The Fitzgerald Paradox

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

F.Scott Fitzgerald

It seems as though wherever we look at the moment, this quote applies.

The rate of change we are experiencing, the variety of options open to us, and the avalanche of different opinions showered on us means that we need to develop and access our first rate intelligence. This is not something we can outsource to another.

I suspect that in retrospect, this period will be defined as the end of an era. It’s difficult to know right now, as generally we don’t realise there’s been a revolution until its over.

All the signals seem to point to the end of an industrial era defined by structured organisations, hierarchies, nation states and relatively consistent “ways of doing things” and the start of something altogether more fluid. On the one hand, the types of job that have characterised the passing era are being increasingly disrupted by technology, and the human values that have often been suppressed for the sake of efficiency are becoming ever more important. We can’t write algorithms for love, purpose and meaning.

Right now, we have to be able to operate in both these areas. We are still dependent on the structures and practices of the passing era, at the same time as we are coming to terms with the emerging one.

In my practice, I often see some excellent work done in the creation of insight. These are often off site, and triggered by accessing those values that make us most human. However, when the off site finishes, those insights are almost always submerged as people go back into the workplace culture they were off site from. The people may have been on a personal journey, but the workplace didn’t tag along. The insights generated may stay with the individual but don’t make it into the workplace. Not infrequently, those who have experienced insight end up leaving in pursuit of somewhere or something that resonates more with their new found perspective.

We need to change that. We need to be able to hold these seemingly opposing ideas in mind whilst retaining the ability to function. If one idea or the other “wins” rather than collaborates we lose something – either our current performance, or our potential future.

I think the need is for “safe space” where ideas can be explored without being judged, and an opportunity created to synthesise new ways of operating that respect each of them.

It is not something that can we can “train” people in. It has to be owned, a product of that unique intelligence each of us has. It has to be nurtured and grown as we would a tender plant, or a young child.

The change is with us, whether we are ready or not.

We have choices to make, if we don’t want them made for us.

To borrow from Marshall Goldsmith, the operating models that got us here, won’t get us there.

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