Success lies in being able to master paradox and ambiguity


‘Noise’ fills our days, mindless messages are a constant. High sounding words such as ‘strategic transformation’ abound.

Photo credit: File

 “As you are, so is the world” is an ancient wisdom. In business, we see things not as they are, but through the windows of our mind, the filters of our perception.

If reading a few management tips, or watching a few YouTube clips was all that was required, everyone would be a success in business. In today’s world, knowledge has become bordering on free. What can’t you learn on the internet?

From watching the guru of innovation, Clayton Christensen talking to students at Oxford’s Said Business School about disruptive innovation, to learning how to fix a plumbing problem, it’s all just a click on the computer in your pocket, your smartphone.

Yet, knowledge is the booby prize. Adult’s don’t learn best by being preached or lectured to, they learn by doing. Confucius said it best, 2,500 years ago: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."

So being in action, taking small risks, experimenting, being agile, quickly adapting, is one step on the route to successful profitable outcomes.

Awareness is everything. After all, if you are not aware of something, how can one know whether or not to change it? Much of business success lies in being able to master paradox and ambiguity. In order to go upwards and forward, one needs to go inwards. It is interesting that Sadhguru’s advice to young people is just be with themselves, alone for two days.

For many the prospect of being alone with oneself for that time, in our ‘always on’, Facebook world seems a frightening prospect. Yet, if one can’t try and know themselves, how can they know others, much less diagnose a business problem, with any degree of insight ? Notice the constant chattering in our minds, not being able to focus, a bit like a monkey in a fruit tree, constantly swinging from branch to branch.

‘Noise’ fills our days, mindless messages are a constant. High sounding words such as ‘strategic transformation’ abound. In the hard light of day, the verbiage is all fluff, meaningless chatter, where ‘strategic transformation’ turns out to be a long awaited change in operations, or possibly, no real shift, just more of the same.

Focus, and clearing out the mental clutter always helps. It’s worth asking: what one thing, would make all the difference in business performance? What would be the game changer that turns the situation around ?

When you think about it, business is just an artificial distinction. It’s just life, what we do eight to five, to earn a living.

In business, how do we learn? Imagine you are playing tennis. Do you learn by someone constantly correcting you, criticising your every move? Timothy Gallwey’s 1974 book ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ had a profound influence of John Whitmore, one of key thinkers behind the current boom in executive coaching. As a tennis coach, Gallwey, found that just letting players watch him play was more effective than him issuing instructions, allowing the unconscious mind absorb images of good play.

David is a director at Catalyst Consulting [email protected]