personal manifesto: get and stay unstuck

disciplines - US

The next section of my manifesto is about four disciplines, the exercise of which, for me, are critical for living well.

Get and stay unstuck

In the early 1990s I wrote a life plan that included some ambitious contribution to significant change. I was working within an organisation and was part of a vocational network that I had no reason to doubt would shape the rest of my career. I had significant leadership roles and found kindred spirits whenever I travelled around the world. I felt like I was part of something big and important.

Then I gradually became unsettled. I developed hunches that my contribution would not lead to the kinds of changes I had imagined. Having spent the first fifteen years of my working life on a trajectory within the not-for-profit sector, I wondered what it would look like to work for myself. I had no commercial experience, and I’m mostly glad I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I really had no idea what I was doing really, I quit the world I knew and ventured into the unknown. And the world opened up for me like a spring flower on time lapse. I got unstuck from the career trajectory that I had expected would define my contribution over a lifetime. I met people, engaged ideas and discovered rich values and communities that I would have never believed existed. I had no regrets about my vocation until then, but the new worlds that I encountered help me appreciate how ‘big’ life can be.

I had tasted what it was like to make a change. A real change. I knew I would never allow myself to be stuck again.

Rituals and habits are fabulous. They give life stability and are an extremely efficient way to make decisions. Imagine if I had to decide what to do afresh every morning in my getting-ready-for-work routine. Debilitating.

One of the ways to determine the healthiness of a particular routine is to assess the ease with which I can choose not to do it. If I find myself without a real choice, then I am addicted. And addiction is always a bad thing. It is healthy to be able to choose to do something, even if I make that choice relentlessly for the rest of my life.

This can be confusing when overlaid with my personality or psychological preferences. These hard-wired attributes incline me to act in certain ways. For example, I might be inclined to wash the dishes every night after dinner. Tick. But if I simply cannot go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink, I have a problem. Trivial at one level maybe, but it reflects being hostage to a habit, rather than a habit being in service to me.

A life well lived is one in which I make choices about the circumstances that define my life and / or my response to them. Choices determine how I spend my time every day, but the accumulation of choices (or non-choices) over time determine how I spend my life.

It is a foolish naivety to believe I can ‘have the life I want’. Such platitudes come from positions of power with rare acknowledgment of the systems, privilege and luck that supported the ‘rise.’ But even with that caveat, sometimes I believe I am stuck when I am not.

I can change careers, I can move cities, I can become healthier. But I must embrace the consequences of the choices to do so. Inertia is insidiously strong. If I am in a pattern of living and relating that has been developed over time, what started as a productive groove can become a debilitating rut. I can feel like I’m stuck on the treadmill.

By looking at my life through the pleasure, betterness and meaning lens, I can determine which levers I need to pull to live more fully. If the ‘ruts are deep’, some disruption may be necessary to make a change. So be it.

I need to beware the inclination to change things that are simply uncomfortable or hard; to avoid responsibility or seek easy-street. That is not what I am talking about here. I am talking about a life where pleasure, betterness and meaning are in harmony over time, a life where I am fully alive. Discretion and wisdom will help me determine what circumstances I am stuck with over the long haul, and which ones I can navigate away from.

Getting unstuck is also not about moving on or leaving. Getting unstuck is about moving to. Making effective life-changing decisions is about executing a long term (or at least a medium term) vision. It is about taking steps to put the elements of life in place that allow me to harmonise pleasure, betterness and meaning for the long haul.

Mountain-top epiphanies aside, there is rarely a compelling time to make the big calls. However, learning to make decisions from a projected five year time frame is a helpful attitude. “If I could look back on my life now from the vantage point of five years down the track, what would I wish I had had the courage to do, but didn’t?” “What am I spending my energy on now, that feels important in the moment, but in five years time will seem like a waste of effort from the perspective of what matters over time?”

The commitment to get unstuck, and the discipline to stay unstuck, is a potent antidote to long term regret.

