Ripples vs Bow Waves

You cannot not impact.

This is one of those sayings that you can’t refute, right? I first heard it when I did my Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) training years ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Whenever you show up, you have an impact. Whether you consciously intend to or not. Even your silence, or your absence, has an impact. The mere fact that you exist causes ripples. Those ripples land somewhere. And they have some sort of impact.

Remember that.

Drew Dudley gave a short and brilliant TED talk on this idea when he spoke about Everyday Leadership. His idea was that our words and actions can have a profound and lasting impact, and often we don’t even realise it. We can forget what we did or said until someone tells us about the powerful effect we had on them.

So, it’s good to be mindful of what we’re saying and doing.

Here’s the thing. Why be content with ripples? Why not create bow waves? If we only have a certain number of years on the planet, we might as well put them to good use, right?

I was recently working with a group of leaders in Christchurch, helping them to think through how they could make lasting change happen in their communities and organisations. When sharing how they were dealing with their challenges, many of them were using the metaphor of ‘learning to ride the wave’. The wave of complexity, they said, is bigger than them, so the best way to be effective was to try to understand the system they were a part of, and ride with it, rather than try to fight it.

Maybe.

I think this form of thinking is a useful way of acknowledging that you need to see and work within a system. However, to me, it speaks of limited personal agency. It’s ripple thinking.

What if you were to upgrade your thinking from creating ripples to creating bow waves? Bow waves travel further and have more impact on their surroundings. They’re still a product of the system they’re in, and of the agent that creates them. They’re just bigger.

What would that look like to you?

It’s all about the engine, and how you use it.

How big is your thinking? Are you creating ripples, or bow waves? What do you want to create?

 

 

Photo: Digby Scott

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