In the Moment of Situational Awareness

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Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

From this place, situational awareness enables us to discern the influences that affect us both internally and externally. From those perceptions, we gain perspective. We can because we see the distinction between external realities and inner strengths. The external realities of the situation we are in seeks to control and absorb our attention. Our inner strengths are those qualities, so may say character, that enables us to move into a wide variety of settings without losing our sense of who were are.

External Realities - Inner Strengths 

Here's a depiction of this perspective that resulted from my engagement with a group of young women who are each in the midst of a dramatic life change.

ExternalRealitiesInternalStrengths
They identified the six eternal realities that they must address in their lives. Then from our exploration of them, we came up the ten inner strengths that would be most helpful for adapting to those realities with the greatest benefit.

The conclusion is that we need "tools" for coping with challenging situations. This is why situational awareness is a skills-based capacity, and, not just a tactic or an idea.

Here's an example of what I mean.

Like many of us, I often encounter people who are panhandlers, asking for some spare change for various reasons. They may or may not be homeless. They may or may not be telling me the truth about why they need the money. Their reasons don't really matter. What matters is the interaction we have at the precise moment of our encounter.

My values tell me that each person, regardless of their life situation, should be treated with dignity as a human being. That doesn't mean that I have to approve of their life choices, or whether they have the self-respect that should accompany that sense of dignity, or that I should even trust them. It is that without a belief in the inherrent dignity of each individual, we do not have a foundation for a relationship that allows for us to honestly explore what is possible between us.

If a person on the street, who asks me for help, is clearly not high or drunk, then I will do something to help him or her. It they say they are hungry, I will take the time and buy them a meal. If they say they are hungry, yet do not want the meal, but the money, then I know that there is an ulterior motive in their request to me.

I tell them that is all I am willing to do. (This reflects the boundaries that I have set for my interaction with this person.)

If they say they need a bus ticket, I may drive them to the bus station. If I am convinced that this is a legitimate request. I will ask them lots of questions to determine whether the story is legitimate. If I'm satisfied that it is, then I will help them.

If they are drunk or smell of alcohol, I'll send them to the local agency that works with people in need.

I hope you see by this scenario that I have constructed a way of being situationally aware that does not place me in conflict with the external realities are clearly designed to do so. Many of our interactions with people are intended to put us in a compromised position, so that we give against our wishes and our own interests. The key is being prepared to relate to the person or group as they present themselves to us right now, in this moment, not historically, or as may happen in the future.

I have decided that to treat people with dignity, who lack self-respect and feel no reciprocal dignity towards me, requires the kind of internal strengths identified above. 

To learn to do this brings freedom and peace of mind to our relationships, both those with whom we live and work everyday, and, those whom are strangers that we encounter outside of our normal environments.

Situation awareness is a type of intuition into a particular situation.

We see into it, connecting different observations, sensations with logic and past experience.

We see into the situation as a result.

Let's take this interaction a step further.

The dignity I offer to a person asking for help is to believe what they tell me. To respect them as a human being, and to establish a relationship of trust. Even if this is for a minute or two, it is important to do this.

Social conformity, which I wrote about in my previous post, is derived from the need for secure external circumstances. The goal is to minimize the internal discomfort that we may feel as we encounter all kinds of people every day. These feelings of discomfort are the ground upon which we build the inner strengths that we need for situational awareness.

There is a kind of natural co-dependency that occurs when social conditions are secure and constant. It is the picture of happy families and homogeneous communities in movies.

Times of social and economic disruption are more traumatic for people. Their emotional health and sense of self-worth become dependent upon the support and constancy of external circumstances. In other words, when personal security is found in conforming to some social expectation, we lose the best parts of our individualism, and become more resistant to change and social difference.

When a person goes through a divorce, loses their job, finds their children are disabled in some manner, or the nation goes to war, the community experiences a catastrophic natural disaster, or at a more superficial level, their favorite sports team fails to win the championships that everyone expected them to do, then these are not simply emotional blows to be weathered as better times return. Instead, these changes may be threats to one's own sense of self, or identity.

Returning to my scenario of the panhandler, if I give her or him, I then tell them the following.

"I am giving you this money trusting that you are telling me the truth. I have no way of knowing this. But you do. This money is a gift to you. In response, I only ask you that when you are given the opportunity, that you do the same for someone else. I am asking you to give to someone as an act of thanks for the gift that I am giving you right now."

The money is not the point. Establishing a rapport of trust, dignity and mutuality is.

To act in this way requires discernment that is learned at a deep level. It requires of us to be able to listen to the story behind the story, to ask questions that get to that story, and from that awareness, determine whether there is a possibility of establishing, even for a moment in time, an open, trusting relationship. If we can do this once, we can do it again and again.

The risk is that I may have totally misread the situation, and I have squandered the price of a bus ticket or meal on someone who is simply using me. That is the price I pay for treating people with dignity. I accept that, and am willing to take the risk because of the times when the response is one of deep gratitude.

The point is not the money, but the story we tell ourselves about who we are in social situations. My story is about dignity, trust and generosity.

In the next post in this series, I'll write about the story we tell ourselves. I've written about this before in The Edge of the Real: The Unfolding Story.


Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

  SocialConformity

Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

One of the most challenging aspects of being situationally aware is learning how to deal with the social conformity that lies at the root of all social environments.

Social Conformity and Self-knowledge

Much of our socialization as children and adolescents was not intentionally focused on developing situational awareness as I describe it. Rather, we were taught various ways of conforming to the social requirements of a particular situation.

Social conformity breaks down situational awareness by suppressing individual initiative.

The institutional form of social conformity requires us to think less for ourselves by operating according a set of prescribed codes and processes. Ironically, the "expressive individualism" as Charles Taylor describes in his book, A Secular Age is at the same time conformity to a wider consumer culture.

I believe ... that our North Atlantic civilization has been undergoing a cultural revolution in recent decades. The 60s provide perhaps the hinge moment, at least symbolically. It is on one hand an individuating revolution, which may sound strange, because our modern age was already based on a certain individualism. But this has shifted on to a new axis, without deserting the others. As well as as moral/spiritual and instrumental individualism, we now have a widespread "expressive" individualism. This is, of course, not totally new. ... What is new is that this kind of self-orientation seems to have become a mass phenomenon.

