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Wisdom (part III)

As evidenced in the last post in this series, at times Dee Hock is explicit in sharing his views on the subject of “wisdom”. At other times he demonstrates his own wisdom in a more subtle manner.

In working through the common responses those in power have to a rapidly changing world (from “doubling-down” to denial) he states…

Those in positions of power, wealth, and prestige who tenaciously cling to the present order of things deserve understanding, not condemnation, for they intuitively sense what Machiavelli discovered five centuries ago when he wrote: “Nothing is more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain of success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

No one should be condemned for failure to welcome change.

These statements reveal an ethical dimension to Dee, a crucial aspect of “wisdom”. Despite his palpable frustration and disappointment at the rigidity of organisations and institutions past and present, he protects both his own and others dignity.

we should never act in ways that undermine the equality and dignity of all people – ourselves included. (Ethics Centre)

That said, he remains firm in encouraging organisational leaders to find the courage and faith to undertake the journey of transforming their worldview…

Changing an internal model of reality is extremely difficult, often terrifying, and always complex. It requires a meticulous, painful examination of beliefs. It requires fundamental understanding of consciousness and how it must change. It destroys our sense of time and place. It calls into question our very identity. We can never be sure of our place or our value in a new order of things. Changing our internal model of reality requires an enormous act of faith, for it requires time to develop, and we require time to grow into it.

Yet it is the only workable solution.

From my perspective this journey does not have to be taken alone. Rather than isolated individuals undertaking a heroic quest, instead I feel it could be a collective endeavour – underpinned by a sense of dignity and fellowship.

The hopes of future generations, in sport and beyond, could hinge on us coming to this “only workable solution”.

References & Image Credits

Wisdom (part II)

As Australia was thrown into chaos and faced its future over the Christmas and New Year period, I sought moments of sanctuary in the writings and wisdom of Dee Hock. I would like to share a collection of Dee’s thoughts specific to wisdom, and in that sense continue on from yesterdays post.
The below are Dee’s attempts to articulate, define and cohere ‘noise, ‘information’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’… 
Noise, in its broadest sense, is any undifferentiated thing that assaults the senses. It is pervasive and ubiquitous, whether auditory, visual, or textural. The supply of noise is infinite. 
Noise becomes data when it transcends the purely sensual and has cognitive pattern; when it can be discerned and differentiated by the mind. 
Data, in turn, becomes information when it is assembled into a coherent whole that can be related to other information in a way that adds meaning. 
Information becomes knowledge when it is integrated with other information in a form useful for deciding, acting, or composing new knowledge. 
Knowledge becomes understanding when related to other knowledge in a manner useful in conceiving, anticipating, valuing, and judging. 
Understanding becomes wisdom when informed by purpose, ethics, principle, memory of the past, and projection into the future. 
I am particularly interested in the transformation of understanding to wisdom. Dee’s description resonates with a framework we use to help people act wisely in the present. This involves connecting their past, present and future through three perspectives – personal, situational and systemic (socio-cultural)
Dee goes on to distinguish the abundance of ‘data’ from the scarcity of ‘wisdom’, and the dangerous path we are treading…
The fundamental characteristics of the opposite ends of this spectrum are very different. Data, on one end of the spectrum, is separable, objective, linear, mechanistic, and abundant. Wisdom, on the other end of the spectrum, is holistic, subjective, spiritual, conceptual, creative, and scarce. 
The immensity of data and information that assaults our lives is conditioned by an ever-declining ratio of social, economic, and spiritual value. Vast scientific, technological, and economic power is thus unleashed with inadequate understanding of its systemic propensity for destruction, or sufficient wisdom to creatively, constructively guide its evolution.
…thus, we remain confined within our archaic seventeenth-century concepts of organization and leadership
His final remark frames our passion and intent to support people in transitioning to the next generation of sport organisations and institutions. I’m very aware that attempting this will challenge my own capacity to act wisely.
References & Image Credits


In the opening weeks of this year I have been continually drawn back to the idea of ‘wisdom’, noting its importance yet possible decline in society (?). A number of reflective conversations with Al & Jono have increased coherence around ways of cultivating wisdom, informing our support of future leadership in sport organisations…





Outside of sport, there is the searing issue of political leadership in Australia (an insoluble dilemma?), whilst global plutocrats and young activists descend on Davos.


