To Do Or Not To Do?

27 April 2018 | Dis­cov­er­ing the Future

Move over, Shake­speare. “To be or not to be” is no longer the ques­tion of the moment. Diana Ren­ner [link] and Steven D’Souza [link] have a bet­ter ques­tion for this mani­a­cal­ly active busi­ness and social world.

The two authors (Steven is also one of our NextSen­sors) have just pub­lished Not Doing: The Art of Effort­less Action [UK link] [US link], and it is a spe­cial book in at least two ways.

Steven, whom I first met at a diver­si­ty con­fer­ence back in 2005 in the UK when he was intro­duc­ing his first book [link], has ded­i­cat­ed this lat­est book to me. Peo­ple often say that they are “touched” when some­thing like this hap­pens; but, please believe me, when you see an author’s words at the front of a book aimed at your­self, well, the feel­ing is intense.

The sec­ond rea­son this book is impor­tant is that it con­tin­ues the fine tra­di­tion of think­ing in new ways, begun when Diana and Steven pub­lished Not Know­ing: The Art of Turn­ing Uncer­tain­ty into Oppor­tu­ni­ty [link]. In that book, the authors not­ed that the claim of always know­ing what is or is not impor­tant can blind some­one from explor­ing, which can open open whole new per­son­al and busi­ness vistas.

In Not Doing, the tran­si­tion from Not Know­ing is smooth from the very first of the book. Say the authors:

The real­i­ties of our work­places are flu­id, dynam­ic, and ever-chang­ing…. [As a result,] We might feel:”

  • That despite our best efforts, we are mak­ing no progress in our work
  • Tempt­ed to find a quick fix or jump into action
  • A need to con­trol, impos­ing our own agenda
  • A sense of pres­sure or urgency to act fast
  • Over­whelmed by strong feel­ings, like anx­i­ety or anger
  • Exces­sive­ly busy
  • Engaged in mind­less action
  • That time speeds up or runs out
  • An avoid­ance of reality
  • Exhaust­ed and burnt out
  • A lack of joy and fulfillment.

D'Souza and Renner

D’Souza and Ren­ner [Source: IE]

I rec­og­nize myself in the bul­let points pre­sent­ed by the author. When I feel that my work and per­son­al life have become a web of per­plex­i­ty, I often think of that sports­wear ad that advis­es, “Just do it.” Only, in my head, I say to myself, “Just do some­thing!” Not doing some­thing seems like a dere­lic­tion of my duty as a human being. Or, as Steven and Diana note when they describe how inac­tion feels, most times, for most peo­ple. “It is nat­ur­al to asso­ciate Not Doing with…”
  • Inac­tion
  • Not achiev­ing
  • Lone­li­ness
  • Pas­siv­i­ty
  • Incom­pe­tence
  • Fail­ure
  • Wast­ing time
  • Not pro­duc­ing
  • Not being valued
  • Loss of impor­tance or relevance.

As you may have guessed, the bulk of the book is about (1) The Dys­func­tions of Doing, and (2) “Neg­a­tive Capa­bil­i­ties.” In sum, you will quick­ly be per­suad­ed in the first part that mind­less action sel­dom leads to gen­uine progress. And, in the sec­ond, the authors take a phrase made famous by a British poet, John Keats, and adapt it to show how not doing can also open up whole new per­son­al and busi­ness vistas.

I start­ed out my rela­tion­ship with Steven as a kind of men­tor. Now, I find, he and Diana are teach­ing me at a time when I feel their mes­sage is of utmost impor­tance. I real­ly can­not say how sig­nif­i­cant this book can be to you. But I can share what Mar­garet Hef­fer­nan [link], the Chief Exec­u­tive of Entre­pre­neur, said in this book’s foreword:

Lead­ing, man­ag­ing, decid­ing, direct­ing, del­e­gat­ing, com­pet­ing, co-cre­at­ing: all the verbs of work char­ac­ter­ize action. Above all else, a leader must be busy. The rate and pace of activ­i­ty has become a sta­tus sym­bol: peo­ple, com­pa­nies, coun­tries can­not func­tion with­out me. Life has become a race — to the top or the bot­tom — and we spend our lives in run­ning shoes.

Against this back­drop of sound and fury, Ren­ner and D’Souza pro­pose a com­pelling alter­na­tive: Pause. Think. Breathe. Take the effort out and replace it with time to be where you are. Their argu­ment is timely.

Joseph PistruiJoseph Pistrui (@nextsensing) is Pro­fes­sor of Entre­pre­neur­ial Man­age­ment at IE Busi­ness School in Madrid. He also leads the glob­al Nextsens­ing Project, which he found­ed in 2012.

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