Whenever you come to a fork in the path take it

I have always loved this Yogi Berra saying. It says so much about a potential approach to life.

Many of us get bent out of shape when things go wrong, when we feel we have made the wrong decision, when fate seems to be against us. We end up “fighting what is” to quote Byron Katie.

But if we accept that much of life is random, what can appear to be the worst thing can often turn out to be the best thing, and that it is our mindset when we deal with whatever transpires that is the greatest determinant of whether our experience is unpleasant or unpleasant, then we can more confidently take whichever path appeals.

On driving and being driven

This seems an appropriate post to write given that I sit my HGV theory test tomorrow but glancing through people’s Linkedin profiles it struck me how many of them describe themselves as “driven”.

Hmm..

This is up there with “driving change” in its ability to make me recoil. Nothing wrong with enthusiastically committing to the things we do with our lives, or for that matter encouraging others to do the same, but “driven” has a manic, out of control, aggressiveness about it that has the opposite effect on me.

Put your own oxygen mask on first.

Society is made up of multiple networks of individuals, operating individually or in consort. In order for those networks to operate effectively, to use a biological metaphor, the cells have to be healthy.

We will only have a healthy society, or organisations, if we each become healthy, autonomous, tolerant, and sensitive to those around us. To do this we have to recover from being trained to be complacent, compliant, consumers.

We have to to be sceptical of ideologies and -isms. We have to develop the skills of self awareness and critical thinking that will enable us to work things out for ourselves and to do so in the context of those around us.

Before we can help others we have to deal with our own challenges and aspire to our own physical and mental health. We have to journey inward before we can return and take our place in our various networks in order to deal together with the challenges we all face.

Looking after yourself first is not a selfish act, it's an obligation.

Little injections of energy

It is easy to get overwhelmed these days; to take the "lists of things to be frightened of" that news media serve up every day seriously; to succumb to the waves of doom that ripple around the internet; to feel that we are too small and too powerless to do anything about it all.

I remember reading somewhere that each of us should aspire to leave the people we talk to feeling a little bit better after a conversation with us, a little bit braver, a little bit more optimistic.

This is not Pollyanna-ish, this is taking responsibility for our collective wellbeing. This seems like a worthwhile thing to do.

The era of the autodidact

As I wrote elsewhere recently “fake news is good news because it is forcing us to make more effort to work out what is true and what isn’t”.

I had someone say to me the other day “Wasn’t it better in the old days when life was simpler and the news told you the truth?”

Life was never simple, the news just simplified it, made it look like theirs was the only version of the truth, and we didn’t know any better.

We can’t go back to those days.

We need to learn critical thinking, we need to work harder at working out where our information is coming from and what bias it is being subjected to.

We also need to apply the principle expressed in my book that “we all have a volume control on mob rule". We need to think harder about what we share, why we are sharing it, "=and what the consequences will be.

In order to make these decisions about truth and what we share we need to be better informed. We need to be more curious. We need to learn more and faster. We need to do this for ourselves.

Happenstance

It's amazing how much of our lives comes about through chance or unexpected twists of fate.

I am struck how often people end up in jobs they hadn't anticipated, how much organisational and business success is down to luck, and how we are forced to respond to the vast and mostly unpredictable complexity of life.

We then feel an irresistible urge to retrofit meaning to maintain the illusion that we are in control.

Maybe we would be more relaxed with each other if we remembered this more often...

We can do this

Sometimes I feel like giving up, conceding defeat to the marketers and "professional communicators" who have polluted our networks with industrialised social media.

Sometimes our propensity to polarise online and beat each other up over our projected fears and failings seems likely to bring the promise of the internet to its knees.

But then a post will trigger a cracking conversation, a podcast will open up a whole new perspective, a moment of online vulnerability will remind me our shared humanity.

I'm not giving up.

These are still early days.

We can do this!

