New Awareness For A New Age

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“We are at the threshold of a radical systemic change that requires human beings to adapt continuously.”  

For which Schwab adds…

“There is one certainty: new technologies will dramatically change the nature of work across all industries and occupations.” -Klaus Schwab via The Fourth Industrial Revolution

In a world caught in the throes of dealing with deep, exponential change from what is often being referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution; today’s individuals and organizations are going to need to be much more vigilant in building their awareness of these dramatic and often radical shifts across society and their coming effect on the future.  As we move deeper into the Exponential Age and further into the Knowledge Economy, we can begin to see these dramatic and radical shifts emerging and feel the impact they are having on us and the world around us.

And while it may remain, at this point, just a flicker on the educational radar, we know that something is different, we can feel the changes, even those we can’t see or are even aware of.

Especially in regards to the world of work, which is undergoing a plethora of changes and disruptions brought forth on the shoulders of an accelerated and often turbulent rate and speed of change, along with growing levels of globalization, the scaling of automation, and an evolving and expanding infusion of artificial intelligence across society.

In many ways, individual and organizational learnability, adaptability and agility, have become the new norms of the day.

However, as Srini Pillay, assistant professor, Harvard Medical School shares in the McKinseyQuarterly, “If you say to people, “You need to adapt,” but you don’t help them learn how to build a change-oriented mind-set, it doesn’t really help. In fact, it hurts productivity.”

Engaging that learnability, adaptability and agility often begins with creating the awareness that allows to set the stage for engaging that “change-oriented mind-set.”  

As educators, we have to begin to equip ourselves with a greater awareness of the changes in the world of work and skillset shifts that are occurring alongside and parallel pacing those changes, if we are to begin to better support and guide our students as they manage the growing complexities of college, career and work.

As Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, at Harvard Business School puts forth in McKinsey Quarterly’s Getting Ready for the Future of Work, “We must view it as a race to develop institutions to support lifelong learning.  We need to move fast because we’re playing catch-up, and this is a much harder game to play; suddenly the numbers of people who need to learn fast are too big.”

As for these changes and shifts and the effect they are having on our individuals, organizations, institutions, and society as a whole, it is in seeing that our students will need much more college, career and work support and guidance as the reach of automation and artificial intelligence stretches outwardly and gains new and often unknown ground.

As Andrew Ng, Founder and Lead of Google Brain (Deep Learning) project, Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, Co-Founder of Coursera shared in AI is the New Electricity, “Whatever industry you work in, AI will probably transform it.  I think today we see a surprisingly clear path for AI to transform all of these industries.  So I actually hope that whatever industry you are in, you’ll figure out how to leverage AI, because I think it will create new winners and losers in almost every category.”  For which he adds, “If any of you have friends or children or whatever studying in a med school, AI is getting much better at reading radiology images frankly.  So if any of your friends are going through medical school and graduation with a degree in Radiology, I think they’ll have a perfectly fine five-year career as a Radiologist.”

As Bob Kegan, William and Miriam Meehan Research Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development, Harvard Graduate School of Education shares in the McKinsey Quarterly article Getting Ready for the Future, “The number of employees who are operating in more nonstandard, complex jobs is going to increase, while less complex work is going to be increasingly automated. The time it takes for people’s skills to become irrelevant will shrink. It used to be, “I got my skills in my 20s; I can hang on until 60.”  It’s not going to be like that anymore.  We’re going to live in an era of people finding their skills irrelevant at age 45, 40, 35.  And there are going to be a great many people who are out of work”  

For which adds, “What are we going to do about that?”

As leaders, especially in considering this very non-obvious future, we must begin to determine what changes…and what stays the same.  Then, determine how to create the systems, structures, processes, and behaviors needed to move us more relevantly and successfully towards that future vision and the outcomes we’ve determined, if we are to better support our students, parents, educators, leaders, stakeholders, and communities in moving forward through the uncertainty and ambiguity of an unknown future.

