Generational Decisions

My grandson and me. Today, the decisions I take, or agree to are shaping his future children’s world.

Decisions that matter span generations. They always have, and today we still feel the ripples, and the unintended consequences of what seemed like a good idea generations ago.

Steven Johnson talks about this in his latest book, Farsighted. It’s a welcome addition to a vital but largely under utilised canon on decision making.

My favourite though goes back much further, to aboriginal wisdoms, in particular the Native American peoples.

I’m familiar with two versions.

The first is that of the of the founding document of the Iroquois Confederacy, which states that “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations“. The link will take you to it. It’s worth a read.

The second, given to me by one of my teachers I can’t attribute, but it works on the same principle. It refers to us all being the fourth generation, shaped by the preceding three, and shaping the following three.

We are making decisions today with enormous consequences that will affect those yet to be born, and it seems we still have much to learn about real leadership.

What if we’re looking the wrong way?

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”

Marcel Proust.

Or perhaps new lands with old eyes……..

It seems that the more pressure we find ourselves under, the further away we look for answers.

Our capabilities to create new things is unparalleled. Our reasons for creating them less so.

When working with clients I am often amazed that they discount what is behind them, even though in most cases, the power, the joy and the energy for the business they are struggling with lies there.

What did you want to be when you were a five year old? (before you were told that it was not practical)

What did you imagine when you started this business? (or what did your parent imagine)

When it comes to leadership, strategy, philosophy and other “soft” skills (management is a hard skill, and less than a hundred years old) those who went before, from Ancient Philosophers, to Warriors, to Explorers, have much to teach us. they were there before us, wondering largely what we wonder now, but with fewer choices to consider.

It’s not our science, or technology that will determine our future. It’s our imaginations.

Be your own Guru.

John Boyd was a brilliant man, maybe even a genius. In my view, one of the most thoughtful and interesting strategists of the last few hundred years.

He had a line of advice; “Don’t treat me as a guru. Whatever I’ve learned is only a beginning”.

“Go be your own guru

One of his five key elements for an effective performance culture was mastery – he used the German expression fingerspitzengefuehle – literally “finger tip feeling”. A deep understanding of and empathy with your environment. An ability to sense things happening before they appeared, and take advantage of them before others noticed them.

I’ve taken that as a given for many years, but am noticing a shadow side to it, and need to listen to his advice.

To be my own guru. no matter how uncomfortable that may feel.

Boundaries. Mastery of your domain is vital if you are to lead, but in an age of ubiquitous connection, we need to recognise that domains have boundaries, in space and time. Boyd himself would recognise it – he was a master of air combat, instrumental in the design of the F-15, F-16 and A10, and a formidable fighter pilot. However, looking at air combat now, as drones, and alternative weapons platforms emerge, whither the traditional fighter pilot? (He covered his options, becoming a master strategist as he delved ever deeper into the subject)

If you’re a master accountant, lawyer, administrator, developer, manager it’s time to look around. Your domain’s boundaries are in sight, and AI and machine learning, let alone global access lie at the edge.

Looking around most media, including LinkedIn, advice is around how to be better at what you do, as though it’s permanent. There are thousands of people who will help you do it.

It builds a cocoon around us. Everything will be alright.

It’s really easy to become complacent. We become wilfully blind. 

Convinced that the years of experience we have, and the mountain of qualifications we’ve gained will assure us that tomorrow will be much like yesterday.

However, bit by inevitable bit, it won’t, until we bump, unpleasantly, into the boundary.

There’s an argument that creativity within a domain follows an inverted U curve. Our engagement, productivity and creativity increase rapidly as we immerse ourselves and gain mastery, but after a while, the trend moves down, and we find ourselves having to work harder, with less enjoyment, to produce what we expect of ourselves..

That’s when you know you’re at a boundary.

So, as professionals and managers we still need mastery of our current domains, but as leaders we need to know where the boundaries are.

Look around. Sense what’s happening. Be your own guru.