Target Fixation

target-fixationAnyone who has done a basic riding course, or raced, or flown as a pilot will tell you about “target fixation” – the natural risk we face of colliding with what we are focused on.

A major cause of accidents for beginners at cycling is that they focus on what they want to avoid, rather than where they want to go.

We more we look at the apex of an approaching corner, or a pot hole in the road, rather than beyond it to where we want to go, the more we increase our chances of hitting it.

It always seems strange to me then that in organisations, we spend our time looking at what we want to avoid. We spend a lot of time looking at problems and analysing risk, rather than looking at possibilities for growth, or impact, or opportunity. Even just a quick look back at the BREXIT campaign is instructive – by focusing on the downsides, it seems we are going to encounter them. I wonder what might have happened if we’d looked instead at where leaving, or staying, might have offered possibilities?

There’s an interesting working paper from MIT Sloan with the catchy title “Identifying viable “need-solution pairs”: Problem solving without problem formulation“. A serious read, unless you’re into this type of thing – but important.

At the heart of the thesis is that focusing on solutions to identified problems restricts us. If on the other hand, we focus on identifying possibilities, the solutions to problems appear more effectively, and move us beyond conventional solutions. A classic example they quote is roller luggage:

“Mr. Bernard D. Sadow, now 85, had his eureka moment in 1970 as he lugged two heavy suitcases through an airport while returning from a family vacation in Aruba. Waiting at customs, he said, he observed a worker effortlessly rolling a heavy machine on a wheeled skid.

“I said to my wife, ‘You know, that’s what we need for luggage,’ ” Mr. Sadow recalled. When he got back to work, [Sadow worked at a luggage company] he took casters off a wardrobe trunk and mounted them on a big travel suitcase. “I put a strap on the front and pulled it, and it worked,” he said.” (Sharkey 2010)”

At a time of volatile and unpredictable change, our brain’s natural focus is often directed by fear rather than reward. The last thing we want to do is welcome the threat we see as a platform for possibility, let alone ignore it and look beyond it to where we want to be.

But that’s what we need to do.

Of course we need to understand and manage the risks we see as best we can – but not to the exclusion of possibility.

Mind where you place your attention.

Plan A or Plan B?

Ejector Seat

Plan A and Plan B are different.

We are often exhorted to avoid a “Plan B” mentality, as it involves, or even invokes, a failure mindset. At the same time, we are encouraged to think lean, to test MVP – “minimum viable product”, and to make “persevere or pivot” decisions based on evidence  and experience.

Plan A can be the stuff of heroes, even if heroic failure. The Light Brigade had no plan B. Neither did Lehman. When it works – like Dyson – it works really well. When it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

One of our well known retailers may have promoted a legend of “Plan A, because there is no Plan B”, devised I suspect via more or less conventional strategic processes. In its current situation, I do wonder though whether the shareholders may have one.

On the other hand, Dyson is a legedary Plan A company, and has done rather well.

Plan B can be inspiration of insight, of a stroke of genius ignited by a willingness to lift our nose from the grindstone. Twitter started out as Odeo, a podcasting platform that found itself threatened by iTunes, Given two weeks to find an alternative, the team came up with the idea of microblogging. That seems to be working quite well.

The key of course is whose plan it is, and that in turn comes down to purpose. If an individual, or committed team, is driven by a clear sense of personal and collective purpose – a compelling sense of being involved in something worthwhile, in something bigger than ourselves, then we are in control.

If we are working with people who share or support that purpose, stronger still. If the role we fill supports both, take a bow. Plan B is not a priority. You are in the company of Whole Foods, of Zappos, of the Acumen Fund, and many of the inspirational charities and “not for profits” that change lives.

On the other hand, many of us find ourselves in places less certain, where the purpose of owners, leaders, managers, staff and clients sit in a diverse array of different purpose.

In these cases, the collateral effects of a BREXIT vote, or a shareholder decision, removes the fragile certainties on which our jobs rest. Unless we have purpose, we end up in reactive mode, chasing shadows, and less than happy. In these circumstances, having a Plan B is vital.

