Sarah Beart
28 June, 2021

The famously eccentric inventor and philosopher R. Buckminster-Fuller (inventor of the geodesic dome and author of Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth) is once supposed to have said “Never show unfinished work”.

Yet organisational life increasingly demands us to show each other our unfinished work. The demands of agile working, sprints and scrums (not to mention the anxiety of a global pandemic) seems to require us to work in perpetual draft, refining and re-creating almost without end. Constantly required to show our unfinished work to each other, we are braced for critique and hopeful of appreciation (with the latter often in much shorter supply).

Psychologically it’s hard. Hard whether you’re doing strategic thinking within your executive team, developing partnership working with another organisation or just trying to keep your business afloat in the uncertainty of COVID-19. We know we can’t create perfect organisations, strategies, or even plans on our own, so we know we need to invite our stakeholders to join us.

Sometimes we just don’t because it is hard work. It makes us vulnerable, and we have to find the intellectual and emotional flexibility to discard some of our ideas and embrace new ones. To “kill our darlings” (as the author William Faulkner is said to have advised would-be novelists).

How can we judge how “finished” our work has to be before sharing it with others? We fret about it ourselves here in Metalogue – because we’re always aiming to work in partnership with our clients and create new ideas together. We see it within our clients too; smart strategy people try to do strategy FOR their executive teams, and executives try the same with Boards.

What happens when sharing unfinished work goes wrong? Solid but incomplete work gets criticised as half-baked when offered upwards. And it results in accusations of leadership incompetence when shared with a broader organisation, who expect leaders to know and be certain. We end up slinking away, advised to “work that up a bit” and bring it back more polished (perhaps so it can be properly rejected.)

But that highly polished work, with the ends all neatly sewn up, disappoints senior recipients because there’s no room for their skills and experience. It promotes cynicism and disengagement in the front line for much the same reason. When pre-polished work doesn’t go down well, we end up defending it, or (perhaps worse) taking silence as consent to our proposals.

Finding the stamina to continue creating together means we need to show up with our unfinished work, be open to its adaptation and find ways to complete things together. We will have done our homework, reflected and challenged ourselves, and somehow stayed away from false certainty. We want to show up to our work “prepared but not complete”.

If this stirs something up in you, give us a call.

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