In response to these societal shifts, our students will need new and different supports and resources to guide them into the future.  However, without greater awareness of these changes and shifts and understanding the huge impacts that they are having on college, career and work, we will struggle to provide the guidance that students are needing as they begin to consider how to traverse this very non-obvious and uncertain future they are facing.  It is also in understanding that this guidance and support is not just a good to know, but imperative in response to the following research and data provided from McKinsey’s Education to Employment-Designing A System That Works report:

  • Worldwide, young people are three times more likely than their parents to be out of work.
  • Seventy-five million youth are unemployed (including estimates of underemployed youth would potentially triple this number).
  • Half of youth are not sure that their postsecondary education has improved their chances of finding a job.
  • Almost 40 percent of employers say a lack of skills is the main reason for entry-level vacancies.
  • Fewer than half of youth and employers, believe that new graduates are adequately prepared for entry-level positions.
  • Education providers, however, are much more optimistic: 72 percent of them believe new graduates are ready to work.

Which is why awareness is paramount and vital to supporting our students in navigating this very non-obvious future, especially regards to college, career and work.

Students shared in the same Education to Employment report, “Only about forty-percent say they would make the same educational decision if they could choose again what to study and where, and they rate themselves low on both general and job-specific preparation.”  For which they add that, “Some forty-percent of youth also report that they were not familiar with the market conditions and requirements even for well-known professions such as teachers or doctors.  Without this understanding, many students choose courses half-blindly, without a vision of whether there will be a demand for their qualifications upon graduation.” 

In closing, the report shared that, “Youth across surveyed countries said they were not well-informed about the availability of jobs or the level of wages associated with their course of study.”

While we will never have access to the tea leaves that provide us the insight of how to proceed in predicting and fool-proofing how we can better prepare our students for the future, it does not relieve us of building the awareness that allows us to better determine how to guide and support our students in determining their way forward into the future.  While we may not able to support in the necessary jobs creation that may be needed, we can begin to consider how content AND skills development can coexist in ways that better prepare our students for the changing world of work.  As well as creating our own individual and organizational capacity to provide guidance and support students as they consider their way forward in an unknown, ambiguous and very non-obvious future.

“Two related global crisis: high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of people with critical job skills. Leaders everywhere are aware of possible consequences, in the form of social and economic distress, when too many young people believe that their future is compromised.”  McKinsey&Company Education to Employment: Designing A System That Works

 

 

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The Slow Creep Of Disruption

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Very seldom does disruption just show up unannounced.  In fact, very often it has made its presence known far prior, only it just seems to be waiting backstage, gathering the support and momentum that will allow it to grab the headlines and then take center stage.

As an example of this slow creep of disruption, I walked into my nearby Sam’s Club yesterday and there was an obvious change to the checkout system.  From a ratio of eight cashiers and two self-checkout stations, they had shifted to six check-out stations and down to four cashiers.  While it may have caught me off-guard, it was not what many would consider disruptive in the least.  But for me, that shift from ten cashier stations years ago, to then eight cashier stations and two self-checkout stations, and now to six self-checkout stations and only four cashiers stations is, for me, a representation of the slow creep of disruption that we are currently seeing across society.  The type of disruption you don’t notice until it is already upon you and/or your organization.  The type of disruption that you may notice and recognize as occurring, but does not register as threat of deep change until it’s too late and/or urgency of change is required.

However, it is a phenomena we have seen throughout the ages…

Take the telephone, for example, “What use could this company make of an electrical toy?”  -William Orton, President of Western Union in 1876.

Or the television, “Television won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures acer the first six months.  People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”  -Daryl Zanuck, co-founder of 20th Century Fox

Or the computer, “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”  -Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation

Or Google, “Google’s not a real company.  It’s a house of cards.”  -Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft

Or Netflix and Redbox, “Neither Redbox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition.”  -Jim Keyes, CEO of Blockbuster

Or Airbnb, “We have not seen a direct effect (from Airbnb) in any of our hotels.”  -Richard Jones, Senior VP and COO of Hospitality Ventures Management Group

It’s like the idea of the overnight success.  It is a slow creep that hits suddenly.  Much like in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises in which they ask the character “How did you go bankrupt?” for which the answer comes as “Gradually, then suddenly.”

But even though we see it coming, it doesn’t always register, for a variety of reasons.  Whether it be that we don’t want it to happen, we don’t believe it will happen, or it seems improbable that it will ever happen.

Disruption often comes through a lack of awareness and/or willingness to see or acknowledge that change is occurring and then realizing it will most likely have an impact on our individuals and our organization.  Disruption is often in an unwillingness or awareness to prepare, for change is coming.

