The concept of scale has been on my mind this week and the difference between scale and growth. When we scale something, we usually take a finished concept and reproduce it to make it more widely available, reduce the cost of making it, and generate more impact. When something grows, it does so not just by reproducing but adapting and experimenting. What is still unfolding is never complete.
There’s a big difference for us. When we scale something, we effectively freeze it in time with specifications, rules and policies carefully crafted by lawyers. We ensure that those in charge must approve any change and that it must meet our pre-determined goals.
When something grows, it grows from the edge and adapts as it goes to thrive in the circumstances in which it finds itself. The centre learns from the changes taking place at the border and redistributes resources to where they are needed so that the whole organism thrives.
Manufacturing scales; Forests grow. Hatred scales; Love grows. If what we scale cannot send back messages from the edge that enables us to adapt and grow, we have a problem.
As individuals and leaders, it is a challenge and a lesson we need to learn constantly. The minute we see or feel something happen that we are not comfortable with, we have to ask ourselves the question, “am I trying to control this, or is it trying to teach me something“? It is a constant process and invariably uncomfortable. The moment we feel comfortable and in charge, we’re decaying.
As we gradually exit lockdown in the U.K, surrounded by others who are still in the pandemics grip, we would do well to reflect on it. The world has changed while we have been sheltering. We have to learn from the signals we are getting from the edges. Those signals will make the various “centres” from Government to Corporate head offices, to smaller business owners, to our ideas of our careers very uncomfortable. We should be grateful; it’s a signal.
We can only automate what we understand. When we let loose algorithms we don’t fully understand, we are in trouble, as a glance at any investment bank illustrates. If we let technology lead us, that laziness will ensure it turns around and bites us.
Whatever our idea of “the centre” is, we need to understand how vulnerable it is right now. That centre needs the signal we can give it as sensing, sensitive, curious individuals with a greater awareness of the whole than technology will ever have.
Doing that may well be uncomfortable, but vital
This week’s books
The Art of not Making. Michael Petry. I’m interested in the relationship between those who have the idea, the artist and those who bring the idea into being. Sometimes, they are the same person but more often they are not. Without those who bring it into being, the ideas would perish. Understanding where the boundary lies between having the idea, and bringing it into being seems important right now.
Beyond the Limits. Ranulph Fiennes. I am re-reading this as a reminder of what it takes to push boundaries. A truly remarkable man, and I’m sure not the easiest to work with he has crystal clarity on what needs doing at the edge,
Bird by Bird. Anne Lamott. I’m in the process of concentrating more on my writing, and finding my own style. At one end is the technical; not least my single handed attempt tp propagate the comma which more than a few of you have noticed, together with my blindness to typos. Welcome Grammarly. At the other end is escaping finding my own language and Anne’s book is proving a real joy. Sat between the technical and the poetic is uncomfortable, but welcome.
Safety is Fatal. We are obsessed with safety. It’s killing us.
Intellectual Property can make us rich but dead. From thids week’s Economist, an excellent article on where the boundaries of intellectual property might lie, from three thoughtful people, including one of my favourites. Mariana Mazzucato.
Trainers made from Mushrooms. Fashion lessons from the edge. I’m fascinated by Mycelium. what networks want to be when they grow up.
Finally, It is hard to overestimate how privileged we are in the UK to have such easy access to medicine, from facilities to expertise to vaccine. I have good friends in India, and it’s heartbreaking to see what is happening. To my friends in India, my warmest good wishes for your wellbeing.