The hard part: other people

Your work probably has several hard parts, and one of them is almost certainly other people.

If only they would…

… do their jobs properly / be vaguely professional / relate to each other as grown-ups / take responsibility / have a little consideration / not bring home issues to the office / leave you alone …

… you life would be much easier.

But if you didn’t have to work on any of these these things…

… they’d probably be bored / you’d have a too-exclusive team / they wouldn’t be people / they wouldn’t need you.

If you’re a manager or leader, these things are at the centre of your contribution:

  • Helping people do their best work
  • Creating a culture and ways of working that enables your colleagues to manage themselves and each other
  • Knowing them well and supporting them personally
  • Taking time to help them with the abstract and emotional and with the nitty-gritty of their work
  • Finding training, tools, relationships that will help them to thrive
  • Having uncomfortable and very specific conversations about what needs to be done and by when and what is and isn’t working …. and dealing with the fact that people don’t always like being told
  • Doing it regularly – being accountable to yourself for your responsibility

If you’re not having fairly regular “Why do I have to deal with this crap?” moments, you might be very lucky, but it might be a sign that you’re not doing something very hard.

Raising the tone

Lowering the tone is easy, often funny, and sometimes desirable: lofty conversations gain traction (or evaporate) when touched to earth. Laughter liberates.

It’s much harder to raise the tone, and harder still to do it with humour and grace… but it’s almost always desirable. It’s a way to lead.

I propose that we aim for a 2-to-1 ratio of raising the tone to lowering it. And that we hold some fart jokes in reserve in case things get too serious.

Conflicting values

If you keep butting up against the same problem with a colleague – a problem you think you’ve fixed, but that comes up repeatedly in slightly different variations – it could be a sign of conflicting values.

Values conflicts often seem to arise over:

  • Money (fees, salaries and expenses)
  • Time (working hours, punctuality)
  • Effort and focus (work ethic, productivity, accountability)
  • How we treat people (respect, courtesy)

If it is a values conflict (and it’s worth double checking that it’s not a case of your own poor management), you can be pretty sure that it’s going to keep on appearing until you do some deep work to address it.

These conflicts are tricky to handle because they’re often both emotion-laden and subjective. That is, we’re all pretty sure we’re right, and we’re indignant about being wronged – and our feelings of indignation double when realise how the other side of the argument perceives the things we say and do.

Some questions for working on values conflicts:

  • What’s the history here? How has this problem shown up in the past, and what seems to be the root cause?
  • What shortcoming of yours might they think is the root cause?
  • How is everyone feeling about the issue? How will that affect the way they communicate?
  • Assume for a moment that they have the same values as you do on this. What might make them act this way?
  • What information are you missing (or failing to recognise the importance of) that would help you make better decisions here?
  • What information do they have that might help you?
  • What factors are you assigning importance to that they don’t know about or don’t recognise, and how can you close those gaps?
  • Get advice – think particularly about people who might be able to fill in the missing information, or give perspective on how each party feels and why – and point out to you when you’re being unreasonable?
  • Where does the power lie in this conflict? Does this affect how you should behave?
  • If you’re convinced there is a conflict in values – check that you’ve consistently demonstrated the value in question in your treatment of others. What do you need to change?
  • How can you talk about the value, sharing information and telling stories that weave it more deeply into your organisational culture?
  • How will this affect how you choose new colleagues, suppliers or partners?
  • Where are the lines you’re not prepared to cross?
  • Are there people – respected colleagues, board members – that you can involve in the process in a way that takes the heat out of the situation, or reduces the extent to which you are seen as responsible (or are responsible) for the point of conflict?
  • If (when?) you make a mistake in addressing this, how can you make sure that it’s a mistake on the side of kindness, generosity and trust?

Invisible compromises

Why are our compromises so often invisible to others?

We take a deep breath, struggle to assume the best, let go of a few things and then stretch out with all the patience and generosity and grace that we can muster to offer a compromise and meet them in the middle…

… and nobody sees it.

If only our families, friends, colleagues, suppliers and customers would be more reasonable, they’d compromise too.

Good starts

We think we see good starts all the time, but most of the time we see wrong.

Most of the time what looks like a good start – of a work day, a career, a diet, a business, a life – most of the time what looks like a good start is a long way into the story, the business-end of the iceberg.

That athlete off to the dream start in the 800m? He really started years ago. Quite possibly, someone else started things for him, tied his shoes, helped him train.

That overnight musical success? They started a decade ago in a garage before moving up in the world… to being ignored in tiny clubs.

That kid with the law degree from a top university? They probably got a good start by choosing excellent grandparents and even better parents, by being born in a nation and at a time where their particular skills are valuable.

Most of the stories that fed into ours were entirely beyond our control. We can be grateful for the good bits and we can mitigate the bad, but in one sense, none of it really matters.

What matters is, what is now the start of – the start that no-one else will see?

