Sunday, December 1, 2019

From Walls to Bridges with Story

My experience is that the heart absorbs and integrates more deeply than the mind” – Mark Nepo

Story Power can be Used to Disempower and Defeat

Story is part of the human DNA, and integral to our thinking, feeling and acting. Story plays a role in informing how we imagine, relate, access wisdom, and facilitate inquiry.

Story can be therapeutic, motivational, healing.  It can also injure, wound, harm.  A halo that can free and lift us. A noose that can strangle.

Growing threats include global warming, degradation, destruction, pollution, conflict, the decline of scarce resources, shrinking economies, the rise of ‘we first’ patriotism relative to cooperative globalisation, and shrinking personal freedom. In tandem with these threats we see a disquieting development - the emergence,in politics and in the business world, of story that misinforms, manipulates, coerces, divides, demeans, ostracizes and deceives. Witness fake news, astroturfing, Brand stories that pretend at values and principles that are not practised, and downright lies.  Web content creators manage to slip past gatekeepers and spread misinformation and lies. They succeed in these manipulations, and in pushing for and finding fertile ground for the establishment and reinforcement of radical views. Some politicians deviously manage their desired outcomes by preying on fears, promoting 'alternative realities', presenting factoids based on false assumptions. They blur the truth and bolster their own position and interests. (Curtis, A. 2016). There appears to be a spreading of narcissism, a me-first, self-serving that is devoid of empathy.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck has bluntly proposed the condition of ‘evil’.  A character - disorder possessed by those who feel no love nor empathy yet use emotion as a decoy, cannot accept any form of criticism, hide from their own consciousness and habitually lie to deceive others and project blame, while maintaining a façade (of perfection, control and guiltlessness). People of the lie. (Scott Peck, M. 1988)

Neuroscience has showed that our frontal lobes are involved when we lie, cover up the truth. Unlike Carlo Collodi’s Pinnochio our noses don’t grow longer, but our limbic system is activated and the lie causes anxiety. Is that effect waning in this new age of falsehood and unashamed serving of self - interest at the expense of others?  

As we enter the fourth industrial revolution and a palpably more fragile world, how compelling is the need for the development of a framework of story ethics?  How imperative is the need for stories of redemption, stories that enlighten, inspire, bring hope, fuel a passionate response to the pressing needs of the interconnected cosmos, globe, nations, organisations and individuals? Stories that help to close the widening gap between technological capability and raised consciousness.

We Have Reached a Critical Tipping Point

False, disruptive stories are everywhere. And they are increasing exponentially. In elections and referendums, to what extent have FaceBook and Twitter bots been mobilised to disseminate slanted information designed to sway opinion and voter action?  At what level of subtlety have these stories crept under people’s credibility-guards, resulted in the bypassing of the average person’s cognitive dissonance?  To what extent have walls between people been reinforced and erected?  The magnitude of the deceit and resulting challenge cannot be downplayed. "The fact is, that when more panic and insecurity arise in a society, it can easily happen that we lose the higher functions of our humanity, such as compassion, multi-perspectivity, creativity, and rootedness, and find ourselves in fear of survival and the feeling of separation and against one another". (Hübl, T. 2019)    

But there is always a reframing waiting to emerge, or an alternative story to be told. A different way of perceiving, understanding and telling the story. 

Mass migrations are a case in point. Are they a threat or opportunity? Or both? Dispossessed and displaced people from war torn and impoverished countries have led to enormous resentment, fear and hostility in receiving countries. Perhaps the policies, processes and communication around these unexpected and high-volume migrations leave much to be desired? Yet there is some evidence that the problem could be an opportunity in disguise. Psychology professor Richard Crisp has examined how positive creativity and progress has historically emerged out of major culture ‘clashes’, and how a protective, aggressive reaction to a threat from an outside group can be beneficially substituted by non-dual, coalition thinking, and by a considered response that stimulates positive forward movement.    (Crisp, R. 2015)

A number of people have recently voiced to me their disquiet with their formal church institution where they like the song but not the singers. Walls here too. I became involved in an acrimonious, Karpman Triangle situation within a church where I was offering pro bono services in a key area.  And rediscovered why I left the institutional church. Why so many are disconnected and lonely. Why I seek and practice my spirituality on my own except for a few trusted friends that I meet with from time to time, usually on a one on one basis. My sacred group! Within the institutional church the intensity of self-interest above community interest, turf protection, and petty power plays can be quite as scary as in a toxic big corporate. Only the facade is different. The exclusion of those who don’t toe the party line, don’t fit in, disagree on an issue or put forward a suggestion that isn’t palatable, is so sad.  I of course was one of the contributors to the misunderstanding, but the accusatory backlash, cold-shoulder response was quite shattering.  ‘Tis the season of peace on earth and goodwill to all men except maybe those that are not sufficiently compliant?  Surely, here of all places is where inclusion - equity – belonging should be modelled? Shame!    

