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.

Tension

There’s a space between what we’re doing now and what we’ll be doing next. Some of that gap we can measure in time, like the timing between two notes on a musical score.

Then there’s a more complex, nuanced version. The quality of what is happening in that space. The energy. The things that affect the nature of that change.

The combination of these two qualities – time, and nature- create a tension, an energy, between one beat and the next.

That tension cannot be measured, only sensed. To sense it, we need make space for it.

That tension is increasing. For any given time period, the change energy is increasing. The difference between 2020 and 2021 is likely to very different to that between 2018 and 2019.

The issues we are seeing are not isolated from each other. They will combine and morph into new forms in a similar way to viruses adapting to defeat antibiotics.

We need to pay attention to this liminal space in which these issues combine. If we pay attention only to the symptoms, we’ll miss the cause and if do that we are far more likely to be disadvantaged than energised.

Whatever time you put aside for reflection and research, double it.

Spirit of Schumpeter

Joseph Schumpeter was the Austrian Economist who made the term “creative destruction” famous. He was a thinker ahead of his time around business and entrepreneurship.

I wonder what he would make of today? Would he see the changes on the High St, and the increasing weakness of the big companies of the last century as they turn into zombies as a bad thing, or a good thing.

I suspect the latter. The moment we organise any business, we build stickiness and resistance to change into it. The only question is how long before it falls far enough behind the rate of change in its markets to become irrelevant.

We shouldn’t (though often do) have a problem with that. However, Nicholas Taleb suggests that the three biggest addictions are heroin, carbohydrates and a regular monthly salary. The first two are a choice, but the latter for most a necessity.

That doesn’t mean we can’t control it.

By developing a mindset of doing the best we can for an employer, but not being dependent. As Robert de Niro says in the film “Heat”; “don’t get involved in anything you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds”

If we’re employees, I think that’s a healthy mindset- it keeps us, and our employers, on our toes.

The trick of course is to be able to walk away. To develop the skills, contacts, values and awareness that makes our relationship with an employer one of equals. That means training, reading, discussing and above all thinking.

For destruction to be creative, it has to create way for something.

That something is an individual and team responsibility, because the destruction will arrive anyway.

And it’s a good thing.

Scary maybe, but good.