“Ignorance,” wrote Charles Darwin, “more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” The response of global leadership at the government level and across businesses, institutions, experts, and at the individual level has hardly been different in the wake of Covid-19 crisis.
Darwin is credited with his seminal work on the ‘Origin of Species’. A turtle goes on to live for 150 years unlike the other species in the animal kingdom who, despite the greatest advances in medical technology, die at a 100 years. Why?
Unlike most animals who learn to survive either on land or in water, an amphibian has a built-in capacity for adaptation that enables it to be far more resilient. It has learnt the techniques of survival across two diametrically opposite environments. The long term survival, therefore, is directly linked to the adaptability quotient and the ability to leverage its resilience against harsh environment and predators.
Varying Thoughts in Modern Management
Modern management principles follow an unwritten code. This code is prevalent in the western model of education, even at the school level. This code puts predominant emphasis on critical thinking—traditional, logical, analytical, and convergent—as a tool to solve most problems. The basic principle being that any large, messy and complex problem of the world can be solved if we break it up into smaller parts. A problem-solving traditional managerial mindset fails in the wake of such challenges when the problem assumes crisis proportions at a systemic level.
The Eastern model of thinking, however, derives from a more holistic approach. Yoga, a prominent Eastern practice, for example, is not a posture-based physical fitness practice, but a way of life. Patanjali’s Yogasutra has 196 sutras, of which only very few concern themselves with asanas (physical poses) and pranayama (breathing exercises). The largest majority of others expound on the relationship of the individual with the universe and the way to attain a holistic realisation which combines mind, body and soul into a meditative and spiritual core. Yoga incidentally is derived from the Sanskrit word Yoj which means “union”.
Biological systems are complex systems. As the Covid-19 crisis has unravelled, we have been able to see that businesses and most of the other systems are no different in their level of complexity. ‘Emergence’ and ‘Feeback’ play a key role as espoused by American systems scientist Peter Senge in his work on ‘Systems Thinking’ in the year 2003.
Bio-thinking, like systems thinking and unlike critical thinking, requires us to take a ‘zoomed-out’ view of the situation to look at how individual parts interact with the whole and develop a holistic perspective.
Such a holistic slant puts a premium on synthesis, not analysis or reductionism. On Building up and not breaking down. On creative and design intervention and not on critical thinking. On the statistical and inductive rather than deterministic.
Critical thinking is good to provide solutions for predictable problems. As we now realise, we can be besieged with truly unpredictable problems in an uncertain and volatile world with little help from limited historical precedents where the debates play out between deaths and dollars and between lives and livelihoods. Wars, pandemics and other social crisis leave us changed forever.
The New Leadership Paradigm
Resilience offers a collective narrative of hope when the premium on leadership is perhaps at its highest. The new normal will require acknowledgement of unpredictability as an outcome norm as the first step in leadership awareness. A bio-thinking driven resilient leadership respects agile learning in the context of a rapidly changing situation.
Taming complexity is out. Embracing unpredictability is in. A new worldview is the need of the hour for leadership across walks of life. Will we be able to give up on our fetish for the simple and explainable? Those who do will be the torch-bearers of the emerging new resilient leadership that respects plurality more than universality.
Views are personal.
Piyush Sharma is executive-in-residence at ISB and UCLA - is a global CEO coach and a C-Suite + startup advisor. Marshall Goldsmith – Thinkers50 #1 executive coach, two-time #1 Leadership Thinker and NYT Bestselling Author.