Cultural constellations (and a marriage) of change

Today I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with Mike and Rosie Kennedy. Mike is Australian born, and Rosie of Maori heritage. They have been married for a number of years and lived in both Australia and New Zealand. As changemakers and community leaders, they have had to grapple with and understand each other and the world through the lenses of their different cultures.

Mike shared some interesting stories about first going into cultural situations in New Zealand and needing to learn quickly around how to talk, how to LISTEN, and how to behave. He talked about learning aspects of Maori spirituality and language. While we live so closely in the world, there are some strong distinctions in how community works, and how leadership and change happens.

Mike shared how when he first landed in New Zealand so many years ago, he was reading Machiavelli’s The Prince. This classic text talks about an approach to changemaking based on power, politics, corruption and violence; glorifying the ethical maxim that the “end justifies the means”. Mike described how surreal it was to be reading this philosophy while being introduced to such a contrasting view of how power and community can work.

According to Rosie and Mike, the Maori way has its own sense of power. It is a spiritual and cultural way of being in the world deeply rooted to land and water, to family and community. While we didn’t unpack ethics in relation to Maori culture, Read more

The power of contemplation

In my post “to solve or not to solve” I referred to a process of contemplation that I have used. In his wonderful book “Anitya”, Paul Twitchell describes contemplation in the following way:

“Contemplation is to view, to consider with attention a line from a poem, scriptural verse or saying and keep going over it, wondering what the author meant…what it means to you…how it applies to philosophy or looking at it in a hundred different ways, but never trying to hold it, force it or keep it, simply being interested in it, as it holds the attention”.

Some may think of contemplation like meditation. For me, contemplation is a more active, creative and imaginative process. It is the purposeful creation of an inner experience. I do this most regularly with my eyes closed, but also I have found journaling to help me. As Paul Twitchell describes, finding a passage or quote from some inspired writings can also be powerful.

So what relevance has that to ethics or doing good?

So much attention is placed on ‘outer processes’ like thinking, analysing, discussing, and utilising tools like policies and frameworks in order to make sense of the world and better decisions. In my experience (although sometimes I forget this), dedicating time and energy to inner contemplation can be a useful and powerful tool in any aspect of one’s life. In my work, it has helped me arrive at better and more rounded decisions, and often with more grace than I would have otherwise.

To solve or not to solve? Is that the question?

Sometimes in exploring the ethical dimensions of changemaking, I get to the point of wondering whether not solving the problem is actually ethically better than solving it. But then I wonder whether that is the right question to ask at all. Perhaps there is a third option to whether to solve or not solve a problem.

A few years back I was heading up a business development team at a mid-sized nonprofit, as we were going through a significant turnaround of the operation. The stakes were high, and the existing business model was by-and-large ineffective. It was not hitting mission spectacularly, and was draining cash. The staff were investing enormous love and energy to make this work.

It was a creative time that required the team to be highly entrepreneurial. We were needing to be quick and agile in identifying problems and coming up with creative solutions. We were up for the challenge, enjoying it and most of the time doing pretty well.

I started to observe though that as soon as we solved a problem, a new one often emerged. We seemed to be on this endless cycle of problem-solution-problem-solution. We got in this rhythm of being ‘fix-it’ people, always on the ready to fix what was not working. We were champions for what the social consciousness was telling the world about the need to be ‘solutions-focused’. Read more

The Quiet Entrepreneur in a Noisy World

I have been reading the book “Quiet: The Power of Intraverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain and firstly I am filled with gratitude. After spending the last three years as an intravert in the role of CEO, it is wonderful to read a book that describes my experience of being in that role so beautifully.

Of course, many would not recognise me as an intravert. I love people and have become somewhat adept in social situations. I have trained and practiced in networking and public speaking so I can be more confident and effective in doing that. I can play the role and turn on when I need to, but the truth is that it is more like playing a character. People and social settings are great and enjoyable for me, but they don’t energise me. Actually, I found this aspect of the role incredibly draining. For me I need personal space, time, quiet and room for contemplation to be most effective and to recharge my batteries.

This kind of self-knowledge is hard won (and I’m still only in the beginning of that journey). I sat in denial of my intraversion and needs for personal space and quiet. I tried to be like others (dangerous), or live and work up to what I believed was expected of me as a CEO. And while I think me pushing myself had some benefit to the organisation, it did come at some cost to me.

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