Saturday, December 31, 2016

reading the dead

Out of the Jaws of Death
(from the "No Dead Trees" series)

reading the dead

but, why read the living?
they barely feel our heat
so caught up in day to day
so far away, encased in other meat;
oh, but the dead!
close, poised and waiting, longing,
needing to be read
our eyes and hearts and minds their only lifeline, borrowed truth
their words mere marks their works reduced
to just what catches our attention, snags us from distraction;
the dead become obsessed anticipation
starved clanging for participation with what they've left behind.
and so I read the dead,
for who else will commune with me so perfectly; say, see,
see what I meant?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Lazy Lions (a ramble out loud to clear my thinking)

This is not my first Lazy Lion post and it won't be my last.

I get that big wins require big effort. So do big loses. I realize that working more, getting more done, will potentially provide a great deal more success, and that not doing more can seem like failure in the crazy ant-world we've built. Everyone wants to get more sugar. I just don't want to be an ant.

I played that game for a long time, as long as my mind was able to keep my spirit small enough to manage, and my body was willing to be my beaten-down slave. Unfortunately, or fortunately, my spirit and body have found their voices, and they want equal time. My mind agrees with them in principle but worries because I know what it takes to succeed. I have carefully watched and, where possible, supported the growth and careers of leaders from early career to presidents. I have read the books, learned the academics, discerned the patterns, and what I know is this: I don't want to do all that.

It's hard, knowing what it would take to succeed in the common definitions, knowing myself well trained and smart enough to achieve it, yet for the balance of my life, choosing else. It goes against how I raised myself to think of myself. It's been a total rewrite to get this far.

(captive: caives2013)
So, I'd like to make the Lazy Lion argument again from here. Because the time is coming when we need to shift our determined grip on work ethic to a determined reaching for social ethic. There will not be enough jobs for most people, and most people will not be qualified for most of the jobs there are. We see it, we know it, we can deny it but it's coming like a tidal wave. So let's understand why that's actually a good thing.

The lion doesn't hunt all the time. The lion sleeps most of the time, enjoying the sun, being one with the Universe. If the lion hunted all the time, it would HAVE to hunt all the time, to consume enough calories to allow it to hunt all the time. And likely, it would starve. Because the lion is very, very big. It requires many, many resources to be active. There are only so many resources around. If the lion hunted all the time, there would be far fewer resources, then far fewer lions.

You know what else is big? Humans. And we're not just active - we take up more resources than our 16 hours of daily movement in calories. This planet is finite, its resources finite - for the most part, nothing goes in and nothing goes out. The number of humans is growing exponentially- that is, until we tip destabilizing forces and many of us die off and we take awhile to reinfest repopulate.

We are killing the planet so that we can use up its resources faster and faster to allow more and more activity, keep more and more people alive in increasingly unstable circumstances, and all for a work ethic that says people are only useful if they are used, under an assumption that only a few can win; while, all the time, technology and science have been developing towards a different goal - a goal we all want - to let us be lazy lions.

Every human longs for a life where the drudge work is done (robots) and they can spend their time on the things they love, like being entertained, cuddling with family, walking in the woods, communing with nature, seeing places, playing sports and games, thinking, imagining, trying things, gaining skills and pursuing deep interests. When I believed that wasn't a possible future I didn't see it as a worthy goal. Mostly because of the nagging voice that says: but what did they do to DESERVE all that? Like having your own time to enjoy life isn't the very thing we are all striving for in our own ways.

We could all have it, together. In pockets, at first, but it's possible. More than that, it's a different alternative to the one I see coming on, of widespread fear, insecurity, panic, desperation, violence, cracking-down, murderous intent and culling. That's the future if we decide that only a few, maybe 10% of humans, get the good life, and the rest don't deserve it. It seems unnecessary. Soon we won't need or want so many humans involved in the transformation of resources into forms of value. Already, actually. Soon we will need more humans involved in the work of care, because producing workers in the new economy requires a ratio of more adults to children in education, and because we want to foster home and institutional environments that support peaceful co-existence.

