Firm Follows Form

Organisation Design Blog by Nathan Waterhouse

January 2013

January 27, 2013

The need and the challenge to think long-term

In the snowy mountains of Switzerland, in the town of Davos, world leaders and thinkers have come together for their annual pow-wow to discuss how to address the world’s biggest challenges. Much of the dialogue emerging from the event seems to be pointing, somewhat predictably, to the recent economic crisis facing the world’s major economies, and to how we all need to become more resilient to massive change. Davos’ founder himself made a call for more strategic vision setting rather than temporary fixes. It reminds me of the 2012 Earth Summit in Rio, which I attended and was honored to speak at last year. Even at Rio (an event that happens much less frequently), the ability for our leaders to collectively address and agree on long term plans seemed impossible. And yet, with the challenges we face as a species we can’t carry on assuming this theory of change will work.

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January 20, 2013

How to work with difficult people

How many times do you find yourself in a situation that feels uncomfortable, perhaps with someone who you just can’t see eye to eye with? What is your first reaction? Do you feel that fight or flight sensation? Do you respond by looking for a way to agree with them, backing down your position in the argument or do you look for a way to convince the other party that they are being unreasonable? Or do you try to change tack and look for what you both share in common? In Richard Sennett’s new book ‘Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation‘, he explores the history of cooperation and posits that most of these tactics are actually making it harder to reach a position of real cooperation. I went with some friends to hear him talk about his new book- here’s my reflections.

When we think of cooperation these days we tend to think of the soft fluffy kind – collaborating with people with whom we share common interests. Professor Sennett’s book is all about that less pleasant reality of conflict – particularly in communities and the workplace. It probably seems natural to us that we tend to draw towards those that are similar to us, those that share common interests and as a result avoid these unsettling circumstances. However, this tendency only makes it harder for us when we encounter those who are quite different and oppose our views, or come from different backgrounds and hold different values. Sennett makes the point that to be successful in life, we can’t avoid these situations, and getting better at cooperation takes dedication. There are four key skills Professor Sennett believes we all need to get better at if we want to improve our ability to truly cooperate in difficult situations and with people we don’t get along with: