The following is third of a three part series by Susan Basterfield on Working Out Loud and Reinventing Organisations.
Emerging into Teal through Working out Loud Part 3: Evolutionary Purpose
A few weeks ago, at a TealNZ Meetup, my friend Anake shared this poweful quote that shifted my lens on purpose:
“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”
In Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux describes the idea that just as our individual purpose evolves, so does the organization’s purpose.
Evolutionary purpose was a tricky concept to get my head around. Some people believe that our purpose stays consistent throughout our lifetime — but that hasn’t been true for me. Absolutely everything has evolved — the words, intent, context. Here is my purpose as at March 2016:
I believe that through cultivating, curating, catalyzing and convening, I will serve people who are interested by identifying opportunities to play and experiment with new ways of working and being.
Sarah Rozenthuler’s 3 Adventures of Purpose-Led Leadership challenges us to find a place or an opportunity from where to stand and deliver. For me this must be in the context of big epiphany:
“I don’t want to do this on my own.”
Epiphany arrives; you must wander off piste, and make your own tracks.
I acknowledged the fact that there aren’t many companies out there yet that intrinsically or instinctively match my purpose.
I don’t want to be lead by dogma or shrink-wrapped products — so that narrows the opportunities even further! I want to self-manage into the roles where I can be my whole self, and that which best represent my purpose. I know I need to ‘work out loud’ to test and verify and challenge and question and support. Thankfully I have my intention circles of randoms, but it’s still uncharted waters.
My thoughts turned to this co-operative band of ventures in Wellington, called Enspiral. Enspiral is a bold experiment to create a collaborative network that helps people do meaningful work. Enspiral’s purpose is ‘more people working on stuff that matters’
How does this connect to Working out Loud?
One part of the Working Out Loud framework focuses on building relationships with people or organizations that interest you — that you sense will be important to you in some way (and that could be anything). We do this by honestly understanding the value of the relationship when we start — over the weeks, through the sharing of universal gifts, increase our intimacy level with the individual or organisation increases.
I went exploring, intentionally building a relationship with Enspiral, and I found a place to stand. It feels great to say this:
I am aligned with and contributing to Enspiral. The collective provide me with support, challenge, and a framework for my purpose — the work I am here to do.
How does Working out Loud help both ourselves and our organizations express this idea of evolutionary purpose? It took me a while to come to my own understanding of evolutionary purpose.
Several metaphors have helped me, the first starts by thinking about how a forest or garden comes into being.
When the first seedling sprouts from the soil, no one has any idea what it’s going to be or look like in a year, 5 years, 100 years, 10,000 years.
Going right back to how the seed got into that little bit of soil — perhaps a bird pooped it out from a meal taken a few days and many kilometers flight away…
What happens next is anybody’s guess, and dependent and interdependent on who and what touches it. What is the weather like that year? What has the wind blown in? What other animals or people have tracked through with paws or shoe? That garden becomes what it becomes from both its individuated beginning and everything that touches it over the course of its existence. I think a company is the same.
Another metaphor is a ship…
The ship sets sail on a sea that is in perpetual motion, within an atmosphere in which winds are in perpetual motion. You can see it in your mind’s eye — the old wooden ship with the big wheel and a rudder and sails and the crow’s nest. The crew should know every job, how the moving parts work, and the effect they have.
When ancestors of the Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa left Hawaiki (Taiwan?), I’m pretty sure they didn’t know exactly where they were going. They knew they were going somewhere, and that there purpose was to find that ‘somewhere’. And it’s easy to imagine that purpose evolving over time.
On a ship, as a crew, you have to work out loud in the moment, and evolve together as your course evolves.
Like a ship on the ocean, our lives are not straight lines — even if we want them to be.
Some of the richest examples manifest by way of individuals Working Out Loud in organizations is to help both identify and strategize how one might change role or location or trajectory, and by extension an evolving purpose.
My friend Mara is a great example — a New Zealander, she worked in London for many years. When she (with intention) joined a circle, her goal was to figure out a way to keep her same job and move back to NZ. This may sound easy, but if you consider her role and the organization, it was anything but. Working out Loud helped her do this!
Was moving back to NZ and keeping her same job Mara’s purpose when she arrived in the UK? Probably not. But, with children, her purpose changed — priorities changed, what she and her husband saw for their future changed. Her personal purpose evolved.
I am another good example of how Working out Loud helped me to articulate my personal purpose — I didn’t have the words just yet, but working with my circle over the months, I came to understand my gifts better, because I was able to express them wholly, without fear of retribution or getting fired or looking like an ass.
I can’t explain why that happens in a circle, but it does. And that freedom, coupled with the sense of possibility that comes from feeling safe, allowed me to ‘figure it out’ and maybe that’s the key to this whole thing.
My Working out Loud circle gave me support and stopped me floundering around — focused my intentions and me
The circle itself has an evolutionary purpose that serves as microcosm of what is possible. If we believe that — everything that describes the magic of the circle is truly the intersection of personal and organizational purpose into this evolving organization of 3 or 4 or 6 individuals. Some circles end precisely on 12 weeks, some splutter and die before they get going, and some may last a season or a lifetime.
The lessons from a circle practice abide. Add a dimension to the compost or soup that will at once form and inform your evolutionary purpose.
Here’s another example — when I started thinking about writing a series about the possibilities when Reinventing Organizations and Working Out Loud intersect, I thought there would be four parts. But as I got into it, as I started doing the work, things changed, and I am ending this series here.