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What I have learned about respect

What I have learned is that there are different types of respect. The problem is that in English, we only have one word for it. That means we grow up thinking respect is a single and exclusionary thing: Either you respect someone, or you don’t. Either you are respected, or you aren’t. In reality, it’s […]

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A curation of thoughts

The Underneathness tries to share intelligent, fresh perspectives on what shapes us and our world. I’ve put together a curation of pieces my readers have loved most and you can download it here. The Underneathness – a curation of thoughts

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Let’s stop pretending we know everything

We often fail to notice things that we are not expecting. Dr Lisa Randall, Physicist Note: additional links to newly published material may be added after you have read this. Can we please stop pretending we have the answers or are on a knowledge home run where the main issues are settled with only scraps to […]

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All that is visible

All that is visible clings to the invisible, the audible to the inaudible, the tangible to the intangible, Perhaps the thinkable to the unthinkable. Lama Anagarika Govinda

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You can’t withstand your environment you’re a part of it

I am I plus my circumstances. Jose Ortega y Gasset While it’s true that the way we perceive and interpret events impacts how we experience them, it’s only part of the story. Too much emphasis has been placed on our ability to withstand the environment as if it were somehow separate from us. Instead, we […]

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We are as we think & how we’re treated +

We are as we think We’re told we are as we think. Perception can have a dramatic impact on wellbeing but the reality is far more complex. We are as we are treated Mostly we believe we are as we are treated. When we’re treated well, we presume that who we are and what we do […]

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We are shaped by the unseen

You see, the strangeness of my case is that now I no longer fear the invisible, I’m terrified by reality. Jean Lorrain We assume our reality – Is reality Is right. But we have access to only the tiniest amount of information that’s out there, whether in the electromagnetic spectrum or conscious brain. This means […]

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Self-love is overrated 

How many times have you heard that you have to love yourself? Worse, that you have to learn to love yourself first, as if without this magical substructure, little else is possible. Some stretch the friendship further, demanding you love yourself unconditionally. Unconditionally? Is that even possible, desirable? For example, in the middle of a […]

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Pure rationality is a myth we should not aspire to

I think it would be very foolish not to take the irrational seriously. Jeanette Winterson   Be rational, people say as if – It’s (fully) possible The counterpart is unhealthy. In reality – We all behave on a continuum from rational to irrational Those who put irrationality down are just as susceptible to it as […]

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False hope is futile

Hope is life-affirming, a longing for the particular that gives energy to go on despite struggle and disappointment. Hope teaches the value of persistence when there are scant results and we doubt the worth of our efforts. We learn to value the process of working towards a goal, not just reaching it. This is not blind hope, it’s hopefulness underpinned by hard work. Many great accomplishments […]

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The benefits & limits of attention & evidence

These seemingly contradictory, yet complementary insights may be of value – Pay no attention to what people say; but pay close attention to what people say. Focus on evidence; but don’t let evidence narrow your focus. Attention Pay no attention to what people say (when it contradicts what they do) It’s easy to say – I am […]

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Don’t be too quick or too slow to forgive

We’re told that it’s compassionate to forgive ourselves and other people. It’s a great principle, sorely lacking in detail. When, for example, is the time to forgive? And how do we do it? By rushing to forgive we risk pushing legitimate feelings underground. On the other hand refusing to forgive is a lost opportunity for deeper […]

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The idea that venting anger helps is a myth

You may feel better after you’ve vented your anger but there’s little point – Venting does not diminish anger The feeling intensifies You create fresh damage to those you lash out at. Why do we do it? Anger is normal. But chronically angry people have a strong sense of entitlement about how the world should look and others […]

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Fault-finders

There’s a fine line between demanding people and fault-finders. Demanding people bring out the best in us by showing us what worked and didn’t. We may feel upset that a report we slaved over doesn’t meet expectations and keeps coming back. But the feedback enables us to see what worked and where we’ve made wrong assumptions, left things out or there […]

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Why rebellion can look just like conformity

It’s absurd to me that someone would vote a certain way because their parents did; but no less that they would only vote contrary to them (extrapolate broadly). When the impetus for decision-making is based on pushing against something for the sake of it, conformity and rebellion look remarkably alike. This pattern works its way […]

