Storms, and Ships

shipThere are, I suspect, few people who would argue that we are in calm waters right now – politically, economically, socially. Many would argue we are in a phase transition – a rapid, dramatic and permanent change in our understanding of our world.

A storm is coming.

We are all in ships of one form or another, from little ones we’ve just built, to the “Unsinkable Titanics” of our day.

The most important person on a ship is not the Captain. or the Cook, or the Purser, or the Chief Engineer. It’s the Navigator; of the old fashioned sort ,who can read the stars, use a sextant, and smell the weather.

Our modern “ships” have become reliant on their own form of GPS. Economists, Financial Forecasters, Experts. Trouble is, a GPS is no good if you find yourself off the map, in uncharted territory. A nice blinking cursor on a blank screen.

Many of todays Navigators are adventure tourists, selling access to places others have gone before them, but which they had no part in finding. Great as guides, but hopeless when they find themselves lost.

Navigators, of the old school, map makers. They knew how to chart new territory so that they could find their way back to where they had come from, as well as claim what they had found for themselves. They were explorers who ventured over the known horizon.

A storm is coming. Make sure you have a navigator of the old school; an explorer. This is no time to be crew on a boat with a tourist for a Navigator.

 

 

Uncertainty

Drops of rain on glass , rain drops on clear window

We hate uncertainty, yet we seem addicted to it. We have 24/7 news, amplified by other people’s views via social and other media, which dominates our attention even though very little of it will affect us.

It’s easy to ignore the things we can change, when we can find people we can blame for the situation we are in.

Nothing is certain, except death and taxes, so let’s flip this. Uncertainty is the norm, and always has been – we’re just exposed to rather larger doses of evidence than our predecessors.

We can deal with it, with a few simple rules:

  1. Understand that you see the world as you are, not as it is, and give yourself time to reflect. Go for a walk, meditate for a few minutes. take time out. Recognise that those monsters are ones you’ve built.
  2. Observe. What’s unfolding in your world, what new information is out there that really impacts you? How are you – Well? Stressed? – see point 1. You see things as you are. Acknowledge that, and start from there.
  3. Orient yourself. How does who you are, who you know, your purpose in life, your experience and your skills position you to deal with what’s important right now? What does that look like for those you work with, collaborate with, or compete with? Are you faster, slower or in sync with them. (Hint, slower is not good)
  4. Decide. Commit, in the knowledge you will not be “right” but will learn. The nature of change is that you’re part of it. The moment you do something, the situation that existed when you made the decision is past. It is gone forever. Is what you are about to do important? Why?
  5. Act. Do what you have decided, and notice what happens. Not from a place of fear, but of curiosity. What do you notice – in yourself, and those around you?
  6. Go back to 2. Repeat.

The simple truth is, if you can go faster through this cycle than those around you, you move forward.

Anything that slows you down; fear, needing permission, waiting for others to go first, slows you down.

As of now, you have two futures. The one you’re accepting from others, or the one you can build for yourself. It involves risk, learning, growth and discovery, along with regular failure. Becoming who you really are, doing things with people you value, rather than being somebody convenient to people you don’t know.

The alternative. Obey. Fit in. Pay taxes till you die. The Chancellor needs you.

 

Messy

537141_pasta_noodles_1We’ve been largely educated to see the world in segments; in specialities that we can use to solve problems.

For a long time, that served us well. We have learned a huge amounts in these segments, and will continue to mine them.

However, we also now know enough to understand that they are not separate at all.

They are interdependent, random, and change by the moment depending on everything from our knowledge and mood to the company we keep. In the parlance, they are level 2 chaos – we are part of the challenge, not observers.

When things get messy, it’s who we are that matters, not the badges (Qualifications, Professions) we wear.

As we approach the project that is 2017, things promise to get messy. 2016 looks like it will have been a dress rehearsal.

Whether that mess is joyous or calamitous is for us to decide. It will be whatever we choose.

Three things we can do to make it joyous:

  1. Be clear on our sense of purpose. How will the world be better when you leave because you’ve been here?
  2. Understand what you love to do, and do more of it. (Hint: The world doesn’t need more money)
  3. Pick your partners. When it gets messy, you’ll need them as much as they need you, and that’s not the time to find out the mistakes you have made.

Into the unknown

flash

One of the challenges of revolutions is that we’re not sure we’ve been in one until it’s over.

  • Those of us in our forties will be physically capable of working to 90.
  • The nature of the job is changing. The job horizon is the end of the project you’re on.
  • The competition for your next project is increasingly likely to be a form of automation as another person.
  • Knowledge is ubiquitous. What you know is a commodity.
  • Big organisations are cumbersome. Elephants may be able to dance, but only like those eliminated early on in Strictly.

Welcome to 2017

  • You’re future wellbeing is a factor not of qualifications or experience.
  • Understanding who you are, your purpose, and how you might serve that is the new MBA.
  • Your organisation cannot protect you. Even if it wanted to. It’s more vulnerable than you are.
  • Your opportunities are immense.

Think of it like your fitness training regime. Once you know how to use the machines, once your Fitbit is telling you what your metrics are, you’re into routine maintenance. constant incremental improvement at what you are doing. Your coach can advise, tell you how to improve, and motivate you. But that’s a finite horizon. It’s a project. In reality, you rarely need a coach for the routine stuff. Paying somebody to help you warm up and cool down is not smart.

It’s the next bit. The next project. The one where neither you, nor your coach knows the way. New territory. It changes everything:

It’s going to stretch you beyond reason. You need a coach, but as a fellow traveller, not a guide. She’s learning and discovering every bit much as you – but you’re better together. You need their skills, not so much for what they know, as who they are and what they are committed to. It’s like the move from the climbing wall to free climbing on the moon.