Too often, we don’t feel the necessity or urgency to or for change, either individually or organizationally.  We allow our past successes to serve as an imaginary insulator that tells us that we survived changes in the past, just as we will survive changes in the present and the future.  It is that “this too shall pass” attitude towards the disruptive forces knocking at the door and standing on the horizon that moves us away and disengages us from the proactive urgency that allows an organization to meet these headwinds of change straight on.

The slow creep of disruption always seems sudden when it kicks in, because that is usually the time when we begin entering the elbow of the curve, the time that we see the exponential shift, when we turn from the “gradually, to suddenly.”  Which often becomes our reality due to lack of awareness or willingness to believe, well before the curve or “suddenly” is upon us, that it this change is coming or even happening over time.

Instead of determining how external change can and often does require our own internal shift or change, we take a “baton down the hatches” approach to disruption and hope that it does not have effect on us or our organization.  Or, in many ways…

We try to insulate, instead of determining how to change and innovate.

Moving past our insulating and “baton down the hatches” tendencies to look towards finding opportunity in the midst of the chaos that often surrounds any type of disruptive shift is vital.  Vital that we use those change forces to fill, rather than deflate our sails.  Or as the quotes says…

“Not all storms come to disrupt your life, some come to clear your path.”

We must then begin to realize that change, often disruptive and accelerated, is definitely upon us and our organizations.  The lifetime of today’s Fortune 500 companies has dropped from 75 years in the past to 15 years or less in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environments.  Requiring a whole new level of individual and organizational agility, adaptability and learnability.  As Pierre Nanterme, CEO of Accenture shares, in example of today’s digital disruptive creep, “Digital is the main reason just over half of the companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000.”  As Robert J. Shiller of Yale University adds, “We cannot wait until there are massive dislocations in our society to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

In many ways, there will be not only a period of initiating to the speed of today’s world and how quickly change occurs, but a time of new learning, requiring reskilling and upskilling, all preceded by a time of necessary unlearning.

As Mark Bonchek shares in the HBR article Why the Problem with Learning is Unlearning, “The problem isn’t learning: it’s unlearning.  In every aspect of business, we are operating with mental models that have grown outdated or obsolete…”  For which Bonchek shares that the process of unlearning has three parts:

  • First, you have to recognize that the old mental model is no longer relevant or effective.
  • Second, you need to find or create a new model that can better achieve your goals.
  • Third, you need to ingrain the new mental habits.

In this process of unlearning, Bonchek reminds us, “So as you being unlearning, be patient with yourself – it’s not a linear process.”  For which he adds, “In this time of transformative change, we need to be conscious of our mental models and ambidextrous in our thinking.”

Awareness and preparation are critical as we orient ourselves with the deep changes and exponential shifts that we see happening across society,  as well as the pace at which they are occurring.  As Gary Coleman of Deloitte Consulting shares, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is still in its nascent state.  But with the swift pace of change and disruption to business and society, the time to join in is now.”  For which Meg Whitman, President and CEO of Hewlitt-Packard Enterprise adds, “You can always go faster than you think you can.”

Which will require not just continual investment in strategies and structures that allow for the sustaining of best practices, but engaging in the experimental, discovery learning that moves us and our organizations into next practices.  It will be those mindset shifts that will allow our individuals and organizations to continuously improve and evolve more relevantly into a very non-obvious future.

“Status quo – you know – is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.'”  -Ronald Reagan

Organizational Agility

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“Leaders who are unwilling to capsize their current world view, whether that be their mindset or their ideas of what was, what is, what can be, and how we will get there, will lack the necessary agility to avoid future irrelevance.”  -via The Changing Face of Modern Leadership

Permanence is an illusion…change is the constant.

Ours is a time of constant tension and disequilibrium as the pace, volatility and turbulence of change accelerates in often unpredictable and disruptive ways, expanding the dilemmas and uncertainties today’s leaders and organizations will and must face.

Agility and adaptability have become the new normal.

It is no longer just a matter of being willing to change, but having the agility to pivot and shift course as new data, new information, new learning and new knowledge makes itself available in response to a world experiencing these accelerated, turbulent and dynamic levels of change.

