You may have noticed that last week there was no LedaWrites.
I got some truly lovely messages from you wonderful people. Both before I tweeted I was on holiday and after. I loved that you missed your Thursday fix. And I loved how effusive you were in your support for my wee break.
But, before you think that was a well-earned vacation (and it was), let me come clean and say that, although I was indeed on holiday, skipping my weekly column was not a well-thought-through part of the R&R. I simply clean forgot to pack my laptop… and my iPad… both.
I have never done this before. How was this even possible? Well, it was a convoluted, multi-stage trip with different bits of luggage taken to different parts of the trip and stowed at different places during the trip… anyway long story short… I forgot all of my kit other than my phone.
And yeah it made for a much-needed digital detox, but it was neither planned nor intentional.
Did I make the most of it? You bet.
Was it good for me? For sure.
Was it an accident? Yes sir.
But you know, life gave me lemons so there I was, making lemonade. Resting.
I contemplated drafting my piece on my phone, truth be told.
On what my old colleague Finbar used to call ‘the mouse keyboard’ because only someone with hands the size of a mouse’s paws could comfortably compose more than single-word answers on a phone keyboard.
I thought about it. But it felt ridiculous to even try and so vacation it was.
But it got me thinking.
Not so much about the salutary effects of not spending time in front of a screen for prolonged periods of time. You already know about that.
Not even about the value of taking time away from things, for perspective and a sense of humour reset. You know about that too.
No, what I was thinking about is how much of what we see in business is the consequence of entirely unintentional events, retrospectively presented as successes. I always meant to do this, nothing to see here.
I was also thinking of just how much of what we deal with in life and business are the aftermaths of entirely unintentional and unplanned actions: blunders, lucky accidents or magic mistakes. How much of what we do is actually riding the wave of unintentionality? Making the most of a bad situation or seizing an opportunity that presented itself entirely accidentally?
Don’t ascribe to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity
I know you are probably thinking that banks (most big organisations to be fair, but banks in particular) spend so much of their time planning, trying to predict and foresee the future, that you are willing to concede we spend a lot of time cleaning up after mistakes, but come on… surely not randomness?
But I am going for… yes, randomness.
And it’s not just banks.
From war, where successive governments seem incapable of learning from past mistakes and where success is measured in inches or body bags and desperate stands are made for reasons that seem clear at HQ, but less so on the knoll or riverbed where soldiers die…
To government work, where a small oversight may leave whole population units out of a plan by sheer forgetfulness rather than malice. Plans that leave out the needs of villages or urban centres, that leave out single-parent households or omit the possibility that two students who share a home may also be siblings when they calculate rent relief programmes.
Does it matter, in the end?
Does being forgotten rather than actively neglected make it easier?
I would think not. Other than for the hope that the policymakers would do better next time, the hope that they would learn from past mistakes.
As for corporate blunders… things forgotten, dropped off the Exco or Opco quarterly agenda and therefore off the company’s radar for 3… 6… 12 months because an assistant was making sure their boss got to dinner on time… things that fell between departments, each MD confident that this was not their problem… things that were misunderstood, over-estimated and under-estimated… and don’t get me started about the time the bank department I worked at forgot to accrue budget for May (yes, the month) and all third parties had to down tools for a month.
And no, before you even think it: it was not in an obscure geography. It was a tier-one German bank… in London.
Honestly, every time I hear a grand conspiracy theory, in business or politics… I envy the conspiracy theorist their faith.
Their unshakable belief that there is a plan even if it is sinister.
I mean, I don’t want a sinister plan any more than you do. But I would like to be able to say, with some conviction, that I believe there is a plan. A plan that is thought through and executed with discipline. A plan that, if it goes well, will yield expected results. Sure, results that may benefit one group at the expense of another, but a plan nonetheless.
I wish I believed there was a plan, in politics or business. Even if I had to believe it is a sinister one.
But I don’t.
What I believe is that, mostly, people forget things and muddle through.
Yes, even the senior ones.
Especially the senior ones.
Do you really think that a world leader has more than 30 minutes for their ‘insert regional conflict zone here’ security briefing?
Do you really think your CEO is going to spend more than 30 minutes on your latest security protocols?
Actually, your CEO isn’t going to spend any time on your latest security protocols. They will be brought into the room for 30 minutes when there is a conflict zone as a result of what you did… or didn’t do… with those security protocols.
So yes. I wish I had the conspiracy theorists’ faith.
I wish there was a plan.
Even a sinister one.
But I know that in life, politics and business… mostly, people don’t think, don’t learn and don’t plan.
Not always in that order.
And what colours our lives is a weird blend of the few random things we choose to try and control and plan for, and damage limitation for everything else.
One of my clients, eight months into Covid, did a re-baselining of all their project plans.
The meeting started with their CEO saying we were living in unprecedented times. That during the last few months, systemic challenges had been thrown into sharp relief. The technology infrastructure the bank relied on was not up to scratch. The way disaster recovery was thought about was evidently tailored to a different disaster altogether. Even the profitability structures of the bank were creaking dangerously with a loan book over-indexed in industries hit the hardest.
And then nothing.
So let’s allow for a 10% discount on success metrics of all existing projects, they said.
As you were, just rearrange those chairs on the deck of the Titanic.
When you think about it all with some perspective, we actively choose to spend a lot of our time in a rather random and weird way. And that way is consistently defended by insistent, loud voices. Voices with seniority and conviction.
Voices belonging to the bullies, the know-it-alls and what my colleague Martin used to call the Wee-Bees (we been here before). The immovable objects hell-bent on staying the course they are on come hell or high water.
So when you look at something that makes no sense and think ‘someone above my pay grade has thought it through’…
If you think something is obvious to you so it must be obvious to everyone else and not worth flagging…
If you think ‘this is madness but there must be a reason why we are doing all of this’…
Don’t assume there is a plan, don’t assume someone is thinking things through, don’t assume you are missing something.
You are much better off assuming the world is on fire. The plan is drifting and nobody is paying attention.
Because if you assume the world is adrift and try to fix it, the worst thing that can happen is… you are wrong… and you are reassured while your colleagues also are reassured because now they know someone else is losing sleep over things and that’s always a good thing.
But the best thing that can happen is you realise things are happening, without plan or intention… and someone should do something about it. And that someone is you. Because, if there is no plan of action and one is needed, what are you waiting for?
This lack of plan…
It’s not sinister, most of the time.
It just is.
And you are there.
And you notice.
So do something about it. And doing something may look like not doing what you were planning on doing. Or what everyone else is doing. Or what you would have been doing if circumstances had been different.
Because circumstances are not different.
Because when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. You. Not ‘one’. You.
Because you are here and so are the lemons. So get squeezing.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!