Randomness and Value

Let’s just imagine for a moment that organisations have no idea what they’re doing. And, by way of balance, let’s pretend that people have no idea what they want. Picture a world in which pretty much everyone is clueless, in which every next step is just guessed at and people choose things on a whim.

The last time you talked to someone about what they wanted to do with their lives how did the conversation go? Were they absolutely clear? Were there doubts? And how sure were they really? If another idea came along, a new job or an offer to move to another country, would they stick to their original plan?

If people are like this with their life plans, what does this mean for the day-to-day? Are they going to be loyal to brands? Do they know which cleaning products are best? Are they absolutely sure about their favourite place to go on holiday? Do they know what public services they really need?

Our decisions are a function of what we already know, what we can easily find out, our moods and whatever else happens when it comes to the crunch. Which is another way of saying that it’s essentially random. And organisations are just made up of lots of people, so how can we expect them to be any different?

Of course we don’t really talk about what organisations want. We talk about strategy. So, bringing us back to the beginning of the post, let’s just imagine that those strategies are completely made up, by groups of people with no clear idea of what they want.

What this means is that organisations and people can’t properly interact by way of transactions. Real transactions are heavily reliant on clear articulation and mutual agreement. In our random world that’s possible on a shallow, micro-level but it just can’t scale. And the mistake organisations make is that they think a minor transaction is a connection with their values.

Real connections come from something else altogether. When organisations don’t know what to do and people don’t know what they want, connections come from mutual support. People need organisations to help them make better choices as much as organisations need people to show them the way forward.

This mutual support through the gauntlet of indecision and randomness is a powerful thing, easily abused but easily spotted. Just because nobody knows what they want it doesn’t mean that nobody is going to notice when they haven’t got it.

And so, the important thing is to embrace and be honest about how little we have a clue. And how much we all need each other to create anything of real value. After all, everything is much more exciting that way. Let’s all stop pretending and get on with it.

  1. In looking at many local charities, and perhaps even considering our own, I do have a sense that many of these organisations start with a vision or at least a sense of purpose and an idea of how they are going to do it. With a little bit of foothold they go through a phase of testing and trying all sorts of things that may help them get where they want to be, do what they want to do. And then finally work out what and how it works and what it means to others – both donors/funders and clients/beneficaries. In short, they work out what it is they have created.

    I’m not sure I would call this random – there are a lot of variables involved, particularly in the middle phases- but that makes it complex, maybe chaotic, but not necessairly random.

    The influence of directed, restricted by generously funded programmes from public sector and large trusts can often interfere with this (mission drift?) but just as I usually instinctively like tracks that were recorded live in the studio, the charities I admire the most tend to be those that remain relatively free of externally-driven programmes, have their own inner strength of purpose and have been through this journey of

  2. Thanks for the comment, Justin. I appreciate that random might be putting it strongly but I’m also conscious that we place far too much emphasis on strategies and being seen to know what to do. In my opinion, this need to clarify direction can stifle some of the more responsive and innovative approaches.

    The challenge for charities is an interesting one. Much of what I see from charities is very clearly designed to articulate that they need a certain amount of money to do something specific about a problem. However, most of us know that what is really needed is usually far more complex than simple transactions and fixes.

    The challenge for all organisations I think is to find new ways to be more honest about the complexity of their work and new ways to take their audience on the journey with them. Organisations that have had that strong relationship and learnt as well as educated have a real opportunity to demonstrate honesty and integrity. I like the idea of this relationship helping to reinforce that “inner strength of prupose”.

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