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“A theory has only the alternative of being wrong or right. A model has a third possibility: it may be right but irrelevant.” -Manfred Eigen
When you think of the current idea of the organizational model and how we work, be that in education, government, or business, in the historical scheme of things, is a model that hasn’t really been around for that long of a time.
For much of that time, the model has stayed pretty consistent, focusing on sustaining systemic efficiency, command and control leadership, a need for certainty and the avoidance of unnecessary risks, and very often choosing pride of product over support and commitment to people ways of operating. It is only in more recent times that there has been this push towards more adaptive awareness and deeper focus on effectiveness over efficiency, a more human-centered and less cogs in the machine ways of operating, as well as continually looking to evolve and expand the user experience both internally and externally, and embracing uncertainty and risk-taking that leads to more discovery, experimental learning.
Shifts that have stemmed more from necessity than necessarily from want. Especially as today’s accelerated, turbulent and often disruptive nature of change and societal shifts have changed expectations and brought forth this need for new ways for the organization and its leadership to operate and exist.
It is no longer enough to just focus on sustaining models efficiency, when frameworks of effectiveness are now required.
In a world that is much more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, our organizations and leaders within must be much more aware of what they are sustaining. What is considered relevant today, might and most likely will not be relevant tomorrow, and understanding this shift will allow our leaders and organizations to adapt more effectively to a changing world and uncertain future. It does little to improve our systems and ways of working to be both more efficient and effective, if what we are focused on sustaining and adapting to has become or is becoming irrelevant in a world that is changing exponentially.
And yet, just understanding when our strategies, practices, processes, structures, systems and models have become irrelevant and actually moving to an action or actions that creates the necessary change or needed transformation of those are two very different lifts. With one being much heavier and more complex than the other.
As Einstein is known for saying, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Which says two things to me; (1) the deeper the understandings we build around our organizational strategies, practices, processes, structures, systems and models, through ongoing learning and enhanced idea flows, the greater the chance that we make changes to our organization that allow it to be more efficient, more effective and more relevant to our changing world, and (2) you can only truly get to simple through full comprehension of the complexity that we are facing and that which exists and is inherent within each of our organizational ecosystems.
Understandings that eventually determine how adaptable and agile our organizations can and will become in the future.
For example, the digital disruption and/or transformations that we are currently facing serve as a tremendous example of (1) and (2) from above, in showing us just how complex the nature of change can be for us as individuals, leaders and organizations; and yet how important it is we find ways to communicate the need for change and/or changes to retain the relevance of our work in a simple and meaningful manner.
Too often we approach this work in a wrong or right manner, which undervalues the in-between and/or complexity of what we are facing as leaders and organizations. It is no longer about whether a strategy, practice, process, structure, system or model is wrong or right, but rather is it effective? And, is it relevant to the world that we are “now” living in?
Not the world that we used to live in…
Too often we try to implement change without taking into account the relevance and/or irrelevance of our current models. Too often we approach change in an isolated manner, focusing on parts of the system without seeing the whole of the system, often leading to unintended consequences that do more to hinder than improve the overall performance of the organization.
You can’t move towards continuous improvement and effective systems change, if you are not willing to attend to the irrelevance of the current strategies, practices, processes and models that are in place. That is not to say that progress cannot be made, just understand irrelevant parts can and will slow the process and in the end, weigh down the whole.
As for example, think of it like keeping outdated computers running on a systems network. The computers still work for the individual user, but their outdated performance becomes a drag, ultimately slowing down the entire network for all users. It is better for the overall performance of the entire network to remove those outdated computers, even though it may cause some inconvenience for individual users.
And yet, they remain on the network…
Unfortunately, many of our current strategies, practices, processes, structures, systems and models are disconnected from the future we are facing. Much like the outdated computers, we stubbornly refuse to remove them from the network, knowing that they are slowing and dragging the entire system down.
Awareness of these signals, of the slowing of our organizational networks due to outdated and irrelevant strategies, practices, processes, structures, systems, and models will be paramount to determining the necessity and need for change, and approaching and communicating the complexity of that change in a much more simple, transparent, and human-centered manner, will be vital to the continuous and effective improvement that makes our organizations more robust and relevant for the future.
Which ultimately evolves our organizations from one of sustaining the current, to one of adapting progressively to the future.
“We can’t impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.” -via Donella Meadows Thinking in Systems: A Primer
We live in a world relentlessly pushed forward by the velocity, volatility, uncertainty, disruption, and disequilibrium of constant change. As the pace of change accelerates, so does the shelf-life of our strategies, processes, frameworks, and systems. The rapidity of change now requires an expanding and continuously evolving breadth and depth to our repertoire of problem-solving strategies and leadership skill-sets. Yet, even in the face of this rapidity of change and the disequilibrium it creates, too often, we find ourselves as individuals and organizations siloed in and dedicated to only one way of doing and working. In many ways, we continue to approach the problems we are trying to solve in very limited and one-dimensional manner.
