Tuesday, September 30, 2003

New look 

Little by little, I get to grips with enough HTML to begin to customise the look of this blog. Not quite right yet, but better. Well, I think so anyway.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Reflections on reflection 

Blogging encourages reflection on life's happenings - sacred or profane; monumental or trivial; exceptional or routine.

In every model of learning I've ever come across there is some feedback process - e.g.the classic PDSA (plan-do-study-act) cycle. The only linear learning process is straightforward information-stuffing, and its dubious whether youi can really call that learning.

Some models (e.g. Argyris/Schon) go further and distinguish single-loop and double-loop learning, but whichever model you choose its clear that review forms an essential part of the process.

So I'm hoping that reflections on daily living that form the source material for this blog will also help my learning.

It had better, because the only reflection I can manage at the moment is this recursive one, which leaves me in imminent danger of disappearing up somewhere unpleasant.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Soul @ work 

I've felt many times that organisations are more successful - by any measure you could choose - when authentic person-to-person relationships are fostered, rather than austere postholder-to-postholder relationships which may appear efficient in a business context but deny individuality and fail to connect with the greater part of who we are.

So its encouraging to find someone as respected as Roger Lewin saying the same thing:

"...Henry Ford once said, “How come when I want a pair of hands, I get a human being as well?” A manager in today’s knowledge-based economy might paraphrase this: “How come when I want a mind, I get a heart as well?”And how come there commonly continues to exist a denial in the business mind, a stark omission of the importance of people and valuing them for not only the revenues they bring in, but simply as human beings? How come we refuse to see the obvious–that when people are treated as replaceable parts, as objects to control, are taught to be compliant, are used as fuel for the existing system–that inevitably you are going to have an organization that is fraught with frustration, anger, and isolation, which ultimately is detrimental to the business?"

"...When the individual soul is engaged, people naturally want to add value, are willing to go the distance and devote time to endeavors they feel, regardless of how small, are worthwhile. Many people feel lost in their organizations, feel apart from them rather than a part of them. Many see themselves in a system in which they have little or no influence. Too often we heard front-line people, when reflecting on former places of work, say, “Nobody ever asked me what I thought, and it was hardly a possibility that they would act on it if they did.” The business mind that becomes myopic, singularly valuing the financial bottom line and techniques to boost it, ultimately dehumanizes the organization, and, self-protectively, people disconnect from their soul so as not be exploited. People suffer and their organizations suffer."

"...To engage the soul is to see people as people, not as employees. It is to assume an intention of goodwill on their part, and that it is better to err in trusting too much than not enough. It is in recognizing a job well done, not just with money but also with a genuine appreciation. It is to remember that people are inventive. It is to believe in them, not just the numbers. This perspective affects the quality of the interactions in the system, creating positive rather than negative feedback loops; that is, creating trust and commitment, not suspicion and disconnection. It is these feedback loops that can transform the system."

Roger Lewin, quoted at Business Spirit Journal

Ode to Autumn 

I love this time of year. Early mornings that are clear, bright and chilly; sometimes a misty start adding a touch of mystery to the world until the sun breaks through; warm but not-too-hot days; maybe needing a pullover on later in the evening – a foretaste of cosy evenings to come.

I love too the constant variety of the seasons. Years seem to be just the right length to provide a perfect balance between consistency and change. Experiencing the present then moving on. Always an expectation of something new; the familiar always returning, but never quite twice the same.

As a young child, four of my favourite books were a set in the Ladybird series (remember them?) called “The Countryside in Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter”. This series has changed in style over the years; mine dated back to a time when the world felt, to a child, to be a simple, honest, secure place, filled with things to wonder at and explore. Growing up on the edge of the London suburbs, I had only an idealised view of what the English countryside was like, later fuelled by books like Richmal Crompton’s “William” series. Autumn would be characterised by harvesting golden fields; bright berries in hedgerows; sweeping up the leaves and making bonfires in the garden.

