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Mindset in stone?

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

The Six Diseases

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

Lion fountain in Vörösmarty tér, Budapest

Lion fountain in Vörösmarty tér, Budapest

Keleti (Eastern) railway station in Budapest has been much in the news lately thanks to the Hungarian government’s flip-flop position on the passage of refugees (who, having fled homes made unsafe by war, paid smugglers and risked drowning, have lost nearly everything) seeking to find asylum in the European Union. As a portion of the total population of the countries they come from, these crowds are small (most of Syria’s refugees are in other part of Syria or in camps in neighbouring states such as Lebanon and Jordan), but there has been no co-ordinated attempt to process those who have travelled to Europe.

Keleti station was also where I found myself arriving to in 1987 on a train from Vienna Westbahnhof, at the start of what turned out to be an 18 year separation from my country of origin. In my own head, I fancied myself something like the like the narrator in Christopher Isherwood’s Mr Norris Changes Trains, and I don’t think flying in to Hungary would have had the same impact. Trains are less generic than planes, and terminus stations inject you in to the heart of the city. On the way they give you sneak previews of back gardens, back bedrooms (and the lives that must go on in them) and the state of people’s fences and side streets forces you to contrast with how they look on the other side of the border.

On a train you inhale the country from behind glass before you step down onto the platform and into the crowd. For me, it was simply exotic to see people going about their daily business. Many in uniform (nearly all Hungarian conscripts, a few Russian officers), others dragging many heavy bags with bags taking “goods” to sell in one of the city’s markets, and a few tourists and visitors, like me. The atmosphere further enhanced by the (to me) by the odd-smelling tobacco smoke and even odder smelling fumes from some of the cheaper motor cars in the streets outside. Plus, of course, the exotic further destinations on offer…. Moscow, Bucharest, Berlin, Athens.

You didn’t have to be in Hungary too long for it to be impressed upon you, with both pride and worry, that Hungary is just one of those countries on transit routes in and out of Europe. Whether Hungary itself was in or out of Europe was never answerable, not completely. The rhetoric from the Hungarian authorities in English toward the EU may fairly be paraphrased as “this is just us imposing the EU’s own regulations on the registration of refugees”. But the script in-country appears to be darker; the language and tone is more about exclusion and the protection of ‘heritage’.

Here are a few recent Orban quotes, just on the topic of immigration (taken from this blog posting on The Orange Files):

 

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“Economic immigration is a bad thing in Europe. It shouldn’t be seen as something that is of any use at all, because it just brings difficulty and danger to the European person. This is why immigration must be stopped. This is the Hungarian viewpoint.” January 11, 2015, speaking to Hungarian Television reporter while in Paris to attend the Republican Marches against terrorism (source in Hungarian).

“At the same time, one must make it very definitely clear that we will not permit—at least as long as I am the prime minister and as long is this government exists—it will not happen that Hungary becomes the target of immigrants.” January 11, 2015, speaking to Hungarian Television reporter while in Paris to attend the Republican Marches against terrorism (source in Hungarian).

“We do not want to see among us significant minorities that possess different cultural characteristics and background than us. We would like to preserve Hungary as Hungary.” January 11, 2015, speaking to Hungarian Television reporter while in Paris to attend the Republican Marches against terrorism (source in Hungarian).

“We do not want a multicultural society.” February 5, 2015, during interview with the German dailyFrankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (source in Hungarian).

“We want no more people to come. Those who are here, go home!” May 8, 2015, speaking about the refugee camp in Debrecen, the largest in Hungary (source in Hungarian).

“This camp must not be developed, but closed and those who live in it sent home!” May 8, 2015, speaking about the refugee camp in Debrecen, the largest in Hungary (source in Hungarian). 

“We would like it if Europe would continue to belong to the Europeans.” May 19, 2015, speaking during a European Parliament plenary-session debate regarding the Orbán government’s stance on immigration and the death penalty (source in Hungarian).

“Now they are calling us to account because we don’t argue in the questionnaires that you have to like immigrants. After all of this, why should we like them?”  June 5, 2015, speaking with regard to the government’s National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism on pro-government state-run Kossuth Radio (source in Hungarian).

“There is no political persecution in either Serbia, Macedonia or Greece. Thus those who arrive here have come from countries where they don’t qualify as refugees. They don’t have to flee from there, thus I would like to make it clear that everybody, regardless of why they left their homeland, is a subsistence immigrant (megélhetési bevándorló) once they arrive in Hungary, because they could have stayed in Serbia as well.” June 5, 2015, speaking with regard to the government’s National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism on pro-government state-run Kossuth Radio (source in Hungarian).

“There is no chance, we are going to send you back. This continent will not be your homeland, you have your own homeland, this is our homeland, we built it. We will gladly work together with you, we have our laws, respect them if you want to come here, which also has its own regulations. But it is impossible that you run across our fences and our borders in a way that violates the law.” July 3, 2015, on what to say to migrants who intend to enter Hungary illegally (source in Hungarian).

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Today even the Pope spoke out on this issue (Orban makes much of his immigration policy on defending Christian values). The BBC reported Pope Francis urging “every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe” to take in a family. The absurdity of the FIDESZ position is brought further into focus by the fact that many Hungarians have themselves had to flee as refugees in the last 100 years, and that the key event in the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall was the presence in makeshift camps in Hungary of thousands of East Germans, who also wanted only to cross the border.