Bridges not Walls

Perhaps a more appropriate metaphor for our times, rather than walls, is that of a bridge. 

Even when there are apparent, glaring incompatibilities to be bridged.
Two turbulent Mexican artists, Diego Rivera and Frida  Kahlo, who were married to each other and were in many ways not compatible, lived in adjoining houses in San Angel, Mexico City.  The architect designed a home made up of two independent concrete blocks linked by a narrow bridge that joined the rooftops. A red block represented Diego, a blue one Frida. The bridge that united them was the bond of love. 

 (San Angel Casa Rivera Kahlo)
Challenges at every level are often complex, tangled webs of incompatibilities, influences, interests, uncertainties, fears, possibilities and perceptions. (Anaïs Nin is reported to have said, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are”).   Yet story is able to play an important role in the evolutionary dynamics of self, and cultural and societal norms.   By informing how we think, feel and act. By following the principle of transcend and include.

Stories can, in a sense, act as our corrective “thought police”. If they are told and heard. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Not to speak is to speak”.
And as always, the best place to start is with the individual… where in a disrupted and besieged world, confusion, fear, self-judgment, guilt, narcissistic intrusions, self-criticism, anger, shame seem to have reached epidemic proportions …
Bridging the Walls - Within first
Bob Marley’s Redemption Song speaks of our inner work being the route to freedom:
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Our fears, prejudices, limiting beliefs, biases, habitual patterns of thinking, self-judgment, hidden privileges that unconsciously boost ego (our internal fake news) …  not stilling our inner critics, soured relationships, a perfection drive (not feeling ‘good enough’), any harsh inner communication with ourselves - these are all stories that detract from us becoming fully human, and wound our spirits (individually and communally)
If we can shake off these shackles, rely instead on ‘possibilist’, freeing and healing stories, then game-changing is possible. We move away from enmity, ‘we-them’, and false esteem via overvaluing the extrinsic. Away from powerlessness, fear, despair, mindlessness …. to mindfulness, acceptance, equity, inclusion and belonging. To ‘us’, true esteem and purpose via the intrinsic. To empowerment, accessing and using our multiple intelligences, to embodying compassion and hope.

