Stories are the way we make sense of things, as well as commit them to memory. They are at the heart of our histories. Stories are fractal – every story has smaller stories within it, and is itself part of an ever developing larger story.

I’ve come to understand that stories are a good way to understand our relationship with our work. At any one point, both the organisation we work for and ourselves are at different points along our story line. We are founded, or born, and spend the rest our our time time working out who we are and want we want. It changes.

As we develop, sometimes the story of the organisation and the story of us align. We are good together, companions on a path that suits us both. We learn from each other, support each other, and enjoy the journey.

At other times, our stories diverge. Our needs become different. The organisation wants to settle down, but the individual wants to explore – or maybe the other way round. Either way, there comes a point where paths separate if each is to achieve what it wants from life.

The complication arises when separation needs to occur, but doesn’t. One becomes dependent on the other, or perhaps just takes it for granted. The pain comes when something unexpected happens, and a separation is forced upon the relationship. Business Failure, Headhunters, Circumstance.

When that happens, one or the other, or maybe neither is prepared. They’ve forgotten their story, and have to try and remember it; to pick it up where it trailed off.

It’s a salutary lesson. If we are not actively living our story, developing it, exploring it, the story goes into hibernation.

If we’re not aware, right now, of where we are in our story, either as individuals or organisations, and are making sure they are developing, we have a problem.

Planning as pain relief

Everything has always been connected to everything else. Whatever happens in one area eventually (and often unpredictably) affects others.

Up to now, we could cope with the complexity by ignoring it. Our plans were sufficiently robust, and the pace of change relatively slow such that we could fool ourselves into thinking we were in control.

The system has caught up with us. It feels rather a though someone has taken “change” out of the slow cooker and popped it into the microwave.

Nothing has changed really, other than our awareness of the things we did not pay attention in the past making their presence felt.

It means we need different metrics. The stuff we have measured ourselves by (GDP, Growth, Market Share) we now understand to be a very small part of what we need to measure.

The future is only frightening if we measure it the way we used to, not by what matters.

Plans need to share the stage with a broader understanding of where they fit into the scheme of things.

The ten percent

We talk about change pretty much every day. It’s entered the lexicon of how we talk about what we see around us. So much so we just accept it as routine.

I wonder how much we really think about it though.

Mostly, the context I hear about it tends to be in relation to problems, managing, uncertainty. I rarely hear about it being talked about warmly. It’s spoken about in the same tones as ageing, disease and death. Something we have to cope with.

I don’t think it’s that at all.

Change is like a challenging friend. We know it has no intent to harm us – anything but – it just requires us to make choices around things that matter to us.

All of us alive today have been born into an age of organisation and definitions.

Get educated as best you can and do well against criteria set by other people whose interest is largely in the economic benefit you will generate, more than the journey of your life.

Use that education to get a good job and a good career, working in structures designed by other people for their own purposes (which we may or may not share)

Do that until your utility falls below an arbitrary line, conventionally defined by age, and retire. If you’ve done well, all well and good. if not, more of a problem.

This an an obsolete paradigm, but like any habit, takes a while to change. In the last couple of decades organisations have been losing power to ideas and movements.

Influence has gone assymetric.

Whilst how much capital you have is a powerful lag indicator of influence, the lead indicators are our ideas, our communities, and our purpose. The ripples of Mark Rylance resigning from the RSC because of its sponsorship by BT, or Greta Thunberg transforming the nature of the climate change debate, are only just beginning to be felt.

Most of us (around 90%) find ourselves in organisations that like certainty, regard change as an inconvenience to be managed, and that being more efficient and profitable in what we do is what we must focus on.

The problem is, that very resistance to change means we don’t keep pace with it. (Change doesn’t care). We’re on a timeline to obsolescence. Until recently, you could have a career that coped with that.

Fifty years in a gently declining industry or profession, but with a final salary pension? – no problem. No more.

A small number of us – maybe less than 2.5% – are the crazy ones. The ones who are driven to pursue an idea or cause because thet cannot do otherwise.

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do. Steve Jobs

Then there’s the 10%. The ones who question the status quo and conventional wisdom. The ones who think the crazy ones are maybe not so crazy, and will entertain their ideas. The ones who recognise that short term comfort is achieved at long term disappointment in a dream not fulfilled.

These are the alchemists, and the fire carriers. The ones who will transform ideas into impact, and embers into infernos.

They often face a challenge. the 90% think they’re dangerous, and the 2.5%think they lack the unwavering commitment to the idea.

But the 10% will get past that. Travelling between the complacency of the the 90%, and the fundamentalism of the 2.5%, they make a difference that improves our lives, from how we are able to live them, to the planet we live them on. They are an emerging community.

Where do you belong?