... With post-war affluence, and the diffusion of what many had considered luxuries before, came a new concentration on private space, and the means to fill it, ... And in this newly individuated space, the customer was encouraged more and more to express her taste, furnishing her space according to her own needs and affinities, as only the rich had been able to do so in previous eras.

While we perceive ourselves as individuals, we still make choices that are motivated by the fear of rejection or retribution for standing outside the circle of conformity. To think for ourselves in a situationally aware context requires us to have the self-knowledge that enables us to see social situations more objectively, to engage people without personalizing the interaction, and to discern what is in the best interests of the group.

Social conformity produces a personal identity that is formed by external conditions governed by institutional rules and defined by objects that provide us our identity.

Consider all the groups a person experiences from kindergarten through high school. Family, academic, sports, arts, religious and community organizations each have a set of guiding values. From place to place, town to town, organization to organization, each one provides a developmental experience that may or may not have the intention of creating stronger, mature, life-ready individuals.  Each institutional situation does require some sort of accountability to the goals and values of the group. An over-riding concern, therefore, is when social conformity is accomplished by cohersion, threat and fear. An extreme example of this would be the practice of hazing as an initiation rite into membership of a social organization.

Group oriented organizations can provide lessons in how to fit in, to play the game that others control, and how to win or excel as a group. One of the realities of this situation is that some people are better at whatever the purpose of the group is. Whether it is math class, football or band, there emerges a recognition that every group is ordered according to those who are the elite players, and those who are the support ones. Every kid knows who the cool, the key, the elite members of their school or group are. It is a part of the process of social organization and conformity.

This kind of institutional social control is a product of a time when our society was based upon people working within large institutional organizations. If you are going to grow up, work in a factory, in a corporate environment or any large complex organization, knowing how to play the game of social conformity is essential to success. There are multiple boundaries that a person must learn to negotiate to function well in those complex settings.

However, this kind of social conformity is becoming less and less beneficial in society. Institutions are no longer capable of sustaining life-long employment where the benefits of fitting in are rewarded. Instead, in today's world, advancement comes through not fitting in, of moving from one organizational setting to the next, as a means of finding the most advantageous place for ones' gifts and talents to be expressed. In effect, advancement is "expressive individualism" as a life strategy.

As a society, social conformity works less and less for more and more people. A recovery of genuine identity is essential. Today, we need to develop the self-knowledge that provides skills of objectivity, engagement and discernment.

The virtue of self-knowledge is that it provides us the foundation upon which we can develop the social awareness that is necessary to be effective in a global world of connection.

As I have explored this aspect of our lives, I believe we can say this much.

Situational awareness begins with self-knowledge.

I can stand apart; I can see what is going on; I can empathize with a person; I can avoid compromising situations.

With self-knowledge I grow out of the need for every situation to be about me, and I lose the fear of what happens when I do not fit in.

When I am able to be myself, without losing myself, then I am able to see how to build relationships of understanding and collaboration that create strong families, organizations and communities.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves


The Social Space of Situational Awareness

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Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

Situational awareness functions in real time and in real places. Think of it as a relationship, as a connection, to people, places, ideas, structures, institutions and to one's self. The space is a kind of gap, a discernable distance, between me and the other. This space is a situation that calls upon us to think, to engage, to decide and to act in a way that reduces the distance that exists between me and the people and situations that stand apart from me.

Situational Awareness is the skill that enables a person to establish community, peace and reconciliation in places that are fragmented, broken and in transition from what they once were to what they will be in the future.

These social relationships are varied and inter-mingled in time. They follow patterns of attitudes and behaviors, but not always in a predictable fashion. To be socially aware is to observe all that is taking place in a space, and, then, understanding how to respond appropriately.

Here's an example.

Walking into a coffee shop on the way to work, you are talking on the phone. You acknowledge the server, see your best friend in a business meeting in the corner, nod an acknowledgement, and, read an ad on the community bulletin board for a local theater group's play to be performed this coming weekend. The phone call ends. The order is placed. An introduction is made to the friend's business contact, and, order for tickets to the play made from the smart phone all within a matter of just a few minutes.

However, what if this typical busy, non-stressed moment in your morning, randomly includes the following. After you've order your coffee, the person next to you picks up their coffee, the lid pops off, and the hot liquid goes all over her and the floor at your feet. As you turn to find some napkins, you see that your ex-mother-in-law is standing in line behind you with your ex-husband's new wife. Then a text message buzzes, and it is your son letting you know that he has been in an auto accident on the way to school, and that he is okay. 

We move through situational spaces that require us to observe, engage and act. If however, we personalize all these situations, we then demand that each of these situations function for our benefit.To personalize a situation is to make it about ME, and, to narrow and confine the possibilities for interaction and impact.

To practice situation awareness is to see a larger picture, where my needs, wants, desires and demands, are not at the center, but just another set of considerations to be addressed in that moment of decision.

To treat this moment from a socially and situationally aware perspective is to take the initiative to help the woman whose coffee has just spilled, by reaching for some napkins, and to begin to help clean up the mess on the floor. At some point, you wipe coffee off of your own shoes. Instead of ignoring your ex-mother-in-law, you go over say hello, and introduce yourself to your ex-husband's new wife. Then you pick up your coffee, step aside, and text your son asking whether he needs you right now.

If, in each of these situations, we are unsure of ourselves, lacking the confidence to know what to do because we are unsure of who we are, then we avoid having to make these choices. We may stay hunkered over our smart phone, reading email as if no one else in the shop matters. We present an image of strength and detachment in order to block out intrusion.

Charles Taylor speaks about these spaces as a moral space, as "a space of questions" that require us to make distinctions. These distinctions that we make in these situational moments are answers to the fundamental question of who am I in this particular setting at this moment in time. If everything is personalized, or, if we lack confidence to make those decisions, or, if we have no clear idea of what we believe or value, then these situations fill us with fear and anxiety. What happens in situational space reveals who we are at our most basic level.

