Post Match Analyses:
I don’t watch soccer and, thankfully, I haven’t wasted much of my life in the last month watching the ‘Euros’. I did see small bits of two games when France beat Germany and Portugal beat France. In the France – Germany game, my impression that Germany were on top throughout the game was confirmed by the facts or statistics which declared that Germany had 65% possession. Notwithstanding that, the pundits afterwards unanimously declared that France were the better team. A story to fit the result! The same happened in the final where France had 60% of the possession and 102 attacks to 79 for Portugal. And yet, once more, I heard the pundits claim that Portugal were the better team, – more organised, better defence etc. Let’s not get into an endless football argument about all this. My point is that I believe in both instances a story, a narrative, was applied to, imposed upon a ‘reality’. This is a natural tendency or temptation – to find an explanation, a rationale, a narrative for everything and I mean ‘everything’ and not just football. After all, the world won’t collapse based on Alan Shearer or Eamon Dunphy’s conclusions on a football game, but when leaders in other more important spheres succumb to the same need for a story, then, that IS important and even serious.
A Story at any Price
This is especially so in the world of Companies and Business where there are even greater expectations on managers to produce a story, an analysis, or a narrative on what is going on, and, to always have one. “So, what’s the plan, then?” The same dynamic applies – an analysis, a story, a narrative provide a feeling of great comfort irrespective of how valid and accurate the narrative actually is. What follows, then, is a plan of action based on that story and it is only when the plan runs into the wall of reality, that the fallacy of the initial story or narrative becomes obvious. But, notwithstanding this, every problem, every major development, every surprise that hits a company is put through the meeting process in order to come up with an explanation, a story, a narrative as quickly as possible. That there may be no one explanation is ignored. That there may not be an adequate plan or way forward right now cannot be tolerated. That confusion, lack of clarity and some chaos are unavoidable for a while is unacceptable in the world of management where everything has to be under control and always so.
Just do Nothing…for Now!
This is no easy challenge. The grievous mistake that ‘any plan is better than no plan’ is as common as it is disastrous as we know from two world wars and a multitude of tragic settlements that have left thousands of deaths in their wake. Nothing short of real honesty and courage will suffice to prevent the false remedy of the quick and definite explanatory narrative. Honesty and courage are essential to face down the requirement to “just do something”, rather than waiting for the far bigger truth to emerge from the fog of complexity. Alfred P. Sloan, the renowned president of General Motors in the 1930’s knew this kind of honesty and courage. At a meeting of his team of directors he was known to say: “I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here…Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.” He knew to doubt, the value of doubting and the danger of the comforting story accompanied by the certainty of the executive.
Honesty and Courage to Trust.
This honesty and courage to resist the quick answer will imbue the entire organization and will create a place of on-going search and learning. It will also give the situation itself, the ‘reality’, the ‘world’, a chance to do its bit in revealing the full and rich truth of what is going on. And, when that truth does emerge, it will, in turn, create a deeply felt conviction on the part of everyone that this is right, that this IS the way to go, and this WILL work. And that will be so because it WILL be the right and best way to go. Not just a nicely packaged story that assuages concern and produces comfort.