Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cassandra's Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Having lived in the R&D world for so long where forward thinking is the norm, it becomes quite a challenge to interact with people who are stuck in the "Here & Now."  Whether it's the business folks watching the short-termed indicators or the people in their daily operations who don't have the luxury to imagine another way, they more often than not see the R&D fellow as outside their Here & Now.

Of course, the R&D team has a Here & Now as well: it just happens to be creating the Then & Out There.

Are they really different? Consider: The R&D team's reality is a vision, and they work daily toward its creation.  The Operations team's reality happens to be a vision too--a vision of how things are--and they work daily toward maintaining it. 

The visions of either team are arguably impermanent--today's operations are not necessarily sustainable, nor are all R&D futures attainable--but it is the vision that drives each and is the lens through which all changes are seen.

Simple enough, yes?

Now to Cassandra and her Complex (Wikipedia): In short, you have a vision of what will be, but no one believes you--and yes, it's all about you, naturally.  The few R&D folks who have the opportunity to live among the daily operations contingent have undoubtedly seen this one appear in the meetings and on the floor:  You're "thinking big" they have "a job to do"--notwithstanding that it's your job to think big, of course, or that if you have your way they won't be doing that job--at least in that way--for long!  In the end, there are two visions competing.  Sometimes there is successful negotiation and migration, a phasing in; other times, one of the visions must kill the other.  With only probabilities of future earnings or utility to defend itself,  R&D is often the loser.

Funny thing though:  Even if it's killed in the boardroom today, the R&D vision is often later realized anyway.  How?  Sometimes unsustainable operations and inevitable technology developments meet right where they're predicted--go figure!  Unfortunately, sometimes that's long after the team that made the recommendations was thanked and dismissed.

It's true, by the way: I personally do have a good deal of "I told you so"'s on my resume...

Speaking of which, back to Cassandra:  What if, over time, your "Here & Now" incorporates the habit of being disbelieved or misunderstood and later proven right?  If that is your vision, won't you work toward creating and then maintaining it?

If you gave Cassandra the prediction that she was in fact a spot-on prophet who was eventually going to be proven right, but added that she was habitually finding and focusing on those people who would not believe her, repeating this pattern, would she believe you or would she suffer tragic consequences, to include your "I told you so!"?

... or would that "self-fulfilling prophecy" be something she would have to discover for herself?

What vision would you have to hold, what habits would you have to develop, to become a successful "Prophet of Industry" ... or anything else that suits you?

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