Is that all there is?

Most Christmas messages are light hearted homilies full of good cheer, hope for humanity, celebration and high spirits. We all need a break from the pressures of everyday life and Christmas is one of those times many of us use to relax. Personally I love Christmas. I love the atmosphere. I love getting together with my family. The big Christmas dinner. Using the opportunity to bring joy into many hearts. All that and much more.

However, as I sit down to write my final newsletter for the year, my thoughts are a little more reflective than usual. Still full of hope as is who I am. But the path to hope is more complex than I usually allow myself at this time of year.

I had a deep conversation with the manager of my regular cafe last week. We talked
about life and experience and the varied paths we all take in our days on this
planet. Discussing the absolute dedication many people in the corporate world
give to their careers my colleague remarked “I wonder if they’ve ever stopped
to think ‘What’s next?'” By this she meant if they have ever wondered what
the end game of their career progression be. If you get to the top (whatever ‘the
top’ may be) what’s next? If you don’t get to the top at the end of your career,
what’s next? I see so many people who work 80 hours a week and wonder when
they ever get time to enjoy the benefits of their work. Before I continue on this thought, I want to relate a seperate experience.

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What actually happened in 1929?

With the recent volatility in the stock market, I thought I would look at a bit
of the history. I was particularly interested to find out what actually happened
in 1929. For those of you who might be interested, this is my summary of events.

In 1929, the Dow Jones reached its peak of 381 on September 3. According to
several sources including this
one,
it started the year, on January 2nd, at exactly 300. This coresponds
to an increase of 27% from the start of the year to September. The bubble is
even more pronounced though as the index hovered pretty much between 300 and
320 until the last week of June when it began its spectacular two month rise.
During the following month the market lost 17% of its value but after a brief
recovery, the ‘Crash’ as it has become known, began on Black Thursday when
a record 13 million shares were traded. The worst single day however was the
following "Black Tuesday". According to this New
York Times article of the time
, the market lost $14 billion on that one
day – a 13%
drop
. The NYT reported a total volume of just over 9 million shares were
traded on the day. However more up to date reports such as this
one
and Gold
Eagle
suggests a new record of 16 million were traded.

The world did not see a single day fall as big as this until October 1987
(what is it about October?) when the Dow
Jones Industrial Average slumped 22.6%.
However while the 1987 decline
was short lived, recovering to its October peak of 2662 within two years, the
1929 crash continued for years. From its peak of 381, it fell to a low of 42
in 1932 – a fall of 89% – and did not recover its September 1929 high
until about 1957. I’m not an historian, and even less do I pretend to have
a command of financial history but these numbers are sobering. Before I continue
with the main discussion, here are some of the sources I used to gather this
information:

Does God Play Dice?

Modern Physics has long done away with the notion that we can know anything with
certainty yet most management theories and practice seem to be based on a Newtonian
view of ‘knowability’. True leadership recognises that we never know what to do but
this very uncertainty demands that we must act decisively.

As I write this The Age reports that overnight
the Dow
Jones
Industrial Average
fell below 9000 points for the first time since 2003. Maybe by the time you
read this it will have fallen below 8000. Maybe it will have recovered to be
over 10,000. As I heard Craig
James
say at a business breakfast this morning, “No
one knows.”

In all my experience as a consultant, the question I am most often asked is “How
do we know what we should do?” This question comes in many forms. Sometimes
my client acts as though I know exactly the solution to their problem – after
all that’s what they pay me for isn’t it. Sometimes I feel like
telling them not only do I have no idea of the solution, I’m not even
sure what the problem is. Unfortunately I more often fall into the trap of
believing the client’s trust in my omniscience is well placed. I believe
that I should know the answer or at least, if I don’t. I should act as
though I do. I justify this by convincing myself that if I work hard enough,
study the client’s situation in enough detail and read enough of what ‘the
experts’ say, both THE PROBLEM and THE ANSWER will become clear to me.

It is at times like this that I forget the greatest service I can give to
my client is to not know. My client knows their business and their organisation
better than I ever can. When I feel like I have to know, or have to look like
I know I can’t ask the dumb questions that everyone wants to ask but
no one dares. With grateful acknowledgment to a dear colleague, I call this
the Colombo model of consulting.

The same is true for leadership. It takes courage to admit you don’t
know what to do yet perhaps the greatest failures of leadership throughout
history have been made by those who acted out of this fear. In the current
economic situation, doing nothing is not an option. Global treasury officials
and financial chiefs must act in the full knowledge that there is no higher
authority to which they can turn who can provide them with just the right settings
to avert a catastrophe, History will judge them harshly if they get it wrong.

This
belief arises from the triumph of the industrial age where we have come to
think of organisations as machines.

