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General pics 039

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been two months since my last posting on this blog. My shame is palpable. I’ve been loyal to my blog for about 10 years. Why the lapse? Well, I confess, I have been having impure thoughts and I’ve been seeing another. A temptress. Yes, I’ve been led astray!

The truth is, as an experiment, I’ve recently turned my attention to the alluring and sexy offer to “Publish a Post”, which as many of you may know is the third of three options that LinkedIn offers users on its Home screen.

The first of these choices, “Share an Update” creates a timeline feed which old-school LinkedInners* might say brings the site a bit closer to FaceBook. Maybe so, but most of the content I see there seems to keep to the original work-career-networking direction of the site. True, this means there’s an inordinate amount of self product or company promotion, but ’twas ever thus.

The second choice on the home page is to “upload a photo”. This does feel more millennial and looks like an invitation to share one’s (business?) lunch, or (office?) wild-night out, or (team-building?) Grand Canyon pic, or (cheesy and miss-attributed) Ghandhi/Einstein/Twain quotes rather than anything else.

The third one, however, is more intriguing. A Post, on LinkedIn, is something like a one-off blog entry. Now that the LI groups have declined in both purpose and point, this is probably the strongest area on LinkedIn to serve as a platform for Thought Leadership. You should probably check out what you see then you click on “Pulse” (in the “Interests” drop-down menu on the home page), and if you click on  the word Pulse when you get there, you can tailor the feed to follow people or topics that interest you.  While there, you could model some of the more rampant influencers in LinkedIn and start to think of your own content.

Both sites – WordPress and  Linkedin – offer you access to analytics and stats on how many people are reading what you have written. The dashboard for WordPress is quite detailed but focuses more on where in the world your readers are, which is less interesting than who. LinkedIn, to its credit, gives you some data on who has ‘liked’ and who (if anyone…) has ‘shared’, and when. In my case and so far in the experiment, the LinkedIn posts seem to reach more people, and you can embed a video, while WordPress allows much more creativity in design, layout and links.

But I needed to explain to the blog my guilt. Absolution follows.

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* another confession, I just made that term up. In fact, I’ve made up more such terms than you’ve had Link Dinners. LIers could be another one, but I don’t think it would catch on)

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This week I was able to follow up being present at (if not part of) the recent #mindfulnation report launch at Parliament by attending a meeting to promote the work of one of the four areas of research and practice highlighted in the report – mindfulness in the workplace.

The venue for this event was Shoreditch, an area of East London adjacent to the City, at a place called Second Home, a place for young and small businesses to interact. It was to be an evening meeting, so I took the coach from Oxford into London in the late afternoon. It got stuck in traffic coming in. Really stuck. As we crawled along, the girl next to me on the bus, a drama student, eventually worked out that she was going to miss her 6:30 appointment to collect her complimentary theatre tickets for a 7 pm performance. She was very stressed, poor thing, and made repeated calls to friends and family to see what they would say; but none of that could change the speed of the bus in the syrupy traffic. I, too, was going to be late. But then I remembered that I was heading to a meeting about being mindful, and that this was a great opportunity to choose to notice all that was going on in the present It was annoying, yes, but not permanent. I decided to let the annoyance be what it was. The rest of the crawl felt a lot easier, and the observant feeling remained with me all the way onto the Central Line and out from Liverpool Street station through the fascinating side streets to reach Second Home (how vibrant the City and East End were at 7:30 in the evening!!).

I arrived as Jamie Bristow, who alongside Tessa Watt and Sarah Post was one of the leads in the research behind the report, was introducing things in more detail. There were a number of different speakers who gave a fairly broad range of commentary on the possible benefits of introducing programmes of guided mindfulness in the workplace. It was a full room, so I sat at the back and took in the interesting set of speakers.

Some had an external perspective as business practitioners, others were living and breathing (no pun intended) mindfulness as trainers, consultants or coaches. Everyone was at pains to point out the danger of “McMindfulness“, or the commodification of the concept to the point of watering-down practice to homeopathic levels of awareness. By contrast, others wanted to declare a distance from any, and I quote, “woo-woo” associations of Zen meditation and navel gazing. Clearly, there are already several versions of “it”, when it comes to the it of what mindfulness is. Or isn’t.

