For many, the hollidays are a time for family films. Over the break, I watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Towards the end of the film, the three protagonists find themselves caught in a plant called the Devil’s Snare. This plant binds you tight and the more you struggle the tighter it binds. You escape by stopping fighting, doing something different to what feels like the right and obvious thing; and by exposing the plant to light.

In my inaugural lecture in the autumn, I suggested that one of our biggest challenges to solve going forward is trying to get free of the tendrils that bind us. Another metaphor is to reduce the viscosity of business. I don’t know whether you have ever made a non-Newtonian fluid by mixing cornflour with water? As soon as you try to move the fluid its viscosity rises exponentially; in fact, people have walked across swimming pools of the stuff.

For me, both the Devil’s Snare and the cornflour explain one of the key reasons why we fail to do the great things we are all capable of. We become wedded to one way of doing them and when we don’t get the results we want, we think we just need to try harder, to struggle more or to do more work. The results are the opposite of what we expect.

You can see this all around us in the season of festivities. We all have our own playbook, a list of traditions, menu, set of rituals. If doing these things doesn’t make everybody happy we just need to do more of them, try harder, and put more effort in.

We get caught in the Devil’s Snare.

As Hermione Granger knew, the alternative is to stop struggling and bring light to where we are. One of the play-on-words used by counselors is not to say “Don’t sit there, do something” but to say “Don’t do something, sit there”. This is a time of year, but also a time in our history when the things we have been doing and are doing are not giving us what we want and need. There is little use in just trying much harder to do the same things. We need to pause, reflect on our purpose, try to see different perspectives, different routes forward; bring light to our present.

We need to try different things, do things in different ways, and make new connections.

A few weeks ago I was involved in a conversation about pharmaceuticals. Many of the drugs we take are synthesized ultimately from oil or use significant amounts of fossil fuels to produce. Agricultural, paper, and wastewater industries dispose of significant amounts of carbon-based compounds which could be the feedstocks for these drug substances. Creating new connections between industries that work largely independently could have a significant impact on the sustainability of the pharmaceutical industry. This different perspective is exciting. Bryden Wood supports this idea, and many others, that will be part of the change in approach we need.

Doing things differently, letting go of what we have known either in holiday traditions or any other traditions, or processes and procedures we follow, or the pre-judgements we hold onto can feel hard. Humankind became dominant through its adaptability, our neo-cortex in our brains is incredibly plastic and molds to allow us to adapt our whole life. To enact the change both individually and collectively we just need to recognize that we are stuck in the Devil’s Snare and decide to stop struggling.

John Dyson, Consultant, Bryden Wood, The Dyson Project, GSK, University of Birmingham

Professor John Dyson spent more than 25 years at GlaxoSmithKline, eventually ending his career as VP, Head of Capital Strategy and Design, where he focused on developing a long-term strategic approach to asset management.
While there, he engaged Bryden Wood and together they developed the Front End Factory, a collaborative endeavor to explore how to turn purpose and strategy into the right projects – which paved the way for Design to Value. He is committed to the betterment of lives through individual and collective endeavors.
As well as his business and pharmaceutical experience, Dyson is a Professor of Human Enterprise at the University of Birmingham, focusing on project management, business strategy and collaboration.
Additionally, he is a qualified counselor with a private practice and looks to bring the understanding of human behavior into business and projects.
To learn more about our Design to Value philosophy, read Design to Value: The architecture of holistic design and creative technology by Professor John Dyson, Mark Bryden, Jaimie Johnston MBE and Martin Wood. Available to purchase at RIBA Books.