The Disruption Is Near

 

“Every single job function we can identify is being fundamentally transformed. Even “old” industries such as construction are in the throes of disruption.” –David Rose via Exponential Organizations

In the midst of the chaos and disruption brought on by this new velocity and turbulence of change, the organizations that often fail to remain relevant going forward, are often those that choose to batten down the hatches and look to ride out the rough patches.  They look to insulate and protect themselves and the organization from these disruptive forces that are knocking at the gates.

Whereas the organizations that tend to remain relevant and even flourish, are those that are able to find the opportunity in the midst this same chaos and disruption.  They see possibilities where others see obstacles.  They approach these VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) times with a renewed sense of creativity and inventiveness.

Unfortunately, what many organizations have failed to realize in the midst of the upheaval brought on by this heightened pace of change, especially in today’s VUCA world, is that every organization, in every sector, be that education, government, or business, is ripe for creative disruption.  The question very often is not whether you will be disrupted, but how?  And in the face of this challenge, what we need to fully realize…is that we have a choice on that how.

So, if history has taught us anything, it has taught us that no one and no organization is immune or safe.

Or as Peter Drucker has shared, this is the Age of Discontinuity.

When we continue to pace everything we do in linear, incremental, and sequential ways of thinking and create our processes and build our structures to operate in this manner, while the world around us shifts to a much more non-linear, exponential manner of thinking and doing…something has to give.

Somewhere along the way the incoherence and misalignments become so incongruent that recovery is often no longer possible, irrelevance has already set in or has completely taken over and the only question left to answer is how long the organization can or will hang on.

Or as the Ismail, Malone and van Geest share in Exponential Organizations,

“One of the key issues in an exponential world…whatever understanding you have today is going to rapidly become obsolete, and so you have to continue to refresh your education about the technologies and about the organizational capabilities.  That’s going to be very challenging.  Rapid or disruptive change is something that large, matrixed organizations find extremely difficult.  Indeed, those who have attempted it have found that the organization’s “immune system” is liable to respond to the perceived threat with an attack.”

The problem is that the biggest threat to most organizations, is not the external forces at the gate, but our own inability to disrupt ourselves internally.  To build the internal ability and capacity to learn new, learn faster, become more agile and adaptive, to know when to continue the journey and when a pivot and shift is in order…or in other words, to be able to disrupt ourselves before the disruption is done to us.

Remember, the status quo will fight and push back every step of the way.

The one thing that we cannot do anymore is to allow ourselves to be caught unaware or choose to further insulate ourselves from these tremendous and overwhelming shifts that are now changing the very face of our societal systems, especially in light of how Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns and the digital transformation has shown us that, if anything, this new pace of change is doing more to accelerate and speed up than to slow down anytime in the near future.

So as you consider your organizational response, because a response is and will be necessary if you are to avoid irrelevance, I will leave you with these words from Ismail, Malone, and van Geest from their work Exponential Organizations

“History and common sense make clear that you cannot radically transform every part of an organization—and accelerate the underlying clock of that enterprise to hyper-speed—without fundamentally changing the nature of that organization.”

Design Our Systems For The Future

 

“Idealized design is a process for operationalizing the most exciting vision of the future that the designers are capable of producing.  It is the design of the next generation of their system to replace the existing order.”  -via Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity

Today’s leaders must be designers.

Constantly engaged in the divergent and convergent iterative process of creating and recreating their organization towards a better future and a better way forward.

Creating new capacities through intentional and focused idea flows that support ongoing self and organizational renewal that pushes us to plant seeds beyond the current boundaries that constrain our systems and thinking.

Pushing us past the parts to seeing wholes, providing 30,000 foot views of where to place our organizational next steps, as well as determining the mental models that impede those next steps and serve as obstacles to achieving that vision of the future.

Seeing how agility and adaptability of not only our organizations, but our leadership, will allow us to continually learn, unlearn, and relearn if we are to avoid the stasis and stagnation that, in a world of turbulent change, leads to immediate, as well as incremental irrelevance.

Being willing to constantly disrupt our individual and collective mindsets, if we are to come to terms with the needed disruptions that must occur in our own organizations if we are to truly unentrench ourselves from the status quo thinking that often buries us in practices of the past.

Seeing how ‘next’ practices are also in need of ‘next’ metrics if we are to pivot effectively towards this emerging and more desirable future we envision for ourselves and our organizations.

Understanding that discontinuity and placing a shelf-life on our organizational processes, structures and frameworks is an often avoided necessity that limits the growth and renewal of our individuals and organizations.

