Fear is a waste of imagination

Some of the biggest shifts we are seeing in the way our world operates is being enabled by interoperable systems. Ensuring that my data can work with your data, and that my systems can work with your systems.

This capability is creating fertile conditions for everything from mashups to radical innovation and insight. The “price” we pay for this is not putting fortresses around what we have created. It offers a mindset that recognises that the speed of change makes protection much less effective than collaboration.

Then we get to people, and we seem to slip back a century or so. Non disclosure agreements, non compete clauses, “gardening leave”. All designed to prevent what is known by one from fertilising an idea in another.

There will always of course be areas where this is necessary, but not many. We seem to take it as a default. However, if I “let you go” it means I no longer need or value your potential, so why would you stop me using what I know to work with another to create something new – other than fear?

Driven by fear of missing out, we actively prevent the creation of the new by constraining the people who may bring it about. If we believe the figures for employee disengagement, it seems clear that most businesses only use a fraction of their employees potential, but are driven to prevent anyone else using it for as long as they can.

There is of course a mirror side to this. Why, as employees would we put up with this – other than the fear that our unused potential will not be recognised by another?

The system will eventually sort this out, but in the meantime, at a time when we desperately need every ounce of available creativity to address the huge challenges we face, we are doing ourselves a huge disservice.

If you’re afraid of missing out on an opportunity you have not seen, compare that to the threat of the collapse of the systems we depend on to exist.

If you’re afraid of taking a step into the unknown and uncertain, consider how that will make you feel when you look back on it and recognise you could have.

Everything is connected to everything in one form or another. Increasing human, as well as systems interoperability seem like a good idea really.

Being afraid is a waste of imagination.

Plans vs. Scenarios

By definition, plans need a degree of anticipated stability to be of any use whatsoever.

That forecast stability is in rather short supply as I write this, not just in the UK as we go through a remarkable period of transformation, but pretty much everywhere across everything from climate to politics.

One of my “go to” reflection tools at times like this is the Cynefin framework:

I like it’s simplicity. Right now, it feels to me like we’re on the cusp of complex and chaotic.

There’s nothing to be worried about in that (worry, after all is a poor use of imagination. Fear has a purpose, worry just drains us)

It makes planning difficult though. We are best thinking in terms of scenarios- what might happen, and what signs would we expect to see if that scenario was coming about? It’s at the heart of agility- the ability to act on a combination of a minimum of evidence and finely tuned intuition.

It has to be grounded. Be cannot be agile in response to something that’s happened (it’s too late), so we have to be willing to take risks.

Risks have to be worth it. Something important enough to risk failure for. Something far more meaningful than just money. Something bigger than just us. Something that will still matter even if our part in it fails.

When we’re creating scenarios, that meaning has to be at the heart of it.

Otherwise, we’re just passing time.

Wingman

One of the most valuable things we can do when we’re trying to find a way forward is to put our thoughts out there with somebody we trust.

Somebody who will challenge and look for our weak spots, with the intent of sharpening our argument, or our game.

I’ve been wrestling with a paradox. When we coach, we cannot have an agenda- we are in service of our client’s thinking. The moment we introduce our own thinking, uninvited, we are no longer coaches.

At the same time, part of our job is to introduce ideas and concepts that might move our client forward.

So, how do we square this circle?

My “sparring partner” today helped me see a route.

In what seems a long time ago, I was an officer in the R.A.F. During my time there, I was taught the idea of a “wing man“. The concept is as simple as it is powerful. When we are focused on a target, we lose peripheral vision. We are so focused on the target, we fail to see what is going on around us.

The wing man provides that. She looks out for us, and feeds back to us threats we may not see.

The biggest threats we are facing today sit outside of our immediate vision. We may achieve and celebrate short term financial goals, whilst at the same time not see the bigger systemic picture, wherein lie the issues that will take us out of the game.

All of us need a “wingman” or woman. I’m grateful for mine. Who’s yours?