The Power of Standing Still ~ Some reflections for Self Management

This posting is completely taken from Michael Bungay Stanier’s Outside the Lines – The Business Edition. I’ve referred often to Michael’s website and newsletters before. He continues to be a great source of inspiration, always with a great practical twist. So here are more of his shared insights. Thanks again Michael!

Let me guess: You’re busy

In the last month I’ve worked with people in Mumbai, Prague, Toronto and London. And in each place I’ve asked: Who’s busy?

The most typical answer I get? A laugh … just slightly tinged with tiredness and despair.

Who ISN’T busy is perhaps the better question.

There’s no getting away from it. Part of the greatest challenge of getting more Great Work into your life is the constant, never-ceasing flood of Good Work that’s rushing in at you from all corners.

And that means you’re in Processing mode

Work in, work out.

You’re uber-efficient, getting stuff done, emails sorted, meetings attended.

In fact, you only realize just how quickly things (and you) are moving when you come back from vacation, and it takes you a day or two to get back into the swing of things, to pick up the pace.

But being busy isn’t the road to success.

The 90/10 rule

A 2002 Harvard Business Review article, “Beware the Busy Manager” found that 90% of the managers they surveyed were involved in ‘busy work” – and only 10% had the right combination of focus and energy to do the work that matters.

Part of the secret to getting into – and staying in – that 10% is the capacity to stop. And be still. And figure out what’s important.

It’s the difference between being strategic or staying tactical.

In fact, some say that busyness is a form of laziness. Because you’re too lazy to work out what not to do.

The ways stillness helps you

1. Stillness gives you Power

Keith Johnstone is regarded as the father of improvisational theatre. In his book Impro, he talks about one of the key dynamics of this art form, the difference between high status and low status.

If there are two people on stage, one will have high status, the other low. That status is not derived from their nominal roles (In King Lear we can see how a king can be low status and a fool can be high status). It comes from your presence, how you hold yourself.

High status people will hold themselves still. Especially their head and hands.

So, on a personal level, stillness can help you increase your influence by boosting your status.


Just practice this: Keep your head and hands still as you sit here now in your chair, and notice the shift that occurs in you.

2. Stillness influences the system.

Watch this short video first to see this in action.

Standing still changes how people react to you. It may not be instantly, but soon people will ask: what’s going on here?

And it will change what you notice in the system. It can help you notice patterns and to get a “meta” view.

And that new perspective can help you to work out what really matters.

Don’t take my word for it

Smart folks thinking out loud about calm and stillness.

“Stillness of person and steadiness of features are signal marks of good breeding.”
– Oliver Wendell Holmes, American author

“Few things are brought to a successful issue by impetuous desire, but most by calm and prudent forethought.”
-Thucydides, Greek historian

“Activity conquers cold, but stillness conquers heat.”
– Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher

“One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be mere rushing on.”
– D.H. Lawrence, British author

“Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.”
– Michael Caine, British actor

“I inherited that calm from my father, who was a farmer. You sow, you wait for good or bad weather, you harvest, but working is something you always need to do.”
– Miquel Indurain, Spanish cyclist

“Many a calm river begins as a turbulent waterfall, yet none hurtles and foams all the way to the sea.”
– Mikhail Lermontov, Russian poet