Intent to Adapt: Part II

“Everything starts from a problem – but not everyone faces the problem in the same way.”  -via Juan Carlos Eichholz Adaptive Capacity: How Organizations Can Thrive In A Changing World

Mike Tyson used to say that, “Everyone has a plan…until they get punched in the face.”  The reality is, every individual, every organization, is going to get punched in the face at least one time or another.  The problem is, it is happening quicker and more often in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

Change is accelerating, disruption is escalating, even our foundations are shifting…

As Peter Thiel shares in Zero to One, “Big plans for the future have become archaic curiosities.”  And it is not that strategies and plans have suddenly become useless, rather it is in the inability of our individuals and organizations to adapt when our “big plans” get “punched in the face” that often renders them ineffective to the new realities they are facing.

However, the ability of our individuals and organizations to adapt relies heavily on creating the capacity in which to do, so.  But, too often, especially in times of confusion and chaos, when capacity is lacking, and when adaptability and agility is most needed, leaders will turn to authority to fill that capacity gap.  Or as Eichholz shares in Adaptive Capacity, “The disequilibrium exceeded the adaptive capacity.”

In today’s VUCA world, we cannot believe that our individuals and organizations will be spared from the confusion, chaos and disruptions of a changing world and the adaptive challenges that arise within these shifting environments.  Or that the disequilibrium and tension that these environments create will be helped by leaders creating more structures, more rules, more hierarchy, and extending more authority, in fact, the challenges will become more exacerbated.

In fact, we need leaders who are much more engaged in strategic thinking, than strategic planning…

Leaders who are intentional in creating the organizational capacity to deal effectively with the disruption and loss that many of these adaptive challenges pose and impose upon our individuals and organizations.  In times of great upheaval, the organizations that are most effective and remain most relevant don’t turn to more authority, rather they have created the internal capacity that draws on greater levels of autonomy.

When leaders have a deeper awareness of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of today’s world, they understand that any “big plan” has a much greater risk being “punched in the face” at one time or another.  And it is not in if it will happen, but when and how?  Building the ongoing capacity and autonomy of the organization allows for not only greater clarity, adaptability and agility when that “punch” comes, but the ability to carry out the ‘intent’ of those plans in the midst of the chaos and confusion that arise.

So as we carry forward with the work of building greater individual and organizational capacity to better face the adaptive challenges of today and tomorrow, I leave you with these thoughts from Adaptive Capacity by Juan Carlos Eichholz…

“But leadership is difficult to put into practice because it involves challenging people instead of satisfying them, asking questions instead of giving answers, generating disequilibrium and tension instead of providing comfort and safety, allowing differences to emerge instead of pretending that they do not exist, involving people instead of giving them instructions, and, in sum, confronting people with the problem instead of facing the problem by yourself or simply ignoring it.  All of this must be done within a strong containing vessel, one that holds people together while they are living with the complexities and losses of adaptive work.”

 

 

Connecting Dots In Real Time

We’ve built the ship for efficiency, stability and sustainability…

The question now becomes, can we rebuild and recreate it for speed, agility and adaptability?

Have we noticed the world has changed, and not in subtle, but often exponential ways?

Are we aware that the speed and turbulence of change has and is accelerating at an unprecedented rate?

Can we see how disruptive this technological (fourth industrial) revolution has been and will be in the future?

In a world that often supports that tagline adapt or die, nothing less than organizational transformation is sufficient for survival in a world gone VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous).

We cannot bury our head in the sand and believe that the disruption that stands at our doorstep will pass us by unnoticed.  The shifts are too enormous to be ignored.

If we are not careful, if we remain more lethargic than proactive to the changes we do and will face, we may find our future mirroring the Parable of the Boiled Frog.  Or as Hemingway states, “gradually, then suddenly” may very well define the discovery of just how disruptive “1” degree can shift the environment in which we exist.

The ambiguity of today’s world is leaving us awash in anxiety.  Fear and uncertainty often makes us recoil from the plethora of unknowns we face, further entrenching us in status quo thinking and doing.  The permanence of the past is an illusion in today’s turbulent and accelerated world.

