It’s that time of the year when a lot of people write lists – the top 10 things I noticed in 2012, and the top 1o things to watch in 2013. That sort of thing. I dislike them. But there is something to be said for taking the time to reflect on experience in one year to prepare for what’s coming next year.
I’ve already reflected on how I got to the PhD this year, and won’t go over that ground. What’s happened during this year is that I’ve realised my topic is something completely different to what I thought it was, and that has happened because I’ve had to let go of what I though was a the core driver for this research. I was so attached to the idea of the relationships between academics and administrators, because it was my personal experience and practice, that I was very reluctant to recognise that I was looking in the wrong place for answers to the question about the future of university management.
Otto Scharmer talks about letting go as part of the Theory U process – essentially, that we need to let go of the past to let the future come. There’s more to Theory U than that, but fundamentally, it’s about being open to challenging assumptions and working with others in authentic ways. The hard thing to deal with is that assumptions are deeply held, subconscious beliefs about why we think something is true or not. Surfacing them in the first place is really hard, and recognising that we have to let them go to move on creates almost a sense of grief at losing something that was so much part of how we live in the world.
In my case, it was a research world in which I was living, and I was soooo convinced that my topic was ‘right’ that I ignored the voices in my head that were saying ‘yes, but what about this…and what about that? None of which I could fit easily into the research plan I was working on. The disconfirming evidence that should have signalled to me that I was on the right track, but no.
My PhD notebook was full of attempt after attempt to create a framework for the research, none of which were ‘right’. In the end, I just stopped and figured I needed to stop thinking and trust emergence. That my way forward would come if I let go. And it did, even though that realisation did come with some grief.
Of course, this thinking process is exactly what I try to impart to the people Iwork with on foresight projects – to hack those status quo assumptions and explore the future to identify possibilities. And here I was, engaging in the very defence practice I’m trying to illuminate in my work. Bit sad really!
I will reflect again at this time in 2013 to see how the year has gone. Right now, I am hopeful!