Time to misbehave?

Behaviourism has a lot to answer for – not least because it works.

When B.F. Skinner inspired the movement, I wonder if he appreciated what he would set in motion. It has always interested me the huge assumption we made that what worked on rats would work on humans, but it did.

I was particularly taken with the experiment that involved putting a rat in a space boundaried by wires carrying a small current. The rat gets a shock if it tries to cross the boundary, and after a remarkably short while, stops trying.

Even when the current is switched off.

We are not rats

Even if we sometimes behave like them.

From the way our education system is designed, to the tactics of “nudge” units, we spend huge amounts of talent and money getting people to do what we want them to. We ignore that most of the time, it is a tiny fragment of their capacity.

The danger with goals of course, is that we achieve them, and stop. Goals and capabilities are different. The reason that the blitzkrieg worked so well for the Germans in the second world war is that conventional military training taught officers to take a position and then consolidate to defend it. The Germans however didn’t do that. They took a position and just kept on going, leaving the troops behind to consolidate and confusing the living daylights out of the British and French.

Somebody (arguably, General von Moltke) worked out how to turn the current off and make sure the rats knew. They termed it “Behendigkeit”.

Today, we call it Agility.

Yet, despite preaching the agility mantra, we seem to treat it as a “thing” in business, not our personal lives and careers. It’s like we know we can cross the boundary, but we choose not to. It’s just easier and more convenient to stay where we are.

Agile at work, docile outside of it.

Somebody’s just turned the current off

The problem with Covid-19 is not the virus. True, the virus is dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as our reaction to it.

We are in danger of behaving like the rats in Skinner’s experiments, or the troops in the face of Blitzkrieg. We want to go back to the rules we understand, to go back to normal.

I even noticed an article in a well known consultancy journal telling us how to prepare for the new normal. Sort of normal 2.0.

The combination of technology, climate change, and the wildcard of Covid-19 has made normal redundant.

It seems almost unimaginable that there will any period of time in which things will be stable enough to give us a “operating model”. There are too many disruptive candidates waiting in the wings.

Everybody has a plan, till I smack them in the mouth.

Mike Tyson (or maybe Coronavirus?)

It’s a good time to be Human

Machines and systems are really good at puzzles.

Puzzles are something that can be solved, if only we can find the missing pieces, or get the fiendishly difficult pieces assembled in the right order. Tame problems.

We’re dealing with mysteries. Wicked problems. challenges that respond in real time to anything we do to address them. We can never solve them, just try to understand what’s going on.

If we understand better than the person next to us, we win.

Humans, the full 100% undiluted fully caffeinated flawed human is wonderful at mysteries. The story of the Holy Grail is as powerful today as over a thousand years ago. Like other myths, it engages us at all levels – intellectually, emotionally, intuitively, somatically.

Approaches to mysteries involve imagination, courage, commitment to a cause, love.

A willingness to fail, perish even, in pursuit of an answer. A commitment to the beauty of the infinite game, not just the much less challenging finite game.

We have just been invited to play an infinite game.

There will be very few of us I imagine that in the last week have not been made aware of our own mortality, or of the different approaches we can adopt to it.

Between those looking to exploit it for gain, and those putting themselves on the line to help others because it’s what they do, or rather they cannot not do.

They are playing very different games.

Some have crossed the boundary regardless of whether the current is switched off, others are busy consoldating their gains within the boundaries they assume are there, and that people will not cross.

Newsflash: They just might.

We can all play the infinite game, we just have to choose.

Time to misbehave?

Rebels learn the rules better than the rule-makers do. Rebels learn where the holes are, where the rules can best be breached. Become an expert at the rules. Then break them with creativity and style.

Kristyn Kathryn Rusch

The “rules” have got us to where we are. If we can accuse ourselves of anything, it is of not discriminating between the goods ones and the bad ones. The ones that help us to become what we might be, and those that make us what other people want to us to be.

For the next few weeks, the traditional boundaries have had their current switched off. The office. The commute. The time filling inanities over the £3 coffee. Our circumstances, like the air around us, is clearer.

For all of us, or whatever age of circumstance, have an opportunity during this time to choose.

Choose yourself.