There was a story of a guy who lives throughout his life wearing a grayscale tinted lens.
He is living quite well in his world defined by black, white and shades of grey.
At some point, he even accomplished what he longed for - launching his art gallery!
Unbeknown to him, his painting, artefacts and creation are in the spectrum of black, white and grey.
One day, he just felt something was missing...
Soon enough, at one point in his career, he hit a plateau.
He just couldn't break past that glass ceiling, no matter how hard he tried, by making the grayscale even more intense and with more varied shades of grey.
Then he started questioning his reality of what he sees. Somehow, he felt there is something greater out there which he is not seeing, but he couldn't understand what it is.
Until one day, a mysterious visitor in his gallery pointed out to a particular painting and commented: "I wonder how it will look like if there is a blue and red in there..."
That got him excited. The problem is, he has no idea what those colours mean because he has been living in his grayscale world for too long.
As he was in deep thoughts, this same mysterious man noticed something that is shielding this guy's vision and he started lifting the veil that is covering his sight.
Suddenly, this man who is living in a grayscale world got a shock! He couldn't believe what he saw! The mysterious visitor was wearing a shirt with shades of colours from red and violet, instead of shades of grey which he initially saw.
What was even more shocking for this guy is this.
As he looked around his art gallery, everything was in grayscale. And there the mysterious man was, standing in front of him, who was the ONLY ONE wearing a coloured shirt!
All too often you may find yourself stuck with your current success.
Just like the guy in the story above, you can only choose things and make decisions based on what your lens can conceive. If you have been looking through your grayscale lens, you can't conceive of colours. And if you can only conceive of grayscale, everything else you create will be reflecting that, just like the guy above!
Then we get so comfortable with it and just settle with that.
How can you recognise you're stuck with your current lens of success, even though you may be doing well in your business, career, relationship and life?
Simple rules can result in complex behaviour
If there is a simulation tool that can best relate to the complex and dynamic nature of our world, it will be Conway’s Game of Life.
The Game of Life, is a cellular automaton devised by the British mathematician John Horton Conway in 1970.
The Game of Life universe is governed by simple set of systemic parameters.
A square grid contains cells that are either alive or dead. With the objective of developing a population with sustainability, the behaviour of each cell is dependent only on the state of its eight immediate neighbours, according to the following rules:
- Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by underpopulation.
- Any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation.
- Any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overpopulation.
- Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.
- In all other cases a dead cell will stay dead.
I find the process of modelling quite fascinating to watch too.
More importantly, it shows us surprising ways which patterns can evolve dynamically by interacting with the parameters over time.
Due to the non-linear nature of our world, simple changes or tweaks can have very profound impact on many complex systems, from economy, science, education, social, environment to biology.
There are many ways the Game of Life correlate with how robust your business and professional growth attractor is, which you will see.
What is holding us back from thriving?
One set of patterns in the cellular automation is what is called the still life or stable patterns.
Below are some simple examples.
They usually remain stable and do not change from one generation to another.
Some of these patterns also oscillate, whereby the evolution of such a pattern repeats itself indefinitely like the one below.
In the business and professional context, these are known as the linear approach.
This is where people are easily tempted by bright shiny objects. You get distracted by what’s hot and in, without having a solid foundation of what you are doing.
Whether it is advocating the numbers game in sales, competition by price factor, trying to apply a certain secret formula to success or to replicate a past success recipe, the common bottleneck is this: they are derived from a myopic trajectory mindset.
Often, progress is stable and predictable.
No doubt there is progress, but results are sluggish and cumbersome.
Some common examples are… we are told to follow a standard defined path such as go to school, get good results and get a good job in order to be financially free, to live paycheck by paycheck and that once you are retired, only then you can have a good life.
This idea that we need to “Do this, then do that” sequence has been taught, sold and repackaged in a thousand of different formats and sold to us again.
Essentially, this paradigm is designed to create order.
Quantity is not the key to scale. You can be spending a lot of marketing budget to push your message out there or to hire more people, hoping to get more productive output, but if you are taking it on this linear thinking, your margin of growth is pretty much the same.
Because you are simply producing more of the same blindly. You expect that just by working harder and doing more of the same, you will hit that tipping point.
Just like having more of those above stable patterns, you are simply replicating more of the status quo rather than quantum leaping with your unfair advantage.
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There is chaos in real time
Reality is, there is chaos out there.
Welcome to the complex, uncertain, ambiguous and volatile world.
And chaos is constantly interplaying with order just like this.
Hence, to thrive in the real world, it is not the strongest wins, it is the one who has the highest capacity to respond to dynamic chaos.
Just search on Google the list of great companies that no longer exist today and you will see what I mean.
The complex world has no place for the linear templates. From another perspective, many businesses running on a linear strategy are forced to change in order to grow.
The power of robust
Here, you no longer define your success based on someone else’s.
Instead, you are being inclusive of multiple dynamic variables, in response to chaos.
When creating something new, some new value, be it a business model; product or service; or even a new industry platform – value is PULLED into momentum, not pushed. It is the attraction that facilitates growth.
In real life, when diving deep into customer needs we need to look into availability, emotions, response to design, likes and dislikes, morals and behavioural norms, inspirations, aspirations, expectations, values, identity and rewards etc.
Identifying emerging “attractors” that are pulling these into play can enable a business to be robust enough in positioning itself to ride the next wave of growth.
By building simple (not easy) patterns of growth (as depicted in the bottom growth patterns) to interplay with chaos (as represented in the top clusters) that are already existing, you scale your growth tremendously.
Apple is a great exemplification of this.
