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New Year Non-Goals

I cheerfully said to the wife this morning “maybe we should set some goals for the year ahead”. After having narrowly avoided a flying saucepan, we then explored our general level of exhaustion, and agreed that our main goal for the year is to have fewer goals.

The trouble with goals, in my opinion, is that they do generate an awful lot of doing. Doing brings more doing (and more stuff as a by-product). Yes, I know there’s all that research about graduates who write down their goals earning more money in later years. But so what? Does it mean they contributed more than the ones who didn’t write down their goals? And does it make them any better people?

By contrast not setting any goals allows you to … just practice being a more pleasant person. That seems a pretty good goal in itself and a lot more relaxing than all those more difficult goals. As someone who loves a bit of peace and quiet it sounds a lot better to me.

But what would not setting any goals look like in a business? Businesses always seem to have goals or milestones or objectives or some such thing. Financial goals, people goals, quality goals … and so on.

If your business didn’t have any goals … could it just practice being a more pleasant business? What would that involve? And would that be a good strategy in these recessionary times?

Well, it might mean you could:

  • Slow down a bit and listen a bit more – to customers, suppliers,and the team.
  • Ensure the team speak quietly and respectfully with customers, suppliers, and each other.
  • Be respectful of everyone – even the government – and start by assuming everyone is trying to help not hinder.
  • Tell the truth more often (in all your marketing material and all your interactions).
  • Cultivate good operational habits (and get rid of any bad ones).
  • Change your habits every now and then.
  • Honour all agreements and always be fair (even if you have to lose people).
  • Keep learning.
  • Do your bit to minimise your company’s impact on the planet.
  • Tidy up around the place – including your finances.

I don’t know whether this strategy will work particularly well in recessionary times. But I do think it’s a good strategy at any time. It’ll make you friends, repair and strengthen relationships, and keep you out of trouble.

Sounds good to me.

Here’s wishing you a successful 2009.

PS I nicked some of the ideas for this list from the Pleasant Person Act in Richard Carson’s excellent Taming Your Gremlin.


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Begin at the bottom

Lewes, where I live, is a Transition Town. The Transition movement led by Rob Hopkins and Ben Brangwyn and based in Totnes in the UK  is a very interesting movement.

It’s different from some environmentally focussed groups in that it’s not a protest group – it’s not against anything. Rather it’s focussed on creating positive solutions in response to climate change and “peak oil“.

It’s different because it’s local too, and is really more about community, and community resilience, rather than looking at the world top-down or from a global perspective. Instead, it’s a truly bottom-up way of looking at the world.

In fact, I’d argue it operates from the real bottom – me. My perspective and my behaviours as a member are the first and most important place where things can change.

I also like the way the Transition network is structured. It is a network not a hierarchical organisation. Each Transition Town, Village or City can choose how it operates locally, as long as it at least considers following the network’s broad principles.

Being involved leads to some interesting local debates, which I believe have resonance with the broader world too.

Firstly, we have debated whether it’s better to take a positive or negative view of global trends, particularly climate change and peak oil. Is changing our lives as a result of these things bad or good? I, for one, think a world with less oil where we care for the planet more could be a lot better, and in lots of ways.

Secondly, there’s an argument about resilience in the face of change. Who is more resilient, us in wealthy surburban Britain? Or people in developing countries who haven’t forgotten how to live simply. I realise there are shades of grey in this debate, but still can’t help wondering what all the real fuss is about for us more wealthy folk.

Thirdly, there is an argument about hysteria, about getting people into a state of panic. Plenty of the rich world’s population appear the opposite – almost frozen and immobile – in the face of the things that are happening to us. Ecosystems in collapse, species (including our own) under threat, and we continue to shop, drive and so on. As if there was no tomorrow.

I am sure there is a place for hysteria in getting people to sit up and take notice. For jogging people out of their comfort zones. But ultimately I think, as the story of the boy who cried wolf suggests, it’s really not constructive.

The world is simply too unpredictable. Anyone who uses hysteria to garner action risks becoming simply unbelievable.

So, what other strategies might there be to shake people from their immobility? A psychologist, and friend of mine,  Ben Fletcher, has a suggestion: Do Something Different.

Ben’s suggestion is that people stay the same largely because of habits. Because of habits people behave incongruently with what they believe. For example, we know we should recycle more but we don’t because it’s not our habit.

So randomly and consistently breaking habits should allow us to behave more congruently.

Then all the publicity and knowledge and “facts” which fly around about the environment should properly drive us to take corrective action.

Does it work? Yes, I think so, from having tried one of the DSD programmes. It seems to have the same kind of results as behavioural disputing – where our actions can prove that thoughts we hold to very dearly aren’t actually correct.

Changing our thoughts, beliefs and attitudes allows us to move on – to change our behaviour and create the world anew. That’s a bottom-up change. Something transition is all about.


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Live more simply…

Thanks to my friend Oliver, I just finished reading Ervin Laszlo’s 2006 book The Chaos Point. Probably the best book I have read since  the last amazing book I read. They seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment.

We are always busy so my wife asked me to summarise it in 30 seconds. Here goes:

  • The world is in a terrible state, and getting worse.
  • Doom is not, however, inevitable.
  • Changing our own consciousness – personally and as a group – is the answer.

This goes a long way to answering one of the major riddles I struggle with. If you believe the world is a complex system (as I do), and that we can’t predict outcomes with any certainty (even though scientific, economic. and political dogma suggest we can), why isn’t it OK just to live and let live?

It will all work out for the best won’t it? The trickle-down will work. Technology will fix the climate. Crisis will be averted, yet again. Everyone will be happy.

Laszlo’s point is that we humans are both the problem and the solution. We are destroying the planet and in danger of destroying ourselves. But we have the power to change our thinking. And changing our thinking allows us to change the framework by which we all live. Our future is not predetermined. It depends on that framework.

Our ingrained liberalism suggests live and let live. But we can, for example, choose a better morality, summarised by Ghandi’s “Live more simply, so that others can simply live”.

How do we change our morality, change our consciousness? Another riddle: it’s not easy, and yet it is. One clear way forward is to work on oneself. To try to understand oneself better, mind, body and soul.

My wife liked that bit. She’s an example to me. Someone who takes personal development very seriously. And I must go and read another book.


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Typecast

Why do we have it in for sales people? In my book, good sales people do a really useful job. They help me find out what I need. They arrange for me to get it. They make me feel good in the process.

So why do I, and others, sometimes get upset when thinking of sales people? Is it because we’re really thinking about pressure selling? About mis-selling? About used-car sales men?  But I bought a great used car from real gentleman.

The answer of course is that we are “labelling”. I said the word salesman the other day and a colleague immediately quipped “untrustworthy”. Word association football.

We’re labelling someone as a type, probably before we’ve even really experienced what’s going on. What there is to experience in their behaviour. What’s really happening. Sure there are people who sell badly. But equally there are people who sell well. Why on earth would we clump them all together? That’s faulty thinking.

Labelling’s just one of many “faulty” thinking types, identified by people like Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, the founders of cognitive therapy.

What brought this to mind? My holiday reading, a book by Sarah Edelman. I’ve read this kind of thing before. But this is really accessible and well written. I know it’s probably a bit sad to be reading stuff like this on holiday, but as Ellis said, “fighting irrationality and trying to be happy in a nutty world has great advantages in itself. It’s challenging. It’s interesting. It’s rewarding. It’s self helping… Your very determination to work at it can keep you reasonably happy.”

Can’t say fairer than that.