Questions that help me get and stay unstuck

1. What do I dream of in life? What is holding me back that I could change if I chose to?

2. What are the consequences of biting the bullet and making the change? What will I do to manage those consequences or implications?

personal manifesto: home

(All the pieces of my personal manifesto fit together and build the bigger picture, so to get the full meaning you’ll need to scan the previous posts, in particular, for this post, the one on community.)

Home: a place to love

Identifying with a community or tribe helps me understand and communicate who I am in the world. My drives for pleasure, betterness and meaning are rarely hidden; they are about my engagement in the external world and so by definition are ‘public’ pursuits. But the extent to which my engagement with those communities is healthy, is determined somewhere else. The formation of who I am is inner work. I am who I really am when no one is looking.

‘Home’ is that place where I am free to be my unpolished self. It is also the place where that small number of people I call my family are free to be their unpolished selves too. The quality of my being in the external world, the demeanour and character with which I pursue pleasure, betterness and meaning is determined by the love I experience at ‘home’.

Note that home is not necessarily the family home, or indeed the house where I am living. It is the space, where I am accepted unconditionally and accept unconditionally. If community is about belonging, home is about love.

What happens if I don’t have a ‘home’ in this sense of the word? I compensate, and I look for it in the various communities to which I belong or am seeking belonging. But there is a hard edge to this; without a loving home – a place where I am unconditionally accepted and accept – my engagement in the external world, my pursuit of pleasure, betterness and meaning, will tend to become a search for ‘home’, and my ‘performance’ and corresponding affirmation in those arenas becomes a surrogate for a loving home. My navigation of life will be characterised by recurring indications that society in general or people specifically ‘owe me something’

The counter is naturally also true; that if I love and am loved unconditionally, if there is a place where I am relationally secure and safe, I will be equipped to engage in the public pursuit of pleasure, betterness and meaning with confidence and grace.

I am screwed up. I am not free from the psychological impact of living among other screwed up people. This is not about perfection, a sure psychological illusion. It is about a foundation of self esteem and a confidence with which I can engage our society with the primary posture of being a giver rather than a taker. I have a deep need to be loved and affirmed for who I am. Without a ‘home’ where this need is at least partially satisfied, the rest of my life becomes dominated by social maneuvering and manipulation to get people to affirm me.

There is a paradox here, similar to the one in the meaning discussion. The path to be loved is to love. Children aside, there is no shortcut to being loved. I can manipulate people into doing things that look like love, but they aren’t love. Of course just because I love someone does not guarantee that person loves me back, so loving can never be a ‘strategy’ to get loved. Love is simply the highest and most potent human act. But unlike self actualisation that sits on top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, love is not the end point. Love is the beginning and the end, the foundation and the peak.

The pursuit of a well lived life, the sustained satisfaction that comes from harmonising pleasure, betterness and meaning, starts and ends with a place to love.

Questions to help me understand my home(s).

  1. With whom and where am I most ‘at home’?
  2. Who do I really know and love? Who really knows and loves me?
  3. How will I become more vulnerable and give more ‘at home’? What do those I love need most (from me) in this season of life?

personal manifesto: community – both critical and dangerous

I have learned that there are two foundations, without which my intention to cultivate a life characterised by pleasure, betterness and meaning remains a fantasy. In my personal manifesto, section two is about these two foundations, the first of which I call ‘community’. I think that community is both critical and dangerous.

Community: a place to belong

My pursuit of pleasure, betterness and meaning almost always happens with other people. The most enjoyable sensual experiences tend to be shared. Of course I have great experiences on my own, but I would feel impoverished if my best encounters with the beauty in the world were always solo. I tend to gravitate to doing fun stuff with others, it is in my nature as a relational being.

The same can be said for our efforts to improve ourselves (betterness). Whether it is scrap booking, space travel, mastering a rubrics cube or playing cricket, we find a community of people who share our passion. In the context of that community we encourage each other, share information and tips, and enjoy the comradeship associated with shared achievement. We do better together than individually. Team sport, is an obvious but potent illustration of how this works in our lives.