As the saying goes, what was true today, may no longer be true tomorrow.

What we have to begin to realize and recognize is that our organizations were built for and operated in a time of much greater stability.  The steady pace of change allowed for more static, hierarchical structures and linear, stable processes that provided for more permanence and vertical alignment.  Even strategy, planning, decision-making and organizational learning flowed out at a very different pace and scale.

Whereas, today’s agile organizations must still retain some semblance of stability, while still operating and moving in a much more dynamic manner at all levels of the system.  We are seeing a swift shift from permanent and linear structures and processes, to the need for more transparent and networked ecosystems, where knowledge and learning flows cascade across all levels of the organization, allowing for greater autonomy and faster iterations towards the speed of decisions through enhanced feedback loops.

McKinsey&Company shares that “Such an agile operating model has the ability to quickly and efficiently reconfigure strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology toward value-creating and value-protecting opportunities.  An agile organization thus adds velocity and adaptability to stability, creating a critical source of competitive advantage in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions.”  For which McKinsey&Company adds…

“The agile organization is dawning as the new dominant organizational paradigm.”

In many ways, when considering our organizations as becoming more agile, we have to be aware of how we are building up the cognitive agility, strategic agility, and operational agility across the organizational system, in order to become more agile and adaptive.

Cognitive Agility – requires constant reflection upon our mental models and a willingness to examine our own leadership decisions, assumptions, and biases on an ongoing basis.  Which also necessitates staying open to feedback, new learning and knowledge, as well as retaining a willingness to disrupt our own thinking upon our current realities and possible futures as new data and information makes itself available.

Strategic Agility – is defined on Google as the ability of an organization to “gain advantage by capitalizing on new innovations.  If a new technological advancement is made,” an organization “with strategic agility is able to quickly take advantage of this change.”  For which they add, is the organization’s “ability to remain fluid, changing and updating operations as innovations become available.”  In other words, it is the ability to adapt quickly.

Operational Agility – is defined on Google as an organization’s “ability or capacity to find and seize opportunities to improve operations and processes, within a focused model.”  As McKinsey&Company add, “putting in place systems to gather and share the information required to spot opportunities and building processes to translate priorities into focused action.”

Cognitive agility allows us as individuals, leaders and organizations to be open to new opportunities, new learning and new knowledge that can improve the efficiency, effectiveness and future relevance of those in the organization, as well as the organization itself.  Once we are open to these opportunities, strategic agility allows us to search out and capitalize on those opportunities that allow our individuals and organizations to evolve and adapt into the future in a more efficient, effective and relevant manner.  As we become open to and willing to search out and seize these new opportunities, operational agility provides the ability to create the systems and processes that turn those new opportunities into actual organizational realities.

In a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA), fast changing world, today’s leaders will need to engage all three abilities and agilities (cognitive, strategic, operational) to move more positively and relevantly into the future, as individuals and as organizations.  For far too often, we have become so comfortable and enamored with the safety of the known, that the current chaos of modern times has uncovered a brittleness towards more agile and adaptive action and change, which we will need to overcome.

As the Center for Creative Leadership shares, “Organizations of the future will be more agile and adaptable, structured in open, dynamic and networked structures to facilitate innovation and change, and leaders would adopt a more consultative approach in driving direction, action and communication.”

For which McKinsey&Company adds, “Agile organizations consistently exhibit five trademarks. Which include a network of teams within a people-centered culture that operates in rapid learning and fast decision cycles enabled by technology, and a common purpose that co-creates value for all stakeholders.”

Especially in a world where yesterday’s disruption is today’s normal and tomorrow’s antiquated.  We need individuals and organizations that can constantly adapt and remain agile to today’s new pace of change.  Organizations that can grow and evolve in the midst of the tension and disequilibrium brought forth by today’s VUCA environments.  And for those reasons, we just might be well to remember…

A beta world…

Very often requires a beta-mindset.

Forecasting The Future: Are We Asking The Right Questions?

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“Maybe you loved the supercheap prices at your favorite store, but then noticed that the factory you might have worked for closed up for good.” -Jaron Lanier Who Owns The Future?

We know something has changed…

We can feel the shift.

Yet, we just can’t quite put our finger on it.