This is why living in the world of The Spectacle of the Real can be so attractive. We vicariously live through the lives of others, transferring responsibility for acting as a person onto the celebrity or the news opinion reader, instead of discovering the life that is available to us to live. The development of Situational Awareness is a path towards understanding who we are, finding our identity, and with humilty and confidence, understanding how we are to fit into all the social situations that we find ourselves in everyday.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves


The Platform of Desire, Part 2

Desire or Rationality?

We live in an era created by science and rational thought. But the culture that we live in is not rational. It is sub-rational, almost primal, in its elevation of the expression of desire over everything else.

This elevation of desire is a two-edged promise. It on the one hand, a promise of engagement in all that life has to offer.

On the other a promise of total exhaustion, of even annihilation, if embraced without thought, direction and boundaries.  It is the power behind the passion of ambition and human connection.

Images of desire capture our attention, draw us into experiences that touch us, change us and can ultimately transform us into new persons. Our rational selves rarely do that. It is the passion of desire that makes it possibly for us to make the sacrifices to be people who create the goodness that lies dormant in the potential that we all have.

If that desire is let loose, never guided by our rational selves, then like Icarus' flight to the sun, we can crash and burn.

Desire = Love

I'm calling desire those inner drives that draw us toward what we love. Philosopher James K. A. Smith sees this love lived out in a sort of secular liturgy of worship. There are rituals that we observe because they reinforce the importance of our desires.

“…  we are primarily desiring animals rather than merely thinking things, I also think that what constitutes our ultimate identities – what makes us who we are, the kind of people we are – is what we love. More specifically, our identity is shaped by what we ultimately love or what we love as ultimate – what, at the end of the day, gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, understanding, and orientation to our being-in-the-world. What we desire or love ultimately is a (largely implicit) vision of what we hoped for, what we think the good life looks like. The vision of the good life shapes all kinds of actions and decisions and habits that we undertake, often without our thinking about it. ”

Our loves and desires are shaped by how we live in the world around us.  The social and organizational systems and structures that are the context of our life and work is a place of engagement where we either find our desires fulfilled or frustrated.  Our happiness is not so much about what we think, but how we intersect with the social and organizational places where we live and work. Smith writes,

So when I say that love defines us, I don’t mean our love for the Chicago Cubs or chocolate chip scones, but rather our desire for a way of life. This element of ultimacy … is fundamentally religious. But religion here refers primarily not to a set of beliefs or doctrines but rather to a way of life. What’s at stake is not primarily ideas but love, which functions on a different register. Our ultimate love/desire is shaped by practices, not ideas that are merely communicated to us.

Or to put it another way, our real world context is both outside of us and within us. The  connection between our desires and the physical places where we spend our days is intimate and integral to every aspect of our lives.

If you are like me, there are places you go to find restoration and perspective. For me it is the spiritual geography of wild places. Remove the technological noise and perspective returns. At these places, we reconnect with the desires that drive us toward what we love.

When I go to a place like Max Patch (below) I find myself standing on a high mountain bald with a 360 degree vista of mountain ridges.

Max Patch Edge

The vastness of this mountain scape, like that of this panorama of the Grand Tetons of Jackson Hole (below), touches me deep inside, reminding me of vastness of the opportunities that we each have each day to make a difference.

Jackson Hole Valley

The desires of my life and work resonate with the bigness of these mountains. It is why I constantly return to them, where I find balance and proportion between me as an individual and the bigness of the world in which I live and work.

Smith presents a compelling view that contemporary consumerism is set of liturgical practices that both inform and form us as people. He writes,

"Because our hearts are oriented primarily by desire, by what we love, and because those desires are shaped and molded by the habit-forming practices in which we participate, it is the rituals and practices of the mall - the liturgies of mall and market - that shape our imaginations and how we orient ourselves to the world. Embedded in them is a common set of assumptions about the shape of human flourishing, which becomes an implicit telos, or goal, of our desires and actions. That is, the visions of the good life embedded in these practices become surreptitiously embedded in us through our participation in the rituals and rhythms of these institutions. These quasi-liturgies effect an education of desire, a pedagogy of the heart. ..."

What is true of the mall's impact upon us is also true of the social and organizational structures where we live and work. They are not inert, neutral, artificial places. They are living contexts which engage our desires, and where our lives take root in a real world.  These "places" affect how we develop as human beings. 

It is this deeper truth that lies behind the design development of office space between those of an open plan and the closed kind advocated by Susan Cain in her book, The Quiet.  The architecture of space in social and organizational structures affects who we are and how we perform. This is the tangible representation of the role that human desire has.

A Structure for Desire?

We don't look at the way we organize our businesses and organizations from this point of view though. We tend to see space or organizational systems as just a place where work takes place. We think of organizational structural design as primarily about creating efficiency and production. We don't think of them as a determining factor in how people connect to their inner desire for meaning and impact.Three Goals of Life-Work-CircleofImpact It is the same reason we don't see people, but rather human resources. It is the utilitarian mindset of the industrial age that cannot see what is evident when one stands outside of that context.

The effect of this mindset is to diminish our understanding of human potential, reducing it to whatever is needed for the task assigned. Consequently, any connection to human desire is lost all together.

It was James K. A. Smith who provided me the insight to see something in my work with clients that had been evident all along: three human desires that everyone has. Desires for personal meaning, healthy, happy relationships and to make a difference that matters.

What we love drives us towards these desires. And we need to structure the social and organizational systems of our lives and work to enable these desires to find fulfillment. 

In part 3 of this essay, I will look at how we can create organizational structures that enable people who work within them to find personal meaning, healthy, happy relationships, and to make a difference that matters.


The Frontier is Within

IMG_0258A century ago Frederick Jackson Turner declared that the frontier was closed

A half century ago, President John F. Kennedy, challenged the nation to believe in the frontier of space as he focused attention on going to the Moon.

"No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space. ... We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

A hundred years from now, what will people have said the frontier that we crossed and settled was? As I reflect upon this, I don't think we really know.

