I find that there are 4 dominant approaches:
Appease the Environment – The assumption here is that the environment is hostile and unpredictable. The best way to cope is to appease whatever “God” controls your environment. (ie: your boss and/or other people in a position of power; any higher power – gods, goddesses, spirits, etc)
Control the Environment – Most leadership training is about “controlling your environment.” Evaluating the environment so you can change it – ideally so that it works the way YOU want it to. Process improvement and system thinking approaches tend to fall into this category. The implicit assumption is that your way is the right way.
Become One With the Environment – This approach deals with the tension between what is best for the environment that surrounds you and what is best for you. It helps to know exactly what you are “becoming one with.” Most people who talk about “becoming one” approach it with an idealized vision of what the environment they are working with is (or should be – which starts sneaking into “control.” It’s good to have this idealized vision. It’s also good to be realistic about what you are working with right now. Sometimes, the best option is to go find an environment that best matches you and will help you thrive.
Get Perspective On the Environment – This approach aims to gain perspective, then optimize.
Key questions – What are we trying to accomplish? What does the environment look like right now? Is there enough within that environment where we can accomplish those goals – or do we need to set either preliminary goals OR set entirely new goals? What are the components within that environment that we can optimize so that it works for EVERYONE within that environment and still achieve our goals? What do we need to “weed”?
This approach reminds me of permaculture. Permaculture aims to use the environment you find yourself in and grow plants that will work best in that environment.
Depending upon your goals (such as – “I want a vegetable garden”), you plant seeds.
There are parts of your environment you can’t control – such as the weather.
There are other parts that you can – such as the seeds you plant
Some vegetables will thrive in your environment. For example, I live in Virginia. Lettuce does well here in the spring. If I were in the tropics, lettuce is do-able but more challenging. Lettuce (particularly varieties such as Iceberg) will bolt or rot in the heat and humidity.
What is your default?
Does your default change based on your context?
Don Beck and Chris Cowan’s Spiral Dynamics has shaped my thinking around “fit your solution to the environment you find yourself in” vs. “solve the problem”
Two books provide excellent examples of “fitting your solution to your existing environment”:
- Memenomics – Said Dawalbani’s analysis of the evolution of economies. Beautifully written and thought-provoking.
- Spiral Dynamics in Action – A series of case studies for applied Spiral Dynamics. The Case Studies focus on national-level solutions, but there is much here that we can pull for smaller-scale efforts.
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