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Agility – Narrow and Deep, or Shallow and Wide?

I’m finding I need a new discipline in both my active (contact) and passive (reading / watching) networking as we start the first tentative steps out of local lockdown. The challenge is that there is far more out there, people and content, that interests me than I can do justice to.

There are times, particularly when I’ve encountered a new subject or idea, when I need to go shallow and wide; to gather lots of different information and perspectives as I work out my own position on it, and the contribution I want to make. After that, I need to go narrow and deep to get into the weeds of the subject so that I can make a hopefully original contribution that adds to the subject.

Oscillating between the two is a challenge. Interesting people and ideas turn up without appointment when I’m diving into something, and I have to work out what to do. To ignore them seems rude, and yet to stop what I’m doing to pay proper attention to them is a distraction.

I’m finding the answer is to share them. Introduce them to others who might be interested in them and who can move them forward at a time when I have to choose not to. Despite my best efforts, there’s always a sense of low level reluctance. What if this is a better option that the one I’ve chosen? The quiet, selfish nagging voice is a route to procrastination. Over time, I’ve got used to the idea that I don’t own ideas, and that It is my job to give them the best chance of succeeding that I can.

Which took me to Agility. One of those current mantras that is easy to adopt without really questioning why. I see companies (and people) at the moment, at a time of increased uncertainty, using agiity as an excuse for procrastination (as well as feeling the temptation myself) to make a “persevere or pivot” decision way too early, and to use agility as pain relief when the going gets tough. To divert to the easy and pleasurable shallow and wide where there are lots of options, but where it is difficult to make waves.

I find myself asking this question of myself “Which of these choices, if it succeeds, will have the biggest impact in the long term”?

Short term gratification is always tempting, but it is the hard yards to the long term impact, through the swamp of difficulty, disappointment and failures that makes the difference, on those things that we value that makes a real difference.

Real agility is hard. I think it involves fewer, harder, decisions involving sacrifice of something that we could pursue, but have to choose not to, in order to do something of real value. it involves, I believe, giving things away that we could do if we chose.

None of the work I see on agility seems to mention generosity. It seems a shame,

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Domesticating ideas is dangerous…

Dangerous things ideas. They have a life of their own.

Right now, there are a lot of them out there looking for a home, and as with anything wild we either run away from them, or try to domesticate them so we can control them. When we fear them, they will just carry on without us, and when we domesticate them, we don’t learn the lesson they are trying to teach us.

The internet is an idea that has a way to enable us to connect humans and the things we create (nature already does a great job of that at a higher level, but we’ll brush over that for a moment). For the last fifty years, since ARPANET first appeared, we’ve been trying to do that and bend it to our will. Like a lion tamer at an old fashioned circus, it is a dangerous exercise and complacency is likely to end badly.

As technology becomes ever more powerful with AI and machine learning, pairing with the connection of everyone and everything man made to everyone else and everything else, it calls the master/ servant relationship into question, and which side of that divide we each find ourselves on.

The same I suspect is true of more behavioural ideas, such as “work from home”. The pandemic has accelerated what was already a growing possibility and forced it centre stage rather faster than our established infrastructure was ready for. Of course many of us can work from home, or at least, not from an office, making a good chunk of expensive office space surplus to requirements, at least for a while until it is repurposed. Trying to use a form of narrative warfare to convince people to go back to offices because organisations and landlords weren’t ready is also likely to end badly.

Perhaps we also need to pay attenton to other behaviours and practices, like leadership, and coaching. Both have become industries in the last fifty years, modelled on ways of working that are disappearing. We still try to convince people that there are copiable traits and habits and, “hey presto!” instant leader. Or, that we can shape people to perform through “performance coaching”. Yes we can, for a while, but like those lions, their true nature and talent is looking for expression, and the minute they stop being afraid of the whip, they will stop obeying. We may have domesticated leadership, and coaching for a while, but I suspect that while is ending.

There are teachable leadership skills, and coaching has a real place in doing that but first we have to recognise the idea that is the person we are expecting to lead. That is about character, and purpose. Harness those, and find ways to give them expression and everyone will benefit. Try to suppress them in favour of a manufactured purpose for an organisation and the moment our back is turned….

This is a time of wild ideas. We need to align ourselves with them for the sake of the planet that we are part of, and not least for our own well being and the health of our souls.

Domesticating them is dangerous.

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Owners, Players, Spectators…

I found myself looking at an interesting stream on LinkedIn on our relationship with Google around learning that had generated over a thousand comments, a number that caught my attention.

I thought about the post as a football, and those commenting as variously owners, for whom the topic was important enough to want to define the game, or as players shape the game, or as spectators who cheer or shout from the sidelines.

It struck me how many are just trying to make a noise from the sidelines, and to be seen in the crowd, and how few are willing to commit to a position, and how many fewer still are trying to define the game. Is it one of the aspects of sociual media, that we can jeer or shout, without taking part?

I think the same holds true for many of the issues we are facing. There are a few “owners” who will assume responsibility for defining the game, from climate change to AI, who are prepared to lead, and deal with what comes their way, and risk public failure. Then we have the players who can actually make a difference on the ground. who are much in demand, and who sell their skills to different owners depending on where their reward lies, and how the team they play for is actually doing. Then we have the spectators who will cheer or jeer depending on the flow of the game, and their loyalty to the team.

Given the times we are in, and the decisions we have to make, who should we listen to? We need the spectators to turn up, otherwise the game has no followers. We need the owners to sponsor and support the game.

We need the players to enthuse and excite us, to be creative and inspire us. To commit and take risks, and to instil in us not just the shallow aspects of winning or losing, but a love of the game for itself and the sheer beauty of it.

There are always those in the stands who understand and can play the game, but either lack the confidence to get on the pitch, or who are diverted by other commitments.

We need to find ways to get the on the pitch. Right now, we have too many spectators, and not enough players. We need to up our games.