In Search Of The Best Move

As a chess player I’ve spent years searching for the best move.

My dad taught me the basics.

Then as a motivated school boy in the 80’s I studied every chess book I could find.

A sporadic tournament career in my 20’s was sensibly checked by professional and family priorities.

Now I’m an active online player, often top board for Team Australia at chess.com.           

Winning chess hinges on consistently playing strong moves.

But finding these moves is a complex calculus.

Located at the intersection between the games objective variables and my many subjective influences.

“Make the decision, Take the risk, Pay the price”

After minutes, hours or even days of thought, I make a move.

Yet as I play the move on the board, I know my assessment of ‘best’ really means ‘the best I could find’.

To be tested for Truth by my opponents response …


En Passant

As time passes, I realise that my best chess moves are independent of any individual game or result.

One real reward comes from pursuing a passion over many years, through immersion, enjoyment and striving to learn and improve.

And now it’s about sharing my enthusiasm with another generation as a mentor and very tough opponent 🙂

Sydney Leadership Formation

The most recent cohort with well earned smiles.

In a reflective moment toward the end of the Retreat, I asked who it was that first nudged each to start into the work.

The answers were telling and representative: my manager; my CEO; my wife; my friend.
All past participants or closely allied, paying it forward.

A very fine move!

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Marking Progress

Each Sunday morning I join a local painting group.

We learn ‘old school’, classical techniques under the guidance of Jules.

I retain memories of daunting early classes. Experienced peers dashing off landscapes, portraits, animals etc on real canvases!

While I painted aubergines and apples onto cheap, small boards.

Two years later (i.e. last week), carrying a large work-in-progress canvas home, an elderly couple approached.

I noticed the woman looking at my picture.

As we drew level she caught my eye and said, “That’s a really great find you made!”

Huh?

Confused at first, I saw the footpaths were covered with council cleanup junk.

She thought I’d salvaged the painting from someone’s discard pile.

I grinned and replied, “Actually, I’m painting this one.”

Laughter all round.

An unexpected, sideways compliment.

Progress.

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51 Billion To Zero

“There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The other is zero.”

So begins Bill Gates’ outstanding new book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster“.

Fifty-one billion tons of greenhouse gases generated by human activity are added to the atmosphere every year. This number is increasing.

Zero is what we need to achieve to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

There are some very impressive aspects to this book.

Firstly this is the best overview of the climate crisis faced by the planet I’ve read.

Bill articulates the causes and impacts, the science and the challenges very clearly. He’s applied his obvious intelligence and resources to explore the matter broadly, and as a communicator, shares what he’s learned very effectively.

This book is an holistic education for anyone wanting to get an up to date understanding of the climate crisis.

Usefully the book segments human activity and the various potential developments which are worth pursuing. It’s a non ideological survey of the current and emerging possible pathways to reach zero. I like the way Bill presents, with a pragmatic and open mind.

The five segments explored are:
 

The next most valuable aspect for me was a critical thinking framework of ‘five questions to ask in every climate conversation’ (Chapter 3).

My favourite was, “What’s your plan for cement?” The production of steel and cement creates about 10% of  all emissions, and the question is a reminder that any comprehensive plan needs to account for more than electricity and cars

Finally the most important aspect of the book for me, is that the author is Bill Gates himself, by any metric a World Class Leader.

With his voice and resources now publicly directed toward the climate crisis, our planet gains a powerful advocate.

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Two To Tango

Pablo Picasso and John Lennon are world class leaders I chose for immersion study last year.

Towering, iconic individuals of the 20th century.

Yet with a curious similarity – their creative breakthroughs actually the product of intense partnership. Picasso and Georges Braque pioneered Cubism between 1907-14, in the process revolutionising modern art.

The two painters shared so many ideas, theories, models and inspiration, that it’s difficult for a regular viewer like me to discern which artist painted which picture.

“The things that Picasso and I said to one another during those years will never be said again, and even if they were, no one would understand them anymore. It was like being roped together on a mountain.”

Liverpool teenagers,John Lennon and Paul McCartney formed The Beatles and went on to produce the soundtrack to the Boomers awakening.

Paul said the two had a habit of “answering” each other’s songs. “He’d write ‘Strawberry Fields, and I’d go away and write ‘Penny Lane’ … to compete with each other. But it was very friendly competition.”

Interestingly, on outgrowing The Beatles, Lennon formed a new, intensely activist and artistic partnership with Yoko Ono.

I’m fortunate to know the value of fellowship, encouragement and especially productive rivalry in powerful collaborations.

And have lived the natural cycle, from first meetings, through inspired activity to parting, even death. 

The leader myth is often one of lone genius, the daring radical, a solo sailor or intrepid explorer.

The reality is rooted in vital relationships.

It takes two to tango.

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Roadside Assistance

Walking our dog last week, I came upon an elderly man changing a flat tyre.

Crouched in the gutter, midday sun scorching down, I was moved to ask: “Are you alright? Do you need a hand?”

He turned toward me with a wary, bothered glance. And relaxed.

“Yes. I’m recovering from an operation.”

A surprisingly immediate and frank admission.

So I hunkered down in his place, jacked up the car and changed the tyre.

As I worked he told me he’d had surgery 4 weeks earlier. That he’d visited his doctor for another matter and been diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).

