Don’t feel behind

It’s easy to feel behind when so much is changing, and we find ourselves in a bonfire of old certainties

It’s understandable. Many of the things we have trained for, qualified in and taken as a solid base seem to be evaporating under the heat of technology and politics.

It’s compounded by our psyche. FOMO, or loss aversion bias makes us far more conscious of what we might be losing than what we might be gaining.

It’s time for a deep breath, because the fear is a choice. We don’t describe the world we see, we see the world we describe.

When everything changes so fast, and makes what we have learned obsolescent quickly, it levels the playing field. People with twenty years more experience are not twenty years ahead of you.

More than ever, it’s about Clarity.

Why you’re doing what you are. Purpose. It doesn’t have to be grandiose- sometimes our purpose may just be putting food on the table, at other times we want to change the world. Don’t assume your purpose today will be the same as your purpose tomorrow. Different types of purpose are only milestones along the road to giving our lives meaning.

How you do what you do matters greatly, Whatever your purpose. Your how paints a clear picture of character, integrity, belief. It’s the very stuff of leadership- of ourselves and others.

What we do is a vehicle for our why and our how. If we look at people who have made a real difference to us, they may have been in any one of a wide variety of roles along the way. Van Gogh was a failed minister, draftsmanship, poet and art dealer before he painted “Starry Night”, a few short years before his death. His what changed a lot, but not his why or his how. Most of the radical entrepreneurs. From Branson to Musk via Jobs followed very non linear paths to eventual success.

We are where we are right now. As several people have said ( not sure who said it first) “don’t compare yourself to others, compare yourself to who you were yesterday’

You can never fall behind yourself. You can however choose to move forward, today, by a little.

The Fitzgerald Paradox

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

F.Scott Fitzgerald

It seems as though wherever we look at the moment, this quote applies.

The rate of change we are experiencing, the variety of options open to us, and the avalanche of different opinions showered on us means that we need to develop and access our first rate intelligence. This is not something we can outsource to another.

I suspect that in retrospect, this period will be defined as the end of an era. It’s difficult to know right now, as generally we don’t realise there’s been a revolution until its over.

All the signals seem to point to the end of an industrial era defined by structured organisations, hierarchies, nation states and relatively consistent “ways of doing things” and the start of something altogether more fluid. On the one hand, the types of job that have characterised the passing era are being increasingly disrupted by technology, and the human values that have often been suppressed for the sake of efficiency are becoming ever more important. We can’t write algorithms for love, purpose and meaning.

Right now, we have to be able to operate in both these areas. We are still dependent on the structures and practices of the passing era, at the same time as we are coming to terms with the emerging one.

In my practice, I often see some excellent work done in the creation of insight. These are often off site, and triggered by accessing those values that make us most human. However, when the off site finishes, those insights are almost always submerged as people go back into the workplace culture they were off site from. The people may have been on a personal journey, but the workplace didn’t tag along. The insights generated may stay with the individual but don’t make it into the workplace. Not infrequently, those who have experienced insight end up leaving in pursuit of somewhere or something that resonates more with their new found perspective.

We need to change that. We need to be able to hold these seemingly opposing ideas in mind whilst retaining the ability to function. If one idea or the other “wins” rather than collaborates we lose something – either our current performance, or our potential future.

I think the need is for “safe space” where ideas can be explored without being judged, and an opportunity created to synthesise new ways of operating that respect each of them.

It is not something that can we can “train” people in. It has to be owned, a product of that unique intelligence each of us has. It has to be nurtured and grown as we would a tender plant, or a young child.

The change is with us, whether we are ready or not.

We have choices to make, if we don’t want them made for us.

To borrow from Marshall Goldsmith, the operating models that got us here, won’t get us there.

Processing speed

Concentrating on how fast we process data is a dangerous and unhealthy trap. Rather like fast food, we don’t consider what we’re consuming, and fall foul of the carb rush.

Instant gratification.

We’re entering (if not already in) an era where processing faster is ceasing to be an advantage. Except, maybe on trading floors, where milliseconds enables us to take advantage in a passing, temporary trade. It doesn’t add any real value to the stock being traded.

In areas of rather more substance, the data is valuable but partial. It will tell us where we’ve been (though maybe not why), but is a poor indicator for anything other than the very short term of where we’re headed.

Like the carb rush though, it’s as addictive as it is unhealthy.

Data is great for those judged on their operational strategy. Lots of numbers, comparisons, forecast returns. We become seduced and blinded by the beauty of the numbers, and judge the strategy at speed. Read the executive summary, maybe scan the rest. Compare the numbers to alternative offerings, Judge. Move on.

The foundation of strategy though does not lie in the numbers. It lies in awareness, purpose, spirit, relationships, agility, imagination, reflection. All qualitative, not easily measurable, yet vital.

The reason that the vast majority of operations strategies fail is because they are not grounded in these softer qualities. A fast food diet with little real sustenance.

I find it a sobering thought that most of the stuff of operational strategy is moving towards algorithms. Much better than us flaky humans at analysing history and projecting it forward and removing the extraneous, outlying data that is the harbinger of change, but not renowned for it’s imagination or thoughtful questioning.

The qualities that will define lasting success in the next era will be our ability to think, reflect and imagine. If we don’t make time for that, as individuals and organisations, we’re likely to have the useful lifespan of fast food packaging.