None of us are sea squirts. Right?

If you don’t stand for something,
 you will fall for anything.

Anonymous

We can’t stand for the status quo, for what was or what we think was. We can’t stand for stability in a world that is changing and needs to change. No one wants things to stop changing. For one, it won’t and never will. 

The key to flourishing, to deeper contentment, is adaptability. Not accepting or allowing. But fully appreciating the great diversity of the challenges and opportunities that exist simultaneously. We fall for things when we can’t adapt, understand, and fully fathom the tiny window through which we see the world.

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. Heraclitus 544 BC

We know what we perceive and sense. The river of life is flowing. Our bodies and minds are evolving. Mine are deteriorating, but that is the natural evolution, at least that is what I keep telling myself. 😊 And the people and world around us are changing too. Most of which is imperceptible, hidden beneath the great current of our biases of what we think, and hope exists.

We over-simplify or we are overwhelmed. We get stuck in our ways; our limited worldview impairs the capacity of our minds and our courage to stand for things.

Sea squirts are fascinating animals.  They may look primitive but are in fact one of the most highly evolved marine invertebrates. They start out like tadpoles swimming in schools looking for a rock or piece of coral to which they permanently affix themselves. Now here is the crazy part. Then they consume their vertebrae, their brain, their eyes and then just filter plankton out of the water for the rest of their lives. The sea squirt has one of the most extreme and unusual life cycles of any living thing.  It is certainly one of the most unusual and strangely beautiful creatures in our oceans.

20 years ago, I learned about the sea squirt. Not squid. Squirt. I used it in every powerpoint presentation I gave. People loved and hated the slide and the point I made. (Most of you have probably not heard my sea squirt story) I talked about working with “leaders” especially board members of non-profits as sea squirts. No brain or backbone is needed if you are stuck on a rock! I always said “present company excluded!” It made them laugh, a knowing laugh. I have met hundreds of board members, the smartest, most accomplished professionals who lose their razor-sharp business acumen, and their incisive leadership skills that made them successful in every aspect of their lives, when they enter the board room.  When they mistakenly think they are supposed to be “nice”, they become sea squirts. In the first boards I served on I learned the ways of the sea squirt and operated in that mode for a long time, until I was mentored by high performing board members.  

Our idea of “leadership” and what a leader does gets diluted by the rise of our risk aversity, the resistance to and our fear of change. While we are fretting the change, the world and each of us continues to evolve and we go deeper into our unintended obsolescence. We can slip into the narrow mindset, “everything is fine”, “we know what we are doing”, “nothing is broken” and “the future is going to be like the past”. Yet, everyone knows, the board, the nonprofit, the for profit, the department has changed and is changing.

The future is already here it’s just not evenly distributed.  William Gibson 1967

The world is evolving. Our customers, stakeholders, our beneficiaries are going through new and undetected challenges. Just think for a moment about our mental health. Everything is always in a state of flux, the people, the context, communities served, customers, partners, investors, all are changing and evolving. And these subtle and radical changes are not reflected in our understanding nor our plans.

A strategic plan starts being obsolete once the ink dries.

Envisioning a future is not necessarily about a specific date or time. The future is happening.

If it works, it is obsolete.

Any clinging to the past, to the good ole days. To what makes us have a warm nostalgic comfortable feeling. Are the symptoms of how out of touch we are.

If we want to invest in sustainable organizations that adapt and grow, then we must consider how much of the marketplace, the challenges and the opportunities are hidden from view. How much we don’t know.

Adaptability is the most sought-after characteristic of leadership and of an organization. It is a continuous learning process. Not talking about professional development with a focus on cutting edge skills and competencies. But a dynamic feel for the needs of the people serving and being served. Leadership is defined by the quality and vigor of the collective antennae the organization possesses to sense and interpret the change around us and within us.

My point is that the future is constantly emerging “unevenly” and inequitably. Blind privilege and power determine the arrival of these futures. Regrettably structural inequity limits the distribution of the future. And ego and unintended arrogance get in the way of opening the door to sentiment, data, and the brutal truths of the world around us.

What filters, biases, structures, habits, and preferences interfere with a more accurate view of ourselves and this moment in the river?

Step out of the river and you can see and feel the future flowing.

Are we stuck on a rock?

None of us are sea squirts. Right?

Are we testing our assumptions, our plans, and our comfort levels against the evolving realities?

Are we being agreeable or adaptable?

We can’t default to the status quo, by falling for anything.

What do we stand for?

The variety and beauty of sea squirts is impossible to capture.

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