Misty Mountains

Monday – Morning – Early – Start –
Car – Troubled – Children – Missed –
Four – Big – Days – At – Work –
Many – Meetings – People – Buzzing –
All – Day – Long – And – Beyond –
Thursday – Evening – Nearly – Done –
Literally – And – Figuratively –
Peaks – Scaled – Views – Good

A week of hard work, with people from many places wrestling with the challenges of achieving an ambitious future – in an uncertain world. Two thoughts helped me along.

First, self-deception. I read in the New Scientist the other week that humans are masters of self-deception. It’s an important survival adaptation. The fact we can kid ourselves, helps us kid others and cope with life.

It’s obvious that when you’re looking several years ahead, there are lots of imponderables. So, as I said to several people this week, the art of conceiving and believing a vision of the future is to render it like Disney’s ‘enchanted castle’ – glowing, magical and distant.

The huge mistake is to seek to describe it in too much detail. Do that and Disney’s Castle dissolves in detailed questions about how the sewers will work. Drawing on our natural gift for self-deception – as a force for optimism, enthusiasm and positive change – requires that the future keep some of its mystery.

My second thought comes from ‘cross cultural’ training which I did when I was first sent East in the early 1990s. Eastern cultures, in general, value cohesion and alignment more than Western, where individualism and drive are more prized. The heroic leader and tough minded strategy can feel good in our hemisphere. But as President Bartlett said in the ‘West Wing’: “Leadership when no-one follows is just taking a walk”.

Back to that training. If you think of people as ‘bar magnets’, the Eastern view is that time spent aligning is vital to getting the whole moving sustainably. If all your magnets are pointing in different directions, that’s a lot of dissipated energy.

I’ve found, in recent years, sharing more context invariably nudges ‘magnets’ into better alignment. People are rarely persuaded by specific arguments, but always become more aligned by more shared context.

Disney castles and bar magnets are two good reasons to spend time sharing stories and context. But not too much time. Spend too much time and the vision gets unpicked in its details. And subsequent attempts at persuasion leave the magnets askew again.

Magnets, magic and misty mountains are an important part of the art of seizing today and coping with tomorrow, I reckon. That, and taking time – but not too much – to come together.

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