Days like today have some of the character of that idealised world; the perfect autumn described by the poet Keats. The world feels for a moment that much closer to my childhood ideal, especially when I’m truly experiencing it with full awareness, immersed in it as I am when I cycle to work. I guess that’s why it feels good.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

A source of community? 

A piece of wisdom from Don Iannone, in a comment at gassho:

"... genuine community evolves from a space where people are encouraged and rewarded for appreciating themselves and others".

I value community; I value acknowledgement. But I'd never considered that there may be a causal link between them. The more I think about it, the more I think Don has a point. Acknowledgement strengthens connections, and strong connections build community.


Like I said yesterday, I wish I had clarity. This captures so well some of the things I believe. Its from Dainin Katagiri, via whiskey river. This is just an extract - well worth reading the whole post.

"...The real world consists of both a conceptual world and a nonconceptual world. But we ignore the world we cannot get in our hands. When you cannot understand it, you reject it. But reality is not just the reality you understand. Even before you create any ideas or concepts about it, it is already present. It consists of the merging of what can be thought of and what cannot be thought of. Words cannot touch it.
This place, where nothing can be pinned down, is where we actually live moment to moment. If you think you can understand your life with just your ideas, you are ignoring where and how you actually exist...."

"Usually we live our lives only in terms of the world we can see. When we do, we emphasize ourselves. We place the I first. Even when we take up the spiritual life, we place the I first. In other words, we pull everything down to the level of our personal views and feelings. We never forget ourselves.
What we tend to ignore is the world that sees us. This is not the world you think you see or hear. It is actually the world as it is before you are conscious of it - before you form some idea about it. If you emphasize yourself, you will completely forget this world.
If you want to practice compassion, you must accept simultaneously the world you see and the world that sees you. You can't judge your life just in terms of what you can see - that is, from your ego-centered perspective."

Monday, September 22, 2003

Ghost in the machine? 

If, like Aladdin, I were to find a magic lamp with a wish-granting genie inside, I'd wish for clarity.

Clarity of thought; clarity of expression.

I just wish I could get a hold of some of those ideas that bounce around on the edge of perception, dancing just out of reach, darting away as soon as I sluggishly turn to look at them.

Maybe they're just phantoms, not real at all. Maybe they're like the wisdom of insights received in dreams that evaporate into nonsense when we wake.

I just keep getting the feeling, as thoughts that have been stimulated by other blogs interact of their own accord within my (semi?) consciousness, that there's something significant in there...

Darned if I know what it is though!

Deep within all of us... 

More from the same rat haus article, this time quoting Laurens van der Post

First man, as I knew him and his history, was a remarkably gentle being, fierce only in defence of himself and the life of those in his keeping. He had no legends or stories of great wars among his own kind and regarded the killing of another human being except in self-defence as the ultimate depravity of his spirit. I was told a most moving story of how a skirmish between two clans in which just one man was killed on a long forgotten day of dust and heat and sulphur sun, caused them to renounce armed conflict forever. He was living proof to me of how the pattern of the individual in service of a self that is the manifestation of the divine in man was built into life at the beginning and will not leave him and the earth alone until it is fulfilled. It is no mere intellectual or ideological concept, however much that, too, may be needed, but a primary condition written into the contract of life with the creator.

So maybe there is hope for humanity after all...

I think... 

Written by David Bohm, quoted in rathaus, via The Obvious:

. . . we went on to consider the general disorder and confusion that pervades the consciousness of mankind. It is here that I encountered what I feel to be Krishnamurti's major discovery. What he was seriously proposing is that all this disorder, which is the root cause of such widespread sorrow and misery, and which prevents human beings from properly working together, has its root in the fact that we are ignorant of the general nature of our own processes of thought. Or to put it differently it may be said that we do not see what is actually happening, when we are engaged in the activity of thinking.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Embedding old-world organisational structures  

I had cause this morning to drop by the primary school where my wife teaches, to drop off some goods she bought yesterday. She showed me where they’re planning to do some internal building works to change the way the different age groups use the space. Better linking and more sharing of the spaces used for the early years; more enclosure for the older ones.

