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.”

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

Future Shifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future-Casting: Exploring An Exponential Mindset

“It is in the nature of exponential growth that events develop extremely slowly for extremely long periods of time, but as one glides through the knee of the curve, events erupt at an increasingly furious pace.  And that is what we will experience as we enter the twenty-first century.”  -via Ray Kurzweil Director of Engineering at Google and author of The Singularity Is Near

The future is not static…in fact, it is one of the greatest design challenges we face in today’s modern world.

And yet, what we often find is that we are ill-equipped for the future-casting necessary to better prepare ourselves for a world that has learned to accelerate the pace of our societal shifts.  In most cases, we find that we are not hard-wired for the non-linear, ‘around the corner’ thinking required to deal with the explosive shifts we are witnessing across society’s digital landscape.  In fact, we are hard-wired for a much more incremental, linear and predictable approach to change.

Which is leading to individual disconnects and an organizational decoupling.

As Moore’s Law and the Law of Accelerating Returns continues to play out, we become much more observant of the turbulent and exponential pace that is pushing greater levels of digital and technological disruption and transformation.  As Kurzweil shares in the Law of Accelerating Returns which states that “fundamental measures of information technology follow predictable and exponential trajectories.  The reality of information technology is it progresses exponentially.  30 steps linearly gets you to 30.  One, two, three, four, step 30 and you’re at 30.  With exponential growth, it’s one, two, four, eight.  Step 30, you’re at a billion.”

Which adds to the individual disconnects and organizational decoupling in today’s world.  When our mindsets are linearly and incrementally-focused, when our mental models are entrenched in the past and we find ourselves unable to see the possibilities of the future, we struggle to comprehend and enable a mindset that allows us to move past current limitations that inhibit us from dealing more effectively with the sheer pace and explosive magnitude of exponential growth.

As Peter Diamondis shares, “As humans we are biased to think linearly.  As entrepreneurs, we need to think exponentially.”  Diamondis adds, “People need to understand how exponential technologies are impacting the business landscape.  The need to do some future-casting and look at how industries are evolving and being transformed.”  

And not just business, but in education.  Today’s educators must be much more aware of these exponential shifts and how they are disrupting the future of work and how that disruption has deep implications for the focus of education if we are to prepare more effectively for the future of our students.

However, it is not just individuals who are hard-wired to progress in more incremental, predictable and linear ways, it is also entrenched and ingrained in our leadership, organizations and systems.  Which is leading to this decoupling between the digital and technological transformation taking place across the societal landscape and the speed at which our organizations are innovating and evolving into this much more unpredictable future.

So while this digital and technological transformation is shuttling forward at an often incomprehensible rate, many of our organizations remain buried in the stasis and status quo of linear reform efforts. 

Which is not to say that our organizations should or must move at the same turbulent pace of this transformational pace of change, however that is not to say that change isn’t necessary or needed.  In fact, the current pace at which we are innovating our organizations forward is leading to this decoupling which is leading many of our current organizations into future irrelevance.

In many ways, we need leaders and organizations that can begin to incorporate a very different way of thinking.  We need leaders and organizations that can begin to take on an exponential mindset.  A mindset that allows them to not only move beyond linear ways of thinking and reacting, but can allow them to connect dots that move them forward in a much more innovative, agile, adaptive, and relevant manner, especially as the disruptive manner of change in today’s world levies itself down upon our organizational structures, processes and systems.

As Jason Silva shares, “exponential emerging technological change runs counter-intuitive to the way our linear brains make projections about change, and so we don’t realize how fast the future if coming.”

Be clear, this is not about change for change’s sake.  This is not about engaging constant disruption.  Rather, it is about engaging a mindset (exponential) that allows our individuals, leadership and organizations to comprehend and reflect upon the linear nature that holds us back from engaging greater visions and seeing the plethora of new possibilities that lay before us.

