February 22, 2018

Are you at arm’s length?

Two doctors in discussionIt all depends on your perspective of course…

Who’s at arms length from who? We might feel more secure keeping uncomfortable (but needed) influences at arm’s length.

The thing is…

It’s tempting to keep people at that distance; to not let them in.

But it makes us hard to reach; at arm’s length from what we need.

Not so smart really.

Might be wise to let them closer.

Why help is needed

Forest on a hillsideW. Edwards Deming said “Help must come from outside because a system is not capable of understanding itself.”

In other words, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. This is true whether we’re talking about a single person or an organisation i.e. whether in coaching or consultancy.

What Deming didn’t say, but perhaps we might add, is that help must come from outside because people, and, therefore, organisations do what they do unconsciously. They’re not aware of the gap between what they’re doing and what they could be doing. If they were, they would be doing it already.

Unconscious competences aren’t always useful. Just because we’re good at something, doesn’t mean it’s the right choice.


From the outside, it can be very obvious what the system isn’t understanding about itself because (1) it doesn’t have perspective, and (2) what it needs is outside conscious awareness.

Benefit then in involving someone to bring perspective and stimulate realisation.

North Korean leadership – irrational or just not understood?

North Korean leadership – irrational or just not understood? And a suggested takeaway (no, not a Korean carry out (!) – an idea to use).

North Korea’s leadership is frequently referred to as “irrational”, but maybe it only seems irrational because we don’t understand its way of looking at the world – a very different viewpoint and values. Would the Chinese call the North Korean leadership irrational? Probably not. Being that bit closer, they may see how North Korea’s actions make sense in Kim Jong Il’s “map of the world”, frustrating though they may be for the Chinese, and dangerous for everyone.

At a slightly less dramatic level – only slightly, mind – somebody recently called “irrational” another party in a dispute. Same applies. Unless a person is mentally ill (perhaps Kim Jong Il is), there’s really no such thing as “irrational”. If somebody’s decisions don’t seem to make sense, it just means we don’t understand their perspective, and instead are trying to evaluate using our map.

Here’s the takeaway I suggest…

If you think you’re dealing with irrationality, accept instead you don’t understand the other’s perspective, and look for the explanation – it’ll be there. You don’t have to agree with it, just accept their right to have their own perspective. Then you’ll stand more chance of figuring out what to do to solve the problem.

And the underlying principle…

“The map is not the territory” – so said Alfred Korzybski in 1931, with echoes by NLPers since. Our model of the world is a pale shadow of the world itself. Mine is different from yours and neither are the same as the world itself. You have as much right to your model as I have to mine, and we both know much and yet also very little.