Thursday, August 19, 2010

Embracing Fuzziness

It's a full-blown cliche that today's rapidly changing world is full of uncertainty. For individuals this is hard enough to navigate, but for many groups this is near impossible territory. Anyone who has ever participated in group decision making knows that groups tend to have a much harder time arriving on a shared plan than individuals. Top-down hierarchies have been the traditional approach to dealing with this organizational quandary, reducing much of group decision making to the decision making of an individual. And, it is another full-blown cliche that even those structures have become ineffectual given the complexity and unpredictability of today's environment.

So what practices can we embrace in our groups that can help us move forward? This is, of course, way too rich a topic to explore fully in a single blog post. However, I put forth that one key element is embracing fuzziness. Many of us big brained apes try to get a clear picture of the territory mapped out in our heads before making important decisions. It shouldn't come as a surprise that much of the difficulty in group decision making comes around arriving at a shared map. Anyone who has been down this road knows this can be a long drawn out process. What's worse is that many times, by the time we have painstakingly arrived at a shared map, the territory has already shifted, rendering that map moot.

Therefore, it seems to me that we need to learn to be more comfortable operating with shared maps that are only roughly drawn. This may feel uncomfortable at first, but letting go of the need for a precisely drawn shared map can allow us to move forward in uncertain circumstances. The better we get at making these fuzzy maps, the less intimidating it is to change them once we get feedback from the environment which contradicts the map. Consider that an organization may continue to use a dysfunctional map long past its prime simply because making a new one would be too time consuming.

The map doesn't have to be perfect, just enough to take us a little ways down the road. Then, we redraw the map as needed.

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