The Frontier of the 20th Century

When Turner presented his frontier thesis, what he saw was the emergence of science and expansion of education as the frontier boundaries of the 20th century. What he could not have known was that the 20th century would also become a time world war and violence between nations, and by nations towards their citizens.

While our science advanced, our humanity retreated into barbarism.

Of course, human beings have always been blood-thirsty. But the 20th century marks a level of the sophistication in the practice of genocide, slavery, eugenics and war that is unprecedented.

This development was not so much a failure of science, for science as a culture was never in control of its own advancement. But rather a result of the social, political and economic philosophies of the modern age that emerged during the 18th. and 19th. centuries that gave a rational basis to the violence on such an enormous scale.

The humanistic philosophies of the Renaissance, which drew upon the ancient philosophies of Aristotle and Plato, and the ancient religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, gave way to the ideologies that diminished human beings into utilitarian means for industrial and cultural advancement.

As modern people, we celebrate individualism and freedom as the ultimate purpose of human society, and yet turn a deaf ear to the sufferings of people singled out for extinction by their governments. We are following a logical course of the ideologies that have dominated the last two hundred years of human history. What is the future of a planet where death on such a massive scale is hardly mentioned by presidential candidates. Is our only option to throw up our hands in defeat and let violence suck the life out of civilized societies?

I have wondered over the past decade or so why it is that so much of visual culture about the future has become so apocalyptic, and less hopeful. Compare E.T. the extraterrestrial (1982) , Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series from a generation ago to films and games like The Road (2009) , The Book of Eli (2010), the Resident Evil series and, most recently books, films and television series about zombies, vampires and alien invasion.

Does the shift from an optimism about the future, as expressed in President Kennedy's challenge, to a darker, apocalyptic one reveal our own deep insecurity about the future capabilities of technology?

Walker Percy's question from a generation ago still resonates deeply as a question that remains to be answered.

Why does man feel so sad in the twentieth century?  Why does man feel so bad in the very age when, more than in any other age, he has succeeded in satisfying his needs and making the world over for his own use?

Maybe, to paraphrase a biblical reference, through the advancement of technology, we have gained the world and lost our humanity.

The question of our time is, then, "For what purpose, and to what end does our technological advancement lead us?"

One Step Removed

I have thought a lot about frontiers over past decade, as my interest in the Lewis & Clark Expedition grew. I found in their story both the inspiration for venturing toward the frontier, and the cautionary lessons that can guide us.

I've concluded that we are one step removed from understanding what the frontier of the future is.

I know that there are all sorts of predictions about the future. I'm not talking about predicting the future. Predictions are largely taking current knowledge and extending its development into the future.

Instead, I'm talking about a frontier of the future of what is unknown and undiscovered.

This is a different mindset that requires a humble openness to the future, and a certain skepticism about what we already know and have achieved. In effect, we do what the best scientists and explorers have always done, look forward without prejudicial assumptions that bind discoveries into a preconceived understanding of the future.

The future is the horizon upon which we set our bearings, our aspirations and the validation of our values.

The difference between being an explorer rather than a futurist is that the futurist stands in the present looks towards the future, and the explorer, instead, leaves the present behind to embrace an unknown future. 

In the past, explorer's were individuals of vision who largely made their discoveries out of the public's eye. Today, we need more than individuals who are willing to venture into the unknown, we need a society that will. As the old saying goes, "the thinking that got us here is not the thinking that will get us out of here."

This first step in pioneering the future is to reorient our lives and world so that we see ourselves living on the frontier. For this is what I see, the end of what we've known for 500 years, and the beginning of a new epoch of discovery.  This reorientation is the frontier that is within each of us that must first be crossed before the larger horizon of the future can be identified.

The Next Frontier is Within

Explorers do not decide to go, and then walk out the door. They prepare.

The preparation that we need now is the frontier that is within each of us. The focus of preparation is simple. The execution is difficult.

We can begin with this question.

What if our past experience instead of illuminating the future, obscures it? What if the way we have always approached a problem, or the conduct of a single day, or the organization of our work makes it more likely that we end up not accomplishing what we envision?

This starting point leads us to the frontier within. The frontiers that we then must cross is intellectual, social and spiritual.

The intellectual frontier is to think for yourself, thinking with open observation, without prejudice, yet with skepticism toward your own conclusions. 

The social frontier is to make connections with people, establishing relationship of respect, trust, and mutual support and collaboration, so that shared discovery creates new communities of understanding for the future. 

The spiritual frontier is recognizing there is a reality beyond the material and beyond that which I can control, which is intelligible to those who embrace it with openness and a willingness to learn and adapt to its frame of understanding.

Once the frontier within has been embraced, then the next frontier will show itself.


In Transition, Start with Connections

First Posted August 13, 2012.

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Listening to the discussion between Mitch Joel and Jeff Goins about writing, raised the question about how to start anything. This is particularly important if you are at a transition point in your life and work.

I know I need to change. How do I start?

Think. I'm starting fresh. Not starting over.

The best way to start fresh is with connections. The connections to ideas, to people and to the contexts where your transition is taking you.

Starting with Connections to Ideas

Connections with ideas at its most basic level is about communication.

You are communicating a message to someone, maybe even yourself.

My blogging here is primarily about helping me clarify what is going on in my head.

What is going on in my head is a product of what is going on in my "gut"; about what is happening intuitively.

Intuition is nothing more than making meaningful connections with ideas or situations.

You are in a meeting. Something is said.

Boom, flash, I've heard this before.

Then you begin to wrack your brain from where.

What do you do? Start writing down things. You are brainstorming. All of a sudden. You remember.

You do because you have made a connection in your mind. It isn't a direct connection. In fact, there is no connection, yet there is. This is the function of the intuitive mind.

You then speak up and show your brilliance. Simply because you started fresh with the connection to something.

Connections are not always logical or linear. More often, I find, they are random. That is why I read books and blogs that have nothing to do with my work.

There is a common thread of ideas that connect everything together. No one has the final word on what string of connections is. But it exists. I see it every time I engage with other people's ideas.

