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Synchronicity and Strategy

Jennifer Mulholland & Jeff Shuck
September 13, 2017

You probably notice it all around you in your personal life. A colleague mentions he is going to see Madama Butterfly after work, and when you walk out of the office you notice a half dozen monarch butterflies flittering in the bushes by the sidewalk. You wake thinking of a friend and pick up your phone to see you just received a text message from her. You daydream about taking a vacation and later open an email announcing a sale on airfares. You consistently see 11:11 on your phone when you go to make a call.

You likely notice these relationships all around — the connections, interconnections, and too-uncanny-to-be-coincidences that seem to follow us, tempt us, and tease us every day. Carl Jung, the analytical psychologist, coined the term "synchronicities" to describe these relationships, which he defined as "meaningful coincidences." In Jung's view, there is something special going on under the rational universe, a connectedness that shows itself to us from time to time, when we pay attention.

Is it possible that these same meaningful coincidences exist in our organizations? And further, can we take advantage of them in our strategy? In our experience, the answer is yes and yes — if your team is awake and aware, and if your strategy is flexible and dynamic enough to support it.

Lest you dismiss this entire concept as too soft for business or too "woo-woo" for your way of seeing the world, consider that it is fitting that we inherit the concept of synchronicity from Jung, whose blend of psychology and spirituality — whether you know it or not — extend into so much of our work and personal lives. If you've ever taken the ubiquitous Myers-Briggs assessment, for example, or contemplated whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, you are directly interacting with Jung's legacy. His influence extends into modern art therapy, the concepts behind twelve-step programs, and even quantum physics.

In our Meridian strategy model, part of our Five Keys of Transformational Growth, we teach our clients a new way of looking at strategy. The traditional process of strategic planning tends to be rigid, all-encompassing, and top-down. You know the drill: Ask everyone on your leadership team to spend weeks assembling a bunch of data that no one has time to review, then shut yourself into a hotel boardroom for two days until everyone is worn down enough by the discussion that you compromise on a plan for the next year. What a process! And the deliverable? A massive spreadsheet of tasks that no one can possibly keep track of, or perhaps a 30-page narrative with a "scorecard" that essentially asks you to be great at everything. Oh, and then push the plan down to the rest of the people in the organization who actually have to do the work.

There are so many problems with this hierarchical, left-brained approach. For one, it is uninspiring — great results come from passion, not metrics alone. Secondly, it is neither interactive nor experiential — it does little to capture the true wisdom of the collective consciousness or the yearnings of the team.

But perhaps most importantly, the plans that result are almost always rigid, inflexible, and built on the assumption that world is in a competitive steady-state — an environment that is predictable, out to get us, and demanding of us to defend and prove our points of view.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Change is the natural course. The world is in constant motion — and disciplines as varied as astronomy and astrology to technology and business show us that the pace of change is speeding up. The world you're planning for hasn't arrived yet. You can't predict what may come. However, you can absolutely count on the fact that many of the dynamics that currently inform your strategy will shift and change. That 30-page document describing the state of the world is outdated almost as soon as you make a PDF of it.

Furthermore, the world isn't out to get you. Yes, you exist in a competitive space. And yet, a primary goal of strategy is to differentiate yourself so that your true competition is minimal. The key to differentiation is to align what you and your organization are uniquely great at, what you care deeply about, and what is needed in the marketplace. We call this the Trinity of Alignment. Mapping your Trinity is instrumental to realizing the impact you seek to create. Once you are clear on how you are unique, you will realize that your organization encounters meaningful relationships and synchronicities every day. We miss these golden opportunities if we aren't paying attention, if we are distracted by the noise within our heads and around us, or if we're locked into following a scorecard developed by a group of overly-caffeinated executives in a boardroom.

Consider this quick thought exercise: Think back on last year. Imagine it is New Year's Eve, and you are talking with your team about the year you had. What was the most transformative event, good or bad? Perhaps you won a major piece of business, or became embroiled in a lawsuit. Reflect on whatever was the most pivotal event of your year.

Now, take yourself back in time 364 days to New Year's Day of the same year. Recall how you felt looking ahead. Was that pivotal event anywhere on your radar screen? Was it in your strategic plan? Did you even anticipate it at all?

Nine times out of ten, the leaders we coach answer unequivocally, "No. It was completely unexpected."

Does that mean we don't see value in strategic planning? No, we see a tremendous amount of value in the planning. We see less value in the plan. The best growth comes from being dynamic and agile — setting a general direction to align your team and then allowing the world to work for you. Then, you can use that direction to be awake and attuned to the opportunities coming to you all around — the email you receive from a potential partner you had just been thinking about; the "chance" encounter with a competitor at a conference who invites you for a drink; a meeting of a like-minded colleague that awakens the hope and spark in you again; the set of unexpected articles written about you in the media. That's where the magic is. That's where growth comes from.

According to his entry on Wikipedia, "One of Jung's favorite quotes on synchronicity was from Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, in which the White Queen says to Alice: 'It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.'" The world is asking us to open our eyes and raise our hearts to look forwards. Take a glimpse — what is ahead of you is better than you can possibly imagine. The evidence is all around.

For help creating a transformational growth strategy that aligns the heads and hearts of your team with the infinite possibilities available, join the growing group of organizations who have invested in Plenty's Meridian process. Learn more here.

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