Francis Cholle is an international business consultant, best-selling author, and engaging speaker. He helps companies rethink business in ways that conventional strategic management cannot. His clients are major, mid-size, emerging firms, including global powerhouses across a wide variety of industries such as beauty, luxury, pharmaceuticals, communications, media, and information technology. Cholle is the founder of The Human Company, and the author of several books on intuition and business creativity. His latest book, SQUIRCLE: A New Way to THINK for a NEW WORLD, was released earlier this month.
SQUIRCLE is a science-based model designed to enhance the way we think. In a more and more complex world, we need to rely on a deeper intelligence to make good decisions. SQUIRCLE recognizes the importance of our rational minds (SQUARE) while honoring the natural insights from our intuition (CIRCLE). Understanding how to apply both leads to life-changing tools that will create success with teams, clients’ problem solving or complex decision making. It is designed for business and all aspects of life.
We are all SQUARES. What attributes do you assign to the SQUARE versus the CIRCLE?
Allow me to add a precision here. Yes, we are all educated to develop a SQUARE approach to life, that is to think logically and to rely on rationality and facts in order to make good decisions. But there is more to us than what can be understood through logic. Emotions, inspirations, intuitions, sensations all live beyond logic. These not only make us uniquely human but they enable our creativity and agility and directly connect us to our bodies, to nature in us.
SQUARE symbolizes the logical mind: deduction and induction, information and evaluation. It is rational, dependable, stable, predictable, and orderly. But it is limiting. This is why we have arts in order to stimulate our imagination, sports to engage our bodies, games to encourage learning and risk taking. Our feelings and hunches help us engage with the ambiguity and complexity of life. They provide the necessary level of subtlety in order to go beyond binary logic, to think deeply. Noble Prize in physics Niels Bohr’s famous quote illustrates this point perfectly: “No, no. You’re not thinking, you’re just being logical.”
CIRCLE symbolizes intuition: emergence, fluidity and unpredictability. It is non-linear, inclusive and adaptive. Like nature it is complex and creative, holistic and infinite. This is why CIRCLE is so important in a time of increasing uncertainty and so necessary to shift from our exploitative relationship with nature to adopting a regenerative model. This is what every company has to integrate in its management culture (disruption) and business practices (CSR).
Why have we killed the CIRCLE in our lives? How do we free the CIRCLE?
We have alienated the CIRCLE in our lives by misjudging science. We have progressively assigned science a role that it never claimed: to give us certitudes. The purpose of science is to produce knowledge. It remains our responsibility to decide what to do with this knowledge. But it is so much more comfortable to implicitly believe that what’s rational is right and what’s not rational wrong. That allows us to shy away from responsibilities and gives us the illusion of control over life’s and nature’s unpredictability.
To illustrate this point. Let’s talk about big data. Today data management systems provide a wealth of useful knowledge. But to identify the piece of data that is key for my marketing strategy requires more than linear analysis. Experience, sensitivity, anticipation, and intuition will at some point or another have to play a big role as well. It’s true for consumer insights but also for economic science and financial investing. Ironically these very human aspects of ourselves—squashed and considered as something unreliable and dangerous in our dominant Square culture—are pretty much everything that AI experts are attempting yet challenged to replicate with technology! The good news though is that this centuries-old bias is at odds with the latest scientific research, led by great scientists like Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer, Director of Harding Center for Risk Literacy at the University of Potsdam, or Director of the Center of Brain and Creativity at University of Southern California and neuroscientist, Pr. António Damásio. The first researched the importance of heuristics for reliable decision making and better adaptation, the latter the importance of emotions in our capacity to anticipate and perceive decisive nuances in complex situations.
Now let me answer your other question about freeing the Circle.
First let’s remember Circle (intuition) is always one. If it’s not “freed” it’s because we simply don’t pay attention to it. Few actually do. Why ? Because, faithful to a dominant Square most of us still expect intuition to tell us what’s right from what’s wrong. I keep reading in respectable magazines titles like: “Should you follow your intuition” – “When to trust your intuition?” This is not the function of intuition to tell us what to do, unless we connect with a gut instinct in a situation of emergency. Intuition is more like a search engine that reaches places where logic cannot go. It brings back clues that enrich our perspectives and that don’t necessarily make sense; but it doesn’t mean that these clues are void of value. Therein again lies our responsibility to decide what to do with this non logical information.
So to “free” the circle requires simply to become aware of our bias for a dominant Square to purposefully undo it so that you can become receptive of your intuitive sense. Ways to do this ? Simply connect with your breath. Pay attention to the movements of your diaphragm. It will bring you right away to the present moment. Similarly to focus on one of your five senses will get you out of mental chatter and bring you stillness. For example, sitting at your desk, sense the objects you touch (your pen, the surface of your desk, the keys of your laptop) and be receptive to how this makes you feel.
What do you mean when you say let go of your strategy and outcomes?
