Thursday, October 27, 2016

VUCA: It's not as new (or as scary) as it sounds

Have you heard about VUCA? If you're not a business guru, you may have missed this management acronym. It stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It's a slightly terrifying description of what is really business-as-usual in a world of change and interaction.

Management theorists might think VUCA is new, but here's how the 19th century poet John Keats described the quality that made writers great:

'At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.'

VUCA has been with man a long, long time, and the best of our thinkers have found ways to embrace it. If it's still too complicated for you: consider this picture. Is it health food? (No). Is it healthy food (Possibly).

In one category or frame, this is not clean, healthy food. In another category, this represents an experience that might be a healthy antidote to stress or a celebration of good things. Both are true at the same time. That's what a paradox is: a situation where opposites are equally true at the same time. If you've ever felt a treat would be good for you, you've engaged in paradoxical thinking.

Paradoxical thinking, the ability to move easily between apparent opposites, is the way that people have always navigated VUCA. When you're overwhelmed by complexity, the answer is to identify the times you have already accepted contradiction without stress:
  • a time you thought for yourself as part of a great team
  • a time when music left you feeling both focused and flexible
  • a time when energy kept you glued to a task instead of sending you bouncing
The more you are curious about your experience of paradox, the more you are likely to find ways to navigate VUCA with grace, productivity and satisfaction.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The difference between being grounded and being stuck

Could you use a little quiet forest time today? There's evidence that trees are good for people, but you probably don't need a study to tell you that walking in the woods can help you calm the noise in your head and begin to find space to move and to breathe.

Language is funny. Running and stuck seem to be opposites. In life, they are more like team-mates. Running holds you down while stuck jumps on you. The faster you move the smaller the intervals in which change is possible.

The solution is not to stop. Stopping is terrifying when you are already stuck. It sets off alarm bells that make it hard to think. The solution is to set yourself up for slowing down. That means walking instead of driving so that your muscles and your breath adjust. It means finding some trees and allowing them into your consciousness just enough to make space between the thoughts.

All of your time belongs to you. You may choose to give it to something or to rent it to something else. But you still own it. And it keeps on moving. The one certain thing in life is that it's not possible to stay stuck: even if you don't change consciously, your cells will continue to be replaced, your body will age, and the world will change around you. If you run too fast or too far, you will fall down.

The trees understand the difference between being grounded and being stuck. If you hang around with them for awhile, you will, too.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Holding yourself accountable for your results

I love the word accountable. It's tricky and it's often misused, but it also opens up the opportunity to step fully into owning what we can change and where we can move next.

Here's what accountable doesn't mean: it doesn't mean taking the blame and it doesn't mean meeting someone else's expectations. It doesn't mean being embarrassed if you haven't achieved what you set out to achieve.
Photo credit: Sepehr Ehsan, Flickr

Accountable means that you have the ability to give an account of something within your control. This account can be a record of what you did and what result it had: in accounting, everything must balance so every action must have an equal and opposite reaction somewhere in the books.

Outside accounting, giving your account of an event or action means telling your story of how it happened. What I love about this is that every good story requires an interaction between the main character, other characters, and an environment. Everyone is "at cause" (capable of making things happen) and no one is the sole cause of an achievement or a failure.

When you hold yourself accountable for your actions, you should not be beating yourself up for not getting a result you wanted. You should be weighing your actions against the things that triggered them and the things that resulted from them. Your story helps you see that you are both responsible and part of a bigger system of causes and effects.

When you give an account as though you lived in a vacuum, separate from other people and circumstances, you give only half of an accounting: your books don't balance. When you tell the story of an action or event, you see that there was much going on outside the choices you made. This may show you openings in the circumstances that will lead to a better next step.

The next time you are tempted to beat yourself up because something didn't turn out as you hoped, take the time to tell your story. Put in the other people and the circumstances. Find the balance. And then find the opening that lets you move forward.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

What are you giving when you're giving thanks?

It's Thanksgiving weekend in Canada - a time to step back and give thanks. Lots of people will be thinking about what they are thankful for. I'd like to take a minute and ask a different question. What are you giving when you are giving thanks? 

There is nothing in your hands when you give thanks, so what you are giving is not a thing. And there is no action implied by giving thanks, so you are not giving service. What is left to give?

When we give thanks, we give attention to what supports or delights us. When we give thanks to someone, we give thanks to the characteristics and behaviours that support and delight us. This is what makes thanks-giving so powerful when it is directed to someone. For just a moment, we give all our attention only to what we see in them that helps and gives hope and makes us happier.

When we teach small children to say thank you, we teach them to prepare for a moment of connection. The child doesn't quite know how to give thanks, so instead they give a word and watch. And what happens next feels like magic. They give a word and they get full, pleased, respectful attention.

It's the beginning of a virtuous cycle - a cycle where attention to what is good about being with other people resonates and amplifies. When we give thanks, we give attention and when we give attention, we help others to connect with the qualities in them that we are noticing. As they connect, they become more of what we noticed. A child is pleased and says thank you and another child or grown up is pleased by the thank you and notices good things in the child.

Find someone this weekend and give them your thanks for something they do or something they are. And notice what happens next. It will be good.