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I See Monsters and Bananas
Burnout, the way we see things, and a practice to close the week.
The lead vocalist and guitarist of The Black Keys once talked about the difficulties of the second album.
"The second album is where the rubber hits the road. It's a statement of intent." — Dan Auerbach
So, here is newsletter #2 — the "I See Monsters and Bananas" issue. You'll see...
Although not as difficult as the second album, writing this newsletter is still fraught with the creative tensions of producing something readable that gives you something to think about and leaves you feeling better. I hope I have.
This week I share a brief story of how Sophie (not her real name) finally got around to a mindfulness practice after burnout finally got too much. I look at the lenses through which we see work and how they shape our thoughts, decisions, and behaviours. And I share a practice that helps us close the week well.
Once again, thanks for reading, and just hit reply or message me with any comments, ideas, or suggestions.
For much of my career, I worked in the creative industries, and I loved it — while friends were stuck in dusty offices doing audits, I was hanging out with creative types in Soho bars (I'd learned early on that this was the best place to brief creative teams).
It was fun until it wasn't. Burnout is an endemic problem in an industry that is built on young people doing too much work with too little time and resources. I talk weekly with people who are struggling. In the spirit of things I wish I'd known in my career but know now, here's a short story inspired by a conversation with somebody last week who'd learned the power of mindfulness to help beat burnout.
Sophie loved her job at the advertising agency, but after three years, she began to feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Her boss noticed her struggle, and after breaking down in tears, Sophie admitted that she needed a break to recharge.
During her week off, Sophie decided to take up mindfulness meditation, something she had always been curious about but never found time to pursue. Finding lots of great videos online helped her learn that, by focusing on her breath and cultivating a sense of calm, a mindfulness practice helped her feel more centred and less overwhelmed.
When Sophie returned to work, she made a commitment to continue her mindfulness practice. She set aside time each day to meditate and found that it helped her stay focused and productive, even in the face of challenging deadlines and demanding projects.
Sophie's story is a reminder to prioritise self-care and wellbeing. Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool for managing stress and promoting wellbeing, and can be practiced by anyone, anywhere. By making a commitment to self-care and mindfulness, it's possible to maintain a healthy, sustainable approach to work and avoid burnout.
To be mindful is to #WorkKind.
The Four Lenses, and Seeing Clearly That the Scary Monsters Aren’t There
The lenses inside our eyes serve a single purpose: to focus light clearly and sharply on the retina at the back of our eyeball. The retina then turns this light into neural signals and sends these signals on to the brain for processing. Input, to data, to cognition. Sleepy eyes, dimly lit environments, or misplaced glasses lead to fuzzy inputs, poor data, and limited understanding. What the brain can't see clearly, it often imagines. As a child walking home from school (back in the day when we did that) on winter nights along the edge of a forest, the moving shapes in the woods were definitely scary monsters who were eyeing me for dinner.
If your lens is unclear, you don't see clearly, and so apply biases to the world. My bias as a child was that the monsters in the forest wanted to eat me.
We apply lenses at work. Four of them are the lenses we share and use most commonly.
The Machine Lens
The mechanistic view of work is a perspective that conceptualises work as a machine. This view sees workers as cogs in a system, where they perform specific tasks that are broken down into smaller components and work towards specific goals to maximise productivity and efficiency.
This view emerged during the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century, when technological advances led to the development of factories and assembly lines that could mass-produce goods. The metaphor of work as a machine encouraged the belief that workers are replaceable and that the most important aspect of work is productivity and efficiency.
The mechanistic view of work has played an important role in shaping modern workplace practices and management theories because it offers a systematic, measurable, and manageable approach to organising work. An example of this is the use of job descriptions and performance metrics. By defining specific tasks and setting targets for employees to meet, companies can ensure that workers are focused on achieving specific goals that contribute to the organisation's overall objectives.
When you view the organisation as a machine, it fundamentally dehumanises it. When workers are seen as interchangeable parts in a larger system, their individual skills, abilities, and experiences may be overlooked or undervalued. This can lead to a sense of alienation and disengagement from the work, as workers may feel that they are not valued as individuals.
But this machine view is seductive because it makes it easy to identify what is broken or underperforming and then fix it or swap it out.
Words commonly used to describe work as a machine include:
Parts: Referring to workers or teams as "parts" of a larger system reinforces the idea that they are interchangeable and that their individual skills and experiences are not as important as their ability to perform a specific function within the organisation.
Inputs: The term "inputs" suggests that workers are simply resources to be used in the production process rather than individuals with their own goals and motivations.
Outputs: Similarly, the term "outputs" implies that the primary goal of work is to produce a specific quantity or quality of goods or services, rather than to create value for workers or society as a whole.
Optimisation: This term suggests that the primary goal of work is to maximise efficiency and productivity rather than to create a fulfilling or meaningful work environment for employees.
