Crisis of Will

In light of the recent difficulties we’ve been experiencing  (e.g. Big Bank Failure, Big Oil Spill) there can be little doubt that we live in very interesting times.  Though we may have experienced similar challenges in the past, today’s challenges are surely bigger and more far-reaching than ever before.  Our technology has afforded us far-reaching capability, but unfortunately the development of our system of orientation and corresponding sense of responsibility has not kept pace.

While we may have different opinions about how to respond, there can be little disagreement that reality forever outruns experience.  That is, reality presents us with circumstances that test the validity of our assumptions/beliefs—our system of orientation—that underlie how we make sense of our world.

Do those in authority (a.k.a. our leadership) see patterns or just separate events?  Do they see each as an independent problem to be fixed or do they see the interrelatedness among them? Do they see these problems as caused by the same system of thought that is woven throughout our institutions? Are those with the authority to change things systems thinkers or reductionist thinkers?

The question then is are those in authority approaching each of these circumstances as opportunity or threat?  That is to say, do those in authority have the will to learn or the will to hold onto belief? If the latter then the recognition of the errors in our assumptions/beliefs will not occur until it is experienced at the extreme—taken to its inevitable conclusion.  In this case, we may be unable to successfully respond—it will be too late.

Moreover, if those in authority try to solve these problems by holding onto the very assumptions/beliefs that underlie and cause the problem, then they would be ignoring Einstein’s advice—we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them! Making small adjustments to the system (i.e. tweaking) rather than transforming the system is representative of this approach.  Unless the assumptions/beliefs are subjected to critical thinking—double loop learning—then all actions in response will be governed by the error in our system of thought.

The importance of being an unceasing learner when living in interesting times can’t be understated.  Our ability to successfully meet the challenges reality thrusts upon us is dependent upon our willingness to learn anew.  Since learning is foundational to viability, having the will to learn is absolutely crucial—progress is not possible otherwise.

What we have is a (self-imposed) crisis of will.  We participate in the creation of our reality and until we fully understand that how we think (or don’t think) has a lot to do with what we experience—over and over again.  Having the will to change enables our ability to change. The saying may you live in interesting times can be thought of as a blessing, as an opportunity to learn, and not a curse.  Have we the will to seize the opportunity before it is too late?

6 thoughts on “Crisis of Will

  1. Achieving revenue targets that are expected to show growth from month to month has led business to focus on improving efficiencies, productivity, and performance. The result of this focus on optimizing labor (more done in less time) in order to increase profits is to reduce the time we have to think about what it is we do or to question the way we do it. Time is Money in the eyes of Business. Double loop thinking has fallen by the wayside – it simply isn’t considered “cost effective” to rethink our assumptions. We “adapt” to changing conditions as symptoms arise but we seldom address the real roots of our dis-ease. Subsequently, we see what we see – massive oil spills & big bank failures. The importance of learning from these lessons NOW “can’t be over-stated”!! Our very lives and the planet we call home may depend on it.

  2. As Gregory points out in his book, the apparent improvements in efficiency, productivity and performance–assuming for the moment that these are real–all too often produce costs that aren’t measured by the quantities we find on income statements and balance sheets. The impact of the Gulf oil spill is eye-catching proof of this phenomenon. But if we take a closer look at the improvements in efficiency, productivity, and performance that do show up on standard accounting statements, we will find that lowered costs often result in lesser products, that performance might look better over the short term when headcounts are reduced, but that eventually the impact shows up in the production of fewer “good” products and services.

    To Jacqueline’s point, I also see businesses short-changing good organizational practices in the name of cost-effectiveness. This isn’t new. Getting organizations to invest in their people’s development (leadership training, involvement in continuous process improvement) has rarely been an easy sell. But management has surely become more brazen about resisting this sort of investment for the last two decades.

    I continue to believe that the gains of the short-term thinking lifted up in the previous comments are mostly illusory. What’s really happening is “harvest now, pay later.”

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