Though the interest in mindfulness for mental health and well-being that is the primary colour of its application and study in hospitals is present in the workplace stream, too, here that was just a hue. The background colour here is that organisations should  employ mindfulness as a tool to deliver a very specific set of benefits – in other words, measurable results in terms of productivity, profitability and cost control.

Having completed the main report, presumably the next steps for Mindful Nation UK will involve following up on its main recommendations which, as stated in the report, are aimed at policy initiatives sponsored by government departments and ministries. This is, of course, a good thing but I wonder whether commercial enterprises can be influenced by government health messages in quite the same way as for the NHS or the criminal justice system. Workplaces are diverse, independent and widespread and difficult to herd. On the other hand, they are also interdependent when it come to looking out for ‘the next big thing’ in profit boosting or development to bring competitive advantage (even though, by definition, competitive advantage cannot be achieved with something everyone has access to). There is no doubt that mindfulness is on an upward trajectory and momentum right now; it’s seriously sexy. This is partly because awareness is intrinsically a good and beneficial thing for learning and living, but increasingly (at least for a while) also because many companies will want to adopt programmes for training (i.e. productivity) purposes because it’s what everyone else is doing.  This will make it very big business.

This energy was evident in the short break-out discussions in the room after the main presentations. I sat in on the group discussing “how to make the business case for mindfulness” but as I listened to the various answers and responses to this (and the inherent worry that if you can’t show hard, bottom-line evidence of its efficacy) three questions occurred to me:

1. Is mindfulness an “it” that can be packaged up and sold in this way? Isn’t the nature one of being, not doing? It’s precisely this benefit of not needing to be taught (the phrase ‘mindfulness practice’ is often used as a signal or trigger for practitioner groups to sit and think in a certain way. A lovely, peaceful and connected way, but surely awareness is not only this).

2. When we ask about the business case for mindfulness, haven’t we got the question the wrong way round? We seem to be trying to work out how mindfulness can contribute to the success of the organisation, making whatever criteria you have for measuring success in the organisation the aim. What if, instead, it were those criteria that ought to be in service of a greater awareness (or mindfulness, if you prefer) of the way the world is? I think this would enable many companies to rethink what they do in terms of, for example, sustainability.

3. How could an organisation “be” mindful? What would that look like?

It’s going to be an interesting process following this movement. The people are great, and inevitably interested in following their curiosity. Right now, before it has got to being its own brand, Mindful Nation UK should resist the temptation to have all the answers. The time for real discussion was too short in Shoreditch, so I hope there will be a chance to contribute over a longer period.

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the unpunctuated flow of events

How well do you know your own mind as you apply it to the world around you? You might think that would be pretty easy to answer. Knowing what a mindset is, however, is one of those things that you know if no-one asks you, but will struggle to define if you are asked to explain it.

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to close a day-long meeting organised by the Henley Forum (… for Organisational Learning and Knowledge Strategies, to give it its full name). The audience of about 60 was diverse and practical, drawn from member organisations. The theme of the whole day was “Changing mindsets and behaviours” and my segment was the last hour. I had the title “So why would anyone want to change their mindset?”

Good question, but I realised that I wasn’t going to get far in answering it without knowing what a mindset is. Not just ‘my’ mindset, but ‘a’ mindset.

Let’s start with a dictionary definition:

“Mindset, (n)… the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation, especially when these are seen as being difficult to alter.”

– Collins English dictionary online

This says first that a mindset is personal, and knowingly or unknowingly it affects how you see, notice and react to the events in the world around you. But notice, too, the tantalising confusion in this definition. Is it your ideas and attitudes that are difficult to alter, or the situation you bring these to? Were it the situation that doesn’t easily budge, a change in your approach would indeed be called for. As such, a change in mindset would be no more than a change in tactics, amounting to pragmatism.

Yet I doubt this is what is meant. I suspect they are saying that it is our ideas and attitudes that are immobile. And that the main reason this is so is because we invest a huge amount of our own individual identity in our outlook. A shift in mindset ought to be a big deal, not tailoring.

