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Seeing Beauty

For two years now I have been ‘living on the land’ as I call it, surrounded by wood and fields, fields in which our horses live, currently 15 of them. That means outside chores ranging from feeding hay, to pumping water, to taking poisonous plants out and of course mucking out the fields. The fact that every day there are some chores to do outside is a real bonus to me. Even when it is cold, hot or raining like the flood is about to happen, if something needs to be done, it needs to be done.

And so one evening in summer I found myself cleaning one of the fields. It was hot and pressing, the biting insects where out in hordes and I was shoveling horse shit. As I was doing that, the moon came out, and in between my work, I couldn’t help but take in the moon, the horses grazing, the foal playing and the evening sounds which were quieting down slowly. I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of the evening. I even ran to get my camera to try and capture that which we cannot capture. And then, joyfully I carried on shoveling shit.

And that sense of beauty I feel more often during those little tasks, be it pushing a heavy wheelbarrow, waiting for the water basins to fill or even when with glee I dig out the insidious and deadly ragwort. That evening I wondered how come it is so easy to see beauty in a field full of horse shit when it can be so tough to do so in a company full of bullshit. I mean I’ve sketched an idyllic scene, and sometimes taking the horse shit out can feel like a task suitable for Sisyphus, there seems to be no end to it. And walking among biting insects in weather when you feel wearing ‘little is too much’, is not my idea of a great time. And yet I can see beauty and feel a sense of joy as I go about the monotony of the job.

In comparison the environment in many companies tends to be less uncomfortable, and there is amazing beauty too and yet beauty and organisations aren’t often mentioned in the same sentence. How often do we marvel at the commitment of people to do their work well, to do their best to create value? How many times have we stood still and noticed what a miracle it is that we manage to communicate at all in the complex matrix organisations we have built? How do we pay attention to the way in which we support each other and we build communities in organisations, they may not be perfect, they are there and often strong. And how often do we feel like grabbing a camera to capture the scene?

Instead we notice the insects, the ragwort and the shit – we forget the beauty. I am an optimist and yet, the more experience I got in business the more cynical and critical I could be. Actually I guess I have always been a critical optimist, and experience brought that out even more. I would notice what was wrong, my questions were about how to fix that and how to do things better.

In the past years my perspective on this has been changing, I am trying to pay attention to the good, the beautiful and the positive. Not by ignoring what isn’t working, but by seeing what isn’t working and seeing the beauty too. I have been developing my ‘both and also thinking’, not always easy and when I do it makes a difference. I notice that those who make a difference in organisations or societies tend to be the people who master this perspective; leaders who can see the ugly and the marvel, who can see that the organisation needs to develop and is perfect right now; who “lead beautifully”.

Being outside of an organisation again I realize that it can be easier to do so from the outside. That from the inside it can just feel too difficult to see what is working when you need to deal with what is not working. And yet to remain sane, and healthy as persons and organisations I believe we need to embrace all, we need to see more than the good, the bad and the ugly, we need the beauty and the marvel as well.

This is nr 9 in a series of 13 about my insights from 2013 which i took into 2014 ... These have been published on my earlier website and I am reposting them here because they still feel relevant.

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