Embracing Chaos: How to Walk the Unseen Path

Ever wondered how to overcome the innovation block? Or how to find your place in life? Discover the power of flow and process-oriented innovation

Embracing Chaos: How to Walk the Unseen Path
A traveller walking into the unknown - Powered by MidJourney AI

These are interesting times. On one side, tech influencers are shouting from the rooftops about the dangers of AI. On the other, politicians are worrying about designing regulation policies that will guarantee their re-elections.

I wouldn't know why people are trying to scare the public about AI. That insight is beyond my ability to know. Which then begs the question of: How do we determine the intent of an action without resorting to guessing or mind-reading?

We infer from the results of their actions. And the result is that people are getting more excited about the possibilities every day.

So while some cower in fear and others stand in awe, let's explore where this journey will take us.

The Challenges of Innovation

Many people seem to have high hopes for AI. Some with money, some with ambition, some with talent. Great things can happen at the intersection.

Which may leave you wonder, what great idea you can come up with that will give you that great AI breakthrough. After all, people far less talented or educated than you seem to retire on stupid ideas. Why can't you?

Ideas and their implementation are often like staring at a blank page. Before the words start pouring out, writer's block is your nemesis. Now, I am going to let you in on a little secret that may turn your life upside-down.

Many gurus will tell you about the importance of goal setting That without goals you'll be aimless and never achieve anything in life. Some will tell you that your dreams aren't big enough and that you need to dream bigger. And all of this is true, at the right time.

Ikigai and the Problem of Early Goal Setting

One of the popular strategies for finding your purpose in life these days is Ikigai. I could give you the long version of Ikigai, but that's not what I want to talk about, so here's the TLDR version:

Find the intersection of what the world needs, what you are good at, and what you enjoy.

If you want to spend a few days, weeks or months thinking about it, and if you are amazing at introspection, you will find an answer.

But there is a problem with early goal setting. And this problem is reflective in how most projects are done.

You set the smart goal, you identify the resources you have, including people, skills and other types of assets. Then you assess the journey and map out the risks and opportunities along the way. You can even use something like the Lean Business Canvas to do this.

The Downfalls of Traditional Project Management

So what's the problem? It's a typical waterfall project. The kind that agile is supposed to replace. Waterfall projects are the hallmark of planned economies and the bedrock of 2+2=5. Except it doesn't work that way.

Some projects work well with a waterfall approach, others don't. And the rise of agile project management shows that enough people believe that the old waterfall model could use a bit more water.

But all these project management plans suffer from the same problem. The triangle problem: time, scope, cost. Pick any two.

Whichever way you look at it, at the end of the day, with all the due diligence in your planning you will have a partially achieved your goal. Which is better than nothing, I guess...

As you see, failure requires adequate planning. The inevitable result is that people are unhappy, quality goes down and what can we say about the cost of failed projects?

What if there was a better way?

Learning from Children

To prove once again that nature and instinct are superior to industrial planning... once again it is children who have taught me this lesson.

Based on all the peer-reviewed, double-blind studies I have never done, I have concluded that, on average, young children have fewer mental health problems than project managers. So you can trust the science on this one.

How do babies learn to walk, learn to talk, learn to climb, learn to build?
Do they set goals? Do they do a SWOT analysis? Do they use the Eisenhower Matrix?

The Power of Process-Oriented Innovation

I don't really see children suffering from analysis paralysis. So let's find out how they do it, maybe there's a trick to it.

Imagine using LEGO bricks. You take pieces out of the box at random and put them together. After you have put enough of them together, you might start to notice patterns in them. As you explore these patterns, it becomes easier to find a way to fit the bricks together.

It may not look very nice at first, mixed tiles, stray angles... it may even look a little too busy or too empty. But by now you will have entered the phase of refinement. In the words allegedly attributed to Michelangelo: You just chop away everything that doesn't look like David

So why is Process-Oriented Innovation better?

It keeps you focused on the process rather than the result. Instead of identifying what you don't have and what you can't do, as in the typical planning process, you focus on what you do have. And as long as you have resources in your box, you can keep adding and improving and bringing your work to life.

Because you never started with an outcome in mind, failure is impossible. And you get to explore new pathways as they arise. The only thing in front of you is your imagination manifesting itself.

These small repetitive tasks are meditative journeys of self-discovery. A state of mind called flow. As a result, you may feel more fulfilled and grounded in your life.

As an additional benefit, while you are engaged in flow, you are practising and refining your craft. You are becoming enjoying the journey towards mastery. For it is repetition that drives skill. 10,000 hours, Malcolm Gladwell tells us.

And when others see the results of your work, they will flock to you to help, and all you have to do is let them.

At the risk of sounding esoteric, I urge you to watch children playing together. As the first one builds a castle, others will gather around to build along. And this process repeats itself, over and over again.

Success Stories and Limitations

So where did this process work, outside of a playground? Xerox PARC. The source of some of the 20th century's greatest innovations. A place shaped by the great mind of John von Neumann using this very strategy. If you want to know more, Dominic Cummings has had some wonderful insight into Xerox PARC, which I urge you to read.

To produce great innovations, research must be free of results. Fixed goals can only serve to limit the potential benefits of research.

But, there is a reason why this process is not used in industry: you can't plan around it. It is also inappropriate for most day-to-day activities in your job.

This technique is designed to help you, when you find yourself stuck in life and wondering where to go.

The answer is to keep going, one step at a time.


In the famous book Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll's words capture this best:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
Alice: ...So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

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