Filed under: Zen stuff
Yesterday we had this great talk about the absolute and the relative perspective in zen. Apparently the 5th patriarch wrote a poem comparing the human mind with a mirror that collects dust. All you have to do from time to time is take away the dust. But then the 6th patriarch wrote a poem about the mind not being like a mirror but being empty, and how could anything empty collect dust?
The second perspective is the absolute perspective, or the perspective that everything is already there exactly as it is and cannot be improved. This absolute perspective was adopted by Japanese zen.
There is a lot to learn from this perspective if you come from a Western society, where we believe in winners and losers, self improvement, and staircase zen (zen for the still rather egotistic purpose of self improvement). This extremely relative perspective that is so deeply engrained in our culture probably causes most of the depressions and suicides in the ‘civilized’ world. It is very extreme indeed.
But an extremely absolute perspective is not much better.
The notion that there is nothing to do, and the art is to do nothing, can backfire. When a mountain does not do anything, it sits quite still indeed. But when a river does not do anything, it still flows.
How is that in my life? Maybe my state of peace is not to sit, but to box and to dance, or to play the drums or a guitar? Maybe nothing, if well understood, is not nothing at all.
Filed under: Zen stuff
Every living creature seems to be searching something. Many forest animals are known to gather food and store it before winter comes. It’s their only way to survive. You can see this searching movement everywhere. Animals gather food and look for a male or female to have children with. Besides the forementioned, humans gather status, money and all kinds of possessions. Searching, gathering and collecting are movements of nature.
You may think you have choice in this, but just like a rat follows the smell of ham or cheese, and a dog has to follow the stick you throw…. you may… in fact… have very little choice.
You keep thinking you are going to find the love of you life, the insight that will make you happy or successful, your dream job, and that will solve it all. But it will not. Not for long at least, or the search will stop and it never seems to do that does it?
This search looks a bit different for everyone because everybody misses something different, but you can always recognize it as a cramp, a self centeredness or desire to be right, often hidden behind a brilliant facade and the best of intentions.
This isn’t a problem, it’s nature.
Maybe if I embrace this there will be some room in my life to enjoy it as it really is.
Filed under: Intro: The Last Consultant
The Last Consultant – What is that about?
It is about accessibility and integrity in the field of business consultancy.
Because most expert advice is just not as sophisticated as consultants want to make you believe. To look smarter they may give you the end result of their analysis, but they don’t give you the tools and guidance to do the analysis yourself.
We believe that you are better off if you can give ‘expert advice’ to yourself, than if you have to rely on someone else to give it to you. So what we do is give you access to the tools and guidance to make your own analysis and your own choices.
Because inflating the value of expert advice is costly and dangerous. Any advice is bound to be incomplete and somewhat off target. Reality is simply too large to be caught in words and numbers, but the snobbery that often surrounds expert advice can make you blind to this.
Both experts and their clients can become temporarily immune to contradicting facts and feedback and overestimate the accuracy and relevance of the advice. We believe you are better off if you can give ‘expert advice’ to yourself, keep in mind that it’s preliminary and incomplete, and adjust your conclusions as you go.
What can we do?
We can help you and your colleagues give expert advice to your company, and we do this through a combination of online tools, training, coaching and mentoring. Most cost effective are of course the online tools, and we suggest you start there.
Our services are for any person who has to manage a challenging assignment. Our clients are project managers, directors, investors, sales and product managers, and program managers. Anyone who has to manage a fairly unique assignment will benefit from our tools and guidance.
Filed under: Project management stuff
How to tell the difference between a good and a bad assignment?
We have all been there. When you got this assignment you were happy, maybe even enthusiastic. But now, one month into your tenure you are already wondering how you are ever going to bring this to a good end.
Clearly the client did not tell you the whole story, and to be honest you did not ask him to tell the whole story either. You were simply happy to get the assignment. And now, one month later you are wondering how you can leave this sinking ship without damaging your reputation.
The first person who warned me about this pitfall was my first boss Craig. If only I had listened better. He would say things like: Beware of projects in which you get responsibility without any authority. Try to stay away from assignments that nobody wants to delete from the agenda, but nobody is going to fund properly either. Don’t get fried.
Unfortunately, I still had to learn the hard way.
Question the Assignment
An important but often underestimated capability that any sales manager, assignment manager, project manager, program manager, change manager or director should have is the capability to question the assignment or appointment altogether. After all, by giving you an assignment someone externalizes a problem and hands it to you.
The way to question the assignment positively and constructively is to do it early.
The two main reasons why that isn’t done very often are:
First, it takes a certain level of personal development to give someone a positive no. It requires the ability to take the rejection out of the ‘no’.
Second, it requires that you know where to look and what questions to ask to determine how feasible an assignment is.
