Creativity

leaders blinded by their own light

Did Icarus die because of his joy of flying or because of his triumphalism? Did the sun melt his wings because of his immersion in the exuberance of flight or because of his high fiving, fist bumping, “nothing can stop me now” exhilaration? If it had been purely the joy of flying, his senses would have been wide open and alert to everything around him, including any signs of danger. Whereas, if nothing ‘could stop him now’, then why be alert to anything?

Hubris, it appears, has one severe disadvantage: it makes you blind.

The word hubris  was first used, we think, by Aristotle who talked of it as being the abuse of power over others: where one who has been favoured by fortune then proceeds to abuse the less favoured. It went on to be seen as testing oneself against the gods – which they, in their jealousy, then stamped on very promptly indeed.

But what’s wrong with continuously testing the limits? We do it all the time. We’re just about to discover the ‘God particle’; the first trace of matter (first, that is, until we predict another elementary particle) and we now can capture images with shutter speeds equal to that of light. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. Nothing at all. Long may we continue to learn and re-discover our universe.

The danger comes when we think that we can do it all ourselves; that our achievements are solely our own; that nothing can stop us now. Because that’s when we stop looking around us. That’s when we’re blinded – by our own light.

Everything we do, everything we know, started before us and will continue after we have gone. The knowledge that Stephen Hawking,  Albert Einstein, Francis Crick and Plato had was built on the shoulders of those who came before them and served as the base for the knowledge that came afterwards. Yes, Archimedes put together all his learning and skill to come up with the measurement of mass – but he was helped by where he was: by the fact that he was getting into the bath. There’s nothing mystical or magical about it: he was getting into a bath, saw how his body displaced its equivalent in water, put two and two together and came up with 64,000. And what did he say? “Eureka”! Not “I found it”, as we tend to translate it nowadays but “I am in a state of having found it”.

So what produced the discovery? His being in a state to discover; his alertness to discovery. Yes, his unique skill played a great role but only in combination with the learning that had disciplined and enriched him; the experience that had shaped and given him confidence; and the context and circumstances within which he was now acting. An absence of any one of those factors (and a few hundred more) could have stopped him from jumping up stark naked and yelling his discovery to his neighbours.

Great ‘innovators’ all seem to have one thing in common: they all acknowledge their debt to those who came before them and their links with the world around them. Those who claim they are uniquely responsible for a discovery or even success are at best deceiving themselves and at worst lying.

Either way, they have made themselves blind and risk burning off their wings.

I used to think that the antidote to the hubris virus was balance: not too much joy at success; not too much misery at failure.  What my teachers would have called “good taste”. And then I noticed that I could still be  very smug  indeed while acting with extraordinary decorum.If hubris is a state of unsustainable triumphalism, then how do I keep myself open to the possibility of sustainable discovery and achievement?  I suspect, it does entail a sort of balance but it has less to do with control and more with awareness: awareness of the balance of all the contributors to ‘my’ success.

It is a balance between being totally aware of where I am and what I want to change. It is being in a state of awareness and discovery.

If Icarus had been in that state of awareness and discovery, he would have been able to find the ideal temperature  and altitude for the easiest, safest flight.

How does this apply to leadership?  Some years ago I started advocating a principle called “Leadership from the Centre”: the idea that leaders  are most effective when they are at the centre of a network  from which they are able to have clear access to a wide range of  stakeholders. Equally, they are accessible and visible to the challenges of  those stakeholders. It is, in essence a model for trying to maintain this balance of awareness and discovery. This is not a leader on a white charger who makes all the decisions himself or even with a small cabal of advisors. With this leadership model, decisions are made through intense awareness of the context: through scenario planning, testing or just listening. Each movement  is felt throughout the network as is each success or failure.

I first thought about it when  many of my clients fretted that they were missing some pretty important, if not vital, things going on in their organisations. These were mostly thought of as “strong” individuals who were seen to be leading from the front; a characteristic much treasured by television programmes and some corporations. My question was: if you are leading from the front, pulling the organisation along, how do you know what’s going on behind you?  Or  -as I said earlier in this reflection – you may be putting yourself in a state of discovery (of the future) but what about your state of awareness ( of the present)? How do you know- for example – whether your followers agree with what you’re doing – and that they are not sabotaging you? How do you know that what you’re doing for the organisation actually is good for it?  Are you flying too close to the sun because you’re dazzled by your own light?

