How leaning into the chaos of your business can make you a better leader
Learning to embrace your messy approach to life just might make you a better leader.
Photo courtesy of Steve Johnson via Pexels
I rank my ideas on a scale of used whiteboards. Let me explain. It’s something our CTO likes to tease me about, but when I was trying to woo him into joining the company with a great, new idea, talking about it didn’t really work.
“I don’t think I can easily explain this in words,” I said. “But I think I can do it with a whiteboard.”
As I started sketching my thoughts, it became clear that we needed more whiteboards. By the time the dust had settled we were six boards deep and he had heard enough about the vision to take the job.
This scenario pretty much sums up my work process. I have a lot of thoughts, and while it’s easy for me to see the big picture and how things connect, it’s often difficult to succinctly convey my ideas to others. My style has brought a unique set of challenges as my business has grown, but now, more than ever, I’m happy to work the way I do.
Let’s face it, we’re at a time when none of us really feel like we’ve got it all figured out. Life has been difficult, organization has vanished, and chaos reigns supreme as households and workplaces collide. Here’s my case for embracing the mess.
There is no “right” way to think
From the outside, my workspace and process looks cluttered. As notebooks, scribbled notes, and papers pile up on my home office desk, my clutter tends to spread to other spaces.
From an early age, most of us are taught that there is a “correct” way to think and work. But by overvaluing one approach, we run the risk of losing alternative viewpoints.
Linear thinking means solving problems step by step in what is essentially a straight line. Generally it is characterized as the norm – even English language architecture requires a linear lens. From having to read from left to right, to the structure of the subject, the verb and the object. Lateral Thinking, however, is more of an expansion in multiple directions that requires zooming out for a bird’s eye view.
In high school, it was hard to realize that linear thinking didn’t come easily to me. Instead, I saw all sides of a problem at once. It was difficult to fit my thoughts into the box of linear problem solving. Countless times I wondered if I could fit into something neater.
But the pandemic helped me finally accept my way of working. It forced us to rethink so many aspects of our daily lives, including a rethinking of traditional work as we knew it. This led me to the conclusion that now is the time for corporations to embrace people with a messy approach to work.
Creativity leads to agility
Countless consulting firms and experts have come to the same conclusion since the pandemic began: to survive and thrive in this new age of work, businesses must be agile. To pivot in no time, you need to have people who can think outside the box. This is where it is crucial to have people who can accept the chaos. Indeed, studies have linked a messy approach to creativity, which in turn is linked to resilience in our personal and professional lives.
Diversity of thought is more than rhetoric
Our society is focused on effecting system-level change, which requires input from people who encounter those systems in all sorts of different ways. Just as we all benefit from diversity at the decision-making table, we also benefit from a diversity of skills and thought processes. In my experience, bringing together a variety of thinkers helps reduce confirmation bias and avoid groupthink.
We have big problems to solve
My way of thinking and working made it extremely difficult to study for exams at university, but it was instrumental in my ability to work on solutions to the nuanced problems that my company set out to solve. If these problems were easily solved by a direct and deductive approach, someone would have already solved them. When we look at almost every area of work, we all face generation-defining issues – climate change, land degradation, the pandemic, social unrest – and it will take fresh eyes and creative thinking for them. to go past.
It’s been 12 years since I founded my company and I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to balance my approach with others to ensure we’re productive. This has not been easy. This approach to work, and especially to leadership, requires having a team with complementary, patient and understanding skills.
My executive assistant Karina thinks differently from me. She’s organized, she has great time-management skills, she color-codes meeting notes, but she’s my right-hand man. She worked with me to develop a process that turns chaos into something more focused to communicate to the team. Don’t get me wrong, my team thrives because it’s full of diverse thinkers who are all really, really good at what they do best.
So here’s my message: Embrace the mess or whatever is true and natural to you. Just do it, and do it well. In my experience, it’s better for everyone to embrace the truest version of themselves and recognize each other’s unique strengths than to seek uniformity.
Karn Manhas is the CEO and Founder of Vancouver-based Terramera, a global leader in agricultural technology that fuses science, nature and artificial intelligence to transform the way food is grown and the economics of agriculture .