Corona killed the Strategy Czar
There’s a lightbulb moment in business coaching sessions where the CEO realises he is not alone… that in fact nobody else knows what they’re doing either. Everyone else is “winging it” or waiting to be “caught out”. There’s a sigh of relief, before the next thought… “how is stuff actually happening?”
We always assume that someone has a plan. There is a strategy of course. Something to create the illusion that the future can be controlled. But it’s only a best guess, because no-one knows what’s going to happen next.
The same is true in politics. People assume there is a grand plan, rather than the actual reality… action and reaction, repeated countless times. “We need more data. More hospitals. More lockdown.” “Oh no! the data is flawed. The hospitals are empty. The lockdown is causing other problems.”
Both business and politics solve the “not knowing” with PR which can overemphasise the “wins” and minimise the losses. Richard Branson’s success stories don’t mention a huge number of failed ventures including Virgin Cola. Churchill’s genius rarely features the disaster of Gallipoli. Successful leaders tend to focus on their “will to succeed” rather than their strategy.
Athletes know more about this than anyone, which is why sports coaching looks at what’s going on internally. Technique, diet and lots of practice can get you so far, but if your opponent is Roger Federer you’ll need something more. You’ll need mastery of the inner world… of thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
Business and politics appropriate this inner world by urging the workforce to develop “a winning mindset”. Kill the competition. Smash goals. Be awesome. This has limited effect, because it doesn’t take into account all the fear underneath the need to win. You can’t cherry pick which energy you want. Energy doesn’t have edges… it’s all or nothing.
Managing our internal state is a bit like playing a ball game. Either we direct our energy to a target (shoot the ball into a goal), or we play with it (pass it back and forth). A goal brings a quick burst of elation or despair. The play preceding the goal brings excitement, but also nail biting anxiety, anger and fear… all the feels.
Here’s how “the game” plays out in the real world…
1. One person (eg Elon Musk or Donald Trump) takes an idea and pushes it towards a goal (I’m not throwing away my shot as Lin Manuel would say).
2. Everyone else (the workforce/electorate) plays ball together. There’s excitement (OMG I don’t believe Trump/Musk just did that!) and also anxiety, anger and fear (OMG I don’t believe Trump/Musk just did that!).
Currently, the game is in a complete mess.
1. Entrepreneurs are running around brandishing their winnings, unchecked and unregulated. Some people assume they know what they’re doing, but others are waking up to the truth that they’re making it up as they go along.
2. World events are resembling a 24/7 soap opera drama. A few people are finding this exciting, but most are in a severe state of anxiety, fear, anger and despair, because, really HOW IS STUFF HAPPENING? What is the plan and who is in charge of it?
5G. There must be some kind of conspiracy whereby Big Tech wants to rule the world. More likely?… 5G is just the evolution of an idea. 3G evolved into 4G which evolved into 5G. Some people will reap huge financial benefits, because that’s just capitalism for you.
Coronavirus. There must be some kind of conspiracy in which the Illuminati want to rule the world. More likely? Coronavirus is the evolution of an idea by Mother nature. We are surrounded by pathogens which are constantly mutating all the time. The most likely thing to follow Covid 19, is Covid 20.
Vaccinations. There must be some kind of conspiracy in which Bill Gates wants to rule the world. More likely? It’s the evolution of vaccines… some of which are good and some of which are bad. Of course he’ll reap huge financial benefits, but that’s the game of capitalism.
Ending lockdown… there must be a conspiracy to kill off the old and sick. Extending lockdown… there must be a conspiracy to keep people imprisoned so that the workforce can be made redundant and replaced with AI. More likely? It’s a “no win” situation. Lockdown will cause death. Opening the economy will cause death.
Everybody wants to rule the world, as Tears for Fears would say. Or perhaps there is no strategy and everyone’s winging it.
We’ve been familiar with the concept of “winner takes all” since Charles Darwin introduced us to “survival of the fittest” but it’s more revealing to look at the energy driving the concept. Why are we trying to win? In order to advance the species/help others/express our creativity? Or are we trying to win in order to avoid the feeling of losing?
For example, the drive for Bob Geldof to raise money for the African famine was a reaction to the pain he felt when witnessing starving children. A lot of the money raised was stolen by corrupt officials to buy guns, causing a complicated ongoing chain of events.
The drive for Bill Gates to vaccinate everyone, could come from an egocentric need to “save the world” or a need to stop people dying painful deaths. No-one knows how this will play out. Bill’s need to solve the problem quickly could create a solution that’s worse than the original problem.
Need based reactions, often prevent us from genius solutions. As Einstein said “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer”.
Questions we can’t answer create tension in us and that tension seeks release. Without awareness, we create strategies to release this tension… shouting at the internet, being right, eating junk food.
But if we developed the skill of being with uncomfortable energy, we might rise to something approximating genius… or at least wisdom. At the very least this exercise would expand our hearts. There’s more room in a broken heart as Carly Simon would say.
Meanwhile, if Mother Nature could speak perhaps she would say “Learn to play together or this will all end in tears. A human race to the finish line isn’t the best use of your creativity.” If she gets really mad she might say “You’re burning 200,000 acres of rainforest every day because you refuse to stop eating burgers, and then you wonder why you can’t breathe. Hello?”
This pause in “business as usual” could allow us to raise our game, or change the game completely… invent whole new ways of organising society. Survival of the fittest could become about strength of heart, not what it has come to represent… ruthless strategies based on cunning, arrogance and opportunism.
There is a popular saying “If you want to make God laugh, show him your plans”. After all, if there is a plan, only Mother Nature holds the blueprint.