Seek & Find

Seek & Find

A mid-life lady came to see me about her work. She was being treated unfairly. Her boss didn’t trust her as fully as she expected. Her team was delivering late. She was depressed, insecure and lacking confidence on a level I have seldom seen. Her home life wasn’t good either. Mistreated by husband, disrespected by children, she had turned into a sad workhorse with no joy in her life. Her strong character had been broken. Metaphorically, she lay on her bed and cried for help.

That’s what I saw at first sight. Then I looked wider. Good characters never lose their shine, however defeating the world is. Inside this sad shell there was certainly a robust spirit. She looked a wreck but her features were well proportioned with strong cheekbones and an alluring mouth. With a sponge of water and a touch of war paint she would look handsome. Her smile, when it could be teased out of her, was seductive. Not in that cheap, libidinous way of the glossy magazine but in the way of friendship and fun.

If you saw this lady today you wouldn’t recognise her. She is smart, well dressed, handsome as anyone. Her shoulders are thrust forward to demonstrate assertiveness but not aggressiveness. Her boss listens when she speaks. Her husband is studying the draft divorce agreement, shocked and bewildered. He’s never heard of #MeToo. The children help with the household chores. Even the dog shows a new respect for his mistress. None of that would have happened if I had allowed my first impressions to persist.

But I have learnt that broken mirrors are just stained glass windows waiting to be assembled.

How we perceive people, situations and objects determines how we handle them. How we handle them determines what happens when we have done so. Preparation before action is essential. ‘Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted.’ Not strictly true but a good guideline nevertheless. Certainly not true when our observation is limited to one point of view – unidimensional.

Our biases drive us quickly to decisions which are sometimes quite wrong. I recall decisions I made even at my prep school, aged about eight. I made them because I didn’t look beyond the risk of the immediate repercussions. My view was limited by fear of Authority. Later, decisions about relationships were distorted by my longing for love to substitute for the mother I had lost aged one. In fact, I think I can honestly say that until I started to create businesses myself my view of people – and the work we did for them – was still unidimensional.

Once you are in charge of others, and assuming you have some affinity with them, you begin to realise how important a second, more creative view of people is. Your ability to read pareidolic patterns, such as pictures in the clouds, is a major asset in assessing a person or a problem. The creativity involved in this kind of projection is the basis of your second opinion.  What happens here is that a situation, a word, a feeling, a thought, trigger other thoughts and ideas because they are associated in some way with the original stimulus.

Why they are associated seems to be pretty random, in the same way that dreams can be strange, presenting priorities different from our rational ones. So where do these associations come from? We don’t need to know the answer to that in order to create them for ourselves. Take a simple example, the relationship between a drinking glass and water. Obviously one holds the other. Ah, but what is the relationship between a tiger and a piece of very strong string? That’s more difficult. You could say that if the tiger had toothache and was sedated the string could be used to pull the offending tooth. Now you think of another way in which the relationship could be established.

Those who want to be creative exercise their minds all the time with associations between things they see or hear about. Soon it becomes second nature to invent a story about someone you meet for the first time. Then you can test the story to see if it might be true. As a way of predicting possible futures there is no other.

The root of this approach is seeing what may be rather than what is. I am not by nature an optimistic person so I have to work at it. I am glad of that, things that come easy often don’t endure. And Endurance, the third of the trinity of standards I tried to apply in business, is proving to be a very much needed element now. Every organisation manager is looking beyond today, seeking the “new norm”, struggling to see the good side of what is happening, straining to create a carpet out of dust.

To each of them I say “Look again, and again. What you see is absolutely not what you get.”

What you get is what you seek.