Obscurity

Obscurity gets a bad rap. As though it’s something to be avoided, a social “black mark” and that celebrity is to be, well, celebrated.

I see it differently. Once we are a celebrity, people see us through a filter; defined by what brought us to celebrity and which established a base from which we are expected to develop. In many ways it’s a trap. The burden of the second album.

Obscurity has real benefits. It allows us to plough a furrow that we want, in pursuit of what interests us and what we believe in. We don’t have to worry about whether our followers will like it or not. We know why we are doing what we are doing, what we are trying to find on our own terms, and that’s enough to live a contented life.

We can experiment in obscurity.. We can be creative. We can connect things without having to explain why we’re doing it. We can begin to understand ourselves out of the public gaze.

Those who pursue celebrity for to own sake need to be careful what they wish for, as it’s easy to become the vehicle for something we don’t really believe in, and find out we’re being defined in ways that both label and trap us. (Right now some politicians spring to mind). We might be able to wear the mantle of the things we don’t believe in, and get the kudos for as long as it lasts, but at some point we will have to explain and that may prove to be difficult, not least to ourselves.

If celebrity happens to find us whilst we’re on our journey, driven by a search for something important to us, so be it. It is likely to be because something resonates with people. I still think it may reduce our options at the same time as it’s increasing our wealth. (I wouldn’t know, but it would be interesting to find out…..)

It seems to me that to achieve celebrity as a goal, and then have nothing to deliver is a dreadful fate. On the other hand to find out something important to us, even if only a few people recognise it is far to be preferred.

The first is as lasting as cappuccino froth. The second retains the probability of discovery at some point, and it may just change things in a way you would approve of.

Balance

The Corpus Callosum is a piece of connective tissue, about four inches long, that connects the two hemispheres of our brain. In effect, it enables them to “talk’ to each other. It ensures the different functionalities work well together to give us a balanced view.

Whilst the strict demarcation of “left brain logical” and “right brain creative” has long since been discredited, we think that the functions of the two hemispheres do still broadly fall into these different functionalities.

Interesting things happen when the corpus callosum is damaged, and the “cross talk’ is impaired. We can describe the things we see in our right visual field (left brain hemisphere), but without the connection to the right hemisphere we will force a logic to them. Show a picture of a chicken, and another of a shovel in the snow, and we are likely to say the shovel is to clean out the chicken shed. Conversely, things we see in the left visual field (right hemisphere) we can make creative connections about, but cannot describe. people with damaged corpus callosum can function, but have only a partial and distorted view of the world, and have difficulty translating feelings to action.

I think we can see the same effct going on in many businesses. When we are focused on returns, and other hard metrics, it’s easy to lose sight of things that matter – purpose, social contribution, a sense of community. We can make up logic for doing things that we know really we shouldn’t, but hey, got to make the quarter’s results.

The same with creativity. We see things and connect them, but can’t find the “acceptable” words to describe them. Things of real potential value that don’t see the light of day because we can’t translate them into the language of profit.

It’s easy to lose the ability to “sense” things, to ignore what our feelings. our gut and heart are telling us. to treat our bodies as merely something that gets our left brain to meetings.

With the change we are in, it’s vitally important we can balance logic and our senses to come up with balanced views. To avoid populism in all it’s forms, and create false logic for what we know to be counterproductive in the longer term.

In our businesses, the Board should act as the corpus callosum but all too often, it gets hijacked and disabled by short term pressures. A nned to “perform” for short term gain.

The balance provided by the corpus callosum is vital to our wellbeing. We may be able to function without it, but the result misses out on a lot of what makes life joyous.

The same goes for business.

The Limits of Specialists

We ended 2014 on something of a perceived high. Specialists were reveling in a recovering economy, jobs growth, and bright prospects for 2015.

As we enter 2015, it feels different. Oil Prices, Greece, Syriza, Elections.

In reality of course, nothing has changed except the people we pay attention to; and we tend to pay attention to specialists. This is not to decry specialists – anything but, they are vital. But there are two sorts.

Firstly, the “professional specialists” – managers, pundits, politicians – those whose living depends on them being seen as the “go to” to help us manage our relationship with uncertainty. The problem tends to be that these specialists see the world through the lens of their specialism, and their status within it. One of their biggest fears is to be seen to be deficient in their knowledge, and are very unlikely to get promoted, or voted for, by saying “I don’t know”.

The second group; I’ll call them “vocational specialists” are different. Their focus is the body of knowledge of their profession, and their purpose is its ability to support and help others – Teachers, Doctors, Social workers. These are people whose ethic is based as much on what they don’t know – being able to spot gaps and anomalies – and use their expertise as a platform for finding out. They have no problem in saying “I don’t know”.

The challenge for us cones when we try to treat them in the same way. The ay we measure teacher’s performance using just hard metrics and financial incentives is not only limiting, it’s hugely demotivating to people whose intrinsic motivation lies elsewhere. Similarly, asking professional specialists to use anything other than hard data to measure their performance is equally limiting.

What we have lost along the way is the role of the generalist – those who look at the bigger picture without the blinkers of a specialist, have an understanding of both sides, who are able to allocate specialists appropriately, and maintain a constructive balance so that all are giving their best, learning, and enjoying what they do.

At a time of increasing uncertainty, we need generalists. The best are likely to act as “Consigliere” – advisers and influencers (though the image of “The Godfather” might cloud perception!). Another model might be a Concierge. These types of individual make things happen, make sure context is maintained, and keep things together – enabling the specialists to do their best work. It is a very real, and very challenging, position.

As we get into our stride in 2015, the one thing we can be certain of is that events will occur which will confound specialist predictions. Those who rely on specialists alone will carry the burden – as happened in 2008.

Maybe one of the challenges for us is to create a better balance, and recognize generalists for the perspective and balance they bring, so that we end up less surprised than we might otherwise be.

Being less surprised is more prepared, and more prepared is more successful.