Being born and raised in Sydney, Australia, family trips to Bondi Beach, to enjoy the delights of the dazzling sea and blazing sunshine, was a regular, and happy weekend event. It was where I learned, the hardest way possible, the most important lesson of body surfing; that if you seek to ride a wave, you have to wait for it, to discover the best opportunity to arise, so you can work or flow with it to let it carry you to the shore. Similarly, today, where we are riding the wave of disruptive change; COVID-19, and range of chaotic global events, we have the chance to be mindfully present to sense and see the best learning opportunities and creative possibilities that the disruptive waves offer us, as they arise.
Knowing that if we try to control or resist the massive chaos, disruption, and uncertainty occurring right now globally, in civil society, it’s a bit like trying to surf a huge wave, within the unpredictable playground of the massive ocean, where we are potentially at risk of getting thrashed and dumped.
Observing and evaluating the operating conditions
Like a really good body surfer, it’s useful to learn and be aware and alert to, which weather conditions will result in an awesome swell, and which waves are rideable and which waves are not.
Just as there are certain thunderous big waves and risky weather and ocean conditions, when we should not attempt to body surf, there is a range of identifiable mental models, mindsets, and behaviours that won’t give us the control, stability, security or the certainty many of us may be seeking right now.
Great surfers, skillfully and gracefully, observe and evaluate the conditions they are in, will get into the wave instead of remaining on top of it.
When we willingly and bravely dive into tough situations instead of avoiding them, like many of us re facing right now, and consciously decide how we will operate, and flow with them, we can access potentiality, possibility, and powerful energies of transformation.
The waves of disruptive change are the masters
Many of us are already feeling thrashed and emotionally disruptively dumped by the range of recent events, which, have left many of us in a state of constant, and anxious overwhelm. Yet the waves of disruptive change are actually not only our teachers, but they are also our masters.
In a recent article in INSEAD, by “Growing Resilience in Uncertain times” Nathan Furr describes what he terms as “unproductive uncertainty.” This results in anxiety, overwhelm, and paralysis, and how some people manage to see their way through that unproductive state and find a positive path forward. He suggests that we can all learn to develop our “certainty capability” to better navigate turbulent times, uncover potential, and transform uncertainty creatively into a range of future possibilities.
He then suggests, as many of us are already aware, it all depends on how you frame the situation. To then use your mindful self-awareness to be deeply present in the moment with full focus and intent, knowing that we cannot control the waves of disruptive change, we can only negotiate them.
Tips for negotiating the waves of disruptive change, especially when interacting with others
- Choose to be fully present, retreat, and reflect:
- Attune to and accept how you are feeling about the uncertainty (are you nervous or excited about catching the next wave?)
- Expand your perspective to take in the whole system you operate within (are you seeing the sky, clouds, and sunshine as well as the rhythm of waves, and feel of the cold of the water?)
- Pay deep attention to what is happening at the edges of the system (are you observing the patterns of the waves, the potential rips, others close by in case of unexpected dangers?)
- Reboot your capacity and capability to unleash your potential to flow within it.
- Notice the quality of your listening, are you listening to:
- Evaluate and judge what is right and what is wrong?
- Compete, look good, differ, and win the argument?
- Empathize to deeply understand someone else’s world?
- Emerge possibilities for positive change?
- Diverge and converge patterns and trends?
- Reveal options for making effective decisions?
- See and solve a potential problem, to make the situation better?
- Notice the quality of your inquiring, are you asking questions to:
- Gather information or seek a binary response?
- Lead people to your way of thinking about the situation?
- Show people that you know the answer?
- Reflect back that you deeply understand someone else’s world?
- Emerge possibilities for positive change?
- Diverge patterns and trends occurring in the system?
- Challenge the status quo?
- Provocate and disrupt habitual thinking habits?
- Unleash creative ideas and breakthroughs?
Focussing your intention
It is a very difficult and necessary practice, as we all learn to adapt to and negotiate how to effectively and successfully ride the wave of disruptive change.
Commit to becoming a really great surfer
When we are surfing, we have no control over the waves—the waves are going to come and go regardless of what we may want, we just have to commit to going on the ride.
Focus on cultivating your “certainty capability” and become a really great surfer; one who calmly learns to respond, interact with, and flow with whatever waves of disruptive change may come, huge or small. Who uses them to learn from, unleash potential, emerging possibilities, create, invent the outcomes we want in a fairer, more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable world.
Accepting that even the wisest and most experienced leaders among us will occasionally make mistakes, just as even professional surfers sometimes misread waves and fail spectacularly, it’s an opportunity to make corrections and ride the wave of disruption change, with grace, elegance, and ease – as we are all surfing right now into unknown territory.
Because ultimately, we can’t control everything, but we can control our response – will we let the waves of disruptive change thrash and dump us, or will we adapt, listen, inquire generously, and learn to roll with them, as gifts, like a true surfing hero, for moving forward into co-creating the playing fields of the future, as we go?