The Heretic (an essay of sorts)


For the most part, I don’t give a shit about results anymore. I know, I’m a heretic. Especially at work where the mantra is all’s about delivering results.

But what is the result of our life but just death? Results are the ends. I’m much more interested in the means. How we get there, wherever there might be.

I recently caught myself admitting to a colleague that I like when we have problems on our projects. When something goes “wrong”. Because then we have the opportunity to learn and to try to fix it. There is so much more growth this way.

Of course, given the choice, I prefer to achieve so-called ‘good’ results vs. ‘bad’ results eventually. But not because of the result themselves, but rather because it keeps me employed and allows me to keep going and learning. Getting a salary is not a bad thing and I’d like to keep doing it. Not only to have the cash on hand, but to use it to enjoy life or help others when.

One might argue that the growth/learning from overcoming a challenge is another result and the above is only semantics. But growth means nothing on its own. It only takes on its value when you move along and start to apply it. It’s like force/strength in physics. It only becomes power when applied and progress is made.

In my creative life I’ve published six books. They sit on a shelf and I’ll admit that I appreciate them at some level. They are objects that represent my creative efforts and growth. Yet, the real pleasure is when someone reads them. Perhaps some of it is pride and desire for recognition, but I feel it’s more about sharing an experience between myself and the reader on our respective life’s journeys. Any feedback nourishes me so that I can keep on creating, but in new ways.

Recently my latest manuscript, a collection of poetry inspired by poems, was rejected by a ‘dream publisher’ and I was very disappointed. I thought my concept was great and it was some of my best work yet. Yes, I wanted the “yes”. I was sad upon the news which was provided gently but generically. Yet, when I went back to my manuscript to review it again, I found many areas that could be strengthened. In the almost six months of waiting for the publisher to respond to my query, I’d already grown and my work improved vs. the original submission. The “rejection” was an opportunity for me to reflect. And I’ve decided to move forward in a related but new direction for the work and see what becomes of it.

Letting go of the results is a key to creativity. I work in the field of innovation. As an engineer I was trained to fix problems. This is important know-how, but it can get in the way of creativity. Engineers constantly start with the solution first. With the end in mind. Then they are either successful or unsuccessful in making the solution viable. Yet most historical innovations are discovered not planned. They come from “accidents” or “surprises”. Not all, but most. However it doesn’t need to be this way. If we learn to allow the “result” or “solution” to be undefined and focus on the problem with an open mind we allow space for creativity and enable the discovery of unexpected solutions.

This is a key principle of Design Thinking in the field of innovation. To focus on defining an innovative and insightful problem statement (without presupposing the solution) is the most critical step in the process. Once you have an innovative problem statement, you’ve dramatically increased your potential of coming up with an innovative solution.

To develop an insightful and innovative understanding of the problem to be “solved” without projecting solutions is hard. It takes divergent thinking which goes against most of our training. Engineers and scientists are trained to apply scientific laws and mathematics to deduce results and converge on an answer. Marketers and business people are also trained to be analytical in their thinking and rationalize their way to an answer. We’ve been very good in developing professionals that are masters of convergent thinking. In China, where I work, this is also compounded by the culture where “top-down”, directive management is the norm. Here the solution is mandated by the boss and then there are a 1000 hands to make it happen. The lack of diversity of thought stifles innovation.

I’ve been working in China now for over a decade and what I’ve discovered is that the talent here is extraordinary when unleashed by the right leadership mindset and given a safe space to learn. I’ve been pretty successful in developing this type of space for my team and I’ve seen tremendous growth in my team members. I’ve been less successful in managing up and across the organization to have a broader impact. I bristle at the directive leadership style and micromanagement that comes from it and I tend to be a bit judgmental of leaders with that approach. I think I’m coming to a realization that I have a learning opportunity as to how to provide an environment that helps these other leaders learn. What is their “safe space” to grow and learn? Instead of challenging and banging my head against the wall (ceiling) counterproductively, how can I draw out the best of them. This is hard for me. A problem without clear solution. A perfect growth opportunity for myself.

I had no idea where this write was going. I guess that’s fitting considering I’ve been making the point that I don’t focus on the results. But I’ve enjoyed the journey and glad to have you come along for the ride.


Be well,

Monty


4 Comments

  1. This is an interesting post for many different reasons Monty. I like the story you shared about submitting your poetry manuscript and being knocked back. If you were purely results driven then you could hypothesise that your result (the completed manuscript) was a failure, but you yourself looked at your manuscript and, with the length of time which had elapsed , could see room for improvement – which I would call a successful result regardless of the previous result which was a rejection. And there could be another result stemming from your revision which could be an acceptance of your amended and updated manuscript. From this I would have to conclude that there is no such thing as a result until the experiment comes to an end. A result is a series of moving targets until then. The only final result as we know the term, comes from ceasing to work towards another result. Difficult to theorise but is easily summarised by the old maxim which goes something like “there is no failure unless you decide not to continue to get up” or something like that, or maybe (less politically correct) it’s not over until the fat lady sings, and if the fat lady ain’t singing then it’s not over yet”. Keep writing Monty, I enjoy your posts and poetry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Monty Vern says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ll definitely keep writing and seeking growth. It’s a much more interesting life than without it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very insightful post, Monty. One of the things that has annoyed me the most during my career is when a leader gives you a problem to solve, sends you off to figure things out, but has already decided on the “right answer”, and when the answer you give isn’t their idea of the “right answer”, they reject your work and tell you to do what they wanted in the first place. I’ve often wanted to scream “IF YOU KNEW WHAT YOU WANTED, WHY DID YOU WASTE MY TIME?” (Ahhh…I feel better for getting that off my chest)

    Design thinking works if people are given the luxury of time to correctly use it. Even today, in an environment where we are supposed to apply human-centred design, leadership often has their ideal solution in mind at the outset of a project. This make it difficult for those of us who are really trying to do the right thing for our customers.

    Like

    1. Monty Vern says:

      Agree with your points and share your frustration. There is a big difference between real human centric design and just using the language because it’s the current trend in leadership/design. We do need to provide real space for divergent thinking in terms of both time and freedom to explore. Only after spending quality time and creativity on that is it appropriate to apply some time pressure and converge. “Leaders” that only want to see what they already have in mind are wasting all the talent of their teams and frankly should be weeded out of the system.

      Liked by 1 person

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