The Human Organisation

Odd, I thought,  seeing a dog with a box tied to his collar. The owners explained that it was an “anti-barking collar”, which sprays a blast of citronella into the dog’s face every time it barks. After a while it stops barking. The owners were very happy about this, but it made me wonder, is a dog complete without a bark?


Thinking about this coming weekend’s “Responsive Organisation” event I began to ask myself whether, instead of becoming more responsive, our challenge is really to become more vocal, more human, more “complete”.

With 73% of employees “disengaged”, it seems that the most important issues many workers face are escaping drudgery, transforming relationships at work, reconnecting with each other, being more creative, playful and feeling good about what we do. Evidence shows that if we can shift towards a better quality of working life then the chances are we will become more responsive, but as a side effect rather than the main event.

In many ways, “responsive” seems pretty similar to “efficient”. Rising to the challenge of competing organisations and customers means that we would need to become more responsive and efficient. The fundamental driver (born in the tech industry) seems to be “how can we move even faster to keep up with our customers and out run our competitors?”. This approach assumes that the problem we need to solve is one of not being fast enough.

Another way to look at it is that the problem we need to solve is our acceptance of demands for more and faster. It begs the question, where does it end? What do we do when even networked organisations are just not fast enough?

Our primary goal should be to improve our quality of life generally, not just for customers and shareholders but for everyone involved in the process. The networked movement presents an invitation to be more vocal, connected, creative and free. These things are in themselves a fantastic gift and something we should embrace.

But I think the reason why it’s important to make the distinction between agility and quality as the headline goal is because there is a risk we could lose sight of what really matters in our quest to move ever faster.

Here’s a blast from the past. Can you believe that it’s almost 10 years since this TED talk?:

So I wonder, does there come a point when we would reject, or even reduce, efforts to create a happier workplace if there were no related increase in responsiveness? Or is it enough to improve the quality of our relationships and life without an improvement in responsiveness? Could we work as a network and embrace a slower pace?

Perhaps what we need to do is re-find our voices and push back a little.



I removed 1,000 words from this post so you could enjoy some space.


Breathing underwater

Try this when you’re next in the bath. Put your head back into the water until your ears are submerged. Listen closely, and you should be able to hear your own pulse.


I love being in water, but when I was learning to dive there came a point which I found slightly traumatic: the bit when you have to fill your mask with water and clear it by breathing through your nose. The fear of that exercise alone made me want to give up and get out. But once I’d got over the panic and relaxed into it, I wondered what all the fuss had been about.

It’s hard to imagine that a few million years ago creatures emerged from the sea and made the transition to land, but it seems as though the magnitude of the challenge facing us right now is not dissimilar. And it feels almost hopeless, sometimes, when you see how destructive our behaviour can be.

Last week there was a strike at the local council and none of the bins were collected. Walking around town, I was struck by the sheer volume of rubbish we produce and how most people continued to just dump it in the street. In places, you couldn’t even walk along the pavement for exploded black sacks. Some people even decided to take the opportunity to dump a whole bunch of other stuff that they wouldn’t normally, like old mattresses, armchairs and builders’ waste. It seemed like a very visual expression of separation:  “That’s someone else’s problem”. At work, a similar phenomenon manifests in the attitude that says “I’m here to do my work and then I go home”. The idea of “our work” can seem alien, let alone “our relationships” at work.

On a personal level, people can find it hard to connect all the different aspects of their personality and stop acting in a way that’s self destructive. Take for example people’s struggle with dietary issues. The doctor explains what will happen if you don’t change. But sometimes it’s too hard to break the routine and step outside the comfort zone, even when the consequences are staring us in the face.

I’ve been working with an exercise designed to help you reconnect aspects of your subconscious (you can find details in Debbie Ford’s “Dark Side of the Light Chasers”). It involves finding different ‘characters’ who represent your different aspects. The way the exercise works is that you first need to take yourself into a relaxed state of mind. Then, imagine yourself in different settings where you find different characters. For example, passengers on a bus.  More recently, I found a character in an unexpected location: underwater. This type of exercise is not something I’m terribly familiar with. It is an exploration into the unknown. But it feels like an important one.

Anyway, I think the reassuring thing is that the reality of a challenge is rarely anything like as traumatic as the anticipation. The fear of approaching the edge versus the aliveness of taking the plunge.

Burying shadows

Woke up Saturday morning thinking about this passage from Dorian Gray..

“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”

And in a way, I feel as though I have been dying a little bit lately. So I woke up with Oscar Wilde in my head and I started to wonder, in the end, what’s worse: breaking the rules or obeying them?

You’ve probably already seen this post by Bronnie Ware (“Regrets of the Dying”) but even if you have, it’s worth another look. Obviously, Bronnie is talking about people who are literally at the end of their life. Still, I think the messages are equally relevant if you feel that a part of you is fading away.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence… many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

Rod Judkins‘ brilliant book on creativity, “Change Your Mind“,  identifies some other challenges to living a full life..

“Don’t give yourself the option of mediocrity and safety. If you have something to fall back on, chances are you will. In our life and work we often feel under pressure to do what is sensible…  to live a creative life you need to be liberated from being sensible… the pressure to be sensible is stifling and suffocating.” 

