The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort and Connection

For my birthday last year my son Steve and his family gave me a very special book, “The Book of Hygge” by Louisa Thomsen Brits. The Danish delegates who come to the programs he shares with them, recommended it to him.

I still can’t pronounce the word confidently, but I can tell you that it has been a great read – a source of great wisdom.

Here is the definition of “hygge” in three paragraphs.

Hygge is a quality of presence and an experience of togetherness. It is a feeling of being warm, safe, comforted and sheltered.

Hygge is an experience of selfhood and communion with people and places that anchors and affirms us, gives us courage and consolation.

To hygge is to invite intimacy and connection. It’s a feeling of engagement and relatedness, of belonging to the moment and to each other. Hygge is a sense of abundance and contentment. Hygge is about being, not having.

It has helped me take three or four more wonderful steps on my wisdom journey.

Thank you Cath, Steve, Hannah and Johnny.

Risk and Return

We are blessed to live in a paradoxical world.  As my African friends taught me, there is a truth in the palm of my hand, but perhaps an opposite truth if I look on the back of my hand.

This creates the privilege and gift of choice!

One of the most common of these paradoxes, is the choice between Risk and Return.

Not just financial or investment risks and rates of return, but in every decision we take. If we drive faster we will get there earlier, but we could have an accident or be caught speeding.  If I enjoy sitting in the direct sun for too long, I risk sunburn.  If I eat too fast, I risk choking.  If I work too hard, I risk burnout ……. and so on.

Since my career was largely a corporate one, I was caught up in the business risk and return conundrum for most of my working life and in those businesses and those times the focus and weighting was always “risk and RETURN”.

Maximising RETURNS to the shareholder was what it was all about. Uncompromisingly!

Now as a consultant and fascinated observer, I see that it has turned 180 degrees. It is now “RISK and return” … if you are lucky enough to survive, never mind make profits.

Ask Kodak … analyse Blockbusters … track Anglo American … own a metered taxi … look at the value of your shareholding in Lonmin … check the share prices of the big five Construction Companies … consider the brand damage to VW diesel and the cost of recalling 10 million vehicles … ponder upon the impact of the fine on MTN … calculate the impact of a Rand that has halved in value relative to many critical currencies … or of an oil price of less than $30 per barrel.

Some of those will be permanent casualties. They will become mere memories.

But then look at how the shareholders in Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Uber and AB and B are doing, and the returns they are enjoying!

Our research and our conclusions are that those that will survive and flourish in this new and challenging environment, that we believe is getting tougher by the hour, are not those with huge cash resources or unique geniuses or great brands – but those who employ and empower high energy employees, invest heavily into the latest technologies quickly and, critically importantly, understand the concept of the “collective brain” – the capacity to think together – the capacity to think like a lion pride, and not selfishly and independently, like leopards.

For over 20 years we have been helping individuals and teams to find, master, sustain their energy and think and behave like prides of lions.

It is a choice you have in your life and your team and we truly believe it’s an urgent and crucial choice.  Can we talk?

A whole new mind

I recently read Daniel Pink’s highly acclaimed book “A whole new mind”, and I can do no better than to quote from the first page of his introduction.

“The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind – computer programmers who could crack code, lawyers who could craft contracts and MBA’s who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathisers, pattern recognisers and meaning makers.  These people – artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

He goes on.

“We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical linear computer like capabilities of the “Information Age” to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathetic, big picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age”.

I found it a compelling hypothesis and I recommend the book.

Even more compelling is the challenge of where to find these Right Brain thinkers.

We are almost certainly not going to find them amongst those young people who have recently left school, or are still at school. There may be a few survivors of our Left Brain educational system but Sir Ken Robinson said:  “We’ve been educated to become good workers rather than creative thinkers”.

In fact, I have heard Sir Ken go further when he claims that we are actually killing creativity!

Changing our education system is a challenge way beyond my capability, but enhancing Right Brain capacity and benefiting hugely from the Right Brain capacity of my networks isn’t difficult – it’s actually easy.

It’s easy because my Right Brain responds directly and immediately and in direct relationship to my energy. When my energy goes up, so does my creativity, my intuition and my empathy – and my ability to tap into the corresponding Right Brain capacity of my network.

The secrets and the solutions, for everyone, lie in mastering personal and inter-personal energy and accessing Right Brain capacity in exponential ways from everyone around us.

Change – a constant challenge and a threat

Yet another prestige organisation, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC), adds its weight to the now common mantra, that change is truly a constant process and not an event.

As the total intelligence of the planet doubles in just a few months, and as technology seems to be chasing it neck to neck, as Quantum pictures stretch old linear pictures, as what we now call “disruptive technologies” trip us up and obsolete whole established businesses, as robots replace workers and as the power of social media threatens to create “Arab Springs” every day of the year in every level of society and every corner of the globe – CHANGE becomes a constant challenge and a threat.