Is it real?  Or is it more fake news?  Who do we believe?  The economists?  The technologists?  The news?  And if the news, which news?

If things are so much better, why are we seeing a widening between the have’s and the have not’s?

As Jaron Lanier shares in Who Owns The Future? “If network technology is supposed to be so good for everyone, why has the developed world suffered so much just as the technology has become widespread?  Why was there so much economic pain at once all over the developed world just as computer networking dug in to every aspect of human activity, in the early 21st century?”

Survey after survey share the need for us and our organizations to brace for the future.  Especially the future of work and the unpredictable and often exponential changes that are heading our way.  CEO after CEO across the globe share deep concerns over a skills gap that is expanding and widening at a rapid rate and their feeling that education, reskilling and upskilling will be unable to keep pace with the rapid and volatile rate of change and shifting worker expectations for the future that accompanies that change.  For example, “The World Economic Forum predicts that 35 percent of the skills necessary to thrive in a job today will be different five years from now.”  Fast Company adds that, “According to the New York Times, there are only about 10,000 people in the world who have the necessary skills to build the complicated, mathematical algorithms necessary to create next-gen artificial intelligence.” 

We are seeing a societal disconnect as the values of the past collide with the desired skills for the future.

All the while, the problem of forecasting the future is getting more and more difficult to determine.  How will work change?  Will there be work?  If so, what kind of work will be in demand?  What pathways lead to more lucrative opportunities for the future?  What will be the desired skills and skillsets for the future?  Will technology lead to greater automation or more collaborative augmentation?  How do we remain relevant, as individuals and organizations?

Difficult questions with very few answers.  As Joi Ito shares in Whiplash, “It’s to recognize that we are all susceptible to misinterpreting the technological tea leaves, that we are all blinkered by prevailing systems of thought.”  

And while we don’t have any “tea leaves” to help us predict the future, we do need to be forecasting and preparing for a very uncertain and non-obvious future.  We can ill-afford to sit on our hands and hope it all works out.

We have to become much more aware.

Especially in considering that there are ones, often considered to be the pessimistic of the future, who rail out against the coming automation and the vast amount of jobs that will be decimated and lost to robots and artificial intelligence.  While there are those who stand in the middle, who share a slightly less pessimistic view that there will be a large number of jobs lost to automation and artificial intelligence, but new jobs will be created by new technology to help fill the gaps of those jobs lost.  Yet, most many that the amount of jobs created will be far less and will also require new, and often far more advanced skills and skillsets.  While on the other side, there are others who believe that we are headed towards a time of more abundance where automation and artificial intelligence will not only change the way we work, but very possibly may negate the need for us to work at all in the future.

No matter what future camp we may fall towards, what we must all be willing to recognize is that our world is undergoing some very profound shifts and it is up to us become much more aware of the affect and effect these shifts will have on individuals and organizations in the present and the future.

As Joi Ito shares in Whiplash, “What seems increasingly evident is that the primary condition of the network era is not just rapid change, but constant change.”  For which he shares, “Our technologies have outpaced our ability, as a society, to understand them.  Now we need to catch up.”  And adds, “Our current cognitive tool set leaves us ill-equipped to comprehend the profound implications posed by rapid advances in everything…”

In many ways, what we have valued in the past, does not look too as being valued as much or in the same way in the future.  As technology has advanced through time, what humans were valued for, especially in the workplace, has had to change in accordance.

However, at this point, we see the societal shifts being created by technology, but, as of yet, we are not seeing those same kind of responses economically.

The interesting consideration, one which we don’t often discuss, especially as we consider human value in the midst of automation and artificial intelligence, is that the one thing we have come to deeply value in what Joi Ito shares as the “network era,” we have also come to treat as a “free” commodity.

And that commodity is information.

In a time when what value we can add is coming under intense scrutiny for the future, especially as automation and artificial intelligence stride confidently forward, the one thing we currently do add is providing us no consequential value.  As society shifts around us and the world of work undergoes changes, it would seem that our economy would have to change in response, especially as what we value in the present may not be valued, or as much, in the future.  As Jaron Lanier shares in Who Owns The Future?  “It is entirely legitimate to understand that people are still needed and valuable when the loom can run without human muscle power.  It is still running on human thought.”

In a world where information has become free, we may need to rethink its economic value in the face of the advancing power of automation and artificial intelligence.