If it worked before, we believe it will continue to work…even when it doesn’t.
In many ways, we fail to adapt, both as individuals and organizations, especially in the midst of this shift from technical problems to adaptive challenges. As Heifetz and Linsky share in Leadership on the Line, “Indeed, the single most common source of leadership failure we’ve been able to identify – in politics, community life, business, or the nonprofit sector – is that people, especially those in positions of authority, treat adaptive challenges like technical problems.”
In the article, Becoming an Adaptive Leader, they share seven ways to know if you are facing an adaptive challenge:
While it is vitally important to determine and distinguish between whether you are facing a technical problem or adaptive challenge, it is no longer enough without expanding, evolving and innovating the ways in which we will respond and react to these new and growing challenges.
It is at this intersection of recognition, that learning and improvement can exist.
It is at this intersection, where adaptive leadership, design and systems thinking meet, mingle and begin to coexist, that will eventually allow us to adapt and intervene towards more improved problem-solving processes to today’s growing list of “adaptive” challenges. To allow us to approach these challenges in a much more expansive and effective manner, both individually and organizationally.
Especially as we consider the phases or steps of each of these individual processes and frameworks.
Adaptive Leadership: observation, interpretation, intervention.
Design Thinking: empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping
Systems Thinking: interconnections, linkages, interactions
Visually seeing these three processes and frameworks together side by side, not only shows how similar each of these are, but how they can support and build upon each other, as well as fill in the gaps that one or the other may be missing. In many ways, they are best served not as building blocks for each other, but as blending blocks that provide a more integrated approach.
For example, as design thinking may push to disrupt the status quo of doing and working, systems thinking fills in by allowing us to determine how that shift can and will affect the whole, while adaptive leadership presses forward to prepare us for how people will interpret and be affected by that change and prepare interventions for the push-back that will eventually come from the uncertainty and possible loss of that change.
It is also when you look at Peter Senge’s ideas on systems thinking and learning organizations…
That we see not only the intersection, but how the coalescing and fusing of these three processes and frameworks for problem-solving and adaptive change support an environment that is constantly evolving and continuously improving.
It is at the intersection of adaptive leadership, design and systems thinking, we are able to engage empathy, allow for our observations to lead to deeper connections and interconnections. To not only interpret those observations and connections, but allow them to better define the real problem or problems we are facing and to see how they link to the entire system. While providing the space for ideation and divergent thinking that will provide more relevant solutions and prototypes to those problems, while trying to understand how people will interact with these changes and consider possible interventions that will allow for us to overcome ingrained status quo habits and behaviors that impede progress and change.
It is at the intersection of these three forces that not only better futures are imagined, but the tools are provided to help bring those possibilities to realization.
“The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is exactly the same thing-building empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help.” -David Kelley Found of IDEO
A recent survey study by the Institute for the Future, The American Future Gap revealed that, “The vast majority of people never think about the far future.”
As author of the survey and senior researcher Jane McGonigal adds, “The majority of people aren’t connecting with their future selves, which studies have shown leads to less self-control and less pro-social behavior.” McGonigal adds, “Thinking about the future in 5, 10 and 30 years is essential to being an engaged citizen and creative problem solver. Curiosity about what might happen in the future, the ability to imagine how things could be different, and empathy for our future selves are all necessary if we want to create positive change in our own lives or the world around us.”
So, if future thinking is shown to have positive benefits for us and society, then it might behoove us to consider learning ways in which a futurist may approach thinking about the future.
To think more like a futurist, let’s dig a bit into Dr. Joseph Voros’ work A Primer on Future Studies, Foresight and the Use of Scenarios, and to what he refers to as the three “laws” of futures:
The future is not predetermined. Understanding that there are limitless and or endless possibilities for the future, is also in understanding that while the present does have bearing on the future, the future can and does remain undetermined by our current situation. Or as Dr. Voros adds, “Therefore, there is no, and cannot be, any single predetermined future, rather there are considered to be infinitely many potential alternative futures.”
The future is not predictable. The future is not some process that keeps marching forward in a linear, predictable manner. As Dr. Voros shares, “Even if the future were predetermined, we could never collect enough information about it to an arbitrary degree of accuracy to construct a complete model of how it would develop.” And yet, in many ways, especially in our organizations, we continue to approach the future in a safe, linear, predictable manner, which is at odds with the velocity and acceleration of change in today’s complex world.
