To Be, or to Do?

Sometimes, a quote is so powerful it needs no embellishing.

Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.

He raised his hand and pointed.

“If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.”

Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed in another direction.

“Or you can go that way and you can do something- something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call.

That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?

“John Boyd – the fighter pilot who changed thar art of war” R. Coram.

Sitting in the fire

I’m always intrigued that those people and organisations who say they want change But really mean that what they want is for others to change.

Their own “elasticity” regarding change is often limited, for understandable reasons. They have a lot invested in the way things are – infrastructure, reputation, credit ratings; the list goes on. Incremental change is acceptable, but rarely enough. The end result is that product and organisational life cycles are reducing.

Change doesn’t much care about their sensitivities, and is moving faster, and more unpredictably than they are.

For a number of reasons, the word ‘dyad” has been cropping up for me a lot recently. A dyad is simply a pair, but the relationship between the pair is where it gets interesting. Harmonious dyads often seem not to cope with change very well. Vested interests. Old boy networks. They have similar world views, don’t conflict, and are invested in the same things. Sparks rarely fly, and on the occasions they do are quickly extinguished.

However, the nature of change means that they are unsustainable. No organisation can handle currently levels of highly charged complexity.

Conflicting dyads on the other hand, where the sparks fly and ignite, is where the real change happens. It’s uncomfortable, and means ‘sitting in the fire”.

You’ve got to have a really good reason for sitting in the fire. It’s uncomfortable, uncertain and you may get burned. On the other hand, the really good stuff gets forged there. It’s where the magic happens. Alchemy.

For a number of reasons, in my work, I have found myself recently sat in said fire, uncomfortably but determinedly. What was at stake was too important not to, and I’m fortunate that I have enough independence, and enough support, not to have to jump out because the mortgage needs paying. That’s a privilege, but also a choice.

The change is not instant, and sitting there feeling as though your nether regions are more than medium rare is painful for a while, until the fire works its magic and what needs to happen becomes clear.

Then, it’s something of a brand new day.

It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about creation. Relationships may change. People may see you differently, and indeed, you may see yourself differently. Brand new day. And whatever the weather, the sun is shining.

Here are some of the conflicting pairs I’m seeing right now;

  1. The needs of the individual and the needs of shareholder owned businesses.
  2. The power and potential of individual purpose and organisational needs for compliance.
  3. Conventional administration and bureaucracy versus artificial intelligence.

Each of these has enormous potential for productive change, but to do so, we need to get our backsides more than warm.

Alchemy requires Fire starters and Fire carriers as well as fire sitters.

Footnote. I’m reading Novacene by James Lovelock. He’s 100.

How can we not be in awe of somebody who thinks and writes with this clarity in his 101st year? An Alchemist if ever there was one.

The Insight Famine

I suspect that one of the side effects of the austerity mindsets that have been encouraged in the last decade has been an insight famine.

When we’re cautious; when we cannot see or imagine the future clearly, we go into defensive mode. Reduce costs, stick with a slightly newer version of what we already know. Acquire and hoard rather than invent and share.

The creation of the worthwhile, the things that improve our world and the human condition are rarely done gradually. The breakthroughs are just that – breakthrough. Not improvements, not marginal, rarely guaranteed, often career threatening. We do them because they matter, not for a few extra bucks.

We have become incredibly good at efficiency, processes and systems, but poor at real breakthrough. In the West, the vast majority have seen little improvements in their incomes, and marked deterioration in their standards of living. The increases in earnings generated by efficiencies and systems have gone to a tiny minority.

Not, much as it would be satisfying to report because of some great conspiracy, but merely because of the systems we have built that hold us in thrall.

So, rather than create new we defend what we have. We demonise others, promote individualism, sow the seeds of fear of the other.

The problem of course is that it’s not sustainable. We can’t prepare for a famine by practicing starving. We’ve just about exhausted what has created our wealth for the last two hundred years, from the economic systems to the viability of the planet.

Breakthrough is never, ever safe, needs leaders who understand that and those of us that choose to follow them to accept the risks.

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance a whole lot less”

Eric Shineseki

To create the change we need, we will have to go right to the edge of what we know, what we trust, and what we find safe and step beyond. Deal with what we find.

I’m very aware that 75 years ago, my father and his friends did that.

With a bit of luck, we can honour their memory by not allowing a similar set of circumstances to evolve, but we will have to show the same level of moral courage and resolve to step into the unknown.

What is at stake is just as fundamental if we don’t.