Recently I watched this short video about a group of photographers asked to take a portrait of a man. They were given different background information about who this man was before they met him. Each of the photographers went about applying their craft capturing the man with their story about him in their minds. The result – 6 very different photographs that in some way capture the story of the man they thought they had met.
The story we have running about someone causes us to delete, distort and generalise the surrounding information we receive about that person. The same can be said for ourselves. The story I have running about myself will cause me to disregard, transform and simplify information so my story about me can stay real in my imagination.
About 6 weeks ago I started a new role in an organisation. Now I have a set of stories that surround me and so when I started in this role I was aware of some of this context I brought into the new environment. Some would have viewed me as Cal the Facilitator, or Cal the Learning-guy, some as Cal the Leader and some people would be saying, “Cal? I’ve never heard of him – he is a he right?”
So what happens when the role I think I am there to perform hasn’t really got work that tightly matches with the story I and others have running about me? Does my story of who I am and what I’m good at become devalued? Am I like the Australian dollar and losing value against other currencies?
And what about new skills and new roles I am required to perform that I may never have done before or that I might think I am not strong at performing? Should my story change as a result of this new context in which I find myself?
You bet it should!
My son, Luke, is currently away at a five week outdoor education experience. He is not a big camper and his exposure to outdoorsy experiences is limited by his city-slicker parents. He is in a world of horse riding, farming, constructing sheds and slopping out pig pens. Moreover there is no electronic device within his reach for the next 40 days. In short he is in an entirely new realm.
Now here’s a situation that will require him to hold himself up against a different context and see how he measures up and learn what new stories and possibilities live inside him. It’s an incredible gift and a rite of passage for a young person to experience. He may only garner appreciation for this event in years to come. And I predict a fair dose of blame being allocated to his parents for making him endure this.
In my new role a large component of what I do is to take existing stories about our customers’ experiences together with our knowledge of our products and services. We then place this up against new contexts; new possibilities if you will, and see what might happen if we did things in a different way. We are allowing new stories to unfold for the business and for our customers and for ourselves as individuals.
How cool is that!
And how potentially devastating.
Learning that who you are and how you saw yourself isn’t going to cut it in a new context is humbling. Realising your services and products are not going to survive the plethora of choice emerging for customers is sobering. Growing up is challenging.
All of this is not for the faint hearted and yet ironically, none of us is capable of escaping it. Time will dish out its measure of change regardless of you. Businesses do fail and dissolve. Grey hair and lines denote the passage of time, but hopefully too you will notice an expansion of your mind. The thoughts of yesterday become refined and you have new analogous comparisons for how you see yourself in a new context and new ways of being in business.
I have no doubt I am in the midst of being transmuted into another version of Cal. I know that in 40 days’ time I will have returned to me a son who is different. I sincerely hope that in a few months our business will be testing better products and services and experiences for our customers.
The real heart of this though is the kindness we give to ourselves and others to undergo the changes taking place. Compassion and humility are the catch cries of life. Hold gently onto your view of yourself because it’s temporary. More importantly hold carefully onto your view of others. There’s a strong chance your view is flawed or at the very least one dimensional. Our view of others says a lot more about us than it says about the other.
Wouldn’t it be a precious thing if we could all be less firm about how we see ourselves and more generous with how we see others? Perhaps the world is crying out for this.