Automation: The use of automation technologies, such as robots or software, further reinforces the idea that work is a mechanised process that can be optimised.
The Team Lens
If the machine dehumanises, the Team lens places people — groups of people — firmly at the centre of what an organisation is because it shifts the focus from individuals as components and components working together to collaborative efforts and shared goals. The Team lenses see the whole as greater than the sum of its parts. By working collaboratively and emphasising mutual respect, trust, and communication, teams can achieve more than any individual could alone.
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people.” — Steve Jobs
The language you commonly hear when people are seeing the organisation as a team include: members, competition, wins, losses, and awards.
The Team Lens emphasises core principles:
Respect and trust: Teams function best when there is mutual respect and trust among members. Each team member should feel valued for their contributions, and there should be an environment of psychological safety where people feel comfortable expressing their opinions and ideas.
Collaboration and communication: Effective teamwork requires open communication and collaboration among team members. This means actively seeking input from others, providing feedback, and working together to find solutions to problems.
Flexibility and adaptability: Teams need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances and be flexible in their approach. This means being open to new ideas and ways of doing things, and being willing to pivot when needed.
Continuous learning and improvement: Teams that prioritise continuous learning and improvement are better able to innovate and adapt to new challenges. This means regularly seeking feedback, evaluating processes, and looking for ways to improve performance.
Through the Team lens, we see that a group of people working together can achieve more than any one individual could alone. When team members are able to work together towards a common goal, they can combine their unique skills, perspectives, and experiences to create innovative solutions and achieve more than they could on their own.
In addition to the practical benefits of teamwork, such as increased productivity and better problem-solving, there are also emotional and social benefits. Working as a team can create a sense of camaraderie, support, and shared purpose that can be highly motivating and fulfilling.
We are stronger than me.
The Culture Lens
Overall, looking at work through a Culture lens highlights the importance of understanding the cultural context of the workplace.
Company culture is the set of shared values, beliefs, attitudes, and practices that shape the behaviour and attitudes of individuals within an organisation. It is the "personality" of the company, and it reflects the collective mindset and character of the people who work there.
A company's culture can be expressed in a variety of ways, including the organisation's mission and vision statements, its policies and procedures, the way employees are treated and supported, and the way the organisation interacts with customers, suppliers, and the broader community. Culture is "the way we do things around here." It's how we see ourselves as a collective and describe ourselves.
Company culture can have a significant impact on the overall success of an organisation. A positive and supportive culture can lead to greater employee satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty, as well as a more positive reputation among customers and other stakeholders. Conversely, a negative or toxic culture can lead to high turnover rates, low morale, and a negative impact on the organisation's reputation and bottom line. I wrote in last week's newsletter about escaping a toxic work culture, a theme that resonated with many of you.
“ The culture of a workplace — an organisation's values, norms, and practices — has a huge impact on our happiness and success.” — Adam Grant
When we look at work through the lens of Culture we are focusing our attention on creating a positive and supportive workplace, which includes a positive focus on:
Inclusion: Inclusion refers to the practice of creating a work environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and supported, regardless of their background or identity. This is an important aspect of company culture, as it ensures that all employees feel welcome and are able to contribute to the organisation's success.
Belonging: Belonging refers to the sense of connection and community that individuals feel within an organisation. When employees feel that they belong and are valued, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and committed to the organisation's success.
Ethics: Ethics refers to the principles of right and wrong behaviour within an organisation. This includes issues such as honesty, integrity, and respect for others. Companies with strong ethical values tend to be more successful in the long run, as they build trust and credibility with customers and stakeholders.
Communication: Communication is essential for creating a positive and productive workplace culture. Open and transparent communication channels help to build trust and promote collaboration, while poor communication can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and a toxic work environment.
Innovation: Innovation is an important aspect of company culture, as it encourages employees to think creatively and find new solutions to problems. Companies that prioritise innovation tend to be more competitive and successful in their industries. Because...
“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.:” — Simon Sinek
“Take care of your employees, and they'll take care of your business.” — Richard Branson
The Organic Lens
When we look at the workplace through an organic lens, we see it as a living, evolving organism that is constantly adapting and changing in response to internal and external factors. In this view, the workplace is more than just a collection of individuals performing specific tasks; it is a complex system with its own unique characteristics, behaviours, and processes.
When we look at the company as a living system, we emphasise these key aspects:
Flexibility and Adaptability: This means being open to change, embracing new ideas and ways of working, and being responsive to internal and external factors that affect the organisation.
Emphasis on Collaboration: The organic view of the workplace emphasises the importance of collaboration and teamwork. In this view, employees are encouraged to work together to achieve shared goals and to share their knowledge and expertise to create new ideas and solutions.
Flat Organisational Structures: The organic view of the workplace often favours flatter organisational structures, with less emphasis on hierarchy and more emphasis on collaboration and shared decision-making. This can promote a more open and inclusive workplace culture where all employees have a voice and can contribute to the organisation's success.
