Author Archive for melbourneit

Romance in Business

Last month I attended a conference called The Business Romantic.

There was a buzz of anticipation as a couple of hundred people filed into the darkened cavernous space of the old Meat Market in Melbourne –  space hung with fairy lights, with chairs and beanbags arranged in haphazard groupings facing the stage set up for a band and dominated by a grand piano. The focus of the event on the radical humanisation of the workplace.

Now let’s shift back two hundred years, to the Romantic movement of the 19th century, an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement which emphasised emotion and individualism in response to the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature.

While the Age of Enlightenment has passed, and with it the Romantic movement, the world is confronted by the reality that many aspects of life and business are being increasingly driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and it is into this space that the Business Romantics of the 21st century find themselves looking at new ways of focusing on what is human in the workplace.

AI is slipping, almost unseen, into many areas of life – from Siri and Cortana to characters in video games, from smart cars to fraud detection and purchase prediction, from security surveillance to smart home devices and drones delivering pizza – and with it comes the likelihood of significant reductions in many workplace sectors as machines do more and more of the work that was once the realm of humanity.

In the face of this change, business is looking at what human beings bring to the workplace which AI cannot. Although AI can be taught many things it cannot be taught how to feel, and it is this capacity to feel, to experience emotions, that makes human beings what they are.

We often think that it’s our ability to make choices, to be rational, that sets us apart from inanimate objects, but really it is the ability to feel, to be connected – not only with other human beings but with ourselves.

As I reflected on that in terms of the work that I do with people and their backstories I realised that as we move into a time in which AI is increasingly prevalent in the workplace, it will be our ability to stay connected to each other, to be connected with ourselves, that will ensure people do not become redundant to life and business.

I’m not referring to some sort of fluffy, in-touch-with-our-emotions kind of thing, but rather to the ability to draw on emotions and use them to bring insight and clarity to situations and decision making. This ensures that we are not driven by unconscious factors in our lives but are aware of these drivers and can use them as power to move forward.

Business Romantics understand that especially in a time in which it may appear that we are losing our place as human beings it will be those things that make us distinctly human that set us apart and give us an edge.

Courage is a Habit

I have been told many times over the last ten years that I am brave, that I have courage. This comment is usually made when I’m facing a challenge head on, or starting something new – perhaps something that I’ve never done before.

Most of the time, I don’t feel brave. Usually, I feel nervous, anxious and, at times, fearful. But, I go ahead and do that next thing, try that new thing, anyway.

And that is the essence of courage. To do what you have decided to do or what needs to be done, regardless of how you feel – and it has nothing to do with not feeling afraid.

It may be doing something physically risky – like a bungee jump off Auckland Bridge (which I did in 2012). It may be emotional courage – like facing life as a single after decades of marriage. It may be having courage with finances – such as deciding to invest in myself and begin a new business in my 60s.

bungee-2

Yes…I was scared!

Courage is about taking action – taking that next step – regardless of how you feel, and regardless of the future being unknown. And being brave is something that can be developed because courage, like so many other qualities, is a habit.

Like other habits – exercising regularly, eating healthily, not biting your fingernails, sleeping well – we can choose to develop courage each time we are faced with a situation that confronts us. We can choose to move forward or we can choose to stay where we are.

Each time we choose to step into that new thing – a new role, a change in relationship, make a hard decision – we develop our courage. And each time we choose not to move forward, each time we are paralysed by fear or indecision, our courage muscles slacken so that when the next challenge comes our way it is easier to default to avoidance and give in to fear.

Fear is a natural part of life. Like any other emotion, fear has no moral value – it is neither ‘wrong’ nor ‘right’. Fear is part of being human and it sweeps over us without warning, without being invited. But fear does not need to rule our decisions.

And that is the essence of courage – feeling the fear associated with facing a challenge, with attempting something hard or unfamiliar, with taking a risk and then moving forward. Each time we take that step forward into our fears, they give way because most fear has little basis in reality – it is merely a shadow, a might-be, a what-if. As we step into those shadows we see they have no substance and melt away.