We can’t conquer the ambiguity and uncertainty that this new world creates, but we can learn to adapt ourselves to it. We can learn to parallel pace this heightened speed of change by becoming more agile, in adjusting quicker and more effectively to the shifts that it provokes in our individual and organizational lives.

To attain the level of adaptability and agility necessary to deal more relevantly with these exponential shifts and the new levels of complexity that accompany them, it will ultimately require us as individuals and organizations to engage in learning that: builds greater individual and organizational capacity, is more strategic and intentional, provokes intrinsic motivation, is continuous and evolving, leverages ‘best’ practices while engaging in ‘next’ practices, creates greater idea flow through the use of internal and external collaborations and networks, is based in a want for better, while being focused on the tenets and principles of continuous improvement.

Technology isn’t just driving innovation…it’s changing our mental models and disrupting the entire ecosystem of the future.

To keep pace in this new world, we will have to become much better in connecting dots in real time, and to do this, we will ultimately find that our ability to learn, and to connect that learning in new and novel ways, becomes our best advantage.

“Though we know far more about everything in it, the world has in many respects become less predictable.  Such unpredictability has happened not in spite of technological progress, but because of it.”  -via Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

Networks: An Engine For Scaling Learning And Innovation (Part 1)

“It is not simply the brightest who have the best ideas; it is those who are best at harvesting ideas from others.  It is not only the most determined who drive change; it is those who most fully engage with like-minded people.  And it is not wealth or prestige that best motivates people; it is respect and help from peers.”  -Alex Pentland Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – The Lessons from a New Science

We live in a hyperconnected world, which in many ways has provided us a wealth of access and answers to the challenges that we face, while adding new complexities to an already complex world.   In the midst of this hyperconnected world, we are seeing the rapid rise of networks, both informal and formal, serving as engines for new learning and innovation.  The Stanford Social Innovation Review shares, “With the rise of new digital media platforms and social networks, people are absorbing information at a greater velocity and from a wider set of channels than ever before; they are also using that information in new ways.”  For which they add, “Leadership has become distributed and collaborative.  The new reality is that leaders don’t lead alone.  We are all part of a much broader problem-solving network, with many high-performing organizations and individuals-public and private-working on different parts or the same problem or even the same part of the same problem.  The most influential members of the collaborative are increasingly harnessing new technology to share ideas, get real-time feedback, and build knowledge for the field.  Leaders are no longer just steering their own ship; they are helping a network solve problems with the best and must current thinking available.”

It is in this hyperconnected world that we are just beginning to see new distinctions drawn between what some term as communities and networks (communities vs. networks).  While there are distinctions between the two, the better option is in enhancing and leveraging both for better access to greater learning and innovation.  This is best achieved by engaging the AND of both communities AND networks.  As Team BE of Wenger-Traynor state, “For most groups, however, the aspects are combined in various ways.  A community usually involves a network or relationships.  And many networks exist because participants are all committed to some kind of joint enterprise.”  So, while we’ve become much more accustomed to working in “communities” of learning and practice within our organizations, the digital transformation and this hyperconnected world has led to an exponential rise and engagement in both formal and informal networks to support and infuse greater idea flow and new learning into our organizations, leading to better innovative value for both our individuals and organizations.  As Alex Pentland shares in Social Physics, “In the last few years, however, our lives have been transformed by networks that combine people and computers, allowing much greater participation and much faster change.”  

In Learning to Improve, Bryk and his co-authors build on this idea of AND, drawing on the work of Douglas Engelbart in what he termed Networked Improvement Communities (NIC).  It is in this Networked Improvement Community that Engelbart has created an ABC Model for Continuous Improvement.  As Bryk shares in Learning to Improve, there are “three interrelated levels of learning” which serves as the basis for this ABC Model.

Level-A which “represents the knowledge acquired by front-line workers as they engage in their practice.”

Level-B which is when “learning occurs across individuals within a workplace.”

Level-C which is when learning occurs “across institutions.”

This idea of an ABC Model for Continuous Improvement and Networked Improvement Communities was cast over 35 years ago by Engelbart in his assessment and determination that the “complexity and urgency [of world problems] are increasing exponentially, and the product of the two will soon challenge our organizations and institutions to change in quantum leaps rather than incremental steps.”

