One of the many joys of Wimbledon fortnight is the satisfying binary nature of triumphs and defeats. Win or lose. In or out. The rules are clear, the result is clear. It’s genuine satisfaction: everyday life, especially at work, is so frustratingly non-binary.
I wonder whether we admit that quite enough?
During team sessions this week, I’ve seen again a huge reluctance to view situations as…. ambiguous. This is not an artsy or fluffy view of the world: the notion of ambiguity is – since the work of great scientific thinkers such as Max Planck, Einstein, Niels Bohr – scientific.
Quantum theory opened our minds to a powerful notion – that of wave/ particle duality – it is possible for matter/ energy to behave as a particle in one set of circumstances, and as a wave in a different context. Neither one thing, nor the other…but possibly both.
Would there be different outcomes for ‘change programmes’ if we could experiment with this way of thinking, rather than the mechanistic (and control driven) binary either/ or model? Could some way of acknowledging the mysterious energetic connections between people and their environments lead to success?
We need a new sort of Business School.
It might offer the Planck – Bohr Leadership Programme.
The organisational theorist James March (Stanford) coined the term the ‘Technology of Foolishness’ in the 70s. In papers and articles he noted that this was needed to counteract the prevailing ‘Technology of Rationality’. He sometimes called it ‘sensible foolishness’.
He had observed that certain principles seemed to fixate Management and Leadership gurus: especially that ..all business activity should be goal driven, and that rationality rather than intuition should drive decision making.
This was constraining innovation and creativity.
So what does ‘technology of foolishness ‘ mean?
It means PLAY.
He exploded the idea that purpose precedes action, and showed that purpose emerges from action. Especially when those actions are imaginative and playful and intuitive and creative.
It is all about ‘escaping logic’.
Playfulness is a deliberate, temporary relaxation of rules in order to explore the possibilities of alternative rules.
And the killer finding was this. Organisations that value and encourage play are more profitable. (See Google’s 20% time – 20% of everyone’s time dedicated to unapproved & experimental ideas)
Once you look, you see support for this everywhere. ‘Play is the highest form of research’ Albert Einstein ‘The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.’ Carl Jung ‘A little nonsense now and then is cherished by the wisest men’ Roald Dahl
Have you played today?
Just start mucking about. You’ll be in very good company.
Joyously, even that science titan Mr Cox recounts that it takes about ’15 exposures’ to explanations to feel that you ‘get it’.
Amongst the little images used to bring things to life was this.
When you sit on a chair, do you feel the pulling force of gravity?
Well actually, no. It’s the chair pushing that you can feel, if you let yourself respond to sensation.
Einstein’s thinking tells us that an apple is not pulled to the ground by a gravitational force (a reluctant but firm adieu to Newton). Rather the ground, making its way through that curves of space and time, is accelerating towards the apple.
This describes beautifully, in my experience, workplace relationships.
The known direction of flow for frustration or negativity is almost never as has been assumed.
Sit down two ‘conflicted’ team members, start the professional process going, and voilà. The perceived direction of animosity and resentment will soon emerge as operating the other way. (As, of course, will support and regard)
A force pulling you down? No, simply the complex dance of different energies and objects making their way through 4-dimensional, dynamic, space & time.
With huge apologies to the Relativity Experts, if we could conclude that one strand of what Einstein showed us was that where we think there’s a force on us, a pull, there’s a complex and interesting bending and warping of everyone’s energy, then his genius expands into other fields: a really helpful relationship specialist.
The oldest existing manuscript written by Albert Einstein on his theory of relativity and the revolutionary equation E=mc2
So I was rootling through a deep bag, feeling around for a pen.
It’s only possible to do this for a few minutes.
Moving a hand around blindly like a Magimix paddle amongst papers, tissues, notebooks, to-do lists, phone cases and their friends pretty much closes down most other functions.
The conversation moves on. And frankly what ever you were saying will be changed and subverted in the general impossibility of taking seriously anyone who has actively trapped part of their body in a large bag, and then started talking into it.
So a voice at the next table said
“Isn’t a cluttered desk a sign of a cluttered mind? Does that include bags? Ho ho”
But you know the answer to that as well as we did, which is Einstein’s
“..of what then is an empty desk a sign?”
