Forging A Future Mindset

“Most change processes are superficial because they don’t generate the depth of understanding and commitment that is required for sustaining change in truly demanding circumstances. Planning, deciding, and monitoring and controlling the ensuing process may be all that are needed in situations where change is essentially about reading to new circumstances but, when you’re facing very difficult issues or dilemmas, when very different people need to align in very complex settings, and when the future might really be very different from the past, a different process is required.”  -Adam Kahane via Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future

How we approach the future is going to be very important…

Even in today’s exponentially changing and shifting world, we still have this ingrained tendency to approach the very ‘idea’ of the future as this static and preordained process that we accept as an inevitable consequence of our past and present. We tend to remain unable or unwilling to look at the future as an ongoing, evolving, active, and emergent process that we have actual influence over. Instead, we take a more reactive than proactive approach to the emergent future.

We view the future with a ‘noun’ lens, rather than with a ‘verb’ view…

And when we do take a more proactive approach towards influencing the emerging future, we struggle to do it without dragging in preconceived models of the past. Models that keep us entrenched and blinded from seeing its emergence without being anchored to the safety of our models of the past and present that impede and encroach on its progress. Often hindering its ability to unfold freely and fully.

Imagine trying to blow up an air raft while it is still in the box it came in…

The future is in a constant, active state of emerging and realizing itself. Yet, as individuals, organizations and systems, we do little to engage ourselves in the shaping of its emergence. The future is not something we accept, we have to engage, or as Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, and Flowers point to in their work Presence, “a different type of learning process where we learn instead from a future that has not yet happened and from continually discovering our part in bringing that future to pass. Learning based on the past suffices when the past is a good guide to the future. But it leave us blind to profound shifts when whole new forces shaping change arise.”

Which is the reality that we are being currently thrust into…

The past no longer “suffices” as a “guide” or support to take us effectively into this exponentially evolving future that we are facing as individuals and organizations. In many ways, the past entrenches us in a reactive stance that ingrains present patterns, behaviors, processes, and models that keep the us from emerging more fully and proactively into the opportunities that the future may afford us.

To do this, we are going to have to create the space to more self-reflective and future-flective…

Or as Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski and Flowers share in Presence, “Slow down. Observe. Then act fast and with a natural flow that comes from the inner knowing. You have to slow down long enough to really see what’s needed. With a freshness of vision, you have the possibility of a freshness of action, and the overall response on a collective level can be much quicker than trying to implement hasty decisions that aren’t compelling to people.”  

Which must be part of a leaders reflective process. Awareness. Awareness of the busyness and urgency that creeps in and takes over. It is difficult to engage in ‘forging a future mindset’ if we are constantly consumed by the busyness that surrounds and infiltrates our lives and our organizations. We find ourselves consumed by the efficient and urgent, rather than the effective and important. In many ways, it goes back to finding time to be slow, to go fast.

The future will be very different, we have the choice to fight and recoil from it, or we can determine to proactively see and influence its emergence…

Or as the authors of Presence provide that we “need to ‘sense an emerging future’ in order to meet the challenges of managing in an increasingly technology-based economy. As the pace of technological development quickens, so does the rate of what the economist Joseph Schumpter called ‘creative destruction…” They go on to add, “this leads to the continual forming, configuring, locking in, and decaying of structure. Little is predictable or repetitive. Problems are not well defined. The rules of the game as well as the other players change rapidly as the stakes get increasingly higher.” “In this kind of environment, making decisions based on the habits of past experience is no longer optimal – or wise.”

This is the new world and the future we face.

And we have a choice.

We can choose to positively influence or ultimately recoil from its emergence.


Transformation: Playing At The Edges

“If we want to change the systems we are part of – our countries, communities, organizations, and families – we must also see and change ourselves.”  -Adam Kahane Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities

Transformation is an interesting word. A Google search would begin by defining it as, “a thorough or dramatic change…” Others would tend to replace “thorough” and “dramatic” with “radical” and “profound.” But what does that really mean, for us and for our organizations? What does it truly mean to transform? Do we ever truly transform? Or is transformation a never ending journey?

We often talk of transforming ourselves, our organizations, our systems, but how often do we truly see a “thorough,” “dramatic,” “profound,” or even “radical” change happening in the way our individuals, organizations and systems operate? In our behaviors? Even our daily conversations?

Or are we just circling our organizational wagons?

Because, in a sense, in the midst of the push for deep transformation lies a heavy layer of uncertainty and chaos that pushes us up against the very boundaries that surround our organizations. In many ways, the very idea of transformation stretches and exposes our current capacity in very uncomfortable and threatening ways, initiating a recoil, a flinch we experience at the edge of the known. A snap-back from the vulnerability that the unknown creates.

Which leads us back to circling of our organizational wagons.  

Especially in the face of the fear and anxiety brought on by sheer non-volume of the unknown. When we are no longer fixated on amplifying the known, the safe, the linear and predictable, the solemn quiet of the unknown can be excruciating in the anxiety and fear it extracts.

Which leads us back to circling our organizational wagons.  

In many ways, if we are really going to push for “profound” and/or “radical” transformation, over reform and incremental change, we are going to have to get much more adept in our ability to act in a more agile manner at the edges of our organizations. We are going to have to learn how to inhale the chaos that reverberates out the unknown spaces that lie beyond our organizational boundaries.

We need leaders with a willingness to lean into the uncertainty, ambiguity and unknowns that surround our modern organizations. Leaders who can push through the chaos and turbulence that this creates, rather than recoil back to the safety of what we’ve always done and known.

Unfortunately, transformation rarely evolves and emerges, when we’ve labeled the work as reform. In many ways, transformation is as much about abandonment for the future, as it is about re-framing, re-creating and re-imagining our future.

And unfortunately, whether as individuals or organizations, often the very thing we hold so tightly too, is one thing that we need to release and let go of…

If we are going to emerge into the future, more transformed than reformed.

“Nothing happens without personal transformation.”  -W. Edwards Deming

Have We Created The Conditions?

We’ve all heard the quote that “every system is perfectly designed to achieve exactly the results it gets.” And if that statement is true, then at some point we have to step back and begin to consider why our current systems are not creating the outcomes and results that we want or need, be that government, schools, or the workplace.

As the pace of change accelerates, we find ourselves and our organizations facing more and more uncertainty. Not to say that we ever faced the future with complete certainty, but it never seemed to be so clouded in ambiguity, worry and doubt.

And for most of us considering the turbulence and chaos brought on by these exponential shifts, there’s this tendency to place technology front and center as the instigating force pushing these changes and us forward into a much more volatile and non-obvious future.

There’s this fear, and for good reason, that technology, be that automation, robots, or artificial intelligence, may be leading us down a path towards job insecurity and economic upheaval.

While many are blaming technology for these current and coming concerns, John Hagel in his Big Think talk “Rethinking Race Against the Machines” has put a different spin on how we tend to blame technology for these radical shifts we are facing in the very near future.

As Hagel shares, “Technology is not the root cause, technology is simply going after the target that’s been put on the screen. The root cause is how we’ve defined work in companies. And the opportunity now is to step back and say, is that the way we need work to be done?”

Hagel’s concern is that we’ve framed our concerns around the wrong target. It’s not that technology is the cause of a possibly automated future, but rather that we’ve standardized work in ways that we’ve made it quite easy for it to be targeted for automation. Technology is just accelerating the process. We’ve created a system and a way of working in our organizations and companies that has made it very easy for it to be disrupted by automation, robots and artificial intelligence.

Hagel adds, “The real reason that we have such an issue in terms of unemployment and job loss through automation is that we’ve crafted these jobs exactly so that they would be vulnerable to automation. We put a bulls-eye target on workers around the United States and around the world and said come after me…”

It is this idea of standardization that Hagel refers too, which has continued over from the previous century, from our schools to the workplace that has ultimately led to not only diminished creativity, but the conditions to allow technology to possibly automate away millions of not just blue collar, but white collar jobs on a global level.

Hagel continues, “If you step back and look at what the modern organization is and how it evolved, through a model that we describe as a push model, basically it has to do with developing forecasts and predictions and then making sure the right people are in the right place at the right time and following tightly scripted activities to respond to that demand. And stepping back, that’s a formula for automation. If you have tightly scripted jobs that are highly standardized where there’s no room for individual initiative or creativity, machines by and large, can do those activities much better than human beings. They’re much more predictable, they’re much more reliable.”

When we consider the situation, when we really reflect on the system or systems we have created, we find that this focus on standardization has created the conditions for for a much more automated future. And the antidote for this standardization lies in accessing and extending our abilities to engage much more imagination, creativity and innovation as individuals and organizations. We are not only going to have to rework our idea of work, but the skills, skill-sets and abilities that we need from our students as the move out into the workforce and workplace. Inability to make these shifts makes the future a much more concerning prospect for all of us.

I will leave you with these thoughts from John Hagel and his Big Think talk on “Rethinking Race Against the Machines”

“Now we are in a world that’s more rapidly changing, more uncertainty, more of those extreme events that Taleb calls the Black Swans, that make it really critical for us as individuals in the workplace to take much more initiative to be constantly exercising creativity and imagination to respond to the unexpected events. That is a very different model of work. It requires a very different way of organizing our institutions and a different set of work practices that are much harder to automate. When you have that kind of imagination, creativity, trust-based relationships required to address these hard problems, it makes it that much less vulnerable to automation.”

Or as Hagel shares, we can then begin to move from “racing against the machines” to “racing with the machines.”