I don’t work, I practice

The more I work and live my life, the more I have the strong feeling that everything I’m doing with others – clients, friends or family – is a way to practice my humanity and deepen my relationship with all of these people and the world.

What do I mean by practice? Practice for me it refers to what Plato said about the term – it is about acting concretely both in a technical and ethical dimension. In this sense, I see practice as acting to develop myself as a human being at every moment of my life. It means not treating work or an activity as something fundamentally external. It is internal. And so, not a burden but a blessing, an opportunity to grow.

Practicing humanity and deepening my relationships requires good conversations. And a good conversation is a space where I can truly be myself; where I can express who I am, how I feel (good or not). It’s a space where I may speak my mind, without judgment; a space where creativity is valued; where decisions are taken together; where we are all responsible for the well being of the group and a good production.

Practice in (and out of) action

I remember a meeting with some people in my city, two years ago. We were there, volunteers to organize a large citizen consultation about democracy. I really tried to catch up with the way the conversation was held. A young guy, very excited by the purpose, was leading us at such a rhythm, it was almost impossible to understand everything. I called for something slower, allowing everybody to be able to express their view and take common decisions. I proposed a talking piece. Nobody complained. After maybe 10 minutes (no more) the young guy decided that it wasn’t efficient for the group. I never came back and the consultation was never launched.

A very opposite experience, in 2011, I was with a group of 10 people (coming from Turkey, Germany, Belgium, France…) for a workshop with Iida Shigemi, a Buto dancer and old Japanese body techniques practitioner. We all were waiting for Iida’s leadership, instruction and learning. Every day, he lead us to the river bank, and that’s all! He was there, lying on the sand, letting us do whatever we wanted to. We spent these 6 days, together, slowly, “doing nothing”, mostly silently. Eventually, still silently, we co-created a sculpture with wood and stones found there; or rather a sculpture emerged. The energy emerging with the creation woke up Iida, and he joined us. We spent 6 days weaving bonds, allowing us to do something together. The art of living together doesn’t always need to end with a co-creation, but time is key. Rather, the aim is to be able to make progress having not so easy conversations; to go on anyway, with an open heart, trusting in our collective capacity to find suitable solutions. To grow up together, to be wiser together. A practice, indeed!

This is mainly what I try to transmit in my work. Almost by definition, working places are intentional meeting spaces where, unfortunately too often, people try to build small private territories to protect themselves from others. They hope to find a comfort they don’t have with their colleagues.

Many people are in this extreme paradox: the need to cohabit in offices without any desire to do so, eight hours a day! Do they find happiness trying to isolate themselves? I don’t think so. But they don’t know how to get out of this trap. They ask or are asked to join the other team, the other office, hoping for something better and reproducing, again and again, the same pattern…
Employees in companies are in the same situation. The purpose of their daily work disappears because they don’t have a global vision that has been built together. They work in a department sometimes without even knowing what their colleagues are doing.

I have been an employee, in various structures, from a large company to a small NGO… I remember how difficult it was to maintain the purpose of my daily work. How rarely I was involved to build a shared vision, to understand why I was there. How I tried to escape, as much as possible, what a burden it was…Impossible for me to imagine creating my own company!
Then, I was an independent for almost 15 years with the burden of loneliness…

Discovering new practices

So, how did I came to create Percolab in France? First, I explored collaboration with Samantha Slade (co-founder of Percolab in Québec), then I discovered the Commons Movement which gave me a larger purpose than my own sustainability; then the Art of Hosting community helped me to deeply believe in collective intelligence. I dove into this Art like a fish discovering all of a sudden that there is an ocean – not only a bowl – to swim my life in. Last but not least, I enjoyed the happiness and responsibility of self-organization within the Percolab team.
Today, the combination of these 3 sets of practices (Commoning, Art of Hosting and self-organisation) functions like 3 pillars on which I rely to work and live. And this is what I give to my clients.

I’m called in to “change the management for more innovation”, to “get out of silos and work more transversely”, “to build a common vision” or “an action plan”, to “help take collective decisions”, to “transform our organizational model”.
In other words, to renew the art to be, work and live together.
Interestingly, it’s often named “a new way of working”. Is it new, really? Our humanity is built on collaboration, we just forgot!
I notice that it’s more and more frequently called ‘to work better together’ and ‘(re)discover the power of co-creation’.

What would be possible if work was a place of daily practice? During a writing retreat I attended last summer, a question was raised: “What trace do you want to leave in the world?” My answer could be this: give to others the inner feeling and strength to transform the way they work as a practice for life.

Curious? Interested by this approach?
Why not join us to experiment during our next Going Horizontal training in France in October? Contact me! nadine (at) percolab dot com

Methodologies and tools:

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