If collaboration, comradeship and community are hallmarks in our pursuit of betterness, it is even more foundational in our pursuit of meaning. We find a group of people who believe the same as us when it comes to what is most important in life, and we ‘join up’. Whether it is a young mothers group, a faith community or environmental activist collective, we find in community a collective voice that stirs and fortifies us. Sometimes, in values driven organisations, it is our workplace.

Communities are not, of course, necessarily mutually exclusive. Some of us are sufficiently fortunate to live or work in places where communities associated with the three drivers (pleasure, betterness and meaning) intersect. In some cases family features in one or all communities too.

Community is the place where we determine our social identity in the world. It is where we form answers to the important question of where we belong; who are the people like me? Where is my ‘tribe’?. We understand who we are in the world by how we answer these questions. This is generally a natural and a good thing.

Two things to note about the power of tribes. Firstly, the risk of fundamentalism. When we experience each of pleasure, goodness and meaning within the same tribe, and we live virtually exclusively within that tribe, we can begin to believe that we are objectively ‘right’. This is not just about religious fundamentalism, it also applies to food fundamentalism, exercise fundamentalism and of course political fundamentalism.

This can sneak up on us. At face value, belonging to a community where I experience pleasure, betterness and meaning is a good thing. When the three things combine it becomes a potent attractor and can be intoxicating. Problems emerge however when I live exclusively within that community. I socialise and contribute within a particular homogeneous context. My view of the world, potently formed and reinforced within that community, goes unchallenged by voices that I respect. (Because everyone I truly respect also identifies within the community.)

Secondly, especially when it comes to our pursuit of meaning, we tend to believe we have thought our way to a particular ideological position. In practice, what happens is we adopt the worldview of those with whom we identify as significant others in our lives, those we respect within our chosen communities. This does not mean we don’t develop robust apologetics for our cause, just that we tend to select the data to affirm the position we already hold.

However, the key point here is that a life well lived is lived in community. Community is the context within which we experience pleasure, become better at being ourselves, and contribute meaningfully to the things that matter most to us. Community is where we know we are (meaningfully) part of something bigger than ourselves. Without community my pleasure is empty, my pursuit of excellence is pointless and my contribution is futile.

Questions to help me understand my communities

1.  Who are my kindred spirits?

a. With whom do I do fun stuff?

b. With whom do I share the journey of personal (including sports and hobbies) and professional development?

c. With whom do I collaborate in seeking to make the/your world a better place?

2.  What will I do to improve my relationships with people in these groups or communities?

3. How would I describe my ‘tribe’? What other communities in my life provide a healthy challenge to the dominant perspective within my tribe? To ensure my growth and development is characterised by wisdom alongside commitment, do I need to intentionally experience pleasure, betterness or meaning with a broader range of people? If yes, what will I do?

personal manifesto: intro

In my last post I explained why I ended up writing a personal manifesto. This is the first in a series of posts where I’ll share the content. Each piece is designed to fit into a cohesive whole, so I’m a tad nervous about posting in isolation, but hopefully the little bits carry some value on their own and add some value for your own deliberations on living well. If you’d prefer to get it all at once, you can download a pdf from the bottom of this page.

If bite size is your preference, then to get a sense of where it’s going, here is the contents page.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.49.45 AM


IN MY OLD AGE, assuming I am fortunate enough to get there, I’ll be reflecting back on my life and the memories will provoke deep reactions. The panoramic view of life in hindsight will distill the reality from the rhetoric I told myself along the way. I’ll see the consequences of my choices, all of which seemed to make sense at the time, but some of which I will wish I could re-visit.

For a very long time I’ve been interested in understanding what constitutes a well lived life. What does it mean to be fully alive? Generally, I have had a good time of it: a loving, stable childhood, tons of opportunity, and some achievement. My mother is currently living with dementia, one of our daughters has a chronic disease, and one of our other kids has lost a partner in an air crash, each of which has shaped (and continues to shape) our little family significantly, but in the scheme of things we consider ourselves fortunate. Grace and luck: tick and tick. But there have also been choices; real choices that shape how life has gone. Occasionally there have been big calls (career, life partner, where to live etc), but for the most part living is defined by patterns of behaviour, patterns that are formed over time and that I perceive as part of who I am rather than choices I have made (what I do in my discretionary time, what I eat, how I exercise etc).

