Step Out, Turn Around and Lead From Behind

Or you’ll face the wrong problem as you back into the future

On Days Like This (Van Morrison), when I Can’t Tell The Bottom From The Top (The Hollies) and everything is Over My Head (Fleetwood Mac), what’s a Poor Boy (Steve Earle) gonna do?

I suppose this is just The Trouble With Normal (Bruce Cockburn). The new normal, that is. The old normal is history. It Don’t Come Easy (Ringo Starr) no more.

I know I am Taking It All Too Hard (Genesis). Surely, All Things Must Pass (George Harrison). And With A Bit Of Luck (Frederick Loewe/My Fair Lady), I will Get It Right The Next Time (Gerry Rafferty).

That is, as long as I stop believing that I Call The Shots (Malcolm Holcombe). Because sometimes I don’t.

Step Outside To Think Differently

Go on! Step outside and think differently. (free public domain:

Hey, you! Step outside for a minute.

No. This is not an invitation to fight. It is an invitation to think, to think differently.

If you stay inside all the time, then you won’t be able to think from the outside looking in. As you know, things often only make sense if you consider them from a distance. You can only see patterns once you have the perspective of detachment. It’s like suddenly seeing the forest because you’ve stepped back far enough to lose sight of the individual trees.

“Step outside what?” you may well ask. Outside your normal environment, your habitual way of thinking, seeing, and believing. Specifically, outside what you so readily take for granted.

Remember this: we don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t a fish. For the same reason, you won’t really see something that you think is obvious.

Until you step away from it.

(See the end of this newsletter for more about ignorant fish.)

Step Aside To See Where To Lead

They’re not walking. They’re showing you The Way. (free public domain:

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “I must go now, for there go my people and I am their leader.” No doubt, Ghandi was a leader and yet, the so-called wisdom of crowds makes me nervous. Can a crowd really know better than one wise guy?

But then there’s the story that designer Christopher Williams tells about an architect who waited for the people to lead. He had designed and built a cluster of office buildings, which the landscaper wanted to connect with sidewalks.

“Not yet,” said the architect. “Plant grass.” Within months there were clear pathways between the buildings. Although not straight, these pathways were the most efficient lines of connection. All the landscaper had to do was to pave where the users had shown their need, their preferred paths.

Indeed, sometimes leaders should simply get out of the way so that the people can show their path. But knowing when this is best to do is always tricky.

Face the Right Way or Back Into the Wrong Problem

Which way did that problem go? (free public domain:

Too many problems, too little time. Or maybe we have simply not defined our problems correctly. A guy named Gharajedaghi once pointed out that, “We fail more often not because we fail to solve the problem we face, but because we face the wrong problem.”

He should have added that it also depends which way you are facing. George Shultz, who was both Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State, although not at the same time, once said that we tend to face the past and back into the future.

You see, the future has different problems requiring new solutions. This is why Henry Ford said, “History is bunk!” He faced the right way. Else he would have built a better horse and bugging instead of the Model T.

So, I ask you, which way are you facing? Which way is your business facing? And which way are our politicians facing?

Welcome to my side of the nonsense divide.

“Who said that?” Lots of people think they know who said, “We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t a fish.” Well, lot’s of people could be wrong.

Was it Marshall McLuhan? James Coleman? John Culkin? Someone else? What about Albert Einstein? Or was it Miss Anonymous?

Actually, it was all the above.

(Fore the record, it seems the first formal citation was in 1909 in a book called “Every-Day Japan.”)

Previous post you may have missed: How To Zoom Through Your Meetings

The most recent Friday Trigger Q: Did you create sense or nonsense this week?

Originally published at on May 25, 2021.



Born in RSA winelands. Earned 3 degrees drinking red wine. Chased by lioness, ran with elephants, got bored, moved to USA seeking adventure. Ex-CEO now coach.

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James McIntosh

Born in RSA winelands. Earned 3 degrees drinking red wine. Chased by lioness, ran with elephants, got bored, moved to USA seeking adventure. Ex-CEO now coach.