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30 Days! Done!

Posted by Simon on May 31, 2010

How about you? What would you like to do?

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rLiving Day 30: Non-Memorial Day (Continuity, Commonality/Identity)

Posted by Simon on May 30, 2010

Memorial Day in the US is the last Monday in May. It’s equivalent to UK Remembrance Sunday which is second Sunday in November. And the message from both seems straightforward: don’t take your freedoms for granted since it was secured by the sacrifice of others, so remember them, and be thankful. Even today there are those dying so that others might be free, so remember them too.

Relational Proximity Dimension #2 is Continuity: A relationship is formed and strengthened by the amount, frequency and span of time we are together. It includes a sense of shared history, and an anticipation of the future.

Relational Proximity Dimension #5 is Purpose/Commonality: Our sense of connectedness and relationship is greater to the degree we have things in common or share a common purpose or identity.

“A nation is a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. – Ernest Renan”

The above quote was seen previously in this post, and originally by my friend Dana in the comments on this post . It sums up very well what Memorial Day, and Fourth of July, does functionally for people who call the United States of America their nation. Without conscious remembrance of the sacrifices of the past, a people may well forget who they are or why they are. You can’t build a national identity on a shared history if you don’t continually think about or remember that history. And you can’t build a common identity if you don’t ‘share’ – agree with – the reason for the sacrifices in the first place or if you don’t know or agree on what your ‘common life’ is for which you’d be prepared to sacrifice your life.

The combination of the lack of conscious remembrance and a vehement disagreement over the purpose of recent sacrifices seems to be one reason for a loss of national identity within western nations. I don’t know if you feel it, but I feel it.

But it’s an odd, and slightly uncomfortable, thing to build an identity on a common suffering and death even though that’s the normal context for reference to a nation’s character (i.e. who they are); 9/11 being the most recent example. I say ‘build’ as though it’s a conscious act, but of course identity and commonality is something inexplicable and unique that emerges from that cauldron of suffering. Those who have been through it, like soldiers in war, just know … they just KNOW … what binds them together. And when they forget what it was that bound them, then bound they are no more.

One wonders why then do we want to keep remembering the pain, the suffering, the injustice, the cruelty? Why not forget? Why not instead focus on the future, build something new? Or find something else, something stronger, more positive from the past. Or find something transcendent, something not contingent on circumstance. In fact there’s a paradox in that justice and truth screams at us to keep remembering, to never forget! But the goal of remembering, the goal of all proper attention to evil and injustice, is redemption, restoration, justice and peace. The hopeful future together presupposes the redeemed past together.

This paradox is embedded in the title of the book, “The End of Memory: Remembering rightly in a violent world” (which I haven’t read yet so what follows is pieced together from reviews). In it, the author Miroslav Volf – himself trying to ‘forget’ his experience of interrogation in former Yugoslavia – proposes the need and importance of ‘non-remembering’: “To be fully overcome, evildoing must be consigned to its proper place – nothingness”. But he’s not simply saying, “forgive and forget”. He’s talking about a right kind of remembering, the kind that has an aim to know the truth of what really happened in all its ugliness. The kind that for the sake of justice, Will Not Forget! That’s the “end’, the goal, of memory: to expose and reveal the truth. But ultimately, one wants to really ‘end’ remembering suffering and death. One wants just to not have to remember any more.

Like I say, I haven’t read the book, so I hope I’ve correctly got to the essence of it. But regardless, it does seem there’s a paradox here with memory and memorializing.

It’s likely this weekend is just a long holiday weekend for a lot of people. Time to really gear up for summer. Unless, that is, you happen upon a parade (as we had in Somerville today; that’s my daughter M~ above), or have lost someone in the theatre of war so cannot help remembering. And even if for those watching the parades, and participating. I do wonder how much we’re really remembering as we should, so that we can stop remembering as we should.

Paying proper close attention to – really remembering – the fact and reason for the sacrifice may yet restore a sense of commonality and pride in one’s national identity. The people of the United States have made many, many sacrifices for others. Perhaps with some courageous remembering, the right kind of remembering – even of recent wards – there’s a chance the people of this nation could really feel “a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future.”

As an Englishman, whose father served in Normandy in WWII and died last Remembrance Sunday, Nov 8 2009, I remember and thank you, people of the United States, and your sons & daughters who have given so much for us.