For most of us, Plan A and Plan B are different but complementary.

Plan A is about us, our purpose, and our capability of doing something meaningful. It doesn’t have to be huge (although that is good!), but it does need to have meaning. With a clear sense of, and commitment to, meaning and personal purpose, we find the resilience to always move forward. Even when surrounded by what seems at first sight, collective idiocy, we can still find our way. It may change over time, but it is us who change it.

Plan B is about where we exercise Plan A. We can choose who we work for and with, about the obigations we take on, and about our ability, if needed, to pivot. The challenge we face is not to let Plan A become hostage to Plan B. When money, or ego, or debt tie us to Plan B, Plan A suffers. Plan B can be changed my many forces, very few of which are under our control, but to which we can adapt if we have a clear Plan A.

Plan A requires the hard work of reflection – who we are, what really matters to us, what we are prepared to do to get it, and to keep the end in mind as we pursue it.

If short of inspiration, read “What to do when it’s your turn” by Seth Godin. If that doesn’t do it, mail me for others.

Plan B requires us to treat the more superficial attractions of those we work for as just that – Dispensable. We can seek out those organisations where our own sense of purpose, aligns with theirs, and the role we fill strengthens both. If we can’t find them yet, that’s ok – just keep plan A centre stage while you do the equivalent of a resting actor flipping burgers. For ideas on a framework to construct your Plan B, have a look at Business Model You.

Bear in mind, career decisions are as open to “Buyers Remorse” as overpaying for that new car. Don’t fall for it. Being taken hostage is just too easy.

Plan A is your life.

Plan B is how you spend it.

 

 

 

 

Step Forward

take-me-to-your-leader-1Given current events, this seems an appropriate question to reflect on today.

In more stable peiods, leadership is less of a challenge. We can identify traits, behaviours, and models and for many years, many people have made a very good livijng training people how to lead.

In the currrent more, er, fluid environment, leadership becomes at the same time much more demanding, but paradoxically, much easier. It becomes about who we are.

When things are as they at the moment, no amount of training, marketing or PR will hack it. Authenticity rules, and any deviation toward a “designed position” stands a very high risk of being seen for what it is – a form of manipulation. If the last three months teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that.

Napoleon Bonaparte said that “Leaders are merchants of hope”. We might do well to remember that.

Today, more than ever, leadership is a disposition, not a role.

If you can answer the following questions without hesitation, then you are one:

  1. Who am I – the real me, or am I being asked to be something other than who I am?
  2. What do I want to achieve with my life that is about more than me?
  3. What are my values – what will I NOT do, what lines will I not cross?
  4. What is my “stance”, or my intention right now? Does it match 1-3?

Everything else – your skills, gifts, networks and experience are all assets to help you deliver what only you can deliver, no matter how small it may seem. We need it from you please.

We all have a choice in fluid times. To watch, or to step forward.

It’s a big  ask, but it’s a choice. Understanding why we’re doing it, how to do it, who to do it with, and what to do. Personally, I believe it’s better than being a spectator.

 

 

The Purpose Platform

give me a place to stand dr kehres

We crave certainty – it’s one of the fundamental, hard wired features of the brain. The only real choice we have is to be clear about that on which we wish to be certain.

As organisations have grown over the last few generations, both neceesity and experience has moved us away from community, family and beliefs as the focus of our certainty to the workplace. A secure job, a secure pension and a good credit rating has become the focus of our certainty. Yet……

This has been eroding quietly in the background for some time. For the most part, it has suited us – experts and lay people alike – to regard what has really been signal, as “noise” – anomalies that will correct themselves. It remains like this, until signal will no longer be denied, and a “black swan” event occurs – most recently, BREXIT.

Both research and experience demonstrate that people vote based on feelings rather than logic, and that those feelings will be generated by that which repels them most. Yet despite this, campaings were run that made that which most repelled become the politicians – the messengers more than the message, and as a result, we ended up with a Black Swan event. The assumption that we would put a desire for economic certainty over a deep seated sense of unfairness proved catastrophically wrong.

