“We are absolute beginners,” David Bowie sang in the mid-1980s. Despite decades of experience in life and work, for me this is as true as ever. Every new situation brings its own pulses and heartbeats to the constellation of particular individuals involved, and its own unique story emerges from patterns of circumstance.
This certainly makes “responding to change” by honing keen perception and lightening quick (and appropriate!) responses more important than “following a plan.” (1) When the uncertainty leads to anxiety, I try to shift from being anxious to simply being curious about what will happen next.
According to Stuart Scott, curiosity and anxiety cannot coexist in the same space. (2) Narrative intelligence recognizes that we are all in the mushy middle of a set of stories yet to be fully revealed. There is art to selecting which moments to claim as beginnings and endings of each chapter, personally and professionally.
On an organizational level, I have seen the role of the curious observer contribute positively to adaptive planning and workplace culture. Scott’s essay helped connect dots for the precise mechanism by which this occurs. Simply wondering aloud what might happen next reminds everyone that there are options, and that we can create more. The end is not predetermined.
In this fast-moving age, many of the voices capable of conveying such actionable insight are not operating at the center of organizations, but at their peripheries. (3) It may be hard to find them, but try looking in the “interstices,” the spaces where entities, teams, or departments meet and/or mix.
Where various organizational peripheries and edges come together, curiosity and fluidity become normative ways to cope with complexity. Curious observers help organizations build up skill and confidence about how to brave uncertainty, negotiate cultural nuances and steer through vast seas of change.
Organizations add value when they learn from their edges and embrace the perceptions of those operating at their interstices. As energetic curiosity gets acknowledged more frequently, astute leaders may seek and detect an overall lessening of anxiety across an enterprise. Holding space open to see what will happen next first enlivens us, then emboldens us, and finally enables us to establish the kind of effective connection through which all manner of complexities can be negotiated and explored.
- What are you most anxious about presently in your work? What is your team most anxious about these days?
- Are you curious about what might happen next? What else might happen instead? What else?…
- Can you identify a chapter that’s concluding? Can you invent a more satisfying ending? What new chapter is unfolding?
- Does your organization hold space open for these kinds of conversations?
(1) The Manifesto for Agile Software Development http://agilemanifesto.org/
(2) I Don’t Know What Will Happen Next, Stuart Scott, Chief Conversation Starter, Guinnen MacRath, LLC. http://www.psvillage.com/pulse/i-dont-know-what-will-happen-next
(3) Power to the Edge: Command and Control in the Information Age, David S. Alberts & Richard E. Hayes www.dodccrp.org
STORY ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE
This is a “found logo” for my business, E. Slomba Arts Interstices. For a couple of months I remained curious about what my logo would look like. Traveling to Bates Dance Festival in Maine on business, I entered the cafeteria and spotted two pieces of blue-lined notebook paper that someone had crumpled up to look like dancers. That was it! Such lucid recombination of material, sign and signifier grasped my attention and “CLICK!” – the camera on my phone did the rest.