Centres of Gravity

We all have some “centres of gravity” around which we orbit.

Family, Business, Idea, Cause. No matter where we go, they exert their pull and will always bring us back.

It used to be that the organisation we worked for was a major centre of gravity. It helped define us, provided a career and a social network, and gave us security. It was a major pull, and other centres of gravity were secondary. Other planets orbiting our organisational sun.

That’s changing. In a world where everything is more connected than ever, and people are more mobile than ever, the pull of the organisation is weakening.

In its stead, is the idea. People are increasingly attracted by the ideas that affirm them, and they will gravitate to those who best express those ideas. As individuals, they get their security from their craft and their network, not the HR department of an organisation that thinks of them as resources.

The power of the organisation as a structure is fading, but the power of what it stands for, and can be seen to stand for beyond money, is rising.

Authority derived from position is fading, whilst authority generated by what people stand for and enable is increasing.

The power of scale is decreasing, whilst the power of connection and context is increasing.

It is redefining what it means to be a leader.

Whether as individual or organisation, our leadership authority is only as powerful as what we demonstrated yesterday.

Balance

The Corpus Callosum is a piece of connective tissue, about four inches long, that connects the two hemispheres of our brain. In effect, it enables them to “talk’ to each other. It ensures the different functionalities work well together to give us a balanced view.

Whilst the strict demarcation of “left brain logical” and “right brain creative” has long since been discredited, we think that the functions of the two hemispheres do still broadly fall into these different functionalities.

Interesting things happen when the corpus callosum is damaged, and the “cross talk’ is impaired. We can describe the things we see in our right visual field (left brain hemisphere), but without the connection to the right hemisphere we will force a logic to them. Show a picture of a chicken, and another of a shovel in the snow, and we are likely to say the shovel is to clean out the chicken shed. Conversely, things we see in the left visual field (right hemisphere) we can make creative connections about, but cannot describe. people with damaged corpus callosum can function, but have only a partial and distorted view of the world, and have difficulty translating feelings to action.

I think we can see the same effct going on in many businesses. When we are focused on returns, and other hard metrics, it’s easy to lose sight of things that matter – purpose, social contribution, a sense of community. We can make up logic for doing things that we know really we shouldn’t, but hey, got to make the quarter’s results.

The same with creativity. We see things and connect them, but can’t find the “acceptable” words to describe them. Things of real potential value that don’t see the light of day because we can’t translate them into the language of profit.

It’s easy to lose the ability to “sense” things, to ignore what our feelings. our gut and heart are telling us. to treat our bodies as merely something that gets our left brain to meetings.

With the change we are in, it’s vitally important we can balance logic and our senses to come up with balanced views. To avoid populism in all it’s forms, and create false logic for what we know to be counterproductive in the longer term.

In our businesses, the Board should act as the corpus callosum but all too often, it gets hijacked and disabled by short term pressures. A nned to “perform” for short term gain.

The balance provided by the corpus callosum is vital to our wellbeing. We may be able to function without it, but the result misses out on a lot of what makes life joyous.

The same goes for business.

Stranded on the summit.

To make the changes we need to not just survive, but thrive together, we have to go beyond what we know and be guided by what we believe in, our intuition, and our insight.

It’s difficult, because we’re used to proof. A solid business case. Someone to blame if it goes wrong.

We’re used to lionising those who succeed, and castigating those who fail, even when what has been as stake is little more than profitably rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

We’ve entered a period where to progress we need to go into the unknown and be prepared to fail in the pursuit of something worthwhile, whilst we gain the knowledge that will be the platform for the next decades of growth. (hint; people will be more important than systems)

Which brings me to an issue I see. Most of our training around innovation, creativity and leadership is formulaic. Designed for what we have been doing, not what we need to do. It is well delivered, professional, often expensive but has short time horizons. Its’ usefulness also has a short half life in periods of rapid change.

The capabilities we need to develop are significantly different. They address what is emerging but not yet clear, and focus on different values to the financial ones that have brought us to now. They are varied, developmental, often experiential and address more distant time horizons. They are not always expensive, or at this stage profitable for the providers.

This seems to generate a conflict. These two approaches speak different languages. They have different goals. Each can regard the other with disdain, as either too mundane, or too flaky. We need to resolve this conflict.

(Note – there is evidence of this changing. Attendance at Burning Man and some other settings includes senior leaders from a range of organisations – but we’re only making the tiniest of scratches in a very hard surface.)

We need a bridge; a common language. Otherwise, we get people to deep insights whilst exploring the unknown, and leave them stranded without any way to bring it back into the current mainstream. We can do the work, take them to the top of the mountain, but then leave them there.

The key is delivering insight, often to people who will resist it because it requires new thinking, new habits and new measures all of which are unfamiliar.

It places real loads on leaders who will require very different skills from those we teach in the mainstream.

It requires those of us delivering new ways of seeing to generate insight with a real responsibility to be not just guides, but Sherpas. To go along on the journey, share the load and the risk. To know not just the techniques, but the territory.

(and a High Five to David Chabeaux, who gave me the mountain metaphor. I like it a lot.)

Getting to the top of the mountain is dangerous, and the view is wonderful from there, but as any mountaineer will tell you more people die on the way down than on the way up.