Posted in Continuity, first-follower, Purpose, RelationalProximity, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

rLiving Day 27: Learning with my CEO (Power)

Posted by Simon on May 28, 2010

“Connections” is an internal collaboration we have at the Forum Corporation to create and sustain ongoing learning and a sense of, well, connection. Every three months a different volunteer runs it, starting with a promotional launch inviting us to request a connection. You just say, “I want to learn about … research/IT/project management/finance/etc.” and they match you with someone. Hopefully you’ll be matched with someone who wants to learn from you also. Then you decide between you how often and for how long to meet over three months. We’re in round 5 right now and I’ve participated in four of them. One of them is still going after almost two years.

I’m in two connections right now and one of them is with my CEO, ‘Ethan’.

The usefulness of the Relational Proximity model, I’ve come to realize, is not so much about measurement; “where is the relationship on the scale?” of directness, purpose, multiplexity etc. Rather, its usefulness is that simply being aware of those dimensions of a relationship helps me understand my relational/social life, online and offline, better.

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity.

Parity is probably the one dimension if not understood, or more likely, if misunderstood, that can cause the most dysfunction in a relationship. So an awareness of a power asymmetry can be very helpful for explaining why a relationship feels the way it does (whether good or bad). And given further thought it can help redress the imbalance.

But ‘redressing the imbalance’ doesn’t mean making everybody equal. That’s just empirically not true, is a utopian pipe-dream, and represents a total disregard and disrespect for difference. We are equal in VALUE, however. [I realize that ‘value’ could mean ‘value to the company’s objectives’, which may be different for each person, but I’m not using value in that sense.] I’ll say again, power does not equal value. Value is not contingent upon any person or any thing or even on the self, but on God alone (who values each one of us he has made higher than one can possibly imagine, enough to die for. For most of us who struggle to shed a sense of low self-worth, this is very good news!).

Understanding that power differentials exist, and that they don’t mean difference in value, is one thing. One must also understand that power is (should be?) limited to the specific task or goal. I may be stronger than you, but you may know more than me. You may be my boss, but you ain’t my mom! You’re a Police Officer, but I decide what I eat for breakfast.

And so it also goes with knowledge and learning. A difference in knowledge/skill doesn’t mean difference in value. And knowledge/skill is limited, it is not absolute and complete.

In my industry (performance improvement / workplace learning) there’s an incredibly persistent and annoying mindset that if a skill or knowledge needs to be learned, “trainers” or “Learning and Development departments” are the ones to provide it. I guess it’s inevitable in a society that has abdicated all “learning” to educational institutions, teachers, professors, trainers. But it results in learners thinking they can’t learn without teachers/trainers, and in teachers/trainers/L&D depts thinking no-one can learn without them. A good response to that is not – as I seem to see a lot – to take an absurd, almost marxist, suspicion of anyone who purports to “have some expertise worth teaching in some kind of ordered way” as though they’re some kind of fascist, party-pooping, oppressor.

No, a good response is to think: [As a learner] hmmm, how do I do this? maybe I can teach myself? who or what can help me? are there others who are learning the same thing? I don’t know/need what I don’t know, who can help me know what I need(to know)?! [As a ‘person who knows’] hmmm, who might benefit from this? how can I make my expertise/knowledge as easily accessible to others so they don’t have spend 20 yrs learning it? what could be captured and made available using media? what would be best done personally?

And, finally to my point, the ‘learner’ and the ‘person who knows’ may be the same person, depending on the context or topic, and may switch roles even in the middle of a conversation. A student may have knowledge and insight that a professor could learn, but the student ought to listen to what the professor has to say! My technology and workplace learning research may be useful to me CEO. So I’ll want (in fact I do) want to share it with him. Even as I do that, I want to learn from his 20+ years in the performance industry. I also, mainly, want to learn how he runs the business, so I ask. As he teaches me about his stakeholders, what he thinks about, what he worries about, how he makes decisions in his role, he’s interested in my questions and my thoughts. I share some of the research I’ve found that might help him manage some of his dilemmas and challenges.

In these conversations, he is still the CEO with enormous power in his specific role. But we’re of equal value. He also has an expertise and experience vastly greater than mine. But he doesn’t know everything. Because I know these things, because I’m aware of them, I am bold to approach him. Because he knows these things, he is happy to be approached. And so for the last three months we’ve met for half an hour each week, taking turns to share with each other our area of expertise and experience, but both learning.

