The Primes by Chris McGoff


Good morning from a very wet and dreary Vancouver.  Even in the rain it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I am always happy to be here, to be near the ocean.

I have been thinking about the fragmentation prime again and the whole idea of keeping will and focus together.  Chris McGoff talks about team fragmentation but I am thinking more about how it applies to our personal lives and the decisions we make there.  I believe it takes a measured combination of strong glue and flexibility to make keep will and focus aligned everyday.  Our determination seems to come in waves and then fade like the waning moon.  It seems cyclical somehow and so we need to be elastic, holding on tight to our will until the wave returns and we regain our focus.

I also believe that coaching conversations with others REALLY help when it comes to the waning and waxing of focus and will.  I am lucky enough to be the person who listens as the cycles change for others and I am also lucky enough to have someone who does that for me.  If you don’t have someone who allows your thoughts to be more public so that you are forced to turn them into words, then it may be more difficult to take the next step which is turning words into deeds.  A trusted friend or a coach who can take you through the PULSE conversation and can listen to your commitments to yourself is insurance against the catastrophe that could befall you as a result of personal fragmentation.

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I love this Prime number 12 from Chris McGoff.  Dynamic – changing and moving and growing and present – Incompleteness – with holes in it.  It really describes a state where contributions are welcome.  The vision or goal is incomplete.  there is enough information to see the shape of the thing but room to contribute in a meaningful way.  What that does is allows people to own it.  The contribution is the key to ownership and champions are born of ownership.  The best leaders know about ships.  Carol Steen and I, when we taught leadership at the University of Lethbridge for 10 summers, used the ship metaphor a lot.

There is a fleet of ships called leader.  Ownership is one of the most important.  People take care of what they own and once they have CHOSEN to contribute they begin to develop that sense of pride and attachment that only comes from ownership.  Leaders do not need to have all the answers.  Sometimes they just need the right questions and to provide the right kind of opportunity for their followers to contribute… to fill in the blank or the holes in the Swiss cheese which is the metaphor that McGoff uses. So a leader who strategically allows for his followers to contribute to the vision he is creating wins in two ways.  He gains the loyalty and commitment of his followers and he likely has a better product at the end.

It’s interesting that no matter what they BEACH, the dynamic incompleteness concept holds.  The difference will be in the kind of hole each perspective or DO point will want to fill.  The excellent leader leaves the right kind of holes to allow for nine kinds of contribution.

A request from a reader to explain BEACHs …

BEACHs represent to me nine sets of beliefs, expectations, assumptions, concerns and hopes that make up a culture or group of people who are seeking something in the world.  They are my sociological interpretation of George Gurdjeiff’s work from the  early 1900’s.  He was seeking truth in the cosmos and used a symbol with nine points on a circle, the Enneagram to talk about how the world works.  Scholars, astronomers, mathematicians like Pythagoras and others have also used it as a representation that explains some aspect of their work.  Psychologists in North America since the 1980’s have used it to talk about the inner workings of a human’s psyche.  Jesuits use it to identify patterns of sin and redemption.  I use it to understand human behaviour from the interaction or behavioural side of things looking at it from the perspective of the social struggler making their way through the maze of relationship with people places and events in the world.  I’m working on the book.

You can map the nine perspectives on a 3 X 3 grid.  There are three directions that people travel when interacting.  Toward, With or Away from.  You can see and sense this almost the minute they enter your line of vision or space.  There are also three Orientations they take.  Past, present or future.  You can hear this in their language.   If you put those on a 3X3 grid you see nine perspectives.  Those D.O. points placed on the Enneagram circle represent  combinations of direction and orientation.  I call these places where we stand to look at the world BEACHs.  They represent nine sets of Beliefs, Expectations, Assumptions, Concerns and Hopes: Beliefs about the world based on past experiences, Expectations for those in it, Assumptions about how things are and work, Concerns and Hopes for what’s coming next.

To briefly introduce the nine patterns or BEACHS consider this list of nine motivations from the perspective of the “social struggler” making his or her way in the world.

What they learn and how you can tell ( Direction and Orientation )

The world is ….wrong.  My job is to make it right.  I seek perfection. D. with O. present
The world is … suffering.  My job is to help.  I seek connection. D. with O. past
The world is … inefficient.  My job is to produce.  I seek success. D. toward O. past
The world is … dull.  My job is to add beauty.  I seek differentiation. D. away O. past
The world is … stupid. My job is to add wisdom.  I seek detachment. D. away O. future
The world is … dangerous.  My job is to protect.  I seek security. D. with O. future
The world is … sad.  My job is to make it joyful.  I seek excitement. D. toward O. future
The world is … weak.   My job is to add strength.  I seek power. D. toward O. present
The world is … conflicted. My job is to add calm.  I seek peace. D. away O. present

This is a very brief tip of the iceberg look at this simple yet complex view of human behaviour.  I hope it situates the idea for you.

My work on the blog lately has been to see the usefulness of the map and compass of the BEACHs as a guide through the Primes by Chris McGoff.

One more prime for this week, Prime 12 Declaration.  McGoff suggests that great leaders DECLARE what is to be.  The strength of the language is evident.  Not only do they declare what is to be but by when so that Declarations relate to outcome and are date certain.  I agree that in certain circumstances this is what great leaders do.  To be the holder of the vision and to have the crayons with which to colour the picture, and the courage to do so is essential in leadership.  People need clarity and focus so that they can be pulled toward an outcome that is date certain.

Setting intention is powerful and can move people to act.  Maybe I should be making a Declaration for the completion of the Sociology of the Enneagram book and make it date certain.  If I declare out loud and in public that I will be finished a complete draft by the end of October it gives me a target and a focus for what to do with my spare time. Hmmmm.

