“In the beautiful complexity of a new universe that Einstein has shown us, I for one, have no doubt I can hear God thinking” – the words of Arthur Eddington, the British scientist, in the wake of him having proved Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Eddington’s proof of what Einstein had theorized not only made Einstein famous and instantly transformed him into one of the most recognizable people in the world; it changed the world itself. Today the ripples of that change are being felt on the shoreline of the corporate empire.
The way Einstein saw our universe created an altogether startling paradigm shift from the Newtonian wisdom that had held sway prior to this new way of seeing. Not only was Einstein’s view of how things worked a shock to the established wisdom of the day but also the very timing was complicated by the global politics of a world at war. What have followed are multiple discoveries and insights, all based on the foundation and within the container that is Einstein’s way of seeing. Ultimately this understanding will permeate all the way through to change the way we see, lead and manage organizations and places of collective human endeavor.
The architecture of business today is a legacy of Newtonian wisdom and the way in which we have constructed organized work reflects much of how we saw, understood and explained that wisdom. On such wisdom we have constructed leadership and management principles that seemed beyond dispute. Such ‘principles’ formed the basis of subsequent methodologies that harnessed the collaborating evidence of years of achievement, best practice and success. All this has proved a formidable balustrade against change and a new way of doing things. And so the entrenched wisdom of not fixing what isn’t broken and a belief that if it cannot be measured, well then, it cannot be managed, refuse to loosen their tenacious grip within the contemporary corporate world in both mindset and practice. Certain words have become entrenched in our thinking and practice: words such as simplicity, control, certainty, uniformity, empiricism and cause and effect. These words make sense and carry with them whole volumes of understanding and meaning. They are words that we have come to affectionately guard and trust; words that have found expression in the leadership language used to shape and mould our organizational life, behaviour and expectation.
The words that we use in navigating our way around the Quantum reality that Einstein prized open the door too are of a different sort altogether. Here words such as complexity, influence, integration, diversity, inquiry, uncertainty, intuition and systemic thinking hold sway.
The movement will be one of organizations moving away from the machine metaphor that has been used to characterize their being, towards one where we speak seriously of more fluid, flexible, lucid and organic structure. Concepts of a seamless and boundaryless organization will become more common and with these new forms there will emerge new understandings as how best to lead and manage in such a context. It is a context in which both connectivity and paradox are entrenched. And certainly, understanding the paradoxes at play will be fundamental to any change process.
In this new world of work growth will be seen as something that appears from disequilibrium and disruption rather than from balance and stability. Quantum physicists speak in terms of probabilities, not prediction; and so business will need to shift from a reliance on strategic planning to one of an ability to think strategically. Suddenly in such a context Duggan’s work on Strategic Intuition moves from the fringe to the centre; it transforms from an oxymoron to something that makes good sense. In the course of navigating a world of uncertainty and unpredictability, detailed strategic plans make little sense. We plan because of our personal and collective need for control, order and being masters of our own destiny. Planning gives us a sense of security. The fact is, in a world of exponential change and uncertainty, such motivation for planning hinders rather than helps. Planning for control and predictability is revealed as nothing other than a grand illusion. Erich Jantsch writes that, “in life, the issue is not control, but dynamic connectedness”. Accepting the invitation of seeing the new world of work will begin to awaken the realization of this reality. It is the very foundation of the emerging ‘Connection Economy’ and what it will take to develop a competitive advantage in this new context.
Newtonian organizations in a Quantum age simply cannot survive. Some will survive longer than others but the end game is inevitable. The shock of this understanding, one that starts with a ‘seeing’, cannot be underestimated. Erwin Shroedinger said that, “anyone not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it”. The world of science has had a considerable head start in gaining an understanding of the implications of quantum theory – as one would expect. The world of work lags behind in seeing and accepting this new reality. The new dawn that is inevitable will usher in a new way of seeing and organizing work; a new way of leading and managing; a new way of measuring, analyzing, teaching, training and relating. In fact a, ‘new everything’. Hindsight from a future vantage-point will surely reveal this with alarming clarity; and so the trick is to grasp this tomorrow perspective today if we are to adapt and thrive as the unfolding future envelopes us.
The challenge will be making the transition from what we have always done and known to this unfamiliar new reality. Some are showing the way: be that by conscious intent or by being guided by some unconscious instinct. For those determined to make the journey, a helpful reminder is that people support what they create. Ownership (which could be described as ‘emotional investment in’) describes personal connection to an organization. Contribution is inspired by a sense of belonging and so if you wish to navigate this road to the new world of work, this would be a good starting point. For some, merely getting to this starting point would be a journey in and of itself! My friend Meg Wheatley puts it like this: “If we take seriously the role of the explorer and inventor, we will realize that we can’t do this alone. It is scary work, trying to find the new world, hoping we won’t die in the process. We live in a time of chaos, as rich in the potential for disaster as for new possibilities. How will we navigate these times? The answer is together”. As a leader, you will need to learn to embrace the art of collective inquiry.
What then is the way forward? It starts with a new way of seeing and involves everyone. The rest is up to you.
and…don’t let anyone tell you it will be easy…
This is the setting out.
The leaving of everything behind.
Leaving the social milieu. The preconceptions. The definitions. The language. The narrowed field of vision. The expectations.
No longer expecting relationships, memories, words, or letters to mean what they used to mean. To be, in a word: Open.
– Rabbi Lawrence Kushner