Time and again…

We spent just over a week up in the Eastern Cape which is a beautiful part of the world. We flew into East London and then had a short bus trip for an hour north through the rolling hills of the Transkei. We finally dropped down to the Morgan Bay Hotel which I would highly recommend for anyone wanting a relaxing family holiday. You can see an overview of the area on Google Earth.

What struck me on day one was how time slowed down the moment we had unpacked and were relaxing with the kids. We all remarked at how relaxing it was and I started wondering what made it different and why time had slowed down. This time thing is interesting. My father always says that time is flying and it just keeps getting faster. I hate him saying it because there is a part of me that knows it is true.

There are various theories about. One of them is that as we get older each year is a smaller portion of our lives. So at age one the next year is 50% of our lives – a fairly large chunk. By the time I hit 40, where life really begins, 1 year is a mere 1/40th or 2.5% so it stands to reason that a year will go past 20 times as quickly at 40 as at age 1.

The other theory is that our metabolism slows down as we get older. So as with slow motion movies which actually film at high speed so that when you play back at normal speed they appear slow (if you’re still following the logic you’re doing well), kids who have fast metabolism’s experience life relatively faster than the older folk with slower metabolisms.

My latest thought on the subject of time, resulted from my experience in the Eastern Cape. One of the things that happened when I arrived was that I de-coupled from my diary which simply had holiday written in for 9 days. So I didn’t have anything to punctuate my days other than breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Which brings me to my latest theory which is that time speeds up with more punctuation and slows down with less. A day with no appointments goes much slower than a busy day.

What I’m experimenting with now is to have fewer and longer chunks of time in my day to create a sense of slowness. This fits my approach of lining up a couple of things that can all be achieved at the same time rather than running around from one thing to the next in a mad rush.

Perhaps time is simply a figment of our imagination. If so then do we really have the ability to slow it down or speed it up by – changing our mind?

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Problems and Creations

I love the work of Robert Fritz who wrote The Path of Least Resistance which is all about finding our creativity. Fritz is a musician. He contrasts the composer of music to our lives asking if a composer about to embark on a great work looks for a problem to solve. No she builds a picture in her mind of a beautiful end result and then starts with a blank sheet of paper filling in the gaps between the current reality and the picture in her mind.

In a recent newsletter Fritz quotes Carl Jung as saying:

“All the greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally insoluble… They can never be solved, but only outgrown. This “outgrowth” proved on further investigation to require a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the patient’s horizon, and through this broadening of his or her outlook the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life urge.”

I love this quote because it ties in so well with the work I have done using scenarios in Executive Coaching. Scenarios are a bit like chess, you can learn how to work with them in a few minutes but it will take a lifetime to become a master of your own scenarios.

One of the seminal works on coaching is John Whitmore’s Coaching for Performance. He has just released an updated version of his book and I’d say that it is the work that best represents my thinking about coaching. Whitmore is the originator of the GROW model for coaching. GROW stands for:

Goal
Reality or current reality
Options
What are you going to do?

As with most powerful models, it is very simple. It is powerful in that it is a process that can be followed by individuals either on their own or with a coach. I find it useful for myself and also when working with the most senior executives.

Goal’s are self explanatory and when that is contrasted with the current Reality you have what Robert Fritz calls “structural tension”. There is tension between where I would like to be and where I am now. This is the starting point for creation.

Fritz differentiates between problem thinking and creative thinking. Unfortunately most of the world works in problem / solution mode where we see something as a problem and then set about fixing it. With this approach our level of thinking doesn’t ever raise above the level of the problem.

With creative thinking we get clear (or as clear as possible) on what our future vision is, acknowledge where we are currently and then allow our brain to kick in and find solutions drawing from a creative universe which is far greater than simply attempting to resolve a problem.

Options are the scenarios for our lives. We know what we will get if we continue with our current course. If we project forward three years, is this where we want to be? What are the biggest uncertainties we face and how do they influence the possible future stories for our lives. We are now in the creative zone where the structural tension can be released.

The What brings the process back to earth by asking, “What will you do differently now that your awareness is broader?”

This is the process of personal growth.

So in which areas of your life do you need to CREATE new solutions?

Why do we need coaching?

Many people have asked me about the phenomenal growth of coaching and why it is so in demand today. I believe that it is symbolic of the world we live in.

I remember sitting in Namibia more than 20 years ago and watching the local tribes getting together at the end of the day. They would sit in a circle around a barrel of Mohango Beer and while they sipped the beer they would tell each other the stories of the day. In doing so, they would listen to each other and offer insights from their own experiences.

The elders of the tribe played an important role as they had more life experience. They could offer suggestions and ask wise questions that would support people in coming up with answers for their problems.

The tribe also celebrated the successes of the day and shared in all the stories that made up their common experience.

Now in my particular neck of the woods, we don’t do too much of that. We are too busy running around from one appointment to the next and very seldom have time to sit down and have a meaningful conversation.

Enter Executive Coaching.

What better way to have a meaningful conversation than to pay somebody who is trained and is well equipped to listen, ask insightful questions, celebrate our successes and challenge us on our thinking. Welcome to the 21st century version of the tribal meeting.

The world today is very disconnected and we seldom have meaningful interactions. I often explain that for an executive in a large corporation there are not many people with whom to have a meaningful conversation.

My own experience was that you can’t talk to your peers because everyone is trying to keep up appearances or vying for a promotion. Showing vulnerability in any way is a sure way of being ridiculed.

You can’t talk to your boss because she is expecting you to hit your numbers and deliver what you promised to deliver. Any conversation outside of that is going to be tricky unless you have one of the few enlightened bosses around.

And you can’t really tell your staff that you’re feeling a bit unsure about the 3rd quarter target – because you’re on their backs to hit the target in the first place.

So where do we go with our insecurities. We could talk to husbands and wives but then even they have a vested interest. My wife may well understand that I’m struggling to perform at work, but in the back of her mind she is probably more concerned with how you are going to pay those private school fees and she may not be as understanding as I’d hope.

Not to make it all negative, there are also the triumphs and celebrations which are often so absent from the everyday business world.

Against that backdrop, it is not really surprising that Executive Coaching is growing in leaps and bounds. It represents the one Oasis in a desert of insincerity.

The danger is becoming dependent on your coach for your fix of sincerity. Which leaves me with the question I believe we all need to answer, which is: “How do we use an executive coach to build other meaningful relationships in our work life?”