The one thing to realize is that most organizations, even individuals for that matter, do not operate well in all three (ABC) of these learning areas.  Engelbart shares that “most organizations operate in at least two dimensions,” which is most often Level A and B.

Which is where much of our future work in networks lies, especially since Level C work is vital to improving the learning and the innovative work of our individuals and organizations.

As Engelbart shares, “Most organizations already have all three activities going on, but the ‘C’ activity is generally pretty haphazard and the ‘B’ activities suffer accordingly.”  Whether Engelbart or Bryk’s work in Learning to Improve, we see an emphasis on the importance Level-C.

As Bryk adds in Learning to Improve in regards to Level-C learning, “It is an especially potent form of knowledge generated as ideas are elaborated, refined, and tests across many different contexts.  The development of Level-C learning is not a simple, naturally occurring extension of Level-A and -B learning.  Rather it requires deliberate organization.  It is catalyzed and orchestrated by a network hub and relies on appropriate technologies for rapid communications about insights developing across distributed sites.  Operating in this way enables a network to accelerate how it learns.”  For which Bryk adds, “When individual insights are systematically pooled, collective capabilities grow.  Moving this to Level-C learning radically speeds up this social learning process.  When many more individuals, operating across diverse contexts, are drawn together in a shared learning enterprise, the capacity grows exponentially.”

Understanding the value and importance of networks and the platform they provide for the acceleration of social learning is going to be vital to the future relevance of our organizations as we seek to improve both individual and organizational learning and capacity.  In a world of exponential shifts, the only true advantage to parallel pacing the speed of change that we are will be facing, will be found in how we enhance and improve our ability to learn, at pace and scale.

“It seems that the key to harvesting ideas that lead to great decisions is to learn from the successes and failures of others and to make sure that the opportunities for this sort of social learning are sufficiently diverse.”  Alex Pentland Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread-The Lessons from a New Science

 

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.”

The New Liquidity Of Learning

“In the industrial age, companies did their utmost to save themselves time by increasing their efficiency and productivity.  That is not enough today.  Now organizations need to save their customers and citizens time.  They need to do their utmost to interact in real time.  Real time is human time.”

“So in order to run in real time, our technological infrastructure needed to liquefy.  Nouns needed to be verbs.  Fixed solid things became services.  Data couldn’t remain still.  Everything had to flow into the stream of now.”  -via Kevin Kelly The Inevitable: Understanding The 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future

As we consider the depths of the shifts and disruptions that the current and coming digital transformation is levying down upon and across the entirety of our societal landscape, from every industry to institution…we must also be very aware of the cognitive shifts and disruptions that are occurring simultaneously in reaction to this transformation.

From learning to literacy, we see our digital technologies emerging a variety of new literacies across the learning landscape, which according to Wikipedia would include “21st century literacies, internet literacies, digital literacies, new media literacies, multiliteracies, information literacy, and computer literacy,” to name a few.  And not just literacy, but the very act of learning itself, from how we access it, to how we interpret, utilize, engage, and even repurpose it.

In his work The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly discusses how digital technology has disrupted and changed the music industry, from the actual product down to the very notes themselves, which he conceptualizes around this idea of “liquidity.”  The interesting thing is when you put this same lens of “liquidity” on learning, instead of music, we can not only begin to envision the impact of these new literacies, but how learning is, could and will change and evolve forward in the future.

Let’s sample a bit of how this concept of “liquidity” works with the idea of learning by repurposing some of Kevin Kelly’s quotes (in bold) around this idea of the “liquidity” of music and how it could be used to stretch our idea of learning…

“Once something, like music, is digitized, it becomes a liquid that can be flexed and linked.” –via The Inevitable

Once something, like learning, is digitized, it becomes a liquid that can be flexed and linked.

“The superconductivity of digitalization had unshackled music from its narrow confines on a vinyl disk and thin oxide tape.”  -via The Inevitable

The superconductivity of digitalization has unshackled learning from its narrow confines of the book and written page.

