A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
That is the plot of Star Wars.
Of Buddha’s enlightenment.
Even Alice in Wonderland.
They are the basic pattern of every single “hero’s journey” story in myths and stories from all around the world, according to a book called “The Hero with a thousand faces”, by Joseph Campbell. Buddha, Odysseus and Luke Skywalker all share the same structure of broadly three phases.
- separation “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder“
- initiation “fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won”
- return “the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man“
I ventured forth from the normal dull work into systems thinking!
I had to fight the dark forces of ignorance until the shining beacon of truth obliterated their hold over the land!
I came back with
a lightsaber a systems head on my shoulders ready to cure everyone’s problems!
I’m a hero too! Says me.
Below is the full cycle of the heroes journey from beginning to end. Seventeen stages! But what happens if you give up, or get side-tracked before the end?
What happens if you don’t get to complete your heroic story is you no longer get to be Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, defeater of the Empire, instead you’re just some impressionable orphan in funny pyjamas that disappeared with an old hermit in a brown dressing gown and was never heard of again. Hmmm.
But, if I’m Luke Skywalker, then who’s Darth Vader? If there’s an Alice in Wonderland, who’s the Red Queen? The problem with hero stories is they need a villain. Nobody thinks they’re a villain, everybody’s a hero in their own myth. What happens if I am somebody else’s villain, the evil Systems Thinking villain Darth Purpose!
And what about the bystanders? There’s loads of them, chances are that’s all anybody is, there’s so many of them compared with the heroes and villains. Third stormtrooper, the one who bangs his head going through the door during his big moment. What happens if that’s you? Worse, what happens if it’s me?
All those years at the Empires Military Academy in a smelly plastic uniform. How do you go the toilet in them eh? Imagine the queues at the urinal.
All that, and your big moment turns out to be banging your head going through a stupid door that opens upwards.
If you’d enrolled in Starfleet at least the doors open sideways.
So what’s this got to do with systems thinking then?
At last the Systems Thinking Lesson
Nothing will work of any substance unless the highest managers/leaders pull it voluntarily from their own free will because they are curious and are ready to learn. This is because it is about changing management thinking. Given that most of them haven’t even heard of it, the size of the task is considerable.
This is why it doesn’t matter if it works or not. If it mattered, then it would be awful having to face almost certain failure. Luckily it doesn’t matter as the success is virtually nothing to do with me, and is down to the context, of which I am part, but only part. Margaret Wheatley in her new book “So far from home” describes an approach where:
“Hope is not the certainty that something will turn out well , but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out” Vaclav Havel
“Do not depend on the hope of results.
You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.
As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.
You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people.
In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” Thomas Merton
Which is quite interesting, neither pessimistic or optimistic. In medieval Japan samurai would go into a fight with the expectation that there would be a “mutual falling down”, meaning that both would die. This freed them from any hope and allowed them to get on with the job at hand.
Margaret Wheatley outlines a way of of doing things without being concerned if they will have any effect whatsoever.
This is a strategy for doing, with no expectation of achieving, a lot like the onion patch strategy. A strategy for losers! My kind of strategy, a realistic one.
She missed one out though…