Monthly Archives: August 2013

Sloppy thoughts

Complex System (640x480)
Complex System

Is it just me or is anyone else bumping up against lots of binary questions and linear thinking these days? On LinkedIn, Twitter, TV, in day-to-day conversations?

“Is this thing better than that thing?” “Is leadership more important than management?” “A obviously causes B, so lets fix A.” “Mandate the wearing of cycle helmets and save lives”

These kinds of questions and assertions can send our minds straight to a place of stored knowledge, analysis and judgement. Quite a small place really.

Fine if we are being asked about travel directions. “Is it left or right at the next junction?” In these cases there is a good chance that there is a single, correct answer.

Less useful if the apparent issue is part of a more complex inter-relationship of events, processes and behaviours. Less useful if different people have different views of what is more or less relevant in such a dynamic web of activity.

So, when we consider the assertion that mandating the wearing of cycle helmets will save lives, many of us might agree. It is intuitively obvious.

But zoom out from this linear relationship for a moment. Consider – as New Zealand has – the numbers of people who will give up their cycle commute to work or evening ride because of helmet legislation, and the larger knock-on public health impact of reduced cardio-vascular health in the population at large.

I am not inviting an either/or debate on cycle helmets. Ideally an inspiring public dialogue will achieve tactical (less head injuries) and strategic (better public cardio-vascular health) outcomes.

Rather I am inviting the development of an inquiring and systems level approach to the way we engage with issues more generally.

An approach that considers the bigger, often more complex picture. An approach which helps us better understand inter-relationships and where these form helpful and not so helpful feedback loops. An approach which helps reveal what is important and what is less important.

Maybe we all intuitively know this. And so there are perhaps wider questions – for a future blog maybe – about the ease with which we embrace sloppy thinking and our attachment to simplistic soap-box points of view.

Dave Stewart
The Fresh Air Learning Company

Is it just me or is anyone else bumping up against lots of binary questions and linear …

Wad’a’ya mean!?

Last week’s blog by Mike Noel-Smith drew on a voyage by Leif Ericson, the Norse sea-farer, to trigger some reflections on leadership. It generated some great discussion.

Some people embraced an interpretation around courage, focus and persistence. Others held Leif up as a rather mad, reckless bully.

As with all stories the blog was simply an invitation to readers to engage and derive their own meaning. There is no “right” answer.

It got me thinking about our capacity for inquiry – how we engage and the way we develop meaning.

What meaning do we make at first pass? And is that it? Do we stop and pronounce our belief there? Are we able to cycle some more? Sleep on it. Shift a bit perhaps?

How does the meaning we make develop as we engage further – perhaps reading more closely, noticing bits we missed, reflecting a bit, maybe discussing with others? How long do we stay open and curious and play with possibilities before we close and stick with a point of view? How strongly do we stick?

What are the circumstances in play when we inquire, stick, and act? Is there a pressing need to converge on a decision, and act quickly? What about those occasions when a more creative, divergent process might serve us better?

How aware are we of our perceptual biases? How fully do we see, hear and feel what is being said or written? What is evident, and what are we blind, deaf and insensitive to? Who helps us notice what we don’t notice?

What metaphors do we habitually use; what mental models jump into being; what inferences do we automatically make? How fully are we “in the moment”, or are we thinking into the future? Can we do both perhaps? How small or big, simple or complex is the context we position our thinking in? Are we dealing with tactical symptoms or are we playing in a wider system or ecology?

There are books and books on this stuff.

My invitation is simply to consider how you show up in this world, and to consider what is possible for you and those around you with a more inquiring approach.

Dave Stewart

The Fresh Air Learning Company


Last week’s blog by Mike Noel-Smith drew on a voyage by Leif Ericson, the Norse sea-farer, to …

A lief out of a Norse leadership story

Fresh Air Learning - Leif EricsonThe wind howled like a thousand crying wolves and the waves crashed against the longboat throwing up white spume and froth onto the deck.

The storm had raged like this for 6 days and continued to carry the men in a direction they had never been before. No one could row in weather like this. They huddled under the canvas sheet. Meagre shelter in atrocious conditions.

Some prayed and some wondered why they were on this crazy journey.

Leif Ericson, the master skipper, calculated they had travelled hundreds of nautical miles since leaving the shelter and safety of Greenland. He looked at the dark sea and thought about how brave his men were. A trip into the unknown. A trip to a new world and new beginnings.

Was it true that the world was flat? Would they plummet off the edge of the world and enter Valhalla?


This journey took place over a thousand years ago, and pre-dated Christopher Columbus ‘discovery’ of the New World by 500 years.

When Leif Ericson first set sight on a strange coastline, he was not to know that he was ‘discovering’ the New World. He named the land Vinland. Archaeological finds in Newfoundland and the Gulf of St Lawrence in the 20th century confirm the presence of Norsemen and their settlements.

Resolve and revelation

Dispelling myths and being courageous of heart in what you want to pursue will reveal new worlds and new beginnings to all those that try.

Erickson and his crew were quite literally going into the unknown, but had a strong belief in themselves and in their skipper as leader. They refused to listen to the doubters and the critics and went onto achieve many amazing journeys of which this one was outstandingly awesome!

What awesome journeys await you and your business? What new worlds will be revealed through your leadership?

Mike Noel-Smith
The Fresh Air Learning Company


The wind howled like a thousand crying wolves and the waves crashed against the longboat throwing up …