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Busy is the new lazy

We’re all so busy; what we’re doing is very important too. Strange then that ours is neither a culture of elite productivity nor meaningfulness. That’s because most of the busyness is a hoax. But we’ve built an altar to it. You at least, must name it for what it is. Often being busy is little […]

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A strong personality is not the same as strength

People often mistake domineering personalities as strong. They can be, but sometimes it’s the opposite. Sometimes frighteningly opposite if doggedness masks an inability to cope with differences. When someone disagrees with them – it’s a war. Domineering personalities are not afraid to express a view – that is refreshing. What is less refreshing is to watch them […]

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How to accept diversity

How do we — Respect grassroots views without being held hostage to ignorance? Privilege a standpoint without slipping into elitism about whose views count? Accept the right for people to have a view if that view seems damaging? Value knowledge while accepting that what was once true we now know to be false but that […]

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Kindness can be brutal

When you’re on the receiving end of kindness — it’s milk — a honeyed sap with associations of mothering & the cosseted dark womb. But being kind is an altogether different experience. It’s rising in the dark to run despite rain & icy winds while the world is sleeping. Being kind can mean: Suppressing the urge to lash out because you […]

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Art, creative judgement & shared human drives

Elitists put up barriers to entry to art.  They use alienating jargon to send outsiders a message that they’re not clever or worthy enough to get it. “Get it?” But there are those who diminish art and people who love it because they don’t get it. They crumple it underfoot. Or say that it is purely subjective. “I […]

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‘Aloneness’

If you want to be more deeply connected, spend time alone. That’s not a fact, underpinned by research. It’s a reflection. An anecdote. But it may have value. If you came to me and said – I feel empty, or – as if something is missing – if you complained about feeling blocked or stagnant […]

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Why I choose Samuel Beckett over positive thinking, any day

I believe we can learn more about what it takes to succeed from the closing assertion of Beckett’s The Unnamable than any other motivational book You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. This insight about the need for persistence in the face of obstacles and even despair offers no illusions about […]

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Avoiding groupthink

How many people do you know who can – Identify the biases they bring to the table and understand how they can be used (for good or bad)? Listen to and respect all views while recognising ideas are not equal? Bring others along but not at the cost of sound decision-making, even when that means […]

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Cynicism is a poison

I’m not a fan of the saccharinely positive with no off-button but cynicism – that can be a poison. The kind of cynicism I am talking about here has little to do with discernment or healthy realism; the critical thinking required to analyze information or challenge norms, which leads to better outcomes. I am talking […]

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What jealousy can teach you

We’re told that jealousy is bad and we should rise above it so people deny or suppress the feeling. The problem? They are still jealous but now feel guilty and ashamed too and are no closer to understanding why the jealousy emerged or what they can do to manage the discomfort. But if you really want to know […]

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What is trust?

If I offer you my trust am I – Agreeing with you? Doing what you ask of me? Offering robust feedback? Protecting your feelings? None of the above? What is considered a sign of trust to one may appear as a betrayal to another. We cannot define the minutia of every interaction, but without a […]

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The value of being curious in the modern world

If you gave me a few seconds to share what I believed could add the most to a person’s life I’d say – be curious. What about? Everything and everyone. When you’re curious, every day is rich. This doesn’t mean every day is great, that’s impossible and undesirable; but you can be up or down, […]

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‘I don’t know’. Uncertainty as a platform for growth.

When leadership is confused with the need to know everything it can lead to cultures of bluff where people feel it’s more important to give a response (including a wrong one) than acknowledge doubt. Instead, these three simple words from a leader can establish a very different context: I don’t know. “I don’t know” puts the […]

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Why you should doubt yourself

Therefore certainty is not only something of no use but is also in fact damaging, if we value reliability. Carlo Rovelli We seem so desperate to know things ‘for certain’. I think there are many reasons why. At the nice end, ‘knowing’ is an anchor that gives us a sense of ground, even if it’s illusory. […]

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Why loyalty is not always a virtue

We think of loyalty and fidelity as virtues and they can be. But like any qualities they can turn on you. The terms are also frequently misapplied. We need to ask –  Is this the right word for what I am dealing with? To whom or what am I loyal?   Relationships in any arena bring the complexity […]

