One of the great themes of strategy is that the future may not be what we think.
At the most basic level, this idea arises from a human tendency to assume the future will be the same as the present. After all, we live in the present and do not relish the thought that our present experiences are not ultimately significant.
And so, strategists attempt to persuade us to create future possibilities. Sacrifice a bit of our enjoyment in the now to position ourselves for a better tomorrow. Some might even call this an ethical demand. “Don’t be lazy!” You get the idea.
There is an odd aspect to this future thinking. There is not one, but two futures to be concerned about. One is the immediate future. The next moments that the present will flow into. The other is the storyline future. This is further down the road, not imminent.
From a strategic point of view, they have different value. Our immediate futures offer limited possibilities. They are constrained by our past and present. But the story ending is less so. It is something that depends on our imaginations.
There is some research that suggests that believing in our stories — what great things could arise from our lives — helps make them happen. That belief can be converted into an attitude about life.
Part of the strategic learning process is story building. Great lives are great stories, created by the people who lived them. And then they are told by many others because the story resonates. A basic point — stories won’t resonate with others if they do not resonate within yourself.
So how do we build stories that resonate with ourselves? Part of the challenge is taking a closer look at what we mean when we say “ourselves”. We are a lot of things put together. And not all of those things resonate. Some are just dross. Stuff that we would like to keep private. Some are just details. Boring stuff. So what is left over? Good question. What is actually there beyond the dross and the detail?
Consider this opening line from a book by famous trial lawyer Gerry Spense. The book is called “With Justice for None“. BTW, that is a title that resonates.
I feel like a farmer who has spent all of his life on forty rocky ares and one day thinks he’s qualified to tell you something about the state of agriculture in America.
The narrative theme is — a man worked hard all his life at something that may not have produced much has something to say. You may not agree with what that man is going say, but you have to respect where he coming from. His identity resonates.
Does yours? If you cannot say “yes” with confidence, don’t despair. Too few among us can honestly say “yes”. And this is something we can work on. Indeed, we should work on it if we want to develop a strategic sense.
I took in two ideas that will stick with me. The first was about Plato. I knew this, but it was useful to hear it again — self-reflection is critical to see behind the surface of things. Know thyself! So far so good. The second was that these days, humans are terrible at this.
The second link goes to an Atlantic article that points out that writing about ourselves is actually healthy. But our culture does not promote it.
But … if you are interested in developing strategic capacity, this is essential. All strategic learning starts from an informed idea of who you are and how you want to use that identity.
I did not think that these issues would be so controversial, but apparently they are. Fife hundred years ago, Nicolo Machiavelli wrote a short book called “The Prince”. The book is a “how to … “manual. We are well acquainted with the genre today. But Machiavelli was interested in disclosing how to gain and maintain power. This was shocking.
Back then, the shock was to admit that not all powerful people obtained their position by the will of God. They helped God along with clever tactical and strategic thinking. Whether Machiavelli was right or wrong, his idea was anathema to the Catholic Church, an institution that was in the business of transmitting God’s approval and disapproval to the powerful.
The book is shocking still. The shock today is more about the ends justifying the means, something that Machiavelli has no problem with. If the end or goal is public welfare, we should be flexible in judging how we achieve it. BTW, this is a less polite but not unfamiliar argument made by Bentham at all that some may suffer if more are better off.
But can the ends justify the means? Machiavelli argues that they can in situations that are less than perfect. And man — being less than perfect — creates these situations all the time.
But can we perfect man? We are not gods and we should not pretend that we are. At the same time, we can see more clearly who we are and what is around us. We can celebrate our lack of certainty through the pursuit of science. And this is what Bronowski thought was man’s greatest achievement.
It is a strategic starting point.
I just took a look at the identity section of the above model. It hit me how easy it is to get absorbed by identity — and the wrong type of identity. As Csikszentmihalyi argued back in 1991, our culture sends messages — often very subtle messages — that having a strong and somewhat fixed identity is a good thing. The more we adopt this pose, the less flexible we are to learn. How to get beyond this? Indeed, you can by understanding how to work with your identity rather than treat identity as a goal in itself. That is what this model does. Interested? Let me know and we can go further!
Are you a person who worries about yourself? Apparently, you are not alone. Research suggests that humans spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about themselves. It is mostly ego related. Am I who I should be+ Am I a success? And on and on.
Here is a post, for example, that suggests you look even closer to get a more “accurate” self-assessment. What is wrong here? Simple. The self is not the main event in life. The self is only part of a larger story. And the more you focus on the self, the more you miss that larger story.
The real challenge is to fit the self into fantastic stories that are unfolding that you want to be remembered for playing a part in. That is a strategic challenge. And that is what this strategic model does with the self. BTW, one section of the course is devoted to “self” or “identity” issues. Interested? Let me know.