In the Henley Forum session I wanted to explore this territory. I started by wondering, aloud, whether there aren’t actually three orientations to the whole question of mindset:

1. Your mindset is a question of perception, interpretation and intent.

I think this covers just about everything people write and read on this topic, and is the closest to the dictionary definition above. In fact, it’s a common sense description of how we characterise and categorise. A modern and very popular case in point is Carol Dweck’s ‘fixed’ versus ‘growth’ mindset (the idea being that these are the choices – either you believe your worldview is the result of fixed traits (perhaps ones you are born with, or ones that don’t change because you believe they don’t), or you think that things can and do change through hard work and belief (faith?). Compare this with the famous  saying attributed somewhat erroneously attributed to Henry Ford in 1947 –  “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t… you’re probably right.” Actually, this sentiment or a variation of it has been in circulation since Virgil’s the Aenid (or even tucked away in Plato’s cave), and has been a resource for poets, scholars and politicians ever since.

So your mindset is part of you and how you meet the world, and you can choose to slice this in any way you please – that part of it is arbitrary. But does this help? Does getting only into detail of the gubbins in your mindset mean much unless you know what sort of a world enables you to have a mindset in the first place?

2. A mindset is possible through aspects of the world that are not dependent (only) on an individual’s perception. A mindset requires time, biology and a system that can form meaning (i.e. a coherent definition of mind). Without the combination of these three elements there would simply be no possibility for a mindset to mean anything. If there can be no differentiation between worldview at point A to worldview at point B, then there is no system of learning. This is a pre-requisite to the imposition of choices as to typology of mindset (the stuff of popular psychology).

As Gregory Bateson (1973) wrote, “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think”. The wrong mindset could be toxic.

3. Therefore, mindset change must be a matter of a broader and more abstract awareness of the factors that give mindset stability. This third orientation is what draws the first two together. What might such an awareness be of? With awareness at both of the levels mentioned above, and with some input here from Siegel (2007), I think we might find the following useful:

a. Non-reaction to inner thoughts. Entering the world of your thoughts is one thing – standing back and observing one’s own internal language as if hearing them as another person might is another matter

b. Acuity of our observation of sensations available to us, plus the absence of pre-judgement of that experience

c. Aware action, preferably spontaneous action (by spontaneous I mean the paradox of managing to surprise even yourself, as the master archer who releases the arrow without saying ‘now’)

d. Our own eloquence and literacy in both 1 and 2 above.  This is one of the functions, I believe, of personal development and the reason I think it important that it is the job of education to be rigorous and precise rather than clear and simple.

My own starting point for this is a presupposition: that the world/universe/life etc. is going on all around (and consciousness that this is so) of its own accord and in and of itself it contains no punctuation. For humans, this presents a problem – we cannot make sense this way, so we punctuate this flow. More about this in a future post…

References:

Bateson, G., (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Chicago University Press

Siegel, D., (2007), The Mindful Brain in Human Development: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-being (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology, Norton

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Chalk fall St Margaret's 2013

I’ve been an occasional reader of a second-hand book I purchased some time ago. It seems that these days all my reading is occasional, nearly always of second-hand books (thanks to Amazon 1 penny offers and Oxfam Books), but anyway…

This one is “Bruce Lee: Artist of Life” about martial artist, actor and philosopher Bruce Lee (1940 – 1973). It is is a compilation of writings and notes by Lee put together by his biographer, John Little. A voracious reader as well as tireless athlete, Bruce Lee had a remarkable eye for the simple essence of living.

This is an extract, from a section entitled “The Six Diseases”:

“1. The desire for victory.

2. The desire to resort to technical cunning.

3. The desire to display all that you have learned.

4. The desire to overawe the enemy.

5. The desire to play a passive role.

6. The desire to get rid of whatever disease you are likely to be infected with.

“To desire” is an attachment. “To desire not to desire” is also an attachment. To be unattached, then , means to be free at once from both statements, positive and negative. In other words, this is to be simultaneously both “yes” and “no”, which is intellectually absurd. However, not so in Zen!

The undifferentiated center of a circle that has no circumference: the jeet kune do man should be on the alert to meet the interchangeability of the opposites. But as soon as his mind “stops” with either of them, it loses its own fluidity. A jeet kune do man should keep his mind always in a state of emptiness so that his freedom in action will never be obstructed.”

This reminds me of the image used by Alan Watts to illustrate the spontaneity sought by those wishing to be in tune with the Tao, that of the archer releasing the arrow without first saying ‘now’.

How tricky it is for a manager to act in their own field of practice in this way!

