I am reading a book at the moment called ‘A Field Guide to Getting Lost’. My dear, dear friend Brad Leimer got it for me, and it is as delightful as the title suggests.
And part of the book is the whole idea of getting lost vs feeling lost.
Or getting lost without becoming somehow irretrievable.
You are lost but can be found.
You don’t want to get lost and die in the wilderness or be assailed by a feeling of blind panic at the realisation that you don’t know where you are or, indeed, how to get to where you are meant to be going. And yet you want to be lost. You want to be in places unknown.
The cornerstone of all this, of course, is that not knowing where you are key to exploration. By definition. If you are heading into the unknown, you won’t know where you are. And even if you know where you are going, you won’t always know which way is up.
How do you handle that?
Children are good at being lost, apparently. So says my book.
Because children are comfortable with the idea of needing help. Upon realizing they are lost, a child will probably seek or wait for help. Curl up somewhere warm. Not wander any further than they’ve already gone.
I don’t know if that is true, but I can definitely relate to the ‘knowing you need help’ part being key to finding your way again once you’ve lost it. And that’s in all aspects of life, not just the forest.
Do you hear me bankers? I am talking to you.
Those of you trying to lead transformation work from the inside of your organisations. And those of you who try to cross over to ‘the other side’. The fintech side. The side where exploration and creativity feels more possible.
I am particularly talking to those of you seeking to cross, actually. For it’s a hard and treacherous crossing and many don’t make it.
I get the appeal. I felt the appeal. I made the crossing.
After years of chafing and straining against the constraints of a big bureaucracy, crossing over to a smaller, nimbler and more dynamic business at a time of great change in the wider economy is so appealing. You want the freedom. You want the speed. You want the opportunity and the challenge and the chance to do and not just play defense.
And so you cross.
And then, once on the other side?
Some of us feel like we were always meant to be here. Some of us make the crossing and think ‘I am home’.
For others it is less smooth. less comfortable. The new environment does not feel as hospitable as they had expected, and the problems begin.
I have written before about the types of bankers start-ups are allergic to and terrified of accidentally hiring. And I have also written, in the same piece, about the types of bankers you desperately need in your team – be it transforming the bank from within or driving change across the sector from within a start-up.
What I want to talk about today is the folks in the middle.
The folks who take the leap, truly believing that they can do it. Truly believing that they want it and that they are capable of it. Able to live with ambiguity, capable of keeping up the pace of work, willing to embrace the double whammy of uncertainty and urgency.
The industry has a highly romanticised view of life in the fast lane of a start-up and people want to believe of themselves that they can do it. And let’s be honest here: most can’t.
And, I would argue, most shouldn’t want to. It’s stressful. It’s exhausting. It’s a constant uphill struggle. Why is that not a niche appeal? What’s with the pretend universality? This is a niche group we are talking about.
But no, the mythology of the industry demands that everyone sees themselves as thriving on the entrepreneurial side of the fence.
The point I am making here is that someone has sold a vision to the whole market.
And there are so many inside big organizations who bought the vision. So they sell the vision back to you during their interviews. They believe, so they are convincing. You believe, so you are convinced. You say yes. You shake. They cross.
They cross the small but infinite divide between corporate and start-up.
And then we enter the awkward period I like to call ‘not all who wander are lost, but some most definitely are’.
Because nothing prepares you for how different the world looks when you have no guardrails other than your own judgment; Nobody warns you how it feels to actually be given the responsibility and freedom to do the things you’ve always wanted to do and how different accountability feels when it’s real. And yours.
You cross into unknown lands and you have no map or trail.
Now, you are either able to read the terrain or not. Celestial navigation is a thing you get, or it’s not. You can live off the land, or you cannot.
It’s binary and you don’t know which one will turn out to be true till you get there.
Can you actually make the right calls in an environment that doesn’t limit your choices?
Can you prioritise in an environment where everything is urgent?
Can you ensure the quality bar is set high when nobody is marking your homework?
Can you keep pace with a business that is ever-accelerating and nobody sets you a deadline because ‘ASAP’ is a given?
Can you, essentially, work your way to where you are going when you are found in a place that is new and unfamiliar? Can you pick your way forward when you are in a place that you do not recognise?
Does being lost make you feel lost?
And if it does, do you know it’s time to ask for help? It’s time to realise that you are not just in an unfamiliar place but well and truly lost and in need of help.
That’s what makes jumping to a start-up so exciting and so risky.
Because when we interview you, we don’t know if you will be as good at navigating the unknown terrains as you tell us you will be. As good as we can see you are convinced you will be.
And you don’t know either, if you are honest with yourself. You won’t know till it happens.
And that’s the risk, really.
Finding out, in the heat of it all, that you are nowhere near as good at navigating uncertainty as you thought you were.
That’s the risk for you – because you will find yourself failing at your new job.
And that’s the risk for us – because we really can’t afford the time you are taking getting lost and because it’s never nice to see a person flailing. If you see it at all.
Because in an actual forest, you will know someone is lost as you will physically not see them with the rest of their party. So you will send out folks to retrieve them in the hope that they have realised they need help and made themselves easier to find: left markers, used a light or whistle or whatever they have at their disposal.
In a fast-moving business, particularly with remote working, being lost may at first be invisible to the naked eye.
Your colleagues may not realise you are struggling. With the pace. With the ambiguity. With the workload. With the responsibility. They may not know, until you start getting the first poor results. Until poor judgment becomes apparent through its outcomes. Until things break or hurt. And then it’s too late.
It’s not that they didn’t care to help or that they saw you taking a wrong turn and let you. It’s not that at all.
The thing is, your colleagues don’t know the terrain any more than you do. They are working it out step-by-step too. And true, some of us thrive in ambiguity more than others. Some are OK with the crazy pace. That’s what we signed up for, right? Stepping into uncharted territory and exploring. So this is what it looks like, from the inside.
We thought that’s what you wanted. We thought that’s what you expected. But above all, we were counting on you knowing when you are lost and realizing you need help.
That’s actually the most vital skill of all.
Besides. Asking for help is the greatest proof that you will find your way, eventually.
Because the start to not being lost, is realizing you are.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All are opinions her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!
Follow Leda on Twitter @GeorgeGirl and LinkedIn.