“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” Abraham Maslow
The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of thinking we do first. When we look through this lens, how many times do we skip over the ‘thinking first’ part? We are always trying to fit ‘2 into 1‘, to get more done, to be more efficient. How often do we actually stop and take the time and distance to think, to be actively present with our thoughts, understand what is happening and therefore what we are really thinking?
In all my coaching and facilitation work, the first chunk of time is always spent centring people in the room, allowing them to ‘drop in’ to the space we are creating, and to take the time to be there. This used to be a scary thought for me. If I stop doing, I’ll lose my drive; if I slow down, I won’t be effective, I’ll lose my competitive advantage. This was compounded by the fact that I have a large capacity for work and that this productivity potential was constantly glorified as a strength in the workplace. But we should never forget that we are human beings, not human doings.
Disruption is one of today’s buzz words, and rightly so. We spend much of our time talking about disrupting business and looking at new ways of working, but what about actively and proactively disrupting our own mindset and identity?
Because I do so much, I never thought I procrastinated. In fact, I didn’t. That is, until I decided I needed to learn how to let go and then I procrastinated as much as I possibly could (with hindsight of course, a wonderful thing!). To cease procrastination is in fact the art of letting go. Letting go first came to me when I had a painful back condition. I had to let go of the ’need’ to move and be active as my crutch to deal with stress and overthinking, which was the only way I knew how to relax. This is partly about how we are attuned to life, what we are attuned to and how we create connection. In the words of Lao Tzu, we need to “let reality be reality, and let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like”. This is an easy concept to understand but a hard one to operationally adhere to. It is difficult for us in today’s busy world to be in the moment and not listen to incessant mind chatter. But this stillness is what allows us to access our intuition, ‘a place of genius’ as I call it. Carl Jung defines intuition as perception via the unconscious, a place where ideas and clarity spring out of nowhere yet feel like they’ve always been there. I like to think of it as a gut feeling or sensing another person’s energy – ‘reading the room’ as we say in facilitation – or a sudden clarity, an ‘aha’ moment on a long-pondered subject or problem. This is genius in action, often precisely because we are not overthinking it. Overthinking significantly impairs our ability to access intuition, or a more spiritual intuitive feeling where we can sense the truth, the unity and the wholeness of everything. I like to talk about the privilege of now – a vibrant, rich and forgiving space – but either way, it feels lighter, strangely familiar and simply ‘right’. We should dare to follow our intuition where we can but how do we become present enough to hear what our intuition has to tell us?
Letting go to go further
In all our years of education and training, we have been formatted to ‘get on with things’, ‘get things done’ and be busy. We are on a life-long quest to ‘improve’ our efficiency, our effectiveness and, by extension, ourselves. We start from the paradigm of self-improvement, i.e. we need to fix something in order to improve, as opposed to a paradigm of wholeness, where nothing needs fixing and we simply need to let go and find ourselves.
This paradigm shift is from doing to being, from self-improvement to self-unfoldment (Steve March explains this in our podcast here). The philosopher Martin Heidegger saw how the view of technology was overtaking the view of being human and that in this perception we constantly needed to ‘upgrade’ or ‘fix’ ourselves. He suggested attuning to the world more poetically, looking at what we feel in our body and in our lives, and embarking on a voyage of deep discovery. Today, organisations and organisational culture are based on performance and improvement, which trigger certain emotions and defences as we are asked to ‘fit in’ and improve ourselves to ‘fit in’. We are not being invited to belong as we are. Attuning to ourselves differently is the key to moving from self-improvement to self-unfoldment and becoming increasingly relevant as technology becomes increasingly prevalent. Instead of always trying to do everything, we must let go and sit with the emptiness that ‘not doing’ brings. What if it isn’t emptiness though? What if it is a space full of different opportunities?
When we gain new information or skills, we fill our mind with knowledge, but the container doesn’t change form. When we change our perception or understanding however, we can see nuances and are more able to manage uncertainty or multiple complex decisions. In this case, the container for our knowledge does transform and becomes developmental in itself.
