Sunday, August 24, 2008
"Going with the Flow"
(photo taken by Will, 8th grade, 2008)
Our teachers report for in-service tomorrow and a friend sent me a book excerpt that I am going to use to focus our direction for this school year. I went to Flickr and set as A Fave a bunch of pictures that illustrated this passage and then made a slideshow at bighugelabs. I thought I'd post the passage and the slideshow here an an example of how I'm using things I've learned in this class. The passage is kind of long, but I liked how it reminds us that we have to balance the destination with the experience.
I am not sure that I cited the author of the pictures well enough, but live and learn I suppose......
From The Not So Big Life by Sarah Susanka
Going With the Flow
“Think of leaves on the surface of a stream. They’re floating along, carried by the current. Some drift from one side to the other as the stream flows along, whereas others appear to be floating more or less down the central channel. If you follow one particular leaf with your eyes, however, you’ll discover that a leaf that’s moving fast at one minute will be aimlessly sidelined a few minutes later, and a leaf that is slow moving at this minute will become speedy the next. Every leaf has its natural passage downstream, but if you were to try to write a script for each leaf and coordinate it with the scripts for all the other leaves, you would have a monumental task on your hands. If, in addition, you thought you were responsible for getting each leaf to its proper destination and if you believed that your not doing so would result in all the leaves bumping into one another and blocking their collective progress downstream, you’d be thinking like a typical micromanager, a ‘time obsesser”. If, on the other hand, you believed that no leaf should be forced to flow if it didn’t want to and that it was up to you to hold back the flow so that each leaf could exercise its free will, you’d be thinking like a “time resister”.
Neither approach is tenable. The river and the leaves will move and flow just the same, and all you’d be doing by obsessing or resisting would be burning yourself out.
At my Minneapolis architectural firm, we developed a personnel and project-management system that was based more on the dynamics of an unrestricted leaf flow than on time management. Although we were often met with raised eyebrows from colleagues in other companies when we described the system, it worked beautifully and continues to do so to this day. In most firms, the task of scheduling personnel typically falls on a single individual – usually one of the partners. With larger projects, where a number of people work on a single assignment for months at a time, this works well, but for a firm like ours, with many projects with unpredictable ebbs and flows, the normal management model for architectural firms was highly inefficient. So ours was a system invented out of necessity.
As the staff grew from two to five to ten and up to around forty-five by 1999, when I left, it became clear that if all of us – principals included – wanted to continue to engage in the activity we love most, designing, we’d have to develop a system that allowed for individuals to communicate easily and regularly with one another about their workloads, personnel needs, and time commitments. Trying to track and orchestrate personnel requirements for all the projects we had going at any one time would have been more than a full-time job, and not one that any of us would have relished.
By the time we were about ten people strong, the typical approach to scheduling wasn’t working well, so we decided to implement a weekly lunch meeting for all employees, at which we would share our current work needs and obligations. They beauty of the system was that it allowed all of us to identify our needs from our particular perspective and permitted the firm as a whole to responds. So a draftsman was able to let all of us know that in two weeks he’s be available to work on a new project because his current work was coming to an end. A project architect was able to indicate that she needed an architecture student with good model-making and drawing skills to help with two remodeling projects. Another project architect could let us know that one of his biggest projects had been put on hold that he needed more work ASAP.
As each person spoke, others around the table could indicate their availability or their ability to provide work for someone else. And without any apparent effort, matters always seemed to work out. The meetings allowed us to see into the near future without making complex charts, and they kept us from attempting to fix and make concrete a flow that was constantly moving and changing…..
What most of us don’t fully understand but this system acknowledges, more or less by accident, is that when things are allowed to flow, they get resolved. They resolve themselves in the moment and not through planning or trying to take control of the process. When leaves are allowed to move freely, as our workload lunch meetings proved time after time, they find their way downstream almost effortlessly. In so doing, for purposes of this metaphor, , they are perfectly present in their activity of floating. They are doing what’s in front of them to do – moving with the current – and in the process, as a by-product of their engagement, they’re moving downstream. The objective of each leaf is not movement downstream, but engagement with the current, which results in the experience of floating.
It’s when we try to make a script to follow exactly or when we ignore the passage of time entirely that we get into trouble, just as the leaves would if they tried to get to the right place at the right moment or if they struggled to stay put rather than where the current was taking them. We assume that what’ important is the movement downstream – the destination – when in fact it’s the involvement with ourselves and with one another in each new moment that really matter, that bring satisfaction and meaning into our lives. And that involvement, of course, is the journey – the process of engaging fully in every experience that comes your way. . . .
It’s not that preplanning is either good or bad, but you have to use discernment to determine what requires some planning and what can be allowed to unfold. For the time-obsessed, it’s the contrivance of preplanning every interaction, the “efforting” involved in the implementation of that plan, and the lack of unscripted time in which to do what really needs to be done in the moment that cause problems. For the time-resistant, it’s the determination to stay free of time’s limiting characteristics, the absence of any planning whatsoever, and the resulting lack of awareness of what really needs to be done in the moment that cause frustration. Either approach keeps you out of the natural flow, separated from the knowledge that everything is moving exactly as it needs to; in truth, there’s not a leaf out of place”.