Over the last century we have seen a growing need for everything to be extreme. I was amazed to hear on the radio recently a report on the world extreme ironing championships in Germany. Apparently competitors have to iron things while suspended in a tree or canoeing down some rapids. Irons have been developed specially to enable this bizarre activity. I assume this is meant to be humorous but I do find it strange to live in a society where it can even be a joke.

In business there seems to be a competition for who can be the most flamboyant, ruthless leader. Events at Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen and others have shown where this often leads, destroying many peoples livelihoods and savings. Furthermore the people that are lucky enough to keep their jobs in the companies that survive generally seem to be having a pretty miserable time as well. Even in the world of personal development we see titles like Awaken the Giant Within and The Last Word in Power. Words like balance and contentment do not get much airtime.

Recently, however, a couple of business books have started to highlight the importance of balance. In Good to Great, Jim Collins carried out extensive research into companies that had not only achieved greatness but also sustained it for at least fifteen years. One of the key findings was the importance of AND. These companies and their leaders combined things that many would have thought were opposites. You will not recognise the names of any of these leaders because they combined professional will and personal humility. They had a passion for their business and kept time for family and other interests. They had deep understanding of their business and found a driving concept that was very simple. They had cultures of both freedom and responsibility. They could shun technology fads and pioneer the application of technology.

The leaders that either pioneered or turned round these companies put great emphasis on getting the right people around them before they decided what to actually do. They wanted people who shared their values so they could then trust them to get on with whatever needed doing. When asked to explain their success they said things like ‘I was in the right place at the right time and lucky enough to be surrounded by great people’. This is in stark contrast to the general recruitment approach that recommends defining in great detail what needs to be done before looking for people to do it. In a rapidly change world this locks the company into an old way of doing things. Funnily enough the leaders of failing organisations often put this down to bad luck and not being able to get the right people.

In Alpha Leadership by Deering, Dilts and Russel the leaders of tomorrow are again exhorted to balance and combine: show dogged pursuit and know when to stop; stretch your resources and build in some redundancy; recognise your boundaries and be agile beyond them. Quoting their quote from quantum physicist Nils Bohr ‘There are two types of truth. In a superficial truth, the opposite is false. In a deep truth, the opposite is also true.’

They also highlight the importance of the alignment of personal and business goals. Many people and companies have never even actually stopped and thought long enough to realise what their goals are let alone whether they align.

If balance, synthesis and personal awareness are this important we have to ask ourselves what we should be doing to develop these skills. Unfortunately we cannot delegate personal awareness for other people to do for us. We have to start actually doing things differently.

Most of the training we have all received is about breaking things down into manageable chunks, using linear logic to decide what to do and then driving this activity until it is done. This is very left brain activity. Achieving balance and personal awareness is very different. It requires us to spend more time being and less time doing. It involves pulling strands together and assessing the resultant mess. Many business writers are actually starting to refer to messy problems. Addressing this is much more a right brain activity. It uses the immense power of the unconscious to recognise patterns and make intuitive leaps.

We have seen progress from the world of psychology in tapping into the right brain. Emotional intelligence is quite often referred to now for example. A discipline that is particularly impressive, by both in terms of power and practicality is Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP has been described as an owner’s manual for the brain and comprises a range of tools and techniques that allow us to point our entire brains, left and right, in the required direction. They can be used to provide focus and motivation when we have decided what to do and this tends to be where training has focussed. Applied slightly differently, however, we can use it to expand our awareness and become more creative and intuitive.

The power of these techniques is illustrated by their ability to remove most phobias in less than 30 minutes. Previously this would have taken weeks of therapy and even then success was by no means common.

Viewed from this perspective the whole thing looks upside down. As good consumers we are bombarded with the view that we need to have things and do things in order to be happy. What we can learn from these techniques is that we can find a place within where we can just be happy and that from this place we can make better decisions about what to do and what we need to have. This is very like the organisational learning of getting the right people involved before deciding what to do.

Bob Walder worked as a management consultant for twenty odd years and got increasingly frustrated by the obsession for immediate results and the often inhuman treatment of people. It is his passion that people should be able to use their full creative potential and have fun in their work. Recently he set up Catalyst to provide development seminars in this area under the strap line Expanding Choice. Based predominantly on NLP a days training can really open a persons perspective. Ben Hunt-Davis who won a gold medal rowing in the last Olympic said ‘Bob really helped me break through a mental block to access more resourceful states of mind’.

This approach has certainly paid dividends in the companies that sustained success. Not only that but the people working in them generally enjoyed it more. Unfortunately we are unlikely to hear much about the people who are succeeding in this way because they are not hot stories but they are out there, quietly getting on with a successful and happy life. It is certainly where I want to head.