Which is why it is imperative that we imbue our students with not just a deeper understanding of the 4Cs, but equip them with the innovative, problem-solving skills to not only move forward into the future more positively, relevantly and successfully, but to be able to solve many of these adaptive challenges and problems that we will eventually bestow upon them.

“The key question isn’t “How much will be automated?”  It’s how we’ll conceive of whatever can’t be automated at a given time.  Even if there are new demands for people to perform new tasks in support of what we perceive as automation, we might apply antihuman values that define the new roles as not being “genuine work.”  So the right question is “How many jobs might be lost to automation if we think about automation the wrong way?” -Jaron Lanier Who Owns The Future?

The Future And Our Mental Models

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“Digital technologies are setting down the new grooves of how people live, how we do business, how we do everything…”  -Jaron Lanier Who Owns The Future

Our mental models are often deeply entrenched in the “old grooves” and it is very difficult to lay down new tracks, even as the world around us shifts and changes at an alarmingly new pace and rate.

We are finding that we have not been conditioned, and very often we were not built (our mental models) to easily accept this type (accelerated rate and pace) of change we are currently facing and the uncertain future we find ourselves hurtling towards.  So we find ourselves recoiling a bit from these changes.  And yet, no matter how much we try to insulate ourselves from these changes, we end up like an ostrich plunging its head in the sand, standing there open and vulnerable while its thinking and vision are closed off to what is occurring…in our systems, organizations, and society as a whole.

Lack of awareness, lack of understanding, lack of connection to these changes, to these shifts, keeps us grounded in the known, in our own mental models of what we know the world to be and what we think and “hope” it will continue to be.  Inability to disrupt those mental models keeps us from “seeing” what is happening around us, from forecasting the present to the future, inevitably causing further disconnections in how we equip and prepare our students, our educators, our stakeholders, our systems, and our organizations for this very non-obvious future that is not just coming at us, but is already here.

We must not only be willing to disrupt our mental models, we have to begin to widen the way we think about the future and how these shifts will change our world, our society, the economy, and what work is and how we define and do work in the future.  Inability to begin to forecast and consider these changes, as well as shifting our mental models about how the world our children will grow up and into will be very different than the world we grew up in, will limit us in effectively preparing our children and our students to move into and through this exponentially shifting and changing future in a positive and successful manner.

As our generation moves forward in creating a future that is more globalized, outsourced, automated, and artificially (AI) infused, it very well looks as if we are going to need to prepare our future generations with the thinking and problem-solving skillsets to solve many of the societal issues and problems that can and may erupt from these shifts and changes created today.  

We can no longer be the ostrich in the sand, we have to begin to think differently so that we can provide our children and students the space to begin to consider the future that they will live in, and how to make it a better world for each and every one.  As they will very likely be responsible for providing many of the solutions and solving many of the problems that are being created today, in present times.

We have to widen and disrupt our often linear mental models about the future, as if we are to effectively build up the problem-solving and inquiry skills, creative and innovative, as well as divergent and convergent thinking needed in our students, stakeholders, educators, and organizations to approach these shifts and changes more effectively and more ethically, for the betterment of all.

The world we walked out into in the past looked very different than the world our children and students will walk out into in the future.  If we are unable to think different, we will not create the situations and opportunities for them to think different, to problem-solve in new, different and unique ways.

And if truth be told, we are not ready to do that yet.  We just aren’t.  In many ways, it isn’t even on our radar…

“People are gradually making themselves poorer than they need to be.  We’re setting up a situation where better technology in the long term just means more unemployment, or an eventual socialist backlash.  Instead, we should seek a future where more people will do well, without losing liberty, even as technology gets much, much better.”  -Jaron Lanier Who Owns The Future

 

 

 

Selected For Status Quo

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“In most companies, managers are selected, trained, and rewarded for their capacity to deliver more of the same, more efficiently.  No one expects managers to be innovators.  Rather, they are expected to turn other people’s ideas into growth and profits.” – Gary Hamel The Future of Management

While we know the importance of the overlap necessary in today’s organization to hire those with both leadership and management skills, far too often we see that organizations are hiring for leaders and then only expecting managers.

