Timing

A master of uncertainty was John Boyd, a Lt.Col in the US air Force, and the greatest strategist few people have heard of. A maverick Genius. Fighter pilot, engineer, philosopher, physicist.

He had a way of thinking about things, the OODA loop. 

Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action. And repeat. Faster than the speed of change you’re in.

A good model for this time.

Observation

These are strange times. We’ve left where were were at the beginning of the year, and not yet at all clear where we will end up. Disorienting

This interregnum, junction, bifurcation, liminal space has not not been caused by some person, or government even if it would be easier for some, keen to allocate blame, if it was. 

We’re in the middle, but we don’t have to be stuck. We have to join the dots. Understand perhaps why we’re here in the middle, and move forwards. We cannot after all go back.

The rules and habits we’ve been using, often without thought, have become dislocated. The morning commute, the expensive coffee grabbed on the way, the crush, the office, timetables. Outsourcing the care of our children during the day.

If you’re a landlord, or in a part of the economy that relies on traffic and habit – coffee shops, fast food, free papers, this is a major challenge.

Meetings by Zoom. What used to be an adjunct now gone mainstream, and working better the more we get used to it. 

A corner of the house or flat to work from. Spending more time with those we normally see for on only a few hours a day. Spending far more time with ourselves.

Leadership, Management, Processes. All dislocated.

It feels a little like Schroedinger’s cat. A way of life neither alive nor dead. 

Alice in Wonderland. Believing at least six impossible things before breakfast.

The Matrix. Red Pill or Blue Pill?

Orientation

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Teddy Roosevelt

In the middle , where we are, time is different. 

We’re used to Kronos time – the time of calendars, budgets and plans. That clock is still ticking, but it’s not the one we need to be concerned with. It will look after itself.

The time that we should be paying attention to is Kairos time. Timing, not time. The point at which we throw the shuttle into the loom so it will make the journey to the other side, and not get caught. The point of contact between bat and ball. 

The point at which we change direction on how we live, how we work, and decide what matters.

We have a choice. We can try to turn the old normal, with all its underlying dynamics, into some sort of normal 1.1. Treat Covid as a bump in the road. Manage the debt, support the business ethics and models that have got us to the current state of inequality and unsustainability.

Or we can drive through this, harnessing the disruption Covid has brought about to think differently. To respect the path, the processes and practices that have got us to here, but as gently as we can (and it might not be gentle) retire them. They, like many of their iconic leaders, have served their time. 

The ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

W.B. Yeats. “The Second Coming”

During this time, everything is possible, and the rules have changed. Our relationship with what is happening has changed. The jobs we had are gone. If you are an expert adviser to the old system, your skills are obsolescing by the day. They will be replaced by new ones which rely on our ingenuity, compassion, creativity and purpose. The qualities that make us individually unique and valuable, and collectively formidable.

It will not be easy

The powerful always defend the status quo because it is the source of their power and privilege. Any change that benefits others would destroy their position. And their position is all they care about defending. 

Margaret Wheatley “Who do we choose to be/”

Decision

Simple, and difficult. Turn round and try to swim upstream back to where we were, or to go with the flow and learn to ride the current. Try to eke out old skills, or learn new ones. To defend your place in the old hierarchy, or find a new place to stand where you can make a difference.

Neither way will be pretty, but they are different. One is exhausting, the other uncertain. Neither are guaranteed success. 

The difference between the two, our legacy.

Action

It doesn’t get any easier. 

We all know, in our hearts, that this time is important and what we do next, now, will shape our futures, and those of our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to whom we are accountable. 

We got us to here. They need to get us to there, and our job is simply to help them.

The best things we can do is be the best humans we can. Different for each of us. To take our place wherever by being the best we can be, we can do that which we are uniquely placed to do in support of those around us doing the same.

We all have a voice in the choir. Time to sing.

The wrong sort of evidence

Many years ago, on my commute home from London to Wendover, we used to get get regularly delayed by “leaves on the line” or “the wrong sort of snow”. Those days are long behind me. The experiences left me with a determination to avoid commuting like the plague.

