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Somewhere out there, there is a reality that has to be handled one way or the other. It can be business, sport, warfare or life in general. How well we succeed is something we find out afterwards and depends on what we want to achieve, the strategies we choose and how well put them into action.

As that outer reality is in a state of constant change, it would seem pretty natural that our strategies and actions also change. But they don’t, which is strange as we humans are natural adapters. Unlike the fruit fly we don’t have to wait for generations (see previous post) we can just change what we are doing. As long as it is physically posssible of course.

So what stops us from using our natural creativity and adaptability? Our experience. Our personal “human factor” that can enhance or obstruct our adaptation and development.

The Pilot model (click on the sketch below) describes the process we go through when dealing with reality and also shows how that process is effected by our “Black Box”. A product of our experience, values, desires, fears etc. backed up and supported by our defence mechanisms.

In the process of:

1.Gathering information  2. Transforming that information into an understanding and a strategy, 3. Preparing for action 4. Taking action

our black box is an ever present entity that can block the process at any moment. At the same time it is our experience, pre-understanding, imagination and creativity that can enhance the quality of the process, leading to action in the surrounding environment that leads to a positive feedback and so on…

 

The Pilot model shows how the process of one individual dealing with life and the process of a large organisation handling business have the same fundamental ingredients. Success depending not only on knowing what to do in the process put also being able to handle the phsychological impact of the black boxes involved. Either through an individual inner stability or building a common ability.

Being aware of this full cycle, on an individual level, is being aware of “the gap between stimuli and response”. Without that awareness we see our response to information (stimuli) as natural, common sense and decided by the stimuli, reacting  puppet-like, jumping from 1 to 4 in the model totally unaware that our black box has taken over and filled the gap. Successful? Well maybe if we’re lucky. Intelligent? That is another question altogether.

Seen from an organisational perspective the model decribes the fundament for a leadership process that must need involve managers, leaders and co-workers in collaboration to achieve a full and lasting effect.

 

We live in a challenging world. It creates the pressure that stimulates our creativity but can also cause immense frustration and stress if we feel we can’t cope. That external pressure is a reality for most of us. In fact, it is life.

At the same time there are internal factors at work. These may balance the external stress allowing us to use our full potential to deal with the situation. Sometimes they do the opposite, adding to the level of stress and diminishing our capacity, at times to the point where the slightest set-back can feel impossible to overcome.

On an organisational level it is important to minimize the internal stress factors and sooner or later that boils down to looking at ourselves. The people in the organisation. Do our actions add to the level of stress or do they add to the level of stability?

Let’s look at it from a manager’s point of view. As a manager you have the power to decide the level of “operational independence”. This is not “individual independence” as in working alone. This is about the freedom to make decisions, solve problems and change plans. Issues that will effect other parts of the organisation. To keep it simple, the level of operational independence can either be low or high as shown on the horisontal axis in this very simplified version of the Hansson Model.

Now, as a manager you make the decision. Low or high. Whichever you choose there will be consequences. If you choose a low level, it means you need to be the operational presence making decisions, solving problems and changing plans and as a manager you probably have other things to deal with. If you choose a high level, maybe to free the time for other things you need to consider the vertical axis. Is there really sufficient capacity to handle a high level of operative independence?

All too often there isn’t. Then you have the choice of either increasing that capacity and adapting the level of independence as it grows (the green arrow), or entering the “chaos square”. A situation of total chaos resulting in frustration, stress and worse. Amazingly often, the internal stability of the organisation is sacrified as people are plunged into total chaos.  Rationalisations about “learning the hard way” or “a challenge being necessary” are just bad excuses. Being in a situation you have no chance of coping with is not a challenge.

This is one way managers and leaders can become a stress factor. Maybe with the best of intentions, having been told that influence, responsibility and independence is good for people. Which it is. If they are given a fair chance to handle it.

There are all sorts of different methods of measuring changes in our environment. And based on those measurements we take action and the next time we measure we get a different result, one that we feel is satisfactory and all is well.

What I wonder is…do we have a warped understanding of cause and effect? Is it really that change in the environment that is causing us to take action?

Some say “there is a gap between stimulus and response”. Meaning that what we percieve to be the result of a certain stimulus is actually the result of something else. Something we don’t notice happening. Or maybe do notice happening but don’t understand the importance of.

For example. A pretty simple thermometer can measure temperature to the tenth of a degree. We can see when the temperature goes down a tenth of a degree or when it goes up a tenth of a degree. Thanks to this we can very quickly put on more clothes or less clothes. One way of looking at this would be: the temperature drops so we put on more clothes. But there is more going on than that.

What is actually happening is: the temperature drops, we measure the drop, we consult our action-plan that says “put on more clothes when the temperature drops” then we put on more clothes.

If we had a different way of measuring the temperature or a better action-plan the situation would change drastically.