The more broadly you learn, the more you will see that everything is connected in some way. I find it very comforting and exhilarating. You will too.

What are ideas?

Ideas are nothing more than the rationalized emotions we feel brought to life in a logical order of words that help others know what we mean in our "gut".

Make the connections, and you'll find fresh meaning for starting.

 

Starting with Connections in Relationships

This is probably the easiest way to start fresh in a transition.

Start with people. Here's a simple way to do it. This is what I did 17 years ago when I started my leadership consulting business.

Ask people you trust, "Who do I need to know? Will you introduce me?"

Simple. Because you are not asking them to do anything more than make a connection for you. With that connection, you say,

"I'm in transition to X. Any advice? Are there people you know that could use these kind of services?"

This is how we make fresh connections that lead us through our transitions.

What are Relationships?

Relationships are nothing more than personal connections that are founded upon common experiences, values and mutual beneficial caring for one another. If the relationship is missing one of these, then it is not whole. It has potential, but is not fully formed.

When people make a connection for you, they do because they care about you. They see something worth investing in, even if the investment is as little as an introduction. Respect that gift, thank them for it, and then return the favor in connecting them to people they need to know. This is how we develop strength in relationships during a time of transition.

 

Starting with Connections to Contexts

When we are in transition, it just does not take place inside of our minds and gut. It happens in a real world context. None of us live in isolation tanks, hermetically sealed off from people, places and events. We are living real lives with real consequences. And we live them within contexts that are just as real, if we make to be so.

When we change, our connection to contexts changes.

By far this is the most complex of all the transitions that we are going through. We are changing patterns of behavior, which is the hardest part of change.

It isn't that I have a new job. It is that this new job context is going to be different than the last one. It may be a good change. But it is a change none-the-less.

So, how do you start fresh in a new context?

Simplify around your core values and purpose.

Think of this transition as an opportunity to get rid of some old habits that weren't very healthy for you.

Stop doing somethings that weren't strengthening your ability to be at your best everyday. Then start doing some new things.

The new context may be a new job. It could be your children are now all gone, off to college and their careers. It could be a move to a new part of the country. It could be new responsibilities at work.

Whatever the context, it is an opportunity to change for the better.

What are Contexts?

Contexts are any relationship, place or event. They are the social and organization structures where we live and work.

Family is a context. Business is a context. Friends are a context. Community is a context. Even social media is a context. Natural disasters, political campaigns, vacations and social clubs are all contexts. Mastermind groups, religious congregations, car pools, kid's athletic teams, scout troops, fishing, hiking and drinking buddies, high school and alumni associations, are all contexts. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Ning groups, Slideshare, Google+ are all contexts. 

Any and every person, place and event that our lives touch is a context. Each one connects with us, and contributes or distracts us from who we are and the transitions we are in. It is best that we not take them for granted.

Life is discovered in the connections

Transitions get harder when we try to minimize change, and we try to do it all on our own.

Transitions are about change, necessary change, change that can be beneficial and beautiful, if we can see it that way.

It is for this reason we need to make fresh connections with ideas, with people, and by simplifying our lives around the things that matter most to us.

Make sure you listen to Mitch and Jeff's discussion on writing. It is excellent. If you are in transition, both of these gentlemen have valuable insights, okay, wisdom, that will be helpful to you in adapting to changes in your life and work. Make sure you visit Jeff's webblog on writing. It will inspire you beyond the practice of writing. Writing is a very helpful tool in managing the transitions of change that we experience in our lives and work.


Relationships in Transition

Transition Point Coaching Logo

A couple of my friends have had adult children who moved back in with them. In one instance, a son returned from a long term overseas assignment to restart his professional career. For another, a son lost his job, and estranged from his wife, moved home.  I learned from both these friends the importance of openness and compassion in the midst of change.

These transitions, for both child and parent, are difficult. The found space that parents retrieved after their children began their adult life is taken over by their children whom they love. The question that nags in these situations is, "What should our relationship be now?"

Transitions in life and work are not simply processes of change and economic reordering of life and work. The social and organizational contexts that encompass them are intensely relational. They strain the well-worn path that relationships built over time develop.

When life altering change comes, and we find ourselves in transition, we need to focus on the social as much as the practical questions of job search and finding a new place to live.

Long-standing relationships develop a predictability that becomes expectation for continuity. Disturb that pattern, and relationships become frayed.

Something as simple as a job change that requires a move can become highly disruptive. It isn't just the one employed who moves, but the whole family who is uprooted to a new place to establish roots in a new place.  If the family unit is fragile, the transition can be more difficult than it should be.

When we enter a transition space moving toward that point where change is made and a new course is set, reflection, communication and a refocusing of values is needed.

Reflection is a form of self-criticism that enables us to see the logic of change in the midst of the transition.

Communication allows us to see a broader picture as we discover how those who are also impacted feel. We listen and learn from them how best to manage the transition.

Refocusing of values serves to ground us in what is matters most to us, which serves to focus our purpose as a vehicle for those values to live.

All of this is best done in open and honest conversation regularly scheduled.

If you are a parent whose adult child has moved home, talk with one another about how this is personally impacting each of you. Discuss what is important in the function of the home, and reach an agreement on the basics of living under the same roof again.  While the adult child is still a child to the parent, and the parent to the child, they are also adults who should share responsibility for living together again.

If you are in transition, and find yourself, living at home again, especially after years away, recognize that you are not reentering the home of your youth. You have entered a social environment that has changed. No longer is this place oriented around the nurture and protection of children. Your parents, while they still love you, have moved through their own transitions into new stages of their life as adults. There is a place for adult children in the lives of their parents. But it must be discovered, and not merely assumed it is an extension of what their childhood was like.

Change is hard. It doesn't have to be as hard as we make it.  All is required is for us is openness for the relationship to be what it needs to be today, not as it was in the past, or wish it had always been. Going through the transition points in our lives are hard enough without our relationships becoming an obstacle to positive change.

FiveActionsOfGratitude
A Support Plan for Relationships in Transition

My proposal is not a widget that fits every situation, but can beneficial in many situations.

