Seeing spaces hiding in plain sight

In Change, Creativity, Insight, Leadership, Projects, Understanding

It’s all too easy to get caught up, something often described as “not seeing the wood from the trees”.

Although the thing you’re looking for isn’t the wood, nor the trees, but the spaces between the trees, as that’s the easiest way through a wood, without bumping in to trees!

And that’s how it is with any problem.  Most people see the wood and the trees, as if the answer lies somewhere in understanding the two.

For example, management consultancies and the companies they consult on bounce between:

  • It’s a strategy problem, or
  • It’s an organisational problem

When one runs, out, they point to the other.

In projects, it’s thought that it’s a system or process problem, and flip between the two.

Even decades of employee engagement theories and activities have failed to shift the 65 – 85% of employees who are not engaged at work, and the 70% of change management programmes that fail.  They’ve come close to seeing spaces, then get lost in trees and woods.

Even drug and alcohol recovery and weight loss programmes fail in about 80 – 95% of the time.  Again, great systems and processes but a complete misunderstanding of how people operate.

When actually in all these cases it’s a people problem.  Or rather a misunderstanding of how people operate.

And here’s something you won’t hear very often but is the space: all people operate identically.  I’ll say it again but differently: all people have the same operating system of the human mind.

And how do you know you’re starting to understand how people operate?  Well the problem starts going away and people get better.  How do you demonstrate a poor understanding of how people operate?  The problem gets worse and bigger.  No greater feedback than that!

Read any research report and you’ll see the same two conclusions: it’s more complex and we need to do more in depth research.  When was the last time you read a report that concluded: we’ve solved the problem and it’s gone away???

Even the World Bank has realised after decades of economic theory based on rational decision making has realised human beings exhibit seemingly illogical decision making.  Brilliant realisation.  And their answer? Trying to rationalise illogical behaviour!!!

And research in to the future of leadership has realised that the behavioural change approach they’ve been using for decades doesn’t work for leaders of the future. (Their understanding of human behaviour is actually back to front). And their response?  A behavioural change approach the same as previously because, as they put it: “we don’t know what else to do”.  They know the answer lies in spaces but can’t see them.

It’s easy to point to woods and trees and say it’s complex.  And then get lost analysing trees and woods and their relationships and interactions and plotting strategies and processes to negotiate them.  After all, everyone else is doing the same (even though it doesn’t feel the right answer).

Even the Behavioural Insights Team of the UK Cabinet Office (the so-called “Nudge Unit”) get close to the answer, then can’t quite see it.  The answer lies not in the Unit’s insights but creating the space where the people they are trying to change can have their own insights, then their behaviour changes.

And I can talk about trees and woods ad nauseum because I used to design productive forests.  But you won’t notice my work, because it fits in to the landscape and works with how the natural system works.

Today I read that after 70 years of developing the Standard Model of Physics, which doesn’t explain how the universe works, there are physicists looking to break free of it.  I wish them well.

And I know mental health professionals who are looking at ways to break free from the mental illness model that doesn’t explain human behaviour, and they get amazing results. I wish them well too.

And I know project managers who bring in projects on time, on budget and on target and their teams get on and get the job done.

But very few of us see the spaces that are hiding in plain sight.

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