Right now however, we have plagues of sorts, but the thinking that drove me away from commuting remains.

Over the years, we have developed an obsession with evidence based decision making.

My local council will not entertain measures to calm traffic along rural ‘rat run” routes without evidence of enough accidents. I assume that somewhere in their policy there is a CQ (“Carnage Quotient”) level that must be exceeded. A quality of evidence based that conveniently ignores the probability of an accident that will at least ruin someone’s day – if not their life – is high, but we need evidence.

We have known about the probability of a pandemic for decades, but in the absence of precise evidence as to when and where, we sidelined it. I guess we have evidence now. That’s OK then.

We know, beyond reasonable doubt that climate change, demographics, technology, and our current forms of capitalism all have high probabilities of causing increasingly disruptive events.

The wait for deterministic evidence is a form of predatory delay (great phrase – thank you Raj Tharotheram). A delay designed to procrastinate whilst we finish strip mining the planet for the benefit of a very few. Waiting for the evidence that this is so is likely to be life changing for many, if not lethal.

it’s about time I think we took the hint, and redefined our idea of evidence to incorporate something altogether more integrated.

Probabilistic as well as deterministic, or as my Grandmother would say as I passed her the eggs, sheer bloody common sense.

If we wait for those whom predatory delay benefits to finish strip mining before we take action, or for the bureaucrats for whom likelihood means an estimate of ROI is more difficult, we will wait a very long wait.

Over the next months, as we deal with the fallout of this crisis, we have a choice as to whther we go back to the old, fragile normal, or a new, less precise, less traditionally evidence based, less assymetric normal.

As we recover, we can choose who to work for, what to buy, how to live. It doesn’t need to be instantly radical, it can be incrementally radical. People obsessed with infinite growth will start to get the hint. The strip miners who uproot everything in pursuit of a very small part of what they excavate, leaving the rest as forms of social slag heap will start to get the hint.

We can decide what form of evidence we will accept as cause for action.

Engagement – we get what we measure

measuring tapeEngagement is now so well established as a prime determinant of performance that is seems to have become a victim of its own success.

We have ways of measuring it, and orthodoxies around what causes it. We believe we understand it.

What if we don’t?

A comparison. In the learning and development world, there is a revolution taking place. Orthodoxy has it, for the last several hundred years, that the “course” is the way for people to learn. The course itself adapted to the rise of technology by going online – the same concept, improved, with added bells and whistles. However, the “course” suffers from a fatal flaw in the era of big data and machine learning. It is aimed at the average. The course is designed for scale, to apply education to large numbers of people economically, consistently and measurably (via qualifications). Problem is, qualifications measure the wrong thing – knowledge, versus what matters – application in the real world under real world conditions.

To take it to an extreme, every course meets the optimum needs of very few people – those closely clustered around the mean. Everyone else is an outlier at varying distances. They’re learning something designed for somebody else.

In the age of compliance that was fine, but now, as we enter a time when we need every shred of originality and creativity (whilst we automate the compliance tasks) it’s downright dangerous.

Perhaps engagement is the same. We fall victim of accepting a number, derived at a point in time, under false circumstances (a survey).

Engagement is as varied as learning. What engages you will not perfectly engage me. Measuring engagement around what’s easy, and reported as a variation on the average will not do.

We need data

Real time, granular, detailed, personal. There is no real reason why we can’t.  Every digital transaction, from a till entry to an order carries potential information. Why can’t we measure peaks and troughs of engagement in the same way as we measure footfall?

The answer of course is that we can – we just don’t. We accept orthodoxy, measurement of what’s easy, and become “wilfully blind

Engagement is vital, and will become more so. Digital engagement is becoming ever better, and in so doing raises the bar. As our automated interactions become better, so the transition to human interaction becomes ever more demanding. Moving from a helpful robot to a miserable human is an instant deal killer.

HR has long been the gatekeeper of engagement, but if we want to access the decision maker, it’s the people with the real time data. All we have to do is design the questions we wish to ask.

For engagement, like education, it’s the end of average, episodic, measurement. If we want to succeed, its time to go real time.