U and me: working towards an emergent future

Last year I had the opportunity to spend a day with Joel and Michelle Levey, two of the foremost mindfulness practitioners in the world. They facilitated a workshop for the whole team at NixonMcInnes, in which we explored the feelings and stories we had about the process we were embarking on to radically transform the company.

As the final exercise they spread out a deck of handmade cards on a long table. Each card had a single word on it, describing a feeling or state of mind. We were asked to pick up to five cards, selecting the ones that most resonated for us. My words were: authenticity, fearlessness, chaordic (the path between chaos and order), flow and time in nature.

These cards have stayed on my dressing table, where I happen upon them most mornings in the bleary rush to get myself ready for the day. They provide a touchstone for the journey of reinvention I’m currently undertaking.

The journey started last November. My time as a full time member of the NixonMcInnes team was coming to an end and I had the opportunity to start out under my own steam. I could see my colleagues busy starting companies, making websites, deciding on propositions and I felt scared. Left behind. Like I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted to do outside of NixonMcInnes. One day I saw Caz. She’d just registered a company. I panicked. But on the way home on the bus it became clear — I knew what I needed to do. I got home and built a website, registered a set of domain names, set up a google account and created a new email address. It was a late night.

And in the morning I felt happy and kind of smug. Until I got to the office and saw the purposeful brand model I’ve got pinned to my wall.

‘that’ model

I’ve used it innumerable times to assess how purposeful a business is, how well connected the customer experience is to the purpose and stated values. And I realised I didn’t know what my new business was for. Obviously it was a vehicle for making some money, but what was it really for? It was a particularly pertinent question, because the name I’d chosen was PurposeLab. That took me down a peg or two.

So I didn’t share my new website, or use the email address or tell anyone what I’d done. I waited. Until one day as I was putting my key in the lock of the front door (not a metaphor, true life) I realised that the purpose of PurposeLab is for me to find my purpose. All a bit meta. But I’ve spent eight years totally focused on NixonMcInnes. I’m institionalised. How can I possibly know what My Thing is right now? I need to give it time. I need to go exploring.

I spent some time over Christmas avoiding thinking about it. Which helped me see that an answer might be right under my nose. For the last few years I’ve been using a framework called Theory U to support innovation initiatives. I like it. I really like it. But I’ve always known that I didn’t really understand it — because you can work with it in the very pragmatic way I had been doing, or if you engage with it fully, you can take yourself through some very deep stuff.

So I signed up to a very serendipitously launched MOOC, lead by Otto Scharmer of the Presencing Institute and MIT to spend six weeks taking part in an online community learning more about Theory U.

And as part of that I decided that I’m going to devote 2015 to experimenting with how I work and live. I’ll use PurposeLab as a vehicle and Theory U as a framework to find the work that has most meaning to me.

CC License by the Presencing Institute — Otto Scharmer: http://www.presencing.com/permissions

I’ve given myself some rules, but not many:

  1. I won’t make any decisions based purely on money
  2. I will use the cards I chose at the Levey’s workshop as my values
  3. I won’t work alone
  4. I will live this ‘out loud’ and openly share what I’m doing and what I’m learning

So that’s it. This is my post-NM plan.