Emphasis on Employee: The organic view of the workplace emphasises the importance of employee wellbeing, recognising that employees are the lifeblood of the organisation. According to this viewpoint, the workplace is intended to promote employees' physical and mental health, as well as their personal and professional development.
Holistic View of the Organisation: The organic view of the workplace takes a holistic view of the organisation, recognising that it is more than the sum of its parts. This means looking at the organisation as a complex system with its own unique characteristics, behaviours, and processes and taking a more integrated and strategic approach to managing it.
Words that are associated with this Organic lens include relationships, growth, transformation, change, flavours, and colours.
This lens is associated with the idea of "Regenerative Leadership"; a view encouraged by the author, Dr. Giles Hutchins, as a way to create more sustainable, resilient, and adaptable organisations that are better aligned with the natural world:
“The regenerative leadership model is about creating new ways of organising and collaborating that are more in harmony with the natural world." This means moving away from the old, command-and-control approach to management and embracing more collaborative, networked, and self-organising structures.”
“We need leaders who are willing to step up and create new systems and structures that are more in harmony with the natural world. This requires a fundamental shift in our mindset, from one of separation and domination to one of interconnectedness and interdependence.”
Seeing the Scary Monsters
How we see the world, is the world we see.
So, if your prevailing view is that of organisation as a machine, you'll be swapping out those FTEs faster than you can say "Workforce Utilisation Report." If you're all about the team, you'll be crushing it as you pull an all-nighter to achieve those stretch goals. If culture's your jam you'll be worrying about wellbeing. And if you're about the organisation as a living system, you'll be building relationships and celebrating change.
What's the reality of how people use these lenses to look at work?
Most of us see work through these lenses in these percentages of the time:
This is not the 18th century! Yet the seductive way of looking at work as a machine to be measured and optimised still operates strongly in our day-to-day work.
So, if you see work in a dehumanised way, then you'll work in a dehumanised way — you'll optimise and manage out those scary monsters. That were never there.
To #WorkKind is to be open to seeing work through all four lenses.
Think of it like this: If you were playing golf, you wouldn't hit every ball with your 9-Iron. Instead, you'd size up the situation, look at it from different perspectives, select your club, and then take your shot.
Look at situations, systems, structures, policies, or processes through each of these lenses for the insights they give you. For example, for a project that simply isn't delivering on its promise:
Maybe the people and resources allocated to this project aren't quite right — Machine.
Or the people involved aren't gelling and flowing together. Maybe trust, the #1 driver of high-performing teams, is an issue — Team.
Maybe those working on the project aren't communicating effectively — Culture.
Or, maybe the project team is out of step with the rest of the organisation; it could be siloed, yet needing to draw on the organisation, or working at a pace, and making demands which don't fit with the organisation as a whole — Organic.
Brené Brown has a lovely definition of leadership, which separates it from "those in charge":
"I define a leader as anyone who holds him or herself responsible or accountable for finding potential in people or processes." — Brené Brown
A leader is anyone at any level who sees how people or the workplace can be better and does something about it.
This is #WorkKind in action.
Looking through all four lenses for the insights they give you and then acting on what is truly there.
Rather than the scary monsters you're imagining.
Rose, Banana and Thorn
The #WorkKind Community is a group of like-minded people who gather online once a week for an hour. Each session starts with a mindfulness meditation, followed by a share from me of ideas, insights, and practices that support and encourage us to #WorkKind. Lively discussions and sharing follow, including the practices we've found that work well.
In a recent session, one of our community members told us about the practice her startup has adopted in a session that closes off the week. Everybody takes turns sharing their rose, banana, and thorn.
Rose: a highlight, success, small win, or something positive that happened that week.
Thorn: a challenge you faced or something you could use more help with
Banana: just to share fun things and keep it light.
This works well because sometimes bad things happen inside and outside of the workplace, and it's a space for people to say, "I had a really hard time because my child is sick," or something like that. By making this practice fun, you are making it easier to have a conversation about negative things. And, by creating a ritual, you are making it more likely that this practice happens regularly.
This week for me so far:
Rose: the continuing afterglow from my retreat last weekend.
Thorn: my car has developed an annoying (and, worryingly, potentially expensive) rattle.
Banana: learning that, in Norway, workers have the legal right to take a "work-free" day to organise their homes, as it is believed that a clean and tidy home can help reduce stress and increase productivity.
What's your rose, banana and thorn for this week so far?
Work better, live more. #WorkKind
This is the Why for this newsletter. A happy day for me is one in which I hear your stories of how you #WorkKind. So hit reply or message me with your ideas, experiences and stories. And, please:
Follow my stories, ideas, and practices to help you thrive on the socials that suit you.
And, most importantly, be kind to yourself today.
See you next Wednesday.