almost this exact situation before, a few times actually (did it sound like I was playing back a scenario?), and I have yet to have anyone who thought it was not a good idea to forge ahead.  And not just moving on to the next bit as if nothing had happened— but forging ahead together, not apart, with renewed authority as facilitator, with some skeletons out of the closet and on the table and everyone having felt heard, and with some demonstrations of impeccable, genuine behaviours that will be exactly the grounding needed for conversation a level more powerful than would have been possible otherwise.

What a gift!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Plus One

'Adding one' is one of the most disproportionately powerful practices I have adopted.Its source is movement practice.

The genesis for me is the so called 'warm up' of the Yamakasi, as shared by Chau Belle, one of the founders of the practice of parkour.

The warm up is a series of repetitions of fairly basic movements, like sit ups, interspersed with traversals, like running up stairs.

Rumour has it, Chau Belle undertakes this very specific warm up drill prior to a parkour training session.  It takes him an hour, and by the end of it he is ready to go.  I have not met anyone personally who has completed it in under two and a half, and they definitely were not ready to go.  (Everyone does agree though, it makes you very warm.)

Sometimes you don't really know what to believe.  But it doesn't matter.  The moral is the same... Chau Belle is a superlative human, possessed of great strength and endurance — that would not be possible without a unique training philosophy.

51 Push Ups

The movements themselves are not particularly inspiring.  Things like push ups.

The first time I was led through it (by Stef), I was somewhat confused by our repetition counts.  First we did 6 push ups (and 6 step ups).  Then 11.  Then 16.  Then 21.  Then 26.  Then 31.  Then 36.  Then 41.  Then 46.  Then 51 push ups.

(No, they weren't full push ups. Who do you think I am?  Chau Belle?)

Having collapsed in a heap, Stef explained the rationale for all the odd numbers.

When we're doing repetitions, we do our set because Reasons.  We want to get stronger, we want to get fitter, we just want to move... whatever.  It doesn't matter.  A set is a set.

When we're doing the Yamakasi warm up, we add one more repetition to all of our sets.  Do one more, for something else.  Whatever you think deserves it.  Anything.

You might want to call it a dedication, a commemoration, an affirmation, whatever you want... but you don't need to.  I guess you could share it... but most of the time that would be kind of weird. (And as you'll find out, not as easy as it sounds.)

The only important thing is to do it.

That's it.

Philosophy of adding one

That's the story, and you can make of it what you will.You can do your own thing however you want.

But if you train with me, we will add one repetition to all of our sets.

I insist on this because of how powerful it has been for me, and because of how surprisingly deep it is as a practice.

When we add one, we make our practice about something other than ourselves.  I think about this as the 'gratitude effect'.  Some people do gratitude diaries, or check-ins, or things like that.  I just add one.  This is the least subtle impact, the poster child for adding one, and rightfully so.  It's immeasurably powerful to live with a disposition of gratitude.

When we add one, we infuse our actions with meaning.  We reconnect our physical and our semiotic worlds, strengthening the neural pathways of our practice, and the interellationships between the things we value.  We learn to decompartmentalise our experience.

When we add one, we are forced to check in with ourselves, and what is important to us.  (And realise that it may not be what we thought.)  When we're 5 pushups in, we can rationalise the 'right' response.  We can do one for our mother, or our partner, or our god.  But sooner or later we slip up.  We think about the guy with the beret and the colourful socks.  We think about the ring of the circular saw from the construction site on the other side of the river.  We think about the massaging effect of the pebblecrete on the bruised and scratched heels of our palms.  We think about the sister we've always taken for granted.

Adding one makes us think about things we never realised we valued.  It is like a technicolour shortcut to dream interpretation.  It's all right there.  (And if we keep doing it, we learn to listen.)

When we add one, we prove that we can continue. We prove that the first 5 or 50 or 300 were not a fluke.  We turn our nose up at the logic of those that say "well you only did 300, who says you could do any more?"  Adding one isn't the same as doing a set one longer or higher.  It is making our first step into the future an affirmation.

When we add one, we mess with the way we normally think about 'finishing' and 'winning'.  We undermine our belief that the end is ever the end.  That there is such thing as 'enough'.  Adding one loops an ending into an open-ended continuity that says "there will always be more".  Any victory is fleeting, as defeat may lay just around the corner - so nevermind winning, and just do one more.

