Outside, slightly elevated, balanced detachment

On performance and leadership, it pays to stand slightly outside of the main thinking. Think of Charles Darwin to biology, psychologist Daniel Kahneman to economics or Thomas Edison to engineering.

The factors of supply consist of land, labor, capital, information, and entrepreneurship. Notice entrepreneurship as a factor different from labor. Not better or higher (although yes I use elevated in the article title). Just separate and distinct.

I got the “outside and slightly elevated” notion from Sam Carpenter’s Work the System (2011). He points out that today, in his business, he doesn’t know the details of every task; although when was younger, he made it a point to do so. Now he doesn’t. He shouldn’t. His highest value efforts remain elsewhere. Also, look too closely, and you micromanage away people’s initiative.

And, sometimes, looking too closely creates a certain blindness. Or as Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

I find these as even more reasons why common sense doesn’t prove enough in seeing the whole picture, that it takes reason to see the whole picture, and why I still list “Use your common sense” as an annoying piece of advice.

The act of looking too closely, and in many ways the common sense of looking itself, comes with blind spots and blindness to the fact that the blind spots even exist.

I just finished chapter 13 of Daniel Goleman’s Focus (2013) last night, titled, “System Blindness.” I’m about halfway through the book. By system blindness, he means that the brain evolved quite well to suspect the immediate threat behind leaves rustling.

Maybe it means a predator lurking in the dark. The human beings who presumed so, ran away to survive long enough to reproduce offspring, who in turn survived long enough to become our ancestors.

Systems, or relationships, tend to remain invisible to our common senses. The brain did not evolve to notice the long-term connections between junk food and obesity, cigarette smoke and cancer, pollution and ecological harm, or monetary or fiscal policy and the debt burden on future generations. The more distant the threat, the less likely our common senses will notice – or even care.

So how do we adapt and overcome this blindness? I argue that we do so through making an attempt to stand outside, slightly elevated, and just a little bit attached from one’s self. The attempt itself gets the ball rolling. I do so by moving my body into a different position, by asking off-the-wall questions, scribbling on paper, and seeking contrary views.

It’s not easy, but it helps. In fact, in my line of work, it’s necessary. I tend to find myself in charge of people who are much smarter than me about their particular jobs (and will always be smarter than me about them).

If I look to closely, they may politely comply but they’ll also surrender initiative (and responsibility) in a way to make me do more work than necessary. People feel less responsible for the results of a decision when just following orders.

I think anyone in a leadership position finds himself in the same position. In this area, I like it best when I’m allowed the discretion and top coverage to complete the task in the manner I find best. Likewise, it seems to work best in leading to, rather than to try to give the best orders, to create a feeling of safety by protecting those who are doing the work.

Same too with parenting. I want my kids to explore their creativity and to develop productive skills. Developing productive skills means letting them play with the non-toys that I use. That means being a bit of a lifeguard, because playing with pots and pans, gardening tools, and power tools can be expensive and dangerous.