On (non) arrival

The other day I shared a paraphrased quote from my friend and former manager, Brendon. Last summer we were talking about career progression and working with big companies. He said, “I kept thinking I’d find the room full of really smart people doing smart stuff and that room just doesn’t exist.”

Some people may take it as cynical or jaded. People who know either of us on a cursory level would be sure of it. But I thought it got at something a little more hopeful: that even the smartest people, the biggest names, the most seasoned vets, are all trying to figure this stuff out.

It adds some nuance to the Peter Principle, that people rise to their highest level of incompetence. Rather than (or at least, in addition to) incompetence, it’s the capability to move forward even when things are ambiguous.

In this imagined utopia, in every room, the right course of action is obvious to everyone. In our reality, rooms aren’t for doing smart stuff and having answers, but tinkering and considering how to proceed.

I’ve been digging through The Great Mental Models volume 2 and just read the section on alloys (a metal combined with something else). The author wraps it with this, “Understanding that knowledge is an alloy of experience and theory that can be further strengthened by elements of curiosity, imagination, and sharing gives us the absolute to develop it as a true source of power in our lives.”

Leadership is figuring out how to better combine things — functions, people, tech, processes — toward a larger goal.

Framing “the top” more generously might take pressure off the climb. I think about non-arrival every day because I have to remind myself of it; every level and position has its own challenges that aren’t obvious from the others. We don’t arrive anywhere, we just keep moving and doing our best where we are.



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Wild Garden

Wild Garden

Wild Garden is an exploration of how companies use strategy, creativity, and organizational culture to nurture growth. Organically fertilized by Ben Perreira.