The Clearing Process

The lightest, simplest way I know to bring your work to the world

For the last six months, I’ve been running courses in how to be clear. They’ve been fun and wonderful and inspiring to lead and I’ve really, really loved them.

And, I’ve been learning as I go.

One of the things I learned doing stand-up comedy was ‘the crowd is a genius’. (The idea is that if you’re dealing with one heckler — you can win, because you have a microphone and a stage and you only have to be funnier than them. But if you find you’re up against the audience as a whole — they’ll win. Because — collectively — they know more than you, they have more jokes than you, they’re faster than you…) And it’s true for teaching as well as comedy. I learn so much about what I’m trying to teach, because, collectively, the crowd I’m going to teach it to sees it more clearly than I do. They ask all the difficult questions and they pinpoint the little holes in the logic. And they emphasise the bits that work and help to reinforce them.

So, over the last six months, my process has become more refined. Sharper. More explicit. More…ordered.

In the past, I’ve talked about being clear consisting of three parts: ideas, identity and initiative. And I’ve taught three ways of working with those: the Very Clear Ideas process, Identity Yoga and Initiative Mapping. And those parts are still there — still important. But the underlying work is becoming more obvious.

This work is about tuning into what is yours to do. About knowing what you want (and need, and wish for, and dream of…). About being able to concentrate on bringing that into the world — or being able to let go of it and not bring it into the world if you so choose. And, then, it’s about being sure that you can stay true to it in each step you take as you bring it into the world.

It’s a process of clearing. A process of getting what you’re doing to be very, very clear. Think of the difference between a sheaf of poorly-drafted, long-winded bureaucratic documents that have fallen on the floor and been stuffed into a bag in no particular order. Then think of an acutely crafted poem that in every chosen word vibrates with simple clarity. That’s the difference between a project that is clear and one that is not clear. In his book There Are No Secrets, Peter Brook says: “…a great text, a great piece of music, a great opera score are true knots of energy”. The same is true of any great piece of work — if we get it very, very clear, then it becomes very concentrated and it becomes very powerful. It can be the difference between a good poem and a bad one. Or the difference between a good performance and a bad one. And we thinkabout poetry and performance in those terms. But we can think of our work that way too. How clear it is. How well-defined. How refined. How well-executed. How true. Being clear is a quality we look for in good writing. And it’s a quality we can look for in our own work as well — whatever that work is.

And, I have these three tools that help us to be clearer: the clear ideas, the identity yoga, the initiative mapping. And I’ve been teaching these and offering these. But, more and more, I want to work with people on the full process of clearing. Of getting clear on:

- What is my work?
- How do I do it?
- How can I find ways to do it better?
- What can I do when I get stuck?
- What do I do when I’m being drawn in many directions?
- How can I get the help that I need?

Because, ultimately, getting clear on what we want to do with our time is a way to know ourselves. And getting to know ourselves is how we take our place in the world. The end of getting clear is seeing and living your life’s purpose in every moment. And the way I am learning to do that is by working with other people who want to get clear. Because the crowd is a genius. And it’s through actually applying this work that I get sharper with it.

It’s looking for your life’s work in the work that you do and don’t do.
It’s looking at the commitments that you have and haven’t made.
It’s looking at how and where you invest your energy.

And it’s about becoming more concentrated.

If you’d like to work on getting clearer about what you do, let me know.

The Clearing Process

The way I work now isn’t to come up with something new each time. The way I work is to bring exactly the same process time and time again. And, if ever one bit doesn’t work exactly, then to refine that bit and incorporate any improvements — and then get back to repeating the same process again and again. Refining and perfecting this one process.

And I teach that one process to others, because — for this one task of being clear — it has been refined and perfected and refined and perfected. So someone else can pick it up and get the benefit from it — without personally having to go through the countless rounds of trial and error that produced it. Then — when they have learned it — I hope that they will stay in touch with the work, because I will keep on refining and perfecting it before and after the version that I teach them.

And, as more and more people learn the work, they can help me refine and perfect it still further — by bringing their difficult questions and their demanding requests and their wisdom and experience. Because the crowd is a genius.

