Absolute clarity is as rare in the workplace as diamonds are in nature. Like diamonds it usually takes too long and requires too much heat and pressure. When difficult choices are in the air the clarion call for ‘absolute clarity’ is usually not far behind.
In the right place, and measure, clarity of word and deed are virtues. At the wrong time and posed as a prerequisite for support or action ‘absolute clarity’ is a often a smokescreen or a diversion. As our chairman pointed out a few months ago most people want absolute clarity on how they are going to be measured and but clearly don’t want to be measured absolutely.
So how much clarity should we shoot for? The scholar J.A. Smith, in his 1930’s introduction to Aristotle’s ethics, writes:
Such knowledge is that which in its consumate form we find in great statesmen, enabling them to organise and administer their states and regulate by law the life of the citizens to their advantage and happiness, but it is the same kind of knowledge which on a smaller scale secures success in the management of the family or of private life.
It is characteristic of such knowledge that it should be deficient in “exactness,” in precision of statement, and closeness of logical concatenation. We must not look for a mathematics of conduct.
In most 21st century organisations, as in the administration of states and the management of families, there is no absolute clarity on what to do, what really matters, what good looks like or what’s wanted.
Diamonds are the wrong form of carbon to search for – the quick pencil sketch of graphite is what most people and organisations need most of the time.