Patience, we are told is a virtue, but it’s also a sign of power. Patience and strategy have a lot in common. In particular, both enable systemic change with their staying power and superpower of noticing. At least that’s what the strategy discussion group realized on Friday, June 29, and I later noticed connected to George Floyd’s predictable surprise murder on June 25.
Living with uncertainty is exhausting and when surprises strain our emotions, logic takes a back seat, and patience is crushed. A Strategy can serve as an insurance policy, as it prepares the mind and the organization for the possibilities and turns surprises into Something else. Aided by a few reference articles (posted below), let me explain.
All across America, crossroads of cities and towns of every size spontaneously draw protestors whose patience has expired. The people participating choose to convert their staying power into collective action, raise their voices, and use their presence to make up for their past silence. The seeming reactionary calls for change have erupted spontaneously and persisted for the past two weeks. This historic precedence for social unrest in the US has also inspired unity with people all across the globe.
After Memorial Day, expectations were shifting as more states lifted restrictions imposed to protect public health from the Pandemic. The focus for many focused on resuming freedoms of movement and engage in social activities. That Friday the strategy zoom discussion also focused on business and took up the topic “Creating synchronicity with patience”– how using coincidentally connected data could be a strategic advantage.
Our discussion prep references inserted unusual ideas–patience, and an alliterative list of considerations that tease out subtlety in connected data–Serendipity, Seriality, Simulpathityand Synchronicity.
By Saturday, my thoughts from the discussion still simmering, a series of conversations led me to play out the connected data associations concerning the death of George Floyd. The story had even been brought up at my synagogue virtual service. By nightfall, I realized the scenario and circumstances of his death were making the story increasingly big and horrible. Friday’s discussion helped me understand it was predictable.
Becoming Aware, Noticing
When notification of imposed curfew popped up on my mobile phone, I was taken by surprise. Outside, the usually busy intersection was quiet, and the city glowed. My response was tepid, dismissive. I attached meaning without thinking. The curfew was a mere continuation or renewal of ongoing public safety measures associated with the pandemic.
That’s just it, surprises by nature occur suddenly, catching us unaware, and the absence of warning triggers a response which may or may not demand our full attention. I didn’t notice what I had missed.
The next morning my understanding and thoughts shifted. A friend called to see if I was all right. Puzzled, I still appreciated her concern.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” I asked. She then called my attention to the news of protest marches and subsequent looting that had happened within a mile of my home.
I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d like to suggest that one way we make meaning of a surprise is we notice features’ coincident with other events. Or as the Psychiatrist Bernard Beitman explains, we must notice surprises in order to interpret their coincidence. He complied the following:
Horace Walpole called non-causal coincident surprises Serendipity. Paul Kammerer focused on their recurrence to define Seriality. Carl Jung observed surprising thoughts moving together in time and coined the notion of Synchronicity. Beitman himself followed with Simulpathity–simultaneous experience at a distance by one person of another person’s distress.
First class Noticers
The connections we make, affect our understanding, attach different meanings, open options, and decision points. Unlike automatic non-cognitive responses, strategic thinking and organizational planning prove powerful when connections made are deliberate, non-reactive. Max H Bazerman, the author of The Power of Noticing describes those who hold this power “first class noticers.”
As mentioned previously, noticing is complicated. Our attention is a protected internal resource that relies on our brain’s complex, highly selective and integrated assessment, and evaluation processes. Multi-tasking is a misnomer, the brain capably switches tasks faster than our ability to perceive a change of focus.
Similarly, organizations use structure, reward, and information systems to notice, enable but also contain and restrict connections in the name of preserving efficiency and effectiveness.
Traditionally, in science and business, practitioners utilize logic in the form of connected causality. Few tolerate or leverage coincidence in any form, especially as their focus favors higher frequency repetitions that further efficiency, and cost-effective scale.
Have you noticed the costs associated with efficiency? For example, short cuts, like habits we believe save time and energy, Their convenience frees our attention for other opportunities. But short cuts draw our attention and narrow our wider situational view, cutting out available data which in turn limits our further understanding. Habits are worse. Their formation in people or organizations reduces flexibility, range of response, and capacity to adapt.
Likewise, change proves difficult for individuals and/or organizations to effect or sustain because habits like social norms and culture prove resilient. They also render patience impractical.
