We are all on a Hero’s Journey these days, as we endure the COVID pandemic. We cannot return to the way things were, so we are living in a liminal space between two worlds, the one that has ended, and another that is emerging.
This is not only a time of tremendous chaos, ambiguity, uncertainty, and confusion, it’s also fertile ground for creativity. There are no paths to the future, so we must create them. We have a tremendous opportunity. to build a better future for people and the planet.
I am writing this post from Vancouver as I breathe in smoke from the raging fires in Washington and Oregon, and I worry about the massive fires burning in California the Amazon, and Siberia. It’s obvious that we are facing a climate catastrophe that puts us all at risk. Are we going to stop it or die from willfulness?
We are learning how interdependent we all are. John Muir, the great naturalist observed, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
From Emergency to Emergence
“Inside the word “emergency” is “emerge”; from an emergency, new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.”
—Rebecca Solnit, author, Hope in the Dark
The pandemic gives us a tremendous opportunity to pause, reflect, rethink our beliefs and values, and to proactively and collectively shape the future we want. I believe the path forward is through the heart.
“We can create a world that works for everyone or face a future that no longer works for anyone.”
— David Korten
Robert D. Austin and Lee Devin, authors of Why Managing Innovation is Like Theater, advise us that “Whenever you have no blueprint to tell you in detail what to do, you must work artfully.” What does this mean? For me, it means not getting sucked into the turmoil of fear, chaos and crisis, but taking a deep dive below surface agitation.
Physicist David Bohm put it this way, “At some point deep within the implicate order, thought and language fail us and only sacred silence can reveal the truth. That silence is the language of the whole, the universe expressing itself through us in a life of integrity rather than fragmentation.’
We also need to be in dialogue with each other to open up to new perspectives and become aware of our assumptions. Dialogue, as David Bohm envisioned it, places an emphasis on listening and observation, while suspending our culturally conditioned beliefs, judgments, and impulses.
It is proposed that a form of free dialogue may well be one of the most effective ways of investigating the crisis which faces society, and indeed the whole of human nature and consciousness today. Moreover, it may turn out that such a form of free exchange of ideas and information is of fundamental relevance for transforming culture and freeing it of destructive misinformation, so that creativity can be liberated.
— David Bohm
Steven Covey said, “To be successful we must live from our imaginations, not from our memories.” Bohm invites us to imagine a better future with this question, “Suppose we were able to share meanings freely without a compulsive urge to impose our view or conform to those of others and without distortion and self-deception. Would this not constitute a real revolution in culture?” Yes it would.
Learn to love being in the question
Let this in-between time be one of renewal, for yourself, your business or livelihood, and for society as a whole. This doesn’t mean you have to take on the whole world but to attend to what is calling you forth. What are you here for? What is the world asking of you?
As the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in Letters to a Young Poet,
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.
Living in the question is a guiding principle of dialogue, design thinking, creativity, and innovation. As you live in the question, your willingness to be spontaneous, follow inner urges and hunches, and listen to strong feelings and act upon them will lead you to your next steps in creating the future you want.
Questions are the Answer
A fantastic book to help you become a better questioner is Questions Are the Answer by Hal Gregorson, who previously co-authored the Innovator’s DNA. He delivers insights from interviews with creative thinkers about the conditions that give rise to catalytic questions—and breakthrough insights—and how you can create your own catalytic questions. As Jeff Bezos has said, “Getting the right question is key to getting the right answer.”
The key is to be curious. Coach Marcia Reynolds says, “Questions come from curiosity, not memory.”
Creating a path to the future
It helps to connect with groups who want to make a positive change in the world, whose values you share, and who are willing to embrace diverse perspectives to meaningful insights.
“Small groups exploring common questions and learning that others are doing the same, has always been the locus for large scale transformative change.” —Juanita Brown
One way to do this is to create a community of practice so that you can experiment and learn as a group. Communities of practice (CoPs) as defined by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, are “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.”
The great thing about CoPs is that you can free yourself from the tyranny of perfectionism and allow yourself to explore and experiment.
Scenario planning is another tool for living in the question which invites diverse points of view
I’ve been part of a community exploring Scenario planning and critical uncertainties regarding the future of Vancouver which gives me an opportunity to connect with a diverse group of people and learn new ways of thinking.
The most well-known proponent of scenario planning is Royal Dutch Shell, and it is used to help leaders explore ways forward and make better decisions. Shell Scenarios ask “what if?” questions encouraging leaders to consider events that may only be remote possibilities, and stretch their thinking.
Shell is currently rethinking the 2020s and how COVID-19 is changing the world in significant ways, They see three dramatic tensions at play in the 2020s – between wealth, security and health. People will seek all of these to some extent, but what societies choose to prioritise may differ. These priorities, along with different societal capabilities, such as public health, could shape the decade. What might COVID-19 mean for the world this decade? And what will societies prioritise? Explore three possible worlds on Shell’s website.
Re-thinking workplace bureaucracy
Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini have just published an exciting new book called Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them
In a world of unrelenting change and unprecedented challenges, we need organizations that are resilient and daring. Unfortunately, most organizations, overburdened by bureaucracy, are sluggish and timid. In the age of upheaval, top-down power structures and rule-choked management systems are a liability. They crush creativity and stifle initiative. As leaders, employees, investors, and citizens, we deserve better. We need organizations that are bold, entrepreneurial, and as nimble as change itself. Hence this book.
Humanocracy lays out a detailed blueprint for creating inspired organizations, and I love how subversive they are.
Buy the book on Amazon (or even better, at your local bookstore.)