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Past, Present, Future and off we go…

November 24, 2010

Stuck in the Mud

I’ve been thinking about the state of the nation and what might make things better. A big ask I know, especially as I am no politician……

For various reasons we have got ourselves in a hole (UK and globally) and we can’t seem to get out – we are stuck. It seems to me that we are engaged in the worst type of stuckness; an endless going over of ground about how we got here, looking for causes and then wringing our hands, with no movement forward.  This series of symptoms appear to be applying across the board; politically, within companies and with individuals.. If I were to diagnose the problem I would say that we have a virulent case of anxiety and depression going on. It’s becoming catching, leaving markets open to the virus of financial marauders.

When a person feels anxious or describes themselves as depressed, commonly they are stuck in a dysfunctional present which may even connect back to a dysfunctional past. A feeling of hopelessness pervades because there seems to be no way out of the stuckness – there is a forgetfulness of any resources they may have at their disposal and an inability to take connect to the future. A common response at moments like these is : “I don’t know”, with people often only feeling temporarily better when they realise that, at least, they are not as bad as someone else. (A bit like what is going on between Eurpoe and the Republic of Ireland at the moment.  This was featured as a joke on the popular Radio 4 comedy programme “The Now Show” and the Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou has sought to reassure his country by saying that, while things are bad there, at least they’re not as bad as Ireland.) So we make ourselves feel  better by focussing on how someone elses pain is worse than ours and doing  bit of one up man ship.  An Aspirin to treat a tumour.

As well as individuals, organisations I work with are also having the same kinds of conversations. Stuck in the here and now, unable to make decisions or waiting and waiting for others to make decisions about their futures. And these others are putting the decisions of because they too have no idea about where they are trying to get to. We are in somewhat unchartered territory and yet for some explorers this is exactly what spurred them onto find new lands.

But we are not focussing on new lands, we are focussing on how we can get back to what we had before, what we know. So plans abound about how to get us out of this mess and re-establish what was the status quo; strategies to treat the symptoms; tighten our belts; make cuts; put our houses in order. All particularly punishing analogies, if you truly try them on and none  connecting to a future but confining us to think and focus on what we have lost. And yes, we are in uncharted territory and as such we need to create a new destination, one we haven’t been in before. It was the excitement of exploring and finding  new lands that spurred on explorers such as Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus and just like us, each of them was spurred on by solving a problem or overcoming a present crisis. But they were also compelled by the vision of what that exploration would give them.  And that is what we need to do now. Move beyond our past and find  a new and compelling vision of our future. Make sure we have enough provisions and set sail. We really do need to use a different kind of thinking to get us out of the mess than the one we used to get into it. We can’t get back what is truly lost (and what we are finding out was probably a fantasy anyway) but we can decide what an how we want the future to be.

So what to do if you are leading an organisation, or a team or yourself. Set a compelling vision of the future that makes sense to both you and the people around you and remember it does have to make sense. ( A concept like “The Big Society” –  sorry David Cameron- won’t do it, as concepts are just that; an idea with no sensory meaning that others can hook into. ) Honour and recognise where people are now because if you don’t, fear and anxiety will overwhelm  and give them the tools to navigate safely, rather than casting them adrift. And by the way, if you don’t have a destination people will feel lost and cast adrift. And, finally, remember to look up from the map every now and again  to make sure that you and your crew are on course.

** with thanks to Robert Levine and his wonderful book – “A Geograpy of Time”, who got me thinking about this on a more global scale.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2013 5:26 pm

    Telling other people about your vision for the future is not the important part. What is important is to have that vision clearly defined for yourself and be conscious of it every day. Because it’s what you do every day, the decisions that you make every day, the motivation that drives you every day that will lead you from where you are today to where you really want to be in the future. Like they say, if you don’t know where you are going you’ll never know when you get there.

  2. May 23, 2013 1:31 pm

    Why is articulating a vision important? Because a vision is what pulls you forward into the future you’ve decided to create. Going through life without a vision pushes you into a future of other people’s creation. A compelling vision can move not only you, but galvanize others. A powerful enough vision can change the world.

  3. May 15, 2013 3:35 am

    The problem is that people get stuck on the how. They don’t see how they could accomplish more, so they throttle back their vision, convinced that they must be “realistic.” And, what they expect becomes their new reality. This is simply faith applied negatively.

  4. May 10, 2013 12:25 pm

    You are sadly right. The truth is that if we had more positive ideas for the future that would help us as a society to make it a reality because what you think is what you become. Who knows what positive vision might inspire people down the line. Its sad that the film makers only focus on what they think makes money.

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