This gels clearly with parkour, a passionately anti-competitive practice.  When you start adding one this same philosophy infects the rest of your life as well.

Don't worry - it's good for you.

When we add one, we tip our hat to the complexity and the diversity of the universe.  Nothing ever has a simple cause, effect, rhyme or reason.  There is always more.  There is always different.  There is always another angle.

What hits this home most of all is that the actual experience of adding one.  If you were to write your life out in linear, logical consciousness, then each extra one would have its own 'something'.  But the something doesn't matter.  What matters is the practice of adding one.  And adding one doesn't necessarily result in a particular something.  Sometimes it results in a feeling.  Sometimes it results in a list.  Sometimes it results in a whole bloody essay.

It doesn't matter - just add one.

So, this as my +1.#31Thousand


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Letting come and letting go

As one year passes, another begins to crystalise.

2015 is not clear enough yet for me to give you much of a preview, but I can tell you a few things about it.

I will need to let go of 2014 in order to let a bright 2015 come.

2014 was 'good' and had lots of good moments, it went as well as I might have hoped and more-or-less according to plan.  But I also slipped in and out of the one affliction that is a very real risk - mediocrity.

I have focused on establishing my work as a business, and validating that I can do so sustainably.  On this front I can tick off a successful year.  I made as much as I had hoped (and needed), still have cash in the bank, and did a bunch of good work.

On the other hand, I didn't do excellent work.  And I didn't do enough work - whether paid or otherwise.

I realised late in the year that I have little motivation for building a successful business.  I want to get by doing great work.  Well, I want to do great work - and I need to get by.

So when I look back at all the trial, error and tribulation of struggling through the establishment of a business, so so much of my time feels really hollow.  Do I want to spend my time reviewing value propositions, sales pitches and marketing strategies, week on week, month on month, year on year?  And then going out and doing them?  Hell no.

Aspects of the business I really like.  I love meeting new people, discussing their work, helping them to understand where they are at (and if there is anything I can offer to help them along), and getting a feel for what's happening in the world.  But doing this, from the base I have now, requires so much more effort that I really have so little patience with.

Realistically, even though all this dross might not be a big part of my model of business generally, it is part and parcel with it means to set up a solo consultancy from where I am now.  I am doing interesting and different work, from a unique background and perspective, which is hard to describe and even to understand and pin down myself.  I DON'T have a lot of the assets that many new consultants can draw on - years of experience in consulting (learnt from working under others), and solid professional networks based in work contact which, if not deep, at least has the strength of familiarity from year's of contact and reputation.  I am not published.  I have no PhD.

What this means is that I question - just because I can build my life around a consultancy business, does that mean that I should?

What I think this means for 2015

  • I am still in consulting for sure, but I need to orient my life around what is meaningful to me (doing good work), and not the business — but without returning to 2012-13 where I sacrificed my financial needs in the interest of chasing ideas
  • I need to let go of my ego-oriented ideas for work (my ideas, my business, my projects), where they do not serve me taking up opportunities in collaboration and service - opportunities which might not originate from within myself, but which nevertheless are effective avenues to do what is important to me
  • When I am going to lead something myself, I need to think big... while also being smarter about how to involve others in collaborative relationships (where needed).  I have hobbled all big ideas this year, in deference to the priority of my business.  And in the past, my grand ideas have been too personal and individual to live up to their potential.

This is all just thinking on the fly, so don't hold me to it.  But I'm sure there's something there.

See you in the new year!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Gamification 4 eva; reading Reality is Broken

I'm sure I'm not the only one to confess an uninspired awareness of the 'gamification' fad.  So I owe a debt to whoever recommended Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken, which totally changed my mind.

There is a lot to learn from games — about motivation, engagement, work, collaboration, and even the macro systems that define our behaviour.   First things first, though...

Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles
(McGonigal quoting Bernard Suits)

It makes sense when you think about it, but it totally threw my sense of what games are about.  Despite my own experience of gaming and play, I thought of games as playful recreation, as escapism or fun - perhaps at best a trojan horse for learning.  But not at all...

Games are work.  Engaging and unnecessary work, sure, but they're still work.

We have a seriousness bias in our society, which banishes games to the realm of frivolous leisure.  All the while, gaming is the most engaging, challenging and productive activity that many people ever undertake.  McGonigal doesn't go much into our weird social biases, but she does note that play and serious work aren't the opposites we make them out to be.  At a psychological and behavioral level, the opposite of play is actually depression.

