They say it all breaks down to keeping your feet on the ground
My sole intention is keeping my head in the clouds
They say that I can’t last a day in the real world
I say you wouldn’t survive one night in mine
I get businesses unstuck (90% of the time that simply means helping them get out of their own way). That’s what I do. This discussion most typically revolves around Taleb’s concept of Antifragile. And while I find Nassim Taleb whipsmart trying to explain Antifragile in a pragmatic business sense, and business environment, is semi-impossible (or at least beyond my intellectual capabilities).
Suffice it to say almost every business I have ever interacted with has struggled with balancing, or applying proportionate effort, pragmatism and possibilities – standardized process and agility/vision to meet opportunities. Most businesses see them as binaries where I see them as malleable. Most businesses see them as an organism and I see them as molecular. That said. While I love conceptual discussions (and actually believe the future of business will be owned by the ones who can think conceptually) my job is to frame in the abstract and deliver in the concrete – balancing idealism and realism. I call it ‘’pragmatism and possibilities’ and suggest its all about having your feet in the clouds and head on the ground.
Suffice it to say that 99% of the best businesses have figured out how to successfully keep their feet in the clouds and their head on the ground.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it looks like I got it twisted around, but I did not. Good businesses are always walking with the future in mind. Always traveling toward possibilities. Always seeking ‘what’s next.’
Good businesses are always closely listening to the drumbeat of the feet of what is happening around them. Ear to the ground insuring everyone in the business is keeping their head in the game today. I have called it mastering pragmatism & possibilities. But, in reality, it is the ability to have your feet in the clouds and head on the ground.
I tend to believe if more people thought about it this way businesses would actually manage their pragmatism better (i.e., maximize existing resources in an agile way), would have more hope (i.e., maximize opportunities that arise better) and achieve more possibilities than they could ever imagine.
You have to admit the current definition – feet on the ground & head in the clouds – just ain’t working that well these days. Businesses seem to be more woefully stagnant <albeit always ‘talking’ change> and have more despair and lack of hope with regard to actionable possibilities than ever.
Why? Well. I am sure I could invest dozens of pages sharing thoughts on why, but instead I will focus on what I would consider the intellectual aspects, i.e., what is going on in with our attitudes that affect our heads, how we think and how we approach these things.
** note: if one were to need a playbook on how to discuss pragmatism & possibilities with a business this is as good a place to start as any – deconstructing each issue.
- Issue one. over-simplification
Suffice it to say we have devolved into a society of sound bites. This is true in business even moreso. In business it seems to be all about simplicity. In everyday Life it is ‘summarize it for me’ or ‘oh, it’s simple <insert some explanation here>.’ In the end I can’t figure out if should be pointing the finger at us or them.
Them <management & leadership> because they think we are not capable of understanding some form of complexity and therefore they only offer up simplified versions of what needs to be communicated.
Or us <the employees> because we either:
<a> demand a sound bite under the guise of ‘we only have time for the headline’
<b> we only latch on to the fragment of the whole which we believe summarizes the whole.
Therefore I will point the finger at all of us and them. Here is a Truth.
Most things are just not that simple, in fact, they are complex. An effect can have multiple causes and a cause can have multiple effects. I say this despite the fact, naturally, we would like all the dominoes to line up one after another and when one falls the next naturally is impacted and falls. Causality is just an easier thing to grasp.
Well. Things don’t really work that way. Especially in a business environment. Maybe in a controlled test environment but, in business, events are typically bombarded from a variety of directions and while not all causes are created equal <some can impact more than others> most things are too complex to be simplified into ‘one thing.’ And, yet, we oversimplify again and again and again.
Over simplifying simply means ignoring complexities.
Over simplifying simply means being consciously ignorant.
Over simplifying … well … just doesn’t work in the long run.
It eases you through the moment only to have to doubly <or exponentially> invest energy later on. Let me put this as simply as I can: over simplification just doesn’t work.
Instead of dumbing things down to some simplistic sound bite we need to raise the level of general understanding & knowledge to the level of complexity of the ideas & systems in which a business works – in other words, unravel the complexity into understandable components. Factually, seconds of involvement <sound bites> versus minutes of involvement <deeper complex discussion> leads to degrees of real knowledge, i.e., seconds leads to shallow knowledge or let’s call it ‘less knowledgeable.’ Over simplification will not demystify uncertainty and cannot help us do what we really need to do — reconcepting & rethinking that which is (which is the portal to unlocking potential).
What I am suggesting is difficult and uncertain work. But certainly more satisfying and inspiring when we solve and recreate and it certainly is a more effective way to keep your feet in the clouds and head on the ground..
I can unequivocally state that the fate of possibilities for a business, any business, lies in balance if we don’t invest in the hard work of ‘non over simplification.’
And worse? We won’t solve any of the problems we face if we do not address this.
This leads me to …
- Issue two. being intellectually insightful is about hard work.
Let me begin by suggesting that good ideas cannot be decided by number of tweet votes in favor of. Business ideas do not compete on American Idol nor, frankly, should they compete in any larger group. We are not all judges <and probably shouldn’t be on American Idol either>.
Why? Good ideas are rarely popular; therefore, I don’t really want a business idea to win some meaningless popularity contest. If we really want to do what needs to be done to maximize both the pragmatism & the possibilities in business we have to hunker down and work hard … work hard in that we need to use what we have to rethink things … use all aspects including economic thought and philosophy and the past … all of which means dealing with ambiguity and contradiction.
And, yes, that is hard work. That is the kind of work that hones the intellectual insightfulness necessary to keep your feet in the clouds and your feet on the ground and, well, make progress. Smart progress.
