Does God Play Dice?

Modern Physics has long done away with the notion that we can know anything with
certainty yet most management theories and practice seem to be based on a Newtonian
view of ‘knowability’. True leadership recognises that we never know what to do but
this very uncertainty demands that we must act decisively.

As I write this The Age reports that overnight
the Dow
Jones
Industrial Average
fell below 9000 points for the first time since 2003. Maybe by the time you
read this it will have fallen below 8000. Maybe it will have recovered to be
over 10,000. As I heard Craig
James
say at a business breakfast this morning, “No
one knows.”

In all my experience as a consultant, the question I am most often asked is “How
do we know what we should do?” This question comes in many forms. Sometimes
my client acts as though I know exactly the solution to their problem – after
all that’s what they pay me for isn’t it. Sometimes I feel like
telling them not only do I have no idea of the solution, I’m not even
sure what the problem is. Unfortunately I more often fall into the trap of
believing the client’s trust in my omniscience is well placed. I believe
that I should know the answer or at least, if I don’t. I should act as
though I do. I justify this by convincing myself that if I work hard enough,
study the client’s situation in enough detail and read enough of what ‘the
experts’ say, both THE PROBLEM and THE ANSWER will become clear to me.

It is at times like this that I forget the greatest service I can give to
my client is to not know. My client knows their business and their organisation
better than I ever can. When I feel like I have to know, or have to look like
I know I can’t ask the dumb questions that everyone wants to ask but
no one dares. With grateful acknowledgment to a dear colleague, I call this
the Colombo model of consulting.

The same is true for leadership. It takes courage to admit you don’t
know what to do yet perhaps the greatest failures of leadership throughout
history have been made by those who acted out of this fear. In the current
economic situation, doing nothing is not an option. Global treasury officials
and financial chiefs must act in the full knowledge that there is no higher
authority to which they can turn who can provide them with just the right settings
to avert a catastrophe, History will judge them harshly if they get it wrong.

This
belief arises from the triumph of the industrial age where we have come to
think of organisations as machines.

As Danah Zohar puts it:

Classical physics transmuted the living cosmos of Greek and medieval times,
a cosmos filled with purpose and intelligence and driven by the love of God
for the benefit of humans, into a dead, clockwork machine … Things moved
because they were fixed and determined; cold silence pervaded the once-teeming
heavens. Human beings and their struggles, the whole of consciousness, and
life itself were irrelevant to the workings of the vast universal machine” The
Quantum Self: Human Nature and Consciousness Defined by the New Physics,
1990

Read more