The more complex things become, the shorter our forecasting horizon becomes.
Apparently, even the best, the “super forecasters” ability fails as they approach a year. Most of us can’t get much beyond three months.
Those who work on one of the most complex systems of all – the weather, can’t get much beyond a couple of weeks, even with the most powerful, sophisticated computers available.
This is the world we live in. VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) entered the lexicon nearly twenty five years ago, coined by those whose lives depend on working out how to cope with lethal complexity – the military. It’s come to the attention of the rest of us relatively recently.
You get the idea.
Planning is useful, but of limited practical use.
If we can’t forecast, we can’t plan. If we can’t plan, where is our security?
The answer is that it doesn’t lie in planning (it never has). We like plans, they offer us a sense of certainty. Neurologically, we apparently get a bigger dopamine hit from creating a “good” plan than we get achieving it.
When we’re uncertain, confidence lies in being prepared for whatever happens, whenever it happens. That means having somewhere to stand.
Our company fails, today. Lehman style.
We get made redundant, suddenly and unexpectedly.
Our savings dissolve in a puddle of corporate incompetence.
We get betrayed by a close friend.
Or whatever else lies in the dark corners of our imagination.
We are sufficient and capable
We have been brought up to believe in our own insufficiency. That we need to find a safe employer, that other people are better than us, that we need to comply.
Our ability is not dependent on getting qualifications, it depends on our curiosity and determination to understand whatever it is that is important to us. The qualifications are merely a currency that creates a competitive market and a ready customer base for those who create the qualifications.
Orville Wright never had a pilots licence. Steve Jobs never finished university. The world is filled with stories of iconoclasts who changed their world without permission.
So what about us, in a world where the confidence horizons are so apparently short?
Self Reliance in not selfish
Like the classic instruction “fit your own oxygen mask before you help others to fit theirs”, we are at our best, most generous and most effective when we are self sufficient.
Most of us, the 99% who have to earn a living, have been educated in an environment that encourages dependency. On the state, on our employer, on the acceptance by us of others in power, (back to qualifications)
We can however choose who to depend on
I think Self Reliance depends on a number of “anchors” – people, ideas and values which are constant and help us navigate the turbulence, and the chaos ,when it arises.
- An understanding of our reason for being. We are all unique, and have the talent and capabilities to make a positive contribution. It’s often not clear to us in detail, but we know it’s there. Knowing it’s there, and encouraging it to surface is enough.
- Something to believe in. Something bigger than us, that will outlast us, and which harnesses and rewards our reason for being. It might be highly personal, like family, or a belief. Most great businesses and movement have started as a cause. The Wright Brothers and flight. Muhammad Yunus and Micro Credit. Jacqueline Novogradtz and Venture Capital for non profits. John Bowers and Audio.
- People who believe in you. Those who know you have a reason for being, and will support you come what may. It doesn’t need many. One is enough. Batman couldn’t have been Batman without Alfred Pennyworth.
- The confidence to start. Often I find that this the biggest challenge – in others, and myself.. Failure is always an option, and success isn’t guaranteed. When the cause is strong enough, it’s an acceptable risk.
Where’s your cause?
It doesn’t have to be big – it just has to be important. I’ve seen cause in abundance in people fighting for the survival of a children’s nursery in a deprived neighbourhood. I’ve seen it in a decorated ex special forces soldier who dedicated himself to improving what he saw as a deep misunderstanding in business as to what leadership really means. I see it in Greta Thunberg.
There are two that really inspire me. Loris Malaguzzi, an Italian teacher turned resistance fighter who turned necessity into one of the most respected and inspirational early years education pedagogies in the world. A poem he wrote can still stop me in my tracks.
The other, John Boyd. Boyd was an obsessional. Arguably one of the finest fighter pilots of his generation, he was preoccupied with the waste that was generated in the design and procurement of aircraft, and with the way that strategy worked. He alienated just about all of the establishment, but backed by a few people who believed in him, changed the course of military strategy. (A Biography “the fighter pilot who changed the art of war” is one of my most referenced books)
We all have a cause out there somewhere that needs us.
We can all thrive, but it’s not compulsory. It needs work and a degree of courage.
As we move from the industrial era, with it’s reliable organisations and simple work relationships to something still emerging and altogether more complex, we need a new approach.
We need to depend on ourselves, so we can help others. That other might be an employer, it might be your own business, a charity, or an idea wanting to be realised.
We don’t have to walk away from what we do, we just maybe need to consider why we do what we do, and why.
Take some time.
What matters to you?
Who do you matter to?
What will it take to start?