Instead of dumbing things down we need to be raising the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. And while you may balk at something like ‘intellectual insightfulness’ as too far reaching or ‘elitist’ … suffice it to say we just need to be smarter … less ignorant … more enlightened <open to additional thoughts> and more involved in the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconcepting ideas and systems in which we live in and … well … just plain rethinking shit.
Suffice it to say that there is nothing simple when talking about world-changing ideas … because talking will not simply make the world change.
I read somewhere recently that ‘if you remove this boundary … the only boundary left is our imagination.’
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Imagination is important, but even imagination is complicated and difficult and tends to not offer tidy solutions. Especially if you don’t invest in the hard work.
We need to be doing more of ‘using your imagination within the box of what exists.’ We don’t need to be wandering aimlessly ‘outside the box’ but rather using our imagination insightfully and creatively WITHIN the box and expand the boundaries.
It is all hard work, but hard work will work. And in this case I mean hard thinking work.
Simply ‘doing’ aint gonna cut it. We need to be smarter. And whether you think about thinking this way or not, it ain’t about staring off into space doing nothing <random dreaming>, thinking is a blue collar job. Thinking is all about work. Hmmmmmm … it is quite possible that what I just wrote defines “head on the ground” better than anything I have ever written before.
Anyway. As a corollary to issue number two …
- Issue three. innovation is not <just> technology.
What makes oversimplification even more challenging is that for some reason we seem to be associating innovation with technology … and just technology. We can’t … and shouldn’t.
This type of thinking leads us to possibly believe technology innovations will eventually solve all problems and maximize everyone’s Life as some point. That is a very dangerous idea.
It is dangerous because in reality if we focus just on technology as the solution we are actually preventing the real change we need. It’s a very dangerous idea because it completely removes the human aspect. I cannot tell people how often I need to remind everyone technology augments humans (if you seek potential & possibilities), not humans augmenting technology.
Regardless. Minds need to innovate too. Thinking and attitudes need to evolve and innovate. New thought systems, economic systems and systems in which people live eat and breath all need to evolve and that happens through innovation <whether technology is involved or not>. Technology is simply a path that runs parallel to culture <or society> basically amplifying everything that is happening on the parallel path <the corollary to that is … with nothing to amplify the technology remains silent>.
Technology and culture and people and business are entangled. Everything is connected with everything. Technologies may enable new ways of doing things as well as thinking. This effects culture so culturally we need to innovate to structure how those technologies will be involved in our lives <so that we can dictate a little how they are incorporated> and we need to innovate our thinking and culture so that we can actually impact how technology evolves <so that we can dictate how what technology is innovated in some form or fashion>.
At the moment it seems like we respond to technology rather than proactively drive technology. Yes. Technology has certainly dramatically improved the overall quality of business but, at some point, technology is not a reason for being, but rather simply an enabler for being. The paradox is that the system we have now may make amazing new technology possible, but at same time is creating such cultural conflict that maximizing technology ‘what could be’ seems impossible. We need to innovate the systems in which technology exists.
Economically, culturally and philosophically. All systems need to see innovation.
- Issue four. adaptability does not mean ‘no strategy’.
Businesses inherently like structure. They see structure as replicable (safe, efficient & maintaining whatever level of effectiveness they have currently attained). The problem is emphasizing structure, pragmatism, actually increases the fragility of a business (source: antifragile) and limits the scope/horizon view of pursuing possibilities. With a ‘feet on the ground’ philosophy structure & construct of resources/systems/process dictate the direction, velocity and vision of the business. In other words, pragmatism is the source of possibilities. If you flip the equation, pragmatism becomes the enabler of possibilities. This does not mean a business has no strategy, all it does is maximize flexibility & agility to pragmatically apply resources to possibilities as they arise. Taleb calls this AntiFragile, Toffler called it the polymalleable organization, HBR has called it “Agile”, I call it “feet in the clouds, head on the ground” or “managing pragmatism & possibilities.” Call it whatever you want but it is the issue a business needs to address in order to be successful in the future.
<that’s it for my issues>
Hope and possibilities grounded with enlightened pragmatism abound in today’s business world if you look hard enough <and have your feet in the clouds an head to the ground>. But none of it comes easy. These types of things are rarely just given, they need to be earned mostly thru hard work.
I don’t believe simplicity is bad.
I don’t believe being optimistic or having a positive attitude is bad.
I don’t believe technology is bad.
I don’t believe hard work, smartly done, is bad.
But we seem trapped in the old paradigm of “head in the clouds & feet on the ground.” This old paradigm kind of separates work & thinking <vision> in a non useful way. And I … well … I admit I sometimes think this paradigm encourages a slightly warped version of some lazy thinking.
And we cannot be lazy moving forward. And we certainly cannot afford to be lazy thinkers. For in this type of laziness lurks ignorance and it is ignorance we should fear. Not any ideological argument or technological innovation which inserts itself into our daily lives but ignorance.
Avoid lazy thinking. Maybe have everyone should hearken to Emerson’s words:
“Consent yourself to be an organ of your highest thought, and lo! suddenly you put all men in your debt, and are the fountain of an energy that goes pulsing on with waves of benefit to the borders of society, to the circumference of things.”
In the end.
Effective business has always been about applying the right resources at the right time against the right opportunity (or challenge). Period.
Efficient business has always been about applying resources in a consistent way all the time to be applied against the opportunities that exist. Period.
Agility resides in the optimization betwixt the two. Either, alone, is fragile. The fragile mixture, proportionate focus, of the two actually makes one Antifragile (stealing from Taleb). That said. A business is most likely able to find the optimal proportion by, well, keep their head to the ground and their feet in the clouds.
Consent yourself to be of your highest thought.
And how do you do that? Keep your feet in the clouds and your head on the ground. Be pragmatic and explore possibilities.
Originally published September 2016