January 19, 2014 / AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
January 19, 2014
I’m currently in South Africa working on a project to help a small and deserving community in Limpopo by crafting their story so that the world will take notice. This initiative aims to bring awareness, investment opportunities, government attention and care to their community.
This remote location is approximately a four-hour drive from anywhere and experiencing this level of remoteness always teaches me a lot. Most of the year, I spend my time in a large city somewhere on the planet dealing with complete idiocy—the absurd reality of civilized life.
Our so-called civilization encourages us to go about things in certain ways, providing guidance through society’s imposed rules and norms, which can oftentimes teach us valuable lessons. We learn and repeat religiously, until we become brilliant at them. That’s how we learn shit; it’s how we know stuff.
These standards and ways of doing things are handed down from parent to child, leader to employee, mentor to student. Most of us listen in awe as if these “truths” emerged from some mythical manual. And so, most of us continue to carry them out generation after generation.
There’s a screwy plausibility within the rules
On the surface rules make sense: don’t steal from your neighbor, drive no faster than advised, drink milk, don’t drink milk, don’t spray graffiti on the grass, don’t swim here because of hippos, and so on.
In business, people follow rules and achieve targets. It’s the way we’re rewarded. People are expected to work diligently, follow policy and adhere to specific processes and procedures because that’s the way it’s always been done.
And it makes perfect sense. It’s natural that over time our learned experiences have become the standards—it’s what’s worked.
Well, it’s all wrong and we’ve totally screwed up
Society has changed, and we need to change our outlook on how we view rules. Often the system is openly compromised by mediocrity as it absorbs inferior ways of working. Have you visited an airport recently? The layers of processes and procedures surpass any chance for innovation and creative thinking.
It’s long been the norm to create fixed formal processes that everyone follows. These processes are further enabled by systems that are secured, heavily invested in and defended rigorously by squadrons of dedicated people heavily reliant on their continuance.
On top of this, schools and universities, training courses, and articles all seem to be aimed at keeping the whole conspiracy in place.
What have we really learned?
The single biggest issue in business, across government and embedded in our daily lives is that we’ve become slaves to NOT thinking. In fact, people have developed an advanced capability to not rethink and not unlearn stuff. We desperately need a new set of rules that reflect society today.
The world we live in nowadays is unlike the past
Until the last few years, it was a real challenge to connect with large numbers of people in meaningful ways. This isn’t true anymore, as we now have social technologies. And, it used to be true that large-scale enterprises required massive infrastructure under its own command in order to function. This, however, is no longer the case.
So why isn’t more creativity and innovation possible within the people that work inside the firm? What is it that creates the lack of culture or leadership capability to inspire those involved in the business? Why do we so often hear the complaint that the workforce switches off their brains when they arrive at work? Why can’t the enterprise be a place of enterprise?
The 3 Devils of Knowing
1. The dilemma of being first
Because there’s so much new stuff (ideas, models, technologies, etc.) around us, many simply run for cover. Leaders are too often in denial—they are not learning how new things might be useful for them. It’s too new, too hard, too much risk. Remember that before people learned that new was “risky,” people treated it with childlike wonder and pushed for it.
2. We must never fail
People like to project the future, but all too often, they are completely wrong. If people were not already convinced that they know what will happen, then they might openly learn that it could be better. Instead of saying, “we tried that two years ago and it didn’t work,” we’d say, “things are so different now that it could be worth trying again.”
3. Knowing like an idiot
People feel like they must know the answer at all times. It’s what’s expected. We are conditioned to never say, “I don’t know,” while also being expected to have an opinion and/or make a decision—and of course, stand by it, no matter what.
Rethinking and unlearning. How?
Rethinking means changing your mind about something and shifting your behavior as a result. It means taking an existing perception, stance or attitude and being open to it being entirely wrong. It means shifting your position to always being open to fresh ideas. Today, in such a dynamic world everything needs rethinking, all the time.
Unlearning is completely stopping the default reaction to something—erasing the memory of it or wiping your hard drive. The art of unlearning can either precede or work alongside rethinking—it prepares the ground. To unlearn means you get rid of everything that creates prejudice and bias. It alters the behavior, that habitual response, to things that arose as a result of what you’ve learned before.
The magic of not knowing
Sometimes not knowing the answer to something is a highly valuable skill. If you think about it, not knowing something is the only way to learn. Couple that with a way to process new information—a professional ‘not knowing’ methodology—and magic can happen.
Increasingly not knowing is becoming a sign of authenticity amongst real leaders. Training ourselves to unlearn and be open and positively curious to new ideas and situations encourages innovation and possibility to emerge. This way it’s not a binary acceptance or dismissal based on our position or prejudice. This way it’s called “thinking.”
I’m also open to the fact that none of the above may be true.