Monday, 5 April 2010

win win

A long gap... because of a huge March.

Of work.

Centre stage was helping 280 people in Istanbul to have a BIG dialogue on success. On what success means to them. And what they have to do to achieve it.

The stakes were high, the investment was huge and it was a big decision to say yes to it.

I was plenty busy enough and I had good reasons to say no.

But I was drawn to this event, partly because the stakes were so high. (I'd not been stretched much this year so far - maybe that's what attracted me.)

Whatever it was that drew me in, I found myself (inadvertently) in a position to ask myself the same questions I was asking others.

Some people might say that there's only so much you can learn from commercial work, that it can't be work of real depth, but I find it a fascinating form to work in. Sometimes it feels like the best training in the world. And sometimes it feels like it's what I've trained for.

Perhaps it's because the imperative for achievement is so much keener, sharper and immediate than in the various not-for-profit adventures I've taken on (something which makes me extremely energised on a good day or cross on a bad day or angry some days and just frustrated most days.)

But the truth is I think that wherever I work, whatever environment I find myself working in, the forms I employ are the same.

And I'm old enough now to know that when I'm being employed or given positions of responsibility, I should do what I do well (When I'm doing things purely for my own pleasure, I love doing things I'm not very good at but when you're getting paid, stick to what you do well is a good motto.)

So, for the event in Istanbul, I did the things I do well:

I helped people talk to each other.

I recorded and edited conversations.

I put them together with a musical underscore and created an animation out of it.

I made a short film, interviewing people who know first-hand what it is to succeed (professionally at least).

I coached the enigmatic and fascinating Brazilian boss, and helped the fabulous Lisa and Matt (occasionally) to make sure the event as a whole was working.

At times I wondered if I was a little too close to the wire on it. But I wasn't. Not really. And what might have been a scary job with too much pressure, became a genuinely rewarding experience and what had seemed to me to be an absurd project to take on before I said yes, became one of those I'm very glad I did.

Success. Winning.

These words had seemed very thin and uninteresting to me.

But I learnt lots about them. As ideas. And habits. I became... for a while.. utterly immersed in them. (Partly because I was listening back to the many, many recordings I did on the project. Every day... for ages.)

So there I was, trying to succeed at something that was about... success.

Trying to edit a film and create an animation with words and phrases about how to be brilliant, swimming around my head throughout. Receiving constant notes from others (little did they know).

And so... now it's gone. Now it's done. (It's taken me a month to have enough space in my head to write this). Now I've been given a chance to consider why what I do works sometimes. (It doesn't always. But usually, if I'm honest, it does.)

And given that I insist that others reflect and learn, I thought I should insist to myself that I stop and ask what success is about for me.

Not so much what it means to me, but how I try to make it happen.

So - here's what I did, on this particular event.

Here's how my determination to help make something a success came out. In terms of behaviour, there were four main things I think:

1. I worked longer hours than I have on anything for months.

2. I kept on pushing and challenging myself and those around me even when I knew what we had was good enough (but not as good as it could be yet).

3. I remained open to possibilities, even though a deadline was close. Very close.

4. I accepted that some things weren't what I'd hoped they might be and moved on.. to discover newer and previously unseen things.

But out of all the things I did...I think above all, it was more about something I had that made the biggest difference.

It's something I know I have (and count myself lucky to have it) but it revealed itself to me in a very fresh way in Istanbul: it was confidence.

Not confidence in the sense of "I can do this. I know I can do this." Actually sometimes I wondered if I actually could do it.

(I think that's healthy. It's healthy not to be sure but to get on and do it anyway. I think... Usually. Certainty is something I'm slowly learning to give up.)

No, this was more about confidence in relationships.

I found that if I looked at people straight in the eye and trusted that a dialogue is possible, no matter how much pressure there is, that when I've asked something of someone, something that might have been really challenging, mostly (mostly) what people put their faith in wasn't so much their ability, or their courage or nerve, but actually it was in their faith or their confidence in their relationship with me.

Because if someone goes out on a limb....

If as a result of a conversation with someone you try something new, something really big and then - in terms of the task or the challenge - you fail... what are you left with?

Surely... it's the relationship with the person who asked you to take on that challenge.

The person who asked something of you.

And I asked a lot of people on this event, in different ways.

And I'm happy to say that in terms of all the challenges and the tasks we took on in Istanbul, just about every single one was a success.

But even on the ones where (if only temporarily) there was failure, the relationships remained intact. As people walked towards me after their big moments, I saw smiles. Expressions that said: "I've just learnt something." I heard tones of satisfaction. And I witnessed small triumphs of integrity.

And in the handshakes and the sighs of relief that come after a big event, it felt like relationships had been tested. And they'd survived.

In fact more than that - they'd grown. They'd become stronger.

So - strengthened relationships. Those two words have always been there as one of the outcomes of dialogue on my well used slide that says: The Principles of Dialogue.

And I'm glad to say that on this event, the principles were practised.

And that felt good.

So thanks Istanbul. (And sorry I didn't see much of you. I'll be back.)

But mostly, thanks to those people who trusted me there, who put faith in themselves and confidence in our relationship.

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