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Exploration is Messy!

Is this a Mess? Or the Beginning of an Exploration?

But just because a situation is messy does not mean it is exploration.

I recently learned about someone who when talking about their work said they were exploring. They justified their claim by describing the messiness of the situation, not knowing what to do. As I studied the person and his work I realized they were using exploration as a cover for the chaos they themselves were causing. This leader did not have a plan, didn’t have a direction and had been wandering for years. They were lost and as people listened to him they also became lost!

To justify himself he said, “we are exploring. We’re trying to figure out the way forward.” As I watched I realized he was not exploring because he was not learning from their experiences and from the people they were seeking to serve. The person was on an island. What was happening was that they kept walking around the island in circles telling people they were getting somewhere.

This so-called leader was trying to persuade his followers that everyone else is lost and his confusing declarations are insights of great brilliance. In reality the leader is the one who was lost because they do not have the humility to seek help and acknowledge what they do not know.

Exploration is messy because there are unknowns. There are new ways to be tested. Some tests fail and that is frustrating, but through the eyes of exploration even in those situations there is learning. A person who says they are exploring but keeps making the same mistakes over and over again without learning is a wanderer more than an explorer. Real explorers learn from what does not work, moving forward making course corrections in light of their learning.

True Exploration has a plan for going into the unknown. Explorers take deliberate steps to acquire learning making what could be called incremental improvements so that they learn with each step even with the steps that fail.

The person with a messy life usually cannot admit to himself or herself that this “lostness” is their reality. They are in denial that they are “lost” while everyone around them knows that to be reality. What started, as an expedition becomes a mutiny when fellow explorers realize that the so-called expedition is going nowhere.

So the question is this, “How can you tell the difference between a mess and an exploration?” Here is some guidance for figuring that out.

The Exploration

1. In exploration there is learning from failure.

2. The leader owns the failures using them as building blocks of insight for doing what is best, not excuses that deny reality.

3. There is humility to learn recognizing not everything is known.

4. The exploration that today looks messy actually gets somewhere creating value for others.

5. In time as others see the new horizon they join the expedition and adopt the discoveries as their own.

The Mess:

1. The leader does not learn from failures.

2. There are excuses and others are blamed for failure.

3. As the “mess” persists the leader creates more elaborate stories to explain the problem.

4. The organization continues to turn over staff. (Some leave because they realize the “emperor” has no clothes. Others leave because they ask questions and are forced to go.)

5. The leaders becomes an “island” isolated from quality staff and projects.

So the question to ask yourself is this, “Are you in a mess or an exploration?”

Answering that question is the first step where real exploration begins.

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