Versatilist Communities

It seems that we are living in more and more chaotic times.  The weather is unprecedentedly unpredictable, the banking systems seem to be failing and Europe is in an economic crisis as capitalism and the western economic model struggles to support its citizens to have a fulfilling and rich life that it promises.

Is it time to rethink? Are we becoming over dependent on technology to run our lives, and unwittingly using technology to rigidly embed economic and trade models into our society that require human interaction to remain adaptable and flexible?

As a practicing Agilist, a working practice that focuses on people, connections and individual deep specialism, in the software industry and outside, it strikes me that we are in danger of losing the deep specialism that is required for versatilist creativity.  As we become more and more connected through technology are we loosing the ability to think and behave in a deeply specialist way?

What do I mean? As I write this blog I am sitting on a train travelling from Birmingham to London; my first thought being to launch my browser and surf the internet for inspiration – it so easy!  But I became aware that, even though broadband connectivity is a few clicks away, I would be denying myself the opportunity for some deeper thought before connecting; inspiration, I realise, comes from the inside.

Our manifesto says that Versatilists:

Are deep specialists and broadly connected.

Both depth and connection are import – in the 80s and 90s specialism was the dominate model and skill, but if we are not careful, connection will be the dominate skill in the first part of the millennium, but without depth, and we may end up in an equally dire situation!

So, although we have said the versatilism is about individuals, I wonder if it is more than that, I wonder if it is about communities, and building versatilist communities.  Communities where the sum behaviours are versatilist, even if the individuals in the community don’t exhibit all of the versatilist characteristics, the community as a whole behaves in a versatilist way – the community is more than the sum of the individuals within.

And there are communities that operate like this already in society. One of my family members was recently acutely ill and had a short stay in hospital – on leaving the hospital I was in awe of the social structures and roles that were in place that maintained specialism and connection – a versatilist community!

In each area (a specialising community) there was interaction between the consultant, registrar, specialist, generalist and homecare nurses.  There are layers of specialist medicine, each layer itself a versatilist community.  This community of people maintained deep specialism through the consultant role, whilst maintaining a connection in the community: the patient, the hospital and pharmacy, through the nursing role.  Together, with well-defined social structures and role the hospital environment, or culture, creates versatilist communities – embracing both the deep knowledge and broad connection to deliver outstanding healthcare.

What had the most impact on me, and the reason I want to share this blog with you, was the realisation the Versatilism is not just about technology or individuals, it is also about a community.

A community that embraces the values of deep knowledge and broad connection will display the characteristics of versatilism as a whole.


What do we do for a living?

What do we do for a living?  That’s the question that Seth Godin asked in one of his TED talks.

What do the people that actually read (and write) this blog do for a living?

We might say that we write software, or design products, or create media, or sell solutions, but I want to take up Seth’s argument – that NO, we don’t do any of these things, we all do the same thing:

We try to change everything

Yes, everything.  We find a bit of the status-quo, the same-old same-old, something that isn’t quite right, doesn’t quite fit, something we don’t like and we change it, we try to make big permanent important change.


Try these three questions, share them, spread them, write them on a card, apply them every day:

  • Who exactly are you upsetting?
  • Who are you connecting?
  • Who are you leading?

If our primary job is to challenge the status-quo then we must be upsetting someone – someone who wants to maintain the status quo… why, what’s in it for them? Try and understand, try and get them on board with the ‘new’ status-quo you are proposing.

Yes you have an idea, but who are you connecting around the idea?   How are you connecting them, how are you making a tribe?

Who are you leading – the Beatles didn’t create teenagers, they were all ready there, waiting to be led,  who is your ‘teenager’ tribe?

Or abbreviate and try the three C’s, which I think this summarises versatilism beautifully:

Challenge, Connect, Commit

Multiple Intelligences

In last week’s blog the question was raised: How do I become a versatilist?  What a fantastic question!

That got me thinking!  On re-reading the manifesto I began to notice that we are aspiring to cultivate multiple intelligences.  Intellectual intelligence will only get us so far, but it would seem that versatilist behaviour is also about cultivating and growing our emotional and social intelligence.

This is not a new idea, but is one we sometimes forget!  Howard Gardner has written about, and classified several other intelligences, including: linguistic, musical, and spatial-visual, and is a leader in the field of ‘thought-leadership’, especially education. Daniel Goleman has written and taught extensively about emotional intelligence and leadership, research showing that the highest performing teams are those with high emotional and social intelligence – not those with the highest IQ!

So maybe one approach to becoming more versatile is to focus on enhancing and cultivating our emotional intelligence and social intelligence and change the way that we connect in the world.

Is there a common path to mastery?

Cooking is a love of mine, each year I look forward to the UK competition: Master Chef – amateur chefs with diverse backgrounds from around the country compete to be crowned Master Chef and start a career as a professional chef.

The participates are thrown into all kinds of culinary challenges during the competition – the overall winner being the one that keeps their head, remains motivated and consistently produces high quality meals that are externally verified by leaders in the culinary field: 1-, 2-, and, 3- star Michelin Chefs.