If through story we can contribute to the breaking down of walls around our minds (heads and hearts), then we enable a new inner strength and a oneness with others that becomes stronger than any attempts to separate, ostracise, belittle and harm.  In relationships, communities, societies, nations and the planet.  This is not easy - sometimes the subtlest 'walls' are unseen veils of ignorance, ambiguity, self- protection, political and other games that people play are the hardest to bridge.  Although still on the fringe of our understanding and awareness, neurocardiology shows that the heart is part of the “mind”, that “we have a ‘heart brain’ with a vast array of neurons that are processing sensory information on their own and communicating that information to our brain, nervous system and other organ systems. This means the heart is able to learn, remember, and make decisions independent of the brain” (Tafler, A. 2019) 
Yield Theory is a heart-based way of hearing the stories of others, a prising open of what it really means to walk in another’s shoes, a way of loving listening to another’s story, validating their experience and together exploring how to move forward.  (Conte, C. 2019)
The “heart” is more than merely a pump!  Consider:
Maya Angelou’s assertions after a lifetime of oppression, suffering, and efforts to diminish her:
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?  Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.   (Angelou, M. 1978)
Consider Russian Tamara Cheremnova’s life of injustice, defeat, being discarded. She had cerebral palsy and was abandoned by her parents to a lonely life in an orphanage at age 6. She lived there for 12 years under atrocious conditions, and, incorrectly diagnosed with learning difficulties, was sent to a psychiatric home where conditions were also awful. She was effectively isolated and imprisoned for the rest of her life to be.  In her words, she felt a “searing shame”.
Tamara was depressed, suicidal, had to come to terms with who she was, what she wanted …  “I am lying in bed all bent and disfigured. I have no future. I was biting my lips and choking on my tears”.  She needed existential sense-making, to find a reason for living. And “Somewhere deep inside was a seed of hope
She nourished her inner self through reading, knew that her diagnosis of learning disability was wrong, and was determined to overturn it. Tamara wrote fairy tales. One letter, one word at a time.
Eventually the day came when she achieved her writing goal.  She was published. Won awards. Became known to the outside world. 
And at the age of 62 she was adopted. Natalia Vasilenko was convicted to become Tamara’s carer – no easy task. Natalia was from a very poor home and with her husband had previously adopted orphans after her own children left home.  So Tamara has ‘come home’ and now belongs in a family. She is known as the storyteller of Siberia. Tamara says she has always known what love and suffering are. In her dreams she saw the house in which she now lives.
It is a true-life fairy tale. Tamara smiles a lot.
Consider my friend and ex- marathon running mate, Dave Smal. Severely crippled by multiple sclerosis, reduced to a life in bed, yet he never complained, always sought to uplift others, refused to be walled in, built bridges, learned to speak Xhosa and Zulu, and became so loved by his African carers that they named him Sipho, meaning “the gift”.
Think about Robert Frosts poem, “Mending Wall”.  It tells about two neighbours. They repair a fence between their properties.  The story is a metaphor for their relationship, and the wall depicts the emotional barrier that keeps them apart.  Are they going to bridge the gaps that exist between them - gaps in differences of interests, livelihoods, viewpoints …? (Frost, R. 1914)
And reflect on the Springbok (South African) rugby union team winning the 2019 world cup in Japan against the odds, a team of very mixed ethnic, language, education backgrounds under the captainship of Siya Kolisi, a humble man, whose astonishing story from absolute poverty to becoming a national hero is the stuff of movies. An achievement that for at least a moment in time has inspired and united South Africans from all walks of life. 
How Big a Task?
Maybe the bridges we need are already all in place, and imagined walls disappear (sometimes quite suddenly) as we hear redemption and bridge-building stories from others and ourselves?  
Maybe we all are connected on the web of life and as Chief Seattle of the Duwamish Tribe stated, “All things are bound together. All things connect”. So when we change as individuals, that change has a quantum impact on the web that we inhabit and traverse. Maybe self-serving, narcissistic tendencies recede and one-ness advances through unconscious bridges between us as we mature? Louis de Bernières:“We had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two”.  
If something is stolen, say a bicycle, then the Tojolabales (a Mayan Mexican people) respond, ‘One of us we have stolen a bicycle’.  The community then gathers together to ask themselves what is out of balance that gave rise to the theft. (Friend, E. 2019) This is the concept of interdependence termed interbeing by Thich Nhat Hanh. (Thich Nhat Hanh. 2017). 
As Thomas Merton became aware of on a crowded street corner in the midst of an ordinary day … 
In Louisville, at the corner of 4th (now Muhammad Ali Blvd.) and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. . . (Merton, T. 1965)
As a way of being, perhaps we could remain alert to detect fake news, subtle propaganda techniques, internal biases ...? Yet it seems to me that there is also a great need for us to remove unnecessary filtering whenever possible. Unfiltered sensory  experiences allow us to hear the other's heart, see the essence of a flower, feel the touch of something higher. Unfiltered contemplation means we can access and rely on our intuition. Unfiltered relating experiences (without simultaneous analysis, intruding thoughts and urges to interrupt with argument or solution) can reinforce our sense of oneness and belonging on the web of life. And stay tuned in to positive stories.   

Steve Bánhegyi encourages us to envision overcoming false and dark narratives by not seeing them to be immovable, impenetrable objects, but rather as possessing qualities that allow bridging stories over and through. The Great Wall of China served also as a transportation system. A road and a wall. Certainly, a vertical wall tilted 90°becomes a horizontal autobahn that ideas can speed across! And maybe because walls are porous they selectively allow certain things to filter in while keeping other things out - analogous to our discerning, protective immune systems, our language and cognitive functions that both accept and discredit/ reject according to our perceived needs?  (Bánhegyi, S. 2019)

Through story we CAN remove, climb over or pass through imprisoning walls within and without. And build the bridges that the world is crying out for right now. Tap into the energies of hope, healing and love. Fuelled by compassion as we live our stories.

Right now we are liminally poised in antenarrative space, a concept developed by a friend, David Boje. (Boje, D. 2019).
Which stories of redemption, hope and connection do we wish to tell, actively engage with, live, and see emerge?

