I lived in the Netherlands for a while, once upon a time. I had a proper Dutch bike - huge, heavy, minimally-braked - and I cycled a lot. I cycled to restaurants and bars, I cycled to the cinema, I cycled from Scheveningen to Den Helder with a tent, and I nearly cycled under a tram one time when I was in too much of a hurry (I owe my life to a lamp post which I managed to hug at the last moment).
Last week I was back in Holland for a few days. I was sitting under a tree writing my post about Rob Farrands’ thought-provoking seminar at ODN Europe, and thinking about what it means to move in an organisation in a embodied way. I was trying to think of an example that would explain it well. And then, cycling back and forth between the campsite and Delft, I realised I’d found one.
I’d started to notice something about the Dutch on bikes - they moved serenely, steadily, like boats. At first I put this down to the weight of the bikes, the inertia of heavy objects, like barges gliding along a canal. By contrast, on our lighter semi-mountain bikes, we seemed more nimble, but also twitchy and uncertain. Then I wondered whether it was just our hesitancy showing - remembering to look left first, not right, at junctions, and so on.
And then I had it: I was watching the Dutch in a state of individual and collective flow. Much more than simply being good on a bike, each cyclist embodies not just their own riding ability, but also the whole cycling system. They look when they need to look, they merge with other cycles, they cross paths with cars and pedestrians - all without conscious thought. They have absorbed the things that are needed in order to be in this system. They’ve internalised all the rules and live in this system - this world - by feel rather than thought.
Rob’s view is that this is how it is to be in an organisation - moving with engaged agency but without rational thought. Only for the newly arrived is the organisation visible and strange, only for the tourist does it require conscious thought to navigate: our twitchy, defensive riding, our small hesitations, the way we watched others to see what they did first.
Again, thanks to Rob Farrands for inspiring this train of thought.
I was going to write about our experience of organisational wellness and illness in this post, but I’ll do that in part three instead.