Innovation: The Promise And Peril Of Our Future

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”  -Klaus Schwab via The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The level of disruption we are facing as a society is enormous in its entirety and possibility. When we begin to consider the actual worker displacement and economic upheaval that we may be facing, on a national, let alone global proportions, we become much more concerned about what may lay on the horizon.

In many ways, technology has ignited this explosive level of innovation that is kindling these fires of disruption. A whole new world of previously inconceivable potential is being opened up right before our eyes. The predictions of what is to come is almost unfathomable in the possibilities that lie around the corner.

If it can be imagined, it is being contemplated and considered. From a neuroscientist who has “found a way to transmit visual code directly to the brain” (via BBC: The Genius Behind) to help the blind see again to robots that can learn. Technology has continued to push society along at an exponential clip.

Realization of what these shifts will provide, both in a positive and negative way, will allow us to better prepare our children, ourselves and our organizations for what may be a very unpredictable future. At least, one that is very unlike the future that we conceive to currently exist.

In many ways, we have this belief that the speed of this change will de-accelerate and eventually plateau, but so did mammoth organizations such as Blockbuster. We keep waiting for things to get back to the way they used to be. We keep waiting for a past that no longer exists.

We can only hide our heads for so long before the rug is eventually pulled out from under our feet.  At which point it is too late to pivot and adapt. The damage is done and the only thing left to determine at that point, is how long the drift into irrelevance and obsolescence will actually take.

Those organizations that will remain relevant will have to shift from a focus on sustainability, to one of adaptability. In today’s exponentially shifting world, we will have to be able to move past a focus on replicating ‘best’ practice, to one of seeing ‘around the corner’ to ‘next’ practice.

We are going to need to be much more aware of the shifts that are transforming our world in both subtle and explosive ways.

Realizing that technology and innovation brings both promise and peril allows us to be better prepared for the unpredictability of a different and disrupted future that we are soon to face.

It is in our awareness that we often are able to fulfill the promise, while peril often lies in wait for those who remain unaware.

There is a wide chasm that exists between a focus on sustainability, and creating an organizational foundation that allows for agility and adaptability.


Scaling Bright Spots

Our limited tolerance for divergent thinking in our leadership and organizations, has severely diminished our tolerance for ambiguity, uncertainty and risk.

Instead, we find organizational safety in pushing our creative and innovative thinkers to the periphery, keeping us effectively entrenched in a convergent mindset, answer-focused and question-light, providing relief for and ultimately stabilizing the status quo, insulating and protecting the core from the very ideas necessary to push the organization out of the comfortable existence that it resides in. The very comfort that settles in and serves as a slippery slope towards future obsolescence and irrelevance.

So we resort to mandates, directives, hierarchical, command and control tactics in an effort to fill the voids and disconnects that we see rising from the systems and organizations built upon unstable foundations of poor design.

The unfortunate thing is all that this structure and approach provides is some semblance of sustaining, for it ends up being neither innovative nor scalable. It defends, in a time when we must learn to adapt.

But even in the midst of organizational dysfunction and sustaining of outdated systems, there are positive deviants, organizational bright spots who are effectively transforming their work with better strategies, better solutions and better answers to the current problems and challenges our organizations are facing. And they are doing it within the same culture, the same environment, and with the same resources, processes and structures as everyone else.

However, before we can get to the point of scaling our organizational bright spots, we must first know who they are and what it is they are doing to get the results and outcomes they are getting. And once we figure who, we must take the time to truly understand what it is they are doing and why.

Far too often leaders and organizations try to scale the what, with only a veneer understanding of the why and how the positive deviance in the system is achieving the outcomes and results that are being achieved. Often leading to further frustration and dysfunction.

Positive deviance occurs in spite of the current structures, processes and systems that are in place in an organization. Which requires a reflective stance to truly determine how to allow positive deviance and bright spots to rise and scale up in response to a positive push, rather than frustrated reaction to the organization and the organizational culture and environment.

The thing about positive deviants is that every organization has them.

So the question becomes…

Do you know who they are and the how and why of what they are doing to positively disrupt the system?

Periphery Vision: And The Cutting Edge

“The point of attempting to understand the implications of the evolution of the periphery, however, is not to find a foolproof way to predict the future. It is to find a way to identify the real possibilities for the future, so that a more intelligent choice can be made…”  -Richard Foster Creative Destruction: Why Companies That Are Build To Last Underperform The Market – And How To Successfully Transform Them

The one thing that we do know, even if we can’t predict the jobs that will exist in this very non-obvious future that we will face, is that it will definitely be disruptive. If we think we’ve already asked a lot of our organizations and leaders, then the rallying cry of this coming disruption may very well be, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” Especially for those organizations that have built their foundations upon sustainability and linearity.

The future will be anything but predictable…

And while today’s organizations and leaders are not equipped with a crystal ball to effectively predict the future, they are going to have to become much more aware and adept at seeing the societal shifts and trends well enough in advance to adapt as necessary and needed. Especially in the face of the exponential, explosive and unrelenting pace that technology is pressing upon our systems. And for these reasons,

We can no longer afford to make our creatives outliers…

We can no longer afford to push innovation to the periphery…

We are actually going to have move away from the comfortable compliance that exists at the core of much of our organizations and the leadership that guides them. We are going to have to become much more aware of our organizational bright spots, those positive deviants who often move effectively at the periphery of our organizations. Those creative and innovative outliers who are effectively and positively disrupting the system.

Outliers who are positively disrupting within the system.

Or as Richard Foster shares in his work Creative Destruction, “The need to understand the evolution of the periphery as a basis for change has grown as the pace of change in the economy has grown. As the pace of change accelerates further in the future, gaining the skill to understand the periphery will become even more important.”

In most organizations, the creative and innovative work very rarely occurs in the core, rather, it happens at the edges. It happens at the boundaries of the organization. Which is why today’s leaders must be much more aware of this periphery, both inside and outside of their organization and the creative and innovative work that is fueling today’s often transformational pace of change.

We can no longer hide our head in the sand. We can no longer afford to be caught unaware, especially in a time when lack of awareness often leads to obsolescence and eventual irrelevance.

It’s not enough for today’s leaders to just meet people where they’re at, they must be prepared to take them ‘around the corner’ to better envision what’s to come. It’s about preparing our people and organizations to be much more agile and adaptable in the midst of profound changes.

“There is no better way to understand the cutting edge of new possibilities than to understand the periphery.”  -Richard Foster Creative Destruction