This isn’t a suck up to the CEO. It’s also not a very sophisticated or radical idea, for us anyway. And it’s also not very complicated. Someone in our company has spear-headed it from the beginning, and she’s found volunteers all along. The sponsorship of Connections by our CEO gave explicit permission for people to spend their time on it. And a naturally curious workforce simply took up the offer of a chance to learn and connect. But I’m REALLY glad I work here!

End note:
Formal schmormal? This whole experience has been designed, you know, formally. Who knows, maybe Ethan will decide there are certain things we discussed he can put on the Knowledge Management system (which he does). Maybe he’ll decide to create a short “CEO for the day” designed classroom experience for more people. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s formal or social learning. Each has it’s place, and each of have roles to play as teachers and learners as we strive to master our arts.

Posted in first-follower, Power, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

rLiving Day 26: Sales Performance (Directness, Continuity, Commonality)

Posted by Simon on May 26, 2010

But, so what?

So what if they lost all those things? The business question is: did sales go down, or go up, because of the decision to stop meeting? Were clients retained? Did those clients spend more? Were negotiations enable bigger margins? Were new prospects found and turned into clients?

If I hadn’t fried my brain last night spending three hours thinking about derivatives, I’d look this up, but I know there’s strong evidence to link employee engagement positively with performance (on a number of metrics). But what I don’t know, and would like to find out, is to what degree and why regularly meeting face to face specifically contributes to engagement and so to performance. The research evidence about global teams seems to indicate that regular face to face meetings is an important part, but only a part, of a team’s overall effectiveness. But I’m keen to know the degree to which face to face meetings actually make all the mediated interactions more effective.

If you have any data to share, I’d welcome it!

Posted in Continuity, Directness, first-follower, Purpose, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

rLiving Day 24: A Life (Relationships)

Posted by Simon on May 25, 2010

My dad, Peter George Fowler, died last November 8th, age 85. Three of my sisters were with him in the hospital room in Tewkesbury (England); two holding a hand each, another massaging his feet. I called from Boston and asked to speak to him, so my sister held the cell phone to his ear. He wasn’t able to speak by now, and I don’t know if he could hear me. But I could hear him breathing. For what seemed like the first time in my life, I said out straight, “I love you.” Then, “I’ll see you tomorrow” (having already booked a flight). I hung up, and was called back seconds later to be told he’d just passed away.

For the next hour I sat and cried, along with my sisters on the other end of the phone. But we were mostly silent. My mom arrived with another sister, and we all sat some more. Thankfully we all know how to break a sombre silence with a wise-crack, a bit of pragmatism (who should we call first?) or an exquisitely timed fart. Although I was 3,000 miles away I felt right there with them. It was the most deep, sad, but profoundly wonderful hour I can remember. The next two weeks of crying and remembering and crying just deepened that feeling.

My dad’s death brought me then, and ever since, to a depth of gratitude and love for him that is profound. I never experienced anything like it during his life. And I don’t say that with regret. Our relationship was what it was, and despite good will there was little ability on either of our parts to make it ‘better’. I wished and tried to be more grateful, more loving, when he was alive. And maybe I made progress. But now it’s a different thing altogether, though it’s a mystery why death would make it so. Now, looking back from this side, his whole life and our whole relationship with me and him and my mom and six sisters … no matter what it was actually like … now there’s just abundant gladness and gratitude and love.

It feels like redemption.

The really profound lesson of his death to me, however, was in the letters, cards and personal messages from friends, family and local villagers. They simply told of the significance my dad had in their lives; their appreciation for him, for his unique character, his presence, his generosity. Relationships, simple as that. People knowing and other people over the course of a life. No ‘money’, no ‘achievements’, no ‘oooh, look at the nice house he left behind’. Just people with people.

Truly, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions [or in the ecstasy of his personal experiences]” (Luke 12v15), but in the depth and love of his relationships.

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rLiving Day 20: Shopping, LinkedIn and Marriage (Purpose)

Posted by Simon on May 20, 2010

Over the 20 days of actively reflecting on relational dimensions of life I’ve come to realize that Purpose/Commonality seems to have primacy over the other dimensions. In other words, dimensions of Directness, Continuity, Multiplexity and Power are constrained or delimited by whatever purpose or identity the two individuals, groups or organizations have in common.