Patience, Jonathan Black echoed in a piece for the Financial Times in 2019, “suggests passivity, forbearance, tolerance and even resignation. None of which are prized in the working world.”
First Class noticers in the form of Behavioral Scientists, User experience specialists and Design thinkers I suggest do recognize opportunities. They use research to seek out Serendipity, Seriality, Synchronicity and even Simulpathity.
They are less surprised by Black Swans, events whose timing is unpredictable and/or unforeseen has low probability of occurring none the less it remains known.
Max Bazerman calls these threatening events Predictable surprises. They represent serious problems that exist, won’t solve themselves, likely to get worse, and thus they become major crises. “Predictable surprises are a unique and significant consequence of the failure to notice important information and the failure to lead based on what you notice.” (p. 170 the power of noticing).
Behavioral Economists familiar with indecision have identified multiple human biases, of which not noticing is the default behavior.
Complex problems take time to sort out, and also a great deal of patience on the part of leaders as well as those assigned to address difficult tasks. Both leaders and problem solvers, Bazerman found sustain their success by learning and practicing behaviors of First-class noticers, a skill the writer Saul Bellow ascribes to someone who is also a seeker and searcher.
Though similar, only the most attentive notice their different intention. That which you seek, may or may not coincide with the location of your search. For example, someone experienced in making connections others might miss often help solve a problem in which the cause and effect are unclear, or unknown. Sherlock Holmes noticed the dog that didn’t bark.
The present era rewards businesses that prove themselves capable of delivering feedback instantly, conveniently makes impatience the norm. Every change surprises and though they appear agile adaptation proves difficult.
At Facebook, engineering teams prized for their agility were accustomed to working within arm’s length. Forced to work from home they struggled to adapt their communications behaviors. Other digitally born firms, who focused on establishing effective work processes also noticed additional value that operating differently makes possible.
BaseCamp, co-founder, CEO Jason Fried knew that effective coding required periods of deep concentration. His incremental experiments with workflow in parallel with improved interaction also freed employees to work remotely prior to the Pandemic. See his book on Remote Work.
Persistent patterns and growing trends threatening the black community were evident long before George Floyd’s murder in the custody of the Minneapolis Police. These first class-noticers recognized seriality in the data. They used Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2014 as an opportunity to raise awareness globally. Seizing power using affirmation they established Black Lives Matter . The surprise outpouring of protest was possible becasue BLM and others were ready for that predicatble Surprise.
The movement sustained itself using the tools and practices deployed by first class noticers to upend the complacency and excuses of coincidence to illuminate the systematic obstacles at work.
I had not missed news of George Floyd’s death on May 25 when the strategy discussion met on Friday the 29th, but I was not alone in failing to notice it’s significance. It’s only in reviewing notes of the group’s conversation that I see the connected takeaways.
- The presence of data that may seem extraneous to your task, or focal range doesn’t make it irrelevant. If anything, the ability to connect independent data points depends on your ability to notice.
- The Four S words remind us of opportunity in coincidence. Making time to scan the headlines and engage with people outside your expertise increases your exposure and opportunity to make meaningful connections.
- Tactical assessments often require urgency and prove easier when patience is exercised in the development of strategic plans. The patience to imagine, notice, nd consider coincident events in advance.
- The Pandemic forced everyone to change their routine. It made us more aware, sensitive to differences, broadened our understanding of doable options,and pushed us to adjust our expectations and priorities. it may help us redefine success to embody resilience, perseverance and incremental wins.
- Patience is an interconnected skill and strategic tool effectively utilized by strong leaders. Its exercise manifests in time to observe, collect data, and think through the second, and third-order effects.
The unprecedented events of the pandemic and subsequent sustained protests following George Floyd’s murder make clear we are all part of a grander social experiment.
Convenience and instant feedback mark the digital experience. They push out patient behavior, which ironically is critical to our ability to notice and interconnect independent events, ideas etc.
Next time you are surprised, take the time to see what else you may have missed. Perhaps you will uncover additional strategic insights or opportunities.
Financial Times, Why Patience is a workplace virtue
Short Evolution from Serendipity to Synchronicity
Overview of Research Design, DataCollection and Sampling
Field Experiments in Strategy