Working Notes of a Practising Neo-Generalist (#22) — 2018 and beyond

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Japanese design studio Nendo recreates the impossible world of M.C. Escher in an immersive exhibition at The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. (All photography by Eugene Hyland)

“If anyone can refute me — show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective — I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.” — Marcus Aurelius in Meditations, Book 6:21 (Gregory Hays, The Modern Library, New York)

A year in writing

Since I started using Twitter, I have mostly shared other people’s tweets, and, by doing so, created a library of roughly 14,000 posts, articles, talks, thoughts and ideas on subjects ranging from innovation and leadership to architecture, cognitive science and philosophy. It is, in the words of the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, “a posy of other men’s flowers” and my curiosity is “the thread that binds them.” The myriad connections and combinations become explicit through my work with senior executives and leadership teams. This is where and how my thinking as ‘comprehensivist’ flourishes.

Since 2016, I share some of these connections in a weekly curation of tweets, called ‘Random finds.’ With an average read time of twenty minutes, I don’t expect to attract a large audience. But I don’t mind. Writing these Random finds has actually made me a better reader, which, in turn, allows me to make more interesting connections between concepts and ideas, and also between and with people.

Then there are my ‘Working Notes of a Practicing Neo-Generalist’ — these are my stories and thoughts — and, since recently, ‘#TheInfiniteDaily,’ a growing of little pieces of wisdom, art, music, books and other things that have made me stop and think. Again, loosely joined by my curiosity.

Despite my writing, I don’t consider myself a writer. Like Montaigne, and this is where the comparison stops, I am a ‘réfléchisseur’ — someone who reflects and ponders. And I have been doing a lot of that in 2018, especially about my career.

(You will find a complete list of my writings at the end of these ‘Working Notes.’)

Finding a new ‘career curve’

‘Provoked’ by Ian Sanders and Richard Martin, I wrote On towers, maps and résumés. It was early July and the beginning of a long process of reflection and the search for a new ‘career curve.’

In The Magic of Beginning, Steve Marshall expressed exactly how I felt when he wrote, “I have become increasingly convinced that we need to find ways to drop our habitual mental models before we can sense into something new.” But it was Steve Taylor who gave me the final nudge when he told me, during one of our conversations, “What you are actually saying is ‘I want to work with individuals … one-to-one.’”

Both Steves were right, of course, and so, through a ‘random’ series of posts and conversations, I was able to find a new ‘career curve’:

Helping senior executives and leadership teams find their way through complexity, ambiguity, paradox & doubt with confidence and clarity of thought.

This is, as Sanders writes, “the one area I want to be known for” and I will do this through mentoring of senior executives, conversations with leadership teams, speaking for mixed audiences and, of course, my writing.

It is still about change, ‘thoughtful’ change to be precise, but concentrated on improving the quality of leadership and decision-making by enabling leaders to think clearly. Also, it isn’t a new ‘me’ but a new form for expressing myself — a better, more focused way of thriving on my ‘multitudes.’

So if you are a senior executive or part of a leadership team and you struggle to make sense of today’s complexity and ambiguity, let’s start a conversation. We could go for a walk or maybe visit a museum. But there is always time for an unhurried online chat or a quick look at my new ‘uncluttered’ website.

Please note that I am also happy to work together with executive recruitment firms, leadership development consultancies and others who are also eager to improve the quality of leadership and decision-making.

Looking ahead

So, what’s in store for 2019?

Apart from writing and growing my new practice as leadership confidant and executive mentor and, I will continue to develop ‘NEW WAYS OF thinking & being,’ together with Eitan Reich. This is a conversational learning program for senior managers and executive leaders who want to explore what it means to live and lead in times of change. Its value lies in dialogue and conversations that allow for deep and profound reflection. But also in slowing down and becoming aware of what really matters in life — of the things that truly make a difference. Making this journey will be a true ‘rite of passage.’

While planning for ‘NEW WAYS OF thinking & being,’ Eitan and I have shared thoughts and ideas, and talked about our own experiences. Our conversation meandered in many directions and frequently ran into dead-end streets. But we have shared them regardlessly (see ‘Thinking out loud about past, present and future’ below) because we believe that ‘thinking out loud’ is, as Michel de Montaigne wrote in one of his essays, “the most fruitful and natural exercise for our minds.”

We had hoped to organise the first program early 2019 but this planning has always been rather ambitious. So we have decided to first organise a series of five online conversations about curiosity, craftsmanship, mastery, beauty and playfulness. The first (curiosity) is on January 30th. Details will be available shortly. If you are interested in taking part in our conversations or would like to know more about ‘NEW WAYS OF thinking & being,’ please get in touch.

Then there is a project together with Steve Taylor, which might even turn into a book, and, finally, together with Daniel Egger, I am dreaming up a new kind of recruitment based on actual challenges, not ‘vertical’ job profiles.

A complete list of my writings in 2018

Random finds

In 2018, Random finds ‘experienced’ two lengthy breaks: from week 13 to 21 and 35 to 43.

Working Notes of a Practising Neo-Generalist

Previous issues (2016–2017)

Thinking out loud about past, present and future (together with Eitan Reich)

And finally in 2018

My writings in previous years

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“The human brain is a physical mechanism for storing, retrieving, and re-storing again, each special-case experience. The experience is often a packaged concept.” — Richard Buckminster Fuller, a man of timeless wisdom.

“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Elizabeth — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, ‘Call me Trim Tab.’

The truth is that you get the low pressure to do things, rather than getting on the other side and trying to push the bow of the ship around. And you build that low pressure by getting rid of a little nonsense, getting rid of things that don’t work and aren’t true until you start to get that trim-tab motion. It works every time. That’s the grand strategy you’re going for. So I’m positive that what you do with yourself, just the little things you do yourself, these are the things that count. To be a real trim tab, you’ve got to start with yourself, and soon you’ll feel that low pressure, and suddenly things begin to work in a beautiful way. Of course, they happen only when you’re dealing with really great integrity.” — Richard Buckminster Fuller

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helping leaders navigate complexity with confidence & clarity of thought | varius multiplex multiformis

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