Angelou, Maya (1978) And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems  Random House
Bánhegyi, Steve (2019)
Boje, David (2019) Six Antenarrative questions behind storytelling
Conte, Christian Dr (2019) Yield Theory™
Crisp, Richard (2015) The Social Brain: how diversity made the modern mind Robinson
Curtis, Adam (2016) HyperNormalization: a different experience of reality
Friend, Erik (2019) of Comunidad México Guest Post for Pachamama Alliance
Frost, Robert (1914) North of Boston David Nutt 
Hübl, Thomas     Thomas Hübl on the Collective Trauma Online Summit   October 2019
Merton, Thomas (1965) Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander Doubleday Religion, NY. ©The Abbey of Gethsemani  
San Angel Casa Rivera Kahlo   Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
Scott Peck, M (1988) People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil Century Hutchinson 
Tamara Smiles a Lot
Tafler, Afshan  (2019) How Your Heart May Be Your Wisest Brain June 27, 2019
Thich Nhat Hanh (2017) The Insight of Interbeing: everything relies on everything else in order to manifest. Garrison Institute 2nd August, 2017

Sunday, October 20, 2019


(Research findings from quantum physics, neuroscience, psychology, behaviour economics, sociology, genetics, artificial intelligence, business models and analytics …. sometimes lull us into believing that we know more than we know.  Bounce-Back-Ability, my book dealing with building hardiness against change, stress and trauma, ends with this piece on making space for the unknown. I want to share this at this time).  

When a bird is alive it eats ants. When the bird is dead ants eat the bird. So time and circumstances can change” - Mufti Ismail Menk

When the unexpected strikes (as it will)

‘I didn’t see that coming!’, ‘I can’t make any sense of this – Why me?’, ‘Where will it all end?’ ‘What could this possibly mean?’, ‘It’s like being hit by a bus that came out of nowhere!’
Life is full of unexpected setbacks, challenging change, traumatic incidents, like wave upon wave that knock us over each time we get up. For individuals and organisations these waves may be financial, relational, physical, spiritual …………

Life is “… a lot like walking into the ocean, and a big wave comes and knocks you over. And you find yourself lying on the bottom with sand in your nose and in your mouth. And you are lying there, and you have a choice. You can either lie there, or you can stand up and start to keep walking out to sea”. “So the waves keep coming … and you keep cultivating your courage and bravery and sense of humour to relate to this situation of the waves, and you keep getting up and going forward”. (1)

These events may shatter our reality, our assumptions, harshly expose that what we thought was known is unknown. “To be full of strength and vigor one moment and virtually helpless the next, in the pink and pride of health one moment and a cripple the next, with all one’s powers and faculties one moment and without them the next – such a change, such suddenness, is difficult to comprehend …” (2)

Essentially, the Un-Known is part of our human condition and is an existential given …… We basically lose our self and world-images. In these moments we encounter the Un-Known in the unnamed-able experience; something beyond words and imagination. This is the realm of Chaos. (3)

Is post-traumatic growth and real resilience real?

Tillich explains how this experience challenges us to find the courage to rise again and to create ….. True creativity often arises from our deepest despair. Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) studied how people often grow stronger by processing the consequences of negative life events. They observed how individuals generated a stronger sense of self, a deeper connection to others, and a deeper appreciation of life. They called this post-traumatic growth, and they found that people became more resilient towards future sources of life stress because they were more able to bear the Un-Known or the ambiguous side of life (Tedeschi and Calhoun (2012)”. (3)

Two local living examples are:

 Schalk Burger, Rugby Union Springbok. He received the Laureaus Sport’s Foundation ‘comeback of the year’ award. In 2013 his career was cut short. Scans after a minor calf problem showed a cyst next to his spinal cord, requiring surgery. In hospital he contracted bacterial meningitis, and within 3 days was literally on his death bed. Friends and family came to pay their last respects. During his illness and recovery period Schalk lost 30 kg (25% of his body weight). He survived, recovered and represented South Africa at the 2015 World Rugby Championship.

 In 1994 Alison Botha was attacked, raped by two men, stabbed 37 times in her abdomen & disembowelled. Her throat was slashed and cut 17 times, and she was left for dead on a
lonely roadside ….. Today she is a motivational speaker, with a profound ABC message of
Attitude, Belief and Choice) (4)

At the time of such trauma and distress it is well-nigh impossible to accept that good can come out of what has and is happening to us. But through the experience many bounce back, achieve greater maturity, re-calibrate their perspectives, find deeper meaning.
We look forward to greater happiness, then something out of the unknown happens, and takes that away from us - can we make space for this? And what enables us to move forward?

Can we make space for the unknown – “good’ or ‘bad’?