While we profess the need for risk-taking, change, even organizational transformation from our leaders, it is supported only as far as it does not upset or cause disequilibrium to the current safety and stability of the organization.

Very often, the expectation of today’s leaders is founded in their ability and willingness to strive for constant organizational equilibrium.

In a time where change is served up in a constant, accelerated, frenetic, and even turbulent pace, we need leaders who can explore the unknown, and yet, far too often we hire and promote leaders only on their ability to exploit the known and do little to disturb the status quo and avoid disrupting our current mental models.

Too often we hire people on a platform of continuous creativity and innovation, and then engage them with expectations that fall more towards the roteness and standardization of compliance and implementation.

And yet, we can no longer have leaders that are selected only for their ability to support status quo.  We need leaders that see their work as creating and infusing the systems and processes that allow our individuals and organizations to become much more adaptable and agile, especially in a world that is moving at a much more exponential clip.

Leaders who can not only disrupt the individual and organizational mental models that we drag from the past into the present and future, but have the personal awareness and self-reflection to be able to disrupt their own mental models of what they determine as possible for the future.

We can no longer select leaders for stability and their willingness to uphold the status quo, without thinking or believing that we won’t entrench our organizations in sameness and future irrelevance.  

When leaders lack connection to networks that provide ongoing idea flows, when leaders fail to engage in experimentation and discovery learning, when leaders fail to see the need for new learning that allows for greater adaptability and agility, when leaders fail to create and design the organizational environments that allow for the divergent thinking that leads to more creativity and innovation, they eventually mire themselves and their organization in stasis and static ways of thinking, doing and working.

They insulate in the known.

Today’s organizations can no longer hire leaders on their ability and willingness to only provide a sense of safety and stability.  We can ill afford to focus only on efficiency, in a time when effectiveness is vital to an organization’s focus and ongoing relevance.

As Beth Comstock shares in Imagine It Forward, “It’s easier to keep your nose to the grindstone, do what you are doing and do it well, than it is to lift your head up and figure out where you or your organization is going and what the future may bring.  It’s usually not until an organization is engulfed by chaos or, more simply, wakes up to a stark reality that it has been left behind, that it begins to seek a new way forward.”

For which she adds, “The research says 75 percent of people in advanced economies feel that they are not meeting their creative potential.  We’ve created legions of managers afraid to absorb new perspectives, unable to work without a script or respond quickly by letting go of strategies that no longer work and embracing new ones that do.”

As is shared in the Changing Face of Modern Leadership, “The shelf life of our ideas, skills, skillsets, 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.”  

We need leaders who can move past status quo ways of thinking and doing and prepare our individuals and organizations to be much more agile and adaptable to a world in the throes of accelerated change.

Everyday, both managers and leaders have an opportunity for impact, a chance to influence the future.  The choice can be made to play it safe and work our way into irrelevance, or to choose to break down the current walls of obstacles and mental models that keep us from determining a whole new idea of possible.

In the end, for better or worse, the choice is ours…

“Most managers see themselves as pragmatic doers, not starry-eyed dreamers.  In their experience, management progress is accretive rather than revolutionary – and they have little reason to believe it could ever be otherwise.  But as we’ll see, it can be otherwise, and it must be – the future demands it.” -Gary Hamel The Future of Management

Experimentation Matters

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“Experimentation matters because it fuels the discovery and creation of knowledge and thereby leads to the development and improvement of products, processes, systems, and organizations.”  -Stefan Thomke Experimentation Matters: Unlocking the Potential of New Technologies for Innovation

Never has there been an easier time for us to ask more what if questions, while actually having greater access to the tools and means to actually explore those questions; cheaper, easier, faster.  However, far too often, we often continue to be satisfied in playing it safe, staying content with what is, what we have, and what we’ve always done.  Yeah, we all know, change is hard.

And yet, as we have all heard at one time or another, there will be no innovation without exploration and experimentation.

Which is healthy to consider, as we see the rising importance of creativity and innovation in almost every profession is vital to the ongoing growth and progress of today’s organizations.  In a time of turbulent change, accelerated through an overwhelming growth in data, both experimentation and discovery learning will be vital to keep our organizations vibrant, flexible and future-relevant.

