We’re always telling stories about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we going.
We tell stories about what’s good and what’s bad, what should be and what shouldn’t. We tell ourselves stories about what’s possible and why and how, and about which things that will never happen, or which things we’ll (or they’ll) never be able to do.
We tell these stories about ourselves, about our organisations, about colleagues and partners and the people we serve, about the context we work in and the wider world.
And we tell them to ourselves, and to and with friends to remind ourselves who we are and who we are together, and we tell them to other people so that they’ll know who we are. We find it easier to trust people who tell the same stories.
Some of the stories we tell are helpful, and some are damaging, and some are true.
It’s a good idea to be aware of the stories we tell because they’re the raw material we use to write the scripts we live by.
Making prominence your aim is like building a skyscraper without laying foundations: you might make something tall, but it’s unlikely to last and it will almost certainly cause damage when it collapses.
Rather than trying to stick out from the landscape on your own, far better to aim at lifting those around you and be happily surprised if you end up as a high-point on an interesting hill, held up by others and holding them up in turn.
Mountains have long histories and relationships and contribution take time. The only prominence worth having is a side effect of the slow geology of generous relationships.
Where does the drama of history get its material? From the “unending conversation”* that is going on at the point in history when we are born.
Imagine you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before.
You listen for a while; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.Marcus Borg – The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith
*Borg owes this metaphor to Kenneth Burke
See also Clay Shirky and Niall Ferguson on networks
Four types of vision:
- Vision of what is: the good, the bad… and the missing.
- Vision of possibilities: seeing what could be, or what could stop being. Having a sense of contributing factors and probabilities.
- Moral or ethical vision: knowing which possibilities should be, and which you will take responsibility for changing.
- Judgement: choosing a good way forward in light of 1, 2 and 3.
Each of these are helped by:
- Good stories
- Visual art
- Asking good questions
- Learning new skills
- Studying management
- Meeting new people
- Systems thinking
The list doesn’t end. Anything that enriches your hinterland helps to shape your vision and creates new possibilities.
Here’s a DC-related hitlist for the first part of 2019… images link to Amazon UK.
The Invisible Killer: The Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution – and How We can Fight Back – Garry Fuller
A gift from Sharky. Necessary reading for someone living in Jakarta. Or anywhere.
See also WtF? Technology and You. KK is great at describing big picture trends, and this is good so far. Definitely generative reading.
Seth has written and produced so much helpful stuff centred (increasingly) around doing ‘work that matters for people who care.’ This is his first book for five years or so, and he describes it as a distillation of the most important things he knows about marketing.
See also my series of posts on the Boostrapper’s Workshop for Non-Profits and The Marketing Seminar.
Execution: The Discipline of Getting things Done – Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
Apparently a classic which will help me get things done.
The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling
Recommended by a good friend who does business growth for a living. This is also going to help me get things done.
Leveraged Learning – Danny Iny
A jumping off point for thinking about the challenges and opportunities in education today.
Forgotten Wars – The End of Britain’s Asian Empire – Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper
More for the Hinterland… I found the prequel to this hugely enriching to my understanding of SE Asia. This was a Christmas present a year ago, and I owe it time this year.
Defeat Into Victory – William Slim
Slim played an important part in the history described above – he’s an interesting guy and a great case study. This is a book to enrich (i.e. network with) Forgotten Wars – and vice-versa.
The Daily Drucker – Peter Drucker
Drucker is excellent. I’ll be dipping in and out of this throughout the year.
Steve Jobs is right about changing the world.
And here’s Edmund Burke with a counterpoint – for society read ‘society’, but also, ‘family’, and ‘your organisation’:
Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure—but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico, or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties.
It is to be looked on with other reverence, because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection.
As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place.Edmund Burke – Reflections on the Revolution in France
Stability counts. It’s a product of history, built by those who went before us. The strongest systems grow incrementally and through iteration, rather than flat-out revolution.**
Too much change will leave your team feeling adrift and uprooted, uneasy and struggling to focus. It’s great to get rid of things that cause friction and slow us down, but change too much, too fast, and things get slippery. It can be hard to keep a grip.
We’re just as blind to many of the things that hold us together as we are to the things that hold us back. So by all means, bounce – but don’t break the trampoline.
**Come back another day for tea with Hayek