foundations and agility

It is healthy to set ourselves some goals, make some resolutions or do whatever else we need to do to ensure that our path through 2011 is determined at least in part by our intentions. Perhaps due to the searing images of houses being washed away in the current floods, I’ve been thinking about the difference between foundations and the rest of the building.

It is typical in our annual visioning to think in terms of the ‘building’, by which I mean the visible outcomes of our living. Nothing wrong with this. If we don’t plan ahead we will drift with whatever the strongest current happens to be. “If you aim at nothing you hit it every time.”

Life seems increasingly uncertain. Natural disasters, personal loss, health … we’re fragile. At work, the stability of ongoing business, relational issues, economic conditions, the impact of the stuff in the previous sentence, all add up to fragility. For some time now, understandably, people who are interested in such things have been developing an understanding of ‘resilience’ and how we can navigate the fragility of life without being broken by the events of normal living.

So as I think about 2011, while there are plans, goals and strategic directions set, I am more focussed on the disciplines that will ensure the foundations are strong. I certainly hope that 2011 will not usher the same drama and trauma as 2010, but there are no guarantees while we choose to engage life as active members of society rather than abort into a reclusive lifestyle.

What are those things, that for me will give me the resilience to enable agility, mental, emotional and spiritual health amidst whatever 2011 offers? There are many ways you and I might think about such foundations, or fundamentals, but for me they include:

  1. Clarity re the ‘story’ that gives meaning to life. The start of the year offers you and I an opportunity to refresh our appreciation and related commitments to the mix of activities that express our engagement with what is good, pleasurable and meaningful. (By the way, I use those three words intentionally, borrowing from Clive Hamilton’s idea that people tend to pursue, consciously or unconsciously either the ‘good life’ (truth based), the ‘pleasurable life’ (satisfaction based) or the ‘meaningful life’ (contribution based).
  2. Refresh my commitment to the most significant relationships I have. Appreciate who the people are that form the community network of which I am a part. It is these people, including family, that are the ‘reinforcement in the foundations’ to crudely refer back to that metaphor.
  3. And then there is all the personal stuff: diet, exercise, reflection, recreation … all those personal disciplines that give strength, those basics that allow resilience when the ground shifts beneath us.

I am conscious of the pessimistic tone. I don’t apologise for it because my reflections from the events of 2010 continue to shape my view of life. But I’ve also lived long enough to know that the same principles apply to the positive opportunities that come along. If I am not strong on the basics, if my fundamentals are not rock solid, then my capacity to respond to new, stretching opportunities will be flakey.

So, if you’re wondering how to give some definition to the new year, I invite you to join me in refreshing or beginning a new commitment the threads that give strength in your life, so you are in the best condition to respond to the inevitable surprises; challenges and opportunities that 2011 has in store.

cause and effect

You don’t hear as much these days about New Years resolutions. Understandably. Most of the time they express wishful thinking about broad areas of life such as getting fitter or spending less time at work. I wonder though if the problem is not with the idea of New Years resolutions themselves, but in our apparent poor ability to turn the sentiment into reality. It is an impoverished world when we lose our desire to live better.

I recently heard Quentin Jones from Human Synergistics talk about their research into the foundations for high achievement management. Part of his analysis was that effective managers “believe in cause and effect.” To illustrate the point he described the opposite as believing in fate, chance or magic where there is little sense of control or influence over outcomes; we just keep living life as best we can and believe what will happen will happen. Contrary to this, effective managers know if that want ‘B’ then they have to do ‘A’ … and they do it.

Much of the future is determined by events out of our control, the suggestion is not that we can ‘achieve anything we want if we set our minds to it’ … my view is that this axiom denies the role that circumstances do play. What we are talking about here is the alignment of expressed desire and actual behaviour. There are two elements:

1. We appreciate the patterns of behaviour and activity that result in the desired outcome. For example, the salesperson knows that to close one deal, they need to make thirty prospect phonecalls, the IT manager knows that to reduce PC maintenance times they need to upgrade hardware every three years, or the father knows that if he wants to have a good relationship with his teenage kids he needs to eat dinner with his toddlers.

2. We then have to cultivate the disciplines that install the activities and behaviours. This is typically where it all comes unstuck. It is misguided to suggest our failure to achieve our goals springs entirely from the lack of desire. It regularly can be traced to our inability to develop break existing patterns of behaviour. There is extra ordinary comfort in staying with familiar activity and essentially ‘crossing our fingers’ hoping that we get a different outcome.

For example, we take it as a given that we have to have our email inboxes open all day, even when we acknowledge we need to be more focussed.  When we are familiar with avoiding difficult performance conversations, it is frightenly easy to continue to do so, effectively cultivating ongoing frustration, and there is significantly less resitance in getting up at 7am rather than 6am, even though we know the exercise we get in that hour generates more energy than the extra sleep.

So … lets not give up on New Years resolutions. More so, lets figure out what the activities are that will give us the most leverage toward our desired outcomes, and get whatever help we need to install them as daily habits.

If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got.