Different perspectives

I spent last week walking the Great Glen Way in Scotland. It's a glorious route and we were lucky with both the weather and the lack of midges. If I believe all the research then I should be back at work this week more productive, thinking more positively, being more creative, and with a fresh perspective.

Not only that, walking is supposed to have miracle benefits too so, in theory, I will be well able to deal with whatever has happened in my week off but I can't tell yet as I am writing this on Sunday evening, before I switch on my work laptop to find out what has been going on. I'm taking comfort in the statement that '[Work] life won't fall apart if you take two weeks off -— in fact your work might actually improve'. (I wonder, does it hold if you only take one week off?)

Although I can't tell whether my productivity and positive thinking has improved I can talk about the fresh perspectives. I came home with three:

  1. In a second-hand bookshop in Inverness I bought Midges in Scotland. (It's a best-seller!) I learned that:

    'Without a sound understanding of how and why midges behave the way they do, then all the chemical sprayings, repellents, and biological controls in the world become a waste of effort and money … this simple message has not always been appreciated. … [people] want action and want it now. The trigger on finger on the chemical spray gun gets very twitchy. .. [the] almost instinctive urge to reach for the spraygun has proved, time after time, to be a costly mistake.'

    Reading this made me laugh: the urge to action (usually change the org chart) over sound understanding (what's going on the system) that I meet every day at work is paralleled in people's responses. The scientist author proposes several routes to understanding midge behaviour in order to discover better ways of managing them: field trials, open discussion, co-ordinated cross-discipline research and learning, evaluating the extent and cost of the current situation, determining where focused effort would yield the highest pay-back, providing better data for forecasting, etc. These techniques are discipline neutral and I realised that each/all could bring new perspectives to organisation design work.

  2. My walk companion was an architect who saw completely different things from me as we walked the route. He marvelled at the design of some of the wooden bridges we crossed, down to the use of a particular type of screw. I looked at all the galvanized steel gates through his eyes as he explained their significantly different designs and design purposes. He was alert to the many gravel types that we crunched over – how it was laid why that type had been chosen, and he loved the specific shade of blue of the sign posting and the way it was used to unify different forms of signage.

    Seeing his landscape which I was unnoticing of till he pointed it out reminded me of the value of inviting and valuing different perspectives on a problem, plan, situation or intervention.

  3. Although I'd determined not to look at any newspaper or news bulletin for the week there were eerie echoes of what is going in the world right now. Along the route are numerous, very well produced interpretive panels giving information on the history related to the particular stretch. There was nothing that isn't current today: on the downside – land and settlement clearances, people being forced to flee in boats, livelihoods lost through war, clan rivalry and bitter feuding (lasting 350 years in one case) bringing ferocious loss of life, huge income disparity, resources tightly controlled by a few in power, and some overbearing chiefs. And on the upside some sparks of innovation e.g. in lock design and instances of courage and dedication.

Getting this historical perspective made me wonder about repeating patterns – are we all in a fractal universe? How could fractal and chaos theories be applied to the way we do organisation design?

What new perspectives have you got from a work break that could inform your organisation design work? Let me know.

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