In an innovative, non-linear world in which capturing and operationalizing interaction and emergence are central to gaining a competitive advantage, we need tools that can free us from linear thoughts and ideas that keep us stuck in our outdated, mechanistic models. It is little wonder then that we have witnessed a surge in mindfulness programs that offer a means and practice for breaking those bonds. But our attachments to linear, fixed thinking and ideas are deeply seeded. Our prejudices and biases for mechanisms over relationships, for predictability over the messiness of complexity often overwhelm our ability to discern what to accept and what to reject.
In my last Adjacent Opportunity column, I posed a 5-minute distraction-free challenge, a test of one’s ability to simply sit quietly without being distracted by cellphones, iPads, or for that matter any form of entertainment. For many, 5 minutes without distraction seems impossible. How about trying 90 seconds? How can we hope to change our fixed notions to deal more effectively in a non-linear world if our minds are so easily and continually distracted?
I once heard a speaker describe a very severe form of Attention Deficit Disorder he had. He called it ADOS—Attention Deficit, Oh Shiny!
As the space in which our processes and operations take place have become more complex, it should not be too surprising that our attention deficit has also increased. Nonetheless, capturing what emerges from within complex interactions requires a relative comfort with being able to just hang-out in space. And to most of us, that’s a terrifying place to be. This, of course, explains why we are so quickly drawn to something different and shiny.
As soon as many of us encounter space, our first instinct is to fill it. Look at the environmental problems we’ve created for our world. Waste and sludge are seeping into our water supplies. Our houses are filled with stuff that is then discarded for even more stuff. The consequence, our landfills are over-filled with our ever increasing wasted stuff. Our need to fill space may very well push us off-planet to find more space we can fill.
As a case in point, my wife and I just returned from Santa Fe, NM where for the past eleven years our storage unit has held our own stuff that we could no longer fit in our house, but with which we couldn’t possibly part. It has been said that our only possessions are our attachments. Letting go of those fixed possessions, which include our biased and prejudiced thoughts and ideas, means that we have to do something different. We have to find a means to end our habitual idea-based pack-rattedness.
In spite of our terror of empty space, it is just that place where we have to be willing to rest in order to break free from the ideas that keep us tied to a past that, in many cases, is really not worth preserving.
What does it take? It starts by sitting down, turning off all buzzes and bells desperately notifying us about the next great distraction, and simply breathing. Feeling the body breathe in and out. Once you can do that, the objective is equally direct. Don’t hold on to the thoughts that arise. That doesn’t mean try and stop the thoughts that come-up, just don’t grab on to them and make them yet another possession.
What takes place as we get better at doing this is that we begin to find some space between the continual stream of thoughts and ideas we’re generating. Initially it may be the tiniest of spaces, but the more we do it, the more the space grows. And as we become more accomplished in this practice, our fear of the space also begins to dissipate and we discover that it actually make us feel really good to have all that space around us.
Retailers have known this. Go into a multi-story shopping mall and you will frequently find that the area that often houses the most expensive stores is the one that has the greatest open space around it. Why? Because people feel better in those more spacious zones and subsequently feel more inclined to spend. As I mentioned earlier, being comfortable in the space allows us to know what to accept and reject and not be unconsciously lulled into habitual patterns.
Being secure and at ease in non-linear space, provides a tremendous advantage over those who would rather run from it. It means we are able to see clearly what is arising in the space from all the interactions around us. We can recognize the cues the environment is providing that point in the direction we should be looking. This spacial awareness is crucial for us to operate in complex situations. Without it, the very least that could happen is that we miss an opportunity that emerges. In the worst case, say a police officer confronting a rapidly unfolding crisis, it can mean the senseless loss of life.
The same way of thinking that in previous eras allowed us to operate in the world of the simple and complicated does not work within today’s complex, non-linear world. It requires that we take different steps, to learn to let go of that old way of thinking. The answer is as simple as taking a seat and feeling yourself do what is about as natural as breathing… in fact it is breathing. The hard part is not running to the phone or tablet when it beckons us with the allure of a new shiny distraction.
Want to be a warrior in the world of non-linear complex interactions? Then you better learn to be the next great space-pilot, so you can navigate this emerging world with confidence and effectiveness. Sit down and don’t hold on.