Gemma has been considering whether what we know, see and believe is really true.
As we head not only into a new year but also a new decade, it might be clear to us where investment is needed in our business; where culture change needs embedding, management skills improving or leadership qualities transforming. However, while this reality might be very clear to us, it can be incredibly frustrating when others in the business see a different picture. But are we actually seeing the true picture?
Plato, a Greek philosopher, writing around 2,400 years ago, understood this concept as well as anyone. In his work ‘Republic’ (514-520 BC) Plato wrote the ‘Allegory of the Cave’ to explore the perception of reality and the effects of knowledge. He describes a group of cave dwellers who have been shackled their whole lives so that they’re only able to see the cave wall in front of them. Unbeknown to them, there is a bridge behind them and further back still a huge fire. As people walk over the bridge their shadows are projected onto the front wall. For the prisoners, these shadows are their reality.
Plato then describes how one of the prisoners escapes the cave and, once their eyes have become accustomed to the light, sees a whole new reality with trees, people and sunshine. This then becomes their new reality, and with this knowledge comes the understanding that the other cave dwellers don’t know the true picture. However, what do you think might happen if they returned to the cave to explain this to the other cave dwellers who continue to live in the dark? There is a Ted talk here which explains Plato’s allegory much better than I can.
It’s all too tempting to believe that we are the ones who have escaped the cave and understand the true reality, but this can’t be true of everyone! Better that we use this allegory as a prompt to question every assumption about the reality we call ‘real’. The more assumptions we question the less likely we are to make bad decisions.
It takes courage and determination to live in this way. You might find yourself treading a path or making suggestions that are new and daunting, and people might not welcome your radical approach. Think Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela as leading lights of challenging known ‘facts’ and showing the world a different reality.
So, when putting together your plans and priorities for 2020, challenge your assumptions, be daring and creative and importantly, be patient with those who don’t yet see and understand your reality.