As a teenager learning to drive, I encountered people much older than me who remembered when you needed to ‘double-de-clutch’ in order to change gear. Unfortunately this shows how old I am…
Today this is a completely foreign language – the car gearing does it automatically – but the concept holds true. To shift gear requires disengaging from one gear in order to be ‘free’ to re-engage with another of a different size.
The metaphor of deliberately disengaging in order to change to another state is resonating with me at the moment. This is not least because we are, metaphorically speaking, experiencing quite a lot of crashing of gears and the ensuing bumpy ride all over the place.
The notion of intentionally creating space also sits in contrast with the language of ‘driving change’ and the culture of ‘just make it happen’. At present we appear to be surrounded by edifices to these mantras and the fruit isn’t sweet.
So what if real change happens at the point where we create space? When we release our hold on control and our efforts to change?
“I’ve found that the best work comes when you let go of certainty” says Jonathan Fields. But this isn’t the place many of us naturally gravitate. Letting go of a sense of control, even for a moment, is scary – at least for me.
Much of what is emerging in psychology and neuroscience points to the futility of simply trying to over-write where we are (in our minds, behaviours or organisations) with where we want to to be. Or to put it another way ‘crashing the gears’.
“…Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea…” T.S.Eliot, in Little Gidding from The Four Quartets
Finding the space ‘between two waves of the sea’ is a precious spot, almost suspended in time. And it will mean different things to different people, including whether this is time on your own or with company. It also isn’t a permanent place, though the quality of space can pervade who we are and what we do.
But it doesn’t just happen. Even though I live and work in a beautiful tranquil valley it is still a choice, because it’s not just about what we are doing. It’s suspending the chatter and noise inside. It is intentional and it is where change happens.
Where change happens
How can I say this? Because both in my life and work, and in my reading and listening to people who are far more qualified than me: I am hearing the same things.
So what can happen when we deliberately create space?
- Perspective – stepping back and slowing down gives us a chance to see the whole
- Insight – patterns emerge and unexpected connections are made
- Meaning – when we’re travelling fast, meaning gets subsumed into the process and therefore ‘doing is enough’. But that isn’t sufficient to carry us into challenging territory or when we are drained
- Creative thinking – as Steve Jobs said “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” We all have the potential to be creative, but we can’t do this when we are too caught up and overwhelmed by the daily stuff.
- Humility – this is an interesting one. It’s not the ‘ever-so-humble’ Dickens character, but the capacity to appreciate that it isn’t all down to me! I can let others in…
- Hope – our batteries are recharged and we breathe the air of possibility and opportunity.
Finally, creating space is also the place where we can prise our grubby little fingers open from holding on too tightly to our existing answers. These answers may, or may not, have served us well in the past. But they are unlikely to be fit for where we need to go now.
Deliberately creating space gives us permission to reframe our questions – again.
What permission do you need to give yourself?