Make Sure Something’s Missing!

Dee Hock, founder of the “charodic” (the fusion of chaos and order as Mr. Hock so insightfully observed) Visa corporation, observed that the trick is not how to get new ideas in but rather how to get the old ideas out.

We’ll find this predominates everywhere. Look at Iran and the new ideas are bursting to express themselves, but the old ideas tenaciously cling on. Look at the problems between Israel and the Palestinians and you’ll see again the challenge is not a paucity of new ideas, it’s the dogmatic fixation on old definitions, paradigms, boundaries and conceptions that have to be tackled.

Carl Jung once pointed out that any real problem can’t be solved, it can only be outgrown. Then you don’t consider it a sacrifice, you just draw new rules of engagement. Then President de Klerk of South Africa said when apartheid was effectively defeated at the polls, “Today the South African people transcended themselves.”

A recent book, IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE, argues that what we leave out is as important, if not more so, than what we leave in. The author refers to the darkening of the screen in the pivotal last few minutes of the SOPRANO’s final episode: vexing, infuriating, titillating and irresistible. Toyota has long been studied for its principles of lean production and team and individual empowerment on the line — but it is as instructive to study all the things Toyota doesn’t do, that more ponderous and less effective competitors are addicted to.

Consultants beware! How many consulting firms tout endless product offerings: strategy, change management, organizational redesign, leadership development, employee relations, world peace and the kitchen sink. If the Elegance book is right, then we need instead a different sweet spot: simplicity — albeit concepts that are both simple and powerful. We should look for and infuse what we do with that power, not substitute for it by proliferating seemingly encyclopedic offerings.

Lao Tzu is evoked (he often is, being so inscrutable, his highly elegant, simple and compelling elegy to the Tao is timeless and adaptable to numerous interpretations) in pointing out that the hole at the center of the wheel matters more than any individual spoke. The space between the walls makes the home, the gaps between the notes make the music. It’s not just what is present, it’s what is absent. It’s the breathing room we have to create for ourselves, our services and our offerings that so often matters most. And if we can shed the peripherals (careful: one person’s peripherals are another person’s poetry), we can spotlight what’s essential. We can find and offer our passion and our genius, not an attic laden with ubiquitous  jargon and piles of second-hand consulting gewgaws.

A consultant without that essential simplicity can hardly be a credible advisor or coach in helping a business leader seeking something like that for themselves. It took us a long time at Sensei to realize that we excelled at locating the link between strategic business results and human performance — that engaging leaders and teams to deliver such results in global contexts was our particular strength. All the other things could be jettisoned.

So review your business, your marketing, your life. Absolutely make sure they express what matters most to you. But also make sure enough is missing. Make sure you de-clutter your business, your marketing and your life. Decide what you will not do and redirect that energy into creating the future.

And if certain old ideas continue to battle for dominance, stop fighting. Work on growing up  instead, and therefore “out”.

How? Ah, therein lies the the rub. But a great way to begin is to start living the new ideas (even if the old ones are still clinging on), live with the contradiction for awhile if you must, and then let the superior, the saner value win. It’ll be that much easier if there’s more space…in your day, priorities and life. When too much is afoot we hit our default switch. When we have some breathing room, we more readily set off in fresh directions — those more likely to get us where we wish to go.