What if we instead waited until we started feeling cold or feeling warm before we put clothes on or off? The change in temperature the thermometer can measure, that tenth of a degree, is a real change. But not one that is relevant. That change, which could come from a door opening or just someone walking past, can lead to a constant dessing and undressing. Time and energy being wasted. And all for no other reason than the fact that we “can” measure that change and think we need a rapid response. (And that someone has sold us a technological innovation we don’t neeed!)

Sometimes the best response is no response at all. But when all our instruments for measuring change are screaming at us to take action, sitting still can be the most difficult thing to do. And maybe the real “cause” of our action is just our own impatience or panic.

Surely it is impossible to get more done by doing less?

If that is what you are thinking then you are right. Under one condition. That you are always, always, always doing the right things. Not all of us are.

More intelligence through thinking less? Can it really be true? Surely the more thoughts the better?

That, as you probably realise, depends on the thoughts. Thoughts have direction and can lead to action. Depending on what you want to be doing there are thouhts that will support and thoughts that will counteract. Balancing on a tight-rope a 100 metres above the Niagara Falls you don’t want to start thinking “go on, jump off..dive into the water you useless piece of s…t, you can’t do this it’s too difficult and you’re too stupid…”

If you are hoping to have a positive view of a situation you don’t want to start thinking loudly about all the negative aspects! But still we sometimes do. We counteract ourselves because we cannot control the thoughts that flash through our minds and affect what we are doing.

Physical flexibility is a result of being physically supple. Avoiding and getting rid of the muscular tension we don’t need at the moment. Mental flexibility is a result of being mentally supple. Avoiding and getting rid of the thoughts we don’t need at the moment.

Is all this really important? Why is this flexibility such an issue?

In business, or life in general, things change. We need to be able to adapt if necessary and that calls for a certain flexibility. An inability to think or act in certain directions will sooner or later cause problems.

A scorpion needed to cross a river. He asked a frog to take him on his back and swim across. The frog was a bit worried about the scorpion stinging him but realised that if  it did it would drown so he agreed to the transport. Half way across the river the scorpion stung the frog and as they both started sinking the frog asked: “Why did you do it? This will mean certain death for you too?” The scorpion answered: ” I’m a scorpion and this is what scorpions do…”

We are humans and have the possibility of a  less single-track approach to things. The question is: To what extent do we use that possibility?

So Ian, you want to run faster? OK, you have two options. Work harder or relax more.

Doesn’t it sound crazy? How can relaxing more make me go faster? If you don’t understand the system you’ll never get it. If you don’t understand the system the only option is of course to try harder. More will-power, more motivation, more engine, more energy. In a way this is true. But here I think we need to think in terms of input and efficiency.

With a low degree of efficiency the effect of even a largely increased input (effort) will be small. Increasing the efficiency however will have an instant effect without increasing the input (effort). Of course, nothing is for free. A certain effort will have to be put into increasing efficiency. However, it is a different effort. Not more of the same!

Remember the different muscles counteracting each other when tense? If I want to run faster, I need to keep as low a level of tension as possible in the counteracting muscles. In other words: more efficient by doing less!

Of course, I won’t leave you without a psychological connection… The mental equivalent to physical tension is…thinking.

Do you know that when you bend and straighten your arm you are using two different sets of muscles? Bending your arm you tense your bicep and the tricep is relaxed. Straightening, you tense your tricep and the bicep is relaxed. What do you think happens if you tense both at the same time? The answer is – nothing. With one working to bend the arm and the other working to straighten it your arm will be locked in position. Unless one of the muscles is strong enough to “beat” the other!

Do you remember when I asked you to touch your toes without bending your knees? What stopped you from getting there? While you where working to get down to those toes, the tension in the muscles that straighten your body was working the opposite direction. In fact, all the tension you have aquired over the years is, in different situations, counteracting what you are trying to do! Out running, I often wonder how much of my energy is spent just overcoming that tension. How much is spent on overcoming my own physical internal resistence before I can even start addressing the track?

Lets go mental again 😉 Imagine the psychological equivalent to physical tension. The mental internal resistence that needs to be overcome before you can even start moving your mind in a new direction. When it comes to being flexible, expanding our comfort zone and developing, we are our own worst enemy!

At 50 you are probably more likely to walk 200 metres round a fence instead of jumping over it. Why? Well, you probably want to avoid a week in bed with pulled muscles. You just haven’t got that physical flexibility anymore. Sad? Yes. Inevitable? No, of course not.

At 50 you are probably more likely to decline than accept a invitation to a beginners course in how to use social networks. Why? Well, it may be due to fear of doing the mental equivalent to pulling a muscle! The thing is though (I think), you can’t pull a neuron. What you do risk is learning something new.

Leaving your mental comfort zone and letting your mind expand into a new area is a serious business. Thinking new thoughts, having new insights and maybe, maybe having to refurnish, reorganise and expand your mental comfort zone hurts.

And that can be reason enough for some of us to say no to development. Which is, basically, saying no to life.