Hi, I’m Ian McClean. I’m the founder of Flow Group and GreenLine Conversations, and this podcast has grown out of the chaos that’s been thrust upon us. During the podcast, I’m going to try and share with you the best of 25 years of helping corporate organizations deal and cope with change. So, as you’re out there, busy making sense of it all, trying to cope, and maybe, in some cases, trying to rebuild your organizations, I’m hoping that some of this can be of some assistance.

We’ll keep it deliberately short, because I know you’re busy. Let’s dive in. I was originally intending to continue our exploration of conversations, but I’ve decided to take a detour. You’ll have noticed we’ve had a two-week gap, and that two weeks has been a time that I’ve taken to step away from business and I’ve spent the last two weeks Zooming out, and I’ve spent most of that time in nature either by the sea or in the forests or in the mountains and it’s the first break I recognize that I’ve had for the 18 weeks that we’ve been in the COVID period.

And, of course, having taken the two weeks, the old cliche of you never realize how much you needed the break until after you’ve had the break definitely prevails. So, I’ve decided to dedicate this episode to the critical need for us to zoom out.

I’m hoping as you’re listening to this, that you are either taking a break given the time of year at the moment, or that you’re about to take a break, or that you’ve already taken a break, or if you’re really lucky that you’re listening to this while on a break. One of the many characteristics of leaders that we’ve encountered over the last quarter century is a marked reluctance to take a break.

And there are some very understandable reasons for this. The first is that there is a natural rhythm to the daily routine, which is, in a peculiar way, soothing, where we become routinized. And the pattern, once created, is hard to break. The second reason that leaders typically don’t opt to take time out is that they believe they’re indispensable.

And the third, even more practical reason is that, like any busy executive, you could probably spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week, trying to get through your task lists of what you know you need to do, and there still wouldn’t be enough time. However, we need to balance that with the reality of the fact that nobody on their deathbed ever regretted not spending more time at the office.

The routinized habit of normal time is a twin-edged sword. When you pick up one end of a stick, you pick up the other. It both has something that favours us and something that gives us fault. What’s in our favour very much is that by becoming more routine, we delve into the area of the unconscious. A lot of those subroutines that we have that we don’t even need to think about anymore.

And what that allows us to do is it frees up precious bandwidth for us to focus consciously on other things. So it has a merit. However, the other end of the stick is that it both dulls and narrows our overall context. I guess you’ll recognize the fact that much of our best thinking is done when we’re not thinking.

Archimedes was stepping into a bath, and Newton was sitting in his garden when they both encountered their Eureka moment. Think of it as a camera on a landscape. If you zoom in on the landscape, you’ll find at the top of the hill a house, and by zooming in, you’ll be able to examine a lot of the details of that house.

However, when you zoom out, you sacrifice the details of the house. But what you include is the broader or wider context of the surrounding landscape with a beautiful view or the local amenities, or maybe that local neighbour’s planning application you otherwise wouldn’t see. It’s the nature of our lives that we spend the majority of it zoomed in.

One thing that often gets missed is that it is the primary responsibility of the leader to continually zoom out. We need to imagine the future as part of safeguarding our business and helping it navigate its way. We can’t do that without having the wider context and zooming out to see the bigger picture. If it isn’t you as a leader who is undertaking to do this, then who is doing it?

Summertime is a timely reminder for us, but I’d strongly advocate the institutionalization of zooming out. And something that should be part of the regular routine. Most leaders really struggle with this in my experience. Part of the reason for that is that organizations typically reward people handsomely for doing, and we become very quickly conditioned that doing is good.

Zooming out ostensibly requires you to not do, and many leaders really struggle with the guilt associated with the appearance of not doing. Therefore, to help with your zooming out, there are two questions that I would advocate or suggest that you use to think about and reflect. For balance, one is personal, and the other is business.

First, the personal. When we think about age, we typically think about it in chronological terms. We think about life as how many years old we are. Well, this is interesting when you’re a kid when you’re growing up, you’re still developing and growing, but as you get past a certain age, maybe it is easier or wiser to think about age in a different context.

What if you thought about time in terms of years left? What this simply does is it shifts our focus of time from yesterday to tomorrow. There are any number of life expectancy calculators that you can use these days which will give you some kind of raw information as to roughly how much time we have left.

I don’t say this to be morbid. I say this to act as a catalyst. For a different way to shape our context around time and to give us a different perspective on how we spend it because, as most leaders fail to realize but ultimately realize, the most precious commodity any of us have is time. And there’s no more important role that you have as a leader than the role of leading your own life.

So here’s the question: once you’ve calculated and thought about how much time notionally we might have left, The question is, are you currently doing the right things for the life that you’ve got left?

The right things, of course, are determined only by you. And the question should include all the relevant dimensions that go to make up your life.

Obviously, this question, particularly if you’re not in the habit of it, requires both courage and honesty. But wouldn’t you say that courage and honesty are key characteristics of how you’d want to be as a leader? Speaking of the right things, it was Peter Drucker who said that leaders did the right things whilst managers focused on doing things right, zooming out versus zooming in.

One of Drucker’s other things to bring us to the business question was around the idea of systematic abandonment. One of the consequences of being zoomed in too much and being routinized unconsciously is that we hang on to things well past their sell-by date when we should have let them go. People, projects, areas of the business that once served a purpose and made rational sense that no longer do, but we don’t notice because we’re too deeply immersed.

We’re not quite certain who discovered water, but we’re pretty sure it wasn’t fish. So, here’s the question. If we weren’t involved, knowing what we know now, would I still start today?

Drucker once explained there’s an old medical proverb. There’s nothing more expensive, nothing more difficult than to keep a corpse from stinking.

And most businesses, in my experience, keep or waste time, energy and precious resources to keep their corpses and their old products from stinking.

Summertime is a great time for zooming out, and indeed, it’s been compounded by the coronavirus situation, which has been a gift in another sense to enable us to zoom out more.

It’s no coincidence that the Segway, that unit for personal mobility that was going to revolutionize two wheels the way we transported ourselves around, after 19 years, last month it manufactured its last units.

Now, it makes far more from stunt scooters and e-skates.

In June, Olympus sold off its camera division.

And in May, General Electric finally announced the sale of its light bulb business, which traces history back to Thomas Edison’s original invention.

The merger of the inventors Edison General Electric Company and Arrival in 1892 created GE.

By zooming out, I hope you create your own light bulb moment.

Until next time, stay safe, stay sane, stay connected.

Leave a Reply