Although we will always have areas of unknowing, we can begin to make sense of things (and our existence) by imaginatively examining what might be – not from a position of anxiety, but from positions of :

 Curiosity
 Mindful reflection, and
 Humour

We can be an observer to our own lives. We can tell a story of a future possibility – how you are fulfilling your purpose and where that may lead, how things will look when you overcome an existing challenge or trauma, where a relationship that you are in seems to be heading and what might happen along the way, how you are feeling after a recent medical check-up and what your plans are now ….. and we can enter Neil Gaiman’s world of “not yet”, asking and then answering for ourselves (perhaps in different ways) one or more of these three questions:
What if … ? If only … If this goes on …” (5)
(Wherever possible it is good to choose a positive attitude and outcome. See the stars rather than the bars.

It’s good to look ahead with optimism, see good resolutions, opportunities, new possibilities. Having such an outlook is laudable. But realistically. We can’t afford blind, unreasoned optimism nor despairing pessimism. I like Frances Moore Lappé’s refreshing notion of being a ‘possibilist’. Her thinking fits nicely with Eric Fromm’s ‘courageous, rational optimism’.

I don’t like the promises of instant gratification being held out to us on the internet and elsewhere, of ‘transformative rituals that'll help us to activate our inner heroes and light the fire of greatness within us’. Those promises that abundance and wealth are just around the corner - if we follow ‘the three simple steps that made me rich’. The notion that if we can envision then we must expect to boost our happiness, become legends, unleash our magnificence. For me this reeks of the unscrupulous or misinformed manipulating and making money out of the vulnerable.

Positive culture - yes, positive emotions – yes, positive attitude – yes, positive thinking - yes, IF REALISTIC)

Be curious about your resurrection out of a traumatic situation. Did this happen as a result of your own resilience, help from someone or something, or a combination? How does this inform your future living?

Mindful reflection
We can gain perspective from the present moment, focus on the now rather than obsess on regrets and resentment that belong in the past, or hopes, expectations, anxieties that may lie in the future. And return to what carries us through, including our own purpose, and finding meaning in beauty, wonderment and the ‘mundane’:

Little drops of water, 
Little grains of sand, 
Make the mighty ocean 
And the pleasant land.
Thus the little minutes, 
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages 
Of eternity (6)

Or, through more formal contemplative practices. The Cloud of Unknowing, written by an anonymous 14th century monk, is an ‘instruction’ on entering the mystery and present/presence of God through prayer and meditation. (7)

We need to build on what we know we know. Remembering that we don’t know what we don’t know. And we should also learn to sometimes let go of what we think we know!
So we may need to let go of things in our past, revelations from our unconscious as they become known to us, and potential things in our future that are not yet known.

A man was running for his life to escape a hungry tiger.
He came to the edge of a cliff, stepped over and held onto a vine. The tiger couldn’t reach him, but there was no way up again.
Looking down he saw another tiger at the bottom waiting for him to let go and fall.
A rat appeared and began gnawing at the vine.
The man noticed a strawberry growing on the face of the cliff.
He held the vine with one hand and with the other grabbed the strawberry and ate it.
How sweet it tasted!

Letting go and focusing mindfully on the present moment, opening up to curiosity, awe and wonder is a way of becoming free of the past and fear of the unknown, and embracing it.

Reframing our situation to see the funny side is a much- underrated coping mechanism. It’s a way of shifting to the positive, putting things into perspective.

“Walking naked in his bedroom at the White House after a bath and giving dictation, was interrupted by President Roosevelt who entered the room. Churchill, never being lost for words, said, ‘You see Mr President, I have nothing to conceal from you’”. (8)

Now, different people may perceive and respond to the same situation in radically different ways. That’s fine. We can learn generic skills, mechanisms, practices and coping characteristics, but we are all different and unique.

Two monks are doing a walking meditation together, one of them smoking and explaining that he had obtained permission from the abbot.
The other, who is also a smoker, exclaims, “I don’t understand. I asked the abbot if I could smoke while I meditated and his answer was an emphatic ‘No!’’
“Ah” says his companion, puffing away, “I asked him if could meditate while I was smoking!”


