Tag: Perspective

Being Human in The Age of Extremes: Pausing to see the other side

Front foot, Improvement, Reflect No Comments

What makes us human?

  1. The ability to tell stories that make sense of our lives?
  2. The (potential to have a) conscience?
  3. The way we organise to do ‘projects’ from farming to hobbies to start-ups?
  4. But also ‘othering’ – that is the way we pretty naturally like to put all we see and meet into groups and make those good or bad, helpful or harmful, right or wrong, hero or villain. ‘The other’ is frequently given less positive characteristics, though sometimes (for example in the case of celebrities, especially national treasures), they have a sort of saintly halo.


This final characteristic or seeing putting something in a neat box and labelling it positive or negative extends to the black and white thinking we see in the anxious debates of our age, including:
• Refugees and migration
• Junior doctors strikes
• Nationalism in Europe and the US
• Trident
• The Union
• The various issues and groups who Donald Trump targets
• Trophy hunting
• Sugar tax
In all of these a circle tends to be put around those with a different view and then there is a judgement that makes them and their ideas wrong.  We see it from our Facebook pages to Front pages.

The news media and social media coverage of all these stories polarises views. Advocates of a particular viewpoint tend to sound as if the argument is very clearcut; they know the answer – and it is in their direction.

So if being human means we have a tendency to seek tribal certainties, what makes us civil is, I believe, stepping back from quick scapegoating…seeing the other side, disagreeing well, looking at what is fact from the story and considering the alternative stories.

However, I agree that in a way I risk ‘circling’ those who are certain and making them wrong! Yet, this desire to see the other side is more of a habit I practice than a belief; a discipline more than a personal value. I find it as easy to label and judge as anyone else, but reckon that learning to challenge those tendencies (as I look for information to challenge my assumptions and confirmation bias) is pretty important in my life and work.

And the more I think about the stuff that occupies the pages, screens and chat in my life the more nuanced the ideas seem. I realise ‘IDK’: I don’t know.

As I explore the gospel of doubt in the age of anxiety I discover I need to continually practice ‘holding my beliefs lightly’. Yet, I regularly need to form a view and make a judgement. I need to vote. I need to advise a client; to call time in a meeting. I need to act.

So what makes us human? Pausing. The potential of a momentary pause to consider; what else might be.


Further reading:
Meaning of Life is a project
National treasures
• Projection, scapegoating, splitting
WITOS and perspective managment assessment
• From other peoples skin (shoes, eyes)
Holding our beliefs lightly
• The Gospel of Doubt and questioning the ‘bricks’ on which our beliefs are based
The Age of Anxiety


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Split Personalities?

Improvement No Comments

I ended up watching the Hollywood flick Shallow Hal when channel hopping for light relief recently.

It got me thinking: I was surprised to find the film a vehicle for the ideas of Tony Robbins, so that explains part of the unexpected cognitive impact! A philosophical theme in the movie was an exploration of what is truth in what we see: how what we notice in a situation or person might seem quite different to what others experience or what is going on beneath the surface.

This resonated. There have been three news stories over the last week that have divided many social media and news commentators.

Where did you stand in regard the coverage of Tim Hunt’s comments, Rachel Dolezal’s identity and Eleanor Hawkins’ actions?

Who is right? What was wrong?

As humans we have an in-built desire to see things in black and white terms. This is called splitting – and we are more likely to do that when feeling a bit anxious or insecure.

To err is human. To ‘split’ in how we see and discuss others’ mistakes seems to be human too.

Given my interest in ‘perspective management’ you will not be too surprised to know I have been trying to step back from simple agreement with one or other side in some of these news stories.

This is not about rejection of the commitment to the enlightenment project and it’s pursuit of truth. I am a bit, but not all that, post-modern! Rather I am keen to step back from a rush to judgement; WITOS.

I recognise the ambiguity of these situations – and my very partial perspective (mediated by the slant of various media outlets and the weight of social media responses).

In organisations it is good to be curious. It is especially good to explore other perspectives, especially when the truth seem so obvious. In applying the implications the insight of ‘splitting’ we need to resist simple judgements of good and bad:

– clinicians good, managers bad
– business leaders bad, workers good
– charities good, capitalism bad


“…a simple trick to get along with all kinds of folk…”

Think No Comments

I recall being in an English class at school when I was 14. My teacher was encouraging me to read more. I went back the next week and proudly said I had started on my fathers stack of Readers Digest. I remember her saying, that wasn’t quite what she had in mind – she was keen on full novels not abridged stories, little jokes and tales of wilderness bravery.

So, you see, I didn’t read some of the classic texts when I was younger. However, I know the second book from Harper Lee is due out in July, so thought it was time I read ‘ To Kill A Mockingbird’.

You probably know I like seeing things from different angles and through alternative perspectives – see this self assessment from 6 months ago.

I liked this section of text early on in ’To Kill A Mockingbird’. Atticus is talking with Scout about her experience at school – and the teacher who wants to hold 6 year old Scout’s ferocious reading back to fit the class scheme. Her father explains about the importance of seeing things from another point of view, particulary the new teachers.

“First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

The theme – the skill of walking a while in someone else’s ‘skin’ or shoes – occurs a number more times in the book. In fact, you could say it is the heart of the story – or even the whole book.

What topic would you like to know more about?
Where would you like to think more clearly?
Who would you like to understand?  Maybe a customer view (marketing)? Or a co-worker (engagment)?
This is all about discipline – learning to see WITOS, as i have discussed before. A skill that is worth developing – and one that requires continual honing.


