Yes, we would like very much to have everything under control! We want things to happen just the way we planned things to be. We put an incredible amount of energy into the planning and design of our life. Every day we surrender to the illusion of being able to control everything.
Anyone who has already experienced strokes of fate and personal crises has at least briefly realized that this is not the case. However, it is within our nature or much more in our western culture that we tend to quickly forget this experience and to strive for full control of our life again.
But also far-reaching crises - beyond the immediate and personal environment - show us at regular intervals that we humans do not have a grip on nature, that sometimes we do not master the technology we have created, and that the economic markets often do not follow our forecasts. I am thinking of the financial crisis in 2008, the natural disasters and the associated nuclear accident in Fukushima in 2011, and the current pandemic.
What if we could accept that not everything can be controlled and determined by us?
We would accept the new situation (at least in times of crisis) as is and would have time and energy to act creatively within the unknown and initially unwanted circumstances. This adaptability can be applied to our personal life, the corporate context and our entire society.
In a personal context, it means actually seeing what is still possible despite Corona. What is left for us despite the contact ban and home office, or what has even been made possible by the crisis? Zen master Alexander Poraj described this beautifully in his current YouTube keynote speech (see link below).
For me, that clearly means to spend more time in nature and with the family. It also allows me to increase my focus because so many appointments on the evenings and weekends have been dropped. For my small business, it also meant a faster path to digitization - I hadn't even considered providing online workshops and online trainings before Corona. It also offers the opportunity to concentrate on fewer customers and get fully involved, instead of constantly juggling too many balls. Plus the time to finally set up a newsletter like this.
In the corporate context, the crux with ‘illusion of control’ becomes even clearer. How much time is spent in companies predicting sales figures, agreeing on individual goals, measuring and incentivizing managers. Now - in this global crisis - all this data, the plans and figures, are no longer valid. What to do now? In a corporate culture characterized and purely driven by sales figures or shareholder value, there is great uncertainty in this exceptional situation as to which criteria should be driving management decisions. Which goals apply when maximizing sales or profits is being made absurd?
Could values, such as the social contribution of a company and its management together with its sustainability concepts and respectful treatment of its employees, at least complement the typical goals of corporate management? In my view: a resounding yes! Of course, a company must be profitable, otherwise it will endanger its own existence. But it is now becoming clear that these additional social and sustainable control principles can be applied in any economic situation. They will provide managers with valuable decision criteria even in crises situations. Frédéric Laloux calls it controlling according to the 'sense'.
The definition of the kind of social contribution must, of course, be answered individually in every company individually based on its skills and the current social challenges. This means that no five-year plan can be drawn up for this. When the climate crisis threatens society the most, sustainability concepts together with innovative technologies are of the highest relevance. If a pandemic threatens humanity, switching production to breathing masks, respiration apparatus or simple things like hand disinfectants is a major social contribution.
These situational decisions require managers to think outside the box: that means looking beyond their personal careers and the sole good of their own company. The ‘Süddeutsche Zeitung’ – a German newspaper - headlined this fact, 'The country needs new managers' (see link to online essay below). Acting and controlling with a higher purpose requires above all courage from managers to leave old thinking and behavior. This courage can only arise from the insight and awareness of the fact that it is not in our power to control everything.
In a societal context, I would like us not to ask our governments at federal and state levels for predictability where there is none. No one knows how the virus will spread if we continue to open up social life. So why don't we just accept the fact that the virus doesn't care about our plans and desires?
In my opinion, schools have accepted the situation. They re-direct their energy towards creative solutions and prepare to work with digital learning concepts in the long term, at least as a supplement to classroom instruction. Today, a call for donations for PCs and laptops reached us from our school in order to support families that are not yet sufficiently digital equipped. In my view, such activities are so much more meaningful than to call for plans, describing how we can get back to our previous state as quickly as possible, if it is not in our power to achieve it.
Conclusion: Yes, I know that the word humbleness does not really fit into our performance society, but if we all had a little more of it, we would find it so much easier to cope with this exceptional situation.
This text first appeared in my newsletter 'Innovation on Wednesday'. It is published every other Wednesday. For subscription click here