It got me thinking… what does it take to be a Master Chef and what are the parallels to mastery in other fields…

Some of the things I noticed about the three finalists are that they:

  • Have a ‘big’ goal (but don’t necessarily know how they will achieve it) (i.e. win Master Chef!)
  • Have a goal beyond the goal (i.e. after Master Chef ‘I want too…run a restaurant’)
  • Take small incremental steps to towards their goal
  • Execute each step precisely – ensuring quality at each step
  • Constantly adapt and ‘de-scope’ when necessary
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Learn from their ‘mistakes’  (see Pete’s previous blog)
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Maintain motivation
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Love what they do
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Create new ‘products’ by combining, or connecting, ingredients in new and palatable ways
  • Practice, practice, practice
  • Define mastery for themselves through the goals that they want to achieve

These steps seem like a simple recipe (pun intended!) towards mastery…  a process if you like… that reminds us that we can all aim for mastery in our chosen field.

Is versatilism another type of mastery path? And if it is, what are the steps to mastery of versatilism? And, what is the practice that we need to be giving attention to achieve mastery?

Versatilism and English Mustard…

My ears pricked-up over the Easter break when I heard the Colman story on the BBC 2 Our Food programme.  The series that is looking at the roots of some of the foods that we consume today.

It would seem that the founder of Colman’s Mustard, Jeremiah Colman (1777–1851), was also a versatilist!

Jeremiah Colman started out as a flour miller, owning a water mill in 1803.  But he saw an emerging market for mustard flour – until then mustard was generally sold as seeds and ground at the table or in the kitchen.  By the 1880’s there was a purpose built factory that employed over 2000 people and another 4000 people earning their living directly through the Colman Company.

Colman did two ‘versatilist’ moves:

  1. he realised that the technology of the day, water mills and wind mills, used for flour and paper milling, could be applied to    milling mustard seeds – creating a new ‘product’ that the had appeal to a mass market;
  2. he  created a product that promoted itself: by combining the flour from milled brown and white mustard seeds he produced the uniquely flavoured and coloured yellow mustard flour that we know today.

I was inspired by this story, as I realized that the activity of versatilism that we are exploring through this blog may well be an inherent human characteristic that we all possess.

I have a feeling that it would be fun to explore our own inherent versatilism through Colman’s approach.

So, I’ve created a simple game – lets a call it the Colman Game (:-)) – where we apply Colman’s approach to our own areas of interest… here is the principle:

The Colman Game – An approach for turning ideas into reality

  1. Choose an idea that you are currently working with.
  2. Set aside 10 minutes.
  3. Take a piece of blank paper and some coloured pens.
  4. Start timing 10 minutes.
  5. At the centre illustrate the idea that you are working with (can be with words or graphically).
  6. Then around the idea capture all the technology that could be used to deliver your idea today.  Be creative with the meaning of the word ‘technology’; technology can also be processes, systems of thinking, as well as tangible ‘things’.
  7. At the end of the ten minutes – review – is there anything that you could take forward today?

Will you give this a try? If so, I invite you to add some comments to the blog letting us know about your experience – is there any inherent versatilism shinning through?  I’ll do the same with my next idea.

Thank you.

Free the your inner Genie

It is at this time each year, around springtime and Easter, that I take time to reflect and plan for the year ahead.

I find the Easter story inspiring, the archetypal pattern of re-birth, of letting go of old patterns and freshening and lightening-up, reminding myself of my own untapped potential and that of all the people around me: my partner, children, friends and colleagues.

Spring is the same, each year on my allotment I am amazed to see the first shoots of garlic and onions pushing through, literally transforming a seed into something real, tangible and useful (and tasty!).

How do I translate these muses into practical action?  A little while ago I came across a deck of cards called ‘free the genie’.  The Genie being the archetypal symbol of unexpressed potential, the cards give 55 ways to unlock your inner creativity and take some practical steps towards results.

Here are three examples pulled randomly from the deck:

Attend: Resolve your concerns – What are your biggest concerns about your newest venture? What suggestions do you have for resolving those concerns? “You must do the thing you think you cannot do” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Extend: Invent the Future – Imagine five years from now and your most inspired idea has become reality. Write – or tell – the news story describing your success.  “If you can dream it you can do it.” – Walt Disney

Connect: Position Yourself – if your hottest new idea were a baseball team, what positions need to be filled?  Who can you draft in to fill these positions in the next 30 days?  “Life is on the wire.  The rest is just waiting.” – The Flying Wallendas

I encourage you to reflect on your own untapped potential and unlock your inner genie.

Perceptual positions

If you have studied any NLP this will be a familiar term… taking different views or perspectives of a topic or situation, a similar approach to a previous post Change your vantage point, by Peter.

This is an important skill for the versatilist… it is the one skill the takes the versatilist into different domains and provides the pathway to match patterns from one domain to another…

This skill is like a muscle that requires regular exercise to stay toned…

Whatever you are working on right now…choose at least three other ways to perceive it…  as your next customer market, your boss, your creative self….

To quote Einstein ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’ and ‘Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions’…

Perceptual positions is just focusing your imagination skilfully.