Future outcomes can be influenced by our choices in the present. And while we are faced with infinite possibilities of how our future will emerge, that does not mean that we have no influence on that emergence, no matter the limitless possibilities it proposes. For which Dr. Voros puts forth, “Even though we can’t determine which future of an infinite possible variety will eventuate, nevertheless we can influence the shape of the future which does eventuate by the choices we make regarding our actions (or inaction) in the present.” Too often we remain cognitively unaware and immune to the power of seeing how we think and act can have great influence on this constantly evolving and emerging future, allowing our mental models to provide us with a predetermined approach to the future.
In A Primer on Future Studies, Foresight and the Use of Scenarios, Dr. Joseph Voros provides “four” classes of potential and or alternatives when considering the future.
Possible futures. As Dr. Voros shares, “This class of futures includes all the kinds of futures we can possibly imagine – those which might happen – no matter how far-fetched, unlikely or way out.” These fall into the class of might happen future.
Plausible futures. These futures fall into the class of “could happen” futures. While possible futures are often reliant on future knowledge, plausible futures are driven more by “current knowledge.”
Probable futures. These futures tend to fall into the class of “likely to happen” futures. As Dr. Voros adds, they “stem in part from the continuance of current trends” and are “a simple linear extension of the present.”
Preferable futures. Whereas, plausible futures fall into the class of what we “want to happen” futures. The difference of preferable futures to the three classes of futures is that preferable futures are “largely emotional rather than cognitive” and the other three classes of futures are “concerned with informational or cognitive knowledge.”
In the end, it doesn’t matter that we think like futurist, as much as it matters that begin to spend time future thinking.
As Jane McGonigal shares, “Future thinking is one of our most under-developed skills sets. It takes less than a minute a day, but studies have shown it can lead to improved health, better financial stability and much more.” And yet, “The vast majority of people never think about the far future.” Even though “Studies show the less people think about their future lives, the less self-control they exhibit and the less likely they are to make choices that benefit the world in the long-run.”
And while it is important to be in the present, it may be just important that we spend a bit more time thinking about our future.
Preparing in the present…can keep us from being stranded in the future.
References and quotes from…
Voros, Joseph. A Primer on Future Studies, Foresight and the Use of Scenarios. 2001. Thinking Futures: Designing Collaborative Conversations about the Future
McGonigal, Jane. The American Future Gap. 2017. Institute for the Future
“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 technologies and about organizational capabilities. That’s going to be very challenging.” -Salim Ismail Exponential Organizations
Working one job until retirement…
(According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average time in a single job is 4.2 years and individuals born in the latter years of the baby boom (1957-1964) held an average of 11.9 jobs from age 18-50.)
The lifespan of Fortune 500 companies…
(According to BBC News, the average lifespan of a company in the S&P 500 index has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century, from 67 years in the 1920’s to just 15 years today, according to Richard Foster from Yale University. He also estimates that by 2020, more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 will be companies we have not heard of yet.)
Big organizations are responsible for the main creation of new jobs…
(A recent study by Harvard and Princeton economists showed that 94% of net job growth from 2005 to 2015 was in ‘alternative work,’ defined as independent contractors and freelancers.)
The skills that got you here, will keep you here…
(A World Economic Forum report found that 63% of workers in the U.S. say they’ve participated in job related training in the past 12 months, yet employers are reporting the highest talent shortages since 2007. On average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, according to the respondents.)
(According to Google, the number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to pass the 5 billion mark by 2019. In 2014, nearly 60% of the population worldwide already owned a mobile phone.)
According to The Telegraph and Business Insider here are few more things that technology have made obsolete in today’s world…
Not to consider the jobs that no longer exist due to technology and the current level of digital disruption. The jobs and the percentage of work that we continually hear about as being on the verge of being replaced by automation, robots and artificial intelligence in the near future.
As an example, Fast Company shares these 10 jobs that will likely be replaced by robots…
For which, Martin Ford shares, “The impact that accelerating progress has on the job market and overall economy is poised to defy much of conventional wisdom.”
Of which Ford adds, “Technology is not just advancing gradually: it is accelerating. As a result, the impact may come long before we expect it…”
Preparing for this automated, augmented, artificially intelligence infused future is difficult to imagine, let alone prepare effectively for, both as individuals and organizations. So the objective then becomes, not to try and predict the future (which is impossible), but to try and forecast and determine those signals for the future that are arising from the chaos of the present. It is in understanding…
Preparing our students for an automated future, is a much different proposition.