As the hopes and fears of future generations play out in the present, there is a tremendous opportunity for those in Australia and Davos to draw on wisdom from the past…


“When considering the stature of an athlete or for that matter any person, I set great store in certain qualities which I believe to be essential. … They are that the person conducts his or her life with dignity, with integrity, courage, and perhaps most of all, with modesty. These virtues are totally compatible with pride, ambition, and competitiveness.”

– Don Bradman



“What if those with the greatest power, wealth, and position were to open their minds to new possibilities, loosen their tenacious grasp on the old order of things? What if they were to cage the four beasts that devour their keeper—ego, envy, avarice, and ambition? What if they were to go before and show the way? Now there’s a challenge worthy of both the best among them and the best within them. I know that they can. And I will never give up that belief, or hope, that in time, enough of them will”

Dee Hock

Every Voice – Dee Hock


I’m hoping to share more from Dee in a future post.



Image Credits

Smoking Sunset

Don Bradman

Dee Hock


Cloaked in Culture


When “culture” suddenly rockets up the agenda in a sport organisation it is often cloaking an admission that…

“We’ve stopped caring for people & attending to relational quality”

In that context, convening a safe conversational space to surface the enabling forces contributing to this mis-step can be a useful starting point. Whilst there is significant care and craft required to create and invite people into such a space, I’m not sure it needs to be any more elaborate than that. 

On this theme, hat-tip to fellow co-creator Jono Byrne for bringing Peter Block & “touchy feely crap” to my attention some years ago…




How can the next generation of sport organisations and institutions add value?

The post I published a couple of weeks ago represented a return to blogging after a lengthy hiatus and the first new post to be published on our (myfastestmile) platform. I’m hoping to sustain a more regular rhythm of posts as we tick over into a new decade (wow!).
As has been the case previously, these posts are intended for my own personal benefit (“thinking out loud” and sensemaking), stimulating people to engage in conversation and share perspectives, sharing interesting links and material, and sometimes “working out loud” in relation to what we are up to at myfastestmile.
On that last point, in the last few months we have published our first “field report” and hope to make this an annual publication – you can freely download a copy. At the end of this post I’ll also share some updates about “relearn” initiatives in the works.
With that bit of framing out of the way…
Peter Keen spoke at the AIS World Class to World Best conference a few weeks ago. I wasn’t in attendance so do not have his narrative to accompany this slide. Instead I would like to share some of the questions, reflections and connections this material has stimulated.
My immediate curiosity was if Peter, when using the phrase high performance sport at its best, was referring to the qualities of athletes/teams on display in the competitive arena or something broader – maybe qualities of a particular ‘form of life’ for people involved in a high performance sport community?
I also wondered if he was being intentionally provocative in listing some of the qualities. It struck me that a growing tension exists between emotion, artistry, creativity & intuition, and the technocratic rationality of our organisations and institutions. Do people, when in organisational and institutional roles, interact in ways that enable these qualities to emerge and flourish?

Value Add

Likely unbeknown to him, Peter has also played a formative role in the myfastestmile journey. Fortunate to be present when he shared a critical reflection on sport a couple of years ago, we have since moulded this into a question that invites people into a deliberative dialogue around the value of sport (at any level). I left this question with people at Football Victoria’s State Coaching Conference last weekend…
I feel this question deserves particular attention as, through the dynamic interplay of the political~economic~technological, Western culture becomes further disposed to extraction rather than creation of value, and mainstream management culture increasingly values control and reduction. The “model” below, a mashup of ideas from Ed Schein, Philip Zimbardo, Urie Bronfenbrenner, Kristoffer Henriksen & James Vaughan, is an attempt to depict the presence of these influences in relation to sport participants (images in centre circle) and the people that (in)directly support them (green circle). 
I’m proposing the need for greater awareness of the presence and influence of these forces on peoples behaviour and interactions in sport. I feel this could be a key to adding value.