We can get consumed in delivering the here and now project, using what we know, being praised for it, and well rewarded. But if you’re not scared, you’re not learning. If you’re not learning, you’re likely condemned to a series of similar projects and ever reducing fulfilment. Your next project should scare you.

2017 is not a year, it’s a project.

 

 

Competition vs Creation.

o-creative-person-at-work-facebook

Image: Huffington Post

There’s a line in Joi Ito’s book “Whiplash” that resonates for me:

“Competition just isn’t interesting anymore”

I think he’s right. At a time when we can create unique offerings that resonate with our uniqueness, regarding ourselves as being in competition means we’re trying to persuade somebody to buy our version of a product or service already in existence. or in other words, on the route to being a commodity.

When we have high levels of fixed assets, or legacy technology, or shareholders to support,  we often have little choice other than to have a competitive mindset, but when product and service lifecycles are vanishingly short at the same time as creation has never been easier, it’s an increasingly risky place to be. And a choice (albeit a tough one)

Whether or not we believe the hype around intelligent machines, it seems pretty certain they will have a significant impact on those jobs based on process and repetition, and if that’s what we do for a living, there’s some change headed our way.

The future of work is human. As humans, we imagine, create and bring the unknown into existence. It is that capability that will define our lives as change accelerates, much more than competition.

Creation is interesting. Competition can’t compete with it. Be human.

Change doesn’t care if you’re ready.

f6ffa8a1527259831c17b28fbe926b1aWithin my lifetime, male life expectancy has increased by over 50%, and it seems likely the first person to live to 500 through medical intervention has already been born.

Also during this time, the invention of the computer chip and the internet has created an engine that moves change from rapid and linear, to continuous, exponential, and chaotic.

Despite this, we have yet to grasp the implications. We still educate our children for jobs, and expect to retire comfortably in our 60’s, supported by an economy predicated on constant growth. We are regarding the harbingers of radical change, from climate change to BREXIT and TRUMPIN, as anomalies – a brief blip before normal returns. That seems unlikely.

The intersection of longer lives and exponential change looks likely to dismantle the way we work. By their very nature – love of certainty and a bias to entropy, conventional organisations will struggle, and their lifespans will continue to decline. Relying on them for jobs and economic growth, let alone social growth, seems foolish.

As we become increasingly connected, we become more economically isolated. We can no longer afford to be dependent on organisations for our living. At the same time, independence leaves us vulnerable. The way forward it seems is interdependence.

Productive interdependence changes everything about the way we work. If we are going to live longer in increasingly volatile times we need to rethink notions of careers, education, and retirement.

At the heart of this reframing is our sense of self – of our purpose, our abilities, and our responsibilities to each other.

90 years in jobs we don’t like is a daunting thought.

 

 

 

 

 

The art of being provoked

gill-large_transfng083d4dwmls34bz1qmew29ejvwjlj5dkoqgg2w9aoImage:Daily Telegraph

AA Gill was an extraordinary provocateur. He was able to frame, beautifully and with biting wit, things that I mostly disagreed with. Which is why I valued him, and will miss him.

It took me a while to move beyond automatic responses to what I disagreed with so strongly, to an ability to look at it dispassionately, and reflect on it. There was always value and insight to be had behind the emotional resistance.

Provocation is a valuable skill, but not as valuable as the art of being constructively provoked.

 

 

The Limiter button

cruise_controlI my car, there’s a limiter button. In a country with widespread, varied, and highly policed speed limits, it’s a surpisingly useful device. It stops me exceeding a speed limit when I’m just getting from A to B, and distracted by the many other things I have to pay attention to.

Which is fine when there’s a speed limit. But when there isn’t, I can enjoy driving – putting all my attention into driving, and deriving great pleasure from it.

I think for most of us, it’s the same at work. We have many “speed limits” – other’s opinions; power; group norms – the list is extensive. So, to deal with it, we set  our own limiter buttons. We perform as well as required to be secure, but rarely more.

I think the challenge is that this become a habit, and can spread to all aspects of our lives. We are capable of far more, and of deriving enormous joy from it, but we forget we’ve set the limiter, so end up travelling at the limit set by others.

The button is a choice we make. It’s not compulsory.

 

The other end of the telescope

telescope1“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” -R. Buckminster Fuller

Our dislike of change is visceral. Our natural state is to be threatened by it. Uncertainty triggers the same neural circuits as fear, and generates similar responses – fight, flight, freeze.

But what if we looked at it differently? What if we learnt to handle it in the same way as those who face danger for a living – by understanding it, and harnessing it rather than be controlled by it?

The change we fear is not going away. It is accelerating. 7 million people on a resource constrained planet, all within digital reach of each other powered by ever more creative technology. Random is the new normal.

The future is messy. The certainties we like to deal with – processes, procedures, routines – all of these will increasingly be dealt with by intelligent machines. Algorithms don’t care how complicated things are – they can do complicated all day long.

That leaves us humans to deal with the messy stuff – the complex, unpredictable, unexpected, scary things. We’re way better than machines at that (for now at least) providing we can get over our fear of it.

In his book “Anti -Fragile” Nassim Nicholas Taleb offers us a way of thinking about this. He argues that the opposite of fragile (which is how many of us feel right now) is not resilience, or robustness. It is not about “recovery”. It is “anti fragility”.

Rather than look to recover from shock, we need to use it to energise ourselves to create new models and ways of doing things. Rather than run, fight or freeze in the face of change, we need to improvise. To welcome change as an engine for growth.

That means changing our relationship with change. We need to learn to love it. Unlike Machines, we can create and originate, not just produce.

It is our humanity that is the key, not our efficiency, or obedience, or power.

If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less” General Eric Shineseki.