So, today, what I thought I’d do is just spell out the steps that I follow in the work that I do. And to do that in the form of an invitation. To say plainly — this is what I do and this is how I do it and this is why — and to say: if you think this process would be helpful for you, let me know. So…

These are the stages and this is how it works:

The clearing process begins with making a list of all the various things that you might want to get clear on. All the unfinished projects. Unmet desires. Rough ideas. Niggling doubts. Enduring distractions. Untamed passions.

The next step is choosing what to get clear on and then defining it well. (This is where the Very Clear Ideas process comes in.) Defining it well means being able to say: This is my idea. I know what is in and what is out. I can describe it in words so you can understand exactly where I’m coming from.

Once you know what you want to get clear on, and once it’s well-defined, then the next step is working out how to do it. And that’s the difference between a lofty, idealistic ambition and… a shopping list. Getting clear on what you know and don’t know. Getting clear on what you’ll do yourself and what you’ll get help with. Getting to know how the things that need to be done contribute to each other — what depends on what. Making sure that the things you think you need to do in order to make the thing happen are actually the things you need to do.

And, when you are clear on how to do it, then comes identifying a next step. And not just general things you need to do, but actually the next thing you can do that doesn’t depend on anything else getting done first. The next specific step: standing up, writing a letter, sending an email, leaving the house, calling a friend, picking up a hammer… whatever it is. And checking that the next step is true to the idea you got clear on. That it adds up as part of your map of all the things you need to do.

When you are clear on what the next step is, then comes actually taking the next step. Or, if you get to that point and it doesn’t feel easy or possible to take the next step, then looking for anything that is in the way. (This is where identity yoga comes in.) When we want to start something new (as Thomas Heide says in his work on ‘experiencing change’) “we find ourselves having to push against the whole universe”. When we want to start something new, it often means letting go of something. Because for a very long time we’ve notbeen doing whatever it is we’re thinking of starting — and we probably had all kinds of good reasons for not doing it. And, if we want to start it, we have to let go of some of those good reasons. And that might mean looking at how we see the world and how we see ourselves — and maybe calling some of that into question. It might mean being a bit flexible (or else — nothing changes).

When taking a next step is taken care of, then keeping track of commitments made is a craft that falls somewhere between honouring your work and being an accountant. (And this is where initiative mapping comes in.) If we want to stay concentrated, to stay clear, on what we are doing, then it pays to know what we are committed to. And it pays to keep out commitments up to date — so we are doing things because we need to, not just because at some point we said we would. So we remember to stop investing in something when it has served its purpose. It’s like managing the tabs on your browser. Sure — keep them all open if you need all of them. But, if you want to really concentrate, close down anything you don’t need to have open.

And when you are working on what is yours to do and it is well-defined and you are taking the necessary steps (and being mindful of what you’re committed to), all that remains is asking for help. If you’re working alone and you need no assistance from anyone — then you get to skip this step. But, for everyone else, there is a skill in asking for help. How to ask and who to ask. And, when you’ve asked, making very clear deals to ensure that the people who want to help are actually helping.

Last thing. When the work is done — remembering to stop. And, when the work is done, looking back on what was done (and how and why) and celebrating.

Don't start an organisation

When you need to get something done and you can’t do it yourself, then you need help.
When you need a lot of help, you need a lot of people.
And when you have a lot of people, then someone is likely to tell you that you need an organisation.

“Be careful, very careful about organisations…Organisations kill work.” — Vanda Scaravelli

When you start out making something, it’s because you have a need. You need somewhere to live, so you start building a house. If you need help, then you get help. And the people who agree to help might help until the house is built. Then, when the house is built, it’s over.

But when there are a lot of people involved, someone may say it’s time to start an organisation.

You’ll need a name for it. And a legal structure. And maybe a branding agency to help you work out what the identity of the organisation is. Then you’ll need people to take responsibility for different parts of the organisation. And you’ll have to divide your time between building the organisation and building the house.

At a certain point, someone might say you need to work out what the purpose of the organisation is. And you might have to ask everyone involved what they think it is. And people will start talking about ‘working for the organisation’.

