Years ago I had the pleasure and privilege of spending some time chatting with Professor Charles Handy one of the most prominent management and organisational philosophers of all time.
He is famous for many important ideas that now permeate the organisational dialogue as though it has always been there.
One that resonates particularly strongly at this time is his idea that “a company ought to be a community, a community that you belong to, like a village. Nobody owns a village. You are a member and you have rights.” This is a powerful idea and one buried deeply in the DNA of all of us. People have lived in villages for millennia while companies have only been around for a couple of centuries. Some villages have grown into cities while others have disappeared off the landscape. There are, of course, many contributing factors but the concept of the village and the villagers taking care of their own is a powerful one. One that many organisations today would do well to pay attention to.
One of the biggest dangers for people at all levels but particularly those at executive level is the trap of busy-ness. The intense focus on ‘working’ hours; the virtual requirement to work beyond normal working hours; the expectation that you should take calls and respond to emails at any hour of the day or week is just that – it is a trap. Expecting people to Work harder and harder is self-defeating. It forces people to abandon rational behaviour and put themselves, their colleagues and the company at risk. Exhausted, over-worked, burnt-out, busy people begin to make mistakes, to take short cuts and these are all the start of the steady downhill spiral.
Of course there are times when long hours and intense focus and concentration are required, but these should not be the norm because if it is then the organisation is increasingly deprived of its most powerful resource – the thinking power, innovativeness, and resourcefulness of its people. Tired people cannot perform at the top of their game for a sustained period. Just watch any sportsman or -woman and you will see this to be true.
Tim Cohen wrote an article in Financial Mail March 9 2016. He was commenting on the demise of Anglo American and quoted an Anglo insider as saying: “It’s so odd, Trahar worked hugely hard, but didn’t take enough time to just think. Nicky Oppenheimer really didn’t expend much effort, but did find time to think. In the end, the difference was immense”.
In conversations that I had with Handy he made similar comments indicating that executives in whatever business who consciously did not put time aside for thinking inevitably would be left behind and their businesses, or parts of a business, would suffer.
As a consultant I see this often. There is such a focus on delivery now that sight is lost of the future coming at us like tsunamis and at an ever-increasing speed. Often it would be much wiser to stop the train, consider the future and context and to make long term decisions that have at least the possibility of avoiding the tsunami, and maybe even the chance of harnessing its energy. Just battening down the hatches and waiting for it to pass could well leave you worse off than before its arrival!
It is all very well to just think you may well say. Random thinking is also not going to be very productive. If you add to this mix that very few of us have actually been taught to think and to use tried and tested thinking skills it becomes a little like shutting the individual in a light-tight room and switching off the lights. You can see nothing and do not have any idea of which direction to walk in.
The starting point of thinking time is to focus on an issue and to imagine the perfect end result of whatever that issue is. Once you have that perfect and ideal picture in your mind work back from there imagining again all the steps that you would have to take to get back from the future to where you are now. Do that a few times and it is highly likely that new doors of opportunity will begin to open.
So thinking time is not just random thoughts floating in your head, it is the intense use of dedicated time to think about the future and how to get there.
You can do this with your team. It makes for a wonderful team-building experience.
Imagine your company as the world leader?! What does it look like? How do we get there if we plan back from the future?
It definitely cannot happen unless you make time to think.
As Einstein said: “The height of insanity is to expect anything to be different if you repeat the things you do today again tomorrow and the day after that again and again. If you want something to be different tomorrow you have to change what you are doing today”!