Tag Archive: perspectives


I have been thinking about the individual and the collective over the past few days. The individual is in the ascendant at the moment in many Western countries, and becoming more so in some collectivist cultures. The political discourse in Australia and the US, in particular, focuses on the rights of the individual and the responsibilities we have to bootstrap ourselves in the world. Mitt Romney is quoted saying he can’t and won’t help those who refuse to help themselves, here is Oz, Tony Abbott runs a similar line. The ideas of ‘entitlement‘, ‘making it’, ‘doing for themselves’ etc are pervasive. There is a similar discourse in the everyday world, kids being encouraged to beat the bully, adults exhorted to work hard to build individual emotional maturity and the accepted expectation that we control our reality through our choices as consumers via the market.

The rewards society bestows are on those who have maximized their personal position. Taking one for the team is not rewarded. A ability to work through ego to achieve a personal goal is much more valued than the ability to engage and motivate a group to act. Now part of the problem is our measurement systems as to a large extent in organisations, and increasingly in society, what gets measured gets done and it is very difficult to evaluate the individual’s input in a group. Our reward systems of pay and promotion are reliant on us being able to evaluate an individual’s performance, so we look for leadership rather than evaluating followership.
What if this is the wrong way to go? A thought piece by John Crowley suggests that the future is more likely to be the complete opposite of the present rather than a continuation of it. What if we need to be developing more collective ways of being in the world? Much of the emerging work around wicked problems is group based, there is a recognition in many areas that we will need to work together in the face of descent scenarios, but what if we are actually training ourselves out of the core skills and attributes we will need? For many of us, the requirement to subsume our ego needs to those of a group is extremely difficult. We all want to be individual and stand out from the crowd, but a leader without followers is just someone out for a walk. In all groups, someone has to come last, not everyone can lead and there is always a number of roles that have to be fulfilled in order for successful group achievement, most of which involve following at one time or another. So if our systems, personal preferences and accepted behaviors counter this requirement, where are we left? I think part of our future challenge will be to learn to work effectively in all types of groups, organizations and communities. It will be those people who do not seek to lead who will be followed.

The archetype of the strong, decisive leader who has all the answers is not useful in the face of wicked problems, instead we will be searching for a leader who is comfortable with not knowing, able to work with people and follow when required. Greenleaf’s servant leader idea is along these lines, as is Sarkar’s Sadvipra. This goes further than being able to put up with people whilst working in a team, or just engaging in community when you feel like it, this is fully authentic person to person relationship and that it hard work. The requirements for the role will be an ability to overcome ego, to be present to the moment, knowing your moral stance and being curious and interested in others. How we learn to work together and give to each other without expecting payment is shaping up to be a challenge for the future.

It always amazes me where inspiration strikes. Innovation comes from having the time to think and I make sure I have thinking time on a weekly basis – usually when walking the family dog. On my walk yesterday, I was looking at the profusion of lilly pilly trees planted on nature strips in front of the houses on my street. I have looked at these trees, and the mess they make at this time of year when the fruit drops off them, for 12 years and only yesterday was I looking at them as a source of food. Lilly pilly is bush tucker, a native tree with a small purple fruit with quite a tart taste, good for eating off the tree as a snack but also good for utilising in jam. It struck me that the idea of foraging for food amongst the ornamental trees and the blending of the old and new (bush tucker with jam making techniques) was a great metaphor for the type of thinking needed in organisations today.

I think that we should develop the ability to look at the everyday occurrences and assumptions within our organisations in new ways. Reviewing what is useful and re-casting that which we take for granted. Only through the conscious use of perspectives and the ability to shift from ours to another’s, do we have any hope of becoming nimble enough to try and deal with the ‘black swans’ or future unknowables that will arise for our organisations.

I think the practice of blending the old with the new has merit as well. When you spend as much time as I do working with organisations around future direction setting, you quickly learn that there is absolutely no point in thinking that the future is a place where the past no longer exists. On the contrary, if you have not taken the time to review and decide what will be taken from the past into the future, there is a good chance that the future will either be the same as today or that you will have undermined what is possible in the future by not putting down what is not needed from the past. Often the hardest question for organisations to answer about the future is ‘what are you going to leave behind?’

The leaving behind process is not easy, even when it is acknowledged that what is being left is no longer useful. For many organisations, and the people in them, doing what we have always done is a comfort. It is a tried and true approach to chaos and complexity that will leave us with a feeling of control and influence. That fact that we may be deluding ourselves is not often reflected upon!

The process of looking at the old and seeing something new should not entail recrimination or the feeling that one ‘should’ have seen differently beforehand. Sometimes seeing takes time and space, or it may be a new context shifts your perception of those things around you that were taken for granted. This ability to move the way you see the world is one worth celebrating.

Lilly pilly jam may be an acquired taste, but the process of engaging with an old fruit in new ways is a path to utilising resources we have around us that we may take for granted. What can you see in your organisation that could be used differently or leveraged in another direction? Where is your lily pilly jam?