As Danah Zohar puts it:

Classical physics transmuted the living cosmos of Greek and medieval times,
a cosmos filled with purpose and intelligence and driven by the love of God
for the benefit of humans, into a dead, clockwork machine … Things moved
because they were fixed and determined; cold silence pervaded the once-teeming
heavens. Human beings and their struggles, the whole of consciousness, and
life itself were irrelevant to the workings of the vast universal machine” The
Quantum Self: Human Nature and Consciousness Defined by the New Physics,
1990

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Changes at The Spiral Path

Big changes are happening at The Spiral Path.
I have moved the blog to a much more robust server. Some of you have reported some problems with links to the site. That should pretty much be a thing of the past.
The elves are still working away at tweaking everything and getting the site working absolutely perfectly. You will see the sidebar doesn’t include everything it used to. I am working on rebuilding this with updated links and information. Please come back and check it over the next couple of weeks.
You will also soon see a new look and feel I completely revamp the site to match my chriscurnow.com site.
I am sure you will like the changes.
Thanks for your patience while I and my elves are working on the update.
I’d like to hear what you think.

A Different Kind of Blind Spot

Welcome to the first edition of The Spiral Path – the companion newsletter
to my Spiral Path blog.

In this newsletter, I refer to the concepts of Quantum Leadership® and
The Spiral Path™. You can find out more about these concepts on my website.

Over the last half a year I have given a lot of thought to what I might write
about in this the premiere edition of The Spiral Path. I’ve written
myself notes and possible titles have come and gone in my mind. In the end
though, I have come back to my very first thought – the concept of our
Blind Spot. I am heavily indebted to C.
Otto Scharmer
* for the central insight
of this article as well as many of his words that I will quote directly.

When we think about our blind spot, we think about something that is in front
of us but we can’t see it. A colleague I was discussing this with recently
observed “it’s something we don’t want to see.” There
are certainly many of those, but I want to talk about a different view of
the blind spot. Something that is within the range of our perception but is,
in fact, invisible.

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Csikszentmihalyi and Flow

If we’re so rich, why aren’t we happy?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
(pronounced chick-sent-me-high-ee)
,
C.S. and D.J. Davidson Professor of Psychology and Management at The
Drucker School, Claremont Graduate University
, is mainly known for his work in flow
in creativity. Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as:

being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.

According to The Monitor on Pschology

[Martin] Seligman describes Csikszentmihalyi as the world’s leading
researcher on a subject that is near and dear to his heart — positive psychology.
He says Csikszentmihalyi’s work on improving lives has been important in his
own effort to encourage psychologists to focus on building human strengths.
“He is the brains behind positive psychology, and I am the voice,” says
Seligman. Csikszentmihalyi is working with Seligman to engage young leading
psychologists to focus on prevention and building human strength.

Probably his most well know work is Flow
the psychology of optimal experience

Max Weber and the Spirit of Capitalism

I’ve come across the work of the sociologist, Max
Weber
, a couple
of times recently.

Firstly, in their book, Why
Should Anyone be Led by You?
, Rob
Goffee
and Gareth
Jones
talk about the implications of Weber’s thinking
for Leadership in business. I hope to write a piece on this book
in the near future.

However, the catalyst for this post is this thought provoking piece,
by Lorin Loverde.
Loverde discusses Weber’s book The
Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
. I am fascinated by Loverde’s
analysis which is that the development of capitalism only became possible
with the widespread influence of the ‘Protestant
Ethic
’.

According to Loverde, there is a vast contradiction inherent in capitalism — we
seek to gain wealth but when we do we are immediately tempted to spend
it on ourselves. So previous societies over millennia created great
edifices to themselves or lived in debauchery, but there was nothing
left to invest in future investment for wealth creation. So the civilisation
collapsed only to start the process over again.

But then came the Reformation and the Protestant Age. The capitalist
contradiction was held by a ‘transcendent
purpose
.’ Our
wordly life was but a preparation for a future life. In this life our
purpose was to serve God and deny ourselves. Loverde puts it this way:

“…we demonstrated on earth by our economic success that we
were predestined to go to heaven after death; thus, our success was
a sign of goodness, but we still had to avoid being extremely selfish
with extravagant spending and conspicuous consumption to typical of
non-Protestant cultures.”

Having a “Reformed
Baptist”
background myself, I would
contest Loverde’s theological interpretation but the end result
is the same. The Protestant ethic was one of self discipline (as opposed
to the self-denial of the pre-reformation
Christian Church
.) This involved
enjoyment but avoidance of the wordly pleasures or ‘sins of the
flesh’. In Wesley’s Methodism,
this developed into avoiding anything that was thought to be worldly — including dancing,
drinking alcohol, anything that had a sexual association, the theatre
and even reading ‘wordly’ (ie non-religious) books.

