The Benefits of Being a Headless Chicken

I blame it on schools. Although that’s not fair as they are just passing on cultural biases.  In more expansive mode I blame it on the Age of Reason.  And if pushed I blame it on Plato.

The blame for what? For “right-answer-ism”.  We are conditioned and conditioned and conditioned at the formative stages of our brain development into there being a “right answer”.  Especially in these days of national curricula and marking schemes “the right answer” is embedded in the whole results process. Hard to escape.

The problem is that in life, in business, if there is a “right answer” it’s one that’s always changing.  This Taoist symbol is perhaps the most famous in the world – people have seen it who have never heard of Taoists or The Tao:

yin yang

Here we have constant change as the central emblem (yin and yang are always in motion – the pic is a snapshot). Which leads us on to headless chickens.. Which I could have chosen for the piccie but that might have been a tad tasteless lol.

So the problem with right-answer-ism is it either leads to analysis paralysis or it leads to over-defining a “key” for which you then have problems finding a lock which it fits (see this post). Even “textbook business” has the nonsensically over-rationalist “analyse the market, find the gap and produce a product for it”.  Now that’s not wrong but it’s not right either: (a) if it was that easy everyone would be doing it and (b) it’s not how life/business works.  To take two examples – both PayPal and Twitter started off as doing something completely different.  Twitter told all their VCs they were about to do something completely different and all the VCs withdrew their money – just as Twitter became what we know today.  So much for “heads” always being right.

So what’s the solution?

Cut off your head and run round!


The head is the problem – sitting around “thinking”, “analysing”, “working out the right answer”. So remove that from the equation and run round randomly now and again.  I have done this a few times and it has always lead to interesting results. In fact I am doing it at the moment … I emailed one hundred random buddies, people I worked with once, people I haven’t seen for ages. Many, not all, reply and I drink a lot of coffee.

And as a result I have lots of interesting conversations. Rarely are any of them immediately relevant. No-one has ever, yet, handed me a winning lottery ticket. But it always produces a way out of stuckness or out of “living in a tiny bubble”.  Actually stuckness is an interest of mine – or rather how to free people from stuckness.  How to liberate folks from their implicit confines.

Folks with a physics or search background get this.  Sometimes one is in a “local minimum” and one needs to inject some heat/randomness to get the ball bearing over a hump and find a new minimum potential energy.  Annealing in traditional sword manufacture is like this … you heat the metal up to introduce more randomness and then cool it down into a “better” (ie stronger, large crystals) state.

Folks with a team sport background get this.  There are times you just can’t break through the opposition’s defence – at which point injecting some randomness, running around might produce a gap in their defence.

From a Tao perspective the more of the “flow” of the Great Mystery you expose yourself to the more likely you are to intuit where it is leading right now.  If you stay in your tiny part you might be in an eddy, a backwater.  From a holistic perspective “spontaneity”, being in tune with the Tao – aka the flow of life – is much more of a heart or gut thing.  You probably bought your house, car, and spouse 🙂 more with your heart and gut feel than any “rational analysis”.

Dan Ariely wrote a book on “The Upside of Irrationality”.  For all I know it may contain one or two of those examples lol.  It is sitting unread on my bookshelves as I bought it but never got round to it as I know the answer already.  As Taoists always knew (and for that matter most of the liberation-inspired Asian philosophies) rationality is a prison.  Rationality is an interesting and useful subset of life but it isn’t life.

So the next time you are feeling stuck, the next time you can’t see a way forwards, try running round like a headless chicken and see what you discover, see what you can make happen.


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