Drenched In Awareness: Flat-Footed or Future-Facing?

 

“Regardless of the industry or circumstances, one forecast has always been right throughout history: technology will advance, it will invariably intersect with other sources of change within society, and trends are the signposts showing us how changes will manifest in real life.”  -via Amy Webb The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream

The signals are all around us…

Dots that are swirling, orbiting, spinning, traveling all around our cognitive spaces; disparate dots just waiting to be connected in novel and new ways to move us forward into the future.  Or as Martin Ford may say, “Lights in the Tunnel.”

The problem is that we struggle to see these signals and dots.

Whether they are hidden in the chaos of our exponentially changing times or we find that they are pushed away by our own mental models and cognitive biases that are often too confining to stretch past the fantastical realities they are inferring…

We fail to interpret what they are saying.

We fail to interpret the coming transformation they are inferring.  We fail to infer the disruptive change and changes they are quietly heralding.  We find ourselves trapped by our own cognitive constraints, unable to imagine and envision a new future that is unfolding right before us because of the trappings of our deeply embedded visions of the past.  So we talk of boxes and thinking outside to them, instead of confronting the mental models that we continue to drag into the future, limiting the signals we recognize and the depth and breadth of dots we are able to connect.

Too often, in these times of chaos and uncertainty…

We spend our time recoiling back into the safety of the past, when we should be stepping out into the opportunity of the future.  When we limit our willingness and ability to connect these disparate dots, to expand our lens into and of the future, the signals become dim and distant, unrecognizable.  Rather, our ability and willingness to push past confining cognitive biases and mental models allows those signals to quiver and resonate in the midst of the turbulence created by this new velocity of change, providing our individuals and organizations with a compass in the midst of the chaos and noise that tends to overwhelm those very same individuals and organizations.  Providing a more progressive, relevant and impactful way forward into this unpredictable future.

Too often we are blindsided by the unknown, as these signals of the emerging future emanating and radiating from that space beyond the known are often weak, unnoticed or even unbelievable.

Artificial intelligence, automation, digitization, globalization, outsourcing, poverty, are all dots sending out various signals for us to interpret in these exponential times.  Harbingers of what is to come; not what will be, but what might be.  We need leaders drenched in awareness, awareness of these signals and dots, of the acceleration of change, and of the exponential shifts they are levying across our systems and organizations.

Shifts that are shaking the very foundations of our societal ecosystems.

In the end, the worst stance is to be flat-footed and motionless, when change and disruption comes a calling, determined to pull the rug out from under you, to have the future forced upon you.  Rather, we need leaders drenched in awareness, connecting dots, searching for signals, willing to intentionally design our way forward in a much more proactive manner.

Creating organizational relevance in a time of accelerated obsolescence.

“The best leaders sense the future in order to compete in the present.”  “Foresight is the beginning of the journey.”  -via Bob Johansen Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present

Intent to Adapt: Part II

 

“Everything starts from a problem – but not everyone faces the problem in the same way.”  -via Juan Carlos Eichholz Adaptive Capacity: How Organizations Can Thrive In A Changing World

Mike Tyson used to say that, “Everyone has a plan…until they get punched in the face.”  The reality is, every individual, every organization, is going to get punched in the face at least one time or another.  The problem is, it is happening quicker and more often in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

Change is accelerating, disruption is escalating, even our foundations are shifting…

As Peter Thiel shares in Zero to One, “Big plans for the future have become archaic curiosities.”  And it is not that strategies and plans have suddenly become useless, rather it is in the inability of our individuals and organizations to adapt when our “big plans” get “punched in the face” that often renders them ineffective to the new realities they are facing.

However, the ability of our individuals and organizations to adapt relies heavily on creating the capacity in which to do, so.  But, too often, especially in times of confusion and chaos, when capacity is lacking, and when adaptability and agility is most needed, leaders will turn to authority to fill that capacity gap.  Or as Eichholz shares in Adaptive Capacity, “The disequilibrium exceeded the adaptive capacity.”

In today’s VUCA world, we cannot believe that our individuals and organizations will be spared from the confusion, chaos and disruptions of a changing world and the adaptive challenges that arise within these shifting environments.  Or that the disequilibrium and tension that these environments create will be helped by leaders creating more structures, more rules, more hierarchy, and extending more authority, in fact, the challenges will become more exacerbated.

In fact, we need leaders who are much more engaged in strategic thinking, than strategic planning…

Leaders who are intentional in creating the organizational capacity to deal effectively with the disruption and loss that many of these adaptive challenges pose and impose upon our individuals and organizations.  In times of great upheaval, the organizations that are most effective and remain most relevant don’t turn to more authority, rather they have created the internal capacity that draws on greater levels of autonomy.