I have come to realise that the quality of my living has had less to do with external realities and more to do with how I see and make sense of the world; my mental models. These notes are, in that sense, a mental model. They offer a framework to help me understand what the underlying realities are, for me, in what I believe will be a well lived life; it helps explain why my life seems to be going well in any given season (or not) and as a corollary offers me a diagnostic lens to determine what I can seek to change if I have a hunch that things are not quite right.

My framework is not prescriptive. It is not about living a particular way, within a particular ideology or worldview. The framework is a set of design elements, things that I have discovered are true of my living in any context, with whatever ‘attribute hand’ I have been dealt, if I am to be fully myself, living life to the full and making choices that ensure I don’t look back on my life with regret.

The framework helps me develop a meaningful response to the question, “What kind of life have I lived so far?” and also provides a lens through which to evaluate smaller chunks of time (the seasons of life). There already exist some ways to describe elements of being ‘fully alive’, (such as mojo & flow), but I haven’t come across a single word to describe, with nuance, what I have developed here, so I have chosen to use ‘generative living’. These notes explain how I get there, and why this word has been valuable for me in figuring out better ways to live.

This is a personal manifesto. I am an educated, urban living, professional with a family. I am under no illusion that my notes here are applicable across cultures and contexts, or even for other people, although my suspicion is that those living in a similar environment might identify with some of my ideas.

There are two parts. In the first I’ve outlined the elements of a framework through which I view my life. (see below) Included in this are notes on:

  • three key drivers; pleasure, betterness and meaning
  • two foundations; home and community, and
  • four enabling disciplines; getting & staying unstuck, being uncluttered, modal living and contentment.

The second part introduces the idea of generativity; what it is and how it is a helpful frame applied to the earlier notes on living well.

overview annotated

Next post: pleasure: engaging beauty.

a personal manifesto


In every stage of my life, amidst the clutter and noise; the busyness and status anxiety; the rules and the ideologically driven pronouncements, I’ve wondered about what was most important. And then came the integrity question: under scrutiny does my actual living match what I say is valuable?

The harder I tried to write a book about what I was learning, and I tinkered away at it for many years, the more uncomfortable I became with the presumption that my reflections on my own living would be transferable and applicable for others. It seemed to me that the peculiarities of our individual experiences and identities make ‘self development’ material a loose net that only catches people who are already similar to ourselves. So I stopped trying and made peace with the reality that my ideas wouldn’t have a broad audience.

And then I realised that I was actually the main audience for the content. What I was trying to do was to capture some ideas that had formed and been really useful over the years. This recognition liberated me to go back and reframe what I had done as a personal manifesto.

There is an intro and 16 short chapters. Over the next little while I’ll post some of it. If I am the primary audience, why am I posting it? This blog has always been a journal; packaging my observations and experiences into reflective little thought bubbles has been therapeutic for me. Looking back through the hundreds of posts is like looking through an old photo album. This little book is no different, so while I needed to write it for me in this season of life, I’m happy for others to engage the ideas if helpful.

What are the dimensions of a life well lived? What kind of life am I living? What choices can I make to insure against future regret? I’ll post the intro next week.

empowerment; only partly good

This osprey lived near our place on the Sunshine Coast.

This osprey lived near our place on the Sunshine Coast.

Vocational communities are characterised by self-management (see previous post). Most people assume this is about empowerment. But as Frederic Laloux explains in Reinventing Organisations (p137), self-management is much more than that. If employees need to be empowered, it is because power is concentrated at the top of the organisation. Empowerment is the process by which those who hold power, delegate its use to those lower down in the organisation. Self-management happens when decision-making rights are distributed and held by everyone.

Make no mistake, empowerment is a great improvement on the authoritarian hierarchies of most organisations. Empowerment is the healthy processes whereby people have the capacity to give input and shape the decisions that affect their work. But the authentic self-management of vocational communities is something entirely different.

