“I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; I would give my right arm for simplicity on the far side of complexity.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes Snr)
I know we are all saying this a lot these days, but I really do hope you and your families are safe and keeping well at this time.
I am not sure when Oliver Wendell Holmes Snr uttered those marvelous words, but he died in 1894. I wonder what he would have said today! The world has come a long way since then and is becoming more complex and interconnected than he could ever have imagined – in fact, more than we could have imagined at the turn of this century.
“We live in a world where it is harder to escape or get the distance necessary to stand back, reflect and see the bigger picture.” (Peter Hawkins) Globalisation has seen the world get smaller and technological developments have ensured that even with global self-isolation and social distancing, we can talk to each other wherever we are on the planet as if we are in each other’s living rooms or offices.
Not only that but the world has got faster with the result that we are all almost literally on our own treadmills getting nowhere faster and faster. At the same time, data is easier to come by and there is more of it so that leaders are increasingly focusing on operational day-to-day issues and taking on more and more responsibility on their shoulders. Consequently, they are learning more (but of the wrong stuff) and people below them are learning less as they don’t have to think when they merely follow directions. So, what will tomorrow look like then? Who will be the leaders of tomorrow, and what will they have learnt and experienced?
Several decades ago, I read about a study that was carried out in businesses in the US where people lower down the ladder vowed and declared that they would never be like their bosses. Follow ups in later years showed that these same subjects of the study turned out to be just like their former bosses, especially with regard to the idiosyncrasies they had been most critical of. It was as if by osmosis they acquired those very “attributes” by sitting on the same chair. I ask again, so what will tomorrow look like?
So, what can we do about this complexity? How do we seek simplicity in this more than complex world? I think the first thing we need to do is to get off the damn treadmill! Instead of trying to go quicker, stop, slow down, give yourself time to think things through. More haste, less speed as the ancient saying goes – but who has stopped to listen to it! Stop, step back, think, organize your thoughts, before you proceed.
Secondly, as we get sucked into more and more detail, let’s stop and look at the bigger picture. Everything can be contextualized into a bigger picture – that is, everything we do and say is part of something bigger. So, let’s stop to consider what the bigger picture is and the logical impact what we propose doing will have on that bigger picture. As long ago as the early 1970’s, Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock, warned amongst other things that the plastic bottles that were then replacing glass milk bottles hadn’t been thought through because what would happen to the plastic bottles when the milk was finished – he warned that mankind hadn’t yet found a way to destroy them. En kyk hoe lyk ons nou! Our oceans, our cities, our rural areas full of plastic that is destroying life and our planet. So, ask the question as often as you can: what is the bigger picture here?
So in this time of complexity, let’s seek simplicity within that complexity. As Ben Okri said not so long ago, “It’s not what you have experienced that makes you greater, but what you have faced, what you have transcended, what you have unlearned.”
Next week I will be looking at another pre-pandemic trend that is also now biting us.
Until then, keep safe and well.