I suspect that a lack of understanding and agreement about what that commonality is – and even, whether it’s wanted or not – contributes to so much of the disharmony we experience in relationships. So know what the purpose is, and knowing that you both know, makes for ease and harmonious relationships. Even if it’s briefly, temporarily, like being on LinkedIn and someone helping me out.

The burglar and the woman and other neighbors in yesterday’s post had a crime as their point of commonality. In that case, Directness (face to face or not), Continuity (did it happen once, quickly, or every day for hours?), Multiplexity (was it just a break-in, or is he stalking also?), and Power (did someone get him back, steal his wallet? is he jailed and powerless now?) all contribute to an understanding of the severity of the crime. Or rather, they explain (and probably predict) the intensity of feeling and entanglement that people have with the criminal and each other.

Marriage is a substantial bond of love and commitment (Purpose/Commonality). Firstly, one hopes that there is common agreement between husband and wife what marriage means (like I say, lack of shared understanding likely explains a LOT of the problems). But even then, marriage has implications or demands for:

  • Directness (nakedness of spirit and body, consummation of the marriage by sexual intercourse, actually BEING there in person),
  • Continuity (shared story of the past, BEING together regularly and for substantial portions of time, anticipating a life together to the very end),
  • Multiplexity (doing chores, making love, going to movies, hanging with friends, hanging with different friends, learning something together or from each other, helping someone together, doing things separately then telling each other about it etc. etc.),
  • Power (mutual respect, mutual submission, mutual support, each using their strengths but not assuming either is better or greater for those strengths).

Marriage, as a sacred bond, confers definite boundaries of fidelity and togetherness. But the details are worked out between the couple! How much, how often and how – these are the privilege and joy and challenge of each couple to work out themselves as they spend a lifetime figuring out “what does it mean to be married?”.

But even within marriage, there are other ‘purposes’. For example, shopping. “Shopping“, when you’re doing it for two or the family, is the particular binding element, the commonality. But you can be better shoppers for each other if you realize:

  • A text message may be perfect for mediating the relationship for this purpose; you don’t have to do it together, and you certainly shouldn’t do it naked!; (Directness)
  • That you remember each other’s preferences; plan for future meals(Continuity)
  • Going together in a street market, at a milliners, at the car showroom (Multiplexity – Knowledge from different contexts)
  • Who sets the menu? Who assumes the other will make the decisions? (Parity)

Well you get the drift, and maybe I’m overdoing it. But each little thing, to the degree that a relationship is formed around the common purpose, a whole bunch of opportunities arise that require different ways of applying the dimensions.

Finally, social networks. I’m on LinkedIn. The ‘relationship’ I have with a lot of people on there is through work, but with some, the only thing we have in common is that we’re on LinkedIn. Since the only purpose, so far, is to simply ‘be connected’, they’re perfectly healthy relationships. Any increase on any of the dimensions would solidify the relationship, making a ‘strong link’, as opposed to a ‘weak link’.

Sp earlier this week I updated my LinkedIn status with that research question. One “weak link” LinkedIn connection, ‘Mick’, responded. We’d only met once ever, briefly. “I’ll have a look”, he said. Thus we found a new common purpose, for a short time, which led to this. Given that purpose the implied and assumed agreement of that purpose enabled us, without even thinking, to select:

  • Appropriateness of media choice (email only; directness),
  • Length and frequency of conversing (twice; continuity),
  • Extent to which we got to know each other (not at all, beyond the nature of my question, which was unambiguous; Multiplexity)
  • Who had the power (equals, but he was better at research; Parity)

It felt a bit of a stretch with ‘shopping’ but actually in the end it still makes sense that Purpose/Commonality is the binding and determining factor. To the degree that there’s shared agreement about it, whether assumed or explicit, it provides the practical analysis and ethical reasoning for the other four dimensions.

Posted in first-follower, Purpose, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

rLiving Day 19: Crime and Punishment (Directness/Power)

Posted by Simon on May 19, 2010

Crime. A man breaks into an apartment at number 23, ransacks the place and steals money and jewelry of sentimental value. He’s disturbed by a woman who lives in the opposite apartment. He knocks her over as he escapes but she is otherwise unharmed physically.

