We live, work and play in an ever-accelerating world. A fascinating and complex world, where I do not always feel the freedom to take time to rest, sit back and reflect. Fully connected to this world, it is difficult to create space and set boundaries for reflection. Driven by influences both inside and outside of ourselves, we stay busy all the time. Recently, I was listening to a lecture from the Happiness Studies Academy, it hit me again how vital taking space and time for reflection are, especially in our fast-moving and hyper-connected world.
Tribes, systems and time
This particular lecture began with the story of the Good Samaritan. Many of us have heard this story at some point in our life, and some of us may interpret that story simply one dimensional. It may say: “be a good person,” or “love your neighbor like you love yourself”. The parable about love and oneness gained depth and became more interesting when it was combined with the 1973 Princeton experiment at the faculty of Theological Studies by John Darley and Daniel Batson.
These two psychologists asked several theology students to deliver a lecture to an audience on the other side of campus. In the short walk the students made between the classroom where they were instructed and the auditorium where the lecture takes place, an actor was visibly placed that was apparently in need of help. The objective was to understand which factors would influence the behavior of the theology students. It turned out that the ONE significant influencer for the students to help was whether they were early or late for the lecture. Two-thirds of the students who were not in a hurry, helped the person in need of care, comparedto only one-tenth of those who were late. What does that say about us, in our lives that are constantly speeding up and in our organisations where there is constant pressure to deliver on our goals?
The trouble with interconnectivity overload
~“In the wake of the Cognitive Revolution, gossip helped Homo sapiens to form larger and more stable bands. But even gossip has its limits. Sociological research has shown that the maximum ‘natural’ size of a group bonded by gossip is about 150 individuals. Most people can neither intimately know, nor gossip effectively about, more than 150 human beings.”
― Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind~
The number one predictor of happiness is the intimate relationships we cultivate in our lives. Cultivating these relationships once was a straightforward objective when our neighborhood used to be only our village or our tribe. It was key to our survival, and also do-able as our world was more straightforward and slower. We would not even know individuals outside of those tribes for our whole, short lives.
Nowadays, we have relationships with our families, education, companies, social media and at times (nearly) the whole world. Not only do we live longer, but we change context throughout our lives. We are all part of many large and expanding systems, where we expect to cultivate intimate relationships to feel safe, experiment, innovate and thrive. To be able to handle all those connections, we create a shortcut, an alternative safety, judging everything around that tribe quickly in black and white terms. It is entirely understandable that we take these steps to simplify. However, they erode meaning and context, drive us to make decisions that are not in alignment with our values. And especially in large and complex organizations, we withdraw in our teams, forget that we are part of a more extensive system and dehumanise stakeholders one step removed from our goal.
The complexity of our systems
~“ from the systems perspective, the human factor is part of the feedback process, not standing apart from it.”
– Peter Senge~
The lecture also highlights the power of context or system on the individual. We interpret and judge so much of what happens in our daily lives in a split second. We do not have or take the time to analyze the context or the system. While we judge quickly, we forget that most people have genuinely good intentions. We forget that they may be clumsy in their response because they underestimate the power of the situation or they are in a rush as well. We draw quick conclusions about who is good or bad, who is an ally or an enemy and struggle to step away from those judgements until we get stuck. For companies to successfully transform, reflection on the system is vital. Effective interventions can only take place when the purpose is clear, and we approach every relationship with both caring and daring.
Reflection is the cure
~ Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
– Victor Frankl~
Last, but not least, time is essential to open our minds, hearts, and hands for seeing the system as a whole and in its interconnected pieces. Time is key to responding deliberately. As the world speeds up, we react rather than respond under time pressure. To choose to respond rather than to react, making the space that Victor Frankl speaks about, taking time is essential. The only way to successfully uncover the potential of teams and organizations is by taking time to reflect and allowing time for connections with a genuine interest and curiosity for the individuals and teams in the system.
So why not take some time to feel, connect and reflect on what is really going on, especially when there is conflict at play. You can play to win in full alignment with a shared overall purpose and with your eyes on the relationship. Remain aware of how caring and daring you are within the individual connection and where your purpose overlaps. Be curious, go slow and most of all, take the time to build the relationship before you drive your agenda. You will be grateful you did because you will achieve both results ànd happiness while working through seemingly conflicting objectives. It is not a novel idea, but impactful, often overlooked and little executed.
And if you struggle to free yourself from the speed and complexity, the demands that the world is putting on you, why not work with a coach? A coach can hold the space for you and allow you to dig deeper into strategy and stakeholder relationships. When it is much easier to keep an appointment with someone else than with yourself, when your agenda is the best proof of this, there are exceptional people out there to make the most of that time. We are here to help and support your reflection process, holding space and asking the next question that you may hesitate to ask.
– Simone Noordegraaf, September 21st 2018