By Dan Fine, Management Consultant at Hive Business
Displaying your colours from the mast during battle used to show loyalty in the naval military tradition. You could strike your colours (take down your flag) to surrender, or nail them to the mast to signal a fight to the death.
The world is more complicated than a naval battle because the things you notice are defined by your aims. Being anchored to a clear aim is therefore a fundamental first step, and so I think a lot about how to help people articulate their aims in business.
I never tire of sharing this quote from the stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger with my clients: “A good person dyes events with his own colour and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.” The work of figuring out what your colour is is about discovering what’s important to you, and realising what your elephant wants rather than trying to make it conform to assumptions based on a priori knowledge.
It’s a big challenge because humans are so fickle. For instance, when you look at a chair you probably don’t see pieces of wood stuck together, instead you see a seat. But if someone is attacking you perhaps you see a weapon. What the chair represents will always be bound to your changing subjective experience unless you have already set your intention.
In business, if you haven’t set your intentions clearly you won’t be able to interpret the complex information that emerges around you consistently. On the other hand, if you’re clear on your purpose, everything that emerges around you becomes a potential opportunity.
For example, a practice manager who is perceived to be “under-performing” might be working in a vacuum if the leader hasn’t set clear objectives and boundaries. More than once we have seen an apparently troublesome staff member flourish during a Hive consultancy programme.
There will be surprises, but when you investigate what you really want and then interpret problems as they emerge, you’ll feel a solid foundation for future business growth start to emerge.
It’s the difference between fitting a big superstructure over your life and expecting it to work versus growing a system organically from the centre out. Unless you’re spending a lot of time thinking about your colour — your values, your aspirations, your true path — you can’t know what you want.
You can only grapple with your purpose as you go along, it never stops. Of course, you might be successful, but you won’t be as successful as you could be if you knew what you really wanted.
Find your colour, be loyal to your own purpose and nail it to the mast. Keep checking in with yourself that it’s right. Before long, whatever happens, nothing will be able to stop you.