Never Decreasing Circles - Next Action Associates

I’ve been reading a book on human movement concurrently with a book on the lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of a productivity expert, for sure.

These days, the fittest of us get something like 300 minutes – or 6 hours – of movement per week. Our ancestors would have gotten more like 3000 minutes. To save you looking for a calculator, that is 50 hours. Not all of it intense activity, but still. 50 hours of moving around, doing things that needed doing to keep body and soul together. That’s huge. Imagine what a difference that makes to strength, mobility, and endurance over a lifetime.

That thought prompted a reflection on something else that we are getting a lot less of in our world: Connection and community. Once upon a time, we lived in community, day-in, day-out, connected to people we knew well. That had downsides, of course, but had many, many upsides as well.

This is a blog about productivity in the widest sense of that term. Why we do anything at all, and how we get things done with – and through – other people. As herd animals, much of what we do is done to create a sense of belonging for ourselves, or to gain recognition in a community. From a mission and purpose perspective, belonging and recognition are fundamental drivers for humans.

But I’m often struck by the number of people I meet who – outside of their current job – have very few connections at all. It often shows up when there is a problem at work, and they begin to think about changing jobs. The most effective way to change jobs successfully – and with the least friction – is to explore your network of friends, family, colleagues, competitors and acquaintances for new possibilities. But when I suggest this as an approach, many are unprepared. They’ve spent so much time doing the detail of their work that they’ve had no time to nourish the relationships that might make their work much easier, more friction-free – and flag up opportunities outside their current employer.

I’d best define my terms. When I say ‘network’, I don’t mean some tool you simply use as leverage to get what you want in the world. It can be that some of the time, but it is much, much more. When I say ‘your network’ I mean the sum total of authentic and constructive relationships that you are nourishing in the world. Not something that you try to use only when you need it, but a community that you play a constructive role in. Sometimes giving, sometimes getting, but consistently engaging. It is a huge piece of how you get things done in the world– through your network.

Here’s the thing: Your network – whatever it is right now – is dying if you are not actively growing and nourishing it. Why? Well, unfortunately, because we’re human some of the people in it are actually dying. Others are just leaving town. Others have left your industry or reoriented their career. With some you’ve had a bust up and haven’t been able to keep the relationship going. If you are not constantly adding to and nourishing your network then it is shrinking.

Some questions:

Do you have a network? (let me help here – you do. The only question is whether you are tending to it consciously or not)

Do you know how to grow and nourish it?

How much time are you spending on it? More like a modern human or more like our ancestors?

It is this last question that is often laid bare in moments of crisis. If belonging and recognition in a community are fundamental to human happiness and satisfaction, then knowing how to build and maintain a community are critical skills for human happiness. But we are never taught them. If we got lucky, we had parents or mentors who were good at it and showed us the way. But often, people make friends in school or university because they just have a lot of time with people there. That’s great for a few years, but when thrown out in the world of work they don’t have the time or the skills to continue to grow and nourish the circle of people they are in constructive relationships with.

I claim no mastery in the domain, but I do notice that having a system allows me to be in contact with people I care about much more often than not, and particularly at times that have meaning for them.

For instance, when a friend mentions they are nervous about an upcoming operation, or presentation, or job interview, what do you do?

One possibility is to make empathetic noises and make a mental note to get back to them on the day. Good luck with that.

Another is to discretely make a note of their name with the date and event. That is Capture taken care of. When Clarifying, you can see there is no project, but that there is a next action: you want to send a message of support to your friend on the evening before, or morning of, their challenge. So you Organize an appointment in your calendar for that date to drop them a note, text, or make a call. Then you forget about it for a few weeks. When the day arrives, the bag you put in front of the door of your mind is exactly where you left it.

Your friend may well be very pleased and surprised that you’ve taken the time to be in touch (when on the receiving end, I know I always am). But interestingly, the moment when you most clearly express your friendship is not in writing the note or making the call on the day of their procedure. It is in the making of a note about the date when they mention it weeks before. Given how much you have on, remembering to call on the day simply will not happen without the (extremely minimal) effort to capture the information. When I compare the effort of capturing the info, clarifying it, and putting a note into my system, with my own experience of being on the receiving end of such support in a moment of need, I have to say that the friendship ROI would make even a Warren Buffet proud.

A tiny thing. But it is the accumulation of dozens, hundreds, thousands of such tiny things that a relationship is built and deepened. If you are wanting to do it with an entire network, you may want some system that supports you with being there in the moments that matter. The system cannot replace the heart that moves you to reach out, but it can help that heart to fulfill its purpose.

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