Call to Action

February 7, 2009

When I wrote ‘The Strategic Mind’ I was determined that it would be a practical book. As a result I based it around stories; lots of them. Some are longer case studies but many are simply brief illustrations, mostly from my own personal experience. In short, I have written about everything from Apple to the ‘Leafy Bean’, a small café in Shanklin in the Isle of Wight. This week, I have tended to concentrate more on the conceptual side of strategic thinking so now I would like to rebalance. Having a good theoretical framework for making a difference is quite different from actually doing something! We can certainly improve our skills in strategic thinking by using the seven key disciplines explored in the book. To become a leader, however, we need to integrate this framework into our actions and there is much to be done. First, however, a brief comment on the seventh discipline of strategic thinking; ‘dream’


There is something a little bit ‘fluffy bunny’ about the concept of dreaming. To some, it is the product of ‘new age’ thinking with the flavour of books that develop from idea exchanges on the beaches of Malibu. I like to think of dreamers as dangerous; to me they are people like Steve Jobs, who, if you forgive me the pun, ‘upset the apple cart’. There is nothing as powerful as a dream. We may recognise the truth in this statement but the process by which our dreams become a reality is far less obvious. Too often, dreams are no more than daydreams; interesting no doubt but hopelessly impractical.

I am very fortunate to work with many dreamers and they all share a sense of that impracticality. But they get things done anyway. They make things happen that appear ‘impossible’ or hopeless to the rest of us. They build great companies, found movements and change the world for the better. They follow their dream when it is not sensible at all, even into the jaws of disaster and somehow they emerge out the other end. The process is messy and sometimes chaotic and often challenging for the rest of us. They often ‘crash and burn’, sometimes more than once! They make things happen through a process of serendipity and synchronicity – the chance coming together of events and circumstances that cannot be explained by simple reductionism.

It’s true that some dreams come from a positive vision of a better place or a sense of opportunity of what could be. Many, however, reflect some area of our lives where we have either experienced pain or where things simply aren’t working as well as we would like. Dreams often lurk in the shadows, occasionally arising directly from the most painful experiences of our lives. It is our desire to mitigate this pain for ourselves and for others that often drives us to change the circumstances that led to it. The process of revealing and energising these dreams – at the simplest level a better way of doing things then we have experienced – provides the commitment and passion to make them a reality. It’s that paradoxical relationship between vision and current awareness (the reality in front of us) that enables us to achieve our dreams.

Rick Jarow, author of ‘Creating the Work you Love’ and currently Assistant Professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, teaches about living from the most authentic part of ourselves and learning to express our values and talents through work. When somebody approaches him and explains that they have difficulty in getting a project going or moving towards an aspiration and then asks ‘when will I make it happen?’ his reply is both simple and brief, ‘when you get angry enough.’ Simple it may be but it is both powerful and insightful. The fact is that we can’t expect to make something happen unless there is some real ‘fire in our belly’, unless what we’re aiming for really means something to us. That’s ultimately what distinguishes a dream from a daydream.

Call to Action

‘If you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew
You never knew’
‘Colours of the Wind’, A Menken & S Schwartz (from the movie, Pocahontas)

I have had a very interesting career. I started life as an accountant (and was hopelessly ill suited to it) and moved through corporate finance into strategy. During my time as a strategy consultant I have undertaken projects that run the whole gambit from traditional corporate strategy and business finance, ‘change management’ projects and more people oriented work such as strategic facilitation and mentoring/coaching. I also write and teach and that’s how I would describe myself today; a writer and a teacher.

I didn’t plan this career; it just happened that way. But as a result I’ve met all kinds of interesting people, people who make a real difference. Some are business executives, some are educators and some are entrepreneurs/social entrepreneurs. Others are musicians, writers and small business people. Most would not use the term ‘leader’ to describe themselves and would certainly not think of themselves as strategic thinkers. However, they see the world differently and they have the capacity to make things happen. To me they are strategic leaders because they have the capability to make a profound difference, often in relatively unseen ways. I think we can all do this. That’s why I wrote the book.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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