For which I will leave you with this excerpt from The Economist (Economist Intelligence Unit-EIU) report sponsored by Google, Driving the Skills Agenda: Preparing Students for the Future, “It is also a safe bet that most Americans will need to acquire new knowledge and skills over their work lives in order to earn a good living in a changing work world. In this context, the nation’s challenge is to sharply increase the fraction of American children with the foundational skills needed to develop job-relevant knowledge and to learn efficiently over a lifetime.”
For what we are learning and realizing more and more, is that the world we grew up in, the world that we so easily recognized, may no longer exist anymore…
It is in realizing what changes, AND in what stays the same, that we can more effectively support our individuals and organizations in moving more successfully into this new and unknown future.
And also realizing that human aspirations such as love, compassion, caring, understanding, resilience, empathy, imagination, inventiveness, creativity, emotional intelligence and awareness tend to continually stand the test of time.
Or as Faisal Hoque and Drake Baer share in Everything Connects, “We have to assume that everything we think is right today will be wrong tomorrow.”
In March, responding to Mark Cuban’s comments to how Artificial Intelligence was going to change the workforce, the current Treasury Secretary, when questioned about Cuban’s comments, inferred that, “Artificial intelligence is so far in the future that it’s not even on my radar screen. We won’t have to worry about how it affects the workforce for 50 to 100 more years.” (per Business Insider)
Which, for many, was a shocking comment, to say the least…
Especially in that it was in direct contrast to what was shared in December of 2016, in which the White House released two reports, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy, which was a follow up to the Administration’s previous report from October of 2016, Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence. A report that indicated that “as many as 47% of all American jobs could be at risk from artificial intelligence in the next two decades.”
The following was shared in regards to these reports…
“Although it is difficult to predict these economic effects precisely, the report suggests that policymakers should prepare for five primary economic effects:
Positive contributions to aggregate productivity growth;
Changes in skills demanded by the job marked, including greater demand for higher-level technical skills;
Uneven distribution of impact, across sectors, wage levels, education levels, job types, and locations;
Churning of the job market as some jobs disappear while others are created; and
The loss of jobs for some workers in the short-run and possibly longer depending on policy responses.”
To add, in an article shared by Gizmodo, “According to a study by the Center of Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, 5.6 million manufacturing jobs were lost in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. An estimated 85% of those jobs were actually attributable to technological change-largely automation.”
While CNBC shares, “The White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) ranked occupations by wages and found that 83% of jobs making less than $20 per hour would come under pressure from automation, as compared to 31% of jobs making between $20 and $40 per hour and 4% of jobs making above $40 per hour.”
And it isn’t only the threat of automation and artificial intelligence that is changing work.
According to a recent article from World Economic Forum, “The days of working for 40 years and retiring with a good pension are gone. Now the average time in a single job is 4.2 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What’s more, 35% of the skills workers need – regardless of industry – will have changed by 2020.”
To add to that, on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics webpage, “Individuals born in latter years of the baby boom (1957-1964) held an average of 11.9 jobs from age 18-50.”
The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs of Survey adds that, “On average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, according to our respondents.”
To say we live in very interesting times would be an understatement. While some find this new world exciting and filled with possibilities for change, others see it as tumultuous, chaotic, and even a bit scary. But one thing we can say, is that after years of incremental change, we now stand on the cusp of some very steep and disruptive shifts. Our individuals, our organizations, our systems, our governments, and even our societies are facing some very unsteady and uncertain winds created by the pace and acceleration of change in today’s world.
Winds that are heightening our awareness of the vast unknowns emerging from this future.
And awareness of what is emerging is vital to our ability to design a better future. Otherwise, we will continue to create larger gaps and ongoing disconnects for individuals, organizations and our systems. We can ill afford to be overcome by the urgency and plethora of technical problems, while barely sensing, let alone keeping up with the a whole new set of adaptive challenges that are arising.
We can ill afford to face this new and emerging future overwhelmed, unequipped and unprepared.
We can ill afford to…
We can be certain that content knowledge is no longer enough for success in a world and workforce that has shifted exponentially. A world and workforce that is facing an uncertain future from what automation and artificial intelligence might do, might create, and the affects it may have on us, our organizations, our systems, our governments and our societies.
We can ill afford to wait for these uncertainties to become certainties. We have to determine those “unknown” skills and abilities that will help prepare our generations to come for those “unknowns” and the “jobs that are yet to exist.”
Skills that Singularity Hub share as; critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurship, effective oral and written communication, assessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination.
Or as CareerBuilder would add as; adaptability, self-motivation, networking, self-awareness, and computer coding.