It all boils down to one core question: “How, as a leader, do I make sure that I am continuously reminded to be in a state of awareness and discovery? What structures and processes do I need to set up? What relationships do I need to develop? What behaviour do I need to display so that my stakeholders  can not only  challenge me but see it as their duty to do so? And how do I make sure that I  and the organisation keep learning?  Finally, to return to the ancient Greeks, how do I, like the craftiest of all leaders Odysseus, make sure that when the sirens of hubris start singing their irresistible song, I am stopped from following them onto the rocks?

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What if Man…

What if Man

did not fall

to Earth,

but

flew?

—–

 

What if She

did not fall

damaged

and caterwauling

but landed

in perfection?

—–

 

What if Man

is

Angel

of such courage

and power

that it is one

of

a treasured few

that can leave

the shelter of heaven?

—–

An angel

with

the strength,

the purity

and the

unspeakable

courage

to live;

to experience

the nature of

One.

—–

To be One;

and so

to feel,

and cause,

the pain

of

Not

Being

One.

—–

What if Man

does not fall

miserably

but flies,

to retrieve for

The Beloved Oneness,

the Holy Grail:

a thimble full,

of being

Oneness?

—–

If

we knew

we had taken on

this agony

with such magnificence

would we cease

the whimpering

of

original sinners

flawed in every

thought:

flawed before thought?

 

—–

Would we stand

and

say

"We are here for one reason only:

to live Oneness.

And we do it

with power

and courage

and love".

—–

How could we possibly enfold

the dragon

if we were flawed?

—–

How how could we begin

to experience

Oneness

if our very nature

was "less than";

"excluded from";

sinners in the original?

——–

And if we are

less than

who is lesser than less?

Who is the greater sinner?

How many degrees of exclusion

can we create to insulate ourselves?

—–

If we arrive believing

we are excluded

then we will exclude.

—–

We can only

experience the

Oneness

if we are it

in the first place

—–

And when we return,

we take with us

in triumph

only that:

The experience of

Oneness.

The rest,

The Separation.

does not exist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fulfilment is a participation sport

My assistant, Gemma, said a few weeks ago, apropos I have no idea what, " I don’t buy this business of waiting for the ideal job. We should just get on and do the best with what we’ve got".

My first reaction was that she was wrong; it was too pessimistic a view of the world. After all my own experience had been that when I had ‘got on and did the best with what I had’ and didn’t pursue my own creativity it drifted further and further away from me.

Then it struck me that, in the past, I hadn’t done ‘the best I could with what I had’. Because if I had, as a creative person, I would have continued to seek my creativity in whatever job/life/marriage I had. And, as someone seeking after meaning- I would have continued to do so, wherever I was.

What had I done instead? I’d told myself that

"This job is not creative; is not meaningful – is not me. I’ll take what it can give me: an opportunity for my management skills; for making good money; for turning around companies. It’s a job for my skills – not my commitment.

You could summarise it in one sentence "This job is not me"

It’s part of a conversation I’ve been having all my life; first with myself, my parents and partners. And more recently listening to my clients – and my children. It starts off with the question "What do I want to be when I grow up?; moves on to "This is my ideal job/ love/ life…" and then inevitably to "There’s something missing. There’s no joy, creativity, love in it" And finally to: This job, this relationship, this life…is not me"

And what does that mean when we say that about ourselves? That we’re holding ourselves outside our own life.

If we say ‘this is not me’, what we’re doing is refusing to commit ourselves to the present. We’ve always got one foot outside the door. And the problem with standing on the threshold is that you never fully experience (or even know) what goes on in the room; you’re forever an observer.

And creativity, joy and love are participation sports. As is fulfilment

Joy is an experience; an emotion that results not just from doing but from participating. Fully -with both feet well past the threshold. With the door shut. And a commitment that you’ll give it the best you have.

That you’ll give it all you have.

And you can’t create something by just looking at it. You’re going to have to get your hands dirty.

