Have you ever met a Shepherd? Did you recognize their methods?
Let's clear up the myth around sheep. They are not mindless or incapable. I first observed the practice of herding while serving in Iraq as a young U.S. Army Lieutenant in 2008. I noted the resilience of these special creatures. They seemed uninterested or unfazed by the destruction of war. With their trusted shepherd guiding, and their dog guarding, the sheep were fit to traverse the most perilous terrain. I found efficiency in their movement. But, it wasn't all to the credit of the shepherd or the dog. I noticed how they worked. The sheep had their strengths and gifts to offer the herd. The older ones were waning in muscle mass but were more experienced and gritty. The younger ones had more speed but also required more guidance.
The shepherd's role was to arrange the strengths and weaknesses of the flock in a complementary formation. Shepherds work with a multi-faceted tool kit. While tactically moving from one point to another, they are omnipresent with their sheep. Shepherds must work with the environment. They can not deplete the energy of the flock by attempting to dominate or cancel out a force. Their strategy is to ally with forces that will lead to better conditions. When they meet an opposing interest, they either seek to work with it or move around. Shepherds are adept at operating in their environment because they learn from their sheep. The flock is agile and quick to pivot away from untenable situations with a fortitude from alignment.
When we think about the "Shepherd" as an archetype leading innovation, we see how this guide can multiply the efforts of individual actors in the innovation value chain. If innovation is disruptive, democratizing, or challenging to the status quo, we see how the gifts of a "Shepherd" can make a difference. Fortunately, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes the playing field in the Black Swan, the Impact of the Highly Improbable, these guides can navigate in spaces that dominant narratives can not conceive.
The "Shepherd" is an emotionally balanced and highly perceptive player. Last year I had the great pleasure of meeting one at a renewable energy conference. This person was a speaker. He had a message to deliver. Yes, sometimes "Shepherds" need to go on campaigns to clear pathways for their sheep. I recognized shepherding by his cadence in responding to some of the opposing viewpoints in the room. He adeptly avoided outright confrontation while pointing out where errors in logic applied to arguments. With that, he could temper and restore the emotional field with other players in the room.
The omnipresence of the "Shepherd" requires this player to engage with every actor in the innovation value chain. At times, he acts as an agent, working with emotional and psychological tools coupled with highly adept perception. This person does not get bogged down by the fog of "war". This person produces coherent narratives that effectively synthesize all the various forms of information available. This helps when for instance, facing early-stage investors. The "Shepherd's" narrative can bring resolve to face uncertainty because it leverages modeling of the upside and downside. A good "Shepherd" will effectively advise when it's worth staying a course. Being very tempered with their own emotions, they will also know when it is time to pivot. When they must break contact, a "Shepherd" utilizes both the upside and downside to maneuver and plot a course for the best possible outcome.
What We Do
I had the fortune of speaking with this "Shepherd" at the conference. I have taken steps to draw nearer to him since because I also aspire to work in this capacity. His response to my earlier piece, "Storytelling for Guardians" was another telling moment. He commented back about the guardian nature of a highly effective "Shepherd". His perspective on the guardianship of a "Shepherd" took all stakeholders into account. Designers, innovators, and problem-solvers, are you working with a trusted "Shepherd"? Are you aware of the "Guardians" this guide has recruited to your camp? Are you a "Shepherd"?
Join our community and participate in the design process with us. Acorders is building a digital experience for storytellers of impact. We are creating the infrastructure for each actor to access their best possible playing field. We can't all play in the same position. Nothing would ever get done. Acorders draws on the commonality between the flock and a smart network to withstand the opposing forces to innovation. Smart networking allows for the space to learn from our design experiments. Smart networking also provides security, allowing the attention of certain players to go in-depth and narrow on an interest. That is the beautiful lesson we can take from sheep. They can be efficient and agile because they take up their positions in the overall formation.