Fear is a waste of imagination

Some of the biggest shifts we are seeing in the way our world operates is being enabled by interoperable systems. Ensuring that my data can work with your data, and that my systems can work with your systems.

This capability is creating fertile conditions for everything from mashups to radical innovation and insight. The “price” we pay for this is not putting fortresses around what we have created. It offers a mindset that recognises that the speed of change makes protection much less effective than collaboration.

Then we get to people, and we seem to slip back a century or so. Non disclosure agreements, non compete clauses, “gardening leave”. All designed to prevent what is known by one from fertilising an idea in another.

There will always of course be areas where this is necessary, but not many. We seem to take it as a default. However, if I “let you go” it means I no longer need or value your potential, so why would you stop me using what I know to work with another to create something new – other than fear?

Driven by fear of missing out, we actively prevent the creation of the new by constraining the people who may bring it about. If we believe the figures for employee disengagement, it seems clear that most businesses only use a fraction of their employees potential, but are driven to prevent anyone else using it for as long as they can.

There is of course a mirror side to this. Why, as employees would we put up with this – other than the fear that our unused potential will not be recognised by another?

The system will eventually sort this out, but in the meantime, at a time when we desperately need every ounce of available creativity to address the huge challenges we face, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice.

If you’re afraid of missing out on an opportunity you have not seen, compare that to the threat of the collapse of the systems we depend on to exist.

If you’re afraid of taking a step into the unknown and uncertain, consider how that will make you feel when you look back on it and recognise you could have.

Everything is connected to everything in one form or another. Increasing human, as well as systems interoperability seem like a good idea really.

Being afraid is a waste of imagination.

The Fourth Generation

The North American Indians had a thing about generations.

Any action they took were required to not adversely affect seven generations from where they were, and they saw themselves always as the fourth generation-shaped by the three generations before them, and shaping the three generations in front of them.

I think that’s a wonderful way of looking at things, and one we might wish to consider.

Those of us around today have been shaped by three past generations with an obsession with “the market”; taking actions to promote growth and short term returns, based on a consumer attitude, that we now realise will create real challenges for the three following us.

It’s our responsibility. We cannot outsource it, nor find a “solution” in the way we pop a pill for a headache. “Solutions” have an increasingly short half life. They rarely address systemic root issues.

We have to live the change, and take the hits, all the time holding ourselves accountable to those of seven generations on who we will never meet.

Plans vs. Scenarios

By definition, plans need a degree of anticipated stability to be of any use whatsoever.

That forecast stability is in rather short supply as I write this, not just in the UK as we go through a remarkable period of transformation, but pretty much everywhere across everything from climate to politics.

One of my “go to” reflection tools at times like this is the Cynefin framework:

I like it’s simplicity. Right now, it feels to me like we’re on the cusp of complex and chaotic.

There’s nothing to be worried about in that (worry, after all is a poor use of imagination. Fear has a purpose, worry just drains us)

It makes planning difficult though. We are best thinking in terms of scenarios- what might happen, and what signs would we expect to see if that scenario was coming about? It’s at the heart of agility- the ability to act on a combination of a minimum of evidence and finely tuned intuition.

It has to be grounded. Be cannot be agile in response to something that’s happened (it’s too late), so we have to be willing to take risks.

Risks have to be worth it. Something important enough to risk failure for. Something far more meaningful than just money. Something bigger than just us. Something that will still matter even if our part in it fails.

When we’re creating scenarios, that meaning has to be at the heart of it.

Otherwise, we’re just passing time.