The edge will find you

Icebergs fracture at theIr edges.

Landmasses erode at the coast.

Businesses change at their edges.

Despite that, most businesses respond to change by retreating towards the centre.

They focus on business as usual and take comfort in easily managed lagging indicators. Margins. ROA. Annual profit.

It’s easy to find comfort in wilful blindness, and to avoid the difficult and scary work that takes place at the edge, where there is no historic data, no best practice, and no maps because nobody else has been their either.

People operating in the centre don’t need leadership; they need effective management. Best Practice. The centre isn’t going anywhere.

Leadership is required at the edge. The place where there are varied, unproven options, all with a real risk of failure. Where people need to be inspired, to commit and do it anyway.

As change becomes faster and more complex, the edges get closer, and they will find us.

It’s a good time to look round. Who will follow you? Who might you lead?

We’re all heroes now

Whether we like it or not.

Campbell’s iconic structure covers a compelling sequence, starting in the “ordinary world”, a call to adventure and departure on a difficult Journey. Along the way our hero meets a mentor, who changes our her understanding of the world which leads her in to a road of trials, in unfamiliar and frightening surroundings and inevitably to “a long dark night of the soul” where all seems lost. However, in meeting the challenge, she discovers what she needs, and overcomes the odds. She then has a decision to make- to stay where she is, enjoying the fruits of here courage, or to take the secret back to the ordinary world.

Most of us will recognise that our ordinary world, where we understood the rules, our position and could plan is well behind us.

We need mentors. They are not our normal leaders, they are those who care for you and your potential for genius. They are out there.

We find ourselves on a road of trials, and for many, where we are right now seems like a long dark night of the soul.

We can’t go back to the ordinary world. It doesn’t want us and we have nothing to give it, until we find our way forward through the current difficulties.

That’s our job right now. Individually and collectively. To embrace the frightening, the uncertain; to tame it and use it.

In our own worlds, right now, we have no choice other than to be a hero. Those around you, who share what matters to you, need nothing less

The Business Garden

Gardening and natural world metaphors abound in business, and provide a solid link to the systemic, rather than a mechanical approach to understanding change.

A new dimension was added for me last night as I overheard a comment on “Gardeners World”;

There is no garden without a gardener”

It struck me that one of the things we maybe do not pay enough attention to is how we lead and manage through this lens of gardening.

We cannot lead a garden, and our efforts to manage it are at best heroic. Gardens will not be commanded, nor will they behave. They are subject to lots of variables, not least weather, and as gardeners we have to work within the constraints that appear. At our very best, we influence. What we end up with is beautiful, but rarely conforms to a precise plan. To create a beautiful garden, we have to dance with the elements.

The same is increasingly true of business. The days of command and control, of five year plans, of a compliant workforce and the protection of national boundaries are far behind us. To create a beautiful business we have to dance with the elements.

Which brings me to the gardener. Every beautiful garden has a committed, sometimes fanatical gardener at its heart. Someone who works with it, understands and learns from failure that is beyond their control without losing heart, and measures success by the beauty of the garden, not the number of visitors it attracts. A beautiful garden is a creation that stands alone in its own right.

Perhaps if we thought about businesses in the same way, with the same level of ownership and commitment and determination to create something worthwhile, we might avoid some of the destruction that arises from catastrophic failure.

As I write, some 150,000 people are having holidays ruined by the failure of Thomas Cook. A business founded nearly two hundred years ago on a simple premise of helping people see the world. That’s a great vision, and has echoes of the garden about it.

It has been brought down by a combination of circumstances, some predictable, some less so but at the heart of it seems to be an absence of the beautiful idea on which it as founded in favour of shareholders who were happy to take the dividends in the good times but not commit to it when the weather turned bad, and banks who seem not to be able to see past the numbers. To be fair – that’s their brief, but when we lose a business like this, and affect people’s lives as a trip wire event, rather than managing it through a bad season, I think it diminishes the reputation of business.

A gardener would have handled this differently.