Yes, today’s leaders must be designers.

And to do that, they must truly understand the adaptive challenges that lay before us and our organizations.

“In an unpredictable, turbulent environment, the viability of any design will depend on its capability to explore and exploit emerging opportunities all along the value chain.”  -via Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity

The Future Will Be Anything But Rote

 

“After spending time working with leading technologists and watching one bastion of human uniqueness after another fall before the inexorable onslaught of innovation, it’s becoming harder and harder to have confidence that any given task will be indefinitely resistant to automation. That means people will need to be more adaptable and flexible in their career aspirations, ready to move on from areas that become subject to automation, and seize new opportunities where machines complement and augment human capabilities.”  -via The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

Lets be very clear: the future we are preparing our students for is going to be anything but rote.

This idea of a “skills gap” that we keep hearing about is nothing new, it has been going on for generations as education, educators and employers can’t seem to come to any real type of common ground on expectations.

The problem is that this is going to need to change, and change quickly.  Especially as the digital transformation, as well as exponential gains in automation and artificial intelligence begin to make a much more noticeable mark upon our society.  Or what McAfee refers to as the “great decoupling of the U.S. economy” as we see this divide open up between “output and productivity” and “jobs and wages.”  For which McAfee adds, “Computers are now doing many things that used to be the domain of people only.  The pace and scale of this encroachment into human skills is relatively recent and has profound economic implications.  Perhaps the most important of theses that while digital progress grows the overall economic pie, it can do so while leaving some people, or even a lot of them, worse off.”

And what makes it even more difficult, is that more and more is being called upon and asked of education to meet this “skills gap” that employers continue to hail, while society undergoes exponential shifts from the disruption erupting from and out of this digital transformation.  Unfortunately, as much as there is this “decoupling of the U.S. economy,” there is also an another, just as disturbing and concerning, decoupling created from this “skills gap” chasm that exists and has existed for some time between education and business, educator and employer.

Or as Peter Cappelli shares in the Washington Post article, What employers really want? Workers they don’t have to train, “We should rethink this fast.  Schools are not good at providing what employers want, which is work-based skills and experience.  Instead, employers need to be much more involved, not just in telling schools what they want but in providing opportunities for new grads to get work experience and learn the relevant expertise.  We need a different approach: one where employers are not just consumers of skills, but are part of the system for producing them.”

Today’s employers are asking more and more of those entering the workforce, and if current conditions are a tell-tale sign of the future, will continue to ask more and more.  We not only need to be aware of this economic decoupling, but the continued decoupling of this long-going “skills gap” that has existed between education and employers if we are to better prepare our students for the future of work.

It not only benefits our children, educators and employers to prepare our students to be more agile and adaptive to the disruptive effects that digitization, outsourcing, automation, and artificial intelligence is having on the current and future world of work…it benefits our economy and the future success of the next generation.

Or as McAfee and Bryniolfsson share in The Second Machine Age, “This reflects the career advice that Google chief economist Hal Varian frequently gives: seek to be an indispensable complement to something that is getting cheap and plentiful.”

And it will take the work of bringing education and business together if we are to truly determine what those “indispensable” skills are that lead to success in a disruptive and exponentially shifting world and future…

Future Shifts

 

“We are getting kids ready for jobs that do not exist” has been a mantra of frustration that has been bandied about the educational ecosystem for far more than the last several years.   A mantra that I believe to not only be wrong focused, but an inhibitor of change for (1) it’s predictive element relieves the system of real responsibility, necessity and urgency for any type of deep, exponential shift(s), and (2) the unknowing element of the statement can continue to allow us to insulate the system from better awareness of changes that are currently and constantly occurring across society that necessitate an educational mindshift.

When the future becomes a guessing game, when we focus on the unpredictability that we currently face, we have a tendency to recoil back to the known, back to the familiar, both as individuals and as organizations.  We often allow the fear of this vast unknown to entrench us in the status quo of the past and present.

What we have to begin to realize is that we are not getting kids ready for jobs that are yet to exist…

We are preparing them to be agile and adaptable in the face of profound shifts.

Which will eventually require some very deep shifts in our systems, our focus, our structures, processes, and even our beliefs and behaviors.  Just as we remain content-focused in skills-based world, change will be necessary in a societal landscape that is been driven relentlessly forward by the exponential pace of technology and digital disruption.

What has driven education in the past, is no longer sufficient or necessarily relevant for the future.