There’s a gradual and deliberate transition as the children progress through the school from informal, open areas where the teachers move freely amongst small groups of children engaged in different activities, to a formal class setting where the children sit in rows at desks and the teacher stands at the front and, well, teaches.

In secondary schools, things are even more regimented.

Its fascinating how thoughts feed off each other. Having read yesterday about the contrast between formal and informal structures, and the power of accidental conversations, I was struck by the way in which the education system in this country conditions and prepares students for the traditional hierarchical structures of old-world organisations. The very environment subtly implants expectations of formality, authority, conformity, and reinforces straight-jacketed thinking.

My wife teaches the youngest children, about age 3+ to 5, called the Foundation Stage in the UK. Her goal has always been to develop independent learners, yet she finds that all of that independence and natural creativity gets squashed as the children “progress” through the school, by the top-down demands generated by centralised educational planning. This at a time when organisations are just waking up to the idea that creativity is one of the most valuable, and least common, of all human assets.

This isn’t meant to be a rant against the education system; the problem goes deeper than that. It’s the wider social and organisational norms which underpin education that have resulted in this structure.

The system is self-sustaining. Future organisational leaders and followers; future teachers, school architects, educationalists; all learn at school the absolute authority, both hierarchically and intellectually, of those in charge; the invalidity of conversations that fall outside of formal organisational structures; the need for tangible, often physical, frameworks to reinforce formality.

Is it any wonder that old-world systems live on long past their sell-by date, when the structures are embedded in our psyche at such an early age?

That's better 

I wasn't too keen on the Squawkbox interface, there weren't many comments anyway, and Haloscan works.

Apologies to anyone whose contributions are now lost in a cyberspace timewarp.


My commenting facility seems to have died...

A better way... 

This came via Jon Husband's Wirearchy. Its so good I've copied the whole thing here:

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.

We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait.

We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes.

These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill.

It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete..

Remember, spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side. Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent.

Remember, to say, "I love you" to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you. Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment, for someday that person will not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak, and give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.


1. Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height. Let the doctor worry about them. That is why you pay him/her.

2. Keep only cheerful friends.. The grouches pull you down.

3. Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening,whatever. Never let the brain idle. "An idle mind is the devil's workshop." And the devil's name is Alzheimer's.

4. Enjoy the simple things.

5. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath.

6. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on. The only person who is with us our entire life, is ourselves. Be ALIVE while you are alive.

7. Surround yourself with what you love, whether it's family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge.

8. Cherish your health: If it is good, preserve it.. If it is unstable, improve it. If it is beyond what you can improve, get help..

9. Don't take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall, to the next county, to a foreign country, but NOT to where the guilt is.

10.. Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity.

AND ALWAYS REMEMBER: Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.. If you don't send this to at least 8 people.... who cares?

George Carlin

Friday, September 19, 2003

A different perspective... 

from a comment in RealLivePreacher:

Happiness sits on your shoulder. Turn your head.

It may or may not be "true", but it sure is a useful alternative way of looking at things.

Accidental Conversations 

This puts so well into words the source of much of my current disatisfaction at work, in an environment that fits perfectly Jack's description of a formal institution. No rainforest with emergent new species here.

It is ironic that so many communities of work have become formal institutions dedicated to preventing surprise. Scheduled meetings, tight agendas, formal lines of authority, and centralized planning are the tools of this agenda aimed at creating a world predictable enough to be measured, planned, and controlled.

What’s interesting is that no matter how much habitual momentum the formal organization has developed over time, the informal organization of unplanned conversations continues to thrive. The informal side of the organization is the dynamic field of actions and interactions that are too resilient, tacit, opportunistic, inventive, and fluid to be prescribed much less controlled.

The informal organization is the organic, self-organizing, and evolutionary network of adhocratic relationships and collaborations that pulsate in the white spaces and margins of organizational charts. We observe the informal organization at work in unplanned conversations between meetings, across emails, and in side conversations.

The informal organization is the work community’s rainforest where new species of ideas, stories, and questions emerge and thrive. The idea that we can legislate any genre of spontaneity is unsupportable in my experience. This includes the quality of relationships that impact everything that occurs.

