What do you do when you find yourself at your edge? The edge of where you know and don’t know. Where you are competent and not competent. Where you are in your comfort zone and where you are not. Where beyond the edge is the unknown? For most people, this is a place of automatic uncertainty, anxiety, and a lurking fear.
Most people in our culture have been educated and trained to know things, to develop reliable skills, and to act out of their competence and familiarity with what they do. We study to pass the test, and not knowing is a negative result. Yet in real life most of what we face is what we don’t know. The world is complex, what can be known is far beyond what one individual can ever know. And at the same time everything is changing.
And so we specialize and keep our work and actions in the zones that we have become familiar and competent with. As a project manager, for example, we approach projects in our frameworks for projects and go to work with what we know to do. We do this as a marketing or sales professional, or technology professional, or financial expert, and so on.
As long as our skills are effective in the changing world, and we are competitive with our offers, we can continue our work in what we know. We can define our work inside our comfort zone. We do this until our skills – and our promises – are no longer competitively valuable; or until we get promoted beyond our competence; or until we must enter new territory. We face change, we find ourselves at our edge, and we face the unknown.
Perhaps we see that we can go beyond our edge to new possibilities, new skills, and a new future if we engage in learning. But if we don’t see we have the time to do that, then we are stuck at our edge. Not sure what to do, hesitating, or really wishing we could be somewhere else. Perhaps we contract and focus on what we know and what we are comfortable with. And hope someone else will handle the edge for us.
Yet we see some people who seem to have skills at the edge. They don’t contract from the unknown. They actually see the unknown as possibilities, and may even love the unknown. They move skillfully in the unknown – they are curious. They explore, they analyze, they speculate, they design, invent, innovate, and plan. They show up as leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and explorers.
We all went through the unknown with learning in our careers. When we took on a new job, new skills or responsibilities we may have found the learning challenging, difficult, or exhilarating. As we developed competence we became more comfortable in our knowledge and skill. We may have then found that our work became a repetition of the past, losing its zest and aliveness. And yet we may still have had the tendency to stay in the comfort zone and what we already knew.
What can we learn about entering and re-entering the unknown and going beyond our fear? What can we learn about making the unknown a place for generating new possibilities, new actions, new outcomes, and a new future? For most in our culture, not-knowing stops us – we must know to act. In generative leadership, not-knowing is a place to begin action – where we act to know, and then to invent new value.
Taking action with not-knowing is a skill and one that is fundamental to leadership. Leadership is not being the expert who knows, it is the person who can generate the conversations in which a team can design and realize a new future. The skills at the edge are first emotional and somatic. We must be able to notice the fear and contraction that “I don’t know” can produce, and learn to make fear our friend. My friend and teacher Bert Bennett say, “Fear is just your body telling you that you are not organized for the situation.”
If we can go from being afraid, to having fear, then we can observe and engage with the fear from a place of choice. Awareness creates choice. If we develop this awareness then we can develop essential skills at the edge for us as leaders, professionals, and human beings. By becoming aware of our body reactions and emotions we open the path to learning how to engage with them and to shift them. These are the skills of centering and recentering.
When we manage our reactions at the edge, we can hold the unknown as a sea of possibilities for what we care about. We can embody the skills of creating from the unknown with practices of exploration, experimentation, design, invention, and innovation.
In expanding our capacities, and the capacities of our teams, to go beyond the edge we are opening our capacity to go beyond the old comfort zone. We can go beyond our fear and burst out into new possibilities. We can master the old, unexamined tendencies that come from our past. We can go beyond the old patterns of keeping ourselves safe by avoiding and protecting the thorns of old pains. If we can be present with our fears we can find the power of choice, we can relax and open instead of contract, and rest into curiosity, experimentation, even fascination with the unknown.
This is a path of learning in which our body and emotions learn, not just our mind. We shift who we are, not just what we know. We cannot go beyond our fear of concepts. If we can learn in this way, then we will go beyond hesitation to generation to create our future rather than be a victim of it.
To listen to the audio recording of this conference call about The Edge – From Hesitation to Generation, CLICK HERE.