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This post is part-8 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction and overview of previous posts, check here.

broken-mirror

This time, I invite you to look into the mirror, and watch the scars in your face, the arrows in your back, and the experiences that can’t be unlearned.

I invite you to make contact with the emotional and physical footprint of your work.

To make contact with those projects where you went really deep, where you chose your own path, where you challenged all existing conventions.

The ones that completely exhausted you, but where you are left with the deep and satisfactory warm feeling of having done the right thing.

In many cases, these are the projects that you chose to be part of, which you initiated.

In the same way it is better to be in a position to choose the clients you want to work for, in the same way you’re better off when you create a interdependence in life that allows you to chose the projects you want to be part of.

When projects become your projects. Where you know that you shaped the project and the project would never have become what it is without you having been part of it.

Those projects, you know, where you do the skunk work whatever it takes.

Those projects where you feel home, where you are meant to be, and that feel like your own – sometimes messy – creative studio.

Sculptor studio

Sculptor Alexander Calder's studio, 1964, photographed by Pedro E. Guerrero

For many years now, I follow and get inspired by the work of Jan Chipchase: he used to be the executive creative director of global insights for Frog Design, took a sabbatical, came back, and created in April 2014 his own Studio-D, a research, design and strategy consultancy.

You really have to read everything on the Studio-D site: the annual report, the project reports, the way to think of a company as a pop-up crew that comes together to serve a customer and then disbands when the job is done, the ethical ways of choosing projects and clients.

His own webpage opens with:

“Everybody needs space to do truly interesting work.”

That resonates with me.

It reads like a dream to me, and it’s how I would like to be, a beacon: I just don’t have the courage (yet) to make the choices Jan made.

More dreams

Building more dreams – By Hugh McLeod @gapingvoid

Studio-D has a page about “those projects”. This page did something with me at a level beyond the cognitive. It resonates very strongly with me. I have been part of and initiated some of those projects…

There are projects.

The ones that shape, mould and refine what we do, allow us to iterate on what we know – the operational things that help us get stuff done better, faster, smoother.

And then there are those projects. 

Those projects shape us and our team, they expand our world view, open minds to new ways of thinking, bring our short existence into sharp focus – they remind us that our time on this planet is too fleeting to devote to things that are no sooner done, than forgotten.

Those projects make us question our beliefs, our career goals, who we work for, who we work with, who we want to work with, and where we want to devote our energies for the next few years.

It’s those projects that rapidly evaporate any tolerance for bullshit.

They remind us of what we’ve let drift, and provide a rough hand to steer us back on track.

They are the essence of a life worked well.

Everyone has their own criteria for what makes one of “those projects”. They can include heart-in-mouth, will-we-or-won’t-we-make-it moments where the cost of failure is absolute, where fear stalks and somewhere along the line hearts leap, and tears are shed. They generate experiences that can’t be unlearnt, are in no danger of being forgotten.

“Experiences that can’t be unlearnt, are in no danger of being forgotten”!

Isn’t that great?

Is that not what life is about? Or was I discussing work? It is the same if you look at the essence of work this way?

burning

Picture from Burning Man 2015 – I was not there ;-)

The danger to be forgotten is in the eye of the beholder.

At one level of consciousness, the fear is about being forgotten as a person in the organization, and what you think you meant and mean for the organization. Why you think you and your work matter. Why you think you made a dent in the organization you work for. When that gets forgotten, that hurts. It is the stage where you wonder if you still matter.

At another level of consciousness, you have internalized that fear. You acknowledge what has been, and you don’t care anymore about being forgotten.

Because you now think in terms of experiences that can’t be unlearned and made you that unique human being that you are, with your own history and timeline of experiences.

The previous post was about the next 10 years. And the fear of not having enough time left to do what you were meant to do. In that post I also invited you to look back and interrogate the progress you made in the last 10 years. You probably can see the milestones and progress of your previous last 10 years.

