Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Mosaic of Life

   It begins in our centre the core; our diamond ... and takes flight

meandering, circling; inevitably journeying down to its roots
 where it all began ...inchoate among the jewels.

The path transforms as it weaves around, skips over and crosses back

 returning to centre, as all paths do...

a coming home to Self.

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Business of Creativity

I like reading other blogs. They give me ideas, for sure, but more than that, they illuminate areas of life I don’t usually contemplate. One of the regular sites I go to is The Good Typist. Recently Ms Typist was too sick to write. Instead she provided a link to an article, Inside the Box: People Actually Don’t Like Creativity. That led me to another article, one by Barry Staw which, in turn, led me to write this blog. And who knows were that will lead? Hence the beauty of creativity. This article, however, explores another aspect of this social construct.

Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school, writes that most businesses, let alone individuals, choose not to be creative when faced with the inherent risks of innovative thought. For individuals this may include obsessive and anti-social behaviour, non-conformity and sacrifice.  For businesses the risks are slightly different and tend to be of greater magnitude because of the financial commitment.  Creative people tend to rock the boat as they push against traditional hierarchical infrastructure. This can make life uncomfortable for investors as well as colleagues who just want to do their work and go home.

Staw lists five reasons why most business managers shy away from creative innovation.

First, instead of the normal recruitment process in which people are brought in who have the skills needed by the firm and the values it admires, innovative companies must let down the barriers. They must accommodate those whose skills are more peripheral and whose goals are suspect.

I remember applying for work as a bank teller. I knew I was out of my league when the interviewer described their average client as anything but average. You know the kind: wealthy with high expectations for efficiency, service and kowtowing. Knowledge, however, does not always breed common sense. When the interviewer asked how I dealt with conflict I chose to tell him of an incident from my Downtown Eastside days—working with a strung-out cocaine addict who found offence in something I had said. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.  His loss or, better said, the bank’s loss. I imagine the example I gave was not far off from dealing with a mulit-millionaire who finds a minute mistake in his service charges and wants his money NOW. An addict is an addict regardless of the substance.

Second, instead of socializing new members of the organization to absorb the values and cultures of the firm, the innovative corporation must encourage people not to listen, or listen to hard. There is nothing that kills innovation like everyone speaking in the same voice, even If it’s a well trained voice

This takes me back years ago when the first McDonald’s appeared in Kitsilano. Several of us from high school, possibly ten altogether, went in to apply for work. We sat in a group and waited for our turn to be interviewed. One by one, we got up, talked to the manager and got hired. Everyone, that is, except yours truly. Not sure what it was unless you count the moment when my sense of the ridiculousness interrupted the interview. The manager was telling me in an oh-so-very sincere voice about the cleanliness and all out wonder that was his McDonald’s when I started to smile. I tried to hide it but the damage was done. McDonald’s loss.  Just think, I could have been a millionaire corporate CEO now telling others how fantastic and healthy a QuarterPounder (with cheese) truly is. I’d smile while saying it, too.

Third, instead of issuing directives and policy statements and hoping they will be obeyed, innovative firms must encourage disobedience. In fact, those in power must go so far as to encourage active opposition. Innovative organizations are ones that harbor multiple perspectives and objectives ….

Irony rules the day on this one. I find the more rules, directives and policies, the more disregard there is: an unintentional boon to inspired creativity. I once worked for a company that loved issuing directives. These golden words would regularly appear on the bulletin board … or in the washroom stalls where they would certainly be read by a captive audience. Funny enough, these commandments from above usually resulted in what Staw desired out of creative organizations: disobedience. One policy read that because of employee abuse (and negative effects to customer service) coffee breaks would be reduced from fifteen minutes to ten AND if further abuse continued, would be omitted altogether. The outcome of this, of course, was total rebellion: coffee breaks lengthened to 20 minutes. Customers never noticed because the reason why the service was problematic in the first place was the cost saving practices of the company in cutting floor staff. Five minutes here or there made no difference what so ever. Excepting, of course, for the instigation of multiple objectives and extra time for creative thinking.