Reference:

Little, J, (1999), Bruce Lee: Artist of Life, Tuttle publishing (p. 196)

Jeet kune do was Lee’s term for the martial art process and philosophical approach (he did not call it a style) that he developed

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We passed by this temple while on the Philosophers walk, a tranquil path leading along the foot of the hills on the eastern idea of Kyoto. It leads to the Silver Temple at Ginkakuji, but when we saw the crowds there we turned back to visit this hidden gem instead.

The Honen-in site dates back to the end of the 17th century but commemorates the life and teaching of a priest called Honenko-Genku (1133-1212), who was interested in how the teachings of the Buddha could be applied to everyone, not just the elite. 

  

roots

  

raked

  

moss

          

Amitha buddha

  

bridge

       

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In the film Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansen’s character Charlotte is shown travelling by herself on the Shinkansen from Tokyo for a day exploring the temples and gardens of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient and atmospheric former capital city. I’ve always wanted to make the same journey, and now have the opportunity not for a day trip but six nights, and not in a hotel but in a Machiya (a small dwelling house with tatami mats in a densely built up area of the downtown, and not alone as I’m travelling with my wife, Gina.

So, is Kyoto…. different?  For any non-Japanese person visiting Japan, EVERYTHING is different, so this place is no different in that respect. 

But Kyoto does have a different vibe from the various and varied parts of Tokyo that we saw. For one thing, it’s navigable in a way that Tokyo is not. Kyoto is built on grids, encircled by green hills, and with several landmarks to make it easier to know where you are. Much more significantly, it is laid back and calm in a way that perhaps other parts of the country find more of a struggle. We are in a quiet neighbourhood, true, but nowhere does. the city feel hyper (under the surface, of course, it may be) ,…. The locals seem very respectful of your complete inability to know how to behave in a civilised manner. Live and let live (in ignorance, if so wished) personified. 

The temples are impressive, especially the gardens, but it’s the mundane, the side streets, the small shops and the woodland walks (as in the picture) where anything like zen is manifest most strikingly. There is much art and craft here, and every transaction is a complete and full experience.  Even buying a bottle of water is a ceremony that leaves you feeling you have just been a most honoured guest. 

Yes, I could most definitely write a book on personal development here. There is even a route near our house called the Philosopher’s Path!

My haiku….

Kyoto June walk,

pass through woodland in the rain.

Moths meet on the wing

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A leader at work? I photographed this dung beetle working hard at recycling on an earlier trip to South Africa

A leader at work? I photographed this dung beetle working hard at recycling on an earlier trip to South Africa

Well, I’ve just returned from delivering two, three-day MBA Starter Workshops in Johannesburg, alongside a couple of Henley colleagues. Exhausting, but also what fun! I am – as always – amazed at the diversity of the group, and the range of reasons for being at Henley. Many have stories of adversity early in life, or in recent generations, and this is even more of a tribute to their belief in themselves and their determination to learn and grow. And the spirit to make a better country and continent.

The Starter workshop kind of divides in four areas, or themes. There is the “getting-to-know-you” element, and the faster this is done, the easier it is to get the intake to tune into how that diversity will be the key to the other three. Second comes the topic of Personal Development – discussed in one way or another elsewhere in this blog. There is always too much to say, too little time to say it and too few opportunities to check what impressions are, but we will return to the topic of awareness and reflection in later PD workshops with both the new Intakes, so I hope to follow this thread with them. Third comes the input on study skills and all the know-how needed actually to complete an MBA. The vehicle, or excuse, for talking about those things is (broadly) the topic of Leadership.  It’s not too much of a stretch to see how a discussion of the models, concepts and theories of leadership make for engaging interaction at the start of an MBA, but I’m keenly aware that I shy away from using the L-word in the Personal Development part of the Starter.

So, do I know what leadership is? Not really. I have an opinion, which is summed up most eloquently for me in the words of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching:

“The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right. It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them. And when good things are accomplished, it lays no claim to them.”

Leadership, if it is anything at all, arises from followership (and vice versa), and ought to be a spontaneous act. Hubris is not real leadership, though nearly all those we hold up as examples will find that this is what the stage they are standing on is constructed of.

(By the way, “Anganomkhankanyo” is Zulu for “I have no idea!”)

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