Our Creativity Bias

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“As important as creativity has been in our species’ recent centuries, it is the cornerstone for our next steps.  From our daily activities to our schools to our companies, we are all riding arm-in-arm into a future that compels a constant remodeling of the world.”  -via The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World by Eagleman and Brandt

And yet…

Research and studies inform us that we have a inherent bias against creativity, especially in leadership roles.  As Heidi Grant Halvorson shares in her 99u article, The Bias Against Creative Leaders…

“Our idea of a prototypical creative person is completely at odds with our idea of a prototypical effective leader.”

While David Burkus follows up in his article from The Creativity Post, Why Do We Keep Creative People Out Of Leadership Roles? of evidence published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by researchers Mueller, Goncalo and Kamdar that when they analyzed their findings on creativity and leadership…

“They found a negative correlation between creativity and leadership potential.  The employees were assuming that those with more creative ideas were less prepared to be leaders.”

However, the bias against creativity did not stop with leaders and leadership roles.  We actually harbor individual bias’ against creativity itself.  In a follow-up study led by Mueller it was found that “Participants said they desired creative ideas, but subconsciously rejected creativity.”  

For which Burkus adds…

“Perhaps the explanation for both studies is our preference for order and the status quo.  For an idea to be creative, it must be novel and useful.  For a leader to be creative, their ideas and methods must be novel and useful.  but if an idea is novel, it departs from the status quo or established order.  That same order is often used for evaluating whether the idea is useful.”

We know that our brains crave certainty.  And in the same way, even though we purport to be in favor of creativity, deep down, we still cling to order and the status quo.

As Eagleman and Brandt share in The Runaway Species

“This mandate for innovation is not reflected in our school systems. Creativity is a driver of youthful discovery and expression – but it becomes stifled in deference to proficiencies that are more easily measured and tested.  This sidelining of creative learning may reflect larger societal trends.  Teachers typically prefer the well-behaved student to the creative one, who is often perceived as rocking the boat.  A recent poll found that most Americans want children to have respect for elders over independence, good manners over curiosity, and would prefer them to be well behaved rather than creative.”

Which may be one of the reasons that our organizations deal much better with ideas of reform and incremental change, over disruptive, transformational and even exponential shifts.  Even though we love to hear the stories of the latter, we cling to the former.

If creativity is as important as we believe it to be for the future success of our individuals, organizations, and even society, as stated in the opening quote by Eagleman and Brandt, yet we inherently hold onto bias’ against creativity and creative leaders, then we will most assuredly continue to struggle to effectively move towards any type of deep transformation of our organizations and systems that move us beyond incremental changes that run in line with the current order of things.

And should not be surprised that we continue to march forward in a predictable, linear, status quo fashion.

“If we want a bright future for our children, we need to recalibrate our priorities.  At the speed the world is changing, the old playbooks for living and working will inevitably be supplanted – and we need to prepare our children to author the new ones.”  -via The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World

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At The Intersection Of Adaptive Leadership, Design And Systems Thinking

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“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:

  • The solution requires operating in a different way than you do now
  • The problem AND the solution require learning
  • The solution requires shifting authority and responsibility to the people who are actually affected
  • The solution requires some sacrifice of your past ways of working or living
  • The solution requires experimenting before you’re sure of the answer
  • The solution will take a long time
  • The challenge connects to people’s deeply held values

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…

  • Deep, persistent commitment to real learning
  • Be prepared to be wrong, reflecting on mental models
  • Gain a diversity of thinking and points of view, collective
  • Understanding the problems we are dealing with and gain some perspective on those problems

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

Future Thinking

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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

That World Doesn’t Exist Anymore…

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“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.)

Phone Booths…

(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…

  • Printing out photographs
  • Getting film developed
  • Movie rental stores and VCR’s
  • Record stores, buying CD’s
  • Fax machines
  • Backing up your data on floppies or CD’s
  • Long-distance charges
  • Phone books, dictionaries, encyclopedias
  • Checking a map before or during a car journey
  • Dial-up Internet
  • VHS Tapes

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…

  1. Insurance Underwriters and Claims Representatives
  2. Bank Tellers and Representatives
  3. Financial Analysts
  4. Construction Workers
  5. Inventory Managers and Stockists
  6. Farmers
  7. Taxi Drivers
  8. Manufacturing Workers
  9. Journalists
  10. Movie Stars

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.”

