I’ve always been fond of English literature. I studied it as one of the three A Levels (the UK equivalent of HSC) and, 35 years on, I still remember loving one of the set authors, the American F Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is best known for his works, ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Tender is the Night’. Like any good lit student, I could rattle off quote after quote, like “Her voice is full of money”, or “So you ruined me, did you? ...Then we're both ruined...". The deeper side of this troubled soul was explored in a collection titled ‘The Crack Up’. Its most famous quote is his observation that.
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."
I am not sure that I understood its meaning as a young man, but, it now speaks to me as a keen observation as to what is lacking in so many of our leaders.
Dumbing it down
I write this just a few days after Brexit and in the last death throws of an Australian election campaign, that has been as uninspiring as it was long. Without getting into the morass of either, there is a uniting theme; ‘leaders’ of all persuasions portraying a world of simple choices. “In or out?” “Tax or spend?” “Growth or fairness?”
The truth is inconveniently untidy
Our world is far less binary. As leaders, we have to navigate our businesses and people through uncharted waters in the face of accelerating change and continuous disruption. ‘Last-year-plus-a-bit thinking’ no longer cuts it. We have to innovate, to trust our gut, to guess, to make-it-up. We must be prepared to fail and treat that failure as a positive step. Against this reality the ‘cast-iron’ proclamations of Shorten/Turnbull as to where the budget will be in 10 years, (when they can’t tell you where the iron ore price will sit next Tuesday) are literally incredible.
Holding the tension
Pollies simplify everything because they believe they must to get message ‘cut through’. To an extent, it’s true that complex thinking and messaging can get lost (or twisted) in translation. Sadly, it may also be true that this childlike parroting or mantras like “jobs and growth” is effective in the confines of an 8-week election campaign.
It’s a harder game for our business leaders. Dumbing it down does not work across 52 weeks. To succeed in the face of a VUCA world of Vulnerability, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity, we surely need Fitzgerald’s ‘first-rate intelligence’. We need leaders who can hold in a positive tension apparently contradictory forces; for example the need to improve productivity with fewer staff whilst simultaneously improving the level of people care.
Simplexity is key
Rather than dumb it down, we must smarten it down. Think of the effort that smart phone designers put into creating one digit, intuitive ‘buttons’ that sit on top of literally thousands of options and permutations. In the same way, our leadership needs to be both simple to understand and access, yet nuanced and bespoke in the way it is felt by an individual. This is Simplexity – the complex made simple (accessible and elegant). It puts a premium on ideas, collaboration and innovation. As About My Brain Institute founder Silvia Damiano says, it is why we are now in the Imagination Age – an age that demands so much more from its leaders than to simply be experienced or intelligent.
Up for the challenge?
As leaders then we need to step up. We need to think at a higher level and we need to think twice. Firstly about the solutions to the new challenges we face. Secondly about the best way to connect those ideas to move, inform and inspire those we lead. For a generation or more, many leaders have been asleep at the wheel - able to succeed simply by repeating cookie cutter solutions. As is now clear, that time is past. We need the ‘first-rate intelligences’ as defined by Fitzgerald a century ago.
Are you up for that challenge?
Work with Mark
Mark Hodgson’s expertise is built around 5 Pillars: Personal Leadership, Thought Leadership, Change Leadership, Neuro Leadership and Community Leadership.
A Speaker, Author and Mentor, Mark works with leaders, entrepreneurs and teams to help them achieve success in work and life.
To set up an exploratory conversation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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