How can the next generation of sport organisations and institutions play a role that adds value?

As in the last post, I’m trying to amplify initiatives that provide an alternative path for people to explore. Much of the following is underpinned by a shift in beliefs and assumptions about the nature of people, management and ways of organising.
So, how can the next generation of sport organisations and institutions play a role that adds value?
* They could be designed on the principles of empathy, care and dignity
I mean these principles in a precise way. A radical way. A transformational way. A way that has to do with what it means to be human, and the ache we feel just existing. We don’t talk often enough about such things these days. We have forgotten the truth in ourselves, my friends.
* They could unshackle themselves from Outcome-Based Performance Management and become Human Learning Systems
this isn’t the easy path. It takes time to build relationships and trust. It requires us to be people-driven rather than focused on process, and to take decisions which require professional judgement and empathy, whilst creating a more community-led response to the challenges we face. This approach will raise profound challenges for those of us who assess risk and demonstrate accountability. We will need to re-calibrate our thinking for a complex 21st century world.
* They could move from hierarchy to coaching people and self-organising
Before moving to self-management we operated the way most organisations do: we had a hierarchy, line managers, and all the other features you’d find in most places. Why? Because that’s how work works, doesn’t it?
* They could shift away from elaborate long-term strategic plans towards helping people be guided by strategic intent when “choosing the opportune moment to act”
This shift away from an organisational paradigm that is rooted in compliance with top-down strategy plans and towards a paradigm that encourages everyone in the organisation to align to and deliberate over a commonly agreed set of organisational principles is at the heart of Richard’s leadership work and central to his belief in the power of sport to change lives for the better.

Changing Course

As I’ve heard a couple of senior executives in sport intimate recently, it can be a real challenge to find the time to “get your head up and reflect”. This is one of the unintended consequences of the “hamster wheel” ethos, helping to lock-in the status quo.
I believe we can and must find the time…and then create conversational containers where the ways to add value in sport are explored, tensions are surfaced and a sense of fellowship might emerge. In the words of Junaid Mubeen“it is okay to step off the path once in a while; it may even be necessary to enable our richest learning experiences.”
Doing so may enable us to change course – away from extractive and reductive forms of life toward a different way of being, seeing and doing in sport – filled with emotion, artistry, creativity and intuition.
When it comes to cultural change we excessively fixate on the critical mass and underestimate the catalytic quality of the improbable few. The ‘critical yeast’ — these small, unlikely, combinations of persistent people and partnerships committed to a new quality of relationship — dwell before and behind every instance of social change that truly shifts what is possible and transformative across generations.
– John Paul Lederach


Our relearn events act as ‘conversational containers’ and we plan to hold our next gathering in the first few months of 2020. It will likely be framed around themes in this post and therefore most relevant for people holding senior positions in sport clubs, organisations, institutions, funding and governing bodies. If you are interested in being involved please get in touch and share your thoughts. 
We also have an aspiration to launch an online relearn programme in the early part of next year for people in the positions mentioned above. Intended as a personal and professional developmental journey, it could include a self-selected ‘action learning’ project (with our 1-1 mentoring support), invitation to participate in a community of practice (which we will facilitate), and access to carefully curated content specifically chosen to compliment the other 2 components of the programme. Please let us know if this is of interest and what you would most value from such an opportunity.

Smelling the chips whilst walking along the beach

(image source)

I imagine the title of this post would invoke pleasant memories for the many Australians exposed to the combinatory effects of these two sensory experiences. Unfortunately such positive feelings are not the launch point for this post, but hopefully I can finish back there.

Here is the note I made on Sunday night about events earlier in the day…

We walked alongside two teenage boys during our family walk on the beach this morning, they were probably about 13 or 14. As we passed them I overheard one say to the other ‘I’ve quit my team this year. We had 5 state players in our team and I was just an average player….[pause]…they were a bit mean’ 

My immediate emotional reaction was pure sadness as I glanced back at the young boy who had spoken. A few moments later that turned to anger and frustration, which my partners ears bore the verbal brunt of for the next 5 minutes.