You live over the road at No. 20 and hear about it a couple of days later. It’s been a quiet neighborhood and that kind of thing has never happened before. So you’re a bit spooked out by the whole thing but you hear the woman hasn’t been able to sleep since. The person who lives in the apartment hasn’t been able to go back there.

Punishment. The man is eventually caught and given a jail term.

Justice? What are the relational dynamics between the burglar and the others and you? What relational factors have been dealt with by the justice system?

Relational Proximity Dimension #1 is “Directness”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier the less mediated it is. It can be mediated by technology or other people: these reduce our ability to communicate fully. It can also be mediated, even when face to face, by dishonesty and fakeness: there’s a real me and a real you, any fronts we put up reduces directness.

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity. This dimension can also be considered in terms of fairness, or justice.

A relationship has been established between the burglar and the woman, the owner, and all the neighbors including you. If you like, the commonality (dimension #5) of the crime has bound you all together.

There has been a direct face-to-face relationship between the burglar and the woman, which makes the relationship more significant even as it’s hideous. [Makes me think I should change the definition of directness to “makes the relationship more significant” rather than “better”. What constitutes ‘better’ is determined by the purpose/commonality].

One reason it’s hideous is that he’s created an enormous injustice, an imbalance of power (actual, in terms of his physical assault, and perceived, in terms of his having left her feeling afraid). Because of your proximity to the scene, and you being neighbors (another commonality with the woman), you also have a relationship with the burglar, albeit mediated, but also negative since you too feel an insecurity and fear or powerlessness.

What has the jail term done to restore or make right these relationships?

“Restorative Justice” is something I’ll explore again in the future, but for now, watch this video that tells a similar tail. If you can’t understand the thick London accent let me know and I’ll translate!

Posted in Directness, first-follower, Power, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

rLiving Day 18: Global Team Dynamics (Relational Proximity)

Posted by Simon on May 19, 2010

IMHO, “Team Interaction Dynamics” should replace “virtual teams” or any notion of a difference between “virtual” and “non-virtual” teams. Unless you’re literally within spitting distance, you’re a virtual team, until you come together again physically in shared space. So the question is, how does a ‘team’ interact,how often and why? How are relationships amongst teams mediated and managed for optimal performance? I want to look at this research and match it against the Relational Proximity model and see how Relational Proximity holds up as an analytical model, and perhaps even a predictive one.

Studying the Effectiveness of Global Virtual Teams. In 2000, Martha Maznevski and Katherine Chudoba published a paper entitled, “Bridging Space Over Time: Global Virtual Team Dynamics and Effectiveness.”[1] Their 21-month study of three ‘virtual’ (i.e. not geographically co-located) teams in a major US producer of technological manufacturing equipment revealed that certain factors distinguished the two successful teams from the one unsuccessful team that was eventually disbanded. They were examined with respect to the dynamics of technology use, choice of media, and group outcomes. This is my summary of a summary by Elizabeth Kelley, “Keys to Effective Virtual Global Teams.”[2].

What made teams effective? What characterised the effective teams had to do with an interplay between task, ‘interaction media choice’ and ‘rhythm’:
– the nature of the task or group (not, “I prefer email”) determined media choice
– if tasks were interdependent they met more frequently
– if tasks were more complex (so the ‘message’ was more complex) they chose richer media
– if the team was composed of greater cultural/professional/national differences they chose richer media
– they prioritized building relationships to enable trust and shared views (this was mostly face-to-face & telephone)
– as trust increased, message complexity decreased, so they changed media choice
– the ‘planned’ meetings were only coordination meetings, regular conference calls, impromptu conference calls
– there was a ‘rhythm’ to their meetings

More about rhythm: “Effective teams also exhibited a strong, repeating temporal pattern to their interaction incidents. The basic rhythm was set by intense face-to-face meetings, with the interaction between meetings defined by a response to previous meetings or anticipation of the next. The researchers characterized the face-to-face meetings as “a heartbeat, rhythmically pumping new life into the team’s processes, before members circulated to different parts of the world and task, returning again at a predictable pace.””

Interpreting findings through Relational Proximity Lens: There’s more to the study, but I’ll take a look at just these findings. Remember, this is what characterized effective teams.

