Test-Driving Our Future

“Today we are again in the early stages of defining a new age. The very underpinnings of our society and institutions – from how we work to how we create value, govern, trade, learn, and innovate – are being profoundly reshaped by amplified individuals. We are indeed all migrating to a new land and should be looking at the new landscape emerging before us like immigrants: ready to learn a new language, a new way of doing things, anticipating new beginnings with a sense of excitement, if also with a bit of understandable trepidation.”  -Marina Gorbis The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World

Today’s leaders will need to become much more adept at test-driving our future, continually preparing their leadership and their organization for a much more VUCA World, one rife with…

Volatility of change,

Uncertainty of the future,

Complexity of systems,

Ambiguity of next steps.

For many, test-driving our future in a much more VUCA World will feel a lot like hydroplaning, where there is this overall sense that we have lost traction and our ability to effectively steer, brake and and retain power of control has abandoned us, while we continue to accelerate. Leaving us with this feeling that we are sliding uncontrollably into our future. Conditions under which we will have to make crucial decisions that will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of our leadership and our organizations.

Which will require some counter-intuity in how we steer our leadership and our organizations into this VUCA future.

Especially in this state of emergence we currently find our leadership and organizational systems, structures and processes entangled and struggling to pull free from, one of efficiency and sustainability. This emerging effort to escape the confines of more efficiency and sustainability, to a future squarely focused on greater effectiveness and adaptability.

In the midst of the changes and transformations we are currently and will face, we would be well to remember that efficient is not always effective, and effective is not always efficient, even though the gravitational pull of the past will tell us different. Learning to become more agile and adaptable as leaders and organizations often runs counter-intuitive to the systems, structures and processes that were created for the institutions and organizations of our past and present.

Designing different will be a necessity…

As Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near shares, “What we spend our time on is probably the most important decision we make.” Which will require a much more proactive approach to the future, both as leaders and organizations. We must become much more interested in the design of things; our systems, our processes, our institutions, our organizations, and how we allow new ideas to not only infiltrate, but engage us in experimental and discovery learning that influences the next steps of that design.

We can choose to continually look forward in a linear and predictable manner, or we can learn to engage an ‘around the corner’ way of thinking and seeing our way into this future.

Because we do have a choice…

We can choose to turn into the turbulence of this unknown, volatile and accelerated future, or we can choose decelerate and pull over to the predictability and safety of the past. For many leaders and organizations, this is a choice that has determined a future of (gain) relevance, or one of (loss) irrelevance.

It is not only the pace and acceleration of change and transformation, but how these often exponential shifts effect how we lead and our organizations operate that makes us feel like we are hydroplaning uncontrollably into the future. Especially when we realize we cannot predict this future, no matter how hard we try.

But we can begin fore and future-cast it.  

In the midst of the complexity and turbulence that this accelerated VUCA future produces, we can become much more adept at seeing patterns and determining the disparate dots that are in need of connecting, that will lead us forward in a much more effective and adaptable way. Seeing these patterns and dots emerge will allow us to better question and accelerate past the conventional wisdom that often keeps us confined to the same lane and same speed that we’ve always traveled.

And it begins with awareness…

Awareness of these patterns is paramount if we are to ever consider how we will begin to parallel pace these shifts, if we are to become much more adept at connecting the disparate dots that surround us. It will be those connections that will eventually lead us forward into the future in a much more creative and innovative manner.

Change begins with a thought, it morphs into an idea, and transforms with an action.

“To be a futurist, in pursuit of improving reality, is not to have your face continually turned upstream, waiting for the future to come. To improve reality is to clearly see where you are, and then wonder how to make that better.”  -Warren Ellis


The Tipping Point To Transformation

“Our distributed technology infrastructure, however, is increasingly de-gridding not only our communication but also our social and economic landscapes, with value flowing not through centralized nodes but through many more much smaller nodes; us, individuals.”  -Marina Gorbis via The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World

And it is disrupting everything.

Or as Gorbis adds in The Nature of the Future, “We are quickly finding out that when we go from a centralized communications infrastructure to a distributed one, when we connect everything and everyone, the result is not just to make things faster, better, and bigger. The social system itself acquires a fundamentally different quality: it becomes more diversified, more emergent, and often unpredictable.”

It is not just the acceleration of change, but the speed of how change is evolving itself that is becoming so disruptive to the world around us. Every day, we are finding our idea of possible being shifted in incremental and exponential ways. It is this constant emergence of the new, and not knowing who or where that shift will arise from, that is causing such volatility, unpredictability, complexity and ambiguity in how we now see and face the future.