Allowing anyone in the organisation to make any decision sounds completely ridiculous from within the conventional organisational paradigm. Surely it is unworkable in practice. When Dennis Bakke was CEO of AES, a global power company with 40,000 employees, anyone could make any decision including: what they did, the salary they took, investment decisions … The mechanism used for decision-making was called the Advice System. In essence, it was mandatory to seek advice for any decision that affected others. Obviously the bigger the decision, the wider the consultation. The nature of the decision dictated the kind of expert advice sought. Importantly though, no one, not even the CEO could veto a decision.

Bakke recalls the story of Shazad Qasim a recently hired financial analyst who sought advice from him about relocating to Pakistan to expand AES’ work into that region. Bakke was sceptical given the market research the company had already conducted which had concluded AES would fail in Pakistan. However, Qasim designed a role for himself and (with extensive advice seeking with Bakke and the board) decided to invest $200M in a new power plant. Clearly this is an extreme case, but I share it to illustrate that this approach is not “Mickey Mouse”. It unleashes innovation unimaginable in conventional hierarchies.

Extraordinary injustices still exists in our society but most are widely acknowledged. In the workplace however, it is still considered, not only normal but necessary to limit the influence of voices. Self-management is not about unleashing foolishness; it is about a profound acknowledgement that extraordinary intelligence and competence is untapped in conventional organisations because of the restrictions the power hierarchy imposes on people’s ownership of the outcomes and their capacity to implement their best ideas.

It need not be so, but it will take some courageous leadership effort to change it. The future belongs to vocational communities.

comfortable partial truths

scales uneven

I get frustrated with myself sometimes when I shrink from advocating passionately for contentious issues. People I respect write fiercely provocative essays, attend rallies or pepper their social media streams with political, religious or social ideologies. And I hold back. My defence is usually, ‘It’s not that simple’, or ‘Of course you’d say X because you’ve never seriously seen the world from the perspective of people who experienced Y.’

When I was a Uni student I sat listening to a talk by a Dr Ian John. I wrote about that talk, the first time I’d come across the idea of a paradigm in this post four years ago. More recently, I came across this quote by Clay Johnson, American technologist and political campaigner.

“Who wants to hear the truth when you can hear that you are right.”

Over the years I’ve come to see that we tend to believe the things that ‘significant others’ in our lives believe. Or, in other words, we identify with a community and adopt the belief system of that community. Of course we tell ourselves we have thought rationally about our beliefs, but we usually read apologetic material from people we already believe are ‘right’.

Twice in the last month I’ve flicked through a newspaper and been genuinely shocked by the editorial pieces on climate change. Recently a full page article was mockingly pointing out that the ‘climate was refusing to rise’. If you read the Herald Sun that day, then chances are you might not have watched the ABC News the night before, during which an item discussed the records showing that 2015 had been the hottest year ever recorded. Hmmm.

In a business context we are typically pretty poor at debate too. I think it is because we hold our views too close to our professional identities. Somehow, being persuaded by a better argument is a sign of weakness. Unfortunately, what often happens is the strongest personality wins. In his excellent little books Death by Meeting and The Advantage, Patrick Lencioni goes as far as to say that unless there is conflict and debate in meetings where important issues are on the table, they are a waste of time.

So, seeking out alternative views, although uncomfortable, will strengthen our thinking incredibly. If an important issue is gaining momentum I believe it is an important role of thought leaders to appreciate alternative views. For example, if you find yourself agreeing with the increasingly mainstream arguments for euthanasia, then do what I did and seek out a robust alternative perspective. (Karen Hitchcock’s piece in the Monthly makes a strong case against the prevailing wisdom.)

There is nothing wrong with identifying with a community and telling each other stories that affirm our worldview. In fact, it a great thing, belonging and shared meaning. There is something unhealthy though, about so filtering our mental diet that we believe that everyone who believes something different is either stupid or evil. If you want to seriously understand the dynamics of why smart people end up being divided on important issues, I highly recommend Jonathon Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. If you haven’t got the time or headspace for that, and you think euthanasia is a no brainer and anyone who thinks otherwise belongs in the past, then just read Hitchcock (above).

