flowing motion

Executive pornography

Posted on: April 26, 2009

Did that catch your attention?  I thought it would.

Executive pornography is not my phrase.  Shocker of all shockers, it is a Canadian phrase and a Canadian metal industry phrase at that.

As I reviewed my first day at Xoozya, I pondered the difficulty we have with a blank canvas.  When we can live a life we choose with no constraint, its quite disorienting.

Yes, without being told to start, I don’t have a ready idea where to start.  So I hit the internet and media – what else?

David Whyte

First, I listened to David Whyte‘s Midlife and the Great Unknown.  He didn’t disppoint.  He describes a time when he was working for a non-profit and ‘burnt out’ rather spectacularly, as we do.  Fortunately for him, he had a working partnership with fellow scholar, Brother David, who encouraged him to step-up into the role of a full-time poet.

David Whyte discusses this incidence with snippets of poetry and as ever one from the poet, Rainer Rilke.  Rilke talks about the importance of reaping the harvest of summer.  When it is time to reap, we must reap or not have the harvest to see us through the winter.

While this seems obvious, in reality, we are often unwilling to harvest the fruits of summer.  Sometimes we are unwilling to grasp with two hands what we want so badly, even though it is all around us.

We are even unwilling to give up burdensome occupations.  Do you remember dilly-dallying over finishing your thesis?  We often think we are procrastinating out of anxiety or fatigue, but after many years supervising students, I’ve come to believe the real reason delay writing up is that we are don’t know what our lives would be like without the thesis.  When the thesis is done, what will we do?  We are deeply scared by the unknowability of the future.

So, tick from David Whyte.  Yes, we find it hard to write our own job description.  But this fear is just a class of a common dilemma.  We catch ourselves betwixt-and-between.  Desperate for a new life, we focus on all the things that will not happen so that we don’t take the small steps well within our ability, hereby trapping ourselves in a past whose use-by-date has come and gone.

Wicked Questions

Then I googled Wicked Questions to get me to the Plexus Institute which is full of case studies, theory and technique for using complexity theory in consulting.

Within seconds, I was looking at the work of Ralph Stacey of the University of Hertfordshire.  He is well ahead of the curve on new organizations and from a quick scan I was remined of two heurisitcs.  The first is not to live in the future.  He talks about having plans that respond to the here-and-now. David Whyte makes the same point.  We often frame a plan so that activity will begin after something else has happened – fueling procrastination or living contingently, as Whyte calls it.  Otto Scharmer makes a similar point about ideas that emerging from current conditions.  Strategy needs to come from what is happening now and what is emerging from current conditions.

Another phrase also caught my eye: Strength grows from contact with the environment, not from existing strengths.

The key is to look at my interactions with people and interactions between other people to develop a sense of what is possible and where we are going.  I think my heuristic is to think of five genuinely curious and exploratory questions about  Xoozya and take those to work in the morning.

As I focused on this idea I read on.

Executive pornography

The Plexus Institute has many case studies on its site.  One is of a Canadian firm, Federal metals, who regarded typical ‘strategy-speak’ as obscene – as executive pornorgraphy.  They object to the language of setting goals, communicating intent, maneovuring the organization and if they heard the term today, in all probability, employee engagement.

The important heuristic I gleaned at this stop is that strategy is concerned with making sense of the past.  Strategy is doing what I am doing now. It is reflecting on the normal stressors of the first day at work in a new place.

So I have three tasks:

  1. Master the communication system
  2. Consider why I am at Xoozya in terms of my broader life’s purpose
  3. List the skills I find essential and the skills I must develop as I look ahead.

My emotional state is considerable panic induced by the breadth and depth of freedom I have to pursue goals I believe are important.

Bringing these ideas together

So how did I get to a place that is quite so nervewracking?

  • Well, I want to work in a place that respects emergence. Of course, as Ralph Stacey says, not everything is emergent. Some tasks are programmatic and simple. I want my computer to fire up when I switch it on, of course.
  • I bring to the situation a familiarity with management literature and to that I returned for structure. What an insight! I wonder what other people use for structure?
  • In my case I dipped into the corporate poetry of David Whyte and was reminded of the anxiety we feel when we are about to step into a life that is very important to us. I looked at the theory and was reminded of the work of Ralph Stacey of the University of Hertfordshire – which is just down the road from me. From this, I invented a good heuristic. What are five genuinely curious and exploratory questions I can ask about my interaction with the environment – probably within Xoozya or as a representative of Xoozya?

Strength grows from contact with the environment.  What the five questions you would ask about your contact with the enviroment?

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2 Responses to "Executive pornography"

You never cease to surprise me.

Perhaps it could be said that any job title is a recognition of a certain limitation or condition. And without that condition there is no job.

So maybe recognizing the obstacles in ones path transform into the objectives and a temporary job description appears.

In my last job, I was a temporary for the entire time I was working. At first, that felt a bit disconcerting. I wanted the certainty of a permanent position. But upon further reflection, it reminded me that nothing is permanent.

I wonder if with the accelaration of perception of time relative to the population and technological increase, if we will eventually have a new job every day. Maybe a temporary service will be the only permanent sense of a company as we think of them today.

You make good points, as ever. I’ll follow both up!

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