When leaders have a deeper awareness of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of today’s world, they understand that any “big plan” has a much greater risk being “punched in the face” at one time or another.  And it is not in if it will happen, but when and how?  Building the ongoing capacity and autonomy of the organization allows for not only greater clarity, adaptability and agility when that “punch” comes, but the ability to carry out the ‘intent’ of those plans in the midst of the chaos and confusion that arise.

So as we carry forward with the work of building greater individual and organizational capacity to better face the adaptive challenges of today and tomorrow, I leave you with these thoughts from Adaptive Capacity by Juan Carlos Eichholz…

“But leadership is difficult to put into practice because it involves challenging people instead of satisfying them, asking questions instead of giving answers, generating disequilibrium and tension instead of providing comfort and safety, allowing differences to emerge instead of pretending that they do not exist, involving people instead of giving them instructions, and, in sum, confronting people with the problem instead of facing the problem by yourself or simply ignoring it.  All of this must be done within a strong containing vessel, one that holds people together while they are living with the complexities and losses of adaptive work.”

 

 

Clash Of Ideas: The Tension Of Innovation

 

“In every organization we studied, we saw how leaders dealt with this ongoing source of tension.  They made sure the disapproval of more experienced expert members didn’t smother dissension, minority viewpoints, or the fresh perspectives of the inexperienced or the newcomer.  They encouraged constructive disagreement.  They gave people discretionary time to pursue their particular passions.  They recognized that individuals need engagement and connection, as well as intellectual and emotional space, to do their best work.  In short, leaders created places where individuals were willing to contribute their best efforts because they felt not only part of the group but also valued by and valuable to the group.”  -Hill, Brandeau, Truelove, and Lineback via Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation

Too often when we think of creativity and innovation, we think of passion, we think of inspiration, we think of the lone genius, and we think of that ‘aha’ moment where it all comes together.

Too little do we consider and understand the hard work and heavy lift creativity and innovation requires, the tension that arises from the need to engage in the positive conflict and candor necessary to get too the best ideas, and the collective effort that must be invested and expelled both cognitively and emotionally on an ongoing basis to make this work happen.

Inability to comprehend and build understanding around the heavy lift of this work is a disservice to the organization and those engaging in more creative and innovative work.  When we understand the demands, we are better prepared to face them head on.

As the authors of Collective Genius share, “Innovation emerges most often from the collaboration of diverse people as they generate a wide-ranging portfolio of ideas, which they then refine, improve, and even evolve into new ideas through discussion, give and take, and often-heated contention.”  

However, this work seldom flourishes in dysfunctional, command and control environments.  To engage in the candor and “clash of ideas” necessary to move past ‘whose’ idea to the ‘best’ idea requires collaborative environments built upon a foundation of high-levels of trust and empathy.

Without trust and empathy, the ‘best’ ideas never even make it to the table, and most often, they are never even shared.

The most creative and innovative organizations don’t just accept ideas, they engage ideas. They wrestle and fight with ideas, not because they don’t think they are good, but because they want to make them even better.  They learn to not hold any idea too close to the chest, understanding that any idea can be built upon and improved.  They approach the idea process with an attitude of positive “plussing” which allows ideas to expand and evolve.

Which is cognitively and emotionally demanding work.

As the authors of Collective Genius add, “Yet the friction of clashing ideas can be hard to bear.  The sparks that fly in heartfelt discussions can sting.  At a minimum, they can create tension and stress.  Many organizations consequently dislike conflict in any form and try to discourage it.  But blanket condemnation of all strife and conflict will only stifle the free flow of ideas and rich discussions that creative collaboration needs.”

Which requires a different kind of leadership.  Especially if you are going to be able to engage the organization in this level of creative and innovative work, especially on an ongoing basis.  It can be difficult, frustrating and even painful at times, which is why many organizations struggle with truly engaging and sustaining creative and innovative work.

Today’s organizations need leaders who realize the collective commitment and level of collaboration required to engage in this work and who are better prepared to create the conditions to engage it.  Leaders who are emotionally intelligent in supporting their people through the cognitive and emotional demands of the conflict and candor required of “plussing” ideas.  Leaders who can not only create the environment that allows this work to occur, but creates the conditions of trust and empathy necessary to do this work positively and effectively.