Most “Protestant” christians today would regard this methodism
as extreme but would still aspire to some notion of avoiding ‘wordliness’ – that
is that their ultimate purpose in this life is in preparation for the
next.

The point Loverde is making is that this live view — that of
having a transcendent purpose — made, and to some extent continues
to make, capitalism possible. Without it, previous generations would
have spent all the wealth they created and we would not now be enjoying
the benefits of the ‘great industrial west.’ There would
be no infrastructure, no large industrialised capacity.

The problem now is we have capitalism but have lost the Protestant
Ethic.

It reminds of the RAF’s Bomber
Command
during
World War
II.
It was formed during the darkest days of the Battle
of Britain
in an attempt
to strike at the German war machine at its source. From it’s
origins as a cobbled together unit with hopelessly inadequate and out
of date machinery, it became itself an efficient and ruthless machine
that could ‘take out’ any city in Germany on any night
it chose. And, in the end, it did for no other reason than because
it could. It had been set up in the dire need to defend Great
Britain
but when the hour of desperation had passed it continued to bomb cities
because that’s what it did – with devastating impact and
little military gain as we say in Dresden.

Perhaps that’s the point we have reached in capitalism. We make
wealth because we can. We’ve forgotten why. We just do it. For
ourselves we could say this is no problem, except that our continuing
to make wealth threatens our very ability to make wealth.

We have become so efficient at extracting and using the Earth’s
resources that we can, for the first time in our history, envision
the day when we have used all there is to use. Again our efficiency
at using resources has created daunting problems of waste and impact
on the world’s environment. It has gone well past the stage where
the West can live without regard to the pollution we create in the
Third
World
. The world is now just too small.

Finally, continuing to create and concentrate wealth while at the
same time making communications technology easily available to almost
every square millimetre of our planet, we have allowed the world’s
poorest peoples to know about our affluence and, many would say, decadence.
There can be little doubt that this is a major driving force towards
global terrorism.
This has perhaps always been the case, as long as there has been a
divide between rich and poor. What is driving, and makes so threatening,
the extremism in the terrorism of the “fundamentalists” is
the juxtaposition of this divide with what they see as the purposelessness
of the West.

Loverde’s response is to propose the need for a transcendent
purpose.

For better or worse we have left behind the Protestant Ethic and now,
like Bomber
Harris
, we build bigger businesses because we can. We have
forgotten why. The catch cry is that business exists to make a profit.
If we believe this, we are sounding the death knell of capitalism as
we know it for there will be nothing left to invest. That is if the
earth’s resources don’t run out first or fundamentalist
extremist terrorism doesn’t make it impossible to continue to
operate business on a global scale.

So what might a viable transcendent purpose be? How about you tell
me?

Lost Opportunities

My Dad was a fitter
and turner
, toolmaker and maintenance fitter.
He was exceptionally good at his trade. Dad could make anything involving
metal and would prefer to make it rather than buy it.

As I was growing up and developing an interest in science and electronics, Dad
seemed to be able to answer any question I put to him. He knew how a radio worked
and helped me build my first crystal set.
When I got to high school and started learning algebra, calculus and trigonometry
he seemed to be able to explain every question I had at least as well as my teachers.
Dad often had his own particular way of explaining a topic that made it come
alive in my mind. I didn’t
think about this much until later in my adult years. This seemed to me just what
a Dad should be able to do. But as I became a science and maths teacher myself,
I started to realise he would be what we would now classify as a gifted student.
We would regard him as having the potential to go a long way. Had he been born
in the fifties like I was, he would almost certainly have gone to university
and had the opportunity to do post graduate studies.

Dad was also a gifted and advanced pianist. As we were growing up we realised
that not everyone’s dad played the piano and certainly not everyone’s
dad played what we later learned was called classical music. But although we
loved his music and loved hearing him play pretty well every night we didn’t
realise until late in our teens how advanced he was. He played Chopin, Paganini,
Liszt and many other
composers’ works from memory. Even then it was only well into my adult years
that I started to realise how amazing it was that a fitter and turner son of
a blacksmith from Kalgoorlie was such an advanced musician. He was certainly
talented enough that had the opportunity arisen, he could have made a career
from his music.

Yet Dad never had the opportunity to go to university or had the opportunity
to make a career from his music. My dad was a teenager (although the term wasn’t
used then) during the depression and had to leave school to go to work as soon
as work was available. He worked as a Diesel Mechanic in the Kalgoorlie mines
and the power station there. Each week he would bring his pay packet home and
give it to my grandmother who would then give him whatever she thought was a
reasonable allowance to live on. He wasn’t destitute. Dad was able to buy
a number of old motorbikes and eventually a brand new Francis
Barnett
in the late 30s. He
even bought a piano as far as I know with my grandmother’s blessing. Who
knows, if things had continued as they were he may have had the opportunity to
advance his education and eventually make it to university or have opportunity
to play music as a career.