But the trap is when you start worrying whether others have seen it too. When you let others decide whether you matter or not. When you wait to get picked, because you live in the illusion that the organization has internalized your last 10 years in the same deep way as you did yourself, and that the organization cares.

The organization does not care.

And your history trace evaporates a little more every year with the apparent mandatory half-yearly or yearly re-organizations, killing existing connections (and creating new ones), cutting-off the historic trails, and the milestones you were part of.

What re-organization do you work for?

The older you get, the more you witness how the wheels are re-invented over and over again. Testosterone, rivalry, positioning and ambition drive projects and organizations, not purpose. It has become standard practice to ignore history, to forget “those projects”, their lessons learned and the warm bodies that were behind them.

picasso

One of my heroes: Pablo Picasso – by Yoo-Hyun – Hand cut paper

Our conversations become tweets, at best. There is no time for a quality in the essence of our work. We are getting fragmented, and become shrapnel of our own identity.

We become irrelevant.

The essence of work is about relevancy.

But relevancy for whom and in what context?

Being forgotten is only in the eyes of the beholder.

The essence of work is that you were part off, where you were instrumental to one of those projects. They are engrained in your physical and emotional DNA, and make who you are. Nobody can take that away.

So look back, and interrogate those projects that made you who you are. That gave you the scars on your soul, and the arrows in your back. Those projects are those projects because you cared. You cared for yourself and the organization that you were part of. This relationship is different from doing your job, different from the employer-employee relationship.

The madness is many of these relations are un-even, unequal. In many cases the performer cares for the organization, but the organization does not care for the performer.

As in so many of the essays in this series, the only one way to survive this madness and is to choose and adhere to your own norms and standards for an essence of work that is after superior qualities and experiences.

That is what our next essay in the series will be about: ethereal qualities.

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This post is part-5 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction and overview of previous posts, check here.

IMG_5664

Artwork by Tania Derijcke – 3rd year painting – BKO Academy

The initial inspiration for this post was an article about robots being able to make your dinner.

Video about Moley Robotics

According to the company, the mechanical chef, which incorporates 20 motors, 24 joints and 129 sensors, learns how to cook by watching a plain old human chef, whose movements are turned into commands that drive the robot hands. Moley hopes to eventually create a product that can do everything from preparing the ingredients to cleaning up the kitchen, and include a built-in refrigerator and dishwasher. The idea is to support the robot with thousands of app-like recipes, and it would allow owners to share their special recipes online.

At the same time I was immersed in Matthew Crawford’s great book “The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction”, already mentioned some time ago in my post “Moments of Enchantment”. The whole book is about attention and agency and tangible results of your agency.

It suddenly dawned to me that

making dinner is a matter of attention.

And that “they” – the robot tribes – don’t get it. As we have seen already in our series’ post about belief systems, “They don’t get it” is a strong indicator of living in a different belief system.

peter goossens

Peter Goossens - Hof Van Cleve

Let’s contrast this with the craftsmanship of Peter Goossens and his team, who are running Hof Van Cleve, one of the best restaurants in the world. Best like in world-class: a 3-star Michelin and much more, bringing them into the top-25 of the world.

Hof Van Cleve - Craft

“In order to cook at the highest level every day and guarantee an exceptional experience for our guests, it is important that the interior of our restaurant exudes the same traditional spirit and identity that our kitchen does. Our preparations are, after all, in my opinion, the result of a great deal of effort at all levels. Indeed, we handle the best local products that the gardeners, farmers, growers, fishermen, hunters and cheese refiners can provide. Out of respect for their passionate work and thanks to their fantastic ingredients, we are able to provide our guests with a unique culinary experience. This makes cooking a true craft.”

You can take this wonderful definition of the Essence of Work, and apply it to your own domain. Note the emphasis on guests, tradition, respect, experience, and craft.

Cooking is much more than executing a recipe.

