The Possibility Virus

We are the most creative, resourceful, inventive form of life yet seen on the planet of which we are part. It is what has got us into this mess, and what will get us out of it.

I have to confess to becoming quite frustrated by the constant stream of helplessness being unleashed by many sources in the media, and the attitude of businesses that have made billions for shareholders in recent years as they display various forms of learned helplessness.

a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is thought to be one of the underlying causes of depression.

Psychiatry

Whether it manifests as businesses whose future relies on continuing the damage they cause, or talented, unique individuals waiting to be rescued by one initiative or another, it underestimates us.

Of course it’s tough. On many counts. The old system that got us to here no longer works effectively except for a very few, who have already garnered more from it that they can reasonably use. We do not yet have any idea what the future will look like. Old data is of limited use and the future hasn’t arrived yet.

We are in a place between.

Every major change takes a similar form.

There is a place we are leaving to which we cannot return, Departure.

A time of reflection, insight, fear, and transformation. Liminal space, A place between.

And a point where we take our experience before, what we have learned, and emerge into a place where we integrate it with what we need to do now. Integration

Right now, we are in the place between.

Can’t go round it, can’t go under it, can’t go over it, got to go through it.

Playschool

We are at a point where we discover the real difference between resilience – an ability to get back to some form of where we were, and anti fragility – the ability to harness what’s going on and grow from it. Personally, as a Society and as a Species.

Money is only a tool, a servant. We have maybe forgotten that.

We need to think differently.

Risk is the wrong measure

For all of our lifetimes we have been operating in a system we thought was the way things are, rather than what it has been, a moment in time.

We have made a fetish of assuming it would continue by turning risk management and efficiency into mantras. Risk as a function of probability and impact, and efficiency as leaving nothing in reserve in pursuit of short term gain.

We have known about the possibility, indeed the inevitability of a pandemic, but have chosen to choose it wouldn’t happen on ourwatch. Oops.

We now have to invert thinking from risk to possibility. Same formula, different mindset.

There is a well known framework created by Dave Snowden in 1999, at the beginning of “VUCA”, that I keep on my wall

Cynefin Framework, Dave Snowden

It is similar to a much older framework – The Maori idea of turangawaewae, meaning a place to stand.

In a place between, we are in the chaos space. Our approach has to be to cling to our sense of meaning, our own individual purpose as our compass, try things and adapt. Darwinian evolution at its best. The survival not of the most fit (for the old place) but of the most adaptable to fit into the new place, wherever that is.

Agility, not as a model for consultants, but as individual practice, for real.

Release the Human

Nietzsche tols a story about a Master and his Servant, and how over time the servant subverted the master thinking he could do a better job. It didn’t end well.

We have been going down the same path, believing that systems, AI, processes would make us more efficient in an economy somehow frozen in time. There is of course, no process, no AI that will sort out where we are now. Covid is a symptom as well as a problem. We have created an economy where other symtoms are available, and waiting their turn.

This is a time for humans. For those unique qualities we have. For our ability to work together.

Together

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far go together”

African Proverb

This is a well known, and well worn saying. That doesn’t stop it feeling true.

Now is the time to choose who you’re together with. Not as a herd to shelter in the middle of, but as a small group (rule of thumb – five as a leadership group, no more than 150 in total) to do something meaningful.

Look at your LinkedIn Group, and ask yourself how many of them you have had a dialogue with in the last three months and what the relationship is. Are you hanging on them, are they hanging on to you, or are you doing something together?

This is a precious moment, where none of us know. That gives us the opportunity to entertain the possibility of doing something new.

For the short time we are here, we are here for a reason.

What’s yours? The possibilities are many.

Move.

What matters most?

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Oh Shit!

As we go through this challenging, slightly surreal period, it’s a good time to reflect on what matters most to us, and what we place that at the mercy of.

This period of restriction is forcing us to operate in ways we would not do voluntarily, from home working to working under stress in a biologically hostile environment, to not being able to work at all for a while.

It’s hard, both psychologically and for many financially. Its a massive change in our day to day habits, so we have choices.

We can resent it

We can blame other people for it.

We can blame other people for not sorting it faster.

Or we can take responsibility and learn from it.

Pareto

The 80/20 rule is a good reference point in most of the things we do. I’ve known this a long time, and despite that am still poor at applying it to my work. It’s just too easy to follow routines.

Now however, with our routines blown out of the water, we have a chance to reflect. Talking to many of my clients, and considering my own work, I’m struck (and a little personally embarrassed) by how much the current situation is exposing how much waste goes into the “normal” day to day, and how much we could be doing that we don’t.

Waste

  • Pointless meetings
  • Putting up with politics and unproductive behaviours.
  • Denial of issues that need to addressed. Elephants dancing round the room whilst we ignore them.
  • Avoidance – Coffee anyone?
  • Staying with the unproductive familiar rather than the potentially productive (but personally riskier) new.
  • Making journeys (including commuting) that could be done more effectively (and in a more environmentally beneficial way) from home or somewhere else locally.
  • The list goes on, and on.

Potential

  • Considering our reason for being here – what matters to us?
  • Thinking – properly, vs. blind doing.
  • Listening – much easier over skype or zoom than face to face.
  • Questioning – is this the best way?
  • Getting outside
  • Reading
  • Just wondering for a while.

I end up confident that 80% of what we do as routine adds little, and more likely subtracts from creating value for those who pay us – whether employers, or directly as clients.

We’re in danger I believe of living our lives the same way, with our real potential for achievement of what really matters to us dissolved in unproductive routines in order to satisfy other people.

Choices

I’m now doing on line what I would normally do face to face, and for the most part better (once I’ve adapted). It doesn’t replace face to face, but I’m convinced there’s a ratio – maybe 3:1 (remote vs face to face) that can work really well.

We don’t have to work the way we have been – most of it is habit.

There’s a form of diminishing marginal returns at work. Doing work we don’t enjoy, for people we don’t rate or organisations whose purpose we don’t respect, in order to earn money we don’t have time to enjoy.

We can do better than that.

The period of disruption we are in will last at least as long as it takes us to change a habit, so it’s a good time to be our own “lab rat” – to actively notice what we are doing, why we are doing it, what happens as a result, and what the alternatives might be.

Shockabuku

A swift, spiritual kick to the head that changes your reality forever

Grosse Pointe Blank, dir. George Cusack

I’ve observed that we rarely make the changes that matter, that really improve our lives voluntarily. There are too many reasons to moderate, to risk mitigate, to pontificate. The real moves come via a Shockabuku, something we can’t control and have to deal with, that brings out the best in us.

Covid-19 is a shockabuku.

We have an opportunity to rebalance what matters most with what matters least.

It would be a shame to waste it.