Simply apply the Five Actions of Gratitude to how you live together in the midst of change.

This is a tool you can use to negotiate how you live under the same roof again. A simple translation could be something like this.

Say Thanks - At least once a day, with sincerity and specificity.

Give Back - Take responsibility for caring for both the private and shared spaces.

Make Welcome - Be hospitable to one another. Be open to the gifts that you have to offer and receive. Think of this as a new relationship.

Honor Others - Even at the most difficult moments, treat one another with dignity and respect. Be honest, caring and trustworthy. Be apologetic and forgiving. Be kind to one another.

Create Goodness - Establish new paths of interaction and sharing. This is particularly true in the transition is to be lengthy.

Practice these things, and the transition will go more smoothly, and new dimensions of your relationship will emerge.


The Shift

Relationships-InstitutionvsNetworkThere is a shift taking place in organizations that is largely missed because of the way we conventionally think of the relationship between people and institutions. 

This post is about this shift.

A place to begin is to look at the social media world. Many of us spend lots of time interacting through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Four Square, and on and on. If you are like me, you do a set of activities through them. They serve us like a tool does.  We don't think of them as organizations. They are virtual places we go to do things.

With social media, we don't think of ourselves fitting into an institution structure. Yet, it is an organizational context whose mission is the social. This is not true many other organization's mission.

Think of social media as a street corner when people linger, share pictures, play music, show items in their shopping bag, then pass on by or venture off together to get a cup of coffee.  These social settings are measured by the influence of who we know, who knows us, and how many are in our network of followers.

These social platforms are also businesses. They are organized just like newspapers, around the sale of ads and virtual space for people to establish a presence online. That is how they make their money. Signing up for any of these is really not much different than buying a car from a Ford dealer, a Swiffer mop Proctor & Gamble or a  policy from a local insurance agent. We are buying into a set of institutional relationships that provide service, replacement parts, and financial security. The succeed best when they understand the needs and desires of people, what they want and how they want to be engaged socially.

I learn about this larger context by listening to people who are in the social media world.

Two of those people are marketing bloggers and podcasters Mitch Joel and Joseph Jaffe. I listen to them because they are asking similar questions to mine. I like the way they think and express their thoughts.

Their recent Across the Sound podcast was a discussion about Facebook's identity. It is worth an hour of your time to listen. I listened to it twice I found it so interesting.

Here's portion of my response left in the comments of both their blogs.

"Yes, Facebook is a new thing. But it thinks like an old thing. It thinks bigger is better. It’s the old industrial mindset. The bigger it gets, the harder it will be to change course. I’ve felt for some time that FB has about five years of relevance left before it is replaced by multiple platforms that someone figures out how to tie together without creating confusion. This is already happening.

Why? Because people change, and it isn’t that they want more, they want better or different. Facebook is changing their expectations, their behaviors, and their attitudes towards themselves. We already see it in the proliferation of so many different social media platforms.

Here’s where I see the shift.

It used to be that we individuals had to fit into the institutional structures, and Facebook is an institutional structure, to find relevance and identity. The institution was king, and we were simply serfs. Now, that scenario is flipped, and the individual is king, and becoming more so, and Facebook is just an optional tool for our use. For these platforms it is a race to relevance in a fickle marketplace.

It isn’t that these platforms are changing, people are changing by using these tools to express themselves in way that they did not have in previous eras. ..." (emphasis mine)

People are changing in their attitudes about institutions, and they have been slow to respond.

Historically, institutions existed and we had to fit into them. They were big, entrenched, historically significant, and we were just lone individuals. So we did what we were told, bought what we were sold, and became part of the faceless mass consumer society that served the institutions well.  We join the institution. They didn't join us.

Much of that has changed during my lifetime. More than anything distrust in institutions. We no longer believe that institutions have our best interests in mine. We don't think they have our back. We view them as selfish and out of touch.

Trust and Institutions

Hugh Heclo wrote a thoughtful book called On Thinking Institutionally. It is a manifesto about the importance of institutions in our lives.

"What I think is demonstrably true is that in the last two generations or so, the normal range and frequency of human failings have presented themselves to the public in new ways, ways that possess an especially corrosive power in matters of institutional trust. To put it in other words, even if human venality and other misconduct remained constant, we have lived through a period when the betrayal of trust has become formatted in such a manner as to magnify whatever public alienation would otherwise occurred.  That is what sets the last half-century apart in generating performance-based distrust."

This distrust of institutions is based on our shared belief in social trust. We want our relationships to be dignified, respectful and trustworthy. We genuine want our institutions to be trustworthy.  This truth about us as human beings is one of the reasons the shit is taking place.

On a Personal Level

I see people crossing a threshold in their lives. They are turning away from the traditional industrial model of work, and are looking for something more meaningful. The emergence of technologies that do not require a traditional institutional setting is affecting how people think about themselves.  Those who cross that threshold claim a new territory of independence and opportunity.

Three Goals of Life-Work - Simple

I have shown this image before. It describes what I see emerging as the expectations that people carry with them into social and institutional settings.

They want meaning in their lives. They want relationships of trust. And they want to do things that matter, every day.

This is at the heart of why Networks of Relationships are replacing Institutions. With this shift, individuals have more say-so over who they are and what they do.

The institutional relationship gets flipped. Instead of trying to fit in, we are now telling institutions that either they fit in to our life or risk obsolescence.

Facebook and these other social media platforms are not the markers of change in the 21st century. They will here and then gone.

The people who inhabit their virtual spaces are the evidence that the 21st century is different than previous eras. As individuals discover how to create a life that fulfills their desires for meaning, relationship and impact, change to institutions will come. In time we'll see trust return to institutions, not because the institutions have changed, but because we have changed. That is the shift that ultimately matters


Networks in Transition

Transition Point - without Title

Networks are the new management mantra. The back story to this development is the increasing importance of healthy relationships for the sustainability of organizations. I've seen this coming since the mid-1970s with the realization that relationships are the vehicle through which life works.