I am still learning on this, but increasingly I find myself asking, not whether a particular view is right or wrong, but rather, ‘what are the values that either consciously or unconsciously lead to that perspective?’ Or, put another way, focus less on ‘what I think is right’, and more on ‘why I think what I think, and why others think what they think.’

If we believe what we believe because of our experience, then it follows that the only way to know whether our beliefs hold up to even our own scrutiny, is to expose ourselves to alternative perspectives and experiences – let them go. If our convictions come back to us we will hold them very differently than if we’d never let them go in the first place.

we admire bravery – but not at work

one of our Participation Behaviours from Ergo Consulting days

one of our Participation Behaviours from Ergo Consulting days

Last week at the end of a meeting I was chatting with someone about bravery. He was reflecting his frustration at having explained to a group of business leaders how acts of bravery inevitably lead to failure. The response he got was an explanation of the sophisticated risk mitigation approach the company uses. – completely missing the point. If we are brave, we will fail.

We’ve all seen it. Good practice project management always includes a risk register. But in the kind of projects I am involved with, most of the risks are managed intuitively by good practitioners anyway, so the technical security blanket does little more than add to the administrative drag on the project.

We are caught in a paradox. On the one hand, pretty much every company I work with needs innovative ways to do its business. And yet on the other, our corporate training suppresses the bravery necessary to carve out new paths. We can’t keep doing the same old things. But we can’t afford to fail trying new things.

Yesterday I drove a Patrol full of smiling faces along deserted beaches along part of the north east coast of Tassie. After we’d stopped for lunch and a swim, we had to choose whether to retrace our path back along the beach, or keep going then traverse some sand dunes back towards civilization. I’m not so experienced off road, so would have been happy swaying back through the wet and dry stretches we’d successfully negotiated in the morning. Thanks to my more adventurous brother-in-law we kept going – and got ourselves stuck half way up a soft sand hill. Oh crap. Luckily for us, a helping tow and some tips from a hardcore local had us moving again.

Last week, in the middle of a long running work project, we were stuck in a different way. Something we had worked towards for 18 months was under significant threat … lots of money and people’s jobs at stake. We’ve decided to take a risk on the way forward … no certain success but nothing ventured nothing gained.

My dad is not so mobile these days … but he is scheming to buy a little caravan to do some adventuring. He’s not sure if he’ll be able to manage, but he reckons he wants to give it a go.

We can’t have it both ways. There is no love without vulnerability. There is no carving out new directions without bravery. And just as in love, we let each other down; in life, if we choose not to play it safe, we will fail.

We admire bravery, just not at work. But we can’t have it both ways.

it takes all sorts, including yours

wooden boat rally, Launceston

wooden boat rally, Launceston

There is an emerging and predictable challenge to the millennial inspired exhortation to quit your job and follow your dreams. Just like the world champion sports person who suggests to teenagers they can achieve what ever they want, those who believe it is open to anyone who wants, to step off the job treadmill and follow their dreams is naive to how particular educational and life opportunities facilitate a capacity to navigate our social systems with capacity and power. But that doesn’t mean identifying what we enjoy and what we are good at, and figuring out how to carve out time to dedicate to them is not a healthy and even necessary part of a well lived life.

Passion and competence, and a small dose of eccentricity, was on display in spades this weekend out our front door on the marina in Launceston. We had seen the signs for the ‘wooden boat rally’, but really didn’t expect to see the number of boats that showed up. Boaties are a particular breed. Restoring and maintaining seafaring craft seems like more of a life commitment than a hobby or recreational pursuit. Seeing the workmanship and dedication that has gone into some of these huon pine, kingbilly pine and various other timber boats made me wonder about the character and skill these men possess. As we wandered past one incredible little punt, the braces wearing owner-builder offered to answer any questions about anything to do wth his boat. I couldn’t fathom what to ask that would do justice to how many years of weekends in the shed he must have spent. He would have thrived on the common appreciation of wooden boat building technical minutia, and the shared comradeship of the other eccentrics similarly hanging around their pride and joy. All I could have mustered would have been, So how long did it take? Did you have fun? … I decided to keep my mouth shut.

