Be your own Guru.

John Boyd was a brilliant man, maybe even a genius. In my view, one of the most thoughtful and interesting strategists of the last few hundred years.

He had a line of advice; “Don’t treat me as a guru. Whatever I’ve learned is only a beginning”.

“Go be your own guru

One of his five key elements for an effective performance culture was mastery – he used the German expression fingerspitzengefuehle – literally “finger tip feeling”. A deep understanding of and empathy with your environment. An ability to sense things happening before they appeared, and take advantage of them before others noticed them.

I’ve taken that as a given for many years, but am noticing a shadow side to it, and need to listen to his advice.

To be my own guru. no matter how uncomfortable that may feel.

Boundaries. Mastery of your domain is vital if you are to lead, but in an age of ubiquitous connection, we need to recognise that domains have boundaries, in space and time. Boyd himself would recognise it – he was a master of air combat, instrumental in the design of the F-15, F-16 and A10, and a formidable fighter pilot. However, looking at air combat now, as drones, and alternative weapons platforms emerge, whither the traditional fighter pilot? (He covered his options, becoming a master strategist as he delved ever deeper into the subject)

If you’re a master accountant, lawyer, administrator, developer, manager it’s time to look around. Your domain’s boundaries are in sight, and AI and machine learning, let alone global access lie at the edge.

Looking around most media, including LinkedIn, advice is around how to be better at what you do, as though it’s permanent. There are thousands of people who will help you do it.

It builds a cocoon around us. Everything will be alright.

It’s really easy to become complacent. We become wilfully blind. 

Convinced that the years of experience we have, and the mountain of qualifications we’ve gained will assure us that tomorrow will be much like yesterday.

However, bit by inevitable bit, it won’t, until we bump, unpleasantly, into the boundary.

There’s an argument that creativity within a domain follows an inverted U curve. Our engagement, productivity and creativity increase rapidly as we immerse ourselves and gain mastery, but after a while, the trend moves down, and we find ourselves having to work harder, with less enjoyment, to produce what we expect of ourselves..

That’s when you know you’re at a boundary.

So, as professionals and managers we still need mastery of our current domains, but as leaders we need to know where the boundaries are.

Look around. Sense what’s happening. Be your own guru.

En Route

We are geared to seeking feedback on how we’re doing (normally positive, which is often the least useful – but that’s for another time), but we rarely ask the more useful questions:

  • What is it that I do?
  • Am I doing it differently to last year?
  • Where do you think I’m heading?
  • What do like about how I do what I do?

If we’re committed, we’re all en route. Going somewhere, even if we’re not sure where. The scenery round us changes, and if we take the time to notice, so does the view. It’s difficult to notice when we have our head down, looking at the path.

Right now, the scenery around is changing faster then ever. and if we haven’t noticed, we are almost certainly missing opportunities, and probably emerging threats.

One of the frequent challenges of management is that we find out what works for us, and keep doing it, even when the scenery changes.

It’s a leader’s job to notice, and bring it to people’s attention. To make sure she has the right people around her to deal with what’s emerging, and that they are adequately resourced.

The news is rarely welcomed – we like the status quo, and learning is hard work, and represents a risk, but as Eric Shinseki told his troops “if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less”

Time to look around. What’s changing for you and those who look to you for leadership? What do you need to understand, and what are you going to tell them?

We’re all en route, whether we like it or not.

We have a choice of two futures . being taken somewhere by other people, or looking for our own route.

Exploring Change – the speed of understanding

Over time. “Change Management” has become a label, like “Quality” and “Innovation”. The labels make the subject safe. People design a process, and make it something that can be done to people and organisations. I suggest that is a potentially lethal approach.

We have three reactions to change. the first is denial – the idea that this is an anomaly, and that things will get back to normal. The second is neutralisation – finding a way to cope with it. The third, is transformation.What initiates transformational change is understanding – a deep, meaningful, relationship with what is happening in our individual and business world. 

And what triggers understanding is engagement – curiosity and a motivation to explore what is happening and the confidence – and courage – to face it head on.

There are three triggers – a mindset that embraces change, the confidence to start without knowing quite where it will finish, and the motivation to do it.

In every organisation the most critical path is that of engagement. Engagement triggers inquiry. Inquiry triggers understanding. Understanding triggers action.

In every organisation – we can map that critical path. It is dependent on all the variables – personality, power, relationships.

It is not a “standard process” – a change machine. It is personal, thoughtful and generous, and it changes by the day.

Change happens at the speed of understanding. Anything less than understanding makes a business obsolescent.

GrowHouse is an inquiry based consultancy, specialises in exploration to find hidden sources of value, and the identification of sacred cows that hinders it.