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Abigail Hunt, Associate Director, Mindset, Deloitte Ventures, Tax & Legal interviews Brennan and asks what role does pausing play in your professional practice? What pattern of pausing and reflecting do you have as an individual? Is it a practice or a response to something external?

Focusing on how pressing pause (both as individuals and as a team) is a critical step in helping us to slow down, reflect and make the best possible decisions.

In March Abigail was struck by these lines in a short piece by Brennan:

“…by curiously engaging with the difficult thing we are all going through, we are much better placed to spot novel solutions, to learn and to grow.”

Abigail became preoccupied by the power and potential of pausing and reflecting, and sought more insight.

Abigail: Let’s start by understanding what curious engagement means.

Brennan: Simply put, ‘curious engagement’ means using enquiry as a tool to aid focus. In more explicit and practical terms, it means slowing down to analyse and digest what we are experiencing. Instead of racing from project to project, or just getting through our ‘to do’ lists with the primary purpose of ‘getting it done’, it invites us to recognise our own value beyond machine-like efficiencies.

The impact of such engagement is significant. When we slow down and get curious, our quality of thinking is enhanced, and we are better able to listen and ask valuable questions such as ‘what’s really going on here?’ or ‘what might we be taking for granted?’. As a result, curious engagement can help us find insight and opportunities we might have missed and, ultimately, live out our work and lives more fully.

To put it another way, curious engagement means bringing an element of wonder about what is going on.  In relation to COVID 19, for example, this could mean slowing down and working out how to move out/through the current difficulties in a more nuanced way rather than as rapidly as possible.  It means working through challenges tangle by tangle and asking the question “how can I engage with this so my primary concern is understanding and not just getting it done?”.

This quote from German poet and novelist Rilke is helpful:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. […] Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Abigail: How do we learn to fall in love with the questions rather than racing to solutions and the next thing?

Brennan: One point to flag is that there is of course a time and place for answers and solutions. Part of learning to ‘fall in love with the questions’ is not just knowing how to press pause, but also having the wisdom to know when to do it. My view is that pausing is best placed when we are doing creative work or are met with complexity, or what we could call ‘immaterial urgency’. For example, if the building is on fire that is a very material and urgent threat and pausing for more than a moment is likely inappropriate. In contrast, if we are trying to work out how best to strategically respond to an unforeseen shift in the market, slowing down to think carefully is critical.

Once we have a sense of when to press pause, there are at least a few ways we can do it. Stopping what you are doing, sitting down, having no agenda, and allowing space to notice what is going on in you and around you is a simple way to press pause as an individual.  You are putting a stake in the ground. You’ll likely feel more agency as well as you remind yourself that you are more than just your ability to get things done as fast as possible. In this way, patience is a big part of pausing.

It’s possible for small groups to use that same personal practice in a collective way, but there are also other ways in which teams can benefit from pausing in more united ways. At the start of a team meeting, a simple exercise in pausing might be asking everyone to write down all the things going through their mind that are unconnected with the session (e.g. a looming deadline, something that someone said to them 20 mins ago) and to stick it on the wall. In this way, the team is effectively pressing pause on those mental files. It is pausing so as to make space to fully engage with what the group’s meeting or session has in store. That is the gift of pressing pause: the time and space to see things, and each other, more clearly.  

Abigail: Thanks Brennan – incredibly helpful and a provocation to reap the benefits of pausing and reflecting even more.  Reflection is part of my M.O. at the end of projects yet the benefits of creating a more regular practice are clear, not least given our uncertain times and markets.

1.   What is your practice for pressing pause?
2.   Which items on your to-do list might benefit most from curious engagement?
3.   What might your team stand to gain by bringing greater curiosity into the rest of this year?

Abigail Hunt, Associate Director, Mindset, Deloitte Ventures, Tax & Legal

Dr. Brennan Jacoby, Philosopher and Founder – Philosophy at Work 

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