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 uncertain 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

Designing For Disequilibrium

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“In today’s world, change is inevitable.  And if you’re only striving for equilibrium – which is all but impossible – you will merely continue doing the same thing, year after year as the world moves on.”  -Chris Cancialosi via Forbes

Too often, we see variance and disequilibrium as a problem to be eradicated in our organizations, rather than an opportunity for change that comes through the experimental and discovery learning that leads to new knowledge.  Rather, leaders often spend their time striving for the safety of organizational equilibrium, stability and sustainability, especially in the face of a world in the throes of accelerated and volatile shifts, growing complexity, and very often, the chaos of constant change.  And yet, according to Porter-O’Grady and Malloch in Quantum Leadership, “In systems language, stability is another word for death.  Absolute stability is the absence of life.  The leader always walks a tightrope between stability and chaos, tending to favor the latter.”

However, only striving for organizational equilibrium, in a subtle way, emphasizes a sense of individual and organizational complacency that often leads to behaviors and mindsets that mire the organization in status quo ways of being and doing.  Instead of gaining more agile and adaptable ways of responding, the organization that focuses only on stability and equilibrium, instead tends to recoil from the constancy and volatility of change, forcing itself towards a much more insulated and polarized stance towards the change forces that we are all facing in today’s world.

Focusing only on sustaining forces keeps our individuals and organizations from engaging in and equipping themselves with those processes and learnings that lead to greater agility and adaptability.  As Gary Hamel shares in The Future of Management, “In the 21st century, regularity doesn’t produce superior performance.”  Which we may want to add, we exist, especially organizationally, in a world that is expecting its individuals to equip themselves with greater creative and innovative thinking in order to engage the critical and complex problem-solving skills that allow for the solving of problems and challenges that we have never experienced previously, in new, novel, and often unpredictable ways.

When we design and prepare our organizations with the understanding that perpetual volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (vuca) is becoming the new normal, we don’t try to exist under the “false” interpretation that we will eventually be moving back towards what we previously understood to be “normal.”  Rather than fighting for regularity, predictability and stability, the organization takes on a mindset that drives the mindset and accompanying behaviors towards seeing greater agility and adaptability as the new “normal” for moving forward.  There is no longer any false pretense of working towards an environment and world that no longer exists and, for the most part, is not coming back in the near future.

In many ways, the less disequilibrium individuals and organizations learn to deal with, the less effective they become over time, especially in world that is changing at an accelerated and often exponential rate.  When individuals and organizations continuously avoid the disequilibrium and instability brought on by the uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity of today’s world, they become much more rigid and inflexible towards change, often acting irrationally towards change, choosing for and becoming more receptive to keeping the status quo in place, even when it is not in their best interest, even in the face of oncoming disruption and irrelevance.

As Heifitz, Grashow, and Linsky share in Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis, “People who practice what we call adaptive leadership do not make this mistake.  Instead of hunkering down, they seize the opportunity of moments like the current one to hit the organization’s reset button.  They use the turbulence of the present to build on and bring closure to the past.  In the process, they change key rules of the game, reshape parts of the organization, and redefine the work that people do.”

For which Heifitz, Grashow, and Linsky add, “Keeping an organization in a productive zone of disequilibrium is a delicate task; in the practice of leadership, you must keep your hand on the thermostat.  If the heat is consistently too low, people won’t feel the need to ask uncomfortable questions or make difficult decisions.  If it’s consistently too high, the organization risks a meltdown: People are likely to panic and hunker down.”

In leadership, as in life, individuals and organizations must ride that tension between the necessity for both equilibrium and disequilibrium.  Move too far too one side and we find ourselves sliding into comfort and complacency, move too far to the other side and we find ourselves and our organizations saddled to unbridled chaos.  In many ways, equilibrium and disequilibrium exist in much the same manner as pioneers and settlers. As both are necessary and needed.  Without pioneers, we fail to discover new lands, without settlers, we fail to settle and move into those lands.

As Heifitz, Grashow, and Linsky share, “The art of leadership in today’s world involves orchestrating the inevitable conflict, chaos, and confusion of change so that the disturbance is productive rather than destructive.”

It is in engaging individuals and organizations around that conflict, chaos and confusion, rather than avoiding and recoiling from it, that our organizations not only gain the ability to adapt, but create the ongoing capacity to adapt in a much more adept and positive manner.  This does not mean that there will be periods of difficulty and discomfort, but rather, individuals and organizations learn to see these as opportunities for growth and change that moves the organization forward in a much more effective and relevant manner.

As Chris Cancialosi shares in Forbes, “People who are able to view disequilibrium as an opportunity (rather than a threat) will be best suited to lead in today’s business environment because an organization that leans toward chaos is primed to find creative solutions to setbacks.” 

Today’s world is requiring of individuals and organizations new levels of learnability, agility and adaptability.  Insulating the organization in regularity, stability, and equilibrium does little to create the processes that will drive individuals and the organizations to greater levels of learnability, agility and adaptability.  When leaders fail to engage the tension brought on by disequilibrium, they end up creating future situations where individuals and the organization become both unwilling and unable to change, when change is necessary and needed.  It allows the organization to become ingrained in legacy practices and inflexible to change, in a world that is constantly changing.

As Heifitz and Linsky put forth, “In a chaotic period, when deconstruction is occurring at the same rate as construction or even faster, the dust of change makes it difficult for leaders to even see the goal.  Instead, they must read the signposts of change, explain to others what they mean, and engage these others in activities that will move the organization in the direction indicated by the signposts.” 

It is not enough for today’s leaders to ride the tension between equilibrium and disequilibrium.  Rather, those tensions must be used in a way that pushes both individuals and the organization towards the necessary urgency, understandings, and behaviors that lead to positive change that moves the organization more effectively and relevantly into the future.  Which requires a deeper level of awareness, agility, adaptability, and learnability, at all levels of the organization.

“The leader lives in the space between action and potential, anticipating the next step and translating the process for others.” -via Quantum Leadership 

 

 

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

 

 

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?