Welcoming Disturbance

We’re not educated to welcome disturbance. We prefer things to be smooth, regular, and predictable. The thing is though that it is a disturbance that provides us with insight and spreads the seeds of new ideas that help us evolve.

Not the sort of easy disturbance – such as the market volatility that allows a few to make a fortune from sophisticated derivatives that do nothing to change things for the better. What we need is the disturbance that shakes world views, questions convention and shakes foundations. In other words, the sort we have now. We need to welcome it. We are creative, cognitive, imaginative creatures. It is what we were born for.

There is a well-known association in psychology – the “stimulus/response gap”. It is an assessment of how conditioned we are to a situation and how quickly we find, automatically, a ready answer to a problem. When things are smooth and regular, conditioning of this kind has advantages. Standard Operating Procedures. Risk Analysis. State Education. Business School. We reward people for achieving short stimulus/response times – it is part of the mantra of efficiency and yield. And, we know that uncertainty triggers the same neural circuits as pain, and we’d rather not have too much of it.

Right now, it is time for those who can stretch the stimulus/response gap. Leaders who are prepared to sit in the disturbance of not knowing, able to find it interesting, and can resist reaching for “proven solutions” – because we haven’t been here before and we have a very real version of the metaphorical “burning platform.”

Times of disturbance requires very different leaders – those who can create containers for conversations, tolerate and hold conflict, are able to be vulnerable, entertain radical ideas, dream the new into being, and challenge consensus when people just want to escape the pain of uncertainty.

The disturbance we are facing is creating the conditions for the leaders we need. There are plenty of them, hiding in plain sight. They are local, connected to community, and have aspirations way more than just a bank balance. They are the way change will happen – one small dedicated group after another, linking to other groups like themselves- ecosystems of innovative companies and organisations.

Disturbances are created by the interface of some things disappearing, other things emerging, and the ripples of the disturbance is the new, temporary picture forming. The leaders we need are not those who promise to stop the disturbance, but those who can see the new picture.

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