“Your impact has been delayed”

Big idea landed in my head last week, crystallised in conversation with Ray Richards from Do Something Different.

Having done NixonMcInnes for about ten years, I’ve become accustomed to the reality that we can do very little right now that will impact the company’s performance right now.

In fact, it’s tended to be the case that what we do now, today, shows up as tangible impact six months later. Earliest. Sometimes a year later. Sometimes more.

The truth that I have very limited ability to influence my organisation right now is both scary and hugely freeing.

I love it because I know it is true, from first-hand experience. But I also love it because it lifts the lid and opens things up. I can get on with the now, freed by the belief that whatever comes up over the coming weeks is the harvest of seeds that were sown half a year or more in the past. (It’s all very Buddhist I know. But that’s OK with me too.)

This big simple idea was reinforced by Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, in his commencement speech at the University of Michigan. Dick talks about improv – about reacting to what happens in the moment and making bold, courageous decisions. It’s a nice talk.

He also says something great along the lines of ‘whatever impact you are having right now, you can’t see it yet’.

That’s it.

It relates to something in Systems Thinking about stocks and flow. I cannot immediately deplete a whole forest or immediately replenish a whole sales pipeline. Even with focus these things take time.

Yet in life and in business especially, we’ve gotten used to this addictive little lie that we can have immediate effects on the here and now. That there are linear relationships between inputs and outputs and that doing more of X and Y will lead to a very clear and definable Z.

My experience so far has been that it doesn’t really work like that. These things take time. And some of the consequences and outcomes are mysterious, loosely connected, and arrive sideways.

The thing I want to hold onto is this. Your impact has been delayed. My impact has been delayed. Or that’s what it really feels like. The reality is, it hasn’t – we’ve had an impact, it’s just we can’t see or feel it yet. But it’s coming. It’s coming.

8 comments

  1. Giles Palmer (@joodoo9)

    There is a danger though, surely, that if you change course too much, try other things or pivot to use the massively hyped lean startup terminology, you might not see the flowers that your seeds may generate. So I would add focus and persistence to your thesis.
    g

  2. broc.edwards

    Excellent post. Reminds me of the Robert Louis Stevenson quote: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you trap but by the seeds you plant.”

    We make the mistake of thinking today’s results come from today’s actions. But it’s yesterday’s actions that created today’s results. And that’s actions are creating tomorrow’s results. That’s a frustrating lag that makes it easy to think we’re on the wrong path when we might just have not gone far enough down the path.

  3. max st john (@maxwellstjohn)

    I like this idea a lot. For me it also reinforces the point that what you do right now can’t be judged to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ because it will never be easy to link the action with the impact in the real and complex fudge of a much bigger system. But also that what you choose to do now needs to be rooted in the right intention and be conscious/mindful because sooner or later, it’s impact *will* show up.

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