Sometimes it is more important to not know.   That leads to the next Prime… Dynamic incompleteness which we can talk about next time.

Remember if you know Chris McGoff please let him know you are reading about this here.  Maybe he will comment too.

Continuing my review of the Primes by Chris McGoff I found myself this week looking at number 7 – Commitment versus Attachment – which has a subtitle “Success is a state of being.”  I like the basic premise that if we attach ourselves to a result and we don’t achieve it that we run the risk of having an emotional response to the “failure”.  If we attach to the outcome then we let them determine our state.  For McGoff, Commitment has more freedom in it.  If you are committed to a way of being you can be that way no matter the results.  I get that.  Hold your plans and goals lightly and if you fall short remember the purpose and that YOU are not a failure.  Your results and your way of being ought not to be attached.  Sometimes I do think that creating a clear vision and committing to it, declaring it and acting boldly to make it real requires some emotional attachment.  it is often that emotional energy that makes the difference between setting a goal and achieving it.   I think it is important to attach yourself to a goal or a cause that you truly believe in.  Make it personal sometimes and work as hard as you can to achieve success.  I think really what McGoff is warning us about in this prime is that we think about SUCCESS a little deeper and make sure the measure of results does not necessarily equal success.  I am successful when I give it my all …  Shoot for the moon and land among the stars…. And that’s okay.  What state of being is success to you?  That will so depend on your BEACH.  BEACHs give us our perspective on the world and I believe they can be seen in our state of mind.  Identifying someone’s BEACH is easier when they are in a state…. no matter what the state is.  They may be attached or committed to outcomes and results and that is easier to see at a point where it is clear that the result is not the expected one.  You can learn a lot about WHAT someone is committed to when you can watch them fail (what ever that means).  Success and failure are both states of being and in my mind are defined nine different ways.  Being committed to outcomes keeps you working toward them and allows you to keep your perspective in the McGoff definition.  Being attached to the outcome might cause us to lose the perspective and behave in ways inconsistent with our REAL selves.

I say be mindful of what results you commit to and what you attach to.  Making the distinction gives you the freedom to choose.

Knowing where you going makes the journey more purposeful.  Knowing what you want increases the chances of you getting it.McGoff talks about the present as AS IS.  and the future as TO BE.  If you are clear about your AS IS and your TO BE then the strategy that you develop to move from one to the other is more likely to succeed.

I believe this to be true.  When I know where I am going, life is much easier.  Taking the time to sit down and really figure it out is always worth the effort, time well spent.  With fuzzy AS IS’s or TO BE’s activity becomes fragmented and even at cross purposes.

If your future is going to include a new career for instance, it is important to know what you want to do… or is it??  A wise man once said “Find a place you want to live and then find a way to make a living there.” So maybe the TO BE needs to be defined differently… not as a new job but in a new place. At least three people in my life right now are facing these kinds of decisions.  Opportunity or Crisis.  It really is a choice.  With a cohesive approach and supportive people in your life the path becomes clear.  Once the intention is set, the course laid in then it is full steam ahead.  Set the intention well.  Know your AS IS and your To BE and watch the strategy emerge.

When everyone knows where you are now, where you want to be and how you are going to get there they become a cohesive force.  People move along side.  They are on the same course, in the same groove making aligned decisions and moving in the same direction.  The opposite of cohesion in fragmentation which can sap the energy from any initiative personal or otherwise.  I have experienced that countless times as I commit to the blog or to exercise or diet programs and then lose my focus.  energy is siphoned off to other projects or endeavors and the personal commitments and decisions lose their cohesive force.  Getting all parts of your body or all parts of your team aligned for the journey is important.  Enrolling friends and family in the AS IS and TO BE can be helpful but can also add stress especially when they become more committed to the TO BE then you are.

Cohesion is a great concept for talking about relationship.  Are you on the same path, riding parallel with aligned goals and values, alongside rather than behind or in front???  If you are then the strategies you develop will take you from your well-defined AS IS to the equally well-defined and yet flexible ( for me)  TO BE.

I hate when I have an ah ha moment when I am writing….  The heart and the head aligned to provide clear strategies for next steps.  Stay tuned.

I like this McGoff Prime because it adds a multidimensional aspect to all of our thinking. If you were to take the BEACH perspectives and add this dimension you will have layers of perspective that peek back to the sustainable answer to the questions of life the universe and everything. The levels begin closest to the ground with a magnifying glass. What do we see when we magnify a situations? Then it moves to the naked eye perspective. then we look at the situation from a helicopter and finally from a satellite. think of any situation you are currently dealing with . Can you SEE how telescoping your perspective in this way can give you information that would be important . The quality of your decisions can be impacted by a narrow perspective. Use this prime to remind yourself to step out of the normal way of seeing things to improve your line of sight.

There are multiple styles, types and approaches to leadership. McGoff says that great leaders master many. I like that idea. I say that each of the BEACHs is an approach to leadership that is appropriate in a given circumstance. And I believe that the best kind of decision making uses all of the perspectives represented in the BEACH circle. ( perfection, connection, success, differentiation, detachment, security, excitement, power and peace).

McGoff has a spectrum from command and control to consensus. He puts three kinds of situations on a continuum. Closer to Command and control he puts Reacting. In the middle he puts Planning and towards consensus he puts Visioning.

Leadership is situational and the better prepared you are with tools for the variety of situations you will face as a leader the more successful you can be. Mary Parker Follett talked about it in the 1920s and 30s. It is an idea that has passed the test of time.

How do you make decisions and provide leadership for your team? What strengths do you bring and what strengths do your team members bring to the decision making table? Are all of the BEACHs covered when important decisions are being made? What I know for sure is that decision that do consider the circle perspectives are sustainable… and that is important.

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