So take heart. Just as fear is a common human experience, so can courage be. We just have to choose to be brave.

 

bungee-jump

“Sometimes falling feels like flying…” (Jeff Bridges)

The Dance of Withdrawal

Just recently, I experienced someone withdrawing from relationship with me.

This was a significant relationship. It had been a close relationship. The reason for the withdrawal was one I understood and respected, and was not permanent.

But it still hurt.

Not only did it hurt in the moment, and the days of moments which followed, but it tapped into past experiences of withdrawal. It tapped into the pattern of relating in a long-term relationship where withdrawal was a tactic used to keep me and my concerns at arm’s length – so that valid issues did not need to be addressed. It tapped into another relationship in which a friend would withdraw until they sorted things out – and only then, if I was lucky, would I find out what some of the concerns might have been.

We’ve all experienced withdrawal, and it always hurts. We felt it in childhood when a good friend wouldn’t ‘play with us anymore’. We experienced it in adolescence when young love is not reciprocated or our boy/girlfriend ‘drops’ us for another. We sense it in intimate relationships when our partner is not ‘with us’ even though they may be physically present.

And the reason withdrawal hurts so much is that feelings of rejection usually come along for the ride. We question ourselves, our worth, and our ability to love and be loved. Everything about us is called into question – because there must be something wrong with us or why else did the other person withdraw? Right?

I didn’t quite go there, because I know I’m OK – not perfect but quite OK. But what I really wanted to do was withdraw myself, harden my heart, and distance myself from the situation.

But I had a new path to take.

I have started reading some of the writings of Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr. He wrote, “Our experiences of ordinary life will transform us if we are willing to experience them fully.” He went on to say that “We see this ‘ordinariness’ in the…sin and war, adultery and affairs, kings and killings, intrigues and deceit, and the ordinary, wonderful and sad events of human life.”

Rohr concluded his reflection by noting that it was into this ordinariness that God stepped in the person of Jesus – the implication, for me, was blinding.

I was not to withdraw from the ordinary messiness of the situation I was in. I certainly had to allow my friend the space they needed but, even though I was hurt, I was not to withdraw – I was to stay engaged.

Withdrawal is part of my backstory. Those experiences of withdrawal had the potential to keep me in a pattern of behaviour – you withdraw, I withdraw. But now, I had the chance to turn my backstory of withdrawal into a superpower of engagement.

That decision to stay emotionally engaged did not take away the pain, but gave me purpose. It shaped how I responded to the next few weeks. It shaped my attitudes and my actions.

What had the potential to keep me stuck, and anchored to past ways of behaving, became a sail to catch the wind so that I could move into the future of this relationship freely and lightly.

Own the Past

In my work with individuals and businesses in exploring how their backstory impacts their life or business growth, the first step is to own the past.
However, often in the desire to move forward we want to just leave the past behind and get on with embracing a new outlook, one we believe will enable us to move forward.
In this desire to move forward is a possibility of overlooking what has been, and can be, gained from owning the past.
The attitudes, patterns and experiences of the past have shaped who we are today, and it is often the experiences we deem as negative which have the most power to shape us.
If we do not own those experiences, attitudes and patterns as our own we run the risk of inserting a wedge between our past and our present which can fracture who we are.
This practice of owning the past is ongoing. Some of the past is more difficult to own than others, but all of it is part of who we are, what our business is today. Own the past, then we can embrace the present and create the future we desire.

Leaving the Water

Just like the fish in the ancient Chinese proverb, ‘A fish is the last one to know what water is’, everyone has ‘water’ that they swim in – an unconscious understanding of life and the world which shapes and colours all that we do, think and say.

This ‘water’ is a combination of the culture we grew up in, the sub-section of that culture that our family was part of and the distinctive understandings of life that are important to our particular family. For me, my culture was white Australian, the sub-section was conservative middle-class Christian and my family was a strong, self-contained but somewhat isolated unit (I have no cousins and only met some second cousins in mid-life).