However, this is not some new phenomena, in fact the world of work has been very open about the skills necessary for future success and how those skill-sets are changing, especially as technological abilities in robotics and artificial intelligence continue to disrupt the workplace.

We continue to see skills such as critical thinking, creativity, adaptive and agile thinking, social and emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility and load management, and collaborative and design attributes gaining greater traction as necessary and needed for those in and/or moving into the present and future workforce.

Whatever those skills are or will be in the future, awareness will be paramount in preparing our future generation to be agile and adaptable to these profound shifts we now face.

According to the Institute of the Future (IFTF), “To be successful in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organizational forms and skill requirements.  They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these.  Workers in the future will need to be adaptable lifelong learners.”

However, it will not only be individuals that will need to become adaptable learners, remaining agile to our exponentially shifting world we now live in…so must our educational organizations if they are to remain significant, dynamic, relevant hubs of learning, innovation and transformation in the face of these seismic shifts and changes.

AND: A Key To The Future

 

“The skills that students need to learn in order to survive in the Augmented Age are very different from what are being taught in school today.  We will need to teach students not just science, technology, engineering and maths (so-called STEM subjects), but agility, creative thinking, rapid learning and adaptation, too.”  -via Augmented: Life In The Smart Lane

It is becoming more and more obvious that the exponential shifts that are being driven across our societal landscape from the acceleration of technology are and will continue to have dramatic ramifications on our future; from the economy and our workforce, to inevitably education and how we learn.

Awareness of these approaching shifts, connecting these varied dots, and understanding how these parts interact in the whole will be vital for preparing both our students and our educators for what is forecasted to be a very different future.

We are going to need to see how current misalignments (parts, processes) to these exponential shifts will require us to rethink, redesign and reimagine our wholes (structures, systems).

In many ways, the skill-sets, capacities and mindsets that were previously popular and efficient we are finding to be no longer relevant, effective or sufficient for the Exponential Age we find ourselves progressing into as individuals and organizations.

Which goes back to the opening quote from Augmented, in that “content” is truly no longer sufficient or adequate to prepare our students for a world and workforce that is putting a premium on “skills” (agility, creative thinking, rapid learning, adaptation).  For a world and workforce that is beginning to rethink, redesign and reimagine the very idea of work.

Especially, when we consider a workforce that is in the midst of technological disruption being brought on by a growing determination towards and focus on automation, robots and artificial intelligence.

Whether Thomas Friedman in Average Is Over, Dan Pink in To Sell Is Human or Brian King in Augmented, the idea of working for one organization, corporation or institution for your entire professional career is no longer the norm that it once was for past generations.  As King shares in Augmented, “Research suggests that today’s college graduates will have a dozen or more jobs by the time they hit their 30’s.”

Organizations, corporations, businesses, institutions that no longer want or feel that it is necessarily their duty to train those they hire.  They are not only looking for individuals equipped with a competent level of learning, but the skill-sets, capacities and mindset to be effective from the outset.  They are looking for individuals that are creative, innovative, agile, adaptive, and who can think critically, access information quickly and utilize it to make better decisions.

It is no longer an EITHER/OR game, as much as it is an AND world.

We have to understand these shifts if we are to better prepare our next generation of children with the learning AND skills that will be necessary to truly equip them to be “college and career” ready for a world that is shifting and changing at an exponential pace.

One without the other will be ineffective for the expectations of a very different future.

Engineering Resilient Organizations

 

“The concept  of an adaptive mindset has given way to a new discipline of resilience engineering.  Resilience engineering is a means of designing projects, organizations, and systems to be adaptable and to withstand unpredictable risks.  Instead of investing in safeguards against previous threats, resilience engineering seeks to improve an organization’s ability to reconfigure in order to manage unexpected disturbances.  Resilience engineering can be thought of as risk management by discovery.”  -via Gary Klein Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making

We have this unfortunate desire and erroneous belief that we can placate the complexity that exists in our world, our organizations, and in our lives.  So, instead of engaging in proactive measures, we entrench ourselves and inundate our organizations in reactionary precautions and restrictive safety measures.

Instead of allowing for the experimental, discovery learning that leads to the internal capacity-building to deal more effectively with the uncertainty and ambiguity of a world that has become much more complex…

We work to create sterile, linear, predictable processes that provide the pretense and facade of a risk-free environment.  The problem is that there is no such thing as risk-free environments.  Risk permeates the modern organizational landscape.  In all actuality, the biggest risk in today’s world is the inability to take any…

As Gary Klein shares in Streetlights and Shadows, “In complex settings, risk isn’t a quantity we can manage and reduce.  Instead of trying to predict and control unpredictable risks, resilience engineering prepares managers to expect to encounter unpleasant surprises.”