IMG_0166

Back in 1987 on my own journey, I was being met by the manager of the language school I had been brought in to teach at, so I spent all of 10 minutes at Keleti, and not down to the huge subterranean concourse area of newspaper sellers, fast-food and pastry shops, and people warily selling all sorts of cheap goods. The type of welcome that the Syrian and Afghan refugees have encountered in recent months and, in particular, days in Budapest has veered from levels of volunteer warmth and empathy on a par with what we are seeing in many German and Austrian cities (locals offering food, water, shelter and care, and government agencies acting compassionately to offer aid) down to rather low, state-condoned purgatory and authoritarian and heavy-handed marshalling.

All the while Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, seems have been using the opportunity to make himself politically popular at home by adopting Donald Trumpian levels of political incorrectness abroad.

The test of democracy is not whether you can vote someone like this in, but whether you can vote them out. If not, then plenty of normal and decent Hungarians may also start voting with their feet.

 

the statue in the Peace Park. one hand poioignantly pointing to the sky, the other spread in calming peaceful gesture

  

a lone visitor in thought

  

Ground zero, a day after the attack

   We are in Nagasaki. You cannot visit this city and not go to the hypocentre,  the place where  the plutonium weapon dropped by the United States was exploded 500 meters above the ground. The place is roughly 3km north of the city centre and they have built a moving and well thought-through museum nearby. There is also a still, calm and solemn memorial hall with underground vault, and a peace park, both dedicated to the memory of those who died in the first terrible seconds (75,000) or soon after (another 75,000) from fire, injury, radiation and so on. In the hall of remembrance, over 166,000 names are now stored in an elegant glass column.

I suspect there are a number of places in the world synonymous with human tragedy and foolishness. It is part of our being a member of the human race that we make  the effort and take the time, if we can, to visit and understand at close proximity what went on, and why. Yad Vashem, NYC Ground Zero, the WW1 battlefields, Auschwitz, I guess there are are other such names and places around the world. 

What hit home for me here in Nagasaki were two aspects:

  1. The cold, hard timeline of American military planning. They had decided to use the atom bomb on Japan in the summer of 1944, and had drawn up many shortlisted targets, including Kyoto and Tokyo. Nagasaki had made it on to their list because it had been relatively unscathed in bombing raids. This meant that they could gather more data on the effects of an atomic device on a civilian population. That is how brutal the war had become. Nagasaki had not been the primary target of this second device (which indicates that the aim was to use it come what may), but cloud cover meant that Kokura was spared. 
  2. The other thing was personal testimonies of the survivors (Japanese, mainly, but also Koreans and Allied POWs) and the personal possessions of those who persished.  You have to stand right under where the detonation was, and look up, to imagine…

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

       

Orientation

bell at the Shoren-in temple, Kyoto, sonorous when struck…

Isn’t it odd that we so rarely examine the background to or assumptions behind our words?  This is at least so in English – I cannot speak (no pun intended) for other languages.  For example, our word ‘orientation’ – crucial for induction at the start of any new process, such as an MBA, is originally been rooted in the act of facing to the East, to the Orient,  or the Holy Land, or Mecca, or perhaps (for the more awake) China, India and Japan…? We seem to rely so much on needing a place to be in line with. Ideologies require an orientation or they remain meaningless.  So where is the orientation for the task of management? Does management struggle for an orientation? Where is its central point, or axis? Following Gregory Bateson, and interpreting Anthony Wilden, I’m going to say that – whatever else it might be – management is an open system with the following characteristics:

  • A question of process and form, not matter substance
  • Holistic, entirely a matter of contexts, and contexts of contexts (hierarchical and context sensitive)
  • The organised and socially mediated use of information (where both-and thinking trumps either-or for productivity)
  • Subject to positive and negative feedback loops (where negative feedback is the constraint)
  • By its nature, open to novelty, surprise and innovation
  • Communicative in its behaviours (as well as its non-behaviours, which can also be communication), and with a capacity for memory
  • Every behaviour is also a question about the appropriate response for management to make

These may be a start in the definition of an orientation beyond “making money”.  ************

The mystery of why you do not see locals in Kyoto eating food while out in public may have been solved. Today, while half-way through tucking into a delicious artisan doughnut in the gardens of the Imperial Palace, a bird of prey swooped down (from the blind side) and deftly grabbed the uneaten portion in its talons, and… I was robbed. 

The hawk in question was a Tombi (below). 

Tombi, or Black Hawk, or doughnut thief!

Luckily, the park had some beautiful trees to make up for the loss. But from now on I will be eating indoors. It turns out that these birds have form in this regard. 

   
    

 
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

While away in Japan, I am reading a book called ‘the Rules are no Game’, by Anthony Wilden. This is a very unusual book, exploring communication, information and  –  luckily for me at the moment given current project – strategy. It’s already throwing up some gems, as the extract below illustrates, and promises much in the way of a Batesonian influence in thinking.

      “Scientia potestas est: ‘knowledge is power’. So said Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), pioneer of modern science. But not all knowledge is equally powerful. Knowledge of codes, knowledge of structure, knowledge of strategy – this is not mere knowledge, but literacy. Literacy is power.” (Wilden, 1987 p. 58)

I like the contrast between knowing something and being literate in it. Another quotable entry in the introductory chapter (an overview of the subject of history in strategy) is this:

        “You cannot beat strategy with tactics.” (p. 48)

Wilden is fond also of Sun Tzu on strategy, something that I perhaps need to revisit.

In other news, the solar-powered plane on its way across the immensely challenging Pacific leg of a round-the-world trip has turned back from launch in Japan. No shortage of sunshine here, but the weather out in the ocean looked threatening. 
Reference

Wilden, A. (1987), The Rules Are No Game: the strategy of communication, Routledge. 

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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