The Strategy of Humility
"We have lacked the real humility of recognizing that we are members of the biosphere, the 'harmony of contained conflicts' in which we cannot exist at all without the cooperation of all the organisms around us.... In the same measure, we have lacked the proper self-respect of recognizing that I, an individual organism, am a structure of such fabulous ingenuity that it calls the whole universe into being." ~Alan Watts
While the "cult of the individual" is stronger than ever--I mean who really needs a Apple watch worth 10k?--there is something to be said for an individual that views himself as a part of the bigger picture and not the superstar thereof. Building a strategy for massive returns nowadays is certainly not a new frontier, but getting where there with a modicum of honesty and humility certainly is.
Market analysts like Henry Blodget and tech leader Marc Andreessen have long since begun to prepare us to adjust downwardly for an impending bubble-burst in 2016. I believe that many entrepreneurs and corporate CEOS are finally thinking more carefully and deliberately about whether or not it's worth the risk for their business to pursue outsized returns as opposed to sustainable profit and realistic goals. If this isn't enough to bring people back down to earth, then the obnoxious leader who mulls around the office incanting ROI! ROI! ROI! may soon find himself in a pickle. The raging imperative of their own ego is going to be countered by something far more complex than pure results or the lack thereof.
Let's be honest, as alluring and frankly pandemic as "big hairy audacious goals" might be to anyone and everyone who can actually spell "entrepreneur" correctly, the monster return > gargantuan risk equation is slowly becoming meaningless for the rest of us. Spend enough time with start-up folks and you'll soon see that "big dreams" are often accompanied by absurd projections and rampant narcissism. Making matters worse, leaders like this tend to ignore the toll they have on those around them. As loathe as we might be to admit it--outsized returns put outsizeddemands on employees and stretch normal relationships to their limits. You can read my long-form post, the Real Dilemma of the Knowledge Worker for more on this topic.
How about acceptable returns and reduced risk and return on relationships?
That’s a novel idea for more reason than making your business an easier place to work. Imagine the effect this would have globally. Imagine if businesses were to operate more synergistically with the cultures and ecosystems around them. 'Acceptable returns' does not mean you run your company like a commune, in fact, money has nothing to do with it. What might change minds about corporatism globally is if there was something more compelling, and less risky on the whole--to how we do business. I'm suggesting that the endless search for ROI be tempered by more human-centric values--namely less risk could mean less harm. We must learn to transfer and adjust knowledge to achieve a kind of completeness; to get integration and critical thinking in proportion so that we remain "human" in the management of people and business situations, inculcating our services and products with these values accordingly.
In other words--we must place return on relationship in front of return on investment. This is the core of The Strategy of Humility.
A great deal of chaos in the world occurs because people don’t appreciate themselves. Having never developed sympathy or gentleness towards themselves, they cannot experience harmony or peace with themselves, and therefore, what they project towards others is also inharmonious and confused. ~Chögyam Trungpa
Developing a more human acumen, or strategy of humility means moving towards a broader set of business behaviors that include a profound understanding of our own core competencies, and a more specific understanding of what it takes to achieve organizational goals and objectives in more than one context. To this extent, and due to the fact that change is not only inevitable but occurs so rapidly in today’s hyper-market, it is of crucial importance to be able to equip your people with deep and appropriate understandings of the bigger picture of functional business processes and their inter–relationships. Leaders must develop and practice specific inter-personal and leadership skills. It is essential that we remain human in spite of the speed of our lives.
Competitive strategy is indeed about commitment. But commitment necessarily exposes a business to strategic risk – the possibility that it has committed reasonably, but wrongly. If corporate strategy is nothing more than the attempt to decrease the frequency of such mistakes, then we are sure to be disappointed: there is good reason to think that the CSO is more clairvoyant than CEO. Commitment matters – but commitments are not for strategists to make. The strategic role is not to magically see over the horizon but rather to imagine what challenges one might find there, and prepare accordingly. This frees the team to focus its full attention on the relationships that are already in view and to work as a unit towards what are reasonable, achievable and realistic goals.
Making progress in the Strategy of Humility will require leaders to adopt a fundamentally different mindset. Rather than attempting to squeeze revenue out their employees at every turn, leaders can begin to manage strategic uncertainty differently. The hyper-market we live in demands that we embrace our ignorance of the future, and place relationship at the center of the strategic conversation to quell the tide of untidy chaos and incoherence.