The essence of work is much more

than building to spec

In “The world beyond your head… “, there is a great chapter about a small family-run business that is specialized in restoring and building from scratch old baroque organs.

0008_10_A_337.jpg

A New Organ for Anabel Taylor Chapel

Like Peter Goossens, these organ builders don’t content themselves with restoring or building to spec. What they aim for is a dramatically superior musical experience by the musician who will play the organ.

Tradition is about building on the shoulders of giants, a bit of a simplistic statement. The author goes at length to “craft” deep into the meaning of tradition, to internalize tradition, and to pass it on in your work and onto next generations.

Tradition

is not seen as non-authentic,

but a source for energized work.

“Unlike a space shuttle, the pipe organ is a species that comes to us through cultural traditions, and serves aesthetic purposes that would be unintelligible without reference to those traditions.”

“the historical inheritance of a long tradition of organ making seems not to burden these craftspeople, but rather to energize their efforts in innovation.”

What is driving these people to strive for unconditional excellence? Wouldn’t it be easier to componentize and modularize the different elements of work and cast them in a repeatable process, so we can be more efficient and produce more at less cost? Yes, that would be possible, but I think some of us don’t get excited anymore by the efficiency game and we are aiming for a higher quality and awareness of quality of our work and the experience it delivers to our customers, or should I call them “guests”?

“There were also electronic organs available. But there’s a part of the population that will only take this.

“It’s a totally handcrafted, handmade object, and some people are willing to pay an enormous premium for it. They realize the performance musically is superior. And that’s the only justification.”

“We’re weird: we’re trying to make a living, for one thing, and make this whole thing practical, so we have to make the parts in good order and build to the contract price, which is an insane thing to do for what we’re producing, and we have to make something that’s going to perform technically or our customers are going to be coming back and getting on us. At the same time the ethos of the instrument has to be authentic—that’s why people are paying big money for us to do the work. So we’re jammed in the cracks, trying to make a realistic business out of this and at the same time be as authentic as we can. The thread of what we’re doing is totally authentic.

The author leads us into two criteria that are essential for the Essence of Work:

  • Historical coherence: The work is enlivened by a sense of going further on a trajectory they have inherited.
  • Musicality: Timeless standards of engineering, specifically as they contribute to musicality.

So, we are getting into something called

The timeless demands of musicality.”

Wow! This is getting pretty close to Christopher Alexander’s “Timeless way of building” and his passion for “pattern languages”, much more profound ways of communicating, integrating, and passing on of patterns of tradition and craftsmanship.

How would you define “musicality” in your work, even if your work has nothing to do with organs or music?

I would now like to mix-in two other criteria for our Essence of Work:

  • Constraints: Constraints have to do a lot with craftsmanship, tradition, and musicality.
  • Authentic observation: perceiving as a baby does, liberated from conventionality

Constraints. Good work is usually performed within the boundaries of timeless tradition and qualities. You have to respect the scheme, the pitch, tone, the rhythm and other musical traditions to create the right “musical experience”. Very well trained musicians, who have superior mastery of their instruments, and respect the tradition canvas of conventions, usually perform a good jazz jam.

The Essence of Work is about producing a good jazz jam. Grounded and building upon the conventions and traditions of the thousand of years before us.

The other “constraint” is the audience: the public, the commissioner, the customer, the guest. Where the context of the host and the guest meet, where host and guest get into a dance, not a fight. Host and guest: much better than the transactional supplier and buyer, or producer and consumer.

Like Rem Koolhaas about architecture in When Architects Swim:

Architecture is not at all about letting your imagination go. You must confront your imagination again and again with the request and desire of your customer

Then there is “authentic observation”.

In my art classes last year, I learned to observe. To draw what I see and not to draw what I think. This has helped me a lot to get the basics more or less right: arms and legs in the right proportion vis-à-viz the body, that sort of basics. I only got a feel for the basics. Much more work to before i am getting any good at it, let’s not even think yet about mastery or even mystery. It’s still something very tactical, mechanical for me. So much more to learn.