As the research of Hill, Brandeau, Truelove, and Lineback shows, “In every organization we studied, we saw how leaders dealt with this ongoing source of tension.  They made sure the disapproval of more experienced expert members didn’t smother dissension, minority viewpoints, or the fresh perspectives of the inexperienced or the newcomer.  They encouraged constructive disagreement.  They gave people discretionary time to pursue their particular passions.  They recognized that individuals need engagement and connection, as well as intellectual and emotional space, to do their best work.  In short, leaders created places where individuals were willing to contribute their best efforts because they felt not only part of the group but also valued by and and valuable to the group.”  

Which requires a different kind of leader and a different set of skill-sets to create the environment and culture to not only do this work, but do it effectively and to sustain it over time.

We live in a time where organizations are not just in want of creative and innovative thinking and action, but require it for ongoing relevance in a world that is shifting and changing in an exponential manner and at an accelerated pace.  And yet, we still struggle to hire and prepare today’s leaders for this new challenge, to lead this work in and across all levels of our modern organizations.

The better we prepare today’s leaders to create the environment for creativity and innovation to exist and flourish, the more relevantly our organizations and individuals will move forward into the future.

“Managing tensions in the organization is an ongoing issue…you don’t want an organization that just salutes and does what you say.  You want an organization that argues with you.  And so you want to nurture the bottoms up, but you’ve got to be careful you don’t just degenerate into chaos.”  -Bill Coughran Google

What’s Your Moonshot?

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“A moonshot taps into human aspirations to achieve something unexpected, difficult, and worthwhile.”  -Goldman and Purmal The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business As Usual

In September of 1962, John F. Kennedy’s speech at Rice University, touched something in all of us.  From expectation to aspiration, his words lifted up the human spirit to reach new heights, to learn to see the impossible as possible, igniting our sense of curiosity, as well as reigniting our passion to pioneer a new way forward, to blaze paths were none existed.

Words that served as the catalyst for Moonshot Thinking…

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Our world has changed a lot since Kennedy’s speech in 1962, but that idea of the Moonshot still seeps into those individuals and organizations that are willing to do what others have not, to challenge themselves and those around them to set the pace, to raise the bar on the idea of possible, to muster up incredible feats of creative and innovative thinking and doing, all in the aim of further, better.  To rekindle and reignite a willingness and “want” to brave the unknown, the uncertain, to move out beyond the bounds and borders of the known and the usual.

To reach for something higher, to bring out the best in each and every one of us…

And while the pace of change has accelerated and the world has determined to move in a much more exponentially manner, the spirit of the Moonshot remains, in us and our organizations that are willing to continually push past the status quo and linear thinking that keeps us entrenched in the known.

The only change may be that our “Moonshots” of the past are quickly becoming “Mars shots” for the future…

As you determine your perspective FOR the future, don’t lose sight of or bury those Moonshots and crazy ideas that often lay buried under the surface.  Remember, so very often, what was considered crazy today, is what changes the world for the better tomorrow.

So as you consider your moonshot, in their work, The Moonshot Effect, Goldman and Purmal give us good understanding of what a moonshot is and that “a moonshot has three essential elements woven into its very fabric:”

IT’S UNEXPECTED: because it lives outside of business as usual, the moonshot is surprising.

IT’S HARD: you cannot transform by doing more of what you’re already doing.  A moonshot demands breakthroughs and disruption.

IT’S WORTH IT: achieving a moonshot represents a major victory, tapping into the innate human aspiration to be the first or best at something.

Very often, especially in getting to those essential elements of a moonshot, a reframe is required.  A reframing of our perspective.  A reframe in how we do, of how we think, of how we work, and even of how we dream.

Out of this reframe, it’s our big questions that become the driver that naturally uncovers our Moonshot…

They move us from the urgent to the important.  They allow us to engage greater empathy and compassion along the way.  They help us to iterate our way forward, determining when a pivot or shift may be necessary or required.  They help us to erect ladders over our barriers and bore holes in our walls.  They move us from “yes, but” to “yes, and” thinking.  They open the door to more experimental, discovery learning (which we could all use a bit more of).  They continually serve as slingshots to our Moonshots.

In closing,

We don’t get a lot of chances to do something truly great in this world…

Finding your Moonshot is that chance, just don’t let it pass you by.

“A moonshot is the antidote to the gravitational pull of day-to-day burdens.  It requires people to discard their business-as-usual habits, and unites them in a collective endeavor to achieve something extraordinary.  In the process, the teams and leaders who set out on the mission are transformed through the moonshot effect.”  -Goldman and Purmal The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business As Usual

So, what’s your Moonshot?