Experimentation Is Not An Event

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“The most important and visible outcropping of the action bias in the excellent companies is their willingness to try things out, to experiment.  There is absolutely no magic in the experiment.  It is simply a tiny completed action, a manageable test that helps you learn something, just as in high school chemistry.  But our experience has been that most big institutions have forgotten how to test and learn.  They seem to prefer analysis and debate to trying something out, and they are paralyzed by fear of failure, however small.”  -Tom Peters In Search of Excellence

Without experimentation we limit our opportunity to evaluate the value of new ideas and thinking.

Without experimentation we lack space to discover and engage new learning and knowledge.

Without experimentation we fail to have a process that invites innovation.

Without experimentation, we never become true learning organizations.

As Stefan Thomke shares in his work Experimentation Matters, “Experimentation matters because it fuels the discovery and creation of knowledge and thereby leads to the development and improvement of products, processes, systems, and organizations.”

In other words, experimentation allows us the space, the processes, and the opportunity to continually retool and upskill our thinking, our ideas, our processes, our systems, and our organizations.

It allows room for learning.

However, the problem with experimentation for many individuals and organizations begins with how we see experimentation, with our mindset.  Too often we treat experimentation like an event.  Something we do occasionally.

Rather than an iterative and reflective process for continually improving and determine how to get better.

Which means we are going to need to strip away the “event” aura that surrounds our idea and thinking in and about experimentation.  To begin to think of experimentation as something natural, something designed into the everyday processes of our organizations and systems.

To move from event thinking, to natural integration.

If we are going to transform ourselves and our organizations, both incrementally and exponentially, we have to begin to see exploration, experimentation and discovery as everyday processes intertwined and designed into our systems and organizations…not one time events that do little to move us towards that transformation and a mindset of continuous improvement.

Innovation is not determined by a well-defined plan, but discovered through ongoing experimentation, risk-taking, reflection, and feedback.  It is in this process that not only is new learning engaged, but very often, new knowledge is created.

When experimentation is intertwined and designed into an organization’s processes and systems, new learning and ongoing idea flows become a much more natural and open phenomena in and across the organization.

Which is the very foundation of what a learning organization should be.

For far too long, individuals and organizations have limited themselves to becoming initiative implementers, which is the antithesis of the autonomy and learning that is required for organizations to retain relevance in an accelerated world shifting at a volatile and exponential pace.

If we truly intend to become learning individuals and organizations, we have to determine how to work discovery, exploration, experimentation, creativity and innovation back into our individual and organizational DNA.

Divergent Thinking + Creativity = Big Ideas

Big Ideas + Experimentation + Execution = Innovation

Innovation + Technology = Acceleration

Acceleration + Network Learning = Collective Impact

Learning Organization

“Perhaps the attribute most critical to a learning organization is experimentation.”  -via Exponential Organizations

The Future Will Be Very Different (Part 2)

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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…

  • Have a lack of awareness
  • A lack of vision
  • A lack of clarity
  • A lack of communication

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

Building Adaptive Capacity

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“When people look to authorities for easy answers to adaptive challenges, they end up with dysfunction.  They expect the person in charge to know what to do, and under the weight of that responsibility, those in authority frequently end up faking it or disappointing people, or they get spit out of the system in the belief that a new “leader” will solve the problem.”  

“In fact, there’s a proportionate relationship between risk and adaptive change: The deeper the change and the greater the amount of new learning required, the more resistance there will be and, thus, the greater the danger to those who lead.  For this reason, people often try to avoid the dangers, either consciously or subconsciously, by treating an adaptive challenge as if it were a technical one.  This is why we see so much more routine management than leadership in our society.”  -Heifetz and Linsky Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading

Which is one of the greatest challenges that stands before our educational organizations and leaders at this very moment in time…

The understanding that we have made a radical shift from technical problems to the amount of adaptive challenges and dilemmas that we now and will face.