“Now you could unbundle a song from its four-minute package, filter it, bend it, archive it, rearrange it, remix it, mess with it.”  -via The Inevitable

Now you can unbundle the written work from a text, filter it, bend it, archive it, rearrange it, remix it, and mess with it.

“What counts are not the number of copies but the number of ways a copy can be linked, manipulated, annotated, tagged, highlighted, bookmarked, translated, and enlivened by other media.”  -via The Inevitable

What counts are not the number of texts, books, and blogs, but the number of ways they can be linked, manipulated, annotated, tagged, highlighted, bookmarked, translated, and enlivened by other media.

These are just a few of the examples in the ways we can begin to consider how not just literacy, but learning itself can be “liquified” for the future.  Especially in a time of shifting from consumption to creation.  As Kevin Kelly shares in The Inevitable, “Liquidity brings a new ease to creation.”

As these exponential shifts and disruptions continue to spread across the societal ecosystem, we can no longer believe that it will have no effect on the future of learning.

In the words of Kevin Kelly, we will need to begin to…

“Think of the world flowing.”

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

Leading In The Future: Cognitive Load Management

“Not only did we fail to imagine what the web would become, we still don’t see it today.  We are oblivious to the miracle it has blossomed into.  Twenty years after its birth the immense scope of the web is hard to fathom.  The total number of web pages including those that are dynamically created upon request, exceeds 60 trillion.  That’s almost 10,000 pages per person alive.  And this entire cornucopia has been created in less than 8,000 days.”  -Kevin Kelly The Inevitable

And it is not just how fast data is being created, it is how much…

According to Northeastern University, we are producing 2.5 Exabytes of data every day, which is equivalent to: 530,000,000 millions songs, 150,000,000 iPhones, 5 million laptops, 250,000 Libraries of Congress, and 90 years of HD video.

To add to that…

Technology Futurist Michel Zappa adds, “Every minute we are bombarded (or at least have access to) 3 days’ worth of information that we didn’t have a minute earlier, which means almost 12 years worth of new content is accessible to us every day”

And the amount of data being produced is growing fast, we are no longer just consumers of information, but creators of that data.

Which provides incredible opportunity and benefits for our modern day learning organizations, as well as overwhelming ramifications and disconnects for the individuals in those same organizations, that we must also acknowledge.

Which means that new ideas such as ‘cognitive load management’ will not only be seen as an important work skill of the future, but a necessary capacity and skill-set required of today’s organizational leaders.  Especially when you consider the definition that the Institute for the Future provides for ‘cognitive load management’ as being the “ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques.”

If we are to create greater levels of organizational learning, creativity and innovation, in a time of overwhelming and oversaturated data flows, then ‘cognitive load management’ must be a deep and intentional leadership consideration if we are to create the space and focus for our organizational learning to be focused and effective.

Too often, we have overloaded our individual and organizational circuits beyond capacity, leaving little to no room or energy for new learning to exist and take root.

In any change or shift process, especially when new learning is involved,  balancing the ‘cognitive load’ provides people the space and energy to invest in evolving their mental models and expanding their current cognitive limits.  Unfortunately, however, when our systems are neither efficient nor effective, when ‘cognitive load management’ is not taken into account, our individual and organizational cognitive capacity is often tied up in unproductive ways that neither support individuals nor the organization.

Awareness and skill-sets such as ‘cognitive load management’ will be just one of the new capacities and capabilities of today’s modern leaders.  Especially as we encounter this weighted shift in our modern organizations of moving further away from the technical problems of the past to more and more of the adaptive challenges of an unknown future.

Ideas such as ‘cognitive load management’ will serve as one of the many new adaptive challenges that will face today’s organizational leaders as the rise in information and connectivity expands exponentially across our organizational and societal ecosystems.  Especially if we are to ensure that our cognitive and collaborative efforts are not wasted on the misalignments in the system and unnecessary information flows that often inundate our organizations into the ineffectiveness that comes with constant capacity overload.

“A world rich in information streams in multiple formats and from multiple devices brings the issue of cognitive overload to the fore.  Organizations and workers will only be able to turn the massive influx of data into an advantage if they can learn to effectively filter and focus on what is important.”  -via The Institute For The Future