Last Saturday I spent a beautiful day at a workshop making a Shamanic Drum (as you do, I’m a curious soul). Over lunch, I got chatting to three women who described themselves as witches, worshipping the feminine through ceremony and ritual. It was a fascinating conversation and finally centred around a collective wondering about Male & Female energy, and how an over-patriarchal influence has had negative consequence on organisation structure, business and indeed the world. The kind of lunch conversation that makes you think.
As I write this today, the Covid statistics are again rising internationally. Like a blocked toilet on flushing, we are all watching it rise, hoping it will just go away, recede, clear itself. But it hasn’t, and it won’t.
Here We Go Again
As the world prepares to face into the sequel ‘Covid II: The Revenge’ consumers are nervous. Business owners are concerned and some taking their last stance for survival. Governments are reactionary, healthcare is bracing itself for a second onslaught and society at large continues to hold its breath, sometimes coughing into its sleeve. Global recession looms and uncertainty prospers.
Well that’s cheered you right up, hasn’t it? So, let’s get back to the witches.
Paganism pre-dates many of our world’s religions and has its roots in the worship of many deities and the movement of the celestial bodies. While not all witches are pagans and vice versa, the worship of the feminine and Mother Earth has significant parallels with the worshipping practices of most indigenous peoples. To pay respect to the elements and to live in harmony with nature and our universe. The particular witches I met that day had a strong desire to address the imbalance of patriarchy in our world, to celebrate the matriarchy, all with good intent.
Pyramids are not Agile
I have been thinking about this conversation since, particularly about how organisations and society are approaching the pandemic and the recovery.
Most organisation structures are hierarchical, with the power flowing from above to the minions below. By definition such organisations are less agile, layers of responsibility diluting the speed of any pivot required, success and direction dictated rather than emergent.
Power and control are key aspects of any patriarchal structure, and the hierarchy structure is built around this. Leadership through dominance and hierarchy as opposed to inspiration. It is a structure that perhaps suits the male ego, one that is generally driven by success, power, goals and acquisition. The hierarchy is a very patriarchal structure, but one which dominates business and most institutions (government, education, military, healthcare etc.).
I’m No Square
In genealogy, the female is often represented by the circle, the male with a square. In a random side-note (as all my readers will know I am very fond of), this seems to date back to 1845 to a Dr Earle, who first used these denotations for a study of the inheritance colour-blindness at the New York Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane. In constructing his charts, Earle had to use ovals and rectangles, apparently because his printer only had musical notation available (e.g., like the elliptical head of a half note or and its rest counterpart) for symbols. I love the random nature of that. His printer limitations meant all genealogists today use circles and squares.
But the circle is an image long associated with female energy, and in pagan rituals, has strong resonance. In contrast to the patriarchal hierarchy structure, the corresponding matriarchal structure is a circle. Even a witches’ circle places each of the participants on an equal footing, co-celebrating, co-creating. Compare that to most modern hierarchical religions where the priest/rabbi/imam leads the ceremony and others are to simply follow.
An organisational circular structure is one where a leader may choose to place themselves at the centre, and be surrounded by layers of management or co-creators like a spider’s web, each connected to the centre but also to each other. Information and responsibility flows in all directions, sometimes through the centre and other times orbiting it. There is an ebb and flow to a circle, no beginning and no end, a certain fluidity that a hierarchy can never achieve. Inspirational leaders may even step out of the centre and allow others in, an inter-orbiting approach to leadership and direction. A circle is inherently more capable of dealing with change than a hierarchy.
Embrace the Circular
So, what does all this have to do with businesses surviving the global pandemic I hear you ask. Should we all hold hands at our next team meeting and chant “eye of newt and toe of frog”? Well no, don’t hold hands, the HR/Covid police would have a meltdown.
More Tangled Than Straight
This is about understanding that sometimes the straight line is not the answer. That sometimes to succeed we have to be more patient, to be comfortable with the ebb and flow, to be more intuitive than egotistic. This has taken me many years to learn in my personal life also, and I am still learning it.
We all want the pandemic recovery to be a straight line. We want to know when the vaccine will be available, then how long it will take to be rolled out and when everything with be ‘normal’ again. We want to know the trajectory and what we can do, if anything, to speed it up. We crave control over a situation that is inherently chaotic. Where is this line pointing us?
But this recovery isn’t going to be a straight line. As much as we would like it to be, it should be apparent to most that we have to give in to a non-linear future. That sometimes to move forward, you have to go backwards.
Pull My Finger
When my children were aged about 8-10 years old, I brought them two Chinese finger traps back from my travels. You know the ones – put a finger in both ends and it tightens if you try and pull either or both fingers out. I cried laughing as their faces went from amusement to absolute frustration. You are released from the trap only as soon as you push one finger into the trap, releasing the tension. Pulling against it will simply tighten it further.
It was a great teaching moment. I explained to them that sometimes in life you have to give in to move forward. You have to go backwards, counter-intuitive as it seems, to go forwards. As it is with the pandemic.
The next 12 months will not bring any business a linear recovery. It will be more of a roller-coaster. Slow uphill, some free-falling, sometimes you might even find yourself briefly upside down, not certain where forward even is. Surprisingly you might even find yourself going backwards.
Intuition Over Ego
I am not suggesting you give up adapting to the challenges as they come, but we have to do so from a place of healing, of intuition as opposed to ego. We are going to exhaust ourselves if we let our egos drive this recovery. We have to accept it for what it is, to stop swimming directly against the current trying to reach the shores we know, but instead accept each phase with new energy, even if it returns us to a place in the circle we have already been.
If we keep the hierarchy idea, expecting the linear, we will likely fail as we will not have the agility to cope with what is coming throughout the Twenties. We are entering a new decade. It hasn’t kicked off spectacularly well, and there will likely be continuous disruption throughout, be it health, social, political, economic, climate-based or technological.
Tear down the power structures, the silos, the hierarchy. Build circles, teams who co-create and deliver in short sprints. Circles orbiting one another, overlapping symbiotically. Agile by nature in a way a hierarchy never can be.
I’m no witch or healer but even I know that an over-reliance on the patriarchal ways of our past are unlikely to offer us the solution to our future.
It is time to rethink how we measure success, what we value and if the ‘normal’ we seek a return to is even worth it?
To watch the infamous Monty Python ‘How Do You Know If She’s a Witch’ sketch from The Holy Grail movie, click here (well look, you’re working from home, give yourself 5 minutes of indulgence)
Ken Hughes is now acknowledged as being one of the world’s leading authorities on consumer and shopper behaviour, blending his understanding of consumer & cyber psychology, digital anthropology, behavioral economics and retail futurology to explore the needs of the new consumer and predict the changes to come.
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