Water, water everywhere

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Inspired Home magazine.

I’m slowly working my way through a particularly challenging book a friend gave me called Leadership and the New Science by Margaret J. Wheatley. The premise is that organizations can learn a lot about how to operate better by paying attention to various elements and patterns from Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

From the outset, this is a very NOT me book. While I have a general regard for science as a field, I’m just not that interested in the intricacies of it all. But I’m always curious to know more about organizational change and dynamics, so I’m muscling my way through it, challenging myself to stay focused paragraph by paragraph.

It’s been hard going except for this paragraph on page 16, which jumped out at me and grabbed me by the throat:

What is it that streams can teach me about organizations? I am attracted to the diversity I see, to these swirling combinations of mud, silt, grass, water, rocks. This stream has an impressive ability to adapt, to shift the configurations, to let the power balance move, to create new structures. But driving this adaptability, making it all happen, I think, is the water’s need to flow. Water answers to gravity, to downhill, to the call of ocean. The forms change, but the mission remains clear. Structures emerge, but only as temporary solutions that facilitate rather than interfere. There is none of the rigid reliance on single forms, on true answers, on past practices that I have learned in business. Streams have more than one response to rocks; otherwise, there’d be no Grand Canyon. Or else Grand Canyons everywhere. The Colorado realized that there were ways to get ahead other than by staying broad and expansive.

For the purposes of this reflection, change the first sentence to “What is it that streams can teach me about life/myself/relationships/balance?”

The visual of moving water is an amazing metaphor for our lives.

How often do you chafe at the daily swirling combinations that include children, spouses, parents, friends, jobs, hobbies, health issues, scheduling workouts, dieting and more in your life?

Do you feel like you have any power over it all, or does it control you? Are you caught up in the maelstrom of the rapidly moving water and all it picks up in its path? Or are you the solids banks, managing the water and directing it in a forced fashion? Both answers have merit and present challenges.

How do you navigate the immovable obstacles that we all inevitably face? Do you drive straight into them or do you find ways to shift around, under or over them?

We all move through our days, gathering flotsam and jetsam as we go–more responsibility, more people, more opportunities. So then, it’s how we choose to look at, and manage, the “baggage” that must matter.

For my part, thinking of my life as moving water is incredibly powerful. After all, it was simply water that made the Grand Canyon, and it is simply water that separates us from the other continents. Water doesn’t judge how it moves or what it picks up in its path. And while it has a tenacity to its movement, it also easily adapts and changes as it goes.

Yes, water is necessary for every aspect of our physical lives, but we would be well served to imagine and embrace the steady, fluid power of water to our mental and emotional lives as well.

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