straphangers1You know how, when the subway lurches suddenly, there is always that one person standing who doesn’t lose his balance at all? The one who manages to keep reading his paper, calm and steady on his feet, smiling and making room for you when you almost bash into him? How does he do it?

He plants one foot firmly, maintaining his own immovable center, regardless of whatever lurches and short stops the subway always surprises us with when we least expect. And he lets his center of gravity shift as his other foot moves with the movement of the train: leaning out, pulling back, gliding and adjusting as necessary.

In his fascinating new book, THE AGE OF THE UNTHINKABLE, Joshua Cooper Ramo exhorts leaders and policy makers in today’s complex and interconnected world to regard adaptation to change as a constant if unpredictable given, and to view problems in a larger, interrelated context. Since change in the world financial markets and political systems no longer (if it ever did) occurs in linear fashion, it’s seldom obvious exactly which one particular detail will tip the balance. How best to adapt and thrive? We need to hold our center (he talks about the need to build resilient societies with strong immune systems, like health care and education), while “riding the earthquake” (remaining open to creative approaches to the predictably unpredictable).

But as crucial as it is to adjust and re-adjust, you don’t want to be constantly in motion, changing your perspective so often that you lose sight of what your perspective really is. And as necessary to survival as it is in our interconnected globalized world to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes, you don’t want to get stuck there, walking his mile, do you?

So while you’re busy adapting and adjusting, make certain you also check that the center – your center – holds. Because if it doesn’t, you are going to bash into some guy on the subway. And you can’t be sure the guy you bash into will be one who’ll help you regain your balance.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.


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