And knowing what to ask isn’t just essential to determine if an assignment is desirable or not. You also need to know where to look to have a meaningful discussion about the approach you will take and the support you will need to make the assignment a success.
The Assignment Oracle
We have identified four levels at which an assignment should be questioned before getting started.
- The level of results (what you will HAVE)
- The level of actions and resources (what you will DO)
- The level of expectations and interests (what they all WANT)
- The level of assumptions, view and vision (what you SEE and don’t SEE)
Based on this we have developed a tool called the Assignment Oracle, which can help you assess your assignment before you get started or to do ‘dead assignment autopsy’ if you found us a little too late. You can try the tool for yourself on http://www.thelastconsultant.com
Filed under: Project management stuff
For any project manager who wants to get anything done it is essential tell the difference between a coworker’s refusal to do something, and a coworker’s incapability. This I was taught by my mentor on my very first project. And now, 15 years later I have to think about that again.
The realization hits me like a blow in the face: I haven’t done a very good job at this for much of my life.
As a project manager, as a friend and later on as a trainer and coach I have been very ‘American’. Much of what I have learned about coaching and training was brought to me from the U.S., and contained one liners like:
- you can get it if your really want to, and implicitly: if you don’t have it you must not want it badly enough.
- everybody is whole, complete and resourceful, and implicitly: if you don’t succeed, you must be lazy or something.
There is some wisdom in these words, but as always it is incomplete.
Much of what looks like inability, I learned is in fact unwillingness. And there is some truth in that. But I realize more and more that much of what looks like unwillingness is in fact inability.
You see, I have a friend who keeps cancelling or changing appointments at the last moment. He stuffs his life full of commitments hoping he will rescue the world and in the process his own soul. For years this has sort of annoyed me. Clearly this is some form of overcompensation, and he is filling one hole by creating another. He should really stop breaking appointments with me and stop wasting my time. I have other commitments too you know.
But today I started wondering who is really the jerk here. Clearly he has been unable so far to meet my expectation that he keeps or at least honors appointments and agreements. And looking closely enough, I can be pretty sure it is more a case of unable than unwilling.
The way he sees the world and makes meaning out of all of it, does not allow him to act differently. So why would I feel annoyed with that? Why not just let him be?
Remco Hesper from Amsterdam
Culture shock is a fascinating subject when you’re NOT in the middle of it. There is a lot of writing on cultural differences (e.g. Geert Hofstede) that is quite entertaining, but I remember my first culture shock as one of the most scary and confusing times of my life. It came to me like a flu:
- First I felt fine: I spoke some of the new language (Spanish) and I could switch into a shared language (English) anytime.
- Soon I started feeling less healthy as I discovered that I didn’t quite master the language yet, but fortunately I could still switch into English.
- I started feeling really sick when I discovered that the message I tried to convey in English was understood quite differently by the other person. The word “father” for example just doesn’t have the same charge in Spain as it has in Holland.
- I started feeling really bad and in need of serious help when I stared feeling that the words I said and the gestures (bodylanguage) I made were completely inappropriate… and could lead to serious misunderstandings at the most unexpected moments.
When a Nigerian says “yes” it may mean “yes” but it may also mean “yes, but not this week” or “yes, but not while I am here”
And when a Chinese says “bu tai shu fu” (It is not very convenient) that may mean anything between “It is not very convenient right now” and “How dare you propose this? Have you no shame?”
When a Latin American woman tells you she “feels depressed” about something, she may actually just be slightly out of her mood. Too much care and attention is likely to be experienced as arrogant and patronizing.
When a Swedish woman tells you she “doesn’t feel too well” that may actually mean she needs immediate hospitalization.
A French client will say “that’s impossible” at least five times before he accepts your offer.
A British client will say “yes, yes, I agree, excellent” at least ten times before saying “no, thank you”.
It can be very confusing. Communicating between cultures is a lot like beating drums hoping the other person will understand what you mean. Even if you share a language that you both understand the risks of a misunderstanding are enormous. And the confusion doesn’t stop with language. The total of communication means spoken language, intonation, pauses, eye contact, body movement, touching… and possibly more.
I once observed a conversation between a Spanish teacher and a British student. The Spanish teacher just kept moving his arms like he was hoping to inspire some enthousiasm in the British student’s body language. Not a chance! At the same time the student kept nodding and trying to make eye contact with the Spanish teacher who would not look him in the eye. It was hilarious.
And remember Nokia’s advertising campaign with the emotional states of Finnish people, with a picture of the angry Fin, happy Fin, sad Fin… They all looked exactly the same! When our company went to Finland to present a business deal, we had absolutely no clue whether the client loved our presentation or hated it. Only after numerous drinks we found out how enthousiastic they were.
The only real remedy for culture shock that I know of is a good sense of humour, but there are a couple of other things you can do.
I will post those later this week…