We now face an extended period of increased uncertainty, so, if we are not to lose the plot, where do we get our certainty from now?

The answer I think is that it is where it has always been, but for many has been submerged beneath the external drive for us to comply, to compete and to be economically successful. It lies in our own, individual, unique sense of purpose.

We all have one, even if often we’re not sure what it is. There is no quiz, test or consultant who can tell you what it is, but we all sense it.

It is at the heart of where we perform at our best, and sense reward from doing it for its own sake. It always involves something that is bigger than just us, and always involves, in whatever way, helping others. It is central to our growth, and our resilience. It is “somewhere to stand” that is within our own gift, not determined by others.

It is different for each of us – for some a cause, others a belief and others an exploration.

If we acknowedge it, even just the vague sense of it, we can change things. In “Enabling Genius” we identified three elements of understanding where our “genius” might lie – Desire (of which purpose is part), Identity (an understanding of who we really are, our “authentic self”) and mindset (the way we think).

With a sense of purpose, of our “individual genius” if you will, other things become more evident. We can make better choices about who we wotk with and support – in particular, organisations (and politicians!), and the roles we undertake that grow others, through  the organisation, and ourselves.

Rather like fitting your own oxygen mask in place first so you can help others in an emergency, so acknowledging your own, innate, individual purpose is a first step to increasing your sense of certainty, and with that the route to personal and organsiational growth.

Uncertainty is not the enemy, it’s relying on others to provide it for you that is.

If this interests, have a look at Dan Pontefract’s work in this area.

Slaying Dragons

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We have talked for a long time about VUCA conditions – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It’s a powerful concept, although up to now has been more a concept than a considered reality.

In the UK, that changed last Thursday, and the probability is that we’re only just getting going, and if we think it will somehow be limited to the UK, I suspect we will be very mistaken. One can sense the flocks of black swans gathering on the horizon.

The result is that we are now in the dragon manufacturing business. Our limbic systems go into overdrive, and we create all manner of monsters, rather as Navigators of old labelled unexplored areas “here be dragons”

The conditions may indeed be difficult, induced other monsters we created, but that is n reason for us to give them the credence we gave them.

Our biggest challenge is to move our mindsets away from one of dependence on others, through to establishing individual independence, and using that independence as a platform to work with others on an interdependence driven by choice. That is the most effective way to slay the dragons.

So, how to start?

It is a simple and it can be challenging. It starts with an acceptance – that there are, as Buckminster Fuller noted, things that need to be done, that others seem not to see need to be done, and which you can start. In other words, your purpose.

It’s a daunting thought for many – as BF also noted, there is nothing in a caterpillar that recognises it will become a butterfly.

With a sense of purpose, you have a secure platform, which you can use to determine who you work with, what role you take, which will withstand all manner of dragons.

In my next post, we’ll look more at finding purpose in the midst of uncertainty.

We have talked for a long time about VUCA conditions – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It’s a powerful concept, although up to now has been more a concept than a considered reality.

In the UK, that changed last Thursday, and the probability is that we’re only just getting going, and if we think it will somehow be limited to the UK, I suspect we will be very mistaken. One can sense the flocks of black swans gathering on the horizon.

The result is that we are now in the dragon manufacturing business. Our limbic systems go into overdrive, and we create all manner of monsters, rather as Navigators of old labelled unexplored areas “here be dragons”

The conditions may indeed be difficult, induced other monsters we created, but that is n reason for us to give them the credence we gave them.

Our biggest challenge is to move our mindsets away from one of dependence on others, through to establishing individual independence, and using that independence as a platform to work with others on an interdependence driven by choice. That is the most effective way to slay the dragons.

So, how to start?

It is a simple and it can be challenging. It starts with an acceptance – that there are, as Buckminster Fuller noted, things that need to be done, that others seem not to see need to be done, and which you can start. In other words, your purpose.

It’s a daunting thought for many – as BF also noted, there is nothing in a caterpillar that recognises it will become a butterfly.

With a sense of purpose, you have a secure platform, which you can use to determine who you work with, what role you take, which will withstand all manner of dragons.

