My youngest son (well not all that young at 20) is an elite hockey player. He plays junior ‘A’ hockey which is the highest level of amateur hockey you can play here in Canada. Just this week he left for his last year of playing at this level as next year he will be too old. He left home at 15 to pursue this sport that he loves to play and he’s not too sure when he’s finished this year if he will have the chance to play professional, play for a university team, go overseas to play or just what might happen.
So what do you say to your kid as he’s packing up to leave and you’ll miss him and you want him to have a great year since there will never be another one quite like this?
Well, I knew I didn’t want to say the stuff that parents are ‘supposed’ to say. All that stuff about be good, be a leader on your team, set your goals high, be disciplined, be nice to people and all those fans, keep your marks up in school and on and on it goes. It’s not that that stuff isn’t important, it’s just that kids hear that everywhere and pretty much every bit of it is not about what is really going to go on in the day-to-day lives they lead. It’s always just a little removed from the here and now, always something you have to kind of sit down and think about when ‘real life’ isn’t happening.
So, believe it or not I got out our model of how we think organizations happen and we followed it around in a story of what he has experienced in hockey so far .
The details are not important here but what was important was acknowledging that the most real things that would happen this year were the interactions he would have. Those day-to-day, normal things that our lives emerge through and that are so highly unpredictable. We talked about every interaction having meaning but you probably won’t know what that might be until you’re right in the middle of it so just be there, focus on each interaction and see what happens.
It was a good, and perhaps most importantly, a real and realistic conversation. Part of the ‘dad’ in me wanted to talk about all that other stuff mentioned above but deep down, all of us know that is just a little off from what we know really happens. Still it felt like I’d missed the boat a bit in terms of being a ‘good dad’.
In our organizations we have more models and more conversations about how things should fit in those models that we can shake a stick at. And most of those conversations, like the one that ‘could’ have happened above, are all just a little bit removed from what’s actually happening. Any model such as the one above is an abstraction. A generalization that possibly can help us understand what’s going on a little better. But it is never what is actually happening. The challenge we often find ourselves with is that the models become more real than what is actually happening.
The model above is a model of interaction and underlying it is the assumption that human interaction is highly unpredictable. Even though it is an abstraction like all models, it does not try to lead us to some end point. It circles around and around always moving through interaction but never assuming predictability. It assumes that if you talk through the model you may understand your experiences a little better and understand how you might want to change future interactions.
Most models in organizations today try to lead us to some end point that is assumed to be better than where we are now. The assumption is one of predictability; if you follow the model properly you will achieve what you set out to achieve. This is not however what happens in our real experiences. Most of the models we now use to understand our organizations do not match our real experience. Yet we work very, very hard to make them work. And most of that work is simply frustrating, stressful and on a pathway to eventual failure.
If we spent far less time with the models we use to try and understand our organizations and far more time talking together about what is actually happening in the interactions we are having in our organizations I think we would be much better off.
I liked the conversation with my son. I hope he has a good last year in this league. But he cannot ‘make’ that happen. He can be as present to his interactions as possible and see what emerges.
I think our organizations would be much healthier if we did the same.
Author – Tom