 

Building Adaptive Capacity: The Rise of The Dilemma

 

“The dilemmas of the future will be more grating, more gnawing, and more likely to induce feelings of hopelessness.  Leaders must be able to flip dilemmas around and find the hidden opportunities.  Leaders must avoid oversimplifying or pretending that dilemmas are problems that can be solved.  Dilemma flipping is a skill that leaders will need in order to win in a world dominated by problems that nobody can solve.”  -Bob Johansen Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

In an age proliferated by the exponential rise of adaptive challenges and unsolvable dilemmas, we still find that our organizational environments and cultures remain awash in a sense of solutionitis.  In the face of these challenges and dilemmas, we see leaders and organizations inevitably switch to choosing veneer answers and short-term solutions, when, in fact, deeper questions and long-term considerations are not only what is needed, but are in their best interest for future relevance in a world aimed at accelerated obsolescence.

Too often we treat these adaptive challenges and dilemmas as problems to be quickly dismissed and solved, we jump to simplicity without gaining a full grasp of their complexity, we shape a solution without diving deeper to determine the depth of the challenge, and we continue to formulate our answers before we truly comprehend whether or not we are asking the right questions.

In a sense, we thrive on this want and need to provide certainty in a time of great uncertainty.

Unfortunately, the more we try to provide this sense of certainty to these challenges, the more we tend to jump into solutionitis mode.  And yet, what we find is that the more we work to engage short-term fixes to these dilemmas we now face, the more we create individual and organizational confusion, frustration, dysfunction and disconnection are created.

Rather, in the midst of these dilemmas and adaptive challenges, we must move from being solution-focused to opportunity-open.  

In the fog of this uncertainty, complexity and even chaos that arrives with these challenges, we must learn to be open to the new opportunities that they create for us and our organizations.  As Bob Johansen shares in Leaders Make the Future, “The challenge for leaders is to flip a dilemma into an opportunity.”  Or, for which he adds, “Dilemma flippers have the ability to make their way through hopelessness into hope.”

Which often starts when leaders building their capacity and ability to more effectively determine whether they are facing a problem, or a dilemma or adaptive challenge.  Understanding the difference between the two and engaging strategies and processes to approach them more effectively can lead to greater individual and organizational clarity and coherence in moving forward into the future.

Google shares that “the difference between a problem and dilemma is that problem is a difficulty that has to be resolved or dealt with while dilemma is a circumstance in which a choice must be made between two or more alternatives that seem equally undesirable.”  In Leaders Make the Future, Bob Johansen adds that “dilemmas of the future have the following characteristics: unsolvable, recurrent, complex and messy, threatening, confusing, puzzling, and potentially positive.”  While, Ronald Heifitz reminds us as we approach this work of dealing with dilemmas is that, “The single biggest failure of leadership is to treat adaptive challenges like technical problems.”

In Leaders Make the Future, Ingar Skaug from the Center for Creative Leadership, shares a few techniques in dealing more effectively with dilemmas and complex challenges…

  1. Stand in different places: I can change my point of view by turning the problem upside down.”
  2. Using lenses from other domains: If I am a scientist, I may visualize the dilemma from the point of view of a policymaker.”
  3. Ask powerful questions: I can immerse myself in possible scenarios and “what ifs.”
  4. Foster new knowledge: I can spend time with others who are impacted by this dilemma and understand their point of view.”
  5. Create an innovation journal: It can be public or private way to think through my questions.”
  6. Change the pace of attention: I can change the speed at which I approach the dilemma.”

In the end, greater clarity and coherence is created when we truly understand whether we are facing a problem or an adaptive challenge or dilemma, as well as being able to create the appropriate individual and organizational expectations towards the outcomes we are seeking to each one, which is incredibly important in times of greater uncertainty and complexity.

Which often starts by understanding that what worked in the past will not necessarily work in the future…and may just be the first step in understanding this tremendous and exponential shift from technical problems to a world now awash in dilemmas and adaptive challenges.

“Making the future starts with listening and making sense.”  -Bob Johansen Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

The Hive Mind: Moving Past Conformity To Greater Capacity And Collective Intelligence

 

“The speed and interdependence of the modern environment create complexity.  Coupling shared consciousness and empowered execution creates an adaptable organization able to react to complex problems.”  -via Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement For A Complex World

We live in a time when we are truly seeing the importance of greater organizational adaptability and overall agility to not only parallel pace the turbulent pace of change, but to hold onto some semblance of relevance in a world that is bent on discontinuity and the speed of next.