For this reason, it will be in our ability to create greater organizational and individual capacity that we will be better equipped to face and come to terms with these rising adaptive challenges and dilemmas that are coming at us.

However, before moving any farther forward, let’s take a moment for Heifetz and Linsky to create a deeper understanding around what separates, or serves as the main difference between what is seen as a technical problem from which we view an adaptive challenge and/or dilemma.

“What makes a problem technical is not that it is trivial; but simply that its solution already lies within the organization’s repertoire.  In contrast, adaptive pressures force the organization to change, lest it decline.” 

To add, what separates a “technical problem” from an “adaptive challenge” is that there are no absolute answers to adaptive challenges and/or dilemmas.  Whereas, while a technical issue may be difficult, we answers to those problems.  Answers exist, be that from internally or externally of our organization.

Whereas, with adaptive challenges, there are often no set answers to solving the dilemma.  Very often, they require deeper questions and the willingness of individuals and the organization to grapple their way forward.  Or as Heifetz and Linsky add in Leadership on the Line, “We call these adaptive challenges because they require experiments, new discoveries, and adjustments from numerous places in the organization or community.  Without learning new ways-changing attitudes, values, and behaviors-people cannot make the adaptive leap necessary to thrive in the new environment.  The sustainability of change depends on having the people with the problem internalize the change itself.”

Facing our adaptive challenges and dilemmas require our ability to constantly create and build up our adaptive capacity.  Which means that new and ongoing learning, as well as engaging greater agility and adaptability, has to be built up across and at all levels of the organization.  Which means…

“Just tell me what to do” can no longer be an unwritten motto that sweeps across the entirety of our organizations.  

Instead, learning has to become the new constant, with a focus on deeper questions, not easy answers.

We have to learn to become more agile and adaptable, both as individuals and organizations.  And we have to be able to stand longer under the weight of big questions.  In other words, we have to learn how to grapple…

We have to learn to be able to grapple in the face of uncertainty, in the face of accelerated change, in the face of unknowns, in the face of the adaptive challenges and dilemmas we now face, as well as those in the future.

Unfortunately, as Heifetz and Linsky share in Leadership on the Line“In the face of adaptive pressures, people don’t want questions; they want answers.  They don’t want to be told that they will have to sustain losses; rather, they want to know how you’re going to protect the from the pains of change.”

Which means that leading adaptive work, leading people through adaptive challenges and dilemmas, and creating adaptive capacity, will be both the greatest and most difficult work that any leader and organization will ever embark upon.

Creating adaptive capacity to face the challenges and dilemmas of today’s modern world is difficult work, to say the least.  It means going against the norm of most leadership.

We hire leaders to provide a sense of stability, a sense of safety.  Whereas, the work of building up the adaptive capacity of an organization requires provoking that safety, of pulling people out of the comfortable, of unentrenching them from the status quo ways of doing and being that they come to know; which can mean difficult days ahead, and very often spell disaster for any leader.

But that is what is required, if adaptive capacity is to become both the individual and organizational objective.

This is deep work.  It forces individuals and organizations to move past a veneer way of working.  It requires depth of trust, depth of relationships, and a depth of understanding around their values and vision.  It takes a willingness to be vulnerable.  It takes a willingness to face loss.  It takes a willingness to become and stay a learner.  And it takes a willingness and want to get better…each and every day.

It is in that space, in that willingness to grapple both as individuals and organizations, that adaptive capacity is created and sustained.

I will leave you with these words from Heifetz and Linsky from Leadership on the Line and a question…

“Generally, people will not authorize someone to make them face what they do not want to face.  Instead, people hire someone to provide protection and ensure stability, someone with solutions that require a minimum of disruption.  But adaptive work creates risk, conflict, and instability because addressing the issues underlying adaptive problems may involve upending deep and entrenched norms.  Thus, leadership requires disturbing people-but at a rate they can absorb.”

What are you willing to disturb?