When I ask people from all levels of various organizations if they feel successful the near-unanimous response is no. Work and progress is a struggle for most. We struggle with market forces; doddering national economies that are increasingly sensitive to global challenges. We struggle with attitudes; falling levels of hope for the future, plummeting levels of trust in our leaders and diminishing tolerance for one another.
Struggling with the New Normal
This struggle is termed the “new normal”. We are led to believe by the “authorities” that the global/local market disruptions of six years ago and the continuing tremors felt by all organizations have left us in some permanently altered state. We are told to adjust our expectations and get on with it.
This is the same line of reasoning and vapid advice given over 700 years ago at the height of the Middle Ages. We know how that era of human history turned out; 1000 years of struggle with incremental macro changes marked by survivalist thinking and attitudes. We also know how the Middle Ages ended; with a groundswell of refusals to accept the prevailing attitudes and “wisdom” as sacrosanct and the market forces as permanent.
When I recently asked the question of feeling successful to a group of Tuscany-based CEO’s of international companies I heard the same near-unanimous response of no. But, I also heard something else.
“Often from the greatest of struggles comes our best work”
What I heard was the unmistakeable echo of powerful Renaissance thinking. The prevailing attitude among this group of Tuscan CEOs was that times were tough but there were bright spots too. Focussing on the bright spots was an affirmation of the company’s purpose and spurred these leaders and their organizations on to the next challenge. Fear, uncertainty and darkening attitudes were replaced by hope found in the bright spots. I was struck by the elemental simplicity these companies deployed in complex products and services for increasingly complex markets. The attention to simplicity demanded a focus on what is most important to the company and its markets.
This is Renaissance 2.0 thinking; an imitation and imitation of the best practices from our most creative and innovative age in human history. There are three parallels in Renaissance thinking carried forward by our Tuscan CEOs that we can use in our approach to our own organizational struggles;
Three Steps Forward
1. Passion mutes fear.
Petrarch, considered the father of the Renaissance, said “walk forwards in the radiance of the past”. Shifting our focus from the struggle to our bright spots gives us confidence, hope and passion. These three attitudes will overcome fears of market uncertainty, trepidation around new ideas and their inherent risk and loosen your grip on the “new normal” attitude.
2. Simplicity is its own innovation.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, said Leonardo da Vinci. Often it is what we take away that adds most to a product or service innovation. It is the simple hand-done stitch, the clean, unadorned design and the purity of unadulterated ingredients that is often most meaningful. Stripping our products and services of the fool’s gold add-ons passing for added value reveals our true intentions, purpose and ultimately new, meaningful opportunities.
3. Harmony soothes market discord.
Renaissance people rejected the age-old notion (and prevailing business attitude today) that markets and our physical world exist to be conquered and our competitors to be vanquished. Rather than struggling with the market forces Renaissance people struggled to understand them, to interpret them and seek harmony within them so that the forces were harnessed rather than beaten down. This was the thinking behind the Renaissance attitude of markets as receptors rather than receptacles and accounts for the exceptionally high rate of invention, innovation and creativity that found its way to market and into Renaissance society.
The Renaissance and our Tuscan CEOs are showing us that changing the nature and intent of the struggle can lead us out of the new normal of our Modern Middle Ages and into a new age of prolific creativity and innovation.
That, in my view, is a struggle worth waging. What is the worthy struggle in your organization?