The Zen method

ZenOne of the problems with target setting is that the pathway ahead may well change the target. In other words, new information and new situations may make the original target redundant, and to continue to aim for it would be foolish. It would deny the opportunity of redirecting the aim more profitably. I will use a literary analogy. In “The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul” Douglas Adams’ protagonist describes the “Zen Method of Navigation”. Basically when he is searching for something, he gets in the car without map or directions and follows someone who looks as though they might be going somewhere interesting. He rarely gets to where he expected, but often gets to somewhere interesting that opens up new possibilities in whatever he is investigating.


The Zen Method of Change Leadership is to create environments wherein your staff will be able to change the way they do things, and to trust that the changes they make will be positive.

They key points here are changing the environment and trust. Douglas Adams’ somewhat whimsical fictional construction may seem a little far fetched, but let me give you a more academic example. “Proofs and Refutations, The Logic of mathematical Discovery” by Imre Lakatos is one of the best books ever written about how mathematicians discover and invent new Maths. He uses a geographical and historical analogy when demonstrating that exploration often leads to unexpected consequences. “Columbus did not find the route to the East Indies, but he did come across something quite interesting”. It is clear that Columbus did not reach the targets he was set, and measured that way, his voyage was an abject failure.

Allowing your staff to get to where they decide they want to go may seem rather contrary to the concept of leadership. In schools, We suffer from a rather archaic view that the leader’s vision is paramount, and the problem lies in engaging the staff in moving forward in the direction the leader sets out. This is what is behind the idea of a school having “a clear strategic plan” and setting targets based on it. However this view does not hold so much in the corporate world and we are rather left behind.

I remember hearing from someone who used to work with Richard Branson when Virgin was a much smaller company. His attitude to problems was often “I have no idea how to solve this, not how you will solve it. I have complete faith that you will, though, and look forward to seeing the creative solution.” Google’s famous 20% of completely free creativity time has led to some of their best ideas, and has a similar philosophy.

Why, is schools, are we so frightened of giving people the space to be creative and rusting them to do so? I think it lies in our Dickensian views of authority. Too much Command and Control stifles the very skills we are trying to develop in students and in staff members. Give our teachers the agency to use their skills and knowledge. Relax, create space, trust and see what wonderful flowers grow.

The Uncertainty Principle of Change