(Between you and me, this particular café does like to serve coffee at the slightly bitter end of the spectrum, and I can’t help noticing that this does seem to get reflected in the patrons’ mood sometimes. Hot chocolate may be the answer)
So it was with a quite a squeal of triumph that a pen, and me, finally came up for air and rejoined the world.
But it wasn’t just a pen. A couple of pieces of paper – one with the very name we had been trying to remember – surfaced at the same time. The annoying rootling had accidently and miraculously helped solve our problem.
Chuffed? I should say so.
Out of mess and untidiness came help. And suddenly lots of things became clearer.
The rootling (of which I am still slightly ashamed – it was so noisy) performed several functions.
We were sort of pausing, between the challenge we had set ourselves and finding an answer. It was a ‘don’t know yet’ pause.
We were keeping lots of half finished thoughts and topics open.
We were actively not completing, actively going off on a tangent for a time.
The technological version of this would something like keeping lots of windows open at the same time.
(On that note – do you find that aspect of the i-pad limiting? It always strikes me as a very binary way of being, not to be able to see many views at the same time, to leave some stimulus at the periphery of vision while a central piece of work is going on. I am going to research this. I suspect the cultural male bias in brilliant design land recruitment is working its way through to quite binary design approaches – design that is looking to provide an answer, efficiently, rather than leave lots of things to exist alongside each other en route)
And there was another echo of that ‘half way house’, adjusting aspect to working through things in everyday life this week. In this case, accepting change.
Tax discs are no longer issued in the UK (post Oct 1). Many of us have been hijacked by the unexpected feelings of loss. That space on the windscreen looks so strange, and guilty, and …something is not right.
I have drawn myself an ‘in-between disc’ to help me acclimatize. (I’m not a cold turkey fan)
So more vagueness , more mess, more half-way house when dealing with things is my thought this week.
Do email me if you would like an in-between-missing-your-tax-disc design too.
I think it was Slartibartfast who said ‘I’d much rather be happy than right any day’.
Today we shall be both. I am bubbling with rightness and happiness.
Thank you Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, for a discovery that brings such pleasure. And for a tangential Bill Nighy (as Slartibartfast) picture cue.
Savour the words. ‘Ripples in space and time’.
Didn’t you always somehow ‘know’ they must exist? We were right.
So Douglas Adams fans, Einstein experts, coffee lovers and those interested in the growth and development of brilliant people everywhere can warm their hands together around the glow from the latest chapter in the book of Big Bang discoveries. (I am in all of those groups except the Einstein one. I would like to be in that one too, one day)
Firstly, the coffee lovers. The New York Times uses coffee to explain the central finding of cosmic inflation.
Yep. Coffee and Cosmic Inflation. (Try ordering an espresso now with a straight face. With a light sabre on the side perhaps.)
The mystery has been a beautiful one. A universe created in a single exuberance: yet so vast that it appears impossible for matter flung so widely to appear so similar in temperature. How can this be? Exactly as if some cosmic coffee pot had filled cups ludicrously far apart yet ensured none were hotter or colder than others. The ‘Bicep2’ team can now offer an answer: instantaneous expansion – cosmic inflation – that could fling the coffee everywhere instantaneously, in slivers of time immeasurably minuscule, where ‘trillionths of seconds’ would be frankly langorous. The trails of proof are the newly detected ‘primordial gravitational waves’, ripples in space and time. Exactly as Einstein said there would be.
To the growth and development people – the arena in which I operate with ‘Change Chemistry’ – there are so many images to enjoy.
The metaphor of that cosmic inflation – the feeling of instantaneously taking up more space, of expansion (that happens when an ‘aha’ moment strikes).
The metaphor of the hidden suddenly becoming accessible, of something apparently being created out of nothing. Yet it is real, there, and useable – as is personal power and potential.
The idea of imagining and describing an event and its implications well, well in advance of any possibility of verifying it. (Thank you Einstein)
And of course the idea that all those cups of coffee did indeed come from the same metaphorical coffee pot.
So some thoughts to delight us all:
Say ‘cosmic inflation’ with impunity, and gusto, and as often as possible. It will feel wonderful. If anything goes slightly awry, simply shrug and say knowingly “ Just another little wrinkle in space and time”.
Or come and sit and drink coffee happily in the café at the end of the universe, where in true Adamsian mode I shall be starting to write this long after you’ve read it.