I have always valued Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s work. I don’t always agree with his views, but the provocation, his ability to force me to really think, keeps my curiosity alive.
I find his idea of anti fragility – that we can learn to use unexpected shocks as a means of personal and business growth, rather than a setback we have to recover from – a useful reference point.
I have spent the last fifteen or so years circling the coaching industry, finding ways to work with clients to unlock the value that lies in their unique world views and capabilities rather than force themselves uncomfortably into the conformity of “best practice”.
A lot of coaching is based on a “therapy” mindset, and excellent work has been developed psychology and psychotherapy practitioners.
Therapy: a treatment that helps someone feel better, grow stronger, etc., especially after an illness:Cambridge English Dictionary
But I find the base assumption a challenge – the mindset that views difference as a problem. Of course – sometimes it is, but sometimes it is just a difference; not something to be “cured”, but something to be understood.
Therapy, like Fragility, is a convention. Maybe, sometimes when we or our organisation encounter unexpected difference, we need to resist our default response until we understand whether we have a problem or an opportunity.
It can be hard. There are whole industries, well marketed, that rely on our default responses so that they can “cure” us.
Consider for a moment a thought experiment. Around 80% of your organisation or comunity in grounded in “normal” (this figure is rounded, but well supported by numbers of studies). Around 10% is in some way “damaged” – and is helped by therapy, and around another 10% is just different. This latter 10% is where the magic often happens. The crazy ones who think they can change the world.
The problem is, we can often try to “normalise’ them; use a therapy mindset to bring them back into the mainstream when maybe we should be in their slipstream.
Sometimes, perhaps, we need something like “anti therapy” – to be better at harnessing the shock of difference, not preventing it.
In his book ‘Loonshots” Safi Bahcall talks about “Soldiers” – who look after the day to day business and incremental innovation, and “Artists” who bring the genuinely new into being. I think he makes a great point.
I think that between the soldiers and the artists are the “Alchemists” – those who can effectively bring the two areas together productively, and bring the new to an effective presence.
Normal is great, manages today and keeps us funded and safe – but for tomorrow, we will increasigly rely on the 10%.
We need to identify and enable our Mavericks. not normalise them.