I've been reading Tony Hsieh's Delivering Happiness along with a book recommended by my friend Kate Rutter called Composing a Life about stitching together a rich, creative life in the midst of the stream.
Not surprisingly, considering my current reading topics, I've been thinking a lot about how I grow my own work culture - what kind of situations I'd like to be involved in, the people I'd like to work with and the values that I'd like to create and hold to in my life.
Last week, I began resetting a powerful work situation. Before that I took 9 days off and went inside. I realized that I was out of alignment and reacting as if I was a victim to my work life. I notice that I'm not. Climbing out of the reactive, lizard brain this past week I discovered two helpful 2YO behaviors that when applied kindly and asked for gently are helping me begin reshaping circumstances.
A few years ago I was in a volatile situation with a large company. I had designed a complex and vast change to the current system that was divided into stages. I went into a meeting and it was immediately communicated to me that this was too much (before I had even walked through the design) and we would instead do one small item that was on their list. Could I please get those graphics to the engineers?
Then the company began reviewing all projects and assigning people to lead them. I was to support all of these new leaders in getting their project proposals put together. One project was handed off to a marketing intern. I went into a meeting and was provided a Word doc with all of the changes that he had. He had taken my design, ripped it apart and put in what he thought was best - basically taking the 4 pages I had and making them all into 1.
I did ask if why he made the changes. He explained it. When I began to point out the business requirements and technology realities we were working with he felt they weren't important. Impasse. I was struck in that moment about how an opportunity for engagement was not really possible and I ended the meeting. I did also ask myself (as I became indignant and angry about things) why he would approach it that way. Realistically, with no clear direction and no culture to encourage collaboration and asking questions of your fellow humans - in his mind he was just doing what was asked. Fascinating.
Later that same year I was working with another company that was shifting their product significantly. They had begun doing design testing and were failing on many levels. Instead of pulling out my arrogance and I know better I remembered how awful those experiences felt - not being asked, talked to or collaborated with but rather minimized and relegated to "just a cog."
I stopped. Contemplated how I wanted to proceed and then immediately began asking "Why?" each element was like it was. Why is this design this way? What problem were you trying to solve? Why isn't this form working the way you would like?
What I got back were amazing stories of how they had overcome problems and historical quirks produced by the people involved.
We laughed and cried. I'm not kidding - it was stunning how just slowing down and being curious about how they got to the current incarnation created a safe environment for all of the unspoken assumptions and story to be spoken, acknowledged and addressed. They had been supressing everything for so long it was like lancing a wound. And the creativity that emerged was stunning.
And most important to me - I was able, as a consultant, to be respectful and collaborative with all of them in making the changes.
It was a powerful lesson that I must say I have not been disciplined in continuing as I get swept up in "getting er done." Well, I remember now and am back with my gentle and persistent curiosity firmly in place.
We all have situations in which we feel belittled and shoved aside. What I'm beginning to look for in my work situations and in the people that I hire is the capacity to move beyond self-involvement and ask "Why?" things are done in a certain way. And after they hear why - do they move in to make their point immediately or are they thoughtful and creative in their response? Will they listen and allow it to change their response?
I've begun looking for the same capacity in the work environments I choose. Are they genuinely curious about me? Do they want to understand the way I think and how I work through things? These aren't required and it's always lovely to be engaged in this way.
I like to think of "why" as a quiet and peaceful way to explore new worlds. A discovery of what's going on that I'm not aware of and a climb out of my narrow assumptions.
Now, there's one other item that my journey needs - a good solid "No."