The science of networks is growing in sophistication and practicality. It is truly amazing to see what the data on networks can reveal. That said, networks are not the end point. They are a transition point to something else.

The first transition

If you step out, look back, you'll see that for most of the past couple millennia, organizations have been structured as hierarchies. I've posted on this before.

Hierarchy of  Structure

This hierarchies look basically like this image.  There is leadership, with a level of  middle and supervisory management, followed by everyone else. This is an over simplification.  The point though is that the structure was organized for order, efficiency, and bottom-up accountability.

This hierarchy has been the primary form of organizational structure since human beings began to organize themselves. Some form of this hierarchy will always exist. However, it will be different.

Into the context of organizations appears a new phenomenon called a network of relationships. This is a new form of human organization that exists as connections without a designated location for these relationships. These are the kind of relationship that populate social media networks. They are virtual and intermittent, lacking comprehensiveness and continuity.

Prior to the advent of modern communication technology, the highest form of network was a local community of residents.  This ancient form of the network was based on physical proximity. Think of an Amish barn raising where all of one's neighbors come to your farm to construct a building that serves a family's need for sustainability.  Of course, no one talked about their local community as a network, but that is essentially what it was.  The connections formed a tight bond of closeness that made it difficult for outsiders to join. Today, networks are the opposite, loose, open configurations where the social bond is in the moment.

Hierarchy of Connection

Today, this network of relationships looks like this.  It is not primarily based on living near one another, but rather being connected through common interests. The sophistication of these networks is enabled by the data mining that modern computer technology provides. Social media provides the most practical and universal means for these networks of relationships to develop.

These networks are driven by the science of connection and its viral nature. There are great possibilities for impact when a network is mobilized for a cause, when an influential hub (person) sneezes and the whole world catches a new pair of shoes, or when one person posts a video of some random guy dancing, and it is shared globally millions of times. This is the power that this form of network connection holds.  This, however, is a feature of contemporary networks of relationships, and not the potential, ultimate end.

Two shifts

Networks are a basic infrastructure of the future of organizations. Where hierarchies are based upon position and role within an organization, networks are based upon who you know, and the ability to turn those connections into action.

To understand networks is to be aware of a couple shifts that have taken place over the past century.

The first shift is the elevation of the individual to a place of centrality in their own network of relationships. In this respect, being member of a community or an institution means less today than it did a generation ago. This individualism is a product of living in a society of choices made available to all who have the means as a consumers.  Today's consumer mindset sees organizations and networks existing to meet my purposes and desires. It is social in a limited, not a comprehensive sense.

The result is that much of the emphasis on networks is focused on developing them for one's own purposes as a universal platform for marketing the individual to a world of individuals.

A second shift is the emergence of the network as a place of virtual habitation. We live online, and our relationships are online, and our identity is formed online, and our life is lived online. What the old hierarchies and old local communities offered was a physical place to live one's life and to develop the habits and practices that provided a basis for a sustainable society. There is a reason why cultures survived centuries, even millennia, without the modern technologies that we have today.  These cultures of the past were communities rooted in a specific place, organized around specific traditions that helped people know how to live a life of contribution and meaning within that specific context. Many of the habits and practices that provided sustainability during the pre-modern era have eroded away as we taken up residence online. Today, everything can be done online, not requiring anything more than a wifi connection to be connected to a network of social profiles of people whom we only know as they choose to present themselves online. 

The significance of this shift is seen in the difficulty that people who are not highly engaged in an online network of relationships find in dealing with people who are not used to face-to-face human contact. Frankly, they do not understand the patterns of interaction and communication that take place through social media platforms. As a result, they are missing the necessary capacity to be persons of influence who can make a difference on a global scale.


Three Desires-Impact-NoFill
These two shifts inadequately address the fundamental desires that people have.  Those desires are for our lives to be Personally Meaningful, for Happy, Healthy Relationships, Socially Fulfilling and to Make a Difference that Matters. All of this can happen through our online network of relationships. To do so requires that they become more than simply a place where I daily project my personality into noise of the online social world.

The Next Transition

These changes are why I see our current fixation on networks of relationships as a transition point between the old hierarchical structures and what comes next. What comes next is a recognition that we are more than the constructed persona of our diverse social media profiles. We are real people who have lives apart from the online world.

The next iteration of the network is for them to become more communal. By this I mean that the relationships transcend the virtual to be transformational. For this to happen, there must be a personal stake in the relationship that moves beyond what I get from it. It goes to what I give to make it work.  In this respect, the next transition is a return to the old communities of proximity where being a neighbor meant that we were actively engaged in the care and sustainability of our community of common welfare.

SharedLeadershipImpact
There is a sharedness of these communities of relationships as seen here. When I speak of "leading by vacuum," it is a way of talking about how we each bring our own gifts and talents to the network of relationships, and in so doing, the network transcends the virtual to become something greater.

In this scenario, the individualism of the network is transformed into a community of relationships who share a common purpose or goal for their relationships.

For example, the Flow Ventura Global Triiibes Retreat  brought together people from around the globe, most who had never physically been together before. We knew each other online. The event would never had occurred had the relationships been simply virtual and individual. Instead, over a period of time, our relationships came to increasingly matter more and more. We were more than virtual connections. We were friends whose daily interaction online mattered in how we live in the dispersed places where we reside.  In other words, knowing one another online was insufficient for the sustaining of our relationships. We needed to be together in the same place, face-to-face, and side by side.

The retreat as a result was transformational for many of the participants.  Many common points of interest explored in the conversations and presentations elevated the shared values that transformed our once virtual network of relationships into a community of friends whose relationships matter to one another.

Facilitating The Transition from Network to Community

For a network to transition into a genuine community requires leadership. It needs people who facilitate and coordinate the interaction that is needed to build a community of relationships. Conversations within these networks need to clarify the shared ideas of purpose and values that are a basis for a shared vision of impact, and a common commitment to share the responsibility for it. Each provides a way for the relationship to transcend superficial connection to one that is meaningful, fulfilling and makes a difference that matters.