And the glaring shortcomings of our education system become more and more apparent. And crippling!

The challenge is for THINKERS and no longer doers. And most educational outcomes are still about teaching learners how to do things, learn things, and remember things – and not how to THINK.  We don’t allow learners to use their capable Right Brains to create – to think out of the box – to imagine and to solve problems or see opportunities.

Only South Korea seems to have really and truly grasped the challenge of teaching learners to think and, with a population of less than 40 million, has become the 8th richest country in the world – with no natural or mineral resources to export – only brainpower!

But all is not lost.  Human brains are phenomenal in their capacity to rise to the challenge. Change a person’s energy and their brain responds immediately.  It does not have to be taught – it just does!  And change the energy in a team by creating good information flows and high levels of trust, which defeat the inevitable competitive egos, and the team begins to think TOGETHER. They work together like a pride of lions, and less like lone leopards!

Changing energy levels on a sustainable basis is what we do best – and enjoy most!

Employee Engagement

The Gallup Organization has, over the years, done a great deal of research into employee engagement, and recently published their Gallup Q12 “The 12 Elements of Great Managing”. These form the basis of their now well regarded survey on attitudes of workers in work places.

Here they are:

1.         I know what is expected of me at work
2.         I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right
3.         At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day
4.         In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
5.         My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
6.         There is someone at work who encourages my development
7.         At work, my opinions seem to count
8.         The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important
9.         My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work
10.       I have a best friend at work
11.       In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress
12.       In the last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow

For many years we have been measuring employee engagement using somewhat similar criteria to those used by Gallup and have a comprehensive picture of engagement of employees in the South African environment.

We would love to share it with you; and enable you to see how your organization might score.
And then suggest ways for improving it.

The four steps to living fully

William Shakespeare wrote centuries ago about the steps we have to take to reach adulthood and we have tried to simplify the journey and spice up the destination.  Instead of “adulthood” we aim for “living fully” as an adult close to one’s full potential, day after day.

It was Oscar Wilde who wrote, “To live is the rarest thing in the world – most people just exist, that is all”.  Malidoma Some of Burkina Faso said, “When death finds you, may it find you alive”.

Observing our own lives and watching others, and then seeking wisdom, has helped us see that there are four clear steps along the way.

Step one is personal effectiveness – succeeding with the daily challenge of getting the rights things done right.  This is basic non-negotiable stuff with no excuses of too little time, too little money or too little anything.

Step two is what we call personal mastery or personal leadership.  When people take this step confidently they follow their hearts – their lives are full of purpose and passion.  They wake refreshed and excited to tackle whatever the day brings.  They bubble with energy.

Step three is team effectiveness – to be able to manage and be managed as part of a team.  Successful managers learn from being managed (even managers have managers) and they learn role clarity, accountability, best practices and how to work within boundaries and with rules.

Step four is what we call team mastery or team leadership.  Successful leaders win the willing and enthusiastic followership of the whole team and together their achievements are legendary.

We have observed that the key learning to take Step 2 and Step 4 is the critical component of positive human energy … on a sustainable basis!  Until one understands and masters sustainable personal and team energy, one cannot take these exciting steps.

We also observe that those who have mastered both energy and effectiveness are capable of quantum achievements.  They multiply rather than just add.

So we have focussed on human energy.  We help as many people as we can to take Steps 2 and 4 confidently.  In what we do, we assume effectiveness, but teach energy.

RUACH – in Hebrew meaning ‘wind’ or ‘spirit’

Some thoughts on the leadership role of Boards of Directors:

I have been told of a lovely Hebrew word ‘ruach’ which, translated, talked to me of the power of the human spirit, of wind, of sailing and of soaring. It talked to me of human potential, of positive willing human energy with all its possibilities. Learn how to harness it and humans can really fly.

With a jet ski – fast and noisy, greedy for precious petrol – our strategic horizons are limited to a few kilometres.

But on a yacht we catch the wind in our sails and we can circle the world three times for nothing.

In a car – however expensive, with speed limits and bounds of safety – our strategic horizons are a few hundred kilometres a day.

When we use the free lift that air gives us when we fly, we can travel to the other end of the world … and back.

Our possibilities are unlimited, endless, infinite ….

–    With wind when we set our sails
–    With the lift we get from air when we tip our wings
–    With boundless human energy, ‘ruach’, human spirit

When the fuel is power – the power one has over another, our horizons are near and the costs are high.

If this somewhat lyrical proposition is true and we believe implicitly that it can be proven, then what is the leadership role of a Board?

Most importantly it must do all that it can to ensure that the craft is a yacht and not a jet ski, that it is an aeroplane and not a car.  And, if it is a yacht, that it has an auxiliary motor for “in case”.