As Emilia Saarelainen shares in the article Why There’s No Innovation Without Experimentation,  “Experimentation is a bit like innovation, a word that can mean different things to different people and in the worst case, it is just an empty word without meaningful intent.  However, experimenting itself doesn’t need to be complicated, in the purest form it is about trying thing out in small-scale.  We don’t need to know the extensive experimentation vocabulary to test our ideas or to experiment.  We can spend ages on brainstorming good (or bad) ideas, but without testing them, they are just concepts without any evidence to prove that they would work.  So the question to ask is not “what’s your idea?” but “how have you tried to test it?”

The funny thing is that we are often experimenting continuously on an ongoing basis, both in our personal and professional lives, without even knowing or acknowledging we are doing it (utilizing what Henry Mintzberg consider more of an emergent than a deliberate strategy towards experimentation).

The problem with this approach, especially across an organization, is that without creating any type of process and/or systems for engaging experimentation, as well as a lack of determining any goals or outcomes up front for the experimentation, we find ourselves spinning our organizational wheels.

First, lacking any organizational process or system the learning from the experimentation is often lost, or remains stasis, stagnant and fails to have any level of reach by its limited ability and access to create flow across organizational learning networks.

Second, without setting goals and outcomes up front for the experimentation, it is difficult to determine if you have hit the target you were working towards, or not.  Setting goals and outcomes up front allows for greater feedback and learning from the experimentation, as the point where end up becomes a valuable space for improvement.  The in-between gap of where we wanted to be and where we ended up serves as our learning gap.  It is that space, that gap, that we gain feedback that loops back to us providing important information for progress.  This learning gap provides the impetus for iteration and next steps, as well as providing new learning and knowledge along the way.

Third, when experimentation happens in individual pockets lacking any organizational processes or systems, the learning and knowledge gained from the experimentation fails to scale to any level across the organization, leaving that learning and knowledge in static pockets.  If we are to scale innovation across our organization beyond bright spots, we have to make sure that the learning and knowledge gained from ongoing experimentation flows to all levels of the organization.

As Thomke puts forth, “Indeed, at the heart of every company’s ability to innovate lies a process of experimentation that enables the organization to create and evaluate new ideas and concepts for products, services, business models, or strategies.”  For which he adds, “All companies have some experimentation process at work but not everyone organizes that process to invite innovation.”

In their Harvard Business Review article The Discipline of Business Experimentation, Stefan Thomke and Jim Manzi provide a set of question that can serve as a pre-flight checklist for running any type of organizational experimentation:

  • Does The Experiment Have A Clear Purpose?
  • Have Stakeholders Made A Commitment To Abide By The Results?
  • Is The Experiment Doable?
  • How Can We Ensure Reliable Results?
  • Have We Gotten The Most Value Out Of The Experiment?

Just remember, experimentation is not easy and it is often accompanied by fear; a fear of failure, a fear of the unknown, a fear of stepping out the status quo and the pushback that it will create, as well as the fear of the changes and course adjustments it might require as it creates new data, new learning, and new knowledge that will eventually lead to new behaviors, new ways of thinking and new ways of doing.

Experimentation often shifts not only behaviors, but mindsets.  Especially in its action-orientation.

We are beginning to understand that we live in an exponentially evolving world, a world in the throes of constant change, a world that pushes us to live more and more in a beta-state.  It is that beta-state, that beginners mindset, that allows us to be more open to experimentation and more open to the often unexpected answers it provides and the plethora of new questions it provokes.  It forces us to not predetermine our solutions and answers up front and then make the results fit what we already think we know and have previously decided.  It requires us to be open.

Which can be a heavy leadership lift.

Too often we feed people a false narrative about creativity and innovation, instead of the reality, which is that it is and can be really hard work.  It can be difficult and even a bit scary.  It requires resilience, a willingness to persist, and to consistently practice experimentation that leads to engagement in discovery learning.

For innovation is founded in a constant search for better, which necessitates ongoing bouts of experimentation.  For creating greater value, be that for an individual, a team, or an entire organization, requires ongoing not only greater levels of awareness for today’s leaders, but ongoing cycles of experimentation, discovery, implementation, iteration, adoption, standardization, and disruption.

“Innovation is not driven by a single great idea or the result of magical serendipity; innovation is a process of disciplined exploration and experimentation.”  -Lisa Kay Solomon