Soul Searching #15: growth vs planning & control

Hi, and welcome to edition 15 of my Soul Searching series. Today, I’ll talk about the concepts of ‘growth’ and ‘planning & control’. But before we start, the list of previous episodes:

  1. Introduction
  2. Values
  3. Energy
  4. Intuition
  5. Flow
  6. Personality Tests
  7. The human brain
  8. Non-duality
  9. Leadership
  10. Thinking vs doing
  11. Information
  12. Tips for a sabbatical
  13. Freedom and security
  14. Values revisited

Since I’m struggling with the phrasing, let me start with an example. I have a certain piece of software that I wrote myself. The first version is from the late nineties, and every 7 years or so I rewrite the software. When I replaced the first version with the second, I started from scratch, because I thought I had made version one way to complicated. As it turns out, it was complicated for a reason, I simply forgot why this was so. In my early career, this happened a few times: situations that seemed simple, turned out to be(come) quite complicated, and ‘starting over’ was definitely not the right thing to do.

Back then, developing software ‘waterfall’ style was still common, but Agile was turning into a thing. And rightly so: having an iterative development cycle that allows for integrating new knowledge into goals and delivery dates is very helpful. I should add that ‘Agile’ is not the same as ‘lets do stuff without any planning’: Agile allows you to adapt your planning, not throw it away.

The reason I bring this topic up is because of a few tricky characteristics that I picked up in my younger years: (1) I tend to be careful and risk averse (2) I used to be a perfectionist (3) I enjoy thinking (4) I am trained to analyze systems. Note how I deliberately put (2) in past tense ๐Ÿ™‚ If you put these together you get the classic planner: I am great at building huge abstract structures in my head, and shaping it to handle every disastrous scenario that I can think of. Of course, when I start working on it, fairly soon it becomes clear that the structure does not stand up to the dynamics and complexities of daily life.

I’ve been aware of this for some time, and I’ve been getting better at it. When I was 18 or so, I built a model of the Mayflower, the ship that took the Pilgrim Fathers to America. When constructing the hull, I ran into difficulties, and completely stripped it and restarted. The result was a slight improvement, but not worth it in relation to the effort it involved. I realized that continuing my hobby with this perfectionism would take all the fun out of it. Over time, I learned how to have fun, and build up my skill. Most importantly, I can enjoy the mistakes I make, and feel completely at peace with the process. I’m still learning, and having fun.

Mayflower (built by me)

So I feel like I have kicked perfectionism in the butt. For me, the other three elements are powerful instruments that I have benefited from much in my life. They are, however, to be applied with care: you can have too much of a good thing. I’d like to practice a form of planning that is adaptive. Not so easy for somebody wired and trained for thinking far ahead, and used to systems thinking.

It has been on my mind a lot lately. I know the concept from Agile software development, but I recognize the same dynamics in my personal growth, and in my interest in Holacracy. During my sabbatical, I came up with a term for what I want to do: ‘facilitating growth‘. It is under evaluation, by the way, so don’t pin me down if I change my mind a few episodes down the line ๐Ÿ™‚ . So far I like the term, because:

  • It is applicable to both me, other people, and organizations.
  • ‘Growth’ suggests a goal, a purpose. This has 2 dimensions to it: my personal alignment with the underlying purpose, and a grandness/complexity that provides an intellectual challenge.
  • ‘Facilitating’ implies helping, contributing.
  • It implies experimentation, adaptability, learning.
  • It doesn’t focus on a particular skill or technology (i.e. it leaves space for me to develop a wide range of skills).

The term ‘facilitating growth’ really sank in for me when I was reading about Holacracy. This is an adaptable structure for organizations, that mitigates some of the disadvantages of the classical pyramid structure. I realized that ‘facilitating growth’ can also be made concrete as ‘helping organization A implement Holacracy’. It is broadly applicable, and somehow touches a nerve with me.

The switch to actually doing that thing I now call ‘facilitating growth’ is not so easy. Earlier, I mentioned my ‘tricky characteristics’, and I notice that internally I’m still switching to a mode requiring less certainty. Rationally I am all there, but there is still a part of me that has the handbrake on it. Will I enjoy my work/life after this restart? When will that be so? Will I have the energy to see something through? Can I explain it to other people? Do I have the confidence to say ‘Yes, I can do that’ to something concrete? Time will tell, my friends.

Thanks again for taking the time to read this episode. As always, feel free to connect on LinkedIn, or contact me via martijn@martijn-onderwater.nl