What we do have in common is that we can prepare for the unknown, learn during traumatic events, and build resilience for the next time around. Curiosity, mindful reflection and humour can be our companions on this journey. “Resilience is everything because it is the foundation of piloting through rough terrain in life, of gaining all possible power and knowledge from adversity”. (9)

A sage perspective, well worth reflecting on, comes from Primo Levi. Italian chemist, holocaust survivor and Nobel Literature prize winner. (I love his writing. In his autobiographical The Periodic Table every chapter is based on a chemical metaphor).(10) He says:

“Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. The obstacles preventing the realization of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition which is opposed to everything infinite. Our ever-insufficient knowledge of the future opposes it: and this is called, in the one instance, hope, and in the other, uncertainty of the following day. The certainty of death opposes it: for it places a limit on every joy, but also on every grief. The inevitable material cares oppose it: for as they poison every lasting happiness, they equally assiduously distract us from our misfortunes and make our consciousness of them intermittent and hence supportable”. (11)


BounceBackability details:

1. Chödrön, Pema How to Move Forward Once You’ve Hit Bottom Lion’s Roar Newsletter 7th October, 2016
2. Sacks, Oliver A leg to stand on Touchstone, NY 1984
3. Vanhooren, Siebrecht The Un-Known and practicing un-knowing edX Course: Existential Well-being Counseling: A Person-centered Experiential Approach, Meaning and Spirituality Module (October 2016 to June 2017) referring to Tillich, P. (1952/2000) The courage to be New Haven: Yale University Press; Tedeschi, R. G. & Calhoun, L. G. (2004) Posttraumatic growth: conceptual foundations and empirical evidence Psychological Inquiry, 15, 1, 1-18 and Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (2012) Pathways to personal transformation: theoretical and empirical developments - In: P. T. P. Wong (Ed) The human quest for meaning: theories, research and applications, second edition (p. 559 – 572) New York: Routledge
4. Botha, Alison (Thamm Marianne) I Have Life: Alison's journey as told to Marianne Thamm The Penguin Group (SA) (Pty) Ltd 2002
5. Gaiman, Neil The View From the Cheap Seats: selected Nonfiction Headline 2016
6. Carney , Julia Abigail Fletcher Little Things 1845
7. Anonymous The Cloud of Unknowing Harper Collins Spiritual Classics 2004
8. Gilbert, Martin Continue to Pester, Nag and Bite: Churchill’s war leadership Pimlico 2004 9. Trederwolff, Jude How Improvisation Grows Resilience — and resilience is everything October 2016
10. Levi, Primo The Periodic Table Penguin Books 1986
11. Levi, Primo If This is a Man/ The Truce Penguin Books 1979

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Creating Great Corporate Cultures

“It is the emotional nature of culture that renders it capable of becoming your worst nightmare or your most sustainable competitive advantage” - Coffman & Sorensen

It is being increasingly acknowledged that culture is the foundation for all that happens in, and issues from, strong, constructive, fully human, and psychologically strong organisations. It is the culture or character of an organisation that enables its coping, resilience, learning prowess, energy, successes, results and sustainability. It is the culture of an organisation that provides an authentic sense of purpose, meaning and belonging to its members; that attracts employees, customers and stakeholders; that upholds its values, behaviours and reputation.

The HR Research Institute ( researched over 500 respondents from all sectors (mainly USA-based) and have released their 2018/ 2019 report. There are 5 major findings and 11 important takeaways.   Here they are, together with our comments on how 

shows a way forward for go-ahead organisations. The Culturescan process enables and leverages an organisations latent ability to address and enhance its philosophy, principles, true values, underlying assumptions, competence, behaviour norms, processes and practices across a wide range of topics:

    (Keys to nurturing a performance-based culture)

Organizations are being thrust into the cauldron of radical resource and societal threats, accelerating technology change, shifting consumer demands, increasing activism in many areas, emerging new competency requirements, ever-changing governance and compliance issues, a bigger array of opportunity areas than have existed previously …
The 11 takeaways from the HR Research Institute report make even more sense in this context  

Make culture a strategic priority
CultureScan allows you to move beyond strategy by equipping you with a process that drives execution and allows for prioritisation and appropriate focus on specific cultural elements in “real time”

Do not assume “one culture” throughout the organization
CultureScan offers analyses, interpretations and alternative narratives across a wide range of breakdowns – division, department, gender, ethnicity, generation, length of experience with organisation, level …. Whatever is deemed appropriate by the user-organisation

Measure and assess culture more often
The Culturescan process is quick and easy - from set-up, analyses, reporting ….  

