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.

Oops!

What happens when you break things you can’t measure?

As the dust begins to settle and we can start to see what’s been happening beneath the surface of the crisis, it becomes clear how much of our day to day business had become dependent on systems of some sort, and how fragile those systems are to disruption.

Beneath the more predictable issues with logistics companies, airlines, oil companies and anything that moves stuff and people about are far more subtle, but probably longer lasting challenges which money, not even the amounts that entitled corporations are demanding of somebody else’s money, will solve.

Our love of and near addiction to data leads us to focus on things we can measure, whilst beneath that the things that really matter, those areas that are harder to measure, have broken.

It may be hard to put them back together, and even where we do, the cracks will show.

And can’t see?

Apparently strong structures – from aircraft to bridges – fail unexpectedly. When we look for why, it’s the things beneath the surface – software bugs, metal fatigue, organisation culture that is wilfully blind because its focus is on the measurable – that are often found to be the root cause.

I suspect in this crisis, it will be relationships. As millions of people are put into the inherent uncertainty of furlough or more obvious uncertainty of redundancy, as probably more than a million SME businesses fail and more than a few corporates go the same way the whole mix of established work relationships evaporate. They are unlikely to recover, and cannot be glued back together the way they were.

The New Refugees

I spend a lot of my time talking to people in businesses- owners, managers employees, and individual corporate partners who are the edge of change, dealing with radical change or in areas of exploring new areas. The threads that hold them to the organisation are often weak. They are talented, often driven people with ideas and purpose of their own who sit a long way from the comfortable, often complacent centre. They are the ones experiencing what is happening, not reading about it after the event.

In the last few weeks, many of those threads have been further weakened, if not broken. If not furloughed, or made redundant the projects they have been working on have come to a screaming halt as business “goes to the mattresses”. When landlords and suppliers aren’t being paid, “non essential” projects and “soft spend” – training, marketing, research – stand no chance.

They are largely being left to fend for themselves, as the attention of business moves outwards to the markets and financiers, not inwards to their vital organs.The body corporate starts to fail, at first gradually, then before long, suddenly.

When I talk to these people, vital to the effective long term health of the organisation but “inefficient” in the short term, they sound like refugees. Disoriented and disillusioned, but far from helpless.

The Law of the Few

There are many models of what makes organisations vibrant, and all of them are remarkably consistent in showing an underlying “law of the few”

I’m familiar with the term, as many will be from Malcolm Gladwell’s work “Tipping Point”. He uses three archetypes:

  • The “maven” – those who know, who have mastery of their subject
  • The “connector” – those who sit at the vital nodes in communication networks. The people you want when you want to get an introduction to somebody you don’t have any credibility with, and want to talk to
  • The “salesperson” – the persuaders. The people who convince those you need to convince through their personal presence.

These people have two key characteristics:

  • They are scarce – in total, probably fewer than 10% of the workforce, and not identifiable by job role. They are more often than not the people who customers rely on to make things happen, and sit at the edge, not the centre of the organisation.
  • They are essentially independent and highly mobile. They work for the organisation because it suits them, not because they have to.

These are the people the 90% are dependent on when things get rough.

So what happens now?

The same thing that happens when you drop the phone. You lose connection.

The problem (if you’re an organisation) and the opportunity (if you’re one of the few) is that people are not phones you own that can be repaired.

They don’t break. They are always on.

They will use the skills that make them vital to the future to find a new home. They are like cats. You never own a cat, it just chooses to live with you whilst you feed it and care for it.

If you’re an organisation:

Of course cash is King, but if you don’t pay enough attention to your vital few, you may be left with a much depleted Kingdom in the not so distant future.

If you’re one the the vital few:

This is your time. Choose wisely. This period will not last very long.

Just play the ball!

Golfmagic.com

Imagine the scene. Players on the 18th hole after a long and difficult match. The pressure is on. Playing an approach shot to the final green, one of the players is appalled when his ball hits a passing seagull, and ricochets off into the roughest rough there is. Not even a bunker, much worse than a bunker.

They gather round, and the debate starts:

  • The seagull had been around for ages. Why hadn’t somebody removed it?
  • Whose idea was it to select that club? A stroke with a different club would have missed the seagull.
  • This is an extraordinary event. The shot should be taken again, or a penalty free removal from the roughest of the rough to the merely rough granted without penalty.
  • The debate goes on. (I’m not a golfer, and am aware that there will be lots of rules to allow for this – but you get the point)

There are no rules for coronavirus, or any other act of nature.

We have to play the ball where it lies. Allocation of blame is a pointless waste of energy – it just wastes time. We can come back to understanding what happened when we’ve played the ball.

This applies to each one of us. Waiting for the “authorities” to rescue is could be a long wait. They’re doing the best they can, but in reality have no more idea than we do.

We have a choice.

“He who cannot obey himself will be commanded.”

Thus Spak Zarathustra. Nietzsche.

We may wish the ball wasn’t where it is, but it is.

We have to play it.

  • What clubs do you have in the bag?
  • How many ways might you use them?
  • How might you interpret the rules?
  • Are you prepared to take a penalty?
  • Who might help you?
  • Do you have a caddie who knows the course?
  • There will be a way to play it, that only you can play.

If you want to stay in the game, find a way to play the ball.

No other games are available.