And it must be seaworthy and airworthy. And the skipper or the captain and his crew must truly understand wind, airlift and human spirit.

All that, in our definition, is leading.

Is that all?

Unfortunately the answer is NO. We have a management role too. We have to be sure that all the passengers – the stakeholders – are aboard and comfortable. Since moving creates risk, and weather conditions are not always favourable, we have to ensure that all the serious risks are adequately covered – life-belts, lifeboats, parachutes, and marine insurance.

Sadly, but realistically, we have to acknowledge that even good experienced skippers make mistakes, take excessive risks and dangerous short cuts, and even cheat on the answers they give.

All this is called good corporate governance. We call it management.

A Board, which is truly leading and managing, is a good Board and deserves the fees it earns.

We use a lovely piece of anonymous poetry, adapted slightly.

When I reach the edge of all the light in my life and I step out into the darkness beyond, I need to know one of two things:
Either you will have created a safe place upon which I can stand,
Or you will have taught me how to fly

… or both

A Board that has created the rock of good corporate governance that is well managed, and leaders who encourage the team to fly, has done an almost legendary job.

What is Chaos Theory?

In 1961, meteorologist Edward Lorenz speculated that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil might set off a tornado in Texas – hence the term ‘butterfly effect’. The theory is that small, seemingly insignificant changes build up to a much more significant event. Chaos theory has since been used to describe how and why things happen in everything from politics to personal  relationships.

SO – THERE’S A REASON FOR EVERYTHING?
According to the theory yes. Most systems (both social and physical) only appear chaotic and random, but in fact, they’re part of a kind of pattern or feedback loop that regenerates itself at regular intervals. In other words, there is an underlying order in disorder.

ER, AND HOW EXACTLY DOES THIS AFFECT ME?
Take a romantic relationship. A little white lie here or there between partners may not seem to be significant at the time but, according to chaos theory, down the line that little lie could have a significant effect: the erosion of trust, even the end of the relationship, for example. Or not, depending on how you as a couple handle it. This is where the theory gets interesting: as an individual, no matter what your stance in life, you can be a passive or active stimulator within the system. Say as a couple you had an issue that you confronted. The pow-wow had the potential to get out of hand, but at some point, both of you chose the bigger picture – a harmonious relationship. In chaos theory terms, the white lie is the butterfly flapping its wings, while the ‘point’ of resolution is known as a ‘strange attractor’ – the phenomenon that restores balance and stability to the system.

BUT IT COULD HAVE GONE EITHER WAY…
Yes. But the main thrust of chaos theory is that we can never have total knowledge. We only have limited control over events in our lives because we can’t see all the initial conditions that gave rise to the circumstances we’re dealing with in the present, so we can only really influence the here and now.

SO HOW DO WE MAKE THINGS WORK FOR US?
Be sensitive to small events, and their possible repercussions. Successful people, according to chaos theory, see the butterfly and understand its potential effect. Take Hillary Clinton: though she’d lost the Iowa stage of the US primaries to rival Barack Obama earlier this year and looked set to lose New Hampshire, she reacted to criticism that she was cold and calculating: a single appearance on TV in which she shed a tear was enough to turn the tide and clinch the key state. She remained open to the emotional stimuli and currents around her, and acted appropriately – sincerely or not.

SO HOW DO WE KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME TO ACT?
Here’s where the concept of ‘the edge of chaos’ comes in. In scientific terms, it’s the area between stability and instability, a kind of crisis/opportunity zone where systems (as humans, we’re complex chaotic systems too) are at their most aware and creative. It’s where anything can happen, and where successful people step up to the plate.

HOW DOES GOD FIT INTO IT?
Religious people are divided on this issue. Chaos theory champions who are religious point to the underlying order that these systems exhibit as proof of intelligent design, that there is a Higher Power that guides everything. They also say that in Christianity, for example, the crucifixion of Jesus (which, in the context of its time, was a seemingly insignificant event to the Romans, at least, since crucifixion was common practice then) evolved into the major religion that exists today. But others say that the ultimate deterministic element of chaos theory contradicts the religious concept of free will.

DOES TECHNOLOGY’SPEED UP’ THE SYSTEM?
Yes. The Internet means the world is more linked, and so seemingly insignificant events will cascade much quicker, both in our personal lives and on a global scale. In a world full of potential stimuli and conflict, chaos theory demands that we remain cognisant of the possible effect of our actions and learn from the mistakes of the past – and quicker than ever before.

Views on Uncertainty and Innovation

At a gathering of eminent thinkers at the World Economic Forum, the buzzword was “Uncertainty”.
Who or what will spur the innovation that leads to jobs and growth?

