Connections, work, and decisions: men and family
Katrina and the perils of out of touch leadership

Orbiting versus empathy

Sorry that I have been away from posting. I've been very busy with work. Here are a few things that have been on my mind lately.

Orbiting versus empathy as a modality for decision-making

Orbiting is Gordon MacKenzie's term, from the book Orbiting the Giant Hairball,  for how to avoid the Giant Hairball of corporations:

Orbiting is responsible creativity: vigorously exploring and operating beyond the Hairball of the corporate mindset, beyond "accepted models, patterns, or standards" — all the while remaining connected to the spirit of the corporate mission.

While this is a positive orientation to avoid the muckity muck of corporate cultures, what does this mean if you have the responsibility for developing the accepted models, patterns, or standards in an organization. In that situation, orbiting means a different thing. It is about disconnecting or ideally attentuating your connections to other people within the organization. This is how CEOs use spreedsheets and abstract ratios to orbit from the impact of a corporate layoff.

Empathetic decision making is another modality. Being trained as an anthropologist, I tend to put a lot of stock in human relationships as the basis of all business or government issues. How to get the client or citizenry to trust you? How to convince people to buy your idea, vision, or product? These are all human issues, which means that you have to be connected to people to understand their mindsets, motivations, desires, and expectations. This is the work of empathy. As a business or governmental leader whose decisions have such a strong impact on other people and the environment, empathy is key for making effective and holistic decisions. In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink, talks about empathy being one of the six senses (the others are design, story, sympathy, play, and meaning).

I asked a CEO-type friend which modalities he uses and he said that he uses both in tandem. First empathy to gather all the information he needs to make sure his is attuned to what's going on and then orbiting to gain a broad enough picture to make sure his decisions include the most perspectives. But I still wander if that orbiting is necessary to still make a decision. Can you internalize both the forest and the trees while still in the trees? Somehow, I instinctly feel that something is lost when you orbit. It is setting up a separation between self and other.

Is there something akin to an expansive empathy in which you extend yourself and your connection to all things so that the distinctions between self and other is blurred and thus the decision made is one of the whole living organization?



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