“Priorities are determined by the relative strengths of your needs in relation to the range of opportunities afforded by your current circumstances.”– Mark Solms
Luxury Versus Necessity
Maintaining lawns began during the Middle Ages among the French and English aristocracy. It symbolised wealth and status, as it required large areas of land and significant labour. Creating and maintaining a well-tended lawn was challenging, especially before lawnmowers and automatic sprinkler systems. It required vast tracts of land and a significant amount of labour. The reward? Beautiful, albeit non-productive, expanses of greenery.
In his book, “Homo Deus”, Yuval Noah Harari explains that lawns offered no practical value – they weren’t used for grazing animals or growing food. The size and neatness of the lawn became an undeniable symbol of status, a peacock display of wealth that couldn’t be imitated. Devoting precious land or time to a lawn was unthinkable for peasants. For them, a ‘lawn’, if they had any, was not for relaxation but for survival, used to grow food.
This historical nugget came to mind recently as I spoke to Neuropsychologist and author of ‘The Hidden Spring’, Mark Solms.
Planning is a Privilege: Latchkey Urgency
“Priorities are determined by the relative strengths of your needs in relation to the range of opportunities afforded by your current circumstances.” – Mark Solms
Mark explains that needs and actions are interconnected and must be prioritized based on urgency. For example, we become aware of the need to go to the bathroom when it becomes urgent, a concept referred to as “latchkey urgency”. This concept of prioritising needs also applies to organisations, which must determine critical needs based on their current circumstances.
For example, I briefly worked as head of Innovation in a large bureaucratic organisation. I should have done my homework on the organisation and presumed we could foster a culture of innovation. However, I soon realised the reality of this week’s Thursday Thought. You must also prioritise in an organisation. You cannot paint innovation over the rust of a toxic culture. You must first tend to the “cultural lawn” before adding the innovative decor. This is even more pronounced if an organisation is fighting for survival.
Organisational Fight or Flight
If you’re running from a mountain lion, it’s not a good idea to expend energy on growth. In order to survive—that is, escape the lion—you summon all your energy for your fight-or-flight response. Redistributing energy reserves to fuel the protection response inevitably results in a curtailment of growth. – Bruce Lipton
In fight-or-flight mode, adrenalin is dumped into our systems when our bodies perceive a threat. Our blood thickens, so we bleed slower if we get cut in combat. Blood is diverted from our forebrain — where we do our best thinking — to our fists for fight and our legs for flight.
Much like the human stress response, organisations narrow their focus, prioritising immediate survival over long-term planning. This can lead to a downward spiral, as companies terminate projects that could lead to future growth and focus on survival.
In “Organisational Fight or Flight Mode”, businesses tend to double down on what we already know and become resistant to anything new. Research from former Innovation Show guest Bruce Lipton provides an interesting parallel. His work shows that cells switch between ‘protection and’ growth modes’ based on the surrounding environment and signals from the environment, body, and brain.
In simpler terms, when a cell perceives a threatening environment, it focuses on protection, thus preventing growth. Conversely, the cell thrives in a non-threatening environment, promoting growth. The same can be applied to humans and their work environments. In a psychological climate of fear, people are less likely to take creative risks or invest in long-term planning. However, when the environment is supportive and non-threatening, individuals are more likely to thrive, plan, and grow. This is where the privilege of having a ‘private lawn’ comes into play.
The ‘private lawn’ is the ability to have the time and space to plan, think and grow. For some of us, daily survival consumes all our time and energy, leaving no room for strategic thinking or planning. Few organisations carve out the time to plan, strategise and think about long-term goals and objectives.
As business leaders, creating an environment where everyone can access their ‘private lawn’ – a space for growth, planning, and forward-thinking is crucial. However, we must also plan by priority.
Thanks for Reading
The grand finale of our 9-part marathon with Mark Solms is live. Find it anywhere you get podcasts and here on YouTube:
That episode with Bruce Lipton is here (it is audio only as it was before we record video).