Just like the fish in its own bowl of water, I swam in my ‘water’ quite oblivious to its reality and its impacts on my understanding of the world. This ‘water’ had been the norm for me since birth and I rarely questioned its validity or the subtle effect it had on my outlook – not until I went to Nauru.

Being immersed in a culture other than my own, mixing with people from many nations (The Salvation Army team consisted of people from Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, US, New Zealand, Australia, UK, Vietnam and Nauru), hearing so many different languages swirl around me, and working with staff of different faiths (Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, atheist) opened my mind and heart to ways of looking at life that were different, and yet still similar, to my own.

When I returned to my ‘water’ at the end of the contract and took time to reflect on all I’d experienced, I began to reassess. I could now see the ‘water’ I’d been swimming in all my life and recognise its impact (fear and a sense of superiority).

I now had a decision to make.

My ‘water’ was real, its impact on my life was real, but I was no longer completely happy swimming in that ‘water’. There were aspects to my life that I saw needed to change.

And I had a choice.

I could be like the fish and continue to swim in this ‘water’ of my culture, faith and upbringing, without questioning how healthy it was. Or I could be like a tadpole, which also begins life in water but which, as it matures, grows into a frog and leaves the water behind.

I chose to be a frog.

I was thankful for much that my ‘water’ had given me, but I knew that it was no longer a healthy place for me to live. I knew there were other ways of looking at life and other cultural understandings which were as valid as my own. There were other stories that I needed to listen to and explore.

So I chose to be a frog and leave the ‘water’ behind.

Ribbit!

What's your water?

There’s an old Chinese proverb which says: a fish is the last one to know what water is. The idea is that all of us have unconscious understandings of the world based on our cultural and racial heritage which influence what we do, the decisions we make and the attitudes we hold.

I’m a child of the 60s and a teenager of the 70s. I grew up in conservative, white, middle-class, Protestant Bible-belt Australia.

Fast-forward to 2012.

I’m a single-again mid-life woman working with The Salvation Army when it is awarded a contract by the Australian Government to provide welfare services for asylum seekers in the newly-reopened off-shore detention and processing centres on the Republic of Nauru and Manus Island (part of Papua New Guinea.) I volunteered for a four-week rotation on Nauru, not because I had a burning desire to work with asylum seekers, not because I wanted to work in a developing nation, and definitely not because I wanted to work in the tropics.

I volunteered because I couldn’t think of any reason why not to.

After catching the red-eye from Brisbane, Australia, with 80 or so others, I stepped out into the tropical heat wondered what I’d got myself into. After a full day of orientation, and having been up for over 24 hours, the last item on the day’s agenda was to check out ‘the camp’ where the 400 or so men were being housed in green army tents. As my group walked between the rows of tents and I watched the men sitting on their stretchers or talking to each other. Some looked at us with vague interest, but mostly we were ignored. However, I became aware of feeling afraid.

As I reflected on that feeling of fear and realised that it had no physical basis I saw that this fear was solely based on ‘otherness’.

These men were ‘other’ to me: other nationalities, other faiths, other languages. What was shocking for me was to realise that in me was a latent racism based purely on the homogenous ‘water’ of my childhood and upbringing. I had always said I didn’t have a racist bone in my body – I now knew that this was untrue.

Some months later, I discovered some more about my personal ‘water’. I was a white university-educated Aussie, working in a facility run by Australians with a team of Nauruans providing support services, as teacher’s aides, running the canteen, being part of the welfare team. There was little collaboration by the Aussie leadership with the Nauruans and the longer I was there, the more I became aware of sense of superiority that characterised the interactions between Aussies and Nauruans – including my own.

I spoke of my burgeoning understanding of this superiority I felt to the woman leading the Nauruan team. Her comment was that the Nauruans felt it too but just knew this was the way we were. I was appalled.

On returning to Australia when the contract ended I took a good look at myself and my life. I started asking questions and talking to people about what I’d learnt about myself. I discovered that there was name for that combination of fear and superiority that people like me felt when confronted with difference – white privilege.

That was my ‘water’ and it impacted all my interactions with others and especially those who were different to me.