I’ve been thinking about not knowing what to do.
It’s long been known that any plans can go out of the window in an instant, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that in an extended period of uncertainty a vast, creeping inertia can overtake us. We wait for a change. We set store by mythical future dates… July… October… the New Year… and now Spring, when a new miracle vaccine will return us all to the state we knew before.
In the meantime ideas are formulated, programs initiated, ideas are tabled, but, as somebody once said, “when all is said and done, a lot more is said, than done.” I can think of two excited conversations I have had with people who had plans for bouncing back in their organisations that petered out, overwhelmed by the enormity of uncertainty about the best course of action.
This is why we at Colour; Noun think businesses and individuals can benefit from applying the principles of improvisation to the worlds they inhabit. Learn to love the uncertainty, and, to quote a client with whom we have just worked, get comfortable taking a leadership lesson from jazz and “say yes to the mess”.
Why do I think this? I have come to two broad conclusions:
There’s an account of a woman who was in one of the World Trade Centre towers on September 11 who, after she had felt the building rock and smelled burning jet fuel, waited with her colleagues for someone to take charge. Her most dominant thought was what personal belongings on her desk she most wanted to take with her…
In their book Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty, Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe list a commitment to resilience – a dedication to keeping a struggling system operating rather than letting it seize up – as one of the Five Elements of Mindfulness adopted by High Reliability Organisations…
Medical professionals will talk of picking their way through the uncertainty of treating an unexplained condition – especially those in children – in terms of taking small, incremental steps from which they can easily retreat…
Any action taken creates possibilities.
I won’t deny that there is a duality at play here. On one hand, you might commit to doing something that has no apparent benefit; on the other hand doing something is better than nothing. The difference, and the opportunity lies in something that sits at the core of improvisation – making, noticing and accepting offers. Saying “yes” and finding joy in the potential that results.
I will leave you with an image that sums up how I feel about operating in a time of uncertainty. It’s an image that graces the cover of one of the books I possess on the topic of improvisation. It is the tarot card of The Fool.
It depicts a figure carrying a small bundle, gazing at the heavens as they are about to step off a cliff. Are they foolish because they are not looking where they are going, or are they so entranced by the wonders of the universe that the small matter of stepping off a cliff is of no consequence? Either way, there is no hesitation in taking that next step.
Fight the inertia. Say yes to the mess. Take the next step.