Drunken man stumble

Back in the day, when I was a PhD student, I often received the question: what is your PhD about?  I always answered: I will only know this when it is finished.  I then tried to explain what Karl Weick (1995, p182-183) learned me: talk your walk, instead of walk your talk. The latter has failed many times, because one hardly makes sense of the future, but one does of the past.

This is especially true in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). A world where one cannot predict everything on your path ahead. In such a world almost any map of the future will do, as long as one keeps walking. Walking helps you to discover what is important, what it is worth talking about. If one tries to follow talk that does not make sense, one gets scared and innovation shuts down. Your talk should makes sense of your walk, not the other way around. A lot of bureaucratic paperwork was not pleased with my answer, so I always had the feeling that my mandatory project plan was one big lie, and that I was inauthentic.

Jean-Luc Dehaene, former prime minster of Belgium and influential member of the European parliament, knows as no other that one should talk the walk, and not walk the talk. He recently mentioned several times that he learned very early not to communicate his end goal, but to focus a lot on the next step without knowing what the second step would be . (e.g. Standaard, 16 mei 2012 ).

I know, more often than not, your walk will look and feel like “ ‘the drunken man stumble’, in which you keep staggering forward in the general direction of your vision”, (Petrie, 2011, p. 28) without going anywhere in a straight line. But there is no other way, not in the past, not today, not in the future.

Any comments?

Petrie, N. (2011). Future trends in Leadership Development – Center for Creative Leadership: http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/futureTrends.pdf

Weick, K.E. (1995). Sensemaking in Organizations. Thousand Oaks: Sage.


About Jesse Segers

Academic Director of The Future Leadership Initiative
This entry was posted in 17. Being the example & sensemaking, Comments & events, English and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Drunken man stumble

  1. Thank you for your insight. I would like to ad that in my opinion it is not an ‘or or’ story. For me this is too exclusive. I like very much the saying of Gen. ret. Colin Powell: “Talk your walk, walk your talk and walk with them”. With “them” he means the people you are leading and responsible for.

    • Jesse Segers says:

      Dear Joan, I fully agree that it is not and ‘or or’ story. I never heard General Powell’s saying, but I like it. So thank you for your valuable input!

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