Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…
This is a story about me, my views on the KM consulting field in the UK, a new experience, the feeling of Hwyl and the need for alignment of organisational values.
I need to be honest (I was told yesterday that I say this a lot and therefore when I don’t say this I am obviously lying…now I’m going to be forever conscious of saying something that I picked up from my father!) I have been feeling a little tired lately, both physically and mentally.
At times like this you find yourself in need of a good support system – family, friends, colleagues. You also realise, as you take stock, or it might just be me, that, especially working in isolation, the mental energy required to drive yourself forward, to keep challenging yourself, the field you work in and the services you provide mainly utilises systems two thinking. It saps energy and, like a vicious cycle, means that I have to apply more energy, from reserves that I didn’t know I had, to push on; my wife was glad to know that I had an epiphany and realised that I have to build in mental breaks in order to keep functioning at a high level (both professionally and for her and my daughter). The problem is that I don’t know how to work any other way and it is perhaps a bad habit, one that I need to manage. This came to me during a three hour drive yesterday. I was heading to a meeting, the radio off, leaving me with nothing but the meanderings of my mind – a funny place that took me from the first home I remember, from when I was three, I think, through to where I would like to be in ten years time (multiple thoughts, all involving a sunny climate). I also realised that, aside from my K3 colleagues, my professional network, the fellow consultants I truly trust, is limited and, again, it feeds the drain; who do you turn to for advice and counsel; who do you bounce new ideas off; who do you share with; who will challenge you?
Up until yesterday my overwhelming experience of the KM consulting world (I stress KM over complexity/resilience), conversations with fellow consultants, is one where, forgive the imagery, it is much like watching dogs sniffing each others bottoms when they first meet (weird observation, I know, but I was introduced to the colloquialism of ‘sniffing butts’ in my early days of working in the US (Robert Hart, this is your fault!) and now, when I see two dogs meet for the first time and sniff under each others tails, it just seems to fit the nature of exchanges I have experienced in my field).
Interaction is draining, not exactly what you would describe as collegiate, and exasperating. Consulting, to many, seems to be a competition. Conversations are frequently an abrasive rub where others are right, you are wrong. others have more experience and yours is irrelevant (beside the fact that many have not changed their practice in twenty years – the landscape has changed, but they, and their methods, hark back to a safer time and place where they are still relevant; they then ‘fit’ their clients to that time and place where their ‘know-how’ was most relevant – sounding too sour, my apologies, but thoughts of past experiences are like lemon juice upon a paper cut). I need to put my hand up and say that I have been sucked into that trap at times – However I would also like to think I have tried to put errors in judgement to right, taking the time to call people and publicly/privately apologise if I think I have over-stepped the mark in a debate. After meeting many of the ‘well-known’ UK KM consultants for the first time in the mid ’00’s I found them, in the main, to be guarded (bordering on paranoid), dismissive (bordering on insulting) and, for want of any other way to put it, down-right rude. There are shining exceptions to this stereotype, but, from my experience, they are either in Australia or hyper-specialised to the point where they did not see me as a ‘threat’ to their work. This changed yesterday.
Yesterday opened my eyes to a group of people that I can only describe as, exceptional. Yesterday a top UK thought leader brought together seven people for a discussion (not deeply known to each other). No request for Non Disclosure Agreements. No demands for secrecy. Just open discussion founded on trust. The conversation was bright, intelligent, challenging, stimulating and filled with ‘banter’ (can I just add that there was an eclectic mix of nationalities, but a feeling of ‘Welshness’ did seem to unify the group). For the first time in years I found myself purely aligned with the values of others in my field, which, as you will know, is a very powerful occurrence in terms of motivation and output – transparent conversation on methods of approach, building better services and benefit for clients, rigor in research and case development (non-academics, just to clarify). It was filled with thought-provoking conversation on relevancy and resilience. And I realised last night on the way home, listening to Wales beat France in rugby (6-16 – in Paris, by the way!), this, what I experienced with this group, was ‘Hwyl‘. Let me introduce you to the wonders of this lovely Welsh word:
“Hwyl: A healthy physical or mental condition, good form, one’s right senses, wits; tune (of a musical instrument); temper, mood, frame of mind; nature, disposition; degree of success achieved in the execution of a particular task; fervour (esp religious), ecstasy, unction, gusto, zest; characteristic musical intonation or sing-song cadence formerly much in vogue in the perorations of the Welsh pulpit” (The Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (the big dictionary of Welsh recently published by the University of Wales)
There is a brilliant story that was told to me before a game by my rugby coach, a weathered old Welsh chap who lived for match day:
A New Zealand U19 team came to Wales on a rugby tour in the late 1970’s and in their first game came up against a side from the Welsh Valleys. They met on a wet and windy day, on a pitch that was a muddy bog. It was a bruising and energy sapping encounter, but the Welsh team was up for the fight (this was a Welsh club side facing up to the black jersey of the mighty All Blacks – watch the video and you’ll get a glimpse into what this means from a Welsh perspective).
Every line out was met with a Welsh call for, Hwyl. Every scrum, the call would go out for, Hwyl. The coaches would call for it. The supporters called for it. The Welsh boys, their backs to the try line, five meters out, with minutes to go, screamed for it. The Welsh team won by a single point, they say, because of it. After the match the NZ captain was interviewed by the local paper and asked what the difference was on the day and what they would take into the next match against the Welsh national U19s. He responded by saying that the next match would be different because they would not have to deal with ‘Hwyl’, whoever he was. It might have been a coach winding us up for a big game against an English side, but for me it is a true story 🙂
My point, one I am slowly winding to, is that this alignment, this feeling of ‘Hwyl‘ does not only apply to me, to consultants, to the Welsh or to the fields of complexity or KM. The essence of ‘Hwyl‘, that alignment of belief, values, of spirit, is the key to harnessing success in any organisation. With it anything is possible! Without it you end up with dogs in the park. Without it you might just get sucked down the drain!
Check out our next KM Course (Resilient Knowledge Management Practice) in Slough, August 12th – 16th 2013 (Stage 3, Advanced)
Check out ‘Operation Punctuated Equilibrium’ (Resilient Knowledge Management Practice) in Edinburgh, October 24th – 25th
www.punctuatedlearning.com (a real time simulation environment)