If you happened to be listening to conversations in this period, perhaps like me you have come across imaginary paintings with more or less bright colors: brilliant or dramatically dark. In each case we ask ourselves what we have been, and above all, what we are now. A condensation of emotions, feelings, affections and rationalizations that brings together individual, social and corporate perspectives.
Imagine taking a jump into the future with no limitations of space or time. Where does the though take you? What does it look like? What scenarios, what feelings come to you? The events of the past months have been a stimulus to challenge ourselves and understand how to realize our desires and expectations, a push to take a stand with respect to what is happening within and around us. A tension that encourages reflection, a time to devote to what is happening inside. Inside ourselves, the company, the family, the society, the services, the markets.
Why ally with uncertainty?
This inside-out journey confronts us with the evidence of the impossibility of rationally controlling reality, social and organizational contexts by reducing them to a unitary vision.
Is economic growth and the refinement of technology really the most effective solutions for satisfying needs and for making progress? The events of the last few months have even more strikingly disproved all this. By now, the expectation of finding consolidated solutions for social problems, for the optimal management of companies and institutions, has clearly been undermined. The hope of controlling the future has vanished, due to an increasingly fragmented and ungovernable reality.
The future is a mental construction to cope with the uncertainty of life.
Typically, uncertainty generates the need to put events in order, to “tame” them within a linear problem-solving logic. We delude ourselves that we can do so by drawing on a precise framework of expertise, rules, best practices, solutions and outcomes that mitigate our anxiety.
What do we do with the experience?
I doubt, however, whether what we are dealing with here can be traced back to unambiguous and predictable frames of meaning. In the words of David Snowden, it is difficult to bring back reality to the linearity of the obvious (simple) or the complicated. The attempt to “keep everything under control” fools us into believing that we can do so by building rules, “definitive” arrangements, closed and complete projects. It is clear to everyone that we are immersed in a reality that goes in another direction.
The reality in which we are immersed needs very loose, porous, and sometimes non-existent boundaries. It nurtures spaces for rethinking, for doubts and verifications, for going beyond, for going back over and starting again.
Photo by Andrey Larin on Unsplash
Back to children
If we take a look at our children we find great inspiration. As they grow up, children teach us that when all seems to have been achieved, they sometimes “regress”. It is then up to us as parents to start over again from the previous step and to accompany them towards the acquisition of new security, skills, abilities and freedom.
The same thing applies in our lives and in organizations. Experiences and points of views are in constant motion and ask us to read the past and the present, deconstructing the linear vision which we tend to have. This creates the need to go back, to reread and revise, to make the experience evident in order to understand or simply accept it, and then continue.
A missed domain
It is perhaps, as Latour puts it, a matter of “uninventing modernity”. An invitation to abandon the illusion of being able to rationally master events and reality. It is an invitation to reclaim the ability to “think and reflect” even within organizations, in a process that unlocks the future and does not just repropose the past as a mere compulsion to repeat. This tendency can also be hidden in the obsessive construction of plans, programs, projects, deliberations that tend to make “maximum” clarity on the future.
The illusion is that of being able to sort out, eliminate problems and uncertainties. The here and now has this same anaesthetising power. Continuous attention to what is happening – in the “there is an urgency or need to do” – heavily conditions representations of the future, prevailing over reality. This generates the risk of falling back on one’s own daily reality, under the weight of the helplessness that it creates in its calming operativeness.
Retrospective and open eyes
So what do we do with the past and our experiences? The opportunity arises to retrospectively look at what emerges, keeping our eyes alert and curious. Our challenge is to build the future without erasing the past and, at the same time, without elevating it to an irrefutable example. The past, what has been, becomes a legitimate and fundamental interlocutor for the construction of present and future opportunities.
Imagine, dream, not just plan
“If you see the wonder of a fairy tale you can take the future even if you fail”
Are we really ready to imagine the future? The challenge is to build a dreaming future, free, at least partially, from purely contextual readings and from economic, political and social indications. And why is that? Because they have a strongly paralyzing power, constraining choices, strategies and rethinking the organization. It is important to consider external data but, at the same time, not to blur our eyes when identifying objectives and priorities for change and transformation.
“Thank you for letting us dream while keeping our feet on the ground“, I was amazed with this phrase by participants in an organizational development course. It is not us consultants who make people dream, the dream is an integral part of building the future of every company. Every now and then, it is a matter of metaphorically closing our eyes and going beyond contingency, in order to return with a more curious and empowering breath and gaze.