Be your own Guru.

John Boyd was a brilliant man, maybe even a genius. In my view, one of the most thoughtful and interesting strategists of the last few hundred years.

He had a line of advice; “Don’t treat me as a guru. Whatever I’ve learned is only a beginning”.

“Go be your own guru

One of his five key elements for an effective performance culture was mastery – he used the German expression fingerspitzengefuehle – literally “finger tip feeling”. A deep understanding of and empathy with your environment. An ability to sense things happening before they appeared, and take advantage of them before others noticed them.

I’ve taken that as a given for many years, but am noticing a shadow side to it, and need to listen to his advice.

To be my own guru. no matter how uncomfortable that may feel.

Boundaries. Mastery of your domain is vital if you are to lead, but in an age of ubiquitous connection, we need to recognise that domains have boundaries, in space and time. Boyd himself would recognise it – he was a master of air combat, instrumental in the design of the F-15, F-16 and A10, and a formidable fighter pilot. However, looking at air combat now, as drones, and alternative weapons platforms emerge, whither the traditional fighter pilot? (He covered his options, becoming a master strategist as he delved ever deeper into the subject)

If you’re a master accountant, lawyer, administrator, developer, manager it’s time to look around. Your domain’s boundaries are in sight, and AI and machine learning, let alone global access lie at the edge.

Looking around most media, including LinkedIn, advice is around how to be better at what you do, as though it’s permanent. There are thousands of people who will help you do it.

It builds a cocoon around us. Everything will be alright.

It’s really easy to become complacent. We become wilfully blind. 

Convinced that the years of experience we have, and the mountain of qualifications we’ve gained will assure us that tomorrow will be much like yesterday.

However, bit by inevitable bit, it won’t, until we bump, unpleasantly, into the boundary.

There’s an argument that creativity within a domain follows an inverted U curve. Our engagement, productivity and creativity increase rapidly as we immerse ourselves and gain mastery, but after a while, the trend moves down, and we find ourselves having to work harder, with less enjoyment, to produce what we expect of ourselves..

That’s when you know you’re at a boundary.

So, as professionals and managers we still need mastery of our current domains, but as leaders we need to know where the boundaries are.

Look around. Sense what’s happening. Be your own guru.

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