The greatest risk in our modern world is often our inability or unwillingness to take a risk.  It is this type of VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environment that not only necessitates, but requires an enhanced ability to work more effectively in team settings, collaborate at a much higher and efficient level, as wells as create and utilize more expansive internal and external networks to leverage greater learning and idea flow throughout the organization, at all levels.

Especially if the concept of continuous improvement is our focus…

We can no longer entrench ourselves in the successes of the past, mire ourselves in outdated strategies, practices, processes and structures, or allow the overwhelming pace and speed of change to stagnate us in decision paralysis, especially if we are to remain relevant to the exponential shifts that are occurring across the entirety of our societal ecosystem.

The disruptions we are witnessing, driven by this technological transformation, are emerging not as events…but rather, as daily occurrences.

As is shared in Team of Teams, “An organization should empower its people, but only after it has done the heavy lifting of creating shared consciousness.”  Unfortunately, too many organizations err too far on one side or the other: they either provide autonomy without creating the capacity to fully utilize that autonomy, or they build up individual and organizational capacity and fail to provide the autonomy or empower their people effectively.  Both of which end in frustration at all levels of the organization, doing little to enhance individual or organizational adaptability or agility.

Today’s leaders need to look to ways to not only engage the collective intelligence that resides in an organization, but amplify that “shared consciousness” towards greater collective capacity in an environment that empowers people to make better decisions as they adapt to the complex conditions they face on a daily basis.

Thomas Seeley, Professor at Cornell University, provides a five ways (via Wired and HBR) we can tap into this “hive mind” for enhancing greater collective intelligence in our teams and organizations:

  • Create groups with mutual respect, shared interests and foster mutual respect.
  • Minimize the leaders influence on group thinking. 
  • Seek and explore diverse solutions to the problem, to maximize the group’s likelihood of uncovering an excellent option.
  • Aggregate the group’s knowledge through frank debate.
  • Use quorum responses for speed, cohesion, and accuracy, balancing interdependence and independence. 

Our ability to tap more effectively into the knowledge and ideas that exist within our teams, groups and networks will allow us to create deeper and more expansive collective capacity that will enhance our ability to not only amplify this organizational idea flow, but empower our people to adapt to this new knowledge with the autonomy to implement and utilize ideas that improve an organization’s ability to work towards and emerge more effectively as a culture of continuous improvement.

Connecting Dots In Real Time

 

We’ve built the ship for efficiency, stability and sustainability…

The question now becomes, can we rebuild and recreate it for speed, agility and adaptability?

Have we noticed the world has changed, and not in subtle, but often exponential ways?

Are we aware that the speed and turbulence of change has and is accelerating at an unprecedented rate?

Can we see how disruptive this technological (fourth industrial) revolution has been and will be in the future?

In a world that often supports that tagline adapt or die, nothing less than organizational transformation is sufficient for survival in a world gone VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous).

We cannot bury our head in the sand and believe that the disruption that stands at our doorstep will pass us by unnoticed.  The shifts are too enormous to be ignored.

If we are not careful, if we remain more lethargic than proactive to the changes we do and will face, we may find our future mirroring the Parable of the Boiled Frog.  Or as Hemingway states, “gradually, then suddenly” may very well define the discovery of just how disruptive “1” degree can shift the environment in which we exist.

The ambiguity of today’s world is leaving us awash in anxiety.  Fear and uncertainty often makes us recoil from the plethora of unknowns we face, further entrenching us in status quo thinking and doing.  The permanence of the past is an illusion in today’s turbulent and accelerated world.

We can’t conquer the ambiguity and uncertainty that this new world creates, but we can learn to adapt ourselves to it. We can learn to parallel pace this heightened speed of change by becoming more agile, in adjusting quicker and more effectively to the shifts that it provokes in our individual and organizational lives.

To attain the level of adaptability and agility necessary to deal more relevantly with these exponential shifts and the new levels of complexity that accompany them, it will ultimately require us as individuals and organizations to engage in learning that: builds greater individual and organizational capacity, is more strategic and intentional, provokes intrinsic motivation, is continuous and evolving, leverages ‘best’ practices while engaging in ‘next’ practices, creates greater idea flow through the use of internal and external collaborations and networks, is based in a want for better, while being focused on the tenets and principles of continuous improvement.

Technology isn’t just driving innovation…it’s changing our mental models and disrupting the entire ecosystem of the future.

To keep pace in this new world, we will have to become much better in connecting dots in real time, and to do this, we will ultimately find that our ability to learn, and to connect that learning in new and novel ways, becomes our best advantage.

“Though we know far more about everything in it, the world has in many respects become less predictable.  Such unpredictability has happened not in spite of technological progress, but because of it.”  -via Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World