This is the future that I see emerging. I see it as the logical evolution of networks of relationships to become more communal than social. That does not mean it will happen in every place.  It does mean that it is possible. That it is a choice fueled by our desires for a certain kind of life that transcends the shallow superficiality of much of what we experience each day.


TransitionsOrgStructure
PDF of this guide now available
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Parallel Structures of Networks of Relationships


Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy
One of the questions that continues to dominate many of the conversations that I have with organizational leaders is the one related to how they should structure their business.

For example, yesterday in a conversation with a friend and client, we discussed the role of the administrative assistant in his business. Like many small businesses, this role has shifted from an essential one to a discretionary one. Many employment positions have gone away because the benefit does not match their cost.

The issue isn't whether the tasks that these people do are not valuable.

The issue is whether the role as defined is.

This is a picture of the shift being taken in many places from a traditional hierarchical business structure to one that I call a parallel one. This parallel structure is a network of relationships.

Hierarchy-NetworkRelationships

As you can see by this chart, there are some real differences between the traditional approach to organizing a business, and one built around relationships.  This shift is hard for everyone who has spent their work life in a hierarchical structure.

In the traditional approach, a person is hired to fill a position. That position has a job description that outlines the specific tasks and responsibilities that they are to do. The employee's expectation is that is what their time at work will be like each day. Completing tasks that are assigned through the organizational design of the company. Responsibility is passed down to the employee,while authority is held at the top. This system worked well during an era of easy growth and social continuity.  It does so because the ultimate purpose of the organization is institutional integrity.

In a network of relationships parallel structure, the job description is also relational. It means that the individual's character and engagement with people is part of what makes them a valued employee. Some may think this has always been true. And that is correct. These parallel structures of relationships have always formed when a specific need emerges. But they were seen as temporary or adhoc, not a permanent or essential part of the organization's structure.

What We Want

The greatest business failure of the past thirty years has not been scandals or financial collapses. It is the failure of business to understand the value of their employees. This failure originates in the structure of businesses.

If employees are functionaries in an administrative, production system, then their value is diminished, by let say at least 30%, and in some cases twice that.

If the business is organized to create order, then employees are hired to comply with that order. Institutional integrity becomes the goal of the organization.

However, in a network of relationships model, people bring much more to their work. This is what the team building movement has been teaching us for a generation. How people relate and work together is a key ingredient in an organization's success.

I suspect though that here again the value of the individual to company is still not perceived well.

If you were to sit down with each employee for coffee and talk about their lives, you would find what I am finding. There are three things that they want. Everyone says them differently, but they can be summarized simply. 

Life-Work Goals
People want their lives and work to be

Personally Meaningful,

          Socially Fulfilling, and

                    Make a Difference that Matters.

This is what we all want. We want the values that matter to us to be central in how we live. We want some kind of purpose for our lives. There needs to be a point to it.

We also want our relationships to be healthy and whole. We don't like conflict. We don't like to be manipulated, to be taken for granted, or to be used for someone's selfish purposes. We want to walk into work hopeful and excited about the opportunity to share my day with the people with whom I work.

We want to feel at the end of the day that we did something that made a difference. Listen to what people say when they talk about a good day. One where they accomplished something. They overcame a challenge or an obstacle and succeeded at it. Also, they did something for someone else that was appreciated. It made a difference. There was real satisfaction in helping solve person's problems. That's what we want.

The Circle of Impact Connection

The lesson for me when I began to see this picture emerge is how congruent it was to the three dimensions of leadership that I had identified as the Circle of Impact.

Circle of Impact- simple
The three dimensions that command every leader's attention are Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We tend to segregate them, thinking that it is easier that way. Instead it creates confusion and greater complexity. That is why the four Connecting Ideas - Purpose or Mission, Values, Vision and Impact - are essential tools for helping link together the three dimensions.  And it begins by clarifying the Connecting Ideas.

The Circle of Impact applies to both kinds of structures, traditional and parallel, because this is a basic, fundamental understanding of all organizations, regardless of type. Every organization must address its ideology, its social context and how the business is structured to achieve impact. All of them. However, here's the difference.

The parallel structure, described above, is a Network of Relationships. Just like in a traditional hierarchical setting, this organizational structure requires attention to the Connecting Ideas, relationships and the organization of their work.

Networks of Relationships are formed around a Shared Mission and Shared Responsibility, where leadership, authority and responsibility to contribute are shared.

From this perspective of Shared Leadership, the responsibility of the individual is to take initiative to create impact. This is the most basic contribution of the team member. And because the group is organized as a network of relationships, their collaboration and communication is an essential focus of their relationships.

Three Contributions

Most of us have experienced team work where there was a genuine experience of coming together as a group of shared purpose and contribution. And most likely, we see these experiences as the exceptions in our lives.

Let's return to my conversation with my friend and client about the administrative staff person in his office.

How can this perspective about parallel structures, networks of relationships, shared mission, shared responsibility, shared leadership and impact fit into his traditional business structure?  

It begins with recognizing that each individual has unrealized potential waiting to be released. Everyone of us wants to work in an environment that is personally meaningful, socially fulfilling and makes a difference that matters. If that is so, then the first step is figuring out how those three personal goals can become the basis for the contributions of each person.

As a result, each person contributes that which is personally meaningful. Each person contributes in their interpersonal interaction that which is socially fulfilling. And each person contributes out of their own talent, expertise and character of personal initiative those actions that create the impact that makes a difference that matters.

For each person to do this means that the social structure of the business must change. And this shift is based on what each person shares with the whole of the organization.

SharedNetworkRelationships
Here's the insight that is a key to understanding this organizational change. Because these networks of relationships are parallel structures, they can work along side of, and even within the traditional structures of hierarchy. In fact they always have. But rarely as a core strategy, but rather as a tactical approach to team work. 

We can see this is the way businesses define positions of employment. Instead of focused on contribution, the emphasis has been task oriented. As result, the value of the employee is not realized, and it makes the case for reductions in force must easier to make.

The future belongs to these parallel structures. Let networks of relationships form. Let them take collective initiative to make a difference that matters, then new vitally and impact will emerge.