Within the HR function, consider creating a team that uses data and analytics to learn about the culture and subcultures of the organization
Culturescan is a good way to start. Adding (unnecessarily?) sophisticated analytics is a route that needs careful consideration within every organization, and is not always a panacea

Define, describe and communicate the key aspects of your culture
CultureScan facilitates this exercise for both existing and desired-future culture, and related aspects such as purpose, values

Consider creating a learning environment that makes “diversity of thought” a reality.
(Asking an unwise question or conveying an unconventional idea can be frowned on, or, worse yet, cost an individual a promotion or leadership opportunity.
Diversity of thought is about breaking down any potential barriers in your culture so every employee feels valued for their differences. It is all about respect for the individual and their opinions, which, over time, fosters an environment of trust. Moreover, diversity of thought affords employees opportunities to learn from each other and brings about higher levels or productivity (and innovation) as people become more engaged with one another and the organization at large).
Psychological safety, harnessing diversity, respect, trust, non-violent communication, bonding and engagement are all hallmarks of the CultureScan: conversations that count process

Provide appropriate training to managers, and make employees more comfortable talking about cultural differences.
Subtle ‘training’ takes place during the CultureScan process rendering the need for additional training doubtful in general. However, the process does cause specific, appropriate coaching and mentoring needs to emerge under certain circumstances. Conversations, immersion material, anecdote circle events that form part of topics like Diversity, Masks, Psychic Prisons facilitate the addressing of overt and unconscious biases.  

Expect challenges and have a game plan.
This is built into the process, which allows deliberation on and auctioning of challenges and opportunities as they emerge.

Adopt/refine a recognition and rewards program to reinforce values and behaviors
We caution against the natural tendency to always control, over-measure, assess, appraise, punish and reward in order to get desired outcomes. Oftentimes this is what stifles employee ownership, commitment and enthusiastic engagement. Each organization merits a fit-for-purpose approach.

Make culture part of the hiring process 
Again, job descriptions, use of psychometric evaluations, screening and appointment/ selection criteria (and their application in a context where unconscious biases may be present) are organization-specific in our view. Innovative and alternative hiring, on-boarding and ‘assimilation’ processes deserve consideration. But certainly, cultural attributes, belief and value systems, motives are as important as experience, skills and knowledge.

Consider interest groups that reinforce culture and keep diversity top of mind
(Corporate culture is more successful when everyone in the organization has a chance to contribute. Culture prioritizations are also important (for example social purpose, diversity, project-based organization, coaching, learning … )
That’s CultureScan!

Expertise Available On Demand From Culturescan as   
Organisations Push Through and Execute the    
Strategies, Plans and Decisions that Flow Out of the  
CultureScan Process

During the execution phase, after the survey, anecdote circle and immersion work is completed and momentum developed, clients sometimes require our help in these areas:

Governance                                 breaking the shackles of compliance - governance to develop mastery in areas such as opportunity – governance

bridging governance gaps between Boards/ Leadership/ Management/ Employees/ Other Stakeholders

Operations Training,            formulating meaningful, shared purpose and values
Project Activities                     frameworks that facilitate the development of virtues and mature ethics, and result in reputational benefit
ensuring psychologically safe workplaces

developing mind-sets and plans for tackling carbon – footprint reduction, community engagement, encouraging gentle, reputation-building activism

adopting story, imagery, symbol, metaphor in applications throughout the organisation, including branding, data deployment competence, team-building, sense-making, change and transition …

setting up knowledge capture, storage, access and wise application

enhancing problem-solving, decision-making, sense-making and preparation skills and practices to accompany agile operations

developing practices to successfully incorporate strategy execution, communal leadership into the daily life of the organisation

Innovation                                  preparing for the 4th Industrial Revolution

conducting scenario - formation as contexts for future-fit and focused innovation

advancing customer service through superior processes, technologies, people development, measures (organisations and contact centres) 

Coaching & Individual       whole person coaching frameworks (physical well- Development                           being, cognitive, mindfulness, emotional, social and
                                                            fully-human learning and improvement)

overcoming unconscious biases, expanding belief bubbles, non-dualistic thinking, forging valuable connection inside and outside the organisation

motivational fingerprinting (personal sense of purpose)

improving and managing personal resilience to change, stress and trauma

retreating to do reflective inner work, work on personal integration and balancing (leaders and others)

coaching performance in task, relating, agility

Communication                       developing deep listening skills for customer-facing employees and within the organisation

                                                            establishing a culture of nonviolent yet assertive communication, including social-contracting and conflict prevention and resolution skills

10 Most Wanted for 2020 and the Eagle Hoop Prophecy

In an increasingly complex, tech-driven, diversifying, polarised, rapidly changing and challenging world of business, there will be a growing need for organisations to master:

  • HUMAN CONNECTION in the form of small group conversations about big subjects* and leveraging a peer coaching practice*