People who aren't needed to work can spend more time caring for each other, and that will be good for society. But not if they spend the whole time afraid, stressed out, worried about money, feeling insecure, losing confidence, getting desperate and ruining relationships. Let the people transfer graciously from work to living their lives, and they will find productive, innovative things to do, all on their own. And at least they won't be rioting, looting or clogging up the "justice" system. Let us be lazy lions, oh powers that be, oh 85 men who own most of the world's resources through complicated and arbitrary agreements made by old men a long time ago.

There's no reason for all this angst. Let the humans be lazy lions and let's get back to what matters in our lives. It will be good for the planet, good for the families, good for the souls. It may sound far fetched, but that's partly that we've been programmed another way, and partly short-term vision. Every great leader I've observed knows that having an inspiring vision gives you a light for steering the ship. We could pick this vision, and we could decide to govern towards it, over 50 years, over 200, over a thousand. We could evaluate policy decisions against it. And being the resourceful creatures we are, we would get there, eventually. I thought that was what we were doing, what the religions were saying, what I kept hearing on tv and in school as a kid. When did we change course to winner takes all?

Everything is the way it is because most people believe that's the only way it can be. What can turn their heads?

(probably something fun and delightful)

Monday, October 31, 2016

Truth? Opinions?

The truth lies so far from what we can see through the lenses of media, interactions and experience. Our opinions mean little because they are based primarily on ideas and data we're fed. Fundamental trust in our news sources has failed us. We can't know the whole of any situation. Our natural biases and the algorithms of the world will filter and nudge us to see evidence we agree with, and to be more blind to, or questioning of, evidence we don't like. How can anyone proclaim any opinion with certainty and dedication in such an uncertain and contradictory environment? And is that really the most useful way to use our discernment? Yet, if we don't believe in something we believe in nothing, a condition that breeds apathy. So perhaps we choose to believe in a future of peaceful co-existence with equal access and respect for all life, and let that belief guide us as we do our best with what we have, every day. Opinions only matter when they translate into actions.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Election in the Merry Old Land

It seems America is channeling the archetypes of the Wizard of Oz, asked to choose between the selfish, lying Wizard and the complicated Wicked Witch. Now people are speculating that Bernie is the good witch who will take them home - well, I don't see it, but anything's possible. In the meantime, my American friends, click your heels together and say it with me: there's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home." Then open your eyes, realize you're still in Oz, and vote. Pick your lesser of two evils, and then spend the next four years facing yourself about what those choices mean to your sense of who you are and who you are becoming. I think that doing that, and encouraging each other to do that, is the only clear, tangible, achievable action to take in the face of all the madness of living in an unsustainable, out-of-control power-corrupted system.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Standing in Fear

I stand today in fear. Many days, in fact. I stand in fear, and I take in my surroundings. Feeling ground solid beneath my feet, the energy of life tethering me through the soles of my feet and up through my legs, I review over what I know and what I’ve learned, and the learnings that contradict each other. I try not to look at the vast chasm of what I don’t know, what I haven’t learned, because I will fall in there and waste my energy climbing out.

I breathe. I feel panic tighten the back of my neck, my jaw, my throat, so I breath deeper still, slower still, focused on keeping those pathways open. I feel a roaring behind my eyes, tears threaten; I close my eyes and focus on a point of light in the centre of my forehead. I see the eye of eternity in the shadows of my eyelids.

Closing my eyes becomes opening them to the reality beyond sight; I see the awesome climb before me and I stand, watching, looking for a passage through to the base, some way around. I push possibilities down imaginary paths as far as my imagination can take them, but always the actual climb lies beyond a bramble-patch so thick that I know, in my bones, I no longer have the reserves and energy to make it through and still climb strongly.

I feel afraid. Not because the mountain is unscalable, but because I worry that, if the only way to the base is through brambles, I can't trust myself to make it. My health, my energy, my focus. Mothering, Wife-ing, Friending, Citizening and Household Managing remain demanding commitments. Realistically, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. The places from which I always took my reserves – my own energy, health, and well-being - are no longer options.

