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What the World Needs Now

(This morning I received a message from my dear British friend Andrew Campbell, expressing frustration with a couple of people he looked up to, and riffing off the anti-expert, anti-’leader’ tone of my post yesterday on coping with complexity. Here is how I replied.) Over the years I’ve met a lot of ‘leaders’, from senior business executives in large corporations to revered authors to senior government officials. A lot of them have the act right: the charismatics, the leaders that people expect to have all the answers, act as if they do (though they proffer few if their speech-writer or editor hasn’t vetted them). The good speakers know how to use the right words with the right inflection while still not really saying anything except to reassure you that you are right. The good writers know how to take their one interesting new idea and build a $20 book or $1000 seminar around it, and some of them even know enough not to talk about it without rehearsed scripts, because generally they don’t talk as well as they write. The business leaders, some of whom are astonishingly dimwitted (in my observation, people are promoted because they match the image of those doing the promoting, not on merit) just give orders and aren’t foolish enough to try to justify them (they have staff for that). What’s funny to me is that when ‘leaders’ admit to being unextraordinary, when they dare to be authentic, people are usually bitterly disappointed. They believe their adored leader just had an off night, and will be ‘themselves’ again when they put the make-up back on (and may it please be soon). ‘Leaders’ can’t, daren’t, take the costume and the greasepaint off. As much as our world is built on hierarchy and the acceptance that some people are just meant to be leaders and the rest just meant to be followers, my experience is that intelligence and practicality and judgement and emotional wisdom and imagination and creativity are pretty evenly distributed across the global gene pool, and the ability to articulate or otherwise apply whatever one is good at is mostly a learnable skill. That’s why I have no use for leaders, and believe the future rests in the hands of facilitators — people who are able to skillfully help a group of ‘ordinary’ people do their best collaborative work. Facilitators are not teachers; they are from the unschooling school of encouraging people to learn how to learn for themselves (or relearn how to learn if they are victims of the education system, the workplace system and/or the media). active-listeningI hold mentors in equal esteem to facilitators. I mean mentors in the sense of sounding boards and active, empathic listeners for individuals. The word ‘mentor’ is not quite right, since it connotes smarter-than; the best mentors in my experience only speak to help clarify, or to offer advice if it is asked for (and that advice is usually more like possible avenues of exploration or questions to ponder than “what you should do”, since no mentor worth her salt would presume to know what someone else should do). Sometimes a mentor’s gift is just to be present, to listen with compassion and appreciation. Sometimes it’s to demonstrate, a suggestion of “you might try this”. I confess I am a terribly facilitator (I even took a test that confirmed this). I can’t retain my objectivity and refrain from proffering content. But thanks to my imagination and years of reading and thinking about a broad range of subjects, I’m often a pretty good content provider in a well-facilitated group. I am not much better as a mentor, in the sense I describe above, since while I’ve learned to be a better listener, I often can’t resist throwing out unsolicited ideas and advice, and I’m not terribly empathic (too unclear, still, about my own feelings, and often incompetent at conveying them, quietly). What I am, alas, is a visionary — someone who excels at imagining what is possible. Not a very useful skill in an age when we are utterly preoccupied with fighting dragons. (Image of facilitation from NCSU; image of mentoring from UConn) Read the original post on Dave’s blog, How to Save the World. Dave Pollard is the author of Finding the Sweet Spot.

Dave is now probably best known for his weblog How to Save the World, where he writes about understanding how the world really works, and how we might create better ways to live and make a living. Dave is currently VP of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, where he is responsible for research and thought leadership, and more specifically for helping the accounting profession and entrepreneurs in general become more innovative, resilient and sustainable. Prior to this he worked with Ernst & Young for 27 years in many different capacities as CKO and Global Director of Knowledge Innovation, and as Director of Entrepreneurial Services. Dave speaks and writes prolifically on knowledge management, business innovation, and sustainable entrepreneurship. His first book, Finding the Sweet Spot: A Natural Entrepreneur's Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work, has just been published by Chelsea Green. He lives on a natural wetland on the Oak Ridges Moraine northwest of Toronto.

Why We Cannot Save the World

This article is an attempt to respond to those who say they see me as a defeatist, a ‘doomer’, a dogmatically negative person. I have described myself of late as a joyful pessimist, and will try to explain why. This article draws on various theories about complexity, and the phenomenological philosophies of several writers, poets, […] Read More..

What Does Presence Look Like?

Since my retirement, I’ve been attempting to practice being more present. One of the obstacles, I’ve discovered, is that I’m not entirely sure what presence ‘looks’ or ‘feels’ like. I think meditation is a worthwhile practice, but it doesn’t quite capture the full sense of ‘being present’ — that rare and remarkable feeling of being […] Read More..

Preparing for the Unimaginable

One of the lessons of Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan is that the events that have caused the greatest changes (and collectively most of the substantive change) to our civilization and our way of life were completely unexpected, unpredictable “black swan” events. His new book argues that rather than trying to plan and prepare for […] Read More..

Gangsters and Banksters

The Occupy movement has focused public attention on the vast and growing disparity of wealth and power in the US, and increasingly in other affluent nations. You’ve all seen the statistics — essentially all of the increase in real wealth and income over the last 40 years has accrued to less than 1% of citizens, […] Read More..

The End of Strategy

I spent much of my professional career developing and implementing Strategic Plans. The hardest part of this was that most people didn’t (and still don’t) know what ‘strategy’ is: the choice among alternative courses of action, not the determination of goals and objectives. It’s about how, not about what. Most of the ‘strategic’ plans I […] Read More..