So, with a few of my own myths highlighted and busted, I read on wanting to know more about what games are and how they function, across different areas I am interested in.

McGonigal describes four key traits of games - in other words, what makes them work:

  • goals
  • rules
  • feedback about progress
  • voluntary participation
I am going to reflect on some areas of application important to me.  If you want more detail on these traits, you should read the book!

As a self directed agent, motivation and engagement in my own work are an ongoing challenge.

McGonigal got me thinking: can I turn my task list into a set of voluntary missions?  Can I create feedback loops that create a satisfying sense of progress on a day to day basis?

I can imagine my whole task-planning approach being redesigned according to game principles and operating very differently, with a much greater buy-in for the work on a task-by-task basis.  No more procrastinating on Twitter or in my inbox.

I can also imagine a system of voluntary missions helping to map much better pathways through life.  I don't really know what this would look like IRL, but I do know that in my RPG gaming experience (including those without 'right' ways to go), creating a pathway does not come with the stress and nagging doubts of real life.  I imagine the unecessary nature of the challenges decreases the stress and pressure of picking the 'right' one - as does the capacity to return and take the other pathway if things don't work out (in many games, at least).

I'm wondering whether real life also has ways of blinding us to decisions about what we can do now, compared to what we need to hold off until a later date when we have levelled up and are ready for it.  It seams like game worlds enable a much clearer mental map of possibilities, and it is much easier for us to identify the 'adjacent possible', without being attached to that which is not (yet) possible.  In my experience, the biggest challenging with making something happen is loosening the grip on the wonderful big ideas, and spotting the opportunities in the present ('the adjacent possible') to make progress towards them.

Collaborative Practice
The mechanics of engaging work apply just as readily when people are working together as alone.  Perhaps even more so.

The book reinforced a few things I already knew: clear goals are important; ideally, people will voluntarily opt-in to a shared goal (in particular) and participation (in general), and explicitly acknowledge clearly defined shared goals to ensure engaged participation.

It also reinforced something I have come to feel but haven't etched in stone yet; goals are a much better anchor than purpose.  Clarifying and agreeing a shared purpose is impossible and unnecessary, because everybody brings their own motivations and purposes for participation.  The lumpy space of 'purpose' can be a challenge, but that does not mean it is bad.  As long as people have genuine buy-in for achieving a shared goal, motivations and purposes do not need to be welded together.

What I really like from the idea of collaboration as a game, is to take a step back from the seriousness of 'the work', to have a clearer conversation, and use game concepts to get specific about the goals and rules of the shared work (aka game).  I look forward to the opportunity to facilitate a process for people that agree that a 'game' might be the best way for them to do the 'work'.

Saving the World
The last third of McGonigal's book was how games can Save the World.  There were interesting ideas about games as a means for mass-participatory problem solving.

These are all good and well, but new problem-solving methods that don't shift the old systems only get so far.  They certainly don't Save the World from the currently unsustainable and damaging socio-economic-ecological system that we have established... which continues to create the biggest and scariest of our problems.

So I was a little disappointed McGonigal didn't take her ideas further into system-shifting ideas, especially since I think the opportunities are so clear.

My first thought is about how we might all live our lives.  A more sustainable global system will require, among other things, deconstructing consumerism at the individual level.  So far, (video) games have exploded as lucrative consumer products, just one more cog in this unsustainable system.  But it isn't that much of a stretch to imagine a world where games perform a different function - not filling our recreation time, but replacing our production time.  Games are work after all!

It doesn't even matter if these games are productive (in today's terms), because our current systems are so counter-productive and excessive, that in the absence of over-consumptive behaviour, we don't need to make so much stuff - and we certainly won't need people for it.  Many authors write about a near-future where human input to production becomes superfluous (as we are replaced by robots), causing a break down in the work-leisure consumption cycle.  When we no longer need to be whipped like slaves to make what the system needs of us, I can imagine voluntary work (i.e. games) making a positive alternative possible.

We may not be that far off - as they say, the future is already here (it is just unevenly distributed).  I would be very interested in analysis of the innovative workplaces we admire and envy (like Valve, Enspiral or Google) through the lens of games, and see how close we already are.  I can certainly imagine the whole of my own personal occupation being a series of games, missions and side-quests - once I've nutted out how to make that work for me.

