Cryptic COVID Advice

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, work on only making the smallest possible high leverage contributions.

Everything else requires too much processing power and too long to bear out.

The long game will return, but not for a while.

Lost in Familiar Places

The title of today’s post comes from a book written by an American psychoanalyst and an English Anglican priest, Edward R. Shapiro, M.D. and A. Wesley Carr. It’s about connections between individuals and society — the kind of book you would read in a sociology or theology class in college.

I found it when I followed a link in an article by Gianpiero Petriglieri, quoted below, where he argues that, in leaders, “holding” might be as important an attribute as “vision.”

I thought, seeing the title, that most people I know feel lost in familiar places right now, so maybe this book, written for a different time and in response to a different set of urgencies, would speak to where we find ourselves today.

So far, my instinct has been correct. It’s teaching me and reminding me about the most important aspects of schools. Here are some lessons followed by quoted passages:

Keep finding ways to build trust, especially as trust degrades due to the challenges of working remotely.

The potential space between baby and mother, between child and family, between individual and society or the world, depends on experience which leads to trust. It can be looked upon as sacred to the individual in that it is here that the individual experiences creative living. (D.W. Winnicot, opening quotation.)

In the face of uncertainty, the mission of the school is almost everything.

A shared frame of reference provides a partial shelter from unrelenting ambiguity and uncertainty and the danger of idiosyncratic points of view. In an ambiguous and uncertain world, such shelters are not easy to come by and are to be treasured. (6)

Curiosity is not just for creativity; it’s for core operations.

In many families where individuals manifest severe personal problems, the members have a striking lack of curiosity about one another. Instead, they are often remarkably certain that they know, understand, and can speak for other family members without further discussion. If individual members attempt to challenge assertions about who they are, they encounter bland denial, unshakeable conviction, or platitudinous reassurance. . . . [For children,] parents’ lack of openness and curiosity contributes to feelings of isolation, emptiness, and futility within the family group.

Such isolation, a classic instance of being lost in a familiar place, is not limited to dysfunctional families. Excessive “certainty” is a recognizable element within all human organizations; it contributes to the disconnection of the individuals lost within them. (12)

Surface + Subterranean

My book Blending Leadership: Six Simple Beliefs for Leading Online and Off, co-authored with Reshan Richards, has been resurfacing and making the rounds these days. We wrote it to be as timeless as possible, which is why I think it can be timely now, as the context in which we all live and work keeps changing. Here’s what I had to say back in 2016 about its surface and more subterranean goals.

In Blending Leadership, Dr. Reshan Richards and I examine and articulate the intersection of organizational leadership, learning, and technology, framing the choices that all leaders have as they attempt to serve the people they lead and their institutions.

We wrote the book for a surface audience of school leaders and a real audience of those who lead learning at any organization. 

Like A River Runs Through it or Old Man and the Sea, it’s a book about one thing on the surface — school leadership — and something else underneath — the situation in which some human beings find themselves in charge of other human beings.  It uses the surface story to get to the real story, which is that leaders have a deep responsibility to the people they lead.  Often, they control people’s time and the range of options they have to exercise their talents, day in and day out.  That’s pretty serious business, in my opinion.  Leadership is deeply moral; that doesn’t change when it is mediated through technology.  

With that said, we offer six simple beliefs to help leaders thrive in a world where technology is everywhere.  As leaders, we shouldn’t be afraid of this encroachment; we should understand it so as to thrive in it — to take advantage of all the tools that are available to us to help our organizations succeed.  

New Definition: Holding

Readers of RW know that I routinely collect descriptions of the world that help me to see — and do — differently. Here’s the latest term that, in catching my eye, changed it.

In psychology, the term [holding] has a specific meaning. It describes the way another person, often an authority
figure, contains and interprets what’s happening in times of uncertainty. Containing refers to the ability to soothe distress and interpreting to the ability to help others make sense of a confusing predicament. Think of a CEO who, in a severe downturn, reassures employees that the company has the resources to weather the storm and most jobs will be protected, helps them interpret revenue data, and gives clear directions about what must be done to service existing clients and develop new business. That executive is holding: They think clearly, offer reassurance, orient people and help them stick together. That work is as important as inspiring others. In fact, it is a precondition for doing so.

Holding is a more obscure and seldom celebrated facet of leadership than vision, but no less important.

Source: The Psychology Behind Effective Crisis Leadership by Gianpiero Petriglieri

Weird / Emily

Craig Mod on Weird Al Yankovic:

Keep going keep going. 40+ years of tight-loops, iterations, sustained and fully committed.

~ =

Marta Werner on Emily Dickinson:

A certain set of operations, repeated again and again, like the rapid motions of wings, may signify that a greater migration is already underway.

Sources: Roden: 039 + Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings

Parable with Ruckus and a Pile of Wooden Toys

Lately I’ve been thinking about the difference between a business-as-usual mindset (and subsequent output) and an only-here-and-only-now mindset (and subsequent output).

The former feels forced to me — the old square peg / round hole dilemma. If you’re on either end of that equation, during a quarantine, it will grind you down over time.

The latter feels freer, better, and certainly more energizing.

Imagine it this way: You’re in a traditional rock and roll band. You make music with a guitar, a bass, a drum kit, and an amplification system that makes the whole ruckus really loud. You like making music that way, and through a combination of smart work and dumb luck, you slowly start to build a name for yourself. People reward you by paying attention to the music you make, by showing up for your concerts, by streaming your work and sharing it with others. You’re able to buy better versions of the same equipment. You push yourself, of course, but you end up putting out music that is consistent in some ways.

Now imagine this: One day, you — and your signature sound — are transported to and locked in a room. You’re told you will have to stay there for an indefinite period of time. You look around and realize that, besides food and water and a bed, you have access to a tambourine, an out-of-tune piano, a pile of wooden toys, and a boom box with a record button and a stack of old-school cassette tapes.

In that situation, you’d have to ask yourself: business-as-usual or only-here-and-only-now? Old ruckus or new?

And of course you’d have to make an even more fundamental decision before making those decisions: are you really a musician, someone in a deep relationship with sound, or did you just like the way you looked holding that guitar?

Only here and only now.