In our bodies and organisations, and broader society, turning potential to action happens at the extremities.
Getting blood from the heart to the extremities is an incredible piece of plumbing, moving the blood through multiple branches with minimum resistance, and along the way, converting the pulsating waves of heartbeat to the smooth flow required to get oxygen to our extremities efficiently. We can fantasise about picking up that piece of chocolate, or imagining that perfect golf shot, or carving that piece of wood all we like, but it doesn’t happen until our extremities do the work of making it real.
Under pressure, we cut off our blood supply to extremities temporarily to prioritise blood supply to the brain, as anyone who has pulled high G loads, from aerobatics to rollercoasters, knows. As a result, our vision greys out, our hearing goes, and the feeling goes in our fingers and toes.
The keyword here is temporary. Leave it too long, and grey out becomes blackout becomes terminal.
It’s a good idea to remember that right now as we deal with the pressures of change. Organisations are very good at cutting off supply to our organisational extremities – those who do the work – but not so good at restoring it. So they go further, of course, through pre-emptive amputation as though they can somehow grow them back, with all their connections and organisational memory, when they’re ready.
As we feel our way into the future, our extremities are vital – without them, our ability to sense what’s happening at the edge disappears. As a result, it becomes easy to assume that tomorrow will be more or less like yesterday. At some point, very suddenly, it won’t be.
The change we are in is exponential, whether that is climate change, biodiversity, technology or society. The problem with exponential change is that the immediate future comes on us increasingly rapidly, presenting us with unforeseen challenges whose threat we recognise only after it’s too late,
If we are to see it in time, we need our extremities in good order.