Something else that can be stifling is the idea that we need to “live true”. What does that mean? You may sense that something isn’t quite right, but how can you know what is your true life?

At one workshop with Charles Eisenstein last year we did a powerful exercise, which works something like this: You choose a subject over which you are having a struggle and describe it to your partner. Then your partner tells you two contrasting stories that explain the situation and what you need to do. Your partner then asks you what is the truth. It sounds easy, but it’s not. Your partner keeps asking over and over “what is the truth, right now?”, until the whole truth comes out. In my case the truth really came out the following day as though my subconscious mind had been working it through overnight. I woke up in tears and with an answer.

Today’s chosen mood: Anger

Well, not the title I was expecting to choose on a Sunday morning!


One person I follow on Twitter regularly posts up what their ‘chosen mood’ is on any particular day. Things like “alive and awake”, “humble”, “prolific”, “luminous”, “fun!”. I think the idea is that you influence how you feel day-to-day and where you want to go by consciously choosing aspirational sentiments. I do like the idea and I would probably choose something like “magnificent!” on a regular basis.

But it got me to thinking, what about all the less pleasant emotions that everyone feels, what do we choose to do with them? I wonder whether there is a danger that those aspects of our lives which feel hurt, anger or frustration might end up being ignored, repressed and pushed into our unconscious. The risk being that they pop up in places when you’re not expecting them. For example, snapping at your kids or “kicking the dog”.

Here’s a contrasting view on Twitter last week:

I wonder whether it may be healthier to at least acknowledge and articulate those other emotions.

People and organisations are becoming more and more savvy when it comes to Social Media. Carefully designed guidelines and online reputation management can leave a rather saccharine after taste. Have you ever been surprised when you finally meet someone you had only previously connected with online to find that in real life there was a whole side to them you hadn’t seen?

To finish with, here’s my favourite passage from my all time favourite book, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World..

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.’
‘In fact,’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.’ 
‘All right then,’ said the Savage defiantly, ‘I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.’ 
‘Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.’ 
There was a long silence. ‘I claim them all’ 

Anatomy of a Moment

Patience has not always been my strongest point.

For me, the flipside of enthusiasm is invariably impatience. Quite often I find that when I’m feeling most motivated and energised, my patience levels evaporate.You’d think energy and motivation would be good things. But the impacts of reacting instinctively, without pause, can range from simply missing opportunities to a blazing row.

The other form of impatience that I’d like to address is the one born of being self absorbed or introverted. The sort of impatience that says we don’t have time to talk to the person in the street carrying out a survey or raising money for charity. Or the impatience that turns down the offer of a cup of tea or something similar at work, for fear of getting drawn into a long conversation or the expectation of having to reciprocate (heaven forbid!). I’ve found myself being guilty of all of the above but the strange thing is that almost every time, I regret it when it’s too late and the moment has gone.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’, he talks about “taking charge of the first two seconds”.

“Every moment… is composed of a series of discrete moving parts, and every one of those parts offers an opportunity for intervention, for reform, and for correction”

Opening the fridge the other day, this carton design (by Innocent) reminded me of the idea.

Anatomy of a Sip3

In an attempt to do something about it, I’ve been trying meditation. It’s not hard to find suggestions about how to meditate on the Net. For a superb, comprehensive and simple guide, the best I’ve found so far is contained in HHDL’s “How To See Yourself As You Really Are”

Peter Bregman’s excellent HBR blog talks about another benefit of meditation that is increasing your capacity to resist distracting urges.

Research shows that an ability to resist urges will improve your relationships, increase your dependability, and raise your performance.”

After attempting and giving up in the past I’ve been making a more concerted effort over the past few days to set aside time. This means an hour or so before the rest of the family wakes up in the morning and ten minutes or so before a planned meeting, especially one-to-one sessions. So far so good. I’ve not missed a morning session yet and I have noticed myself being more positive, calm and focused. But above all, I do feel more patient and in control of those first 2-3 seconds. Just got to keep it up now!

Journey Inwards

It feels as though I’ve reached a turning point and the start of something new.

With questions about “why?”, “what’s the purpose?” and “where are we headed?”, I’ve been digging into some new and old philosophical and psychological literature.

Before Christmas, I attended  an intense workshop with Charles Eisenstein and the thought provoking Meaning Conference (see previous post).

In December, we took eight weeks out to travel to the other side of the World; I turned 40; and completed five years at my current job. This year we will have been married for 10 years, with a whole new focus.

Three weeks ago I embarked on a stripped down diet removing gluten, sugar, meat, dairy, caffeine and alcohol (although I have to confess to one or two spectacular descents from the wagon on the latter!)

And this week I attended an enlightening four day leadership and self awareness exploration.

Without doubt, I’m more at the beginning of a journey than the end. I think it may be what Jung describes as a process of “individuation”. What’s been interesting so far is the deep realisation that much of what I thought was true may not be quite so certain, especially in terms of what I think others need versus what they actually need. Similarly, I’m finding out more about what I need, both consciously and unconsciously. It’s been illuminating, shining a light on the blind spots.

What’s also dawning on me is that, paradoxically, the way forward to achieving a deeper understanding of what’s inside requires the help of others.