First, noticeable is the absence of learning styles, personality types or personal media preferences as a factor. Kelley’s summary doesn’t mention them. It was an intense 21 month study and I’m sure they would have controlled for those factors or rather picked teams similar enough that styles, types and media preferences wouldn’t vary greatly between teams.

Second, there were three driving factors for interaction media choice a) interdependence of tasks, b) complexity of task, c) level of trust and mutual understanding. In terms of Relational Proximity dimensions, I want to say the nature of the relational Purpose (dimension #5) is the driving factor for appropriate relational Directness (dimension #1). In other words, what they were about and their sense of common agreement on that determined how they chose to interact.

Third, a predictable yet flexible rhythm to their meetings was a major factor in success. The rhythm was determined and adjusted according to a) an upfront decision b) level of mutual trust and shared understanding (esp. in cross-cultural/professional situations) c) previous and expected outcomes. In terms of Relational Proximity, the regularity and future reliability of the meetings (dimension #2, continuity) was determined by their goal (dimension #5, Purpose) and by shared agreement (dimension #4, Parity).

So Relational Proximity is confirmed here to a certain extent. The dimensions have broad definitions and I may be stretching or confusing them a little. ‘Shared views’, for example, is clearly about Purpose/Commonality. But one could argue it’s also about power: agreement requires not forcing your opinion to dominate others, or being will for your opinion to change. I’m not sure if the proximity model has anything to say about task complexity or task interdependence (though the latter implies multiplexity, dimension #3).

Task drives (social) media selection, not the other way around! This study is 10 years old, so it was before the SoMe explosion. But that should only have added media options. It still should be the task at hand that drives media choice, not the other way around. You might ask, “ooooh! what can we do with this new tool?!”, but don’t ever just say, “well, we’re going to have blogs and wikis” without knowing why. Maybe there’s more recent research that builds on this? I know I came across an MIT study in the last couple of years. Can’t find it though. If you know of any on the topic of team interaction dynamics, media choice and the nature of the task/group, let me know. And if you have other thoughts or comments on this research and analysis, I’d love to hear it!

[1] Maznevski, Martha and Katherine Chudoba. “Bridging Space Over Time: Global Virtual Team Dynamics and Effectiveness.” Organization Science; Sep/Oct 2000, Vol. 11 Issue 5, p473-492
[2] Kelley, Elizabeth. “Keys to Effective Virtual Global Teams.” Academy of Management Executive; May 2001, Vol. 15 Issue 2, p132-133

Posted in Continuity, Directness, first-follower, Multiplexity, Power, Purpose, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

rLiving Day 17: … and balloons and beer (Continuity)

Posted by Simon on May 17, 2010

The full sentence tonight was, “Dear Gooood, thank you for this lovely fooood and C~ and M~ and Mama and Papa and knives and forks and this lovely food and knives and C~’s picture and M’s picture and balloons aaaand beer. In Jesus’ name, aaaaaaaamen.” M~ (3yrs) just looks around the room to find things and people to give thanks for, including herself. I start grinning as soon as she starts praying just wondering what she’ll notice.

I guess and hope most dads have similar stories, not necessarily of giving thanks around the table, but of their children just doing or saying something wonderfully idiosyncratic in the course of a regular day. But I do in fact hope that most dads, and moms, have lots of dinner table stories, or at least that there’s been the possibility.

Relational Proximity Dimension #2 is Continuity: our relationship is formed and strengthened by the amount, frequency and span of time we are together. It includes a sense of shared history, and an anticipation of the future.

“he learned … ‘to be in the present moment, how to live there at least for snippets of time'”

Who did? A man who was diagnosed with late-stage cancer in mid-2005 and changed his life for those last few months. His wife of 27 years I’m sure was grateful. Apparently, because of his job, he’d only had lunch with her on a weekday twice in a decade. Twice. I’m sure his 14-yr-old daughter was grateful too. And I have no reason to doubt that he loved them sincerely. But it took brain cancer for him to focus on that fact enough to do something about it, to realize that they were more important than work. So he, former CEO of KPMG, wrote a book about it, Chasing Daylight. Presumably so that others could learn from his lesson.