He lifted his shirt and showed me the raw scar up his torso.

Surprised again. I told him that four years earlier my father died of a ruptured AAA, alone and undiagnosed.

Tyre changed, he asked if I lived locally. “Yes. Down the street. The house with all the piano music.”

Later in the evening my wife told me a man had knocked at the front door.

He said I’d helped him earlier and he wanted to leave me a gift.

She passed me a bottle in a brown paper bag.

A long-neck of Tooheys Old.

My dads beer.

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Crossing The Great Water

Our dreams are rich with insight, if we decode the messages.

This week, while facilitating a residential leadership retreat, one came my way.   

“A long suspension bridge spanned the ‘Swan’ river. Sagging, it dipped beneath the surface of the water for a great distance. Yet people in cars and trucks were still crossing. I sensed a man beside me and began to question him … how do those cars manage to cross? Is there visibility under the water? Is there a strong current? How do you seal the car? How do they stay on the road surface? etc. And to my growing concern, he gave me no answer …”

In exploring dreams, the literal rarely makes sense, so I seek connections and associations.

First I was surprised how clearly I knew the name of the river. The Swan River. I know it’s the name of the river running through Perth, but this has no strong relevance to me.

Then I remembered the previous evening watching parts of Jonathan Swans’ interview of President Trump. Swan, an Australian journalist and son of Dr Norman Swan, impressed me with his very straight forward, almost innocent approach.

The second obvious association was with Covid-19. The pandemic and it’s impact was a dominant background to all conversations over the preceding two days.

The perilous crossing of the bridge in my dream, seemed a fair metaphor for the unknowns which lie ahead.

Finally my thoughts traced back to my roots where I grew up on a property located behind Fawcetts Creek, in northern NSW.

Each February, during the rainy season, the creek would flood. At times we would need to cross it.

The process was always the same.

First a scouting of the natural ford, to assess the depth of water (above waist deep was too dangerous) and whether the creek bed was stable and unobstructed.

Even now I can recall the mesmerising swirls and power of the red-brown torrent.

If driving across appeared feasible then the Land Rover was prepared.

WD40 sprayed onto the electricals, a hessian sack tied to the grill to reduce the water surge onto the radiator fan and engine. 

The sturdy Rover was revved up and driven into the water at a confident speed.

Momentum is crucial. As is the ‘DO NOT STOP’ principle.

Once committed, there’s no room for hesitation or gear changes.

Fortunately we made each crossing safely.

When however the flood water was clearly too dangerous, we’d park the Rover.

Then hike three wet kilometres, skirting the creek along a track on higher ground, to a welcome home.

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Formation

In 2010 I subscribed to The New Yorker magazine after years of reading dated copies from the local library.

Quality essays, quirky cartoons, a weekly education.

And then occasionally, like in this April article, ‘Baking Bread in Lyon‘, a real gem shines.

An unremarkable pair of sentences to most readers, I am certain. An oblique aside, explaining a French term.

Yet to me, those words leapt from the page, full of meaning.

Describing a special relationship between formation and callingcomme c’est magnifique!

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Chief Seattle

Chief Seattle, leader of the Suquamish tribe of the Washington territory is said to have delivered this prophetic message in 1854, to mark the transfer of ancestral lands to the federal government.

“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.

The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.

The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.

If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers.

Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.

This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

One thing we know: our God is also your God. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.

Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered? The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be? Gone! And what is to say goodbye to the swift pony and then hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.

When the last red man has vanished with this wilderness, and his memory is only the shadow of a cloud moving across the prairie, will these shores and forests still be here? Will there be any of the spirit of my people left?

We love this earth as a newborn loves its mother’s heartbeat. So, if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it, as we have cared for it. Hold in your mind the memory of the land as it is when you receive it. Preserve the land for all children, and love it, as God loves us.

As we are part of the land, you too are part of the land. This earth is precious to us. It is also precious to you.

One thing we know – there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.”

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Half Century

Earlier this month I passed the half century mark.

Obviously not the first to reach this milestone, nor the last, just another one of billions passing through.

Yet I am glad to have made it this far. At this time.

What does it feel like to turn 50?

Well … it feels like this picture!

On reflection, I am grateful to all who shared parts of my fifty year journey, through highs, lows and plateaus.

It’s true, I really wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

What Really Matters

In passing 50 I notice what I care about most is clarifying and that I feel more inclined to give voice and take action on those matters.

    ‘If not now, when?’ I ask myself.

How heavily we humans tread upon this precious planet. Australia’s wounded relationship with Indigenous people and culture. 

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Gradual Progress

This week I found myself reflecting on progress, prompted partly by the launch of the latest Leadership Formation series.

But more viscerally and visually by my participation in a local painting class.

Each Sunday morning I join a small circle of students learning with the guidance of a classically trained French artist.

All newcomers begin at the beginning, by painting an eggplant still life.

Then moving at our own pace, we follow our inclinations into more challenging territory.

My latest project (my first commission!) is a violin for my wife to hang in her music room.

This progression represents six weeks effort …

Unsurprisingly the parallels to my work with teams, or in leadership formation are striking.

Trusting the process, gradually accumulating depth, pausing and painting, course correcting, parking the critical voice, steady absorption in the work.

And before you know it, with care and patience, what began as a rough intent, takes form as an expression of your Self.

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