So many things in our life are governed by the idea that we can control the outcome. Take strategy as as an example. For years strategists have operated under the false notion that strategies were conceived, plans created and execution of the plan happened. This resulted in an elite view of conducting strategy and the false reality that strategies were handed down from high like tablets from Moses. But the reality is far from true. Tom Peters once said that much less than 10% of strategies get executed as conceived. One explanation for this delusional thinking (that the strategy we create will get executed as conceived) is that we convince ourselves we can control the actions of others and our environment.
Recently, Naomi Klein spoke at TedWomen talking about risk taking mentality that is engrained into our global society (“Addicted to Risk”). She illustrates that we are always willing to take greater risks and that even the manner in which we discuss things is slanted toward taking risk as opposed to understanding risk. She discusses that the questions we ask and the inspiration we seek actually causes acceptance of massive risk. Some of her examples include:
- “What if climate scientists are wrong?” instead of asking “what if climate scientists are right?”
- “What is the latest possible moment we can wait before reducing greenhouse gas emissions?”
- “How much hotter can we let the planet get and still survive?”
- “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”
This type of thinking encourages taking risks that have larger and larger consequence when things go wrong. It also encourages people to keep moving the line on acceptable behavior. It is behavior rooted in our belief that we can control the outcome and that we can be certain we are right.
What is control anyway? Is it a manufactured reality that allows us to operate with false confidence and with the boldness to ignore other factors of concern? Is it a figment of our imagination that systematically sorts the opinions of others into buckets where ideas similar to our own are believed and others minimized or ignored? Is it a way of coping with a reality that we cannot exact control by creating a narrative that allows us to ignore it?
What is the benefit of this notion called control? Does it encourage participation or exclusion? Does it promote elitism or camaraderie? Does it make getting ahead equivalent to forcing others behind? Does it establish lines of dogma that are difficult to cross or permeable boundaries that allow reshaping of belief? If control had a benefit beyond that of a select minority, it certainly has reached its end.
The industrial age and the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor made control popular as we used humans to mechanize our factories. Control permeated society down to the education systems that eliminated variability, encourage conformity, and produce the mechanized humans for the industrial machine. But the control mentality does not have utility in a world that is co-creative and cognitive. We must replace control with the creation of shared value, a fondness for contribution, appreciation for human uniqueness, and the embrace of uncertainty. We need to create an atmosphere of humility where co-creative energies are released instead of subdued. Our future depends on the cultivation of new ideas and shared knowledge — a future easily smothered by control.
We need to live life out of control.