In my next post, we’ll look more at finding purpose in the midst of uncertainty.

The Limits of “Resilience”

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The word “resilience” is much in vogue right now, fir understandable reasons.

I think it’s tempting, but it misses the point.

The dictonary defines resilience as:

“The power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity”

I’m not sure we want to be resilient – to go back to what we were. I think Nassim Nicholas Taleb has it right in his book “Anti Fragility“. He argues that the opposite of fragility is not Reslience or Robust – it is “Anti Fragile”

The idea of anti fragility is that we should seek to grow from the energy of a shock, not just recover from it.

It links to concepts of mindsets and attitudes. Carol Dweck talks about “Growth Mindsets” – the willingness and determination to embrace possibility- and “Fixed Mindsets”, the view that things are as they are, and we are as we are, and that’s just the way of it.

There’s also a useful model in Adam Morgan’s book, “A Beautiful Constraint“. He talks about us operating in three different ways – as “Victims” – letting things happen to us; as “Neutralisers” – finding ways round a problem but not changing it; and as “Transformers”, those who reimagine, rethink, and remodel their approach to not only remove the problem, but create new possibility.

I think Resilience is about Neutralisers, whilst Anti Fragility is about Transformation.

The challenges we face offer huge scope for transformation. Why would be want to be resilient?

Counterfeit Certainty

chinese_symbols_for_uncertainty_6728_2_12

Uncertainty is a great marketing tool. Conventional marketing has it that the FUD factor (Fear, Uncertanty, Doubt) is a great way to motivate a prospect to make a decision.

The problem is, it’s only good for marketing something you don’t believe you can get them to believe in. Witness the referendum campaigns (on both sides).

What we might want to reflect on is that certainty is a much bigger danger – mainly because other than in the very short term, it doesn’t really exist. It’s a convenient anaesthetic that the brain craves. Our brains are prediction machines, amd certainty saves them energy.

The problem with certainty is that it breeds habits based on complacency, so that when something that is otherwise obvious in retrospect – from the 2008 crisis, to any disruptive technology or event – it takes us by surprise.

Certainty is great for commerce – it encourages us to buy, to take on debt and to imagine futures other people sell us rather than craft them ourselves

But it’s bad for people – for the same reasons. People who sell us certainty are like counterfeiters – they make their money on the first sale. The person to whom they sold it then picks up the tab. I sell you fake drugs, I’ve made my money, the rest is down to you. .I sell you false certainty, the same applies.No refunds.

Businesses love certainty. Traders love uncertainty.

Certainty is our friend. It opens opportunities to which we might otherwise be oblivious to. The challenge for us is to be prepared to pick them up.

It requires that we have a clear direction – a sense of purpose to which we are committed (and about something bigger than just us). It needs us to associate with those who not only share a similar purpose, and who can help us, but whom we are committed to helping, and it needs to be making the most of our skills, attitudes and dispositions in order to help them, and learn.

Uncertainty requires a combination of self reliance and chosen interdependence. Relationships based on respect, trsut and shared purpose. We are more connected now that at any point in history, and finding those people, organisations and causes are easier than ever before.

We can make possible extraordinary futures if we choose, have a purpose beyond just the shiny gold penny, and are prepared to make the commitment.

As we get into the reality of BREXIT, the last verse of William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus” seems apt:

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

It’s the PEOPLE, Stupid!

o-CROWD-OF-PEOPLE-WALKING-facebook

Throughout the Referendum campaign, vast amounts of airtime were given over to the economy. Clearly, the economy is vital – but it serves one purpose only – to ensure the prosperity of the people who are part of it.

We have been getting that wrong. The growth we have seen has been unevenenly distributed, not I suspect through deliberate policy, but rather as a byproduct of the systems we use. The end result however is the same – we have allowed a mindset to develop that the people are there to serve the economy, rather than the other way round. It can take us on a path, unless we’re careful, to some latter day version of the workhouse.

This is important. All the indications are that the bigger changes taking place, particularly in technology, will enable the replacement of “complicated” jobs, in finance, law, engineering and the like by intelligent machines. This is probably as welcome as it is inevitable, but raises the question of what happens to people?

