Thank you Euan.
Now, there is a time and a place for judgemental skepticism and cynicism (I suppose) but somehow there is a widespread sentiment that associates these two stances with expertise and prudence. Now I don’t want you to think that I am all about squashing opposition or creative tension, but I have to say that when I am working with groups of people to create processes that will help take people out of their comfort zones, there is a particular cynicism that does not help. Euan Semple calls this “pomposity” and that certainly seems to capture the holier than thou effect that this kind of stifling aloofness has on groups of people. And Euan names the price that it takes:
- Every time someone is faced with a pompous response to a suggestion or idea they take one step back and become much less likely to ever offer their heartfelt thoughts again. Imagine the impact this has on the creativity and innovation that organisations depend on.
- Many, many meetings could be done in less than half the time if there wasn’t a need to feed the ego of the chairperson or more vocal participants. How many times have things gone on way too long because someone likes the sound of his own voice?
- How many millions and millions of pounds have been spent because someone was too pumped up and full of themselves to admit that perhaps the major project they are sponsoring should be aborted?
- How many fledgling social media projects get squashed by IT departments because “professionals” have had their nose put out of joint at “amateurs” thinking they know better?
- How many bright, committed and intelligent potential senior managers have failed to step up to the mark because they couldn’t face the antler clashing and ego massaging that goes on in the boardroom?
I have recently had the experience of people saying to me that the work I do would never work with such-and-such a group of people. My response to them is nothing will work with people if you don’t believe them capable of doing something different or trying something new. I have been responding to these kinds of limiting beliefs with two questions:
- How do you show up with a group of people when you believe they are not capable of something?
- How do YOU show up when something thinks YOU are incapaable of something?
That tends to take care of the holier than thou attitudes. A little empathy, a little creative tension, a little mutual compassion for the other helps makes designs for new and difficult things easier. These questions force us to really consider whether we are more capable than someone else. It forces a conscious awareness of the choice you are making when you adopt the pompous stance.
I choose to believe that people are capable of engaging in all kinds of things, from sitting in circles (the scariest thing in the world, if you would believe some) to radically letting go of huge projects they were working on because they weren’t going anywhere.
Lately I have been making an explcit request of clients that we create design teams for events and processes that DON’T include cynics. That is not to say that we don’t need people bringing concerns and challenging questions to the work, it’s just that when you have someone in a design team that does not believe in the possibility of what you are trying to create, so much energy gets taken up catering to the unhelpful pomposity of the rightous skeptic that the design suffers and in the worst case scenario, the result is a design that just serves the status quo. I have, in the last couple of years actually “fired” a client who wanted me to help create the illusion of a participatory event but who could not allow himself to actually let a participatory event unfold. He was completely unwilling to let go of control and unwilling to trust people. He even described the people he was working with, government employees in First Nations communities, as “children that need to be shown the answer.” There is a huge cost to this kind of stance in time, trust and the ability for groups to actually hold the real fears and concerns that they have. What do you think is possible when you work with someone who considers an important policy gathering to be like a daycare?
So start with possibility and create the space for inquiry, curiosity and yes even judgement to arise. But if you start with these things, you will not be able to create creative spaces of possibility because you will get mired down in the energetics of unhelpful politics, posing and pomposity. Staying in possibility is hard, but it is the only way we get to new places. More of the same is too deceptively simple.