Fourth, instead of striving for lower cost and efficiency, innovative companies must strive for adaptiveness. They need to have excess capacity and personal devoted to seemingly meaningless ventures. Because innovation requires investing in losers as well as winners, adaptive firms must be prepared to follow several competing designs simultaneously, and move through a sequence of product alternatives before setting on a single course of action

One company I worked for was the champion of meaningless ventures and support for competing designs.  Unfortunately, the creative benefits of adaptiveness  was lost in this formula but hey, they got it two-thirds right. As a building supply/general store we sold spray bottles. And, as in most places, staff could not just take an item off the shelf for business use, a certain protocol was necessary. So, a request for a spray bottle was submitted to be used as a cleaning aid. Two weeks goes by. In follow-up I am told by the powers that be that “we are still pricing the sprayers for the best buy ... you should have two bottles before tomorrow.” Sure enough, two such bottles did arrive that afternoon… from another store. Need I say more?

Finally, to be truly innovative, firms must be industry leaders rather than followers. They must stick their necks out on unknown products and technologies, not knowing if they will be successes or failures…. They must pursue products that often appear more folly than wisdom.

I have a Hentemann cartoon sitting on my desk. It is a picture of Santa, in full regalia, sitting with his mom and dad at the dinner table. Santa’s mom asks: Don’t you think what you’re doing is a little strange?

The same question could be asked of me (and certainly some of my family and friends do ask it). On first glance, you see, what I do is a little strange. People come to my office and lie on my massage table. With my hands on or off their fully clothed body, I run energy while asking questions.  The method evokes a body-based response rather than a head-based one or, in other words, one the client thinks they should feel. A little strange, yes, but also, like Santa, quite magical in its effectiveness. Clients leave my sessions with a clearer picture of who they are, paths they want to take, and a sense of relief in coming home to themselves. The work does not yet provide me with financial success. For that reason alone it may seem like more folly than wisdom but I don’t really care. My BodyMind practice provides me with a deep satisfaction and gratitude in knowing I am doing some good in this world. Not so ridiculous, this folly.

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Bullying Experiment: An Exercise in Shame and Fear

I just viewed the youtube video, TheBullying Experiment.  In it a young man pretends to be a bully while another playacts the bullied. The bully is relatively big and wears tough guy clothes. He physically manhandles the victim who looks like he’s ready for prep school. It is shot live, presumably on a quiet part of a college campus. The intention of the video is to show how most people do not try to stop bullying and how by not intervening we are part of the problem. The video has had over 6000 hits. While I agree that we are complicit by not acting I have some issues with this video, specifically its underlying message of fear and shame.
After each fake altercation the “bully” confronts those who ignored the situation. Why didn’t you do anything, he asks. However valid the question the methodology is both shame and fear provoking. Imagine witnessing someone aggressively manhandle another and then have that same person turn to you and demand why you didn’t act. One bystander apologized. I would have done the same. But instead of being remorse for my non-response it would have been to avoid being pummeled by this guy. It reminds me of being confronted by an angry and authoritarian parent: damned if you tell the truth; damned if you don’t. Shame and fear are powerful inhibitors.

That said, some degree of shame is effective. This shame, however, must come from within rather than without. Internal shame propels us to change our behaviour and make amends. External shame, on the other hand, quickly becomes another form of bullying, an ostracization that alienates and decreases the potential for pro-social behaviour. 

That is what I feel the video has done. These bystanders are forever shamed and for what purpose? Shaming someone for their lack of courage or even indifference is not effective. Perhaps if the pretend victim rather than the bully had approached those who passed by the results would have been different. Instead of provoking shame and fear, there may have been empathy. Both parties could then have talked of their fears. When people share a common feeling they are more likely to be proactive.* This, of course, would not have changed their first reaction but perhaps encourage a more pro-social response in future.

It is easy to sit in one’s armchair and judge those who do not act. But ask yourself, would you have really gone in and stood up for the man being assaulted in the video? The pretend bully was scary. I applaud the young woman, physically smaller and presumably weaker, for doing so. But it doesn’t always end happily. Three years ago a young woman was killed in Vancouver’s Gastown while trying to break up a fight. She didn’t know the men fighting; she was only trying to help. 

I have both responded and not responded to bullying. Once, when seated at the back of a bus, I was surrounded by young men and their homophobic talk. While it wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, it was offensive and intimidating regardless of your sexual orientation. I felt too scared to speak up. I still feel some shame for that. Another time, however, I did speak up. It wasn’t easy and was not received with open heart but I felt good about it, after I stopped shaking, that is. I don’t know what made me act then and not the other time. Every day we experience life from different perspectives and varying degrees of security. Can I predict if I will step in another day? I hope I will but I cannot say it will definitely happen. I do not think anyone can. 

Fear for one’s own safety is only a small part of the equation. What about fear for our family’s safety, social conditioning or previous trauma? I think back to an October 2011 news clip where a toddle in Foshon, China, was run over not once but twice and then ignored by eighteen people.  (The scene was captured on street surveillance camera). Some commentators chose to use this as a forum for racism but one astute reporter, Mark McKinnon of the Globe and Mail, gave two possible reasons why this tragedy occurred. 1) The legal system [in China] is unpredictable and unfair to those without money and political connections. Getting involved can often get you in trouble.” 2) An authoritarian state, such as China, instils fear in its citizens from acting, doing and /or getting noticed. 

Were those bystanders in The Bullying Experiment newcomers to North America? Had they had previous experiences where getting involved cost far too much, i.e. their family was negatively affected? Was their English comprehension limited in that they consequently interpreted the scene as political in nature? 

Here is another thought: In emergency response training the first thing you learn before approaching an incident is to ensure no danger. Perhaps, just perhaps, some of those bystanders were going to get help. They knew their physical limitations and chose, as unobtrusively as possible, to leave the scene so to contact those who could be more effective. Many would say that is the wisest choice.

On the other side of the coin, one must also mention the “bystander effect”. This is where “[t]he mere presence of other bystanders greatly decreases intervention.” We witness this about half way through the video where one person stops to stare but moves on when he sees others walk by. This is a well documented and researched phenomena instigated by the horrors of what happened to New York’s Kitty Genovese. I am not saying this is appropriate but it seems to be part of human nature. 

I write these bystander excuses not to say it is okay to do nothing but so that we lay down our judgments, forego becoming another form of bully, and work instead to finding solutions. It is also important to remember that solutions need not be grandiose. In the book Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels subtly weaves themes of morality and complicity in her poetic book of a young Jewish boy who, saved from certain death in WWII Poland, finds sanctuary in Greece.

Michaels writes:

In those days, to be moral required no more than the slightest flicker of movement —a micrometer —of eyes looking away or blinking, while a running [Jewish] man crossed a field. And those who gave water or bread! They entered a realm higher than the angels’ simply by remaining in the human mire.” 

We need to teach our children that a helpful response to those in need is not only important but vital to our humanity. Bullying, however, will not be stopped by further bullying. Let us not shame the bullies into change but bring them into the fold and create change from within.

I close with a CBC excerpt about Nelson Mandela, a man who will forever remain one of our best models for compassionate humanity.

In prison he meditated every day while seeking signs of common humanity even among white guards — some of whom later became close friends. He discovered … a willingness to respect all and an ability to make even old foes feel better about themselves. At the same time he made it clear his core values were unshakable.

* If you Google “empathy and pro-social behaviour” you find that the majority of studies show a positive correlation between the two. However, one recent study showed that this correlation fell through if the subject felt they were in a lower socio-economic status. As the researcher states, the literature is complex.