Random acts of gratitude - Ben Waites

A couple of weeks back, my friend Mykel Dixon issued an invitation…well, it wasn’t so much an invitation as a dare. A dare to extend random acts of gratitude to people that bring light and beauty into the world.

Not the usual suspects. No agenda. No tit-for-tat reciprocity. Just do it because it’s the RIGHT thing to do.

Right because it’s appreciation they deserve. Right because it’s good for your soul. Right because it’s what the world could desperately use more of.

I thought long and hard on who I could appreciate and knew that it had to be Ben Waites.

Who’s Ben? Check it out…I dare you!

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Silence is the path to our best possible future

Recently, I was rehearsing the closing of my DIVERSIFY keynote and – for the first time in a long time – I connected to the meaning of the words that makes it one of my favourite songs of all time. I re-affirmed – for myself – that valuing diversity means creating the space for everyone to have a voice but not remaining silent when there are those that try to take that voice away.

Rather than trying to hit the right notes (that are clearly at the edge of my vocal range!) I engaged with the powerful emotions that make this version of the song* so poignant in the world in which we all find ourselves…and that our children might inherit.

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Time to stop flapping about and survey your situation

As just about everyone is saying, these are indeed unprecedented times. The speed and pervasiveness of the change created by the global pandemic compares to nothing else that the world has seen. It has called for rapid, decisive action to ensure the potential health crisis didn’t spin out of control. But as the urgency around the measures necessary to stop the spread of the virus begin to subside, it’s now time to shift our response to focus on the collateral impacts – the ‘long tail’. It’s now time to move from reaction to adaptation.

Time to stop flapping about and survey your situation

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In my work with business and team leaders, the question of ‘culture’ invariably comes up…

“Jeff, it sounds like what you’re really talking about is creating a specific culture.”

To that I often respond that culture isn’t something that a leader creates – culture belongs to your people. Your role as a leader is to be a gardener. You shape the environment where a certain type of culture might grow.

A member of my Akimbo community, Mary Ellen Bratu, recently shared a watercolour she’d painted and the gardening story that inspired it.

Reprinted by permission of Mary Ellen Bratu


Mary Ellen’s story inspired me to expand on this idea of ‘cultural gardening’.

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In an improvisation workshop I was taking, the instructor explained that “good improv is like walking backwards into the future. You’re constantly on the lookout for the things around you – the things that you and your fellow improvisors have created – that you can pick up and place behind you to see where they might take you.” That imagery really resonated with me and is helping to make me a better improvisor.

It also struck me how similar it is to the way many businesses approach strategy. This approach is all very useful thinking for improv but can be extremely dangerous for business strategy. Because improvising your strategy is the surest way to trip over the things that you don’t see and fall on your arse.

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You know what I love most about engaging the diversity of thought, expertise and experience in your organisation?

It not only makes your business nimbler and more adaptive, but it also creates a bridge that meaningfully connects a business to its people.

And it’s not just any bridge because valuing that diversity creates a ‘two-way bridge’.

A bridge that connects strategic intent with operational action and activity, but also uses operational insights to inform strategic thought. It’s a bridge that builds shared purpose where your people’s daily work is an expression of your business purpose and your people are motivated by the knowledge that they’re making a meaningful contribution to that purpose.

And it’s a bridge that links performance benefits for the company with the psychological benefits that create a fully engaged workplace. Read more

Strategy comes from a military tradition and was based on the knowledge that to successfully pursue your objectives in highly uncertain and constantly changing environmentsyou need future-focused thinking that’s fluid and activities that constantly adapt as conditions and events unfold. It’s an ongoing process of ‘execute and learn’ where purposeful thought informs action that looks for threats, advantage and opportunity in the shifting landscape.  

Yet, despite the increasingly dynamic environment, business strategy has become a very static, analytical ‘plan and measure’ discipline where having something to show for your strategic efforts – plansblueprints, pillars and ‘yes’ even roadmaps – is valued over the work of adapting to an uncertain future 

As a result, business-speak has made ‘strategy a noun – something you have – when it needs to be a verb – something you do – if it is to make a meaningful difference to the future of your organisation 

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In today’s constantly shifting business landscape, the thriving organisations will be those that are nimble enough to adapt at the pace of change. To create this fast-paced adaptability, business leaders need to establish and maintain a meaningful connection with their people. The most powerful way to create that connection is by engaging them in the business’s strategic journey.

Projects – the right kind of projects – are the best vehicle for undertaking this journey. They allow you to be intentional about engaging your people in shaping the business and the workplace for the future that it aspires to. By using a project mindset to adapt and evolve the business, you create a bridge that connects the business to your people…in a way that generates opportunities for both.

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In today’s highly-dynamic world, strategy-making needs to be more than just strategic planning, although planning is certainly involved. It’s not simply high-level strategic thinking because thought alone doesn’t drive business outcomes. It’s not even just strategic execution because plenty of strategic activity fails to produce strategic value.

Good strategy-making is the work of consistently and persistently evolving your business toward the future that it aspires to.

This includes evolving every aspect of your business. Not just your annual financial results and business KPIs but how you decide what services you offer your customers, how you improve those services, how you better serve those customers and how you shape the workplace that underpins your ability to implement those decisions.

This makes business strategy a future-focused activity and strategy-making a journey into your business’s future.

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