It is this proactive approach to risk that allows our individuals and organizations to create the capacity to handle the difficulties, complications, problems and challenges that litter our personal and professional lives.  It provides the capacity, capability and competence to become much more agile and adaptable as individuals and organizations.

It is this proactive approach and idea of “resilience engineering” that Klein refers to in Streetlights and Shadows and Dave Woods adds to in regards to resilience that allows for “the potential for future adaptive action.”  

As Klein continues, “Resilience engineers don’t wait for accidents or black swans.  Instead, they assess the way the organization responded to small disturbances in the past – its stretchiness.  Did the organization adapt smoothly, or was it brittle?”

Which, when we try to create sterile, linear, predictable, risk-free environments…we in turn empty all opportunities for that individual and organizational resiliency to be built.  We create individuals and organizations that become both brittle and fragile, unable to deal effectively with the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that pervades our modern world.

So, in much the same manner that our modern organizations are finding necessity for Chief Innovation Officers, we may as well find a need for Resilience Engineers.  Especially, if we are to create a “stretchiness” in both our individuals and organizations that allows us to be much more flexible to the complexities of our modern, evolving, exponentially shifting world.

“Organizations that try to eliminate risk are playing so as not to lose, which increases the chances that they will lose.  We need to develop resilience as a tactic for protecting ourselves against risk.  We need to engage Risk Management by Discovery.”  -via Gary Klein Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making

 

The Game Has Changed…

 

“The most stubborn habits which resist change with the greatest tenacity are those which worked well for a space of time and led to the practitioner being rewarded for those behaviors.  If you suddenly tell such persons that their recipe for success is no longer viable, their personal experience belies your diagnosis.  The road to convincing them is hard.”  -via Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity

The problem is…

In many ways, we are stilling playing Pong in an Xbox world.

The game has changed…

So the question becomes, are we willing to admit and face it?

Or are we so busy looking straight ahead that we’ve lost the ability to see around the corner…

In Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity Gharajedaghi shares of this tipping point, this “shift of paradigm” we have to reach as individuals and organizations, that is summed up in Stafford Beer’s observation, “Acceptable ideas are competent no more and competent ideas are not yet acceptable.”  It is in this realization, this “shift of paradigm” that Gharajedaghi notes where “Eventually, the exceptional courage of a few leads to questioning the conventional wisdom and pointing to the the first crack in it.”  

For which, whether we are willing to admit it or not, may be the chasm that we currently exist within, both as individuals and as organizations.

We see the cracks, we notice the erosion, we even see the futility and irrelevance in many of the processes and strategies we continue to implement…but we find it much easier to patch up these cracks, even when we know the dam is ready to burst.  Even when the red flag is lifted and the caution bells are ringing.  For it is much easier to patch that which exists, than to create anew.  It is the difference between reforming and transforming.

Especially when we consider the heavy lift and mental mindshift this ringing bell is threatening to extoll in regards to the extensiveness of this “shift in paradigm.”

In many ways, this is an easy bell to ignore or even turn away from.  The volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that this bell is summoning is overwhelming in its scope.  The sheer audacity and disruption required in attempting to redesign and reimagine our systems and the leadership required to heave this lift is tremendous even in its consideration.

However, it did not stop those facing many of these same obstacles and challenges as our organizations and leaders rolled into the first industrial revolution. 

The first industrial revolution required a disruptive overhaul of many of our systems, organizations and leadership…the same disruptive shifts will eventually be required of our current systems, organizations and leadership as we move into the fourth industrial revolution.

What was designed for the linear and predictable won’t automatically shift to becoming creative and innovative.

I will leave you with these words from Gharajedaghi in his work Systems Thinking: Managing Chaos and Complexity, as we begin to truly consider whether business as usual will work in a world that has shifted gears from incremental to exponential…

“A shift paradigm can happen purposefully, by an active process of learning and unlearning.  More commonly, however, it is a reaction to frustration produced by a march of events that nullify conventional wisdom.  Faced with a series of contradictions that cn no longer be ignored or denied, and/or an increasing number of dilemmas for which prevailing mental models can no longer provide convincing explanations, most people accept that the prevailing paradigm has ceased to be valid and that it has exhausted its potential capacity.”