Friday, 1 August 2014

Alice in Workland

Anyone reading this title may think we have mis-quoted the title of the Lewis Carroll classic 'Alice in Wonderland' (actually the full title is 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'). Others may ask that we are not surely saying there is some cross over between Wonderland and the workplace - between Alice and the actual daily life we all have. Well actually, we are saying this. Books and stories like dreams carry inner meanings. Some branches of psycho-therapy, especially the Jungian school,  recognise not just the power and relevance of stories but how the stories we tell and the stories that move us are resonating because they link in with our own stories and journeys seeking wholeness, identity and meaning. At the end of the story, Alice runs off to tea while her sister starts to have the same dream. The story goes on. So what does this novel written in 1865 teach us in 2014? What lessons can this young girl lost in a world where the incredible is commonplace give us today? We cannot cover a whole book but offer a few themes which we hope may resonate with some. We will give a quote and then offer a few words on it's importance. 

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.” asks Alice.
This is interesting as it brings us to the question of identity - who and what we actually are. A few months ago one of the writers sat in a coffee shop with a leading national figure in the NHS. The conversation turned to identity and how it was so vital that people found out who they really were. The national figure went on to say these words 'It's only when we find ourselves that everything makes sense. It's only when we find ourselves that it all fits together'. This is so true not just of individuals but also of services. We can walk around in the words of the Tom Cruise film with 'Eyes Wide Shut'. This is something truly tragic. It's only when we know ourselves that our gifts and potential can really start to function and flow as they should. This is not a new idea. It is said by some that The Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Ancient Greece had over its entrance the amazing words 'Know thyself and all the mysteries of the gods and the universe will reveal themselves to you.' Self knowledge is the key. The magic starts when we start to see who and what we truly are. The Temple builders knew this and Alice points to this too. 

“You used to be much more..."muchier." You've lost your muchness.” said the Mad Hatter.
Muchness. What can this mean? We would offer the following definition. Muchness is who we have become through our life journey. Yes, its who we are at work , what we do at work but its more than that. It’s what we stand for and how we offer our own self into the community we live in. It is about all the learning we have done in our whole lives , the ups and the downs,  not just our work lives. It’s about what we choose to pay attention to, give our attention and our effort to. In the recent past one of the authors was fortunate enough to be trained in ‘social movement methods’  , this approach  developed by Marshall Ganz at Harvard Business School and brought to the NHS by Helen Bevan (Chief Transformation Officer, NHSIQ). This approach offers us the opportunity to view all the resources we have within ourselves. These resources of  time, skills, knowledge,  and most importantly our passion are powerful  resources we can offer if we choose to. This is important learning as we often think about resources in the public sector as access to budgets, but actually the resource we have within our own selves are often much more potent.  
We would suggest that these are the things of our muchness. Our best business is to make sure our muchness remains intact in the struggles and vicissitudes of life and work. That's what our focus should be. The Duchess in the novel says, 'If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.' Maybe if our focus was on our own development what challenges us most would change too.
So Alice points us to  our muchness and links to the point above about identity. In chapter two ,Alice grows to massive size. Her body fills the house and her head hits the ceiling. She becomes very unhappy and starts to cry.
Out of control ego is an awful thing. We hear phrases like 'He's full of himself' and 'Her ego is so big it can be seen from space'. This sort of ego takes us to places where we cannot see others or really care for them. Like poor Alice, ego fills a room with our importance, position, title and demands. It also like Alice brings us to tears. Ego could stand for 'Edging good out'. It looks away from others and their good and riches and wants all the glory and limelight. Usually those who follow this path end up very disappointed as the world will not follow and dance around them. This genus of ego is also such a destructive thing. It's the power that won't forget, won't forgive and won't share. The hard knocks at work are not easy to take but they do help us to realise that we are not the chain just a link. They have the power and energy to teach us humility.
'How puzzling all these changes are! I'm never sure what I'm going to be, from one minute to another.' said Alice.
Change is a fact of our life and work. We probably undergo more changes in our lives than any of our ancestors and certainly at a more rapid rate. In the story Alice has to learn each game and its rules. She has to learn how to adapt and cope with each changing and bewildering event. Not easy but doable. There is an adaptability alongside a questioning and searching in Alice. Neither a passive 'going along with things as they are' nor a fiery refusal and confrontation but rather a learning, questioning and further search.
There is also the deep truth about change from Alice. She says, 'I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.' There are actually two deep truths here. The first is the power of today. A famous actress once spoke of her fight with alcohol. She said that one of the valuable lessons she learnt was that she didn't have a time machine to go back and change the past. Neither did she have a crystal ball to see the future. What she had was today and she could make the very best of that to herself and others. Alice's point that we can't go back should challenge us to live in the now. The second thing is that we are not static unchangeable fixed objects. We can change and we do change. The challenge is will we take the direction and initiative to direct that change? Becoming a different person - a better person is certainly possible but it  doesn't come free or without a price tag. In times of change we need the acceptance and learning spirit of Alice. We also need to seek whatever change and growth we ourselves may need.

So Alice points to our need to discover our true self. To own, nurture and protect our muchness. To control our egos. To work with change and even change ourselves. Some one may still ask 'What has this to do with work?' Here we come to the chasm separating those who see work mainly as concerned with systems and those who see work as centrally about people. For those of us in the latter camp - and we are proud to be there - the story of Alice points to what we all should be and can be. Just think what life and work would be like then.
John Walsh, York Street Health Practice
Dr Maxine Craig, Head of Organisation Development at South Tees NHS Trust and Visiting Professor at Sunderland University.            

1 comment:

  1. I like that....EGO, Edging Out Good. That's exactly what it does. Looking outward instead of inward, seeing the value of the whole. Great article.