Productivity or Presence?

And yes, I realise it's a rabbit not a hare ;o)An interesting juxtaposition for me yesterday, between two contrasting world views.

One worldview came via two friends.

One had been asked, “What’s your ten year plan?” The other had been asked to set out her (work) targets for the coming year. Neither was enjoying the experience very much. And yet every corporation I know has an annual performance review and appraisal process like this. It makes sense rationally. It shows that something is being done. It keeps us busy. It is measurable. It shows the HR department is ‘adding value’ and we’ve probably all done it. And yet I don’t know anybody, manager or managed, who enjoys the process, and very few who’ve benefited from it.

The other worldview came from an article on Alan Watts. This argued that the root of our human frustration and daily anxiety is our tendency to live for the future… which is an abstraction. It exists only in our imaginations. What matters most is our ability to be in the present moment.

Presence, Alan Watts says, is more important than Productivity.

The first worldview, hidden in the “ten year plan”, is that you are what you do. Here the world is physical, material, made up of things. Here, goals can be planned and achieved (or failed). In this worldview what matters is productivity. Productivity is outputs per time period. So the key question becomes: “What outputs do you intend to achieve over the next ten years/12 months?”

The other worldview is that you are who you are. The world here is an interconnected set of processes, flows, in which we are all connected. In this worldview, what matters most is not what we ‘achieve’ but our relationship with ourself. ‘Failing’ to achieve an objective here is not a failure but an opportunity to have learned something new, and therefore not a failure at all. (Hence Kipling’s “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.”) In this worldview what matters is presence: present moment awareness, simply being here now. Presence is my relationship with myself. And if I improve that then I will improve my relationships with those around me. And if I improve those then I will achieve higher results in the world. But they are never the primary goal, only the consequence. And the purpose of life is to know myself and to actualise that in the world as far as I am able. In this case a “ten year plan” is irrelevant, because a) it is not the priority and b) it is more fun to allow life to take the twists and turns that it generally will anyway.

The corporate worldview encourages performance reviews and ten year plans. The human worldview knows this does not really matter. And somewhere in the middle is a balance, which knows that it’s not what the 10 year vision is that matters, it’s what the vision does — which is to motivate us to action (and then be happy when we get different results from what we planned).

This isn’t necessarily what the corporation wants to hear.

So how could my friends answer their questions?

The first step seems to be to decide what it would take for them (or you) to have lived a worthwhile life. In your rocking chair, at the sunset of your life, what do you want to look back on as ‘success’ for you? There might be seven or eight key themes, areas that are important to you, that feed your soul.

Your ten year/one year goal is then simply to make ten years/one year of progress against those life goals. (Which hopefully are wider than just your job/work.) But hopefully at the same time you will also achieve something for the organisation you are part of.

If not then probably either you or the organisation needs to change. But assuming there is a match, then it also needs to be realised that what matters is not necessarily achieving the objective, but rather what you and the organisation learn in trying to do so.

At the same time, both individual and organisation achieve a better balance of presence and productivity.

And of course the next question is, how do we convert this into a standard corporate appraisal process?

(Do get in touch if you’d like to explore this for your business.)

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