To get me here, my body and I made a deal: my health and energy to pursue what matters, in exchange for taking proper care of her – rest, good food, exercise, joy, love & cuddle time, time in nature, sex, time creating, entertainment. She holds me to it every day, every hour. Not only am I barred from stealing time from myself, but taking care of Me requires more space than it ever has. I have no choice. If I deviate, my body takes me down, with swift and decisive moves for which I have no counter. She simply inflicts whole-body pain and removes my energy - zap. Done. No work for you. Or she catches a virus bug and uses it to slow me down. Often she does both. I don't dare cross her.

Fear doesn’t mean I don’t feel excited, or that I don’t believe in the work, or that I will stop moving forward. If I can’t find a clearer option, I’ll pick a hard bramble-patch and try to break through it. I’ll use what I have and bring what I know, the tools I’ve collected that make sense for the job. Maybe I’ll clear a path to the base of the mountain that others can use, so they can just start there, so they can just start the climb I long to make. I can hope I'll still have the capacity to survive and climb after fighting my way through.

But I can’t help thinking that there is a path I’m missing, a clearer way, and so I  hesitate, I don’t turn my mind and hands to bramble-hacking. I push a certain distance down potential pathways, hoping they will bypass the worst of the blockages. I haven’t found a clear path, yet. Time is almost up.

So I stand, in fear, and take in my surroundings. Next I will decide what to do next, and then next. Right now, I stand.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Muddling Along

Light flows like water

I am muddling along the path I'm on because I frame every day through the question of how to live my happy life when it comes alongside, and at the expense of, other people's lives of suffering. The question of what my integrity calls from me today, in the choices I make, with that in mind.

If I want my happy life for me, I want it for everyone. That is what a desire for peace means to me - not that everyone behave themselves to a set of rules defined and enforced by law so no one gets hurt. For me, peace only comes when every human spirit born to body on Earth feels it has a chance to live a happy life while it's here. A happy life is not one without problems, but one in which a person feels they have access to what they need to deal with problems as they arise. This is sometimes called capacity.

Even if that only happens for humans born long after I am dead, even if I feel like I have so little to contribute to the achievement, my desire for peace filters my world view and the decisions I make. Peace can't be taken as synonymous with "safe" in a world where peace is so lacking. Peace can't be coerced, it must be built together with good will and respect. This species is so far from even beginning to approach its major problems with good will and respect that I foresee generations of struggle ahead. So that is where I start - where the root of the problem and my capacity meet; where the stream and the path run together.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