Let’s take an everyday situation. Have you ever seen someone not listening, only listening to their own opinion and not understanding what people need? Maybe it is because that person cannot yet hold multiple perspectives and therefore it is difficult for them to practice empathy. There is an identifiable change in the perspective-taking capacity and complexity from one form of mind to the other and this can drastically change the way we interact with the system.
It is important therefore to be mindful that people will always revert to type when trying to feel comfortable and create certainty. They may variously:
– become disconnected and isolated in their thinking,
– think in silos and not across boundaries and teams,
– be linear, not circular, in their mental models,
– be mired in details and not be able to see the bigger picture.
We often hear from leaders that they don’t have enough budget for a particular project, that’s not the way they do things, they’re not sure exactly where to go next, or they would like to but it just won’t work. People get stuck in what they know without getting curious about what they don’t know.
We humans are very good at listening when we put our minds to it. We can take distance from situations, and listen intently for what we don’t know. We must make the time to stop the business, step over our fears and venture into more curiosity. Furthermore, complex challenges require us to ask different questions: What’s the hardest part? What’s the best part? What’s most at risk for me if… ? What is getting in the way? What can we learn together?
We must step up onto the balcony to gain a different perspective and look at how people are making sense of the situation – not the problem details, or the solution, but a holistic overview of the system. This takes us to the boundaries of what we know and means accepting that two things can co-exist: certainty and uncertainty, fear and confidence, success and failure, letting go of ‘what if’ and seeing how things unfold. This means embracing the power of presence and the opportunity presence provides to try on some new ‘lenses’ and see things differently. Moving away from overwhelm and welcoming space is the first step to letting go: notice what we notice, breathe into the moment and intentionally look at how we occupy the present moment.
Letting transformation happen
Navigating complexity is everybody’s modus operandi in today’s world. The power of understanding your mental models and feeling safe to step outside them is a great place to start in terms of understanding how we can influence, control and restructure this process.
“Learning to see the structures within which we operate begins a process of freeing ourselves from previously unseen forces and ultimately mastering the ability to work with them and change them.” Peter Senge
So, how do we build this culture? It is not something an organisation ‘has’, but is a living, breathing, perfectly imperfect human system. How do we currently make sense of complexity? How do we take decisions in complex environments? How do we get curious about what this could mean for us going forward? These are pivotal questions for reaching a safer and more expansive and innovative place.
Complexity is more a way of thinking than a way of solving rational and mathematical problems. It requires a systemic, holistic view of things. Holistic systems thinking is one of the most important skills when working in ecosystems, and with that understanding comes interpersonal adaptability – being able to understand the perspectives of others and change our own accordingly. Here we are looking to create the conditions for holistic collective unfoldment, changing the paradigm of the way the system thinks about itself, operating from a place of wholeness and creating a depth of presence in the working environment. Group presence is clearly linked to group leadership and to creating the conditions for natural unfoldment to happen. Listening consciously is key for success both as an individual part of a system and as a system as a whole. “Consciousness can move up and down the fractal hierarchy,” writes Hameroff, “like music changing octaves”, resonating across levels.
Today, most processes, measures and corporate cultures talk about performance and high-performing teams. Deliberately developmental organisations are designed to be cultures of practice, not performance. What is the culture of your organisation? When we are practicing, we aren’t wasting energy trying to show what we know, or be right, or be the best. We are not trying to hide our weaknesses and get it right first time because the person who knows most is the best placed to answer. We are focused on experimenting, learning, and connecting.
We have to let go of our own thoughts enough to meet people where they are on their journey. We have to practice letting go enough to build a collective developmental space where there are team rituals and micro-practices for exploration. We have to move away from overwhelm and start from a paradigm of wholeness. What if transformation were made up of iterative and reflective practice built up over time, thereby creating sustainable transformation in a team or an organisation? We need to work not only on the mechanics of the system but also on the system’s ‘muscle memory’ and embedded stories.
The resonance described by Hameroff above is what we need to create, feel and attune to if we want to create an environment where people can belong, be their best and intentionally act as opposed to react. To create a culture built on compassion and deliberate sense-making, we need to practice poetic attunement to allow ourselves the time to think and listen – to both ourselves and the system – and to create deeper, more effective human connections across the system for sustainable transformation.
Thank you for reading.
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