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.

Vision and Goals

Our current politics, and business, is surfacing some interesting thoughts for me.

We all get the “vision thing” – and indeed it’s foundational to something worthwhile in the long term.

But it’s difficult to have a vision when you’re uncomfortable, or under threat.

For most people, Visions are created from places of stillness and relative certainty, when the mind and imagination can be fully harnessed.

When we’re uncomfortable, we need a goal. To be somewhere clear and definable, that is different to where we are right now.

BREXIT is a good example. For a (far too long) time, we have been procrastinating about what sort of “out of the EU” we want. We have been entertaining visions, when what was needed was goals.

Whatever one might think of Boris (and, to be fair, what I think is not really printable) he has tapped into a goal. “Out by 31 October, come what may”

That goal may inspire you, or horrify you but it’s unlikely to leave you indifferent. It creates movement and energy and those who oppose him have to find a similarly clear goal, and match it with energy, if they are to be heard.

What he has done is provided a catalyst, and maybe we needed that.

Enough of BREXIT, but the lesson is one we can apply to our businesses (and often, ourselves). We have a choice; we can either complain about what’s going on around us and espouse a vision of what we would like it to be, or we can set a goal, an uncomfortably catalysing goal, and do something – even when the outcome is unclear. It will move us forward, it may fail, but we will not be where we are currently complaining about.

Perhaps sometimes, we have to go goals first and let the vision emerge from what we discover.

Stranded on the summit.

To make the changes we need to not just survive, but thrive together, we have to go beyond what we know and be guided by what we believe in, our intuition, and our insight.

It’s difficult, because we’re used to proof. A solid business case. Someone to blame if it goes wrong.

We’re used to lionising those who succeed, and castigating those who fail, even when what has been as stake is little more than profitably rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

We’ve entered a period where to progress we need to go into the unknown and be prepared to fail in the pursuit of something worthwhile, whilst we gain the knowledge that will be the platform for the next decades of growth. (hint; people will be more important than systems)

Which brings me to an issue I see. Most of our training around innovation, creativity and leadership is formulaic. Designed for what we have been doing, not what we need to do. It is well delivered, professional, often expensive but has short time horizons. Its’ usefulness also has a short half life in periods of rapid change.

The capabilities we need to develop are significantly different. They address what is emerging but not yet clear, and focus on different values to the financial ones that have brought us to now. They are varied, developmental, often experiential and address more distant time horizons. They are not always expensive, or at this stage profitable for the providers.

This seems to generate a conflict. These two approaches speak different languages. They have different goals. Each can regard the other with disdain, as either too mundane, or too flaky. We need to resolve this conflict.

(Note – there is evidence of this changing. Attendance at Burning Man and some other settings includes senior leaders from a range of organisations – but we’re only making the tiniest of scratches in a very hard surface.)

We need a bridge; a common language. Otherwise, we get people to deep insights whilst exploring the unknown, and leave them stranded without any way to bring it back into the current mainstream. We can do the work, take them to the top of the mountain, but then leave them there.

The key is delivering insight, often to people who will resist it because it requires new thinking, new habits and new measures all of which are unfamiliar.

It places real loads on leaders who will require very different skills from those we teach in the mainstream.

It requires those of us delivering new ways of seeing to generate insight with a real responsibility to be not just guides, but Sherpas. To go along on the journey, share the load and the risk. To know not just the techniques, but the territory.

(and a High Five to David Chabeaux, who gave me the mountain metaphor. I like it a lot.)

Getting to the top of the mountain is dangerous, and the view is wonderful from there, but as any mountaineer will tell you more people die on the way down than on the way up.