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Why deferring to ‘expertise’ can be dangerous

I was recently at a workshop where a participant introduced himself by listing his Ivy League credentials; while impressive, his doctorate was in a discipline unrelated to the discussion and the act was out of context. Notwithstanding this, many people subsequently looked to him to lead or tacitly sought his approval when speaking. What he […]

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Platitudes undermine credibility

The leadership space is peculiarly susceptible to platitudes. But oversimplification makes them inadequate for dealing with the real difficulties that people face. We relate to the grain of truth that a platitude embodies but often apply them in the wrong context in ways that do not fully reflect the complexities of a situation. Part of a […]

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Why all-or-nothing thinking can undermine your good

I was chatting to a friend recently who told me he could no longer be bothered with people, his choice, as far as he was concerned sooner or later everyone disappointed him. With him you’re either totally out or you’re totally in, that’s just the type of guy he is. But I could see that […]

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You are what you do

I heard a woman who doesn’t work but overtly disparages friends who aren’t able to participate in her luxurious designer-clothing-five-star-travel-restaurant lifestyle say that she was not materialistic. Hello? Now there’s nothing wrong with enjoying material things but there’s clearly a gap here between what’s expressed and lived. And the examples are everywhere. A friend worked with […]

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Moods as a controlling device

Have you noticed how some people control others without doing or saying anything? These emotional dictators wield emotion like a sword and then step back from the consequences. I am not talking here about low-level sulkiness; we all get moody from time to time. A partner or colleague upsets us and rather than either sorting it […]

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Try real over ‘positive’

Like so many platitudes there is some value to: be positive. It suggests that the way we view life impacts our experience and that is borne out by research. Shawn Achor shows that knowing someone’s circumstances predicts as little as 10 per cent of their long-term happiness, wellbeing is largely determined by what we make of […]

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Turn rejection on its head – accept it

Let’s face it most of us take rejection badly. I am no different, in that I take things personally. We know that when we first learn something, we’re usually bad at it. We also understand that we get better with practice and that it takes up to 10,000 hours if author Malcolm Gladwell is right to master […]

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Disagreement is not disloyalty

It may seem counterintuitive but formal processes are not a panacea for good governance; post-mortems of Enron and WorldCom, or closer to home Centro, reinforce that these companies failed despite entrenched controls. What leaders can learn from these high profile failures it that risk-taking is a cultural issue and that with respect to decision-making, a […]

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Confidence? It’s a concept

Faith and doubt both are needed – not as antagonists, but working side by side to take us around the unknown curve. Lillian Smith I get so frustrated when I’m struggling with something (personal or professional) and I approach someone for input and they come back with something like: just be confident. Have faith in […]

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Don’t take it personally? (It’s personal)

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive. James Baldwin. One […]

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Leadership is not a position

I was talking to a friend about a situation in which he felt powerless in the face of change. He was ‘waiting’ for an outcome about his future in the volatile manufacturing sector that was making him increasingly anxious and he was struggling to stay engaged. At times, he admitted, he felt depressed. Waiting for what […]

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Why being kind is more important than being right

 A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve. Joseph Joubert While we are supposedly more open to softness and emotion, the reality is that we still privilege disconnection. What do I mean by this? Simply that the hard-nosed, cut off and detached can be perceived as more capable and grown up […]

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How to stoke your genius

“You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.” De Bono, Lateral Thinking   Innovation is touted as a ‘must have’ future capability with evidence that innovative leadership is critical for translating ideas into action and to a company’s success. At the individual level, creative adaptation is vital as technology impacts […]

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Why you need to ‘have a dream’

“I have a dream”, this refrain, woven through Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington speech embodies the concentrated pain of his (and many) people and the deep longing for a just society. Although a cry to free America from racial segregation, ostensibly it arouses that which in us seeks a nobler vision for humanity. We all express that […]

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How to lead with optimism through uncertain times

Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty. Jacob Bronowski. How can you lead with optimism given these difficult times? The legacy of global financial mismanagement and the unresolved European debt crisis mean phrases like ‘economic collapse’ are brandished about, clubbing into us the fear (or reality) of job cuts, foreclosures and other terrors. […]

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Should leaders make others happy?

Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult. Warren G. Bennis I was recently part of a discussion where it was put that people perform better uplifted and leaders were responsible for the happiness of their teams. The underpinning philosophy: positivity activates the heart. […]

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The need always to be right, is wrong

The need to be right is the sign of a vulgar mind. Albert Camus. Last time I wrote about the need to value expertise, without deferring to it. This is amongst other things because knowledge is not static and experts disagree, although often off a higher base. And while I don’t like the way some people use […]

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Value expertise but don’t defer

I was at a workshop where a man introduced himself like this: when I did my doctorate at Insert Ivy League University Here. Now there’s nothing wrong with establishing credentials in particular when they are relevant to the discussion, which in this case they were not. What he had done was to anchor the rest of the […]

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Disagreement is not disloyalty

It may seem counterintuitive but formal processes are not a panacea for good governance; post-mortems of Enron and WorldCom, or closer to home Centro, reinforce that these companies failed despite entrenched controls. What leaders can learn from these high profile failures it that risk-taking is a cultural issue and that with respect to decision-making, a […]

Continue reading …

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4 tips for being a ‘learner’ not a ‘mistake-avoider’

We learn by failing, iff failing means not getting things right all of the time. Whether it’s those first steps, our running style or scientific discoveries that come only after trials are ditched and techniques refined, learning is process. We are not built for perfection. Experiments have conclusively shown that we are hard-wired to think in […]

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4 ways to get past the ‘us and them’ mentality

 In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true. Buddha You know how your hair is straight but you’ve always wanted it curly and as you jealously ogle someone’s tresses and confess your envy s/he says: gee I’ve […]

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2 tips for everyday enlightenment

We find what we search for – or if we don’t find it we become it. Jessamyn West For years I loved the idea of retreat – an ashram – the top of a mountain – anywhere so long as it was far from the madding crowd. Here I would wake with the dawn, enjoy […]

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In tough times take the wheel

There’s man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet. Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot)   I was talking to a friend this week about a situation in which he feels powerless in the face of change. He was ‘waiting’ for an outcome about his future in the volatile manufacturing […]

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Why you should love your flaws

A friend told me about an exhibition she went to recently where the artist had created an installation by weaving together the responses of people to questions about their fears. Freed by anonymity to express what they truly felt, the work was a poignant tale about a fragile species, compensating for its vulnerability with defenses and […]

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What values drive you?

Whatever we think we are, or say we are; our own and others’ perceptions largely result from: what we do. Of course, we are not wholly defined by behaviours nor should we be. Sometimes life demands we reveal only a sanctioned side of ourselves, such as in an oppressive regime or unsafe family/relationships where it […]

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What masks do you wear and why?

We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin. Andre Berthiaume We all wear masks, although the extent to which we layer ourselves varies greatly. Masks are the personality layer, or persona, that we put on top of the ‘real thing’ (caveats assumed). They are […]

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Frank advice: can you take what you give?

The fact that you needed to know was not known at the time that the now known need to know was known… and therefore there was no authority for the authority to be informed because the need to know was not, at that time, known or needed. (Bernard in Yes Minister, Episode 8).  Yes Minister is […]

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Productivity needs play

Given that innovation is practically a mantra for CEOs globally and that countless studies have laid out the conditions for creating it, you’d think workplaces would be operating a little differently from a decade or so ago. The literature is overflowing with cries for agility, decentralized networks, collaborative architecture or cultures that enable creativity through […]

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The myth that we have to ‘rise above’ emotion is corrosive

The myth that we have to ‘rise above’ emotion is corrosive. Where is emotion ‘kept’ such that we could disentangle from it? Emotions are complex biochemical events triggered by and that trigger internal and external reactions. There’s some evidence that specific molecules regulate certain emotions – oxytocin with empathy, serotonin with happiness  – although this is an emerging field […]

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Trust is a biological necessity

Trust is essential to human endeavour. Despite the excuses we use to wriggle out of the obligations that come with it, all relationship or work need trust to survive. From before birth until our last breath, our lives are an intricate web of interconnectivities and interdependencies; arguably kept alive even after we die through memories and […]

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