If the evolutionary purpose of emotion is to “evoke motion” then this blog post is the expression of that. However, rather than fuelling the outrage machine, I’ll be trying to channel this in a more constructive direction.

“Smelling the Chips”

Metaphorically, you could say my experience on the beach provided a “smell of the chips”. To trace the roots of the metaphor I need to re-tell a story shared over breakfast the morning after the Bunker.

A young man, Andrew, had moved into an apartment with an existing tenant, John. Whilst Andrew hadn’t detected it when briefly inspecting the apartment, after less than a day he began to notice a certain odour. When John returned home that evening, the smell was even stronger on him. Andrew asked John what it was and where it was coming from. John was a bit puzzled as he could not smell anything, but as Andrew detailed the odour more specifically the penny dropped and he explained that much of his work involved preparing and frying hot potato chips. The odour had originated from John’s work clothing and now lingered permanently in the apartment.

A few weeks after moving into the apartment, it suddenly occurred to Andrew that he could no longer smell the chips either…’huh’ he thought.

In light of this, “smelling the chips” is a useful metaphor for the heightened awareness of culture when first encountering, or returning to, a place/environment (particularly if it contrasts significantly with your personal history of place). According to Richard Eckersley (link)…

…cultures tend to be ‘transparent’ or ‘invisible’ to those living within them because they comprise deeply internalized assumptions and beliefs, making their effects hard to discern. As Ellen Corin says, cultural influences are always easier to identify in unfamiliar societies. Our own cultures appear to constitute a natural order that is not itself an object of study. This impression, she says, is an ‘unsupported ethnocentric illusion’.

Returning to Australia after 4 years away in the UK has given me the opportunity to smell the chips Down Under and they are frequently proving unpleasant, if not somewhat familiar to my prior country of residence and even more so across The Pond.

The walk on the beach was yet another jarring reminder of the implications this is having for young people and their experiences in sport, and others are starting to ask questions of a “meaner and less equal society”.

That being said, I did promise a constructive post so let’s turn to some promising conversations, events and innovations that could enable people, through sport, to lead society towards better smelling chips.

The Reading Gathering

Yesterday we had the privilege of hosting Ric Shuttleworth and Alex Beckey as they facilitated an open forum for anyone interested in discussing their perspectives on current and future needs in Physical Education, Physical Development, Movement Literacy, and Organised Sport”. Here are a couple of immediate reflections…

Informal Sport
A group from Monash University are exploring the benefits and challenges of informal sport participation

One of the challenges is how formal entities like sport clubs and organisations can create synergies with informal participation opportunities. Something I am trying through my son’s local football (soccer) club is coordinating “free play” sessions where kids can turn up and just play, whether that be football or other ball sports. In this sense I am following the lead of Joey Peters and hope to bring even a small sprinkling of the joy and passion she displays.

(update: I should also mention Craig Gunn as someone who embodies joy and passion!)

Youth Sport Summit

This Thursday Flinders University in Adelaide are hosting a Youth Sport Summit featuring a range of presentations “to arrest pervasive challenges, enhance practices and redefine priorities for the South Australian sport sector.” I look forward to attending and being part of the conversation (hopefully the work of the “graphic recorder”, who will be present to capture and illustrate the topics discussed, will be shared online).

AIK Fotboll, Swedish Sport and the UN Rights of the Child

Sweden enshrining into sport law the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is a significant moment, as it invites the global sport community to critically examine the sport experience of young people and the adult influences upon them.  AIK Fotboll have been leading this movement over the last few years and we have been fortunate to share in some of their journey as a critical friend.

There is no such thing as an elite child. And this language is adding to the anxiety…of the kids and the parents.

– Mark O Sullivan from AIK Fotboll in an extensive interview with the Irish Examiner

Through myfastestmile we want to both contribute to and help join up these conversations. We sense the urgent need to rebalance society and believe people in sport, through great vigilance and care, can lead the way.

How are the chips smelling in your part of the world?