In 2005!!!! This happened in 2005! Four years after thousands of people were utterly stunned to be a missed bus, a failed alarm clock, a cancelled meeting away from death and final separation from their loved ones on September 11, 2001. Did he not hear any of those stories? Wasn’t he himself stunned and bewildered on that day and for time after? His office was in Manhattan. Did not those endless horrifying stories of near misses – even more horrifying when told next to stories of those who didn’t make it – make him reconsider his life then?

I haven’t read the book. I just got those details from the editorial review on But I remember hearing about it on the radio when the book came out and having the same reaction. And I don’t want to judge him in particular. God knows, truly, that I’m in no position to judge him or anyone. He just happens to illustrate, for one thing, how unbelievably self-referential we all are. We seem almost incapable, at least in terms of our attitude, of learning from others. Do we really have to always learn only by personal experience? Is our concept of, and suspicion of, ‘authority’ so whacked that we’re unteachable? Don’t we trust anyone else enough to believe that maybe, just maybe, what they’re realizing or teaching may also apply to us? And if we do, can we not hold on to that thought long enough to have a conversation with loved ones about it and perhaps make a courageous decision about it?

Because this isn’t about feelings, and ‘experience’, but about fairly accessible information, priorities, and decisions. But the main point I want to make is about time. And children.

Relationships consist in time. Chunks of time like hours and days. Frequencies of time like daily and weekly. Spans of time like years and years. At a conference on inner-city development once I asked a guy how I could help young kids without parents (he was a residential worker with such). He said, “First, be home for dinner, be a husband and a father at home, be around.” He said, growing up his friends were always at his house because his dad and mom were around. They craved some kind of stability.

Robert Putnam’s research, published a decade ago in Bowling Alone revealed that “every 10 minutes of commuting reduces all forms of social capital by 10%.” Our neighbors may not notice, but our children will. Decisions we make about our jobs and our locations have huge implications on available time and therefore huge implications on relationships. I recognize that many, many people don’t have much choice about where and how (or even if) they work, but to the degree that we have a choice we should exercise it. I’m amazingly fortunate that my job allows me to be home every night. I’m consciously grateful for it every day because I’m aware how significant this continuity is for my kids.

Being able to tell stories about what our children say and do – the delightful and the hideous – in the humdrum of every day life requires being there for every day life. It’s not always possible, it’s not always exciting, it’s sometimes a drag, but truly it’s what makes life worth living.

Posted in Continuity, first-follower, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

rLiving Interlude: Reflecting^3

Posted by Simon on May 15, 2010

Half way through the 30 days and it’s late and I’m pooped so this is just a little reflection on the first 15.

It just so happens that I’ve spent several weeks reading and talking about ‘reflection’. One theme that’s come out in discussions with clients and with subject matter experts and, well, anyone you talk to, is that no-one has time for reflection. No-one has time for it, but everyone needs it. They don’t have time for it because they’re too busy. They’re too busy because everything is needed in a hurry.

It just so happens that the Forum Corporation, where I work, published a book this month with Harvard Business Press called “Strategic Speed” (Free pdf download of Ch. 1). I project managed the early research stages of the book . One of the “why, of course!” and “really?” findings of the research was that people, teams and organizations that “took time to reflect, to think” before and after (i.e. it’s not just a pondering about the past) achieved the purposes and goals FASTER and MORE SUCCESSFULLY than those that didn’t. Everything may have taken longer to “get done” but they actually achieved the results, the value they were looking for sooner, and for longer.

Having never really written much before, in my 43 years of life, writing a blog post every day has been pretty taxing. But the process of writing them has been extraordinary in helping me crystallize ideas I’ve pondered and randomly discussed for years and years. It makes me wonder how much more progress I could have made in my thinking (and action) if I’d taken more time to write these down. The spiritual discipline of journaling makes more sense to me now. The difference with a blog is that the public nature of it, and the 30-day project I’ve committed myself to, has a powerful focusing affect. By writing something down I have to choose the words and the sentence. I have to decide on the idea, the thesis and the antithesis. These mental processes involved in writing for an audience are real brain training. That’s why universities should probably keep giving written assignments.

Reflecting on this reflection on reflection, it’s incredibly satisfying to be getting my thoughts out there and to have gotten to a point in my life where I realize that, “you know what, yes, I actually think this, and I’m okay if people disagree with me because there’s more to learn, I know this isn’t the final word and I may yet be wrong.”

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