All my life I was a do-er. I set a goal, made a plan and got things done. 
I paid attention to the details. I got it right the first time through planning. I strove and achieved. I worked the plan and the plan worked for me.
Until I couldn't.
What a blow to an ego built on top-10 performance, Exceeds ratings, trust and bestowed responsibility, first-in-her-class, pay cheques that appreciated my contributions. 
When my health failed with no immediate explanation, suddenly the "goal" of crossing the room to get a cup of water seemed too monumental to plan for. It wasn't, anymore, just a matter of trying harder, working smarter, pushing through and making it happen no matter what. I fought No Matter What, and What won, hands down. 
All my life I had lived by the idea that discipline meant doing more, trying harder, pushing through. I had no idea about the discipline of doing less, reducing expectations, settling into the flow. 
Over the last several years I've come face-to-face with the question of who I am, and what is my value, when I'm not the "do-er." As I've been building my health capacity back, I've had to make more changes than I can list. Some were "doing" - taking up a martial art, meditation, shifting my diet. But most of the important discipline I've built has come from re-defining my idea of discipline. For me, discipline had to become less about doing, and more about allowing. 
Allowing a bit of clutter to gather because my energy is better spent resting. Allowing the dishes to sit in the sink while I sit and "indulge" in meditation or deep thought. Allowing a meeting to unfold without a tight agenda. Allowing process to build naturally from need. Trusting my skills, knowledge and capability to deal with what comes, rather than planning to death (not quite literally, but...). Accepting what comes when it doesn't match my ideal, my preconceived notion. Making goals smaller, more personal, more incremental, and more celebrated. Allowing twice as much time for anything I plan. Accepting that my monetary rewards may need to take new forms. Allowing myself the space to create, to play with my inner child, to re-connect with the forest. Shifting my definitions of "goals" into a curiosity and an openness that rates my "achievement" by how I feel, how my relationships feel, and how much I've honoured my body and spirit's needs. Working with, not against, the Energy of What Is.
What I used to consider lazy, I must redefine as taking care of myself. Where I once considered any activity without a tangible outcome a waste of my time, I learn to value outcomes that were invisible to me; but, it turns out, are the most critical.
It's like overcoming an addiction to motion, to doing, to achieving, to success. It's the hardest thing I've ever faced. Forcing myself to sit instead of do, to stop instead of go, to watch instead of take action - this kind of discipline felt so foreign it was wrong. And yet, over several years, as I grow my strength, my whole world and way of being has shifted.
There is a message here for everyone, but a special message for those who want to "help" during times of grief, illness, and incapacitation. Bustling in and "doing" for the person will only raise their tension. It brings in the old ideas of what is success, what is expected. I might feel they are judging me against standards I no longer hold, and that can cause a relapse of grief, shame and fear - the worst symptoms of my health crisis.  Advice just feels like heaped-on responsibility to live up to someone else's expectations. 
As we move into a new economy where jobs are scarce, we will all be re-evaluating what success means, what matters to us, and how we sell our time, our attention and our capacity. It's tempting to just step up our game, do more, meet expectations by working harder. Some of us have the privilege of healthy bodies that still put up with that kind of treatment. But incapacitation, temporary or permanent, will be a factor in every life at some point. Starting to build the discipline of caring for mind, body and spirit into every day life is a first step to being ready. 
Today my core strength comes from a new, powerful discipline - the discipline of listening to my body, my spirit and my mind, holding strong to my own definitions (or leaving definitions behind), and staying with the accepting I've added even as my health grows, even when I'm feeling well, to keep as balanced as I can on this roiling ocean. 
What is your experience of discipline's role in your life?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Don't Disrupt Me with Creative Disruption!

As change agents in one organization, we often shared a little joke: the best change project is the one no one notices. We were expressing wry frustration that the change projects most celebrated as successful tended to be the ones that resulted in the least actual change - small scope, minimal disruption.

Everyone wants the creative push of creative disruption, but no one actually wants the disruption part. We want to plan, control and analyze away all the risk and take only the upside (by the way, that’s how capitalism got so out-of-touch to begin with). We see any deviation from that as a problem.

I became a little cynical about being asked to bring change that no one would notice in the day-to-day workings. Change is supposed to be noticed - that’s what change is for! To make us notice how we’re doing things now, what we want to keep, add and discard. Change is a chance to stop and pinpoint where resources can be most effective. I believe the most important thing an organization can do is build resilience to deal with the inevitable ways the laws of the quantum universe will muck with our plans just for the fun of seeing us squirm.

Engaged people who care about their jobs can overcome all manner of mis-aligned or just-plain-bad process. Good process, even when followed, can't account for the complexity of the real world. People work best in an environment where they feel safe to be wrong or sometimes weak without recrimination and judgment. That kind of diamond environment is very difficult to create, for real, though everyone will nod and tell you you have it already if you ask them.

I care about organizations that are earnestly engaging the question of how to create more trustworthy environments. Because that is really the key. Trust can only grow in an environment that is worthy of trust. Aligned processes, policies, values and visions. Aligned behaviours, policies, values and visions. Aligned management decisions, values and visions. Regular calibration. Understanding the subtle and systemic rewards and punishments that flow through influence, time and resources. A current running under the flow of work - is it a cross-current, or is it pushing you faster?

We don't have to be afraid of the disruption of change when we are working with the energy of what is, when our team is paddling the same direction, and we have the skills and resiliency to work together when things go wrong. In that environment, we can treat challenges as the information they are, rather than emergencies to blame on someone.

