Busily doing nothing

It is fascinating to watch people coping with the current restrictions and the enforced inactivity it is imposing.

Most of us find it really hard to do nothing. We feel bored. We feel guilty. We are brought up to expect to be distracted by things or activity. We are brought up to see doing nothing as being lazy.

But isn’t this the source of so many of our problems?

We are so busy trying to achieve, making money to buy more and more things, constantly travelling to be more places, that in the process we are exhausting ourselves and the planet.

Isn’t it nice to stop, even if just a while? Could we get used to it?

Making sense of a tragedy

In my previous post I talked of a more decentralised future that may emerge from our current situation. Such a future will call for new ways of looking at the world, new ways of working together, and new tools to do so.

Some of you will know my friend Dave Snowden and his work on understanding and managing complexity. Over the twenty years that we have known each other we have had some wonderful conversations, usually on Welsh mountains, about helping people adapt to more complex world and the impact this would have on individuals and society. I have also watched as he developed the Cynefin framework and his powerful tool SenseMaker.

This was all before the world was thrown even more up in the air by the current COVID-19 crisis. Dave’s ideas and methodologies have always felt right – they now feel critical.

He and his team have pulled together an impressive set of resources that could help us deal with our challenges and increase our learning from them. They may well help an organisation near you…

The cathedral, the bazaar and a virus

It’s ‘ interesting to watch centralised, structured power struggling to cope with decentralised, unstructured challenges. We have been brought up to expect “the state” to protect us from threats. We expect them to protect us against coronavirus.

But what if decentralised problems are too much for them? What if centralised solutions can’t cope? What if they collapse under the strain?

We are beginning to see alternatives. As more of us get better at using the distributed, decentralised, networks of the internet, we increase the likelihood that the information we get through these networks becomes faster and more reliable than the alternatives. We are also being thrust into using online networks to do our work, our shopping, our learning, and to maintain our sense of community.

Although there is noise in the system (there is in any system) this is not about “fake news” nor is it an argument against expertise. The experts are also benefiting from increasing use of online networks to share and work together without going through centralised authorities, cutting out middle men in efforts to speed things up. We are also able to watch them doing so and benefit more directly from their learning.

The provision of resources to help us deal with the effects of this virus are currently centralised – hospitals, food, financial support – and as such they risk becoming single points of failure. But what if they weren’t?

What if out of all of this we learned to rely less on the centre and the “top”? What if we learned to help each other, to do so more locally, and through flexible, complex adaptive systems rather than hierarchical, centralised brittle ones?

What is an organisation?

This question has always fascinated me and there have always been a number of different possible answers. Some see it as represented by the hierarchical org chart. For others it is a network of networks. In reality it is a combination of the two. But for most of us our organisations have been closely associated with their buildings. You “go” to work.

That is until now!

Given that very few of us are “going to work”, including the senior management, what is the organisation now? Where does it exist? Is it just in our heads? Was it always?

Locked in.

It’s nothing new, we do it all the time. We do it to ourselves. We do it in our own heads.

All it takes is some casual comment, something we read, something we’ve seen, and all of a sudden an anxiety or fear will be triggered and we lock onto that thought.

Terrier like, we refuse to let it go. We niggle with it, run it round and round, we will do anything but put it down and let it go.

While we’re doing this the rest of the world ceases to exist. Locked into thought like this we can’t even see what’s right in front of us – even with our eyes wide open. We are stuck in our own head. Isolated in our mind’s vice like grip.

But as soon as you notice this, the lock releases. Noticing that you have been caught in this vice like grip dissolves it immediately.

Being locked in is a habit. The habit can be broken. All it takes is to notice it.


We spend so much of our lives striving. Striving to get somewhere better. Striving to be someone better. Striving to get away from where we are.

But now we are stuck. We can’t get anywhere. And we get bored. We get bored because we can’t bear to be where we are.

But we don’t know where we are going. We don’t know what’s next.

We just know that we are here now, and what is happening is what is happening. And it’s ok.

There’s peace in that thought.

There always was.

No way back

Watching an unprecedented flourishing of creativity, collaborative energy, and mutual online respect brought about by our current challenging circumstances. We won’t forget this, and we can’t go back to “business as usual”.

This will change how we perceive businesses, governments, nations, how we build cities, how we relate to each other, what our aspirations for the future are… everything.