But when you start talking about the organisation as a thing, you’ve created a phantom.
When you start talking about the organisation as having a purpose of its own, you’ve created a phantom.
When you start talking about the organisation having an identity of its own, you’ve created a phantom.
When you start talking about ‘working for this or that organisation’, you’re talking about working for a phantom.

Because in the first place there was just a person with a need. A real, live need. A need that could be met. A person who needed help and asked for help. Where the help was directed at meeting that need. Directly. And progress was measured by whether the need was met yet. And when the need was met, it was over.

But when you start talking about organisations as things — with purpose and identity and the rest — then the original need can find itself competing with a phantom. People start doing things ‘for the sake of the organisation’. People start investing in the idea that it’s a good thing that the organisation survives. If you’re helping the person who needs a house built, then it’s clear who you’re helping. And it’s clear what the need is and where it came from. If you’re helping ‘the organisation’, though, then it’s not clear who you are helping. And it’s not clear what the need is and it’s not clear where it came from. Because ‘helping the organisation’ is a meaningless phrase.

It’s easy to be tempted into starting an organisation. ‘But surely you need to start an organisation if things are complicated. Surely you need to start an organisation if lots of people are involved. Surely it’s OK to start an organisation, so long as it’s serving the original need — of building a house or whatever it might have been.’

When there are a lot of people involved, when things are complicated, then you may need collaboration. You may need coordination. You may need communication. You may even need to organise things. You may needorganisation. But an organisation?

Take a group of people and tell them there’s an organisation in the room and watch everything get more difficult. What is the point of this organisation? Who gets to decide what is done when? How do I fit into this organisation? The conversation takes on a certain quality: the quality of a crowd of people arguing about something that doesn’t exist as if it does exist. Where there are no right answers. It’s an exercise in fiction. And it’s a way of not doing the work.

Because the organisation doesn’t exist, it is a blank slate. A mirror in which everyone sees what they want to see. An empty page onto which anyone can write their story. It can appear to take on a life of its own, animated by the unconscious desires of those observing it. We end up seeing ourselves in it.

If we look at work through the lens of organisations, we are looking at work through the lens of identity. What is this organisation? Who are we as an organisation? When you talk about organisations, how often do you refer to the need it’s trying to meet? And how often do you just refer to it by name? Nestle. Phillip Morris. Coca Cola. General Motors. The focus ends up on the character, not the work. Colonel Sanders. Ronald McDonald. A whole drama of personalities. We treat organisations as if they are fixed. We talk about them as if they are constant. The names and the corporate faces give the impression of an enduring state. Something to identify with in perpetuity. But this is a sideshow.

The identity obscures the initiative. If a man is building a house and needs help building a house, then the initiative is front and centre. The need is front and centre. And it’s possible to talk about the need directly. Do you want to help meet this need? Are you helping meet this need? Has the need been met yet?

Adding anything to this obscures the need. What shall we call ourselves? What should the logo be? What’s my job title? What kind of organisation is this? What are the prospects for promotion? As soon as we start talking about anorganisation, rather than just organisation, we split our focus in two. Between the work to be done to meet the need of the person who needs help, on the one hand, and the organisation-as-phantom on the other. When we start talking about an organisation, we enter a fictional universe — one step removed from the reality of one person helping another.

When there is not an organisation, there are only people. People who ask for help and people who help.

When there is not an organisation, it forces us to put our focus on what is actually happening. We have to look at personal relationships. We have to look at personal commitments. We have to look at personal responsibility.

When there is not an organisation, we have to look at what people have appetite for. We have to look at how strong the bonds are between people. We have to see what holds people together and what doesn’t.

When there is not an organisation — no corporate song, no compelling brand, no iconic face — then, for want of something else to distract us, we end up focused on the work to be done.

If you want the work to be done, then communicate the vision. Have a vision. Get clear on what the vision is. Articulate the vision. Find people who believe in the vision. Who have the passion required to take the action to realise that vision. Let them bring their passion. Let them take action. Let the vision be realised.

But don’t start an organisation.

You may remember the story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of Truth,” said the devil. “That is a very bad business for you, then,” said his friend. “Oh, not at all,” the devil replied, “I am going to let him organize it.” — Truth is a pathless land, Krishnamurti