Some interesting views:

Innovation:

Harvard Business School’s professor Clayton Christensen had this to say:
“There are really three types of innovation, and each posses different levels of risk: Empowering innovations can transform products that historically were so complicated and expensive that only the rich had access to them. The Model T was one of those. The smart phone is this again. These kinds of innovations, make good products better. They don’t create new jobs. The third, which I am calling efficiency innovations, help us make the same products cheaper, and they reduce jobs in the economy”.

“Over the last 20 years, executives and investors have stopped investing in empowering innovations, because they pay off in five to eight years, and instead invest in efficiency innovations, which pay off in one or two years. We are awash in cash, and yet we continue to invest as if capital was scarce. And so we’re not investing in the kind of innovations that would create growth. Does it demand courage on the part of executives? Absolutely”.

Walmart CEO, Mike Duke’s point was:
“I’ve seen two areas of our company that I think have had a lot of empowering or disruptive innovation. One has been in the area of sustainability. Another area of empowering or disruptive innovation would be the area of e-commerce, using technology today. I don’t visit a store today anywhere in the world without seeing customers using technology on the floor, communicating online and shopping using what I see as more-empowering technologies”.

Anand Mahindra, managing director of  Mahindra & Mahindra’s contribution for me was:
“What I think is going to happen is that we’re going to see cutting-edge innovation is required. People like us from India and China are not going to be able to get to our aspirations simply by doing more for less. We have to be able to do pioneering, cutting edge innovation”.

CEO of Cisco, John Chambers’s sombre warning was:
“The way you win as a company is thinking five, 10 years out, and those companies who think one to two years out will get into trouble”.

Bain & Co chairman Orit Gadiesh quoted old Arab wisdom:
“There’s an old Arab saying that anybody who’s ever been bitten by a snake is going to look at a rope and be afraid of it. That is actually what we are. There are many ropes out there that we treat as snakes. The uncertainty – yes, there is a lot of it, but there are certain things that are just unfamiliar, and we need to start managing that way”.

Anand Mahindra again:
“When I went back after business school to India, all I found was certainty, because we were a regulated economy. You hunger for uncertainty because that’s what you were taught to deal with in business school. All this talk about uncertainty – I thought that was our profession. We have to deal with that. Please don’t look for uncertainty. It’s regulated, autocratic economies that look for uncertainty I want no part of it”.

Christensen asks about the courage to innovate:
“Do we have the courage to do this? Somehow what is not known about a different business model just makes us scared to death!”

Reasons for pessimism:

Orit Gadiesh challenges the education system to produce innovators – “We haven’t really spent time on education. And I think one of the first things that should be on any government’s agenda is reform in education, all the way from kindergarten to the top. Because what we have now is education that doesn’t actually provide for the jobs that are the most needed. China or Shanghai, for example, got it. Ten years ago they realized that. They were way down on the OECD list of countries and regions, and today Shanghai is number one in science, number one in mathematics, and number one in reading comprehension. In the West, I’m afraid , we’re behind. I believe in India we’re behind. It’s a real place where business should interact with governments”.

Obstacles to Innovation:

Orit Gadiesh adds:
“One of the things that people don’t talk enough about is, how much of a right brain and left brain you actually have – right brain representing the creative side and left brain representing the commercial side. You need somebody  who is a left brain to recognise that right brains are important or they stop them before they get a chance to move ahead”

Finally John Chambers urges us “to go for it”:
“As a parting thought, if there is something that could really make a difference in your company, your university, your country, but you’re not doing it because you have fear about innovation or fear of failure, just go for it. That’s what leadership is all about”.

For us at Learning to Lead the challenge is HOW TO THINK! – because good thinking is the commodity we all need most to make sense of and survive in a rapidly changing world.

We truly believe we have an understanding of how to significantly improve your thinking capacity – and that of your team.

Lets talk.

Becoming Deeply Real – Together

In a recent editorial in “Convergence” Dr Kurt April quotes Howard Thurman’s baccalaureate address at Spelman College in 1980.  Twenty-five years later it still inspires me to continue the journey to becoming real. “Who are you – and can you find a way to hear the sound of the genuine in yourself?  There are so many noises going on inside of you, so many echoes of all sorts, so much internalising of the rumble and the traffic, the confusions, the disorders by which your environment is peopled that I wonder if you can get still enough – no quiet enough – still enough to hear rumbling up from your unique and essential idiom, the sound of the genuine in you.  I don’t know if you can.  But this is your assignment.  I hear the sound of the genuine in myself and, having learned to listen to that, I can become quiet enough, still enough, to hear the sound of the genuine in you.” What an assignment – what a challenge! Nelson Mandela seems to have met it, Gandhi apparently did too.  The Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa surely did. But what about us mere mortals who haven’t spent 27 years in jail or a lifetime in the slums of Calcutta?  Can we accept the assignment Howard Thurman sets us?