This week-end the 2015-2016 art class started.

IMG_5659

Picture of my art class – season 2015-2016

I will try painting this year. I never did painting, never worked with color. I am completely novice here, and open and receptive to anything that comes my way. No clue what will happen. No plan in mind.

It was thus a happenstance when my art teacher showed this as the main guiding principle for this academy year:

IMG_5666

We were asked to “observe”, to look through a frame and let ourselves surprise by the shapes in the frame. Just see. But it is more than non-judgmental observation. It’s more than the facts and the spec.

  • An historian looks at the world adopting an non-judgmental stance towards the facts.
  • A preservationist adopts a deferential stance towards the world

What we are talking about in the Essence of Work is the “Artist’s Way” of looking at the world.

IMG_5667

“This is what an artist does. She must defamiliarize herself with her everyday perceptions, which depend on—are conditioned by—her past experiences, including the experience of inhabiting a world that is thoroughly conventional. She has to try to perceive as a baby does, or as the empiricist supposes we all do, but this is a subtle and extraordinary accomplishment. There is nothing infantile about good art, but it does show us the world as viewed by a consciousness that has, for a spell, liberated itself from conventionality” (from the World beyond your head…)

Craftsmanship, Historical Coherence, Musicality, Authentic Observation, and Creating The Dance between host and guest are critical components of the Essence of Work.

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This post is part-3 of a series of ten essays on the essence of work. For an introduction, check here.

Alexa Meade Art-1 - Aligned with Alexa (2010)

Artwork by Alexa Meade - Aligned with Alexa (2010)

In Part-1, we learned how my needs inform my beliefs. My beliefs inform my actions. My actions result in effects. And those effects confirm or adjust my needs. We ended Part-1 with the promise to dive deeper into values and needs and how they are the fundamental building blocks of the essence of good work.

There is much taxonomy of needs, and I just picked this one by Shasta Nelson in Huffington Post some years ago. The needs are nicely grouped in the following categories: Connection, Physical Well-Being, Honesty, Play, Peace, Autonomy, Meaning.

How does your work allow you to progress on these dimensions? I tried to highlight below for myself some of the needs that are not fully met, where I could use some stretch, where there is room for progression and growth.

  • Connection: affection, appreciation, belonging, intimacy, safety, warmth
  • Physical well-being: air, shelter, touch
  • Honesty: presence
  • Play: joy
  • Peace: beauty, harmony
  • Autonomy: space
  • Meaning: awareness, clarity, discovery, self-expression, to matter

This list I share here is not an exhaustive list of my met or unmet needs. They are just some examples. There are other ones that are too personal, and don’t feel right to share on a public blog.

The bottom-line is that we have to be honest and sincere about our needs, and definitely not try to change them, or to lie to yourself about them, as Dave Gray suggests in Liminal Thinking:

“There is nothing you can’t lie to yourself about very convincingly, including covering up that you are lying. You do this naturally and unconsciously.”

“This is self-sealing logic at work. New information from outside the bubble of belief is discounted, or is distorted, because it conflicts with the version of reality that exists inside the bubble.”

So what is inside/outside of our bubble?

I believe it is common knowledge that happiness at/in work happens when your personal values and the values of your employer/customer are aligned. Values are part of the bubble.

The areas of alignment are much broader and diverse than just “values”. We have to align at the level of beliefs; and because our beliefs are informed by our needs, we have to look into whether your “job” is satisfying your needs.

There was a great paragraph 6) in James Altucher’s 2013 post “10 reasons why you have to quit your job this year”:

I will define “needs” the way I always do, via the four legs of what I call “the daily practice”. Are your physical needs, your emotional needs, your mental needs, and your spiritual needs being satisfied?