And love? How can you find love when you’re forever hovering?

Commitment doesn’t imprison you. It doesn’t mean you can’t walk out the door if you want to go further. It simply means that while you’re in the room you’ll give all you have. And by committing yourself, you maximise your experience (your wisdom of skills, emotions, thoughts) that equips you to make the best of the future – in the same or in other rooms.

So next time you find your job is not ‘giving’ you enough authority/ creativity/ joy/ scope to use your real skills (and whatever else you feel is missing) ask yourself how much of those aspects of yourself are you giving it? And what would happen if, as Gemma said, you gave it the best of you?

 

 

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What if God…

What if the God we believe in,

or reject,

is not the all powerful

who turns from love

to vengeance,

but is the most delicate

gossamer?

What if God is the

the lightest butterfly?

Not the weight of the universe

but the wisp

that’s needed

to balance the universe

on the breath of her wings?

What if God depends on us

to preserve the space

for that breath?

To protect her

from the turbulence of our

wheeler-dealing prayers?

What if the gossamer

is worn ever finer,

the wisp ever lighter,

when we call upon her

to slaughter our enemies?

What if the power of God

holds

when we are still

and listening

and alert?

So that, in that watchful

stillness,

the world can

come to rest.

What if our sacred duty is

to be God’s haven?

Would we still

drill the hearts

of our enemies,

bomb the cities

of the unbelievers

or clamour to be the chosen?

Or would we stop:

in case the din

toppled the beloved?

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The space to fly, walk and crawl.

How do we lose ourselves?

How do we lose that which we hold most dear in ourselves – by which we identify ourselves?

Recently I was introduced to an intriguing coaching tool in which you’re asked to identify your ‘core quality’; that attribute by which you most closely identify yourself. I said ‘Integrity’ was mine. While it was true it was also a cop out because if I didn’t have integrity as a coach I may as well pack up and go home. As I started using the tool with colleagues and clients, I noticed how many said exactly the same thing: ‘Integrity’. And without any passion. Or, at least, with the same lack of passion that I had felt.

And then I thought: “When did I last feel really passionately about an attribute of mine”?

And I remembered: when I felt so passionately that I would sacrifice anything for it without a thought. When I couldn’t wait to wake up. And sleep was such a waste of time.

And the object of my passion? Making things. Creativity.In the theatre, in radio, television and film. I acted, directed, wrote, adapted, broadcast, presented, made programmes on poetry, noise, tea, music and anything else I could think of. Incessently. And without a single care about whether I was being judged successful or otherwise. Everything I did felt perfect for me. And that was enough.

And then I abandoned it.

I was living in South Africa at the time- Apartheid South Africa. And I began to suspect that my own creativity wasn’t ‘doing enough to change things’. Writing and directing plays and making programmes may offer relief – or even show people how things could be – but it wasn’t going to feed people or stop them from being imprisoned and killed. So, quite swiftly, I abandoned what I had done best and started reporting for foreign networks -as well as working with the then nascent black trade unions. Good, solid, serious work. Where I felt creativity had no place. Where, ironically, although we were working for ‘what could be’, I felt that only tackling the grinding reality – of what was in front of our noses – had any place at all.

Thoroughness was the byword. Do things carefully. Start at the beginning and get to the end.

And that pattern continued when I arrived in Britain. Yes, I went back to radio and television (not the theatre) but not as a programme maker or writer. As a manager. And, eventually as a turnaround specialist: diagnose, change, move on.

That lasted until, many years later, I decided that wasn’t good enough either . And I went back to school to learn about coaching. Because I was beginning to understand the lesson of joy. Or, rather, the lack of it.

Intutition, creativity and the cross hairs of intelligence

When I was being ‘creative’ I was literally firing on all cylinders. In order to direct a play, I needed to use my intuition to grasp the essence (or perhaps ‘my’ essense) of the story. I also needed to have a view of the overall production as well as to focus on an incredible amount of detail to ensure that those two hours (on stage or on air) ‘fitted together’. I had to make sure I could manage a complex project against tight and very precise deadlines. And I needed to make sure that all involved (cast, crew and management) were kept motivated, sharp and passionate for the performance or recording. (Because even if you’re playing Lazarus before the miracle you still need to do it with conviction, wouldn’t you say?)