But this was not to be. The war came and Dad joined the RAAF as a Fitter. Even
there he excelled. I recently applied for and received his air force records.
The results of his examinations for his group of trainees is included. The names
are listed in order of merit and at the top of the list, alone in the category “Pass
with Special Distinction” is dad’s name. While he was training in
Melbourne, my auntie contributed to the war effort by inviting some of these
young men home to replace some of family comforts they were missing. I still
have a photo from those days of my dad in his RAAF dark blue uniform sitting
at the piano at my auntie’s house. That’s how he met my mum (my auntie’s
sister). The were married on December 6th 1941. Pearl
Harbor
was bombed on December
7th 1941. All leave was cancelled and within days of becoming a married man,
he found himself at the receiving end of Japanese bombs in the Northern
Territory
.
Although mum and dad were able to correspond, all mum was allowed to know was
that he was somewhere in Australia and was left to guess that he was in the Northern
Territory.

Just a few months later she received a telegram from the Air Force:

REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR HUSBAND, AIRCRAFTSMAN CLASS I STANFORD HARVEY
CURNOW, IS REPORTED TO BE SERIOUSLY ILL AND HAS BEEN ADMITTED TO A MILITARY HOSPITAL
AT BATCHELOR SUFFERING FROM A PROBABLE FRACTURE OF BASE OF SKULL AS THE RESULT
OF ACCIDENTALLY FALLING FROM MOVING TRANSPORT ON 18TH JUNE 1942 STOP

YOUR HUSBAND’S CONDITION IS CONSIDERED TO BE SERIOUS STOP

ANY FURTHER INFORMATION RECEIVED WILL BE IMMEDIATELY CONVEYED TO YOU STOP

SIGNED ETC

Thanks to the surgeons at an American
Military Hospital
, Dad did recover although
he was left with permanent paralysis of one side of his face and for a long time
was very embarrassed about this. I don’t know all the details of his recovery
but he was not discharged until 1944 without taking any further active part in
the war. (One of his brothers was killed in the Battle
for Singapore
and the
other spent 11 days drifting in a dinghy in the Mediterranean after being shot
down.)

On medical grounds, Dad was advised not to return to Kalgoorlie where work was
being offered to him and was forced to compete in a much tougher employment market
in Melbourne. Eventually he was able to get a position as an apprentice fitter
and turner as part of a scheme to retrain returned servicemen. He remained with
the same employer for the next forty years. However, despite his proven intellect
and ability Dad remained a blue collar worker all his working life. One of the
high points of those early days was the young husband and wife, with my then
infant eldest brother being able to move into a War
Service
home in Highett which
remained the family home for the rest of Dad’s life and until Mum was no
longer able to live by herself.

Interspersed with periods of great happiness, perhaps the greatest of them the
birth of their four children, Dad experienced periods of deep melancholy. It
wasn’t easy feeding, clothing and schooling four children on a fitter and
turner’s wage even though he worked long hours of overtime when it was
available and took on a second job as a waiter at a golf club on weekends.

Things probably got to their lowest point at the death of my brother after a
long and difficult illness, but then things started to look up as Dad neared
retirement age. After years of working amongst heavy machinery he had suffered
significant hearing loss and was successful in receiving a small but useful compensation
payout. Then again, after years of hearings, letters and appointments with government
bodies (mainly the Repatration
Department)
he was finally awarded a compensation payment and pension
for his war injuries. Although the compensation payment did not cover the pension
he would have received if the government had originally admitted liability
for his injuries, it was enough to allow Mum and Dad to live comfortably for
their twenty years of retirement.

I wrote this piece for another purpose. But as I was writing it, it made me
think again about the concept of "potential." Given my Dad’s ability and talent,
many would say he had the potential to acheive much more than he did.

When I think about that, my first reaction is to wonder who has the right
to judge the worth of one life’s achievements and whether something "better"
could have been achieved.

Leaving that aside though, did my Dad have that potential, or when you think
about potential do you have to take circumstances into account? I guess we
can never really now.

What we can now is how we respond to what we believe is our own potential.
What do we do with the gifts we have? This is not about beating ourselves up
and telling ourselves we should be doing more than we are. It is about taking
an honest assessment of ourselves and asking ourselves what do we really want
to do and what can we do about that.

I leave this with you.

Starting Over

For the last twelve months at least The Spiral Path has gone the way
of many blogs.

I started out enthusiastically, but then other things overtook me.
For one thing I noticed I was spending a lot of time blogging and not
enough time earning money.

Well I am going to have another go at starting this blog.

I do love writing here – even if no-one reads it. But I know for sure
you won’t read it unless I write it.

So let’s see how we go.