A Note on Space;The Landscape of Opportunity

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Hockey’s “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky

My apologies ahead of time to those who hate sports analogies! Lean into it for a few minutes OK?

Former NHL hockey great Wayne Gretzky could not see the future. What he could see – better than most and before most – was the opening of new space. Why is this  important? Because space is the landscape of opportunity.

All things happen in space. The leader of action, of innovation, of the adaptive environment, is most effective when engaged in recognizing,  creating and  preserving space.

As a player Gretzky was acutely tuned to the dimensions of the space that he inhabited, and of the other forms which inhabit that space with him: his teammates, the opposing team, the nets, the boards, the puck, the blue lines and the red line, the officials and the nets.  And while most players are  able to effectively track the coming and goings of all the other players in that space, Gretsky was able to do that and be  interested in what they have left behind and where they havent gone to yet –   these are the spaces that remain outside of and around the “action. ”

What a player like Gretsky understands is this: in a constant-motion sport like hockey, the most important thing that is happening is that space is opening and closing at a rapid rate, and therefor the opportunity for things to happen are both emerging and foreclosing at a rapid rate. That Gretsky can comprehend, react to and anticipate this emergence and foreclosure better than most makes him the master of that space and therefore the purveyor of opportunity – for himself and for his teammates. An amazing advantage; this ability to see and appreciate space! What many of us could only see from 50 yards away while watching a pee wee hockey game, Gretsky can see at 10 times the speed while he is inhabiting the same space!  being an inhabitant rather than a witness is important because an inhabitant can deploy himself in ways to take advantage of open space, create open space and preserve open space – all in service to his team’s ability to take advantage of opportunities and see results.

All things happen in space. The leader of action, of innovation, of the adaptive environment, is most effective when engaged in recognizing,  creating and  preserving space.

Life in the modern age is a constant-motion sport, and the pace of that motion is increasing all the time. We live in a time of constant change at rapid speeds with expanded numbers of variables and the need for constant reinvention and adaptation is clear.   But few of us are “Gretsky’s” and in these environments it is easy to get lost in the swirling, ever changing conditions and overwhelmed by the crowded and frenetic pace.  We cope by trying to find order in chaos.  As humans we are constantly summing, measuring, framing, arranging, codifying – all in the service of finding a logic model, a critical path in the midst of a chaotic and dynamic world. Sometimes we  feel that if we can PowerPoint It we can pin it to the wall – immutable.  But then ….change happens. What we often dont realize  is that when we try to make order of chaos we behave in ways that shut down the opportunity for action and create – we are closing space without even knowing it by reinforcing the domination of forms – habits, positional power roles, traditions, fear-base behaviors. Take planning for instance….

Some days it feels like the payoff of planning at all has never been more marginal.  Today, disruption is inevitable and comes swiftly. And disruption-to-the-plan causes not one but three problems.

First and obviously, the “plan” quickly becomes irrelevant and useless to us.

Second and somewhat obviously, it takes most of us a long time to realize that the plan has become irrelevant and useless to us and in the meantime we are making bad decisions and spending precious time and money in the process.

Third and not so obviously, there is vertigo and even trauma for the humans involved when  a plan dissolves into uncertainty. Vertigo and trauma are fear mills which in turn produce risk aversion and wariness. This risk aversion and wariness pops up at exactly the time when boldness and decisiveness are most needed – when we need to adapt to change.

In hockey this is often spoken of as being a half-step or half-stride behind the play, which is just enough drag to be irrelevant on the ice and useless to your teammates. There are many reasons why one may be a half step behind the play: being injured or out of shape or too old or just not skilled enough. But there are other non-physical reasons as well. There are some  players who – no matter their fitness level- are always a step behind. Why?  Because they are thinking the game, not playing the game; they are too inside their own heads, and most importantly – stuck with a mental model of how they think the game should unfold, rather than being able to react to the moment – how it is actually unfolding!

In a planned environment, change disrupts creation, change causes fear – Fear Closes Space – closed space limits creation.

MORE ON THIS SOON: Finding ways to generate space for co-creation: Willful acts of deconstruction and addition by subtraction.


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