Thriving in fluid environments


Recently I found myself on a call with three great minds, talking about the frustrations around nations, organisations and individuals clinging to assert control in a world, largely fluid and ever changing. Our desire for control, predictability, reducing uncertainty is out of step with the reality around us.

In fact, the only thing which is real is what is here, now, in the moment – whereas both the past and the future are largely products of our thinking, imagination and memories. The past has already happened, the only thing we can change now is how we think about it. The future hasn’t happened yet, and much of it is out of our control. What we can influence first and foremost, is how we think about it, and depending on this – it will likely also influence how we respond to the future as it unfolds. If we see it as an opportunity or indeed a threat comes largely from whether we accept the world or try to resist it.

Moreover, we are not our thoughts, or emotions, but the awareness of these. Descartes claimed that I think, therefore I am. But since we can be aware of our thoughts, then who is it who is aware? Surely we are, before we think? And we can become aware of our thoughts, repeated patterns of responses or even recognise when we are happy or sad. But our desire for control, resisting the fluid environment that is reality, makes it so easy to completely identify with thought. Identifying so closely with our thoughts can make an exchange of opinions between two people into an argument, our identities become entangled with the need to be ‘right’ and thus being wrong is the equivalent of our ego being annihilated so the argument becomes a fight for survival, and it can stop us from truly listening what another person has to say or indeed recognising the emotions in another.

Marc puts it so well. To him “The sea is data. In motion. It’s incomprehensible. But survival, excelling depends on the understanding signals. We watch the weather, the swell, radar sweeping is perpetually scanning the horizon, and course correction.” This is about being in the now, continuously aware, accepting and adjusting to the reality as it unfolds.

We considered calling this idea “Undesign” – the deliberate act of stepping outside the desire for control, embracing the moment, the journey of discovery and exploration – much like the world is something to be played with and to be tried and tested in the mind of a child. Nothing is good or bad, your thinking makes it so.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Russell Esposito says:

    Great Thoughts! Never heard of Undesign as a concept but I think I do this intrinsically, and always doubt my insticts. I tend to feel concious that other colleagues are percieving my approach as unorganized and not planned well enough or too weak… I really need to work on harnessing a better awareness of this in order to exude more confidence.

    Do you see a risk that others would critisize this approach as reactive? Or, is there are clear distinction?

  2. Cecilia says:

    Undesign is not the absence of a plan, it is the realisation that there is no perfect plan – a bit like the famous saying that ‘no battleplan survives the contact with the enemy’. We can plan and imagine, but reality never quite turns out the way we imagined,so the more aware we are of this limitation, our own and others’ biases – and have an open mind and childlike curiosity about the world around us, the more we will learn and grow, and the more likely we will be able to make the most of what will be. As grown-ups we become very preoccupied with ‘how things should be’ – we absorb our own and others expectations on ourselves, situations and contexts and this closes our mind, and builds a desire to control everything. The unpredictable, different and unusual becomes not an opportunity but an annoying deviation from the norm. What norm? The norm we have defined (which we can change, if we only thought of it).

    To innovate we must be prepared to deconstruct existing ideas, notions, patterns and perceptions into elements that can be combined in entirely different ways. Discipline is necessary – the lean movement uses the five why’s to get to the root cause of an issue, but we seldom bother getting to the root of how we perceive things, or even to realise that what we think we are upset about is seldom why we are really upset. Undesigning things is about realising that clarity is only truly here and now, in the situation that is just unfolding. The past we can no longer control, it has happened and how we think and remember it is only one version of what really happened. Likewise the future is not here either yet, and we can’t control it either, only increase the likelihood of certain events unfolding through how we think, behave and what we do. Sailing is perhaps an apt analogy, where we can master certain principles, but successful sailing is about being capable of observing the changes in the environment and taking the right action, here and now. Having a plan loose enough to make the most of the moment, without losing your bearings and direction altogether.

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