The second observation is that we are all already playing the game of life... except that we didn't chose to do so.  The world we are in, and the systems that we have set up to make it that way, give the context for our participation... or in other words, they define the game that we play.  Because we are embedded in them, it is easy to forget that our systems are arbitrary, with no inherent meaning, and they do not need to be that way... there is no reason that we shouldn't change them, and if we do so, then everything changes.

This is a bit of old truth from systems thinking (e.g. Dana on leverage points), but reading about games made me look at it anew.

It made me think about the goals implicit in our society... be successful, make money, be liked, own things, be happy, be comfortable...

These are the kinds of implicit goals that govern our society.  It might not be easy... but they can be changed.

It made me think too about the rules in our society... do a job, vote, voice your dissent on social media, write a letter to the editor, follow the law, obey your superiors, use your non-job time to consume, leave everything that is not your job up to somebody else...

Hmmm.... do you want to play this game?  I don't want to play this game.  It's a shit game.



Thursday, December 18, 2014

A few lessons from the tribe

A few life lessons from my week long trip to Melbourne, reconnecting with the tribe...

As far as the business goes, I'm doing alright.  I'm doing pretty reasonable things in a sensible enough fashion (and making money at the kind of rate I could be expected to).  Things seem hard work because... well, establishing onesself is hard work.  And as glossy as hindsight is, I haven't taken any pathways that were bad options at the time

That said, there are a bunch of things I need to tweak, bottlenecks that are holding me back; like getting clearer on my 'brand' (which I am doing bit by bit already!), having a much more compelling story of what I am about (which I knew, but which I think I have drifted away from this year), and being open and flexible with opportunities to work with others, and to serve others and others' causes.  These are things I 'knew' but that are hard to embody, and it is great to be reminded of how others have gone through these things

I'm not the only one who is over the 'making change' thing.  I was reminded that ego isn't a bad thing, it is just a part of how we function... so of course it is too simple to say 'changemaker ~ ego = bad', which is how I simplify things sometimes.   Still, there is something there, and there are many others out there who are thinking about how to participate in a world in transition.

It is time to get better connected with a '4good' tribe here in SA... many good people here I know, and there are now emerging networks and means to connect, but few of them I catch up with any regularity.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Reconnecting self, purpose and practice

A few days from my next Melbourne trip, thinking about my story and what I hope to get out of my trip.  The post I wrote after my last trip seems a pretty good place to start.

I have been telling people that I go to Melbourne to keep connected with people and practice... I have solid professional networks there, I say, especially of people doing similar work and who 'get it'.  This is easy to grasp.

Really, more than anything I go to Melbourne to keep connected to my self and to my purpose.

This is a challenge of integration, certainly... but at the moment it involves grappling with two different areas - a sense of the world, and a sense of me in it.

So as I head to Melbourne, this is where my head is at; these are the challenges I hope to make progress on.

The changing world
So many people are chipping away around the edges of a transition in how we work and collectively realise our futures... but none of us has nailed where we find ourselves, or what our journey might be.

There are some definite patterns... many many people touching on what I have started calling the 'ego control status power complex', and trends towards a more participatory way of being.

My tone has changed somewhat since May, partly from thinking about the fact that we are always in transition.  But the sense of unease is the same.

Is it even possible to understand the world well enough to feel like I'm 'doing the right thing'?

Maybe I just need a way to convince myself of the validity of some convenient heuristics?

Who am I?
It has become a catch phrase of mine, that we should always strive simply to 'participate well'.

Trying to embody this myself is an interesting experience.

I have realised I have little interest in the success of 'my business'.  My business is (at best) a vehicle to do good work.  Perhaps it also plays into my own need to be successful and important.  But the business itself?  I have very little interest in it, so it's little surprise to have found myself with periodic motivation gaps.

Stepping beyond the trashed assumption that I should be 'building my business' as a priority, I am getting clearer on what I really need to do, to do better work while looking after my own sense of self too.  Slowly.

I haven't been open enough about potential ways forward, nor have I been honest enough about the wisdom of running a consultancy from where I am (smart, skilled and flexible; but lacking key resources like professional networks and track record).  I am getting by along this pathway, because I have asked 'can I do this', and proven so far that yes I can — but that doesn't mean that it is the best path, and I'm not sure I have been asking the right question.

I also need to be much more vigilant getting out of my head and my business.  I know full well that 'good work' is done in the real world, with others, and while I have been doing this, I'm not sure I have prioritised it enough.