Working on the Difficult Stuff: March Practice Notes

Knotted rope

Perhaps it’s not in vogue to write about the difficult stuff. 


But I’m always wrestling with work which, no matter how long I’ve been doing it, is still hard.  It’s emotional energy, there are no short-cuts.  It is real though, and there are good reasons why I’m doing it. 


So I’m writing about it here, partly as a way of codifying what I do, and partly to reach out and build my network with other people doing this type of work.


This month I’ve been working more with a futures tool called ‘The Futures Triangle’.  It’s such a useful framework for working with the tensions of change.  To be intentional and rational.


But it is still hard when you are in the midst of it!


So what do I do?  What helps?  What’s real?


Reflecting back on this type of work, it’s usually when I’ve had a couple of conversations with one or two people to start the process of getting a different perspective. Where I start to notice what’s occurring.


And that’s the first step: to have some thinking and breathing space, that allows me to notice what’s occurring.    I don’t usually do the thinking with other people, I need time by myself to process things, and then check in with my allies or buddies afterwards.  But first step, I get to that moment something like:


“Aha ok so this is ‘one of those’…”. This is why it’s so difficult.  This is one of those where everyone has a partial view.  The different systems are butting up against each other. It’s why there are certain points where I feel pulled in all directions at once.


As I’m leading the work I’m developing knowledge that other people don’t yet have, because they haven’t been exposed to it, or had time to process it.  I feel enlightened, but out on a limb.  Vulnerable.


Looking back again, my second step is to think further about the pattern and the phase I am in:


People are coming together, but as well as finding common ground we’re finding new sources of difference.   The good stuff is on the surface, but we’re still working across different systems, we haven’t created the new thing that anchors all of the good stuff.


We’re in this difficult middle phase.  It’s the opening up, the awareness of what’s underneath.  Are we going to solve this at the level that’s the minimum requirement, or can we do something more? 


My third step then is to force myself to think ahead:


If this is the core of the issue – the crossing of systems, the knowledge and learning that flows as they intersect, and the opportunity to build new systems –  how do we use what’s happening next to work on this? How can we build a little of our image of the new system, into every conversation?  How can we make it just a little more concrete every time?  How do we work back from there, with the resources we have?


So it’s a 1, 2, 3:

  1. Breathing space to notice what’s occurring, when you’re doing the difficult stuff
  2. Working out the pattern and the phase, and the nub of the issue, whatever it might be
  3. Taking the time to think ahead – just a little more focus on that future system, in every conversation and action with the resources you have to hand.


These three steps are simple on the surface.  Doing them is also about being kind.  This is hard work, but bringing it back to a step by step process breaks it down.  Gives us time to breathe and think.


Note to self!

Join me for a monthly practice session.  Online, one hour.

Tuesday 21 March 1245-1345

Tuesday 25 April 1245-1345