OUTsight/ The Balcony View

Photo by Daniel von Appen at Unsplash

Photo by Daniel von Appen at Unsplash


Manila, 20 February 2019 — What’s the big picture of the changes in your life, your business, and your world? Taking a balcony view will help you see it more clearly.

It happened during my visit to GOMA, the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane. I was invited by Piet Filet, an engagement and collaboration expert at the International WaterCentre and a co-founder of The Water Agency. He suggested that we meet there to explore new ideas and opportunities for collaboration. 

The spaces of this multi-storey museum are enormous, and inspired in me a sense of untapped possibility in work and life. One work, in particular, spoke to my imagination by its sheer size.    

The Map of Technological Ethics 2018 depicts an “archipelago of moral quandaries” and is an example of what the artist Qiu Zhijie calls Total Art. While the map explores current issues, its technique reminded me of ancient Dao paintings of our body and its physiology.

In the video below you will get an impression of the enormous size of Qiu Zhijie’s work, which is best observed from the museum’s upper balcony, as I did. It forms part of GOMA’s 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. 

The Balcony View - at GOMA in Brisbane

The metaphor of taking the balcony view is relevant well beyond the appreciation of art. It powerfully illustrates how we can make sense of the world around us, and how to develop our leadership to make a difference.

The metaphor may have been used first in 1998 when Ronald Heifetz, a professor at Harvard, described how getting on the balcony was an important principle for tackling complex challenges, which he distinguished from solving more straight-forward technical problems.  

Many of our challenges today are complex indeed, and Qiu Zhijie’s map attests to that. It matters, therefore, what we do to properly appreciate these challenges. Without such appreciation—as underlined by Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom—we cannot hope to come up with smart solutions that cut through the complexity. 

Personally, this explains why I like reading newspapers like The Economist, The New York Times, and The Guardian. With their solid and independent journalism, they shine light on the complexity of today’s economic, social, and environmental challenges, amongst others, and then offer helpful perspectives on developing solution strategies. 

Taking the balcony view also helps me see the big picture of leadership development, which is shown in the mental model below as a virtuous cycle of triggering new experiences, regulating new behaviors, and performing to create new results.

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In the same vein, taking the balcony view allows me to help professionals communicate more effectively for better leadership outcomes when they use the Work In All Colors model to connect with the minds and hearts of their audience.

Analyzing your situation and way forward by creating a mindmap that stimulates radial over linear thinking is another example how taking the balcony view can help you become a more effective leader. 

And you will find more examples and practices of taking the balcony view in our leadership training and coaching programs.

Have you already discovered how to take the balcony view? 

Write me if you have any questions.

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