The Gift

Everything changes if you can see the thing you’re doing as a gift.

Doing it as a gift transforms

  • the thing you don’t want to do, or don’t want to do right now;
  • the thing you don’t want to do in the way you know you should do it;
  • the thing you said yes to that seemed like a good idea at the time;
  • the thing that makes you nervous, that will make you feel stupid if it goes wrong;
  • the work you put in early, building momentum when it isn’t urgent;
  • the work you do late, putting in extra hours to get it done on time;
  • the thing that you might really be doing for yourself, but that could be for them;
  • the chances that what you do might bring about the change that you seek.

Suddenly you’re not

  • doing your duty, but being generous to another person;
  • grinding out an obligation, but choosing to do something well;
  • a fool who should have known better, but someone who offered to show up;
  • at the same risk of embarrassment – if you look foolish, you’ll be a likeable, generous fool;
  • spending time on something because you have to, but preparing an act of kindness;
  • pulling a ridiculous all-nighter, but staying up to wrap a present;
  • thinking about what will make it go well for you, but focusing on what will make it useful/fun/a good gift for the gift’s recipients;
  • trying to change anyone per se, but to make them richer by sharing something you’ve made.

Gifts

  • are free (gratis) to the recipient because they’re paid for by the giver;
  • are free (libre) to be received or left;
  • are best if specific (“it’s for you“) rather than generic (“who wants this?”);
  • aren’t designed to create obligation, but to create new possibilities, generate multiplying gifts.

Happy Christmas 2018.

Ways in: ravelling the network

Interface

A discipline, culture or scene is a network: a mesh of people, things, ideas and ways of doing things.

It might be tightly defined, with a clear centre, tightly woven middle, and a strong sense of a margin.

It might be clustered, with areas where the web is thicker and deeper, but with threadbare valleys inbetween,  fading out to the hinterland.

It might be looser – candyfloss or mist – a ball of tenuous connections at a distance.***

Whatever the form – and if you zoom in or out far enough, they all look much the same – a key feature is that there are no edges. The margins are always porous, threadbare, and frayed, and everything is intertwingled.

Ways in

We find our way into a network by joining it – by making points of connection, by crawling the web, ravelling the edges of the network.

For a field of study, we ravel the references, following the threads of footnotes and references to position ourselves in the network.** 

In a culture or scene, we hop from person to artifact to text to place to practice, each one leading us on to another – and back and round again – as we get familiar with the landscape.

Some things to bear in mind

  1. Thick cloth is hard to pierce, and it’s hard to break into the middle of a network. Change (including accommodating you) is slower and harder: the web is thick and tight, the connections harder to break and re-weave, and space is limited.
  2. Networks overlap. A strong connection with a person (relationship, status) or an idea (expertise, reputation) in one field might help you cross over to the middle of another, different field.
  3. The web is sticky. Once you’re in, you’re usually a bridge (in and out) for others. Be generous.
  4. You add value to the network by bringing something new: new and valuable ideas, new tools or ways of doing things, new attitudes that make it more enjoyable to be part of the network, new connections (by connecting the dots within the network to thicken it, and by bringing connections to an entirely different network).

Start somewhere: Show up. Make connections. Be generous.

**Citations formed a web of knowledge long before the internet.

*** Word on the street is that candyfloss is tougher, denser and less tenuous than you’d think (hat tip: RudderlessSalamander)

In their hands

Make something people can use.

Put it in their hands.

See what happens.

If they’re eager to pay – attention, time, money – you’re onto something.

Watch them. Listen to them. Tweak it. Make more of it. See what they think.

If they tell their friends – and if their friends tell their friends – then you’ve got it.

What change do you seek in the world? Who are the people you seek to serve?

You’ve got it when they’ve got it.

You’ll know you’ve got it when you meet someone for the first time, and the thing you made is already in their hands.

A downhill slope (find others)

If you’re in a book group, social pressure is going to get you to read that book. The act of joining the book group is the hard part. Once you’re in the book group, the books are going to get read, because now you’re playing a game. It’s a game you’re enrolled in, it’s one you want to move forward.

The easiest way to start creating this game dynamic is to form a group. To find others, to find others and challenge those others to play the game with you. Because we all know that solitaire might be a little fun, but solitaire isn’t the kind of game we dream of when we dream of games.

We do better when we do it together.

Seth Godin – Akimbo – The Wedding Industrial Complex

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Make it happen. Find others. Say the words.

Education for the future: which kids are ours? (1)

The best – the only – way to prepare our kids for any future is by showing them a vision of a flourishing life, and by equipping them with the best tools we have to achieve it, and with the wisdom to use those tools well.

Stu Patience / Driverlesscroc

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“Our kids” can mean several things.

My biological children.

The children in my extended family.

The children of my friends.

The children of my neighbours, colleagues, fellow members of groups I belong to.

All the kids in my district, city, region, country.

All the kids. Everywhere.

Which kids are yours?