  • RIGHT TO LEFT PREPARATION where the required deadline and quality determine actions and processes rather than conventional left-to-right planning.  Organisations use foresight, agility and project competence to pre-empt and handle new ethical situations, business processes (recruiting, innovation, customer demand shifts …) while simultaneously maintaining their levels of employee well-being to avoid burnout, and maximize learning gains and a sense of purpose and meaning      

  • LEVERAGING OUR STORY BRAINS (which incorporates imagery, symbol, metaphor and archetype) to operate at the cutting edges of sense-making, communication, scenario formation, spring-boarding change, forging connection and deftly steering their journey at the intersection of data, strategy and story. A recent article urging economists and others who work with data to become storytellers:    
           For story resources see        

  • SIMPLICITY, where wise leadership role models the stewardship of clothing, food, water usage and transport and leisure activities – for a more a sustainable lifestyle   

  • INTERFACE TRIGGERS. Business activities that impact on communities (environmentally, socially, economically), especially products, services and projects related to sustainability and good corporate citizenship, are modernised so that strategies, decisions, actions are not only informed by, but led by the affected communities

  • CLICKS NOT BRICKS as we witness more and more use of on-line services such as expanded home deliveries in many markets, an upsurge in “gig-market” activity and freelancing of skills at all levels, adoption of the informative, quick survey to poll opinion and ascertain knowledge that informs action (both externally and internally)

  • CULTURE SCANNING. Leading organisations get to grips with a still-emerging competence, the ‘how?’ of shifting culture and sub cultures constructively within organisations. This enables them to access and optimise the key drivers of engagement and high performance

  • COMMUNICATING. The advance of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) ushers in a growing need for a high tech/ high touch balance, which in turn calls for greater competence at building soft skills, fast and comprehensive spread of information, and high levels of conflict-management and communication expertise – internally and externally (which includes highly tuned listening and “nonviolent” communication)   

  • LEARNING. Accelerated learning of new, and polishing and adapting  of existing mental models and skills, are mastered by thriving organisations during the 4IR era  

Culturescan processes are designed to facilitate mastery of these fast-emerging business imperatives

(* In a 2018 survey of 1,000 full time employees, Imperative found that people reported
being more than twice as likely to learn from their peers as from their managers) 

Mastery in the areas of organizational life outlined above will also contribute to improvement in wider society, which is so characterized by dictatorial, self-invested leaders in too many countries, by polarization on many levels and a decline in civility and respect. My hope is that the current surge in  awareness of what needs fixing and what might be, becomes accompanied by mutually beneficial exchanges and connections at all levels. Exchanges of resources, wisdom, support and appreciation that lead us from separation to oneness. And where "trickle down" turns into a two-way cascade!  

Human connection, simplicity, interface triggers, building belonging, communicating, learning – are all well met by Anita Sanchez’s powerful approach of four sacred gifts, guided by the Eagle Hoop Prophecy.

Within the indigenous Native American Full Circle framework, she teaches the interconnected gifts of forgiving, healing, unity and hope as the pathway to belonging, trust, respect, and wise, nurturing leadership in all of organisational life – so needed in these divided, fast-paced, challenging times.

actual Eagle Hoop 

For me, this fits with the rainbow metaphor and symbolism: the heralding of a new beginning as happens with forgiveness, the one-ness of the colour spectrum, and the healing and hope that follows periods of darkness.

It also applies to both the collective and the individual, in an Ubuntu way. We all have a basic need to belong and be connected – with self, family, community, nature, the web of life, the cosmos … the part is in the whole and the whole in the part …. At the self-level we need complete self-forgiveness, as we move towards healing and wholeness, reach unity within (integration) and look forward with hope.


It covers all who wish to hold hands
And its size depends on each other
It is a vision of solidarity

It turns outwards to interact with the outside
And inward for self-critique
A circle expands forever 
It is a vision of accountability

It grows as the other is moved to grow
A circle must have a centre
But a single dot does not make a Circle
One tree does not make a forest

A circle, a vision of cooperation, mutuality and care (Oduyoye, M. 2001)

Anita: "The 27 indigenous Elders from different traditions and I are honored to have these messages reach 
your readers".
"There is a free song titled "In Right Relations" that your readers can download for free 
The song is created by The Koren Brothers and me holding many of the messages in my book.   
Best  Anita"

An imperative in these times to build bridges not walls, and Anita Sanchez certainly does that!  She is authentic, humble, erudite, wise and gives freely of her wisdom and passion. 

Oduyoye, Mercy Amba (2001) The Story of a Circle (Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians