Mental Moonshots, Cognitive Pioneers And Future Scenarios

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“The directions of transformation are clear: the future lies in micro contributions by large networks of people creating value on a scale previously unthinkable, bringing sociality and social connectivity back into our economic transactions, in the process of redefining notions of rewards, incentives, growth, and currencies.”  -Marina Gorbis via The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World

The problem is that, in many ways, the directions of transformation are not clear.  We are still struggling to determine, in the midst of the chaos and confusion brought on by the current pace and expanse of change, to see the future that is emerging.  It is no longer as clear as it was before.  We are struggling to connect the systems of our past, with those of the present.  When, all the while, we know that we are inevitably going to need to begin creating new systems for the future.  In many ways, our inability to disrupt current mental models of those systems, locks us into incremental approaches to change, making it more and more difficult to engage the necessary cognitive shifts that will allow for the transformation needed to move forward into the future in a more fluid, dynamic and divergent manner.

In many ways, we are going to have to create new visions, new narratives, even new scenarios that allow us to transform our own thinking in ways that help us approach, even embrace the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the future.

One of the ways to approach this cognitive shift, is through what Adam Kahane refers to as Transformative Scenario Planning, in which he puts forth in the Stanford Social Innovation Review as being a process to transform a complex or problematic situation by first transforming themselves, which occurs in four ways:

  • First, they transform their understandings.
  • Second, they transform their relationships.
  • Third, they transform their intentions.
  • Fourth, the transformations of their understandings, relationships, and intentions enable them to transform their actions and thereby transform their situation.

For which Kahane adds, “The key difference between adaptive and transformative scenario planning is, then, one of purpose.  Adaptive scenario planning uses stories about possible futures to study what could happen, whereas transformative scenario planning assumes that studying the future is insufficient, and so it also uses stories about possible futures to influence what could happen.”

Or as Marina Gorbis shares in The Nature of the Future, “Scenarios let us construct plausible, internally consistent vision that help us frame the range of possibilities and the kinds of issues we are likely to confront along the way.”  For which she continues, “Scenarios are useful tools for uncovering underlying trends and forcing us to ask important questions as we speed toward the future.”

In a world that is becoming, both personally and organizationally much less certain and known, engaging strategies that allow us to discover new foresights to determine our way forward, to develop advanced visions and future narratives, and structure our systems in ways that allow us to personally and organizationally adapt, will provide some semblance of equilibrium to the current and future disequilibrium we currently are and will be facing in the future.

Finding strategies to face our current disequilibriums more effectively will eventually lead us into new equilibriums, even though we will still need to overcome periods of both moderate and accelerated disruption.  Especially as growing levels of upheaval and obsolescence continue to invade upon many of our stalwart institutions and societal pillars that have currently been able to withstand the test of time.  Institutions and pillars that are no longer just bending, but very often breaking under the weight of change as the digital disruptions and shifts continue to bear down upon them.

As Marina Gorbis puts forth in The Nature of the Future, “That is why, when developing scenarios, it is helpful to focus on larger transformations that underlie them and that are irrefutable, the ones we truly believe will inevitably come about.  These larger transformations point to a direction rather than pinpoint a final destination.  How they manifest and in what time frame, however, are where the uncertainties lie.  The more we can foresee the directions and shapes of such transformations, the better we can prepare for the future.”

Too often, the comfort and safety of the known past keeps us mentally entrenched, stuck, embedded in the present, restraining us from becoming more open in confronting the uncertainty of an unknown future.  In many ways, we find ourselves recoiling back to that past.  We find ourselves trying to think of how we can bring back those jobs that no longer exist, rather than finding ways to better prepare for a world of work that is drastically changing and bringing forth new types and ways of working.  Or we get caught up in continuing to amplify skills (both in education and the workforce) that are no longer or soon to be irrelevant, rather than focusing on the awareness and learning necessary to learn new skills and new skillsets.

In many ways, the prospect of an uncertain and unwritten future has us mentally recoiling back to false narratives of the past.

Constructing future narratives, engaging in transformative scenarios of the future, allows us the space and opportunity to make the cognitive adjustments necessary to see through the complexity, confusion and chaos of our current circumstances in ways that allow us to personally and organizationally prepare for the future in a more dynamic and positive manner.  Reframing our mental models provides us the cognitive space to begin to move from ideas of incremental change to visions of transformational shifts.

Which will be vital, in a time when we will need leaders, at all levels of our organizations and institutions, who can effectively learn to connect the disconnected, especially as many of the systems that have stood mightily for so long become more and more frayed and disjointed.

We need leaders who can find the coherence in the midst of incoherence.  

In this precarious place we find ourselves in, learning is no longer an event, as much as it is an everyday necessity.  We now, more than ever, need those at every level of the organization who can create more diverse and expansive networks and idea flows, who can connect disparate dots in more creative and innovative ways, who can think in systems, who can engage divergently and convergently, who can reflect upon and even disrupt their own mental models…

In order that they can engage more mental moonshots and better serve our organizations and institutions as cognitive pioneers, creating the narratives and scenarios that lead us into a much more positive and inclusive future.

“We will no longer need to worry so much about the digital divide as about a cognitive divide.  Those who are self-driven or whose social networks drive them to acquire more and more knowledge and to consume more and more rich content will be able to increase their cognitive capital, while those who do not possess such drive or whose social settings do not encourage such accumulation of knowledge will be left farther and farther behind.  We urgently need to rethink our educational priorities and the kinds of skills we will need in the world of abundant content and rich ecologies of knowledge and information.”-Marina Gorbis via The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World

 

 

 

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Reinvention, Transformation, Change, And Open Systems

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“Reinvention is not changing what is, but creating what isn’t.  A butterfly is not more caterpillar or a better or improved caterpillar; a butterfly is a different creature.  Incremental change isn’t enough for many companies today.  They don’t need to change what is; they need to create what isn’t.”  -Athos, Goss, Pascale The Reinvention Roller Coaster: Risking the Present for a Powerful Future via HBR

For which Athos, Goss and Pascale add, “When a company reinvents itself, it must alter the underlying assumptions and invisible premises on which its decisions and actions are based.  To reinvent itself, an organization must first uncover its hidden context.  Only when an organization is threatened, losing momentum, or eager to break new ground will it conform its past and begin to understand why it must break with its outmoded present.  And only then will a company’s employees come to believe in a powerful new future, a future that may seem beyond the organization’s reach.”

While it is inevitable, we continue, both as individuals and organizations, to continuously push-back and resist change; even when we understand that change is an ongoing necessity if we are going to effectively adapt and sustain any form of continued relevance in moving forward into the future.  However, even so, there remains a variety of reasons to why we continue to resist change, from: an unwillingness to part ways with or release strategies that have led to previous success, a lack of trust and/or relationship, lack of understanding or clarity in the communication of the change, a possible loss of individual or organizational status or hierarchy, a lack of capacity to effectively implement the change, or a fear of the unknown, uncertainty, or failure that can accompany a change.

All of which must be understood, if any change initiative is to take hold.

And while change is a natural, but not necessarily comfortable process, individual or organizational transformation or reinvention is not.  It requires a different mindset, a completely different level of capacity, and a very different way of considering the future, which will require new behaviors that necessitate new ways of thinking, doing, acting and being.

From the past to the present, education has had to go through reinvention and a variety of transformations, but for the most part, has relied over the last one hundred years or so on small adjustments and incremental changes to the system, even as the world and society around us has been under siege with a plethora of exponential shifts and transformations, of which would include societal pillars such as the world of work.  A pillar undergoing a deep reinvention of what that means and what it looks like be career ready in a world undergoing constant change and ongoing transformation and reinvention.

In many ways, both individuals and organizations are having to continuously look at the heavy lift of engaging in ongoing cycles of transformation and reinvention.  As is shared in the ebook The Changing Face of Modern Leadership, “The shelf-life of our ideas, skills, frameworks, and systems now deteriorate at a much more advanced rate.  Under this new societal ecosystem, change and innovation has become the new fast and furious of our modern world.”

As this pace of change accelerates, the complexity and chaos individuals, organizations, institutions and systems must deal with increases substantially, as each of these must learn to adapt to the shifting demands of increasingly more dynamic and often less stable environments.  As Porter O’ Grady and Malloc share in Quantum Leadership, “In a complex system, no one element remains inert as other elements adapt to internal and external forces or lead the process of adapting to these forces.”  For which they add, “The object is to discern the effects of these forces and to judge which actions will maintain the system’s integrity, adaptability, and viability.”

For these reasons, today’s educational organizations, institutions, and systems can no longer act as “closed” systems, mired in predictable, efficient, and ordered ways of acting, reacting and operating.  Educational organizations, institutions and systems can longer relevantly serve future generations effectively if they find themselves isolated and siloed off from the necessary awareness and deep understandings of how these often exponential societal shifts will have great effect and affect on the future of the students we are serving and the world they will eventually walk out into.

Rather, education and our educational organizations, institutions and systems must learn to move towards operating with more of an “open” system mindset.  We can no longer serve students effectively for the future without removing the boundaries between the world of education and the world of work.  There must be an opening of these boundaries, as well as a greater levels of collaboration and ongoing idea flows that allow these internal and external entities to interact in ways that build up awareness, share new learnings and knowledge, and create greater levels of capacity.  And while the research on these interactions have not shown these collaborations to be as effective as one would have hoped, the necessity of an open system that allows these interactions in order that both entities (world of education and the world of work) can adapt together, simultaneously, will be important in facing this very non-obvious future in a much more effective manner for our students, as well as for the world of education and the world of work.

“People have contexts just as organizations do.  Our individual context is our hidden strategy for dealing with life; it determines all the choices we make.  On the surface, our context is our formula for winning, the source of our success.  But on closer examination, this context is the box within which a person operates and determines what is possible and impossible for him or her as a leader and, by extension, for the organization.”  -Athos, Goss, Pascale The Reinvention Roller Coaster: Risking the Present for a Powerful Future via HBR

The Digital Disruption, The World Of Work, And Our Future Systems

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“The higher level of disconnection, alienation, more declines in social capital, more groups of people left behind, more geographic areas left behind, this is not the recipe for stable, prosperous, happy society.  My worry is not that the robots will take all the jobs, my worry is that more people will be left behind and feel left behind by what’s going on.”  –Andrew McAfee Associate Director of the Center for Digital Business at the MIT Sloan School of Management via HBO Vice Special The Future of Work

It is difficult to consider the future without acknowledging the heightened levels of uncertainty, complexity and chaos that we are and will be facing in our present, as well as that future.  The pace of change in today’s world often makes us more hesitant, more unsure to choose direction as many of our strategies and actions seem to be outdated upon implementation.  As Peter Thiel put forth in book Zero to One, “Big plans for the future have become archaic curiosities.”  Yet, it isn’t just our strategies and actions that seem to be falling behind, as our skillsets and capabilities now require constant attention and continuous updating and upskilling.

We live in a time when deep digital disruption is sweeping across our societal ecosystems, changing the conditions for relevance, requiring ongoing personal, organizational and systems-wide adaptation.

We are now having to weigh a widening variety of tensions in accordance with the accompanying volatility of these often disruptive changes…

  • Adaptability AND Sustainability
  • Agile AND Incremental
  • Learning AND Knowing
  • Risk AND Safety
  • Creativity AND Compliance
  • Innovation AND Implementation
  • Conflict AND Stability
  • Discovery AND Certainty
  • Experimentation AND Inaction
  • Complexity AND Simplicity

It is for these expanding tensions that we must begin to build not only our awareness, but a deeper understanding of how this digital disruption does not exist in a vacuum.  It will have ramifications across a myriad of our societal systems.  The digital disruption we are currently witnessing not only has and will continue to transform the world of work, its complex components and dynamic dexterity has the capacity to determine and render a wide variety of our strategies, skills, frameworks, institutions and systems irrelevant.

What we often fail to grasp, is that the future of work is inherently linked and tied systemically to the future of education, the future of our economy, the future of government, the future of our country, and even the future of our world.  These systems do not work independent of one another, rather they are interdependent and rely upon each other, as any system does to sustain itself and survive and thrive.  When the parts of the system fail to work interdependently, the whole is severely diminished and the system begins to break down, as each part has dynamic impact on the other parts and the whole.

We can no longer view these parts as existing siloed from the whole and believe that the system will not eventually break down.

For example, let’s look at how the future of work (as provided by HBO’s Vice Special – The Future of Work), in an isolated arena, can have great effect on our systems:

“Trucking in the United States is a $700 billion dollar a year industry with 1.8 million people, which has so far been immune to the changes of globalization and technology, but that is about to change with technology like this.”

For which is added by Tusimple’s Vice President Chuck Price…

“We understand this is a highly disruptive technology, on the order of 10 million people, and displacing rapidly that many people would have a dramatic societal impact.  We definitely don’t want to see that, we are not targeting that.  We are focused on relieving the shortage.  But what we are hoping is that there will be a natural evolution into the jobs of the future, just as there has been in every other technological change.” 

We cannot believe that this level of possible disruption will exist in a vacuum across our societal ecosystems.  It will have great effect on people, on our organizations, on our economy, and even education and our government.

Adjusting, remaining agile and adaptive to these disruptions, will require deep levels of change in our thinking, our mindsets, as well as our systems.  Machine learning, automation, artificial intelligence, and robots will not just have sweeping effects on the world of work institutionally and geographically, it will also have a deep effect on a variety of our societal E’s: education, economy and equality.

Inability to attend to this digital disruption will enhance the growing divides we are currently witnessing, both now and in the future.

“Leaders will have to grapple with these emerging realities and incorporate them into their own lives.  Most people find it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what the new technologies will mean for life in the second and third decades of the twenty-first century, despite wanting to embrace them.  They need help in grasping how the technologies will affect them and what adjustments they must now make to thrive in the continually emerging digital reality.”  -via Brown 2009 Quantum Leadership