INsight/ Do You LULL?

Ubud, 19 July 2017 — Many of the toughest challenges and conflicts in our world today can only be solved by new kinds of collaboration. To discover these, we need to listen and unlearn first.

Our world today is full of rapid and disruptive changes, and many of these changes show up as challenges and conflicts. 

Think of the armed conflicts, social conflicts, artificial intelligence replacing industrial workers, the sharing economy hollowing out earnings, and renowned large businesses exposing themselves to failure when they let their young talents walk out of the door.

Disruptive changes cause uncertainty for people in all walks of life, and they are prompting businesses and governments to formulate new strategies to manage change.

Most of these strategies, however, are doomed to fail, according to management guru Professor Peter Senge at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

And while we may unconsciously assume that collaboration will somehow emerge naturally as the best way forward, this is not the case according to Adam Kahane, known for his work on designing and facilitating processes that help people in solving tough and intractable issues around the world.

Collaboration, Kahane explains in his new book Collaborating With The Enemy, requires a deliberate choice to collaborate. Creating new kinds of collaboration in our challenging times requires stretching, he says, and giving up on an attachment to envisioned results in advance.

Instead, Kahane underlines that in stretch collaboration, "We cocreate our way forward. We cannot know our route before we set out ... we can only discover it along the way."

A similar approach to a new kind of change management process was documented earlier by Otto Scharmer in his books on Theory U, based on recent experiences with social changes in countries around the world. 

What we can learn from these thought leaders is that the challenges of our time require new approaches to leading change or, more accurately, to co-creating change through stretch collaboration.

Do You LULL?

So why should you LULL, and what does it mean?

In the English language, a lull means a temporary pause of quiet with a lack of activity.

Learning from Senge and Kahane, a lull is what we need before jumping headlong into new initiatives to 'manage change.' 

Why not go a step further and add a new meaning to the verb lull? 

In addition to lulling (soothing) our children into sleep with lullabies, what we need is a new practice to create a lull for ourselves—a practice that involves listening, unlearning, and (new) learning, before leading ourselves and others into change.

For sure, suspending our action for reflection, listening actively to the parties involved in conflicts, and unlearning our historical knowledge that will no longer suffice to solve our problems today and tomorrow, are difficult things to do.

The writing, however, is already on the proverbial wall. And several leaders have already gone ahead of us to show valuable examples, among them the authors I mentioned earlier, and also some of the leaders they counseled, among whom President Nelson Mandela.

Setting out to find new directions is challenging, yet it can be done.

Years ago, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, when reflecting on the challenges of his country's transition toward a socialist market economy, remarked that it feels like "crossing the river by feeling for stones."

To solve our challenges and conflicts today, in our businesses, our societies, and in our world at large, we urgently need to find new forms of collaboration. We need to see people with widely different worldviews, and from different generations, choose to stretch themselves into listening and unlearning as they wade into the river, not knowing what kinds of stones they will get to feel.

Practice to LULL

When we start the new practice, to LULL, we decide to consciously spend time and attention on listening and unlearning before we allow ourselves to learn anew and lead in a new way, together. When we LULL, we give ourselves a better chance of success.

To LULL is fundamental to leading change in our world today.

We are crossing the river by feeling for stones.
— Deng Xiaoping