The best change project is the one that honours the relationships, values and vision that matter to the people affected, and still achieves the goal. Which may, in the end, be pretty disruptive.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Nature's Lessons: Constriction or Protection

Constriction or Protection (C. Ives, 2016)

Yesterday in the woods, I saw a Trillium curling in on itself, growing through dead leaves. At first I thought the leaves were impeding its growth, choking it off, and that I would be helping the flower if I removed them. But removing one taught me my error. Inside, the flower was still wet and tender, and I'd exposed it like ripping off a bandaid. The next few days will be cold. I felt sorry. I apologized to the little flower and hoped it would be strong. Then I looked around, really looked, and it dawned on me that growing through leaves seems as much like a strategy as happenstance.  Many Trilliums were growing through leaves in much the same way.

I realized that the plant's own green, living leaves had wrapped themselves around the flower before it even bloomed. An arrow, they pointed themselves at a dead leaf and grew through it, allowing it to hold them wrapped tightly, protecting the bud through the  crazy up and down weather of early Spring in Ontario.

When the flower is strong enough, it will naturally break off the dry, fragile leaf in its quest for the sun.  When it has the tensile strength, when it feels its bloom pull it up, up, up towards the sun.  For now, until then,  constriction keeps it safe. What seemed like a burden of chance - growing wrapped in on itself, through resistance and weight, seemingly stunted - turns out to be a fair strategy for survival.

Now I ask myself to contemplate how this lesson plays out in my parenting, in my business, and in how I live my life.

Monday, March 28, 2016


It's been an interesting weekend seeing how life and work can (and can't) interact effectively. I find I'm more creative when my family is around, but only if they aren't distracting me. When my little girl reads on the sofa while I stretch and think/write, my ideas flow. But when I'm in that flow, it's very hard for me to pivot quickly into the "mommy" role when she suddenly decides she wants my attention on what she's doing or what she needs. I find it physically heavy, painful, to emerge from deep essence to listen to her observation about her book, or help her find a piece of lego. I might grump at her or miss her cues altogether. I don't want that to happen. When I'm with my family, I feel like I need to be always on alert for their needs, so when they're around, I'm reluctant to tap into flow at all, despite how much better flow can be when they are around and present without distracting. 

When I think about why it's so hard for me to turn inspiration into transaction, I realize it's a very similar circular issue. I want the presence and ideas of others, but when others are present, I feel like I need to be on alert for their needs, so I don't tap into essence deeply. It takes my attention. If I give in to that, I lose strength in all the ways I hold myself down, back, small, unthreatening to others. My big, real self might pop out, show herself, bare her teeth or laugh deeply, flash her eyes, and scare all the people away. It's happened. 

Having spent so many years compartmentalizing my scary self from the person who had to interact in the commerce society, it's not surprising that I'm slow and clumsy switching back and forth. It's taken me years of practice to trust my strength enough to go deeply into any current of flow. I wasn't sure I could get back out if I had to, when I had to, in the time expected by the people to whom I was responsible. Even now, I'm not sure how deeply I can dip into essential meaning, and still come back to the way I'm expected to live here. 

The creatures on this planet are so exacting with themselves and each other. That's what survival of the fittest does, and I'm a creature of this place as much as any one else. I'm born to its soil from its goo, formed and reformed, weathered and sheltered by its ruling species; human. This is the work of being a whole person in this place - finding ways to sway and bob with the ebb and flow, while steering the canoe to a destination. 

After all these years, I still feel like a rookie.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

“I’m not currently trying to be a nicer person.”

Every day, I squish and squash my giant self into this body, this mind, these behaviours, to be allowed the privilege of feeling a sense of belonging among the humans. For a long time, I lived on the belief that, as long as I could contain myself enough, I would be tolerated by some people out of respect (or even love) for the aspects of me that are actually lovable. For most of my life, I saw self-improvement as a task dedicated to making me more acceptable to everyone else.  

Trying to break that habit seems to cause me to fluctuate rather than balance, which becomes just another not-good-enough to fix. I’m still a selfish, spoiled, ignorant baby as well as a generous, wise, accomplished woman, and if people are around me enough, they will see it all.  If self-improvement is about changing myself to be more acceptable, I still have a long way to go. But I am forced to abandon that path. It made me sick, detached and unhappy. I'm not joking when I say, this is as good as I get for awhile, with the kind of resignation that comes of knowing I only have so much time and energy, and there’s a lot to do. 