Perspective management self assessment

Improvement, Personal productivity No Comments

Further to the recent blog series on ‘perspective management’, please see my simple 4 question self-assessment here:  http://www.idenk.co.uk/business_briefing/2014-sept.shtml

So, are you…?


WITOS: The lens (and examples) of perspective

Improvement No Comments

This is the fourth blog in my series on perspectives (well actually the fifth if you include this one from a couple of weeks ago).

Are you fascinated by different perspectives?

Do you share my joy in trying to see things differently?

Like me are you keen to try to get less frustrated by a different angle or point of view?

Discipline is important. WITOS is a helpful tool. It helps us see both sides

What Is The Other Side…

Are these following examples useful provocations and lessons? Let’s have a look through the lens of perspective

Whistle-blowers? Trouble-makers protecting their interests or self-sacrificial saints? Discuss?

The Taliban? Our foe or a fiction.

Are you with the pious cyclist? Ringing their bell, assuming right of way, making a woman and cyclist coming the other way retreat and retract. Or the woman on her bike virtuously manoeuvring to the right hand side of a one way street to force an oncoming cyclist coming the other (wrong) way to mound the pavement.

Looking at the excellent, perspective provoking mini exhibition on German WW1 medals at The British Museum, I was reminded of the British Library show’ on propaganda. Both demand a consideration of other points of view.

Like me do you delight in the surprising success of the Cambridge guided bus way despite the complaints? Every time is see a packed vehicle it reminds me how it has questioned my assumptions from 5 years ago.

Do you like to play ‘The Devils Advocate’? In a way WITOS invites that. The play and film The History Boys revolves around the training the lads get to think about unusual perspectives. Have a look online for quotes from the story – some great inspiration there.

Do you see ingredients past their best as a waste or inpsiration for a new dish. Some well overripe tomatoes and a soft rind cheese beyond its best helped make a brilliant potato gratin last weekend.

Is the middle or the top of The Shard the best view? Is higher better – as the sense of perspective from lower down fades…Try the test on the Eiffel Tower – or The Petronas Tower vs. the Traders hotel bar looking onto the view.

WITOS on a plane…reading as many papers from around the world as I can fit into one flight…and getting surprised, for example in The Daily Mail.

Was the latter work of Matisse the mess of an old man or infirmity inspired innovation? what do you think of The Cut Outs? Personally, I like the emphasis on prototyping – and the way it forced the attempting of something new.

And in gardening, are you 100% confident on what is a weed or plant?

And finally…Do you like the original or later version of Both Sides Now, by Joni Mitchell!?

Both Sides Now – WITOS – enjoy the journey.


The Art of Business: The importance of perspective

Reflect No Comments

You probably agree with these two beliefs:
1) We all see an issue, an event, our lives, our work in ways that are a bit different to the person sitting next to us, on the phone or at the other end of cyberspace.
2) In our lives and work we will do better if we see and understand more of what is going on in any situation: our decisions will be more informed, a way forward will have more chance of success, a plan will have more support and things will feel fairer all round.

[If you don’t agree – please let me know, I would like to understand more of your point of view!]

I propose that understanding more of what others see is highly useful, however you view knowledge and whatever your stance on the Enlightenment Project :
a) If you are seeking to discover and promote truth – with a positivistic approach (maybe if you work in basic research or are someone who likes to develop a rational strategy in your organisation)
b) If you are keen to understand more of each other’s contingent realities – in a postmodern way (for example in staff engagement and listening to potential customers in a focus group or existing product users as a designer)
c) If you are trying to learn more about your assumptions and prejudices – in a ‘post-positivist’ sort of way (which can be very useful in a organisation where you are trying to avoid group think in deciding on a more emergent strategy or a team where you are trying to navigate your way through conflict)

Given how we are as humans (with mind-sets that are both firmly fixed and fluid too) and the importance of trying to understand different viewpoints as we work to improve things, maybe you will agree that in addition to the two truisms at the start of this blog there is a third crucial one for any leader (defined as someone who is trying to influence the behaviour and action of others, from a sports team captain to a member of a band; from a charity volunteer to the CEO of a major corporation).

So what is this third belief, that makes a trilogy of truisms? The proposal: the core skill a leader needs is ‘perspective management’. This ranges from:
i. A deep curiosity in what others see – whether those ‘others’ are senior colleagues, complaining customers, union stewards with a grievance or people who are met in the course of a journey. This leads to seeking out opportunities to see things differently – from starting a Board meeting with a ‘patient journey’, to walking the floor, to sitting quietly in a café or store watching potential customers examine your product.
ii. An ability to ‘hold their own beliefs lightly’. Jim Collins in ‘Good to Great’ described how level 5 leaders have a rare combination of humility and will. Leading through perspective is more about the humility of that formule– the harder part of a determined (and possibly arrogant) leader to master.
iii. A desire to reflect and refine, to review to improve in the light of experience and others opinions. They are a ‘cycle manager’.

Perspectives (and how they are explored, entertained and used) is at the heart of excellence, for a leader, team and organisation.

‘Perspective management’ is difficult to apply, it is not a precise science. Leading with and through an exchange and exploration of perspectives is more like an art, with some disciplines and a desire to help others (and oneself) seen anew:
– Like an artist, the leader is thinking all the time about how (and how far) to challenge themselves and others to see things differently
– Like an artist, the leader is open to different methods and media to help themselves and others see.
– The leader has to decide, often intuitively, how much time to invest in exploring and considering, before (and during, and after) ‘execution’

Are you a perspective manager? I hope you might see you are, or at least see the need to try and be one.


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