So I will leave you (for now), with these words to reflect upon from Ray Kurzweil…

“Intuition is linear, our imaginations are weak.  Even the brightest of us only extrapolate from what we know now; for the most part, we’re afraid to really stretch.”  



Forging A Future Mindset

“Most change processes are superficial because they don’t generate the depth of understanding and commitment that is required for sustaining change in truly demanding circumstances.  Planning, deciding, and monitoring and controlling the ensuing process may be all that are needed in situations where change is essentially about reading to new circumstances but, when you’re facing very difficult issues or dilemmas, when very different people need to align in very complex settings, and when the future might really be very different from the past, a different process is required.”  -Adam Kahane via Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future

How we approach the future is going to be very important…

Even in today’s exponentially changing and shifting world, we still have this ingrained tendency to approach the very ‘idea’ of the future as this static and preordained process that we accept as an inevitable consequence of our past and present.  We tend to remain unable or unwilling to look at the future as an ongoing, evolving, active, and emergent process that we have actual influence over.  Instead, we take a more reactive than proactive approach to the emergent future.

We view the future with a ‘noun’ lens, rather than with a ‘verb’ view…

And when we do take a more proactive approach towards influencing the emerging future, we struggle to do it without dragging in preconceived models of the past.  Models that keep us entrenched and blinded from seeing its emergence without being anchored to the safety of our models of the past and present that impede and encroach on its progress.  Often hindering its ability to unfold freely and fully.

Imagine trying to blow up an air raft while it is still in the box it came in…

The future is in a constant, active state of emerging and realizing itself.  Yet, as individuals, organizations and systems, we do little to engage ourselves in the shaping of its emergence.  The future is not something we accept, we have to engage, or as Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski, and Flowers point to in their work Presence, “a different type of learning process where we learn instead from a future that has not yet happened and from continually discovering our part in bringing that future to pass.  Learning based on the past suffices when the past is a good guide to the future.  But it leave us blind to profound shifts when whole new forces shaping change arise.”

Which is the reality that we are being currently thrust into…

The past no longer “suffices” as a “guide” or support to take us effectively into this exponentially evolving future that we are facing as individuals and organizations.  In many ways, the past entrenches us in a reactive stance that ingrains present patterns, behaviors, processes, and models that keep the us from emerging more fully and proactively into the opportunities that the future may afford us.

To do this, we are going to have to create the space to more self-reflective and future-flective…

Or as Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski and Flowers share in Presence, “Slow down.  Observe.  Then act fast and with a natural flow that comes from the inner knowing.  You have to slow down long enough to really see what’s needed.  With a freshness of vision, you have the possibility of a freshness of action, and the overall response on a collective level can be much quicker than trying to implement hasty decisions that aren’t compelling to people.”  

Which must be part of a leaders reflective process.  Awareness.  Awareness of the busyness and urgency that creeps in and takes over.  It is difficult to engage in ‘forging a future mindset’ if we are constantly consumed by the busyness that surrounds and infiltrates our lives and our organizations.  We find ourselves consumed by the efficient and urgent, rather than the effective and important.  In many ways, it goes back to finding time to be slow, to go fast.

The future will be very different, we have the choice to fight and recoil from it, or we can determine to proactively see and influence its emergence…

Or as the authors of Presence provide that we “need to ‘sense an emerging future’ in order to meet the challenges of managing in an increasingly technology-based economy.  As the pace of technological development quickens, so does the rate of what the economist Joseph Schumpter called ‘creative destruction…”  They go on to add, “this leads to the continual forming, configuring, locking in, and decaying of structure.  Little is predictable or repetitive.  Problems are not well defined.  The rules of the game as well as the other players change rapidly as the stakes get increasingly higher.”  “In this kind of environment, making decisions based on the habits of past experience is no longer optimal – or wise.”

This is the new world and the future we face.

And we have a choice.

We can choose to positively influence or ultimately recoil from its emergence.