The only time I’ve had a job that did was when I had to do little work so that I had time on the side to either write, or start a business, or have fun, or spend time with friends. The times when I haven’t is when I was working too hard, dealing with people I didn’t like, getting my creativity crushed over and over, and so on. When you are in those situations you need to plot out your exit strategy.

Your hands are not made to type out memos. Or put paper through fax machines. Or hold a phone up while you talk to people you dislike. 100 years from now your hands will rot like dust in your grave. You have to make wonderful use of those hands now. Kiss your hands so they can make magic.

One can argue, “not everyone is entitled to have all of those needs satisfied at a job.” That’s true. But since we already know that the salary of a job won’t make you happy, you can easily modify lifestyle and work to at least satisfy more of your needs. And the more these needs are satisfied the more you will create the conditions for true abundance to come into your life.

Your life is a house. Abundance is the roof. But the foundation and the plumbing need to be in there first or the roof will fall down, the house will be unlivable. You create the foundation by following the Daily Practice.

Aha! The Daily Practice! James must have been reading Integral Life Practice 😉

IFL Book cover

A good starting point indeed to look further into our needs – starting point is a little bit of an understatement here – is the work of Ken Wilber on Integral Life and the use of the AQAL (All Quadrants, All Levels) model for personal growth.

ILF the 4 AQAL quadrants 2

From Ken Wilber’s Integral Life Practice

And within each quadrant, you have many lines of growth possible. Let’s have a look where Ken Wilber puts “needs”:

IFL needs in quadrant

From Ken Wilber’s Integral Life Practice

The curvy lines/arrows labeled “needs”, “values”, etc are specific areas in which growth can occur.

Levels are higher-order structures that reflect different altitudes of consciousness. In the quadrant above, the concentric circles give an indication of those different levels growth. The more to the outside of the quadrant, the more you have progressed. Sometimes those levels of progression are indicated in colors (more on that later in this post).

The point I am trying to make here in the context of the “essence of work” is that alignment of personal values (the “I” quadrant) with the values of the organization (the “Its” quadrant) is limiting our experience.

For work being rewarding, satisfying, and meaningful, we have to do the same mapping/alignment between the “I” quadrant and “Its” quadrant for other lines of growth such as needs, but also morals, cognition, self-identity, interpersonal relating, emotions, aesthetics, kinesthetics, and spirituality.

Each line is unique in that it can develop relatively independently from each other. In other words, you can have progressed a lot on the interpersonal relation line, but be mediocre on your needs- or value-consciousness. This is very similar to the work on multiple intelligences by Howard Gardner at Harvard University and his work on Project Zero. From Wikipedia:

The goal of his research is to determine what it means to achieve work that is at once excellent, engaging, and carried out in an ethical way.

Project Zero’s mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines at the individual and institutional levels.

Alexa Meade Art-5 - Hesitate (2012)

Artwork by Alexa Meade - Hesitate (2012)

In that sense, the well-known Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is just one particular lens on our needs, and only on our needs.

Wilber’s book does a great job in putting Maslow in context, and comparing different lines of development and related models and research.

ILF levels together

From Ken Wilber’s Integral Life Practice

Across the different lines of development, the levels of consciousness/awareness are indicated in colors of the rainbow, from infrared at the bottom up to ultraviolet and clear light at the top. Most readers will recognize the color code from Spiral Dynamics, the Teal Organization, etc.

Picturing your own more integral self-image of yourself is called a psychograph. Here is an example of a partial psychograph an Environmental Activist.

Psychograph example

From Ken Wilber’s Integral Life Practice

You can decide to focus on your strength-lines or your weakness-lines of growth.

Good work – not only the end result, but also the journey of making/creating it – is work that allows you to stretch your lines of development and to become an integral human being.

The essence of work goes beyond fulfilling your needs. The essence of work is to inspire yourself and others to produce work that has those eternal qualities of life.

The essence of work is about systems alignment.

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