Escape Velocity

The 50th anniversary of landing on the moon took me to thoughts about escape velocity. For earth, a little over 11km/s, or Mach 33, or several times the velocity of a high powered rifle bullet. The energy needed to escape the pull of the familiar.

We are currently trapped in a numbers driven economic system, largely detached from considering it’s externalities – the unintended consequences of the headlong push for growth. Our escape velocity will be determined by what we value.

We have allowed ourselves to become limited by the gravity of an orthodoxy that may well kill us unless we escape its pull.

There are however signs, and not just from the likes of Extinction Rebellion. People closer to the centre of the current orthodoxy. Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, is making a stand. So too is the head of Moore Stephens speaking at The European Court of Auditors – not a body I have previously associated with radical action.

Good though this is, it seems unlikely that this is where the leadership we need will come from. They have little to risk.

The real impetus, the energy needed for escape velocity will come from those who do have something to risk. Those who will do differently, from the outset. Who will view value as more than numbers.

Smaller businesses, individuals without the security of an established career.

Those for whom the risk of standing out is real.

Which is most of us.

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.

Clutter

I’m always surprised how the clutter build up.

Whether in my client’s organisations, or my own. We add new things – ideas, processes, connections – faster than we remove them.

In the early days, that’s fine – we have room and we’re growing physically – products, services, people, premises, but before long we become established and our task is to master what we do, more than add new things of maybe only marginal importance. Like unwanted guests at a party, they require our attention but don’t add much in return for it.

And these things that we add seldom arrive alone. They come as part of a package, like those software programmes and apps that are “fully featured” and contain far more than we want or will use. We may not need these extra features, but they still occupy storage and processing space.

The same seems to apply to organisations. We know what the Pareto principle tells us – that 80% of our impact comes from 20% of our resources but we often fail to follow up on it. De-cluttering an organisation can be complicated and contentious, and our loss aversion bias makes us reluctant to let things go – but if we want to keep ourselves flexible, resilient and effective we need to face it down on a regular basis.

Ideally, everybody in our organisation would be on form, on target, engaged, curious and committed. Every customer profitable. Every supplier reliable.

Reality of course is always different, but that’s not a reason for accepting it.

The clutter builds up unseen. We get used to it, walk past it, until it becomes invisible. It weaves it’s way, like bindweed, through the important stuff and like bindweed unless we get it early, is hard work to get rid of.

We are in times of rapid change, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. If we are going to avoid falling behind, we need to have the capacity to be agile. To learn what we need to, and unlearn what we don’t.

Dangerous stuff, clutter.