Bless this mess.
While enjoying coffee with a friend, I mentioned that I was “still in the mess” but knew I needed to stay there and go deeper versus turn away. “You should write about that,” she said.
The mess is part of many important decisions. It happens after gathering what feels like enough – sometimes too much – information. It’s messy and often quite uncomfortable, but my advice is when it gets uncomfortable, stay there. Despite human instincts to move away; try stepping into the mess.
The first step into the mess is scary beyond belief. It takes less energy and less caring to ask for more data or do another market scan or ask another consultant to come in and give their opinion or decide the status quo is fine. These things are good at the right time and for the right reason, but are not good if they are cover-ups for avoiding the mess – where confusion, chaos and a lot of hard work reside.
The luxury of amassing mounds of perfect information that steer precisely to “the right answer” almost never happens. Clarity must come from the piles – or dearth – of information we have. It’s time to dig in, get curious, listen up and make choices. Movement doesn’t happen without clarity. Clarity often doesn’t happen without digging in. And in today’s world clarity hardly ever comes from perfect information. Things are moving too fast…
When it gets really complicated and messy don’t quit. Pause and step away, but do not quit. The moment we want “the right answer” is the time to have the guts to remain open and curious – even when it is uncomfortable.
An article by Mario Livio The ‘Why’ Behind Asking Why: The Science of Curiosity confirms that the kind of curiosity in the mess is not pleasant. It is called perpetual curiosity and described “like a scratch that you have to itch.” It’s the curiosity we feel when something surprises us or when something doesn’t quite agree with what we know or think we know.
I worked on a company-wide growth project and we used a room to help us – literally and figuratively – navigate the mess. We collaborated with hundreds of employees, talked to clients, delved into the numbers, and researched marketplace information. It was a lot of input. We found an old storeroom, hung things on the walls, stacked and piled papers and pieces of data, input, opinions, interviews etc. everywhere and named it “the growth lab.” The room was a mess.
Here’s the thing, stepping into the mess isn’t like practicing a song on the piano that gets easier each time. No, stepping into the mess is more like getting a new piece of music and sometimes a new instrument on which to play it. It’s a leap from knowing to not knowing. No wonder it’s uncomfortable!
It takes willingness to step fully into the mess and roll up our sleeves and keep digging even though there’s no clear path out. Chaos then clarity then meaning. Don’t confuse depth with duration, though, sometimes this work happens fast.
And, gradually and then suddenly – and sometimes when we can’t dig anymore and sometimes a lot sooner and quite unexpectedly – clarity begins to emerge or hits us over the head. It’s not a parting of the waters or the clouds or anything magical like that, unfortunately. It’s guts and grit and lots of analyzing, thinking, connecting dots, asking questions, listening and learning from others and daring to see possibilities.
Creating simple solutions to complex problems seldom occurs without the mess. Having someone to work through the mess with brings clarity. The method my business uses to help leaders, teams and organizations make their leap from now to next is called The S+EP™.
The path forward is never exactly as planned. Sometimes, and quite often in my experience, the initial “next” moves and becomes something better, different and more than first dreamed.
Have you ever jumped into the mess and later accomplished things you could not have imaged before the leap?
I look forward to hearing from you.