Since my self-improvement is now about making me more whole, rather than making other people more comfortable, I’ve decided to focus on 4 primary and interconnected goals right now: staying healthy, staying connected with my family, moving forward my business, and managing my anxiety. While I do my best to be nice, I think maybe I should wear a t-shirt to warn people: 

“Warning: Flawed Human, not currently trying to be a nicer person.”  

I’m about as nice as I’m going to get for awhile, so if my worst scares you and my best doesn’t inspire you enough to overcome it, we probably won’t spend much time together. I wish I could just tell people all of this up front and be done with it. Maybe I should make a flyer and hand it to people like a business card. It could say something like:

Dear new acquaintance:

I’m very pleased to meet you! Before we invest our time in becoming friends or deciding to work together on a project, please be aware of the following 13 conditions:

  1. At some point I’m going to handle a situation badly and you’re going to be pissed with me.
  2. Sometimes I’m going to see things so differently from you that you wonder if we’re on the same planet.
  3. It’s possible that I might say something, at some point, in a way that sets off something uncomfortable in you.
  4. I’m clumsy enough that I might hurt your feelings by accident once in awhile.
  5. I’m lazy about taking care of other people’s needs. I expect them to take care of their own needs.
  6. I believe one can’t enter a fray and expect to be safe. Earth is a big fray.  Safe is an illusion.
  7. I will sometimes express appreciation in ways that you don’t notice, and other times, fail to notice things I should appreciate about you.
  8. I actually like several of my blind spots – they let me stay sane enough to hold it all together (please don't shatter my illusions).
  9. I’ve been known to become impatient and emphatic with surprising speed.
  10. I'm more interested in understanding the next step than judging the current state or worse, the past.
  11. I’m clueless about some things (to offset my genius in others)
  12. I am learning to navigate True North without a compass.
  13. I can’t promise never to let you down, but I can promise it will never be for lack of good will or trying.

Warm Regards,
Your New Acquaintance

What do you think? Print it up? But maybe such a letter is like a Spoiler. Maybe people just have to figure it out for themselves. As I do, about them. That's the work of life in relationship with humans - figuring out how to take care of ourselves and each other with enough slack to find our way in the dark. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

3 Mistakes we make in thinking about The Present

As a reminder to myself, here are 3 Mistakes we make in thinking about The Present:

1) Mistaking the Present for The Past
We see something in the present that looks and feels like something that happened in the past, and assume the same outcome will occur

2) Mistaking the Present for The Future
We see something in the present and assume that it will continue to behave the same way in the future.

3) Mistaking the Present for The Present
We see something in the present and assume our own experience is the true reality of the situation.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Other People's Ideas

I’m not that interested in other people’s ideas.

Don’t get me wrong. I spent many years fascinated by the many and varied ways that humans become creative creatures on this planet. I worshiped at the altar of other people’s ideas. I ate other people’s ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I made myself out of them.

Eventually, I noticed that other people’s ideas started to sound a lot like the same ideas, put a different way. The time it took to sift through all the ideas that were the same-with-a-twist began to outweigh any benefit I was receiving from continuing to seek in that way.

So I stopped, organically, almost without noticing. I stopped reading blogs, articles and books related to my areas of interest, except for quick bits of research to support a theory or practice. I lost the habit of striving to learn. In the space I accidentally created, I realized: 

I don’t need new ideas. I need to work the ideas I already have.

Contemplate them, practice them, test and try them, over time and in real life, with the limited time and energy available, and see what they mean in light of who I am. I need to figure my own shit out. 

This is true for me, so it could be true for anyone.

The ideas I’ve already taken in could take the rest of my lifetime to work with, to really get them, to get good at combining them, applying them, extending them. What did Gladwell say, 10,000 hours? That’s a lot of hours for the breadth of what I’ve learned already, which is substantial. And never, never, never enough.  