I wrote this in the context of a serious game we have all executives at our global clients play. The SQUIRCLE Game mirrors very faithfully what business is about today. The objective of the game is to help executives develop a new skillset to adapt and succeed in a VUCA (Volatile Uncertain Complex Ambiguous) environment. What the SQUIRCLE Game makes very clear in less than 20 minutes is the following. To overcome a complex challenge you cannot think like an algorithm (map out exhaustively all scenarios, compare them and choose the optimum path). Actually it is not only useless it is also banning you from accessing a deeper intelligence that is necessary to constantly adapt and finally succeed. However once you give up the command control mode, you have access to your natural ability for creative adaptation and get ahead. I have systematically seen groups succeed once they—individually and collectively—surrender control over the process and give up their attachment to the outcomes.
This is exactly what SQUIRCLE is designed for. The model shows an actionable path for people to give up the dominance of the SQUARE over the CIRCLE, because it compromises our ability to thrive in a VUCA world. It makes clear and actionable that when we relinquish control over the process by letting go of strategy and outcomes, a deeper intelligence emerges at an individual and group level. This deeper intelligence, called intuitive intelligence, guides the group of participants through the complexity of the challenge all the way to its resolution.
Can you give us a business example or two?
Over the years, I have worked with a number of companies that had to reinvent their business models due to disruption by pure digital players, in industries like sports and entertainment or media publishing, for instance. These were very tough situations: free fall in sales and growing losses, due to broken business models, a disrupted industry and a very tough economic environment. These were large companies with billion-dollar top lines, operating offices on different continents. Nevertheless under the pressure of their burning platforms, they were able to move from operating cruise liners to steering speed boats, taking risks, making highly strategic decisions within a few hours, seizing new opportunities, changing organizational dynamics from hierarchical to entrepreneurial. To make this possible, the CEO had to accept that she had no clarity about the future but that it shouldn’t hamper her ability to lead her direct reports, inspire her people, make decisions and take actions. One accepted to say that the “vision was the reinvention” and that the culture had to change from being financially driven with quarterly reports ruling their calendars to becoming entrepreneurial and willing to experiment and take more risks, in the absence of a clear strategy and roadmap. To get there they practiced SQUIRCLE Game on a regular basis; actually each time their Executive Committee was meeting.
I also remember interviewing a senior executive at one of the largest global pharmaceutical companies. He was running the portfolio of all over-the-counter drugs. Because it was the least strategic and least profitable part of the company’s portfolio, his bosses were not paying much attention to his way of driving the business. So he and his team felt a certain independence and developed a real autonomy. Unlike the rest of the offices, they painted theirs in bright colors, had a new logo designed, worked different flexible hours to accommodate all personal situations. Over four consecutive years, they grew their top line by 40% although the CEO admitted that they had repeatedly made mistakes in elaborating their strategy. Yet what saved them was their ability to systematically pivot quickly. The pressure they felt coming from the C-suite was low, they became rather autonomous thinkers and entrepreneurial doers. That’s how the CEO explained their success in spite of the systematic strategic misjudgments.
Post-Covid, how do we regain Nature and make it central to our lives?
This is the fundamental objective of SQUIRCLE: to reconnect us—through intuition and instinct—with the intelligence of nature in us. I am a firm believer that culture eats strategy for breakfast. This is why it all starts with people. Once professionals and individuals are used to SQUIRCLE to solve problems and make decisions tapping their natural abilities, we will have won our bet. One decision at a time, we will surely move towards a more innovative and more sustainable future.
What is the SQUIRCLE test?
It is based on a proven assessment that helped 250,000 senior executives and students at some of the most successful companies and most prestigious business schools in the world. It gives respondents insights into their preference for either a SQUARE or a CIRCLE approach to situations and decisions.
The purpose of the SQUIRCLE test is not to assign you to a specific profile or category. It is meant to foster self-reflection and promote open discussion with others. Whether your preference is for a SQUARE or a CIRCLE approach, we all need to recognize:
- the importance of CIRCLE in re-inventing our organizations, our modes of leadership and decision-making,
- the great contribution of SQUARE in analyzing, bringing facts and frameworks of reference, as long as it doesn’t become dominant, like an ideology that suppresses critical and creative thinking.
Based on a decade of empirical research, we can say that by a large majority people favor a SQUARE approach. So it makes a big difference once people recognize their inclination and can better appreciate others’ difference or similarity. It’s not how many CIRCLE people you have in your organization, that matters. It is how well you understand and support those with a CIRCLE preference. SQUIRCLE is really for everyone.
What’s next for you and for SQUIRCLE?
I believe the first person affected by a new book is its author, especially when it’s a book that catalyzes a personal evolution. To write a book—even as short and simple as SQUIRCLE—is always a transformative process for me. So first I am going to let it do its positive work on my mind as I hope it will on many other people.
Nevertheless I anticipate some public speaking engagements, a large interest from the media, requests from CEOs and HR Executives. Based on approximately 50 first readers’ feedback, I think people will feel inspired by SQUIRCLE. It is as simple as it gets. Everybody can understand how SQUIRCLE works. Regardless of their levels of education and backgrounds, everyone can use it. This is why I am passionate about sharing SQUIRCLE via a team of strong certified coaches and an online platform filled with information, creative content, training and exercises, all available at: SQUIRCLEACADEMY.com.
Thanks for your time, Francis.
INTERVIEW by Christian Sarkar.