Monday, November 25, 2013

The hole in the middle of the problem

When we are stuck, our problem seems to occupy our entire field of perception. Wherever we look, there's the problem. This is also true when someone else comes to us for help with one of their problems. Whether we are driven by our own egos or a genuine desire to support, we look at a person and see a problem. In both cases, because we see the problem wherever we look, we feel that our entire value is tied up in solving the problem.


When we open our eyes and take a closer look, we realize that problems are not monoliths. All problems have holes in them, times or places or actions where they vanish for a bit. Solving the problem means looking through the holes instead of at the problem. And then maybe pushing the edges back, a little at a time, so that we can see more of what is on the other side. If we're not sure the hole is real, we just need to ask someone else to look through it with us. There's nothing quite as intriguing as two kids taking turns peering through a small hole in a big wall.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Whose fault is it that you are bored?

When you were a kid, there were two situations in which you might be bored. One was at home where there was no structure to long days off and you might complain that 'there's nothing to do.' If you were bored at home, it was your fault. The antidote was clear. You needed to change your actions (go outside and play - at least in the olden days) so that your attitude were change.

If you were bored at school, the rules were quite different. If you were bored at school, the consensus was that it was probably your teacher's fault. It was your teacher's job to engage you and interest you and supply you with activities. If you were bored, the teacher wasn't doing enough or wasn't doing the right things or was not supported by the right kind of system. The antidote was for the teacher to change or for you to change schools or systems so that you could be engaged enough to learn what you needed to learn.

The system pays teachers to engage students. That seems pretty straightforward. Of course, you might have had 'mean' parents like mine. They might have insisted that being bored was up to you and navigating the system was mostly up to you and that you already had enough brains and experience to do what you needed to do to dance circles around the system and keep yourself occupied.

Thanks Mom! Thanks Dad!

Because I had the 'mean' hands-off kind of parents, I learned that boredom was a choice. Yes, the teacher was droning on, but that didn't mean I couldn't daydream. My mind might not be occupied in the way the teacher thought, but it could be occupied.  It took years of intentional practice before I got the hang of it.

Sometimes I still get bored. Not very often but it happens. Generally it happens when I want to rest or to let myself off the hook for doing something part of me wants to do and most of me thinks is unnecessary. Sometimes it happens when I am getting bogged down in an activity I could do more productively or when I am busy avoiding something I am scared to do. Being bored is not restful, but it is great incentive to get back to work.

The kids whose parents told them it was the teacher's fault that they were not engaged? They're bored a lot of the time now. As hard as we try to make bosses accountable for how bored we are, they are often busy holding their bosses accountable for their boredom. The truth is this: engagement is not just a state of being that happens. It's a skill set that we employ to make stuff happen.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Are you spending enough time collaborating?

Many of the people I train work alone or with a small group. They are professionals in practices, solopreneurs or entrepreneurs running small businesses. One of the reasons they value training is that they do not get to spend enough time collaborating to get to results that are one step beyond what they can imagine on their own.

Collaborating means working with people who share your purpose and frame: they are working within the same conditions to produce the same result. It also means working with people who do not share your expectations, limitations or special gifts. This mix of like-mindedness and variety allows a group of collaborators to produce more together than they could working alone. Sometimes more refers to quantity but most often it refers to the ability to generate innovations that no one person would have been able to create.

If you work alone or with a small group of people who are both like-minded and like you in gifts and limits, then you are not achieving as much as you could in a wider collaboration. There are different ways to address this so that your brain is sparked by ideas you would not have had on your own. One way is to work with a coach or trainer who can introduce difference into your thinking. Another is to work in a training group where you will encounter multiple perspectives and interact with multiple states of mind.

If you're spending too much time in your own work and not enough time being surprised by the work that is generated through a combination of difference and good will, then consider finding a training where different people come together for a short, intensive burst of speculation and innovation.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The value of daydreams

I don't know very much about interval training, except that it's effective. It involves short bursts of intense activity interspersed with lower intensity activity.

It's a lot like writing for me. I write in a burst, then I let myself be distracted, then I burst into more words, then I let myself be distracted.  Over and over. It's part of the process. If I stay in flow, I write more but I don't write better. In flow, the writing becomes like trance and trance logic doesn't play well in writing. I read an article on storytelling this week. It discusses James Joyce and Finnegan's Wake this week that points out no one can actually read hundreds of pages of trance logic.

You might not think that trance logic is a problem for you. You might think that you are sharp and logical and a brilliant negotiator.  In Willful Blindness Margaret Heffernan explores many situations in which smart people do dumb things because they are so tired or so much in flow that they enter a world of trance-like thinking, a world that has much in common with the certainty we feel in our dreams.

Daydreams are not like night dreams. They are not intense and gripping and they do not make us feel certain. They might not make us feel good, either. But maybe the point of daydreams is not to engage in a quick delusion of happiness. Maybe daydreams create a distraction from intensity so that what we return to is smarter, sharper, more precise.

Rest is not happiness. But without rest, happiness is not possible for long.