Last week I was chatting with my oldest friend and he made an interesting comment about what I’d written on emotions being contagious. In times of crisis if the CEO of one company takes a particular action then other CEO’s feel they have to follow suit, and if they don’t its only a matter of time before the board is asking why they are not doing anything. A similar pressure exists in the medical profession, it is always easier for a doctor to prescribe a course of treatment than to do nothing, and if the treatment fails then there is always the justification that the illness was too strong but at least a cure was attempted. As human beings I believe we have a strong tendency to take action. When I was searching my photos for one to go with this article I found it difficult to find one of not doing anything. The picture above is the closest I could get, and if you look closely at the ridge-line in the background you will see a tiny line of runners heading for Kline Scheidegg the finish of the Jungfrau marathon.
However not doing can be a most powerful strategy. It is different from doing nothing, Lao-tzu termed it Wu-Wei, not forcing, or not striving. It is not about stopping all actions, but rather it is about not being so engrossed in what should or should not be happening, that you miss what is actually happening. By seeing what is, it is possible to see what may be, and this in turn can lead the way to new and novel ways forward. It does require leaders to be courageous and stop doing and to take the time to observe what is going on.
As Covid lockdown restrictions are lifted and we again have the freedom to act, might it not be wise to take a moment of Wu-Wei to observe what is going on around us and maybe we can see an opportunity to act differently to our peers. It is actually by becoming better observers we make better decisions.
There are many aspects of Wu-Wie, for me as a horse rider I see it in my relationship with my horse, if I get too focussed on what should be happening I miss what my horse is trying to tell me, I miss the information that would allow me to get what I’m trying to do right, to overcome the block. In his book on softness Mark Rashid writes ” It’s not about what we do that starts us on the path to softness, but rather what we don’t do”. Covid has forced a lot of us to stop doing certain things, I hear a lot that managers have found that their staff don’t really need micro managing after all. So again now is a good time to look at what we maybe should stop doing that might make our lives better.