In this series of posts, I’m exploring the 7 marks of this essential experience of metanoia that I laid out earlier. The seventh mark of metanoia is that it expands our horizons and opens us toward a new world.
One of my favorite childhood stories was Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, and a favorite scene involves the ever-faithful Mole and Rat and their rather narcissistic and fad-crazed comrade, Toad. Early in the story, Toad is infatuated with travel by horsedrawn gypsy wagon. Having acquired a prized horse and cart, Toad coerces Mole and Rat to join him for an extended adventure on the open road.
Not long into their journey, Toad’s zealous pursuit of his ambitions is rudely interrupted by an event outside his imagination—an encounter with a newfangled mode of transport: the motorcar. This particular brush with the future quite literally puts Toad in a ditch. His beloved cart is overturned and in shambles, and the horse has fled.
To his loyal friends Mole and Rat, it appears that Toad’s carefully constructed ambitions and long-worked-for dreams have been shattered. Anxious for Toad’s safety and apprehensive of his despair at the ruin that has overtaken him, instead Mole and Rat discover him quite buoyant. The encounter, his first with a motorcar, has captured Toad’s imagination; he is wonderstruck by this discovery of the automobile. The moment of severe disruption has opened his eyes to extraordinary potential, and he is captivated.
For more than twenty years, I have run what by most standards of measurement would be called a successful consulting practice. I have never known a lack of work, and I have diligently pursued both opportunity and high standards of performance. For many years, each revenue cycle exceeded the last, even when currency headwinds made it that much more challenging.
Yet, the hallmark of business as we know it—the search for profit optimization—is reductionist & shrinks our world to one of comparisons and cuts. Metanoia expands our horizon and opens us toward a new world. And so new models of social enterprise are appearing, ever-deeper levels of employee engagement are achieved, and more businesses are turning toward what I have called telos. It is becoming clear that employees and consumers alike are causing fundamental system change in business.
This is the inexorable, accelerating shift in business that I have called Telosity, and as I have noticed and explored these new patterns and their roots, I have come across whole new domains that have continued to surprise.
As I have questioned more and more the assumptions that have driven my own business and that of my clients, I have made a surprising discovery: deeper knowledge of my own identity and sense of who I am, and more importantly what I most deeply desire. I find a new landscape opening, not only in terms of external opportunity, but in an interior dimension as well.
Opportunities and challenges that I had never imagined, both personal and professional, have revealed themselves. I now have greater clarity on the contribution I want to make to business and my role within it, with client organizations, and with the people who lead them. This expanded horizon is not what I had expected when I set out many years ago, but now it feels as though I simply must reconcile myself to this new landscape and step toward it, not unlike John Peterson in this little vignette.
As John turned the car wheels onto the freeway and felt the smooth acceleration of the car joining the flow of the fast-moving traffic, an immense smile erupted across his face. In contrast to the somewhat measured way he usually conveyed his emotions, he pumped his fist and let out one joyous “YES!” followed by another, and then even another.
A passing motorist wondered why a young man was hammering on his horn in the midst of a relatively quiet freeway, but John did not notice. He was too swept up in the invitation that was now undeniably his. The company was offering him what felt like the moon, and it was beyond his wildest dreams.
Three years earlier, as a 27 year old, John had thrown in his lot with an idea that had captivated him, and yet presented itself as a rather strange project and job opportunity. Idealistic as so many of his generation are, he wanted quite simply to make a difference somewhere, and the offer of project manager—a title that inflated the “project” more than the “manager”—suited him quite well.
The intervening years provided plenty of surprises—some even quite pleasing—but there was plenty of fairly thankless and often discouraging work in what he and his supervisor tried to achieve. Even when John wondered if he was wasting his time, the conviction that had taken hold of him in those early days and led him to join the project in the first place held fast. He was sure that they were on the right track even when the work was interrupted, as happened occasionally by seemingly irrelevant diversions.
Yet, it was just such a diversion that had led to the opportunity that now lay before him. Even with career experience still numbering in the single digits, he had discovered that the pursuit of purpose, his purpose, could and would lead to the most unexpected and sometimes even extraordinary outcomes.
As the countryside flickered by and the routine of the familiar drive guided his car through the traffic, John wondered how such opportunity—such blessing, even—had come his way. He’d been courageous, taken some risks, and certainly absorbed some raised eyebrows when he’d joined the project three years ago, but he had made it into something worthwhile. Not only that, but it had opened some new doors that he’d never thought possible. And now, there was just gratitude for the wonder of it all, and excitement at the prospect of an unexpected future.
In what I’ve written in this series on Telosity so far, I have laid out a working hypothesis for how a business might make changes toward becoming a Purposeful Enterprise. We began with the necessary alignment of the company brand with its culture. Then we examined the critical role played by the choices in resource allocation and priority that could together be called strategy. Then we explored how the business must align with the aspirations of its people to “make a difference” rather than aligning the people to the business, and therefore tap into the deep desire of employees to participate in meaningful work.
Next we examined the role of exemplars—the real leaders—who already embody both the strategy and the culture of the organization, and we saw how such embodiment is not technique or methodology that can be practiced like a new discipline but rather requires a genuine change of heart and mind—what I have called metanoia.
A distinct childhood memory of mine is the unmistakable sensation of a coin being quietly pressed into my hand; a treasured family ritual performed by a dear uncle. Just before his departure from an all-too-rare visit to my childhood home, he would often lean down with a twinkle in his eye and deliver into my palm first sixpence, then a shilling, and then—signalling my growing maturity and marking the passage of important birthday milestones—the coveted half-crown.
In pre-decimalised Britain, a half-crown was a virtual king’s ransom that could be converted into a vast haul of sherbet fountains, humbugs and the ultimate treasure—gob-stoppers and aniseed balls—in the sweetie shop at Elms Parade. The aniseed treat began its gustatory journey as one color and, as layer upon layer dissolved, a new color appeared until at last, tooth decaying work nearly complete, was revealed a small brown seed, the aniseed—which was for me the long-anticipated culmination of a most satisfying journey.
As we ruminate further on metanoia and this personal change of heart that is the essential core of what it takes to truly change a business. And here we discover the two interconnected attributes that truly are the seed of change: courage (the more outgoing of the two), and humility (the more introspective). These two attributes are what must be located in order to make any meaningful change towards the Purposeful Enterprise.