Leading with Nature

walking in partnership with nature

Embracing Reinvention: Part Three: Hold On Loosely

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Celebrate your reinvention and be open and ready to shift again. Image: freeimages.co.uk.

Tony Bond, MBA, MPOD
& Kristen Barney, MA, MSOD

How do we know when we are reinvented? We wrap up our three-part blog conversation by looking at the tangible, external results of reinvention.

TB: In Parts One and Two we turned inward, looking at the personal heart and mind. While looking within is essential, reinvention also involves other people. It is a contact sport. We transform in relationship, not in isolation. In fact, engagement with others propels us forward and allows us to see the progress we have made, when we might otherwise miss it. Reinvention can sneak up on us, because we are so busy striving, judging what we have not yet achieved, or looking for the next new strategy. Meanwhile, we may have arrived at a new station in life without realizing it. Here’s an example:

Years ago as a graduate student in positive organizational change, we were required to craft our own personal development plan that would include goals and aspirations for the next ten years. This came after a long process of defining our own personal vision, identifying personal strengths and gaps and building a personal network of relationships that could help us along our journey. The end result would be a total transformation into our ideal best self.

Through my experience in this program, I developed a strong interest in the field of sustainability. Consequently, part of my personal development plan involved becoming somewhat of a subject matter expert on how the role of organization development and change was crucial to embedding sustainability into organizations. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study under an internationally renowned thought leader in the field. I optimistically built a plan that not only inlcuded developing a working relationship with this professor, but also collaborating with other notable people in the sustainability as well as innovation spaces. As any good student would, I filled my personal development plan with aspirational goals that resonated with me and activities that would build the competencies I needed to pull of such a plan.

Over the next several years I found myself busy pursuing the activities that were necessary to achieve my long-term vision. This included numerous networking events and cold calls which at times felt like they were going nowhere. Often, I found myself turning to other ideas where I felt I could gain more traction, but always felt this tug to stay on course. If I had to assess myself on how well I had achieved the milestones that made up my ten-year plan, I would have scored myself very low.

During a recent conversation with a trusted friend, I realized that I have indeed made progress toward my vision. Through the gift of reflecting with this friend, I saw that over the intervening years I had, in fact, gotten to know and work with that esteemed professor and thought leader. My progress was further impressed upon me when I sat down recently to read his new book and had a pleasant surprise. Although I don’t usually read acknowledgements, for some reason I did that day, and found my own name among those deserving “special thanks for all they contributed.” Likewise, a few weeks ago I found myself having lunch with one of those icons in the innovation space to whom I made cold calls years ago. It dawned on me that I had been so busy peddling as fast as I could that I had lost sight of what I was experiencing along the journey. In my quest to force transformation, it was happening to me without my notice. I learned two lessons from this. First, although transformation requires effort, we don’t “do” transformation. Transformation happens to us; it emerges in its own time from the totality of our efforts and experiences. Second, it is only through reflection and relationships with others that we fully see what’s happening in our lives.

KB: I agree. Many leaders recognize that striving for excellence involves modesty and a reluctance to rest on our laurels. Yet it is important to stop and reflect, so that we notice when we have achieved something. While modesty can make leaders effective, it can also be a double-edged sword: we may not even notice that we are suddenly in the place we have long sought to reach.

Related to that is the need to see with new eyes. I recall Einstein’s statement that we cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness which created it. In the same way, we cannot see a transformation with our accustomed eyesight. We need new eyes to recognize our reinvention. I had this experience recently in my own professional life:

For some years I sought to define the market niche where I would develop my consulting and coaching practice. At one point I listed the top ten arenas in which I sought to make a difference. The very last priority was the Earth and human sustainability. I was not sure what to make of that, and while I waited for clarity to emerge, I worked where I could find interesting assignments. Recently I noticed a common thread tracing through my career: working with sustainability-related nonprofits and supporting partnerships with the private and public sectors. I came to realize that my top nine priorities were just my way of leading up to or influencing the support of Earth and human sustainability. Without being in contact and interaction with people who appeared with needs for my craft and presence, I would not have noticed how all roads were leading to sustainability for me.

We grow and transform by coming into contact with other people. And we need to notice small things and see in new ways, in order to recognize our progress. Here is an exercise that can help you strengthen your ability to see anew.

– Practice 5: Look with New Eyes. In this exercise we deprive ourselves of a physical sense (sight) for a little while, and then engage that sense again. If you do not have physical sight you can redesign the exercise with deprivation of another sense, such as hearing or touch. So we begin. Go to a quiet, safe place. Ideally this is a place outside in nature, such as a park or garden. Or a big empty room. Close your eyes, and be still for some time. Let your eyes relax. Let the muscles around your eyes grow soft. Let your eyes recede into the back of your head. Let your facial muscles relax. Let yourself breathe deeply. Spend some time trying to see the color black. Focus on the color of the sky at midnight when there are no stars or sun. Eventually your breath may change to be fuller, slower, and full of relief. Let yourself be in that quiet, dark place, seeing pure and complete darkness. At first you may see light, even with your eyes closed. Be patient and relax, and see if the blackness becomes more complete. After a while, maybe 10-15 minutes, tell yourself you are going to come back. Slowly and gently open your eyes. Notice. Look gently at your surroundings. What do you notice? Do you see anything you didn’t observe before? Do the colors look different? Make some notes for yourself. How can you apply what you have learned and experienced to your larger life?

(Note: this exercise is based on the work of Dr. Meir Schneider, who credits Dr. William Bates, and ultimately Tibetan Yoga, as the sources of his eye-improving practices.)