And the Institute for the Future’s 10 Skills for the Future Work of 2020; sense-making, social intelligence, novel and adaptive thinking, cross-cultural competency, computational thinking, new media literacy, transdisciplinary, design mindset, cognitive load management, and virtual collaboration.
“According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, The State of American Jobs, found that 87% of workers believe it will be essential for them to get training and develop new job skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace.”
Which gives an entirely new meaning to the idea of lifelong learner…
Creative, innovative, imaginative thinking will always be valued, but we are finding that its value is expanding in an age of increasing automation and artificial intelligence.
Engaging and infusing skills and abilities into the educational world of content, better prepares our next generation for a world that is shifting and emerging through a fog of uncertainty and unknowns. While we can never predict the future, greater awareness does allow us to forecast and better prepare for whatever is to emerge…
“However much change you saw over the last 10 years with the iPhone, over the last 20 years with the Internet, over the last 30 years with with PC’s, that is nothing. Nothing! Things are getting faster, processing is getting faster, machines are starting to think, and either you make them think for you or they will take your place and do the thinking for you. That could be problematic for many people.” -Mark Cuban via CNBC
“To counter complacency, you must exhibit insatiability.” “You need to go where the opportunity will be next, not where it is.” -Jeremy Gutsche Exploiting Chaos
There is this very interesting documentary on the rise and fall of Tower Records called All Things Must Pass which, in a very subtle way, documents the digital disruption that today’s organizations are ALL facing.
There were two very telling moments towards the end of the documentary, where the following two sentences were played across a stark screen, demonstrating the suddenness of the demise and the overall disruption of what had become an American icon…
“In 1999, Tower Records had sales of over one billion dollars”
“Five years later they filed for bankruptcy”
As David Geffen shared in the documentary, “The industry as a whole didn’t respond appropriately.”
And it wasn’t just that they didn’t respond appropriately, in many ways they didn’t see it coming. Or if they did see it coming, they didn’t want to accept the reality of what they were facing. Which was, for Tower Records…their Napster Moment.
Too often, it is our successes, not our failures, that keep us entrenched in the status quo, insulating us from the volatility of change and very often, the disruptive forces we are facing in the present and future. Shielding us from facing our own Napster Moment.
As was shared in All Things Must Pass, “Everything that you did worked, and then it just stopped.”
Which means we have to begin to think different. We have to begin to do different. And we have to be willing to scrutinize how our current successes and mental models that trap and entrench us in status quo ways of doing and being.
As Jeremy Gutsche pushes forward in his work Exploiting Chaos, you have to continually look to find the opportunity in the midst of chaos. Especially in today’s VUCA World where change is accelerating, often at an exponential clip.
As Gutsche shares…
Be willing to destroy.
Change in today’s world requires facing many more unknowns, many more new frontiers. Which means we can little afford to entrench ourselves and our organizations in our successes of the present and past. We can’t let those successes insulate us from knowing and perceiving when a pivot or shift is necessary or needed, even when that pivot provokes uncertainty and moves us out of our comfort of the known. We can’t let current and past successes impede future progress and relevance.
And determining relevance is going to be vital in today’s accelerated and constantly shifting world…
As Peter Drucker put forth, “The right questions don’t change as often as the answers do.” And we can ill afford to be providing the right answers to the wrong questions in today’s world. Or, as Jeremy Gutsche shares in Exploiting Chaos, you end up as “Smith-Corona The BEST typewriter company in the world a title they still keep today.” For which he adds, “Accomplishment blinds us to the urgency of reinvention. Don’t be seduced by complacency. When the world became chaotic, Smith-Corona did what most organizations do: they retreated to their comfort zone. Smith-Corona became a victim of rational decision-making. Don’t let complacency be the architecture of your downfall.”
Too often, success becomes a key indicator for future stasis and stagnation. Once you feel you’ve arrived, there is no demand or urgency to progress. Much of today’s innovation gets lost on a focus on polishing our past successes. We have to evolve forward, we can’t pivot if we are entrenched in the past.
If requirements (skill-sets) for success in the future have change, and the system that prepares people for those skill-sets hasn’t, we have misalignment. Misalignment for the future. Just as what we see as necessary for students and what society is saying is vital for success in a shifting world, aren’t always aligned.
In many ways, we have to tap into more exponential, “around the corner” if we are going to better prepare our people, our children, for the future.
Too often, our mental models shield us from that “different” thinking…blinding us from seeing the coming of our own organizational Napster Moments.
“Success depends on intuition, on seeing what afterwards proves true but cannot be established at the moment.” -J.Schumpter
“Success requires an organization to let go of its current playbook and rethink the way it sees the world…” -via Scaling Edges