Shift your perspective

If nothing else, 2016 has shone a very strong and revealing light on the seemingly polarised nature of society. Our ability to see, hear, repeat and convey from a singular point of view.

“They just don’t get it”

“Why can’t they open their eyes?”

“It’s right in front of them, they’re just too…”

They. Their. Them.

In the ontological approach to coaching, there is a model that with the acronym OAR, where O is the observer, A are the actions and R the results. In life we are often taught to focus on the latter two: first we do stuff and in return we expect stuff to happen. When the results don’t go as we want, we change the actions, or repeat them twice as hard.

Seldom, do we consider the fact that the range of actions that we observe, might not be the entire and only options. In other words, we see things entirely from our perspective. Which is only human, but also limiting.screen-shot-2016-11-26-at-15-06-00

The model suggests that if we widen our perspective as observers, then the range of possible actions and potential results will also increase.

The boss who “always” seems to make the “wrong” decision?

The spouse who “never” understand what you want?

The stranger that voted the other way to you?

It seems to me that their is often no absolute “right”, no definitive answer. Just people observing, making actions and seeing results. And given the different experiences, different lifestyles, different upbringings and existences we have, the range of observations are going to be entirely different too.

We like to believe that we are enlightened and that others some how need to catch up to our perspective. But what if, instead, we chose to try and understand the point of view, ask ourselves what they might see that we don’t, what they might understand?

They. Their. Them.

Entirely natural, but unhelpful. And ultimately limiting ourselves as well.

 

Conversation is not enough

In a country still reeling from the largely unforeseen referendum in June, the US election result added a further sense of discombobulation to the many attendees at the CIPD Conference last week, who reacted to the unexpected news on Wednesday morning with a level of predictable hysteria.

A lot of the debate at the conference followed the theme of the future of work and making work more human. Themes that I (and others) have been implementing, writing and talking about for over five years. And whilst it is great to see the mainstream finally adopt the same agenda, it fills me with a deep and profound sense of unease.

Both electoral outcomes were largely unseen by the liberal elite, the same people that talk of making work more human. Both outcomes were partly driven by a sense of societal injustice, unfairness and frustration with the role that the establishment has played. Or perhaps, more accurately, the role the establishment has not played.

If we believe in fairness, if we believe in humanity, if we believe the future of work is indeed human, it is beholden on us to do less talking and more acting. Positive outcomes are not achieved through well meaning dialogue but through the actions we take and the changes we make. Positive outcomes are not achieved in the warm bubble of elitist consensus, but by taking ourselves out of our comfort zones and listening more than we talk.

We have to accept that “we” have got things wrong, not “them” and that “we” can make the change, not “them”. We have to accept that the inequalities in work, housing, education, society come from our hand and from the hands of our like. But that we can also make changes that matter, right here, right now.

In my darker moments, I fear we do not have enough time and that ultimately the change that needs to be made will be provoked by external circumstances out of our control. That the burning platform will not be lit by our hand. But if there is a chance, if there is an opportunity, if we have a moment in which we can change things for the better, it will surely only come from meaningful, visible action, and not well intentioned, but impotent talk.

Leaving the conference I got in to a cab to go back to the station. The driver asked me where I’d been and what sort of things I spoke about. When I explaned, he replied, “Good luck with that! It’s dog eat dog out there. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the sentiment, I just don’t see how it is ever going to happen”.

Unless we start to act, I think he’s probably right.

Education is more important than politics

My son was born in February 2000. That may seem an unimportant fact, and in truth it is, other than it places him close to being born at the turn of the millennium. At the time of his birth, the Secretary of State for Education was David Blunkett.

As he now approaches his 17th birthday (my son, not Blunkett) and enters in to the last stage of his secondary education, Justine Greening is the holder of the same position.

What I find quite remarkable is that by the time he reaches the end of his studies in spring 2018, and assuming no further changes, there will have been a total of NINE holders of this position. At present, the average tenure of the person responsible for education, during his lifetime, falls short of two years.

It isn’t an unusual pattern, in fact you have to go back to 1918 and Herbert Fisher to find anyone holding the post for longer than five years. To provide comparison, the average tenure of a CEO is somewhere close to ten years.

It seems unsurprising that the education sector is failing to deliver the outcomes required when the leadership, direction and ethos change with such frequency. Particularly when education policy is often tainted by the personal experiences of the senior person in charge – the “it didn’t do me any harm” effect.

When interest rates were placed in the hands of the Monetary Policy Committee in 1997, the rationale was to remove political interference and to focus instead on long-term stability and growth. What we see now is a group of experts, bringing different views, coming together to achieve a consensus for the benefit of the country’s economy as a whole.

There feels little, more important to the future prosperity of the country than the education system. Having spent time in and around schools over the last twenty years, the biggest complaint is not perhaps what one might believe – funding, but the overwhelming sense of disorientation and fatigue caused by the multiple initiatives and changes in direction from above.

If we are serious in reinventing the education system in the country, if we believe that it has a fundamental role to play in the future success of the country and the economy, then it requires us to think differently about the way in which policy is set and how we create a single sustainable and stable approach to our education system.

The obvious, but perhaps unpalatable, answer is to take policy out of the hands of government and to place it in the hands of a panel of experts drawn from academia, education, business and other areas and overseen by a cross party group of MPs and with overall accountability to the Secretary of State. Build consensus on our education policy for the long-term, remove personal bias and create stability.

The reality is, that it would take a brave and courageous government to hand away one of their main political bargaining chips. But in turn that begs the question;

Is our education system there to serve the careers of politicians, or to serve the country?

The negative power of change

I’ve written before about my loathing for the disproportionate use of the term “disrupt”. It is a lazy, attention seeking way of trying to be heard in a world where innovative, creative thinking is at a minimum and noise and kerfuffle cloud the air of rationality. In many ways, disrupt is the bastard offspring of “change” – another overly used terms that was bandied around liberally with the hope of appearing clean and fresh and new.

Most genuine disruption and change which involves humans is potentially painful. That’s why placing it in the hands of people who fail to understand these consequences is both dangerous and naive. It is also why I have fundamental reservations about anyone who professes to “love change”. Maybe some change, but all change?

The are organisations that have become dependent on change as a means of defining their purpose. They move from restructure, to initiative, to strategic review without stopping to take a breath. These are not the agile or adaptable organisation that they would hope to be, but instead lost and rudderless placing bet after bet hoping that one of them will come home without realising the quantum of their losses.

That is not to say that organisations shouldn’t seek to change, progress and develop. It is not to say that they shouldn’t seek to innovate, create and (maybe) have some disruptive force. But the overriding question has to be, “for what purpose?” What is the reason that we are doing this, what are the imperatives that we need to take in to account, what will be the difference that we will see at the end and how will we know whether we’ve achieved it?

The practices that we use to achieve this, the way in which we work to solve the problems, the means by which we measure and assess will all change, but the overriding context should not. The most agile and adaptable of organisations hardly need to talk about change or disruption, they’re making a million small and seemingly indiscernible improvements every year to be better.

Ultimately, when we’re talking about human lives, when we’re talking about human existence and experience, we need to be respectful, mindful and thoughtful about the implications on everyone within an ecosystem of the actions that we take. Loving change is one thing when you’re doing it, another when it is being done to you.