Through the combination of simplicity, design and storytelling they have created a dynamic mix of inspiration, aspiration and sophistication as a response to the continually evolving attractors in tech space.
Apple brand has achieved some serious lock-in as a significant strange attractor. People are drawn to it for many reasons, most of which are beyond requirements or results. They arose out of emergence, which we will explore later.
It is obviously a business that looks deeply into the complexity in which it plays to craft their unfair advantage and value that continually reward both customers and the business.
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When order meets chaos…
Referring to this clip again, when you increase the robustness of your growth attractor, you, in someway influence and reconfigure chaos.
In fact, chaos serve as your catalyst for growth!
That’s how companies, social groups and business tapped into the dynamics of movements to create revolution and disruptions.
In order to play at the level of a dynamic growth attractor, there are several key counterintuitive paradigms.
Death is necessary for the birth of something greater.
If you observe the process of change in the Game of Life over many generations, you’ll noticed at some point, it seems like the population is declining. Some clusters that once flourished even died! And then the next moment, it fuels another explosive growth, greater than the first few generations!
In the linear world, we can keep on growing and increasing.
But in real world, when there is a peak, there will be a valley as well.
Sometimes, we need to stay in a valley longer so that it prepares us to be able to reach a greater peak the next round and the cycle of UPs and DOWNs continue.
Had TED not lost money in the first TED conference event when it was first born in 1984, started by Richard Saul Wurman, it will not be the TED that we know today, that has a global brand presence and movement worth spreading.
In your professional and business development, what must go or change in order for the birth of a greater result?
You can never solve a problem on the same level on which it was created.
When I first started experimenting with the Game of Life, I was looking for symmetrical patterns that can fuel growth in population.
And I almost always ended up with stable life patterns, oscillators and death.
In fact, the ones that can fuel almost infinite growth momentum started with quite odd looking patterns like the ones below.
Then it dawned upon me that I was still operating in a linear fashion trying to solve a complex problem in this multidimensional world we live in!
This reminded me of a coaching incident sometimes back where my client was stuck while he was coaching someone.
In the past, I would have helped him in terms of polishing his questioning or conversational strategy and non-verbal behaviour. This could probably make me as stuck as he is!
But this time round, I worked on shifting his perception of self identity and self worth, which is a different level.
Then something magical happened.
He began to soften his usually strong presence and he slowed down, which then allowed him to have a meaningful session with his client and opened up deeper engagements that were beyond his initial expectation.
Coming back to you…
If you are not getting the response and results you want, is the issue about not selling, branding or marketing enough, not making full use of technology, not competent enough, not competitive enough, etc? Or is it that your audience has already outgrown you as a human being and you are still playing from a lower ground?
With integration and interplay, even without knowing what’s ahead, come emergence.
In a world of complex systems, there is no ONE method that is the ultimate winner. All methods can work as well as fail, depending on how robust it can interplay with chaos.
Also, using what got you here today can’t bring you there tomorrow.
Which means, any proven formula can become obsolete in the near future if they are not adaptive enough.
In my consulting and coaching process, I do not rely rigidly on formulas, techniques and even strategies to fit it all in one size.
I focus on the most significant attractors of growth and transformation. And that is on HUMANs, lifestyle and HUMAN networks.
With that in mind, I interplay what I called the multiple “growth levers.”
It is about setting the initial conditions right for an exponential growth.
The interesting thing is, the list of the levers is never complete. It is dynamic and evolving.
An example of emergence is this whole idea of a co-sharing economy. Due to the disruption in tech platforms, co-sharing concept emerges, from transportation, travel accommodation, offices to even living residential spaces!
An analogy of emergence in the Game of Life can be illustrated here.
Beginning from a growth pattern, after going through many generations of birth, death and reproduction, you will see that it comes a point where a direction of growth emerges towards the South-east.
The key is this, emergence is NOT predicted right from the onset of creation!
It can only come through a series of interplaying with a variety of elements.
Trying to make it predictable can be counterproductive at times!
A good example of this is you “know” your child and you begin to predict what she will say or do. Then the filters kick in and we tune into the predictive behavior and exclude the unpredicted. Our “knowing” is then reinforced by the pseudo predictive outcome.
This growth lever of probability (rather than predictability) knows that there are always too many factors effecting things to be able to say for sure how something will turn out. It moves beyond the simple cause-effect notion of predictability into a system of variables. It is a subjective assessment of key factors, and what factors are admitted and what are omitted. Having two people with a high probability lever certainly does not guarantee agreement, but it would provide a deeper discussion of context.
Another is the growth lever of possibility. This is the lever that recognises that anything and everything has some potential for happening, even if you do not currently know how to do it. This is the unbounded mind that does not look to circumstances or restraining factors as limits on what is possible in the future.
Here's the tricky part, all of these levers are needed at some time or another. The question for you is to know which ones you are in and be conscious of that, for which you can interplay among these levers to optimise your probabilities of success.
For example, writers, dreamers, artists, futurists, designers, technologists, entrepreneurs — the people who imagine the future, would focus on possibilities. It is how nearly all of human progress has been made, pursuing the improbable.
For investors, however, you are best served by sticking with the Probable. Understanding the difference will save you a lot of capital over the long run!
Rather than trying to manipulate the outcome, allowing yourself to adjust and grow through feedback would be more useful.
The key is to stay in motion in response to your goal and the landscape you are playing in. For which, there will be a side effect arising at 90 degrees to the line of our action (Law of Precession, Buckminster Fuller) or the ripple effect. Then it is for you to look out, be open and listen in that direction.
This is how you can navigate and interact with chaos to create momentum, traction, movements and revolution in your business and professional development.