It is not just the technologies themselves, but the possibilities they create, that is often unraveling our often static view of the future. And each new possibility arrives with a plethora of AND’s, with both positives AND negatives. Disrupting us professionally AND personally, as individuals AND organizations, internally AND externally.

And it is affecting everything.

Amazon Go, Google Deep Mind, IBM Watson, Driverless cars, Mass Personalization, Big Data, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Augmented Reality, 3D Printing, are just a sampling of how technology is not only changing our world, but how we live and work, from our institutions to our organizations, from government, to health, and education. And it is the speed at which these technologies emerge and evolve, that is not only accelerating this change in our world, but inserting much more volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity into these shifts.

It is this disruptive nature and accelerated pace of change that is going to require our leaders and organizations to not only be much more aware, but more proactive in how we approach the future. Too often we find ourselves and our organizations flat-footed, caught off-guard, and reactionary in our stance to these shifts.

As they say, “we shape our tools, then our tools shape us” is very appropriate for understanding today’s world. However, it is not just us, but our organizations and institutions, as well. And it is changing everything.

The ongoing emergence of the new will require us as individuals, as well as our leaders and organizations, to realize that we have all become beginner’s in this new world. Understanding this shift, tempering our expert mindset, will allow us to fully realize that our greatest asset moving forward, if we are to begin to parallel pace this turbulent pace of change, will be and remain our ability to learn.

It will be our tipping point for transformation.

“Shaped by technologies we are only beginning to deploy, the very underpinnings of our society and institutions – from how we work to how we create value, govern, trade, learn, and innovate – are being reshaped. All the systems built on top of the distributed technology infrastructure – governance, education, manufacturing – are undergoing this transformation.”  -Marina Gorbis via The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World

Organizational Agility Requires Agile Leadership

“As change accelerates, so does uncertainty and novelty: future threats and opportunities are harder to predict, and emerging challenges increasingly include novel elements. Further, with the globalization of the economy and the spread of connective technologies, it’s increasingly clear that we live in a diverse planetary village where everything is connected with everything else.”  -via Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery For Anticipating and Initiating Change

We live in a world that is constantly under pressure from the continual turbulence created by this accelerated pace of change and the volatility that it invokes, in our organizations, our leadership and our lives.

And it can feel very unsettling…

It’s as if everything we do, create and design now lives in a constant state of beta, especially as we discover what was urgent and necessary today has become irrelevant and unnecessary tomorrow. Too often we find ourselves in a search for sustainability, in a world that now requires greater agility and adaptability. Which makes the idea of continuous improvement that much more difficult in the future. More and more we are finding that adaptability and agility are not just necessary leadership skill-sets, they are vital modern day organizational mindsets.

In the past we built the ship to sustain, now we must build it to adapt.

Unfortunately, in many ways our organizations tend to remain grounded in hierarchical ways of doing and being, steeped in traditional leadership focused linearity and certainty, so focused on providing the best answer that we have often lost sight of whether or not we are even asking the right question(s). Reframing this will be necessary for the future of our leadership and our organizations. Especially as Joiner and Josephs share in Leadership Agility we see that, “The pace of change will continue to increase, and the level of complexity and interdependence will continue to grow.”

We have to recognize that permanence is an illusion that today’s VUCA World no longer affords us or our organizations and willingness to proactively adapt and remain agile is necessary to create ongoing relevance. In most organizations, we continue to try and converge to simple solutions too quickly. Instead, we must learn, especially in the face of the turbulence created by this accelerated pace of change, to inhale the complexity and spend more time wrestling with big questions. Which will require today’s leaders to remain learners, focused on enhancing, evolving and engaging new skill-sets and capacities.

In Leadership Agility, Joiner and Josephs discuss that “in turbulent organizational environments (leaders) exhibit four mutually reinforcing competencies:” 

Context-setting agility improves your ability to scan your environment, frame the initiatives you need to take, and clarify the outcomes you need to achieve”

Stakeholder agility increases your ability to engage with key stakeholders in ways that build support for your initiative.”

Creative agility enables you to transform the problems you encounter into the results you need.”

Self-leadership agility is the ability to use your initiatives as opportunities to develop into the kind of leader you want to be.”

As we consider and design our way forward, both as leaders and organizations, the more we enhance our leadership skill-sets and capacities the greater our ability to parallel pace the accelerated pace of change we are faced with in today’s world, the greater our ability to adapt and remain agile in the face of the turbulence created by today’s VUCA World. The greater our relevance in a world focused on discontinuity and obsolescence.

Which is why consideration of the four competencies above increases our ability to evolve more fluidly into the future, both as organizations and leaders.

“To develop organizations that are effective in anticipating and responding to change and complexity, we need agile leaders – not just at the top but at all organizational levels.”  -via Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery For Anticipating and Initiating Change