So while it is the domain of privilege to quit your job and sustain participation in society without dropping out, I reckon we could all do with knowing what it is that gives us joy and a sense of accomplishment. And sometimes the way we commit to work robs us of being our true selves. Seeing the proud smiles of these old salties on the water this weekend renewed my resolve to make choices to do the things I love, to figure out ways to get better at what I’m good at, and hopefully make a meaningful contribution in the process.

Have I got time in my week to do stuff that I love?

Am I becoming better at the things I’m good at, am I making progress?

Am I making a contribution that matters?

wisdom and fundamentalism

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has helped us appreciate that we never really free ourselves of our addictions. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. The impact of some addictions; drugs and alcohol, gaming, porn etc are pretty well understood and acknowledged. What about the fundamental adherence to a belief or idea?

I was thinking about this after reading Adam Kahane’s courageous, Collaborating is not the best optionThis from a man who has built a career on helping solve tough problems through thoughtful collaborative processes. Maybe I’m over-reaching a tad, but think with me about this process that has been played out countless of thousands of times in management thinking and publishing.

  • We observe or experience, something that works really well.
  • We get enthusiastic about seeing it happen again. Eventually we have a vision of applying it more broadly.
  • We distill, deconstruct or abstract the solution into a ‘formula’ or set of principles.
  • We figure out how to scale it through training others, writing a book, rolling it out at greater scale.
  • Sometimes it works great, other times it doesn’t. When it works, we feel great, because the data supports our belief that we’ve got a great ‘belief’. When it doesn’t, we typically dismiss the data, convinced that other factors must be at play. (b/c there is nothing wrong with our solution!)

About six months ago I started using a little self constructed tool we can call the ‘wellbeing grid’. Every week, on the whiteboard in my Melbourne apartment I start a clean grid. Down the left hand side are the days of the working week: Mon-Fri. Across the top I have a set of commitments that I tick off each day. They are eclectic. There are a couple of different kinds of exercise (swimming and stretching/strength), I couple of food related commitments (portion size and sugar related), some personal writing and learning (journalling and Italian language), and another more general wellbeing commitment. I have figured out, that at least for this season of life, if I can maintain my daily / weekly commitments in these areas it significantly helps my general sense of wellbeing.

It’s a great little tool, simple and flexible. I’m sure others would find it helpful too. But there is a subtle and very significant difference between saying, “This works for me”, and “This works.” Now no one wants to waste time re-inventing the wheel, so it makes great sense to learn from what works for others. The professional services economy is built on the scaling of tried and true systems and processes. But, I suspect we too easily become fundamentalists for the systems and processes, and the beliefs that have helped shape our professional identities.

It takes courage and insight for an Adam to stand up and say, maybe we’ve presumed too much about the approach we’ve been promoting. The point is not that collaboration (in this instance) doesn’t remain the best hope in solving tough problems, or that my little wellbeing grid is not a helpful tool to stay centred in a busy urban life. The point is that each scenario is deeply unique. Perhaps the test is our emotional reaction to someone stating, “Well that [insert your pet approach] wouldn’t work for me/us.” Are we prepared to engage that meaningfully, or do we assume they’ve misunderstood the ‘power’ of what we are offering and that they’ll come around if they allow us to convince them?

Addictions are things we can’t say no to. Are we addicted to an approach to solving a business or social problem? The word that probably suits the situation more aptly is fundamentalism, where we have somehow got to a point where we believe our perspective has a one to one correlation with absolute reality.

So what does this mean? In a world where the challenges we face require new ways of thinking, let’s be suspicious about our own presumptions that what has worked for us locally can be scaled to solve the world’s problems. Does that mean we can’t participate in large scale ambitions? Of course not. But let’s do so with humility and wisdom rather than presumption and fundamentalism.