The answer, of course, is that we not only adapt, but thrive through being what we are – creative, complex, humans with original ideas, connections, insights and dreams (can an intelligent machine dream I wonder?).  I was always told that if somebody can do something better than you, decide whether you cwant to compete with them, or support them. So with intelligent machines

Which brings us back to the economy. It is there to support us, not the other way round. It cannot be without us and will not evolve without us, but only if we learn, develop and thrive by creating what machines can’t.

It’s no longer “The Economy stupid!”

It’s the people.

When things don’t go as expected…..

oh-shitSo maybe that didn’t go as you expected?

We have choices.

We can blame, complain, and allow our fear of the changes we didn’t want to take us hostage.

Or we can recognise that democracy is messy, particularly when it is given full rein, but at the same time notice the stuff beyond the fear.

For whatever reason, people have felt remote and isolated from power, and they were able to share and mobilise that fear in ways they have never been able to do before.

We can see other areas where people who care feel detached from the forces that govern them, particularly in sectors where profit is not the priority. In the NHS, Education, Local Councils, and many Charities where people are constantly asked to do more with less.

More with less is fine to a point, but it is finite. At some point, we have to find a different way. If being connected the way we are means anything, it means that we can find those ways – with or without the permission of those who assume they have the power.

Perhaps BREXIT is not a one off, perhaps it just a very big signal of something larger. If we don’t have connection, shared purpose and trust, just why are we doing it the way we do?

David Rock published very interesting research on the neuroscience of engagement which suggested there are five key levers that drive our engagement – or disengagement – which he labeled the SCARF model. It has five components – our sense of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness compared to those around us.

When we look at How the BREXIT team operated, they leveraged every one of those five – emphasising those who felt inferior, scared, controlled, ignored and exploited.

If we have any sense, we’ll stop obsessing on what’s happened, focus on what caused it, and recognise we face similar challenges all around us.

If we do, we can not only change it, but develop new forms of leadership that harness the positive side to enable people to share individual and joint purpose, and create organisations that will help them achieve it.

We have a job to do.

 

 

 

UK – Day 0

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????When we enable distributed power, everything changes. In place of the relative certainty of expert central control, we get the wisdom of crowds and all the volatility that implies.

At 10:00 pm last evening I was returning from a dinner with friends, and the consensus view was that REMAIN had it. When I switched on the TV at 3:00 this morning, I watched that certainty melt, the shocked, instinctive reactions of those that rely on certainty.

As the immediate collateral effects of the result start to show, from resignations and power plays, to demands for referenda elsewhere, we can lose sight of the real signals.

Closely controlled power may offer greater certainty but almost always results in assymetric distribution of the benefits. Those who gain think somewhow they deserve it, whilst those who lose feel disenfranchised. The interesting thing about a referendum based not on party lines, but how we feel, is that it releases a whole new set of dynamics. Those who assume they have authority find they don’t, no matter how much they try and exert it.

The wisdom of crowds has had its way, and it will be very difficult to go back – that may be no bad thing – and it raises the question of how we work from today onwards. In many respects, the fundamentals don’t change – the sun will still come up, we will have ideas, create things, and trade.

How we organise will. For the last two hundred years or so we have relied on industrial economy models – centralised, hierarchical organisations which created frameworks, sourced capital, provided jobs and distributed proceeds. It hasn’t been working well for some time. Everything from the 2008 crisis to corporate failures to the Euro crisis signaled it.

What today has crystallised is that, as individuals we have to move away from dependence – on governments, or organisations, or debt to give us the freedom we need to be independent. With independence, we can choose who to work with, and with whom we choose to be interdependent. Who we choose who to be dependent on, rather than have to be dependent on, we can align our own deep sense of purpose with the purpose of those we choose to work with, and within that define our role such that it complements, reinforces, and grows the purpose that gives our life meaning.

No doubt we will hit real bumps in the road through the post BREXIT process, but it is what it is. To borrow an old saying, whether we choose to think it is a disaster, or an opportunity, we will be right.