So, in order to be creative, I needed to use all my multiple intelligences: mental, physiological, emotional and spiritual/intuitive.

And what do I mean by creativity? In my experience it’s very close to intuition. Intuition comes from the Latin ‘intueor’, meaning to contemplate, to look into. And, the OED tells us intuition is “the ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning”. Does that mean it’s guesssing? No, it’s the drawing together of all your intelligences in one sudden insight.It’s the apex of those multiple intelligences – mental, physical and emotional as, literally, an ‘insight’. It’s not a leap into the void but a flight within.

And creativity is a milli-step beyond intuition: it’s that which moves the insight into growth, into a way forward, into something new. Intuition grasps how things are; creativity grasps how they could be; creation makes them real.

Your intuition grasps that this search engine does amazing things; your creativity shows you how you can turn it into a huge business; your creation actually shapes that business.

And where do both intuition and creativity spark? In the cross hairs of your intelligences. And without exercising all those intelligences in a balanced way it’s going to very difficult for that convergence to happen. If your mental (logical) ‘intelligence’ is over ‘flexed’ and your physical (feelings) is neglected, your insight may end up being nothing more than a linear, academic idea with little or no joy or passion to drive you into doing something about it – and staying with it.

If I overuse one of my intelligences (be it emotional, intellectual or physical) I will see the world only in a particular way: as logical detail, as chaos, as pain or as ‘big picture’. And the world is all of those things -at different times. So, we need to remember to look at it in different ways, using our different intelligences.We need to, sometimes, start at the end before we find a beginning. We need sometimes to fly above before crawling into its microscopic detail. Each view gives us a different insight. And in each view we’re exercising a different intelligence.

Insight, Outsight and Passion killers

I abandoned creativity because I confused it with the’arts’. I thought: the theatre = arts = creativity =soft emotions = no place in ‘real life’. Now, there are a lot of flaws in that entire logic but the most important one for this discussion is the last one: that creativity is all messy and soft and “has no place in ‘real life’”.

The result of that was that, instead of bringing with me the balance that had made me successfu, strong and happy before (being detailed one moment, big picture, pragmatic, intuitive or visionary in others, as I had as a director and writer) I focused almost entirely on my mental intelligence: that faculty that sees the world in a linear, logical and – allegedly – objective fashion.

The trouble with walking along the ground in a “linear and logical” way is that your view of the world -and therefore your ideas for the world – stay at ground level as well. And, of course, equally, being up in the air all the time, with a big picture view, tends to make your ideas ‘up in the air’ as well.

As for my intuition – the grasping of what is- was replaced by that killer of all passion: what should be. Understanding the reality of what is, comes from your own insight; from the converged experience of all your intelligences. Seeing reality as what should be is second guessing someone else’s reality: your outsight, if you like.

Check calls

If we accept that creativity is a ‘good thing’ and it’s best chance of emerging is from that coming together of our multiple intelligences, then we clearly need to make sure that we’re exercising those intelligences – and in a balanced way.

And something that may help is periodically making a few check calls into how we’re living your life – at work or at home.

Core quality check:
Which core attribute of yours do you hold most dear?
With which quality do you emotionally identify yourself?
How are you using that attribute to bring value – to renew – your work?
If you’re not, how can you do so? If you don’t want to, where can you do so?
If you’re changing jobs or career, are you taking with you that core quality and self identity which brought you most success and satisfaction?
If not,why not?

Multiple intelligences check:

What (and how) do you think about this job? How do you feel about it,emotionally?
What about physically? Does it give your body strength and energy – or does it drain it ?
And bringing them all together, what does your intuition say?
What do all your intelligences and experiences say?

View check

And if you can’t see clearly or you’re anxious that you can’t do the job.Or -like me so many years ago -you think it’s not enough to change the world. Then try changing your view:
What will this job look like if you’re not here? What will you look like if you’re not here?
What would it look like (and how would you feel) if you were an observer?
How about looking back from a distance of ten years?
In doing the job, are you using all your intelligences?

Oh – and one which is my personal favourite: what do you feel about your work first thing in the morning?

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