Leading into the Future III: From the Pendulum to the Fire
As organizational leaders, we may already be finding (or soon will find) that polarity management, while significantly more sophisticated an approach than straight-line problem- solving, is not always sufficient, for the polarities and the conditions underlying polarities are themselves changing. To return to our landscape metaphor, we may find, as leaders, that we are living not just in a complex rugged landscape but in what Miller and Page (2007) call a “dancing landscape.” Priorities are not only interconnected, they are constantly shifting, and new alliances between old competing polarities are being forged. Clearly, when a world of complexity collides with a world of uncertainty and a world of turbulence, the landscape begins to dance and we, as leaders, learn how to dance with these irreversible postmodern challenges.
As we begin to address the challenges associated with leading in a dancing landscapes, we enter a domain in which problems and dilemmas seem to merge into mysteries. Mysteries operate at a different level than puzzles, problems and dilemmas. Mysteries are too complex to understand and are ultimately unknowable. A specific mystery is profound (desired outcomes are elusive but of great importance to many stakeholders) and awe-inspiring or just awe-ful. A mystery is in many ways theological or teleological in nature. It is inevitably viewed from many different perspectives that are deeply rooted in culture and tradition. Mysteries have no boundaries, and all aspects are interrelated.
Mysteries are beyond rational comprehension and resolution, and they are viewed with respect. Depending on one’s perspective, they are the things “we take to God” or are the unpredictable and profound events that we “take to heart”—and that Taleb (2010) described as “black swans.” Some mysteries relate to traumatic and devastating events: Why did I get out of the World Trade Center while my desk mate perished? Why is there evil in the world? Why did lightning strike our freighter but not the one next to it? Why did my child die before me? Mysteries also encompass many positive events and moments of reflection: How did I deserve all these talents? What is my destiny? Why have I been so blessed in my professional life? Why did I fall in love with this person? Why did this remarkable person fall in love with me? How did I ever raise such an exceptional child? How did I earn so much affection from these people at my retirement party?