From Accidental Conversations by Jack Ricchiuto

Its also a curious example of the serendipitous nature of unplanned conversations, which is the wider theme of the book from which the above extract was taken. Walking back to the office after a lunchtime stroll, the thought was crystallising in my mind that the core issue that has been bugging me is one of sitting at the edge of a command-and-control structure where all communication is via the centre. The spokes (I'm just a humble spoke) only communicate via the hub (of our sub-organisation). Checking blogs semi-randomly, I click on a few links and what do I find? Words which describe my current situation as though Jack had been looking over my shoulder.

In Broken Images 

Another one of my favourite poems. Spot the common theme...

He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images.

He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images.

Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.

Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact;
Questioning their relevances, I question the fact.

When the fact fails him, he questions his senses;
When the facts fails me, I approve my senses.

He continues quick and dull in his clear images;
I continue slow and clear in my broken images.

He, in a new confusion of his understanding;
I, in a new understanding of my confusion.

Robert Graves

Flying Crooked 

The butterfly, a cabbage-white,
(His honest idiocy of flight)
Will never now, it is too late,
Master the art of flying straight,
He has--who knows so well as I?--
A just sense of how not to fly:
He lurches here and here by guess
And God and hope and hopelessness.
Even the aerobatic swift
Has not his flying-crooked gift.

-- Robert Graves

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

A lesson from bugs 

Have you ever kept goldfish?

My wife did once, and sometimes used to feed them live daphnia. I'm afraid my zoology isn't up to telling you exactly what daphnia are, except that they're tiny bug-like creatures (probably larvae of some sort) that live in fresh water and get eaten by bigger creatures.

If you put the daphnia in a jar and watch them, all their swimming motion seems to be generally upwards. If they stop, they slowly drift to the bottom of the jar.

I often think learning is like that. If I expect learning to be something that just happens as life goes along (and I'm talking about general life-learning here, not simply academic knowledge-cramming) then progress is slow and random. In fact, without effort to maintain it, learning dissipates, like the daphnia sinking to the bottom of the jar.

Learning doesn't come without effort, and a constant attitude of willingness to make the effort. So, like the daphnia in the jar, I need constantly to remind myself to keep swimming; to be on the look-out for learning; to seek out, capture and hold those moments of insight; to question, to challenge, to take risks.

I'm hoping that a blog will be a good place in which to try and crystallise some of that learning.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Control by Policy 

From an item about work-life balance:

"Yet above all, the role of managers is pivotal. In at least one example, work-life balance is made possible for employees in the complete absence of organisational policies to this effect. This is achieved simply by managers demonstrating appropriate behaviours and expectations in a culture characterised by mutual trust and respect."

Environmental policy
Community involvement policy
Equal Opportunities policy
Diversity policy
Work-life balance policy
…the list goes on…

Why do we need to have policies to tell us to behave in ways that are, or ought to be, self-evidently desirable? The very existence of these policies is an indicator that an organisation would not otherwise perform in the manner desired. Is it any wonder that managers in organisations end up paying lip-service to such policies?

Managing the symptoms of organisational malaise saps energy and merely reinforces the existence of that malaise. Policies for this, strategies for that, procedures for the other; all become necessary only in an environment where such behaviours would not otherwise be evident. Yet build a clear shared vision of how we want the organisation to be and the need for such policies would evaporate. As has been demonstrated in the research quoted.

Perhaps in the instance quoted, the organisational policy, explicit or otherwise, was at a deeper level - to build an environment of trust and respect - and from this all manner of other benefits flowed. Get the basics right and the details fall into place.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

the simple life 

I've just got back from a few days camping and climbing in north Wales with one of my sons. Its so refreshing to put all the complications of normal existence to one side and have life reduced to the simplicity of basic needs - shelter from the weather (there was a lot of that!), food, companionship and some simple yet challenging goals to achieve (more about that here).

If only such a simple life could be sustainable. Unfortunately the tent, the climbing gear and the food have to be paid for, and I was there only out of the understanding and cooperation of the "significant others" in my life.