A bit of a departure

Well, lots of departures actually. I have always had a hankering to drive big trucks. I watch massive trucks delivering to our local supermarket and marvel at the skill of the drivers as they reverse into ridiculously tight spaces. When I worked with Volvo in Gothenburg I found their state of the art trucks incredibly glamorous. I clearly have a problem.

So I've decided to do something about it. I have signed up to train for a Cat C+E HGV licence, the one that would allow me to drive the largest articulated trucks!

The company who are doing the training also run an agency and they said that there is a real shortage of drivers at the moment. "If you're not flying around the world we'll call you up and get you to drive a truck anywhere from Glasgow to the South of France"

Count me in!

All the world's a stage

All the world's a stage

Our challenges at work almost always relate back to other people and our relationships with them. It is so easy to slip into thinking that if only other people were different then work would be easy.

But it would also be boring!

I often think what a privilege it is to get to play out our roles in the workplace and the opportunity that affords us to discover aspects of ourselves that would otherwise remain hidden or unchallenged.

Try to remember that as you face your office demons today!

Love Island

OK. I admit it. I'm hooked.

I even watched Aftersun on Sunday to see how Samira got on after she left the villa!

I've even welled up at a couple of moments during the show.

I tell the kids to keep quiet in case we miss some of the dialogue!

The programme editors are up there with Shakespeare in terms of exploring the highs and lows of human emotion.

It's the emotional equivalent of The Hunger Games.

There, I've confessed. That feels better.

Flirting

Over the weekend I had occasion to meet two women doctors. One was a local GP checking out a pulled muscle in my shoulder, the other was a private doctor conducting a medical examination in a drop-in surgery in East London.

They couldn't have been physically more different. One was slightly gaunt, tanned, and Scandinavian looking. the other was a hijab wearing, Somali/French lady from Lyon. Both were witty, clever, and great fun to chat with. Both left me feeling more alive and good about myself than when I arrived.

Both exchanges were mildly flirtatious responses to a spark, a sense of attractive life energy. Neither was disrespectful nor manipulative on either side.

It would be a shame if, in our current important efforts to treat women with greater respect and to redress gender imbalances, we lost the life enhancing pleasures of mutually enjoyable flirtatious encounters.

What doesn't kill us

I have spent most of the week with some very clever Americans. Watching them come to terms with the consequences of Trump and the reasons for his election gave me hope for the future. They are being forced to think hard and dig deep, to deal with things that have been hidden or buried and need dealing with.

Similarly watching the UK Government fall apart feels like a clearing out, a cleansing, an opportunity to collectively step up to the challenges faced when those we had assumed were grown ups lose the plot.

Human beings have an amazing ability to adapt, to respond to adversity. Having it too easy for too long isn't good for us.

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

Long Form

Who would have guessed that one day millions of people would listen to three hour long podcasts. Indeed the shortest podcasts I listen to regularly are between 90 minutes and two hours long

The topic of long form listening came up in the recent appearance by Jordan Peterson on the Joe Rogan Podcast, their third together. They discussed this new found appetite that people apparently have to hear topics explored in depth, by people willing to disagree, prepared to think out loud, avoiding the glib, sound bite answers we have become so used to from the media.

This is what I love about podcasts - unmediated conversations between smart people grappling with complex issues with a genuine intent to learn. It would appear that millions of other people love it too.

Made up stories

"What do you do?" I hate myself for asking this when meeting someone for the first time but I keep doing it. It is such a social norm. And of course having asked the question I invariably get the standard response of a job title. But what does that mean? Do I really care that the other person is an accountant, a lorry driver, a marketer or a judge? They are all just labels. Shorthand that we all too readily slip into. Even to ourselves.

I am a "fill in the gap" is all too tempting, too easy. But it becomes a problem when we do it for too long. It becomes a self made cage. It becomes brittle and fragile. When our labels slip or become inapplicable, through job loss or other life change, we face an existential crisis.

But they are just words. Just words we put into stories. Stories that we made up. Stories that we can change.