TB: There is another force at play in our reinvention. As a society that values the self-made man or woman, we can come to believe that we are the sole creative force in our lives. Whether you call it the Universe, God, the Divine, or something else, there is a force that wants us to become something, that has an idea of what we will contribute in this life. For example, that universal force seems to want basketball and sports to be part of my life:

I grew up playing sports. I was fortunate to receive an athletic scholarship to attend an outstanding liberal arts college and continue to pursue my passion for playing basketball. The journey there was not an easy one and was filled with injuries and obstacles. The struggles continued during my four years of college, and there were times when I questioned whether or not I had the mental capacity to deal with one more stint of physical rehab or with what I perceived to be irreconcilable differences with coaches. I persevered, but once I graduated, despite having some offers to pursue the sport professionally, I made a vow to officially and forever close the book on basketball. As much as I have tried to avoid it, basketball has consistently followed me with new and compelling invitations. From being asked to volunteer to coach youth, to founding an elite program for gifted athletes, sports have continued to engage me. Despite all of my efforts to hide from our infant children any signs that my wife and I were basketball players, our son and daughter, too, went on to have college basketball careers. The love-hate relationship with the sport has persisted much of my life. I have become resigned to the fact that maybe basketball is one of my callings.

In striving for greatness, leaders need not only modesty but also receptiveness. There is something an organization wants to become. The universal force wants it to have a certain impact. And for all the strategic planning, market analysis, and restructuring we may do, there is some unique calling that a leader and organization will discover. I believe that the general calling of great leaders is to create a culture that provides deep meaning for those they lead. As I have learned from coaching our children and others, a leader’s role, first and formost, is to create an atmosphere where others can flourish and comfortably pursue their dreams and passion. Modesty is being open to receive that calling and responding to it.

KB: That reminds me of some words of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” (From Letters to a Young Poet, translated by Stephen Mitchell.) We cannot always see the purpose of a certain phase of our life in the bigger picture. Sometimes we have to delve into a project or task without understanding its meaning in our life. We may not know that this project will help us build connections to an icon we dream of meeting or teach us a skill that will serve us later in life. We have to “live the questions.”

I once heard that our lives are like patchwork quilts: that each square has its own design, which seems unrelated to the next. Yet when we stand back and look, we can see how every piece fits together to make up a whole. Recently I felt that way when in discussions about a new professional opportunity. By the end of the conversation I found that I had described accomplishments from nearly every project I had completed in the last few years. It was as though every piece had been part of a larger puzzle, even though I could not see how the pieces fit together at the time.

– Practice 6: Put Together a Blank Jigsaw Puzzle. Pull from the closet or attic a jigsaw puzzle. Or borrow or purchase one. Put all the pieces on a table upside down, so the picture side cannot be seen. Now put together the puzzle, with the gray, cardboard side facing up. Pay close attention to the information that is available to you: the shapes of the tabs and the blank spaces cut out of the pieces. Which are wide or elongated? Which are thin or squat? Which are square or round? Are there ways to systematize your process such as finding and organizing pieces for comparison and assembly? Do you find it easier or harder to put the puzzle together without the details, colors, and designs on the picture side of the puzzle? Don’t forget your humor: if you get stuck, you can always proclaim, “there is a piece missing!” (It is usually under the table, or if it’s a borrowed puzzle, one may really be missing!) What parallels or contrasts do you find with the reinvention process? How can you move forward with life even in the absence of the full picture?


We close with the suggestion to “hold on loosely,” borrowed from the title of a song by 38 Special. Reinvention does not have a firm beginning or end. We are always works in progress. We may achieve a sense of completion, and we can wisely “hold on loosely,” so that we are ready to open and shift again when the time comes. Finally, Tony and Kris will share how our own reinvention processes are unfolding.

TB: I continue to work with a diverse group of organizations and feel that my broad repoitore and experiences provide valuable resources that can be tapped into by new clients. I am becoming increasingly aware of how the field of organization development and change (ODC), which is a central framework of my consulting and coaching, is uniquely positioned to help enterprises embed strategies for sustainability into their core operations.  Sustainability – including social, environmental, and organizational dimensions – needs to be at the core, rather than a special side program for corporate responsibility.  By embedding it in core strategy, operations, and metrics, enterprises can create what we call sustainable value – an ongoing and evolving competitive edge supporting the enterprise’s relevance and resilience through changing times while helping to address issues in the economic, social, and natural ecosystems. The focus of my work is to help organizations implement strategies that vigorously engage stakeholders, create shared leadership across business units, and build a culture of learning and innovation. To learn more about my work, please follow me on Twitter, @tonybond.

KB: In my projects and explorations I am increasingly aware that our human civilization and planet will continue to experience shifts, changes, and shocks. The unfolding direction of my work includes helping groups of people to create collective grounding while navigating the changing landscape of work, leadership, strategy, and collaboration. Human connectedness is an extension of our connection with the Earth, from which all grounding comes. By using storytelling, shared experiences, and group exercises that reveal how individuals each contribute to wholeness of a group, we can create strength and wisdom in a group to be resilient through shocks, reinventions, and changes in our world. The strength and wisdom generate clarity and leadership about organizational priorities and strategic directions that will keep our products, services, and partnerships relevant and helpful in times of challenge and opportunity on the planet. In late August 2012, my partner Anthony Hyatt and I will be offering a half-day workshop on human connectedness, storytelling, reflection, and movement at Mindcamp, a four-day event near Toronto, Canada. Please join us and/or spread the word!

We look forward to your comments, questions, stories, and examples related to reinvention!


Author: openingcreativity

Kristen Barney, MA, MSOD, is Principal of Opening Creativity LLC, which helps nonprofits & multi-sector teams reach their highest potential through participatory processes, leadership development, consensus building & more. Please visit Opening Creativity's web site at www.openingcreativity.com.

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