But it is good to reminded every once in a while of just how simple life can be. Basic survival needs, companionship and challenge. Together they go a long way towards building happiness.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

nudged out of a rut 

I’ve been rather wrapped up in the business of daily living lately.

It must have been hard for human creativity and intellect to evolve when the days were filled with routine that simply had to be done. The simple business of living sometimes leaves no space for contemplation, no moments when the mind is free to wander, exploring ideas or just observing. One day’s work momentarily halted, imagination moves only to the following days’ continued activity before sleep brings a brief respite.

So it was quite by chance that I happened to catch the last half hour of "To kill a mockingbird" yesterday whilst having lunch, my son having bought it on DVD.

Something in the story managed to bypass my preoccupation with mundane activities, and got through to give a brief stimulus to some part of me that’s got pushed to the side lately. It took a while to figure out what had touched me, but I think it was the way the story unfolds through the experience of a child. A perspective that manages to hold both the simplicity of childhood with the complexity of "grown-up" attitudes; an intuitive awareness of character. And the black-and-white filming is quite in keeping with the simple living and the issues of right and wrong portrayed.

This isn’t a critique of the film - like I said, I only caught the last 30 minutes. But the brief glimpse of different world viewed from a different perspective was enough of a taster gently to nudge me out of a rut of tunnel vision. I’ll have to go back and watch the whole film again.

Thursday, September 04, 2003


Some days are better than others.

The last couple have been others (at least insofar as having any particularly meaningful thoughts is concerned).

But without them, how would we know the good days?

Tuesday, September 02, 2003


AKMA got me thinking about Truth. Not just simple truth but absolute Truth. The kind people are sometimes willing to die for.

I'm still struggling to put into words how I cope with the conundrum of my own faith in one God, and my acknowledgement of other faiths. If I'm right, aren't the others all wrong? And if I'm not right, then why do I bother? AKMA puts it so much more clearly than I can, but here in my clumsy and half-baked words is my contribution, originally posed as a comment in AKMA's blog:

I have a feeling that the human perception of what we call Truth is rather one dimensional. Let me try and explain – not easy, as the point I’m ultimately going to make is that the explanation is impossible to understand!

When trying to explain dimensions greater than three to a non-mathematician, the analogy of a one-dimensional world is sometimes used. Suppose we were a one dimensional people living in a one dimensional world. (Ignore for the moment the difficulty of actually having any physical substance to our being other than a point or a line). The concept of space would be, well, inconceivable. The whole of existence would be a linear continuum with nothing able to change its relative position to anything else (unless perhaps quantum-mechanical tunnelling operates in this hypothetical one dimensional world). The range of possibilities would be restricted to say the least.

I think our human ideas of Truth are in some way akin to this. We can only understand truth in the context of the universe we inhabit, and our understanding of how it works. The whole of human knowledge, thought, philosophy condensed down as it were into one dimension.

What if, while we remain one-dimensional, God is three-dimensional? We discuss and argue what goes on in our little linear world, without the faintest notion of what its *really* like in that three dimensional universe. How can the language and thought processes of one dimension possibly reflect 3D Truth?

This to my mind is what Paul wrote of in his famous letter to the church at Corinth: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”.

But, for now, we remain one-dimensional, so as I said at the beginning, my hypothesis remains incomprehensible.

Monday, September 01, 2003


This has been pinned on my noticeboard for some time. I wrote it several years ago when I was facing uncertainty and finding it hard to make a way forward.

I wish I could say I've lived by it consistently, but I haven't, although the idea has been there as an occasional reminder that whatever I want from the future will only come about from action in the present.

Moreover if the future is going to be anything other than more of the past, then those actions will have to derive from that future vision, not from an extension of what is, or what has gone before.

Every moment places choice into your hands
- the choice to act
to bring into being a now you desire,
or to allow past habits and current context
to script your response.

To exercise this choice it is necessary
that you first have a vision
of the now you desire.

Your future is built from a succession of nows...

Do it...