There is a time for other people’s ideas to jump-start my understanding, give context for the extent of human knowledge, share tools that can serve my purpose. Then, there comes a point where my time is better spent assimilating, processing, practicing, combining and trying out my own ideas, the synthesis of all the other people’s ideas I’ve taken in, than in reading one more management book, taking one more certification, or asking one more mentor for advice.

If I know what I’m about – what all that learning means in light of my purpose, or at least a general sense of the nature of that purpose – then I can have the fun of seeing how that combines with other people’s ideas. Then there's a chance to make something that actually is new, or at least bring a twist we haven't seen before. 

Otherwise, what was I learning all those other people's ideas for? 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Plan, do and review - or not

When we want to do something big, we plan, do and review.

The balance and order of those three activities is the subject of much debate in management literature. According to them, we're doing the wrong thing at the wrong time because we planned too much or too little or the wrong things with the wrong information. And they're right.

That's life in the world, right now. There is no one right way to act, there is no blueprint for success. Conditions shift so fast that today's Best Practice is yesterday's leech cure, and as soon as you're sure the leeches are not going to cure you, a new way to use them comes into style. Chasing the right way, or trying to avoid the wrong ways, can drive you to insanity and, worse, waste your precious time.

The secret every advice-giver knows is this: if what you're doing isn't working, just do something else for awhile and see what happens.

If you're planning everthing to death and failing to act, switch the order:
do, review, plan.

If you're wasting a lot of effort and finding out major issues too late, switch the order:
review, plan, do

If you're in unknown waters and need to experiment, throw caution to the winds: do, review, do, review, do, review, plan (as little as possible).

If you're working in fairly common or known project areas, stick to the tried-and-true order: plan, do, review.

Try it for awhile, and if it isn't working, change it.

But beware: working and not working are often hard to distinguish. Often things get harder, more unpleasant and messier before they get better. Breaking the old to create space for the new. Uncomfortable doesn't mean it's not working. Lack of immediate success doesn't mean it's not working. So stick to what your gut told you was the order to take, until your gut tells you to try something else. And then, follow your gut on that. And see what happens.

There, I just saved you $40k and/or the reading of a dozen Management books.

By the way, we know that a team with bad process and poor planning can still execute when there is high trust. That is, people can come through even when the structures fail, working together with good will. On the other hand, all the good process in the world can't make up for lack of trust on a team - the structures will fail in unexpected and insidious ways. Given that, trust might be a good place to invest next.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

To Ask or Not to Ask - that is the question

Asking is hard.

The moment we ask, we impose on the other. We make them responsible, to take on the burden of whatever we've asked, or to take on the burden of saying no. There is no way to ask without creating a sense of obligation in the air, forcing another person to make a decision about something that matters to you, not them. How to offset that? No amount of "it's okay if you say no" or "please don't feel obligated" can do it.

And so, we don't ask. We hint. We create inference. We present observations or information, expecting that the implicit ask is there. And when the other person opts for the choice of not answering, we read that as "no." It's a courtesy we do for them, for their convenience, to spare them the responsibility of having to say no, if no is the answer.

Which is better? (hint: better is relative)

Should we strive to make ourselves so independent, our needs so small, that we never bother one another with asks? Is that even possible?

I give my kids 3 pushups for asking me for something they know I'll say no to, given the rules and their own knowledge of what is right. I'm really saying, it's your responsibility, don't burden me with the decision to say no. I stand by it.

Am I teaching something else, too? Am I teaching them not to ask? I hope they can learn the distinction. Because how often do we assume the answer will be no, when there is actually a good chance it's yes? And isn't it good to push the rule, once in awhile, to make sure it's not arbitrary?

Well, not if you piss Mom off in the process :-)

Not if you already know the answer before you ask. But, be sure you really do know, and it's not just insecure assumptions.

I think perhaps the last component comes when I do ask, and force the other to say yes or no. I have to be ready to be as gracious about a No as a Yes. In asking, I create a responsibility to myself to create a safe environment for a no answer, to create the lightest burden possible in the exchange. Getting more skilled at hearing no means more graceful and effective asking.

(When I think about how I've been nagging the Universe with asks, lately, I think I need to do three pushups myself)