Don't panic, don't panic (to quote Corporal Jones)

In spite of our best efforts we have little control over our lives. It terrifies us to admit it but from natural disasters, to twists of economic or political fate, to our relationships to our loved ones, we have no direct ability to control anything. Let's face it, most of us can't even control the thoughts running through our own heads!

When we notice this, and try harder to exercise control, we invariably make things worse. We get fearful, we get stressed, we start acting differently and make worse decisions or freak out those around us.

And yet there is a part of us, deep down and mostly hidden, that can just watch all of this happening. That knows that we don't need to control everything, that is perfectly capable of responding appropriately to whatever happens. The common sense that we all share without need of dogma or effort just asks that we get still long enough to hear it.

Digital Transformation

The meaning of the word digital has become so broad as to be almost useless, and most organisations prefer tinkering to transformation, but Digital Transformation has clearly become a thing.

To me it is about the pressure to change that organisations are experiencing due to the fact that their customers and staff are finding their voice. We are able to talk about them as never before. They don't own their brands, we do - their staff do.

Whether it is marketing teams using digital means to promote their messages, employee engagement programmes to attempt to reclaim the attention and commitment of staff who are ever more aware of better opinions, or even the use of real digits in the form of big data, AI, and automation to change processes, it is all about responding to pressures that most organisations haven't had to deal with before. Many are struggling.

PowerPointless

I marvel at the extent to which communication in the workplace has become about shuffling slide decks instead of talking to each other. Or writing good prose for that matter.

Rather than engaging directly with people to convey the power of our ideas we hide behind the apparent professionalism of a polished presentation - or we clog up our IT systems sending each other bloated files rather than writing well crafted and effective emails.

Worse still constructing PowerPoint has become a primary tool for thinking. There are so many better tools out there - paper and pencil for one, plaintext documents, mind mapping tools, powerful outliners. All of these tools allow you to focus on your ideas with the minimum of friction rather than grappling with the beast that PowerPoint has become.

Sure, if you have to, back up your face to face presentation with simple slides and images, but don't let PowerPointless become what you do for a living.

Life's too short.

What to do?

There are probably two main themes to the conversations I have with people in organisations - how to deal with complexity, and what to do about staff who are increasingly disengaged. The two are inextricably linked.

As work life becomes faster changing, less stable, more unpredictable, many managers attempt to exercise greater control. They do this by doing more of what they know, what they are comfortable with. More meetings, more communication campaigns, more technology.

But this leaves staff feeling that it's all being done to them. They too can see the increased complexity and unpredictability but they are left feeling that they have less agency, even less control over their own destinies than they had before. As a result they disengage.

The counterintuitive answer to change and complexity is to do less, certainly for managers. It's like the way to deal with a plane spiralling out of control is not to fight the controls but to let go of them and allow the plane to self correct and re-discover its own balance. I often quote Dave Snowden's insight that the way to handle complex environments is with simple rules.

Find these simple rules, deal with those who fail to adhere to them, let staff rediscover their own ability to solve problems, and let the system self-correct.

Actionable Outcomes

I often quote the inversion "don't just do something stand there".

There is such a strong tendency, indeed cultural pressure, to be seen to be doing something in business. We used to joke at the BBC that when someone was promoted to a senior role they couldn't just look around and say "Everything looks fine to me I'll leave it alone." They got more brownie points for screwing things up than for doing nothing.

It is for this reason that I react badly when people get all macho about demanding “actionable outcomes” from meetings or presentations.

Does taking the time to think more deeply about stuff that really matters before you do something stupid count as an actionable outcome? Does thinking long and hard enough to fundamentally change your perspective on life in a way that affects your future interactions with people count as an actionable outcome?

I suspect not.

Changing People

I've expressed concern previously about use the phrase "driving change" but now realise that my true discomfort goes deeper.

What bothers me is the underlying assumption that we can change other people - or have the right to try. We can't and we don't.

We can change our own behaviours, we can change processes and structures, but we can’t change people - only they can.

And they have to want to.