Stranded In The Future


Leaders are effectively preparing to leave people stranded in the future…by not preparing our organizations and the individuals within, for the coming turbulence of future shifts in the present.

As Thomas Frey, Senior Futurist at the Davinci Institute shares, “Humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in all of human history.”  Changes that we see accelerating forward more and more, faster and faster, day by day.  We find that we are definitely living in much more exponential times.  For which Frey adds to these coming changes, “Risk factors will increase exponentially.”  

The bells of change are clanging all around us, but it is up to us to determine if we are going to pay attention to their ringing.  A ringing that is becoming more incessant and accelerated as each day goes by.  Changes that are broad and deep in their scope and intention, especially in how the shifts are and will alter our world and how we live and work forever.  We hear of automation and artificial intelligence that is aiming at ending jobs in certain sectors, or of driverless cars focused on eliminating the necessity for ownership.

How these changes will affect us in the future is yet to be seen, be that positive or negative.  We just know that it will be different…

More and more, in the face of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that these shifts are creating, the more proactive we can and must be in preparing and future-casting our way forward, then the better prepared we will be to face these changes with greater awareness, adaptability and agility.

Which will be vital in preparing our organizations and people for the future, especially as we see the disruptive nature of the changes that lie before us now and on the horizon.

Whether it is in the next 5 or 20 years, there is this expectation that we are going to see big changes and shifts in and coming to our institutions and organizations, such as government, healthcare, education, as well as the economy and finance, work and jobs, basic services, technology, including automation and artificial intelligence, communication, transportation and delivery, manufacturing and construction, and even the foods we eat and produce.

The thing is that we cannot say how or when these changes will occur, or even if they will occur.  But preparing for these kinds of shifts and changes in rigorous in its proposition.  

Which means that being proactive in preparing assures that we are not being reactive and flat-footed when and if these changes do come.  As Hemingway says, “Gradually, then suddenly.”  Relevance is often lost when we find ourselves lulled into a sense of complacency during the “gradually” period, being left in a reactive and overwhelmed state when “suddenly” appears.

When our organizations and individuals don’t prepare for next steps in the present of the “gradually” then we find ourselves stranded in the future when the state of “suddenly” arrives, often in a volatile fashion.

We have to be aware that we are living in a very different world that is accelerating at a much more turbulent pace, which requires greater awareness, especially of our thinking towards our systems and processes if we are going to become and stay future ready.  Which takes not only a greater level of systems thinking, but design thinking as well.

There will always be fear and anxiety in considering the future, especially a future that is claiming such exponential shifts and disruptions, but having greater awareness and clarity of these coming changes will not only provide the urgency, but the proactive preparation to push past the uncertainty that often mires us in stasis and static ways of doing and being.

In times of accelerated change, disruption and discontinuity, how we leverage these shifts and changes will determine our future relevance.

Which requires us to begin to ask very different questions: How do we prepare for a jobless future?  A gig economy?  A workforce possibly decimated by automation and artificial intelligence?  What do these changes mean for our organizations, institutions and the future of work?  How does it change the focus of education in preparing our students for this future?

Asking these questions not only allows us to get better at designing, iterating and test-driving our way forward into the future…

It allows us to not leave our people and our organizations stranded in the future.

“We are thinking about the future in a local and linear fashion…today we live in a world that is global and exponential.”  -Peter Diamondis

Test-Driving Our Future


“Today we are again in the early stages of defining a new age.  The very underpinnings of our society and institutions – from how we work to how we create value, govern, trade, learn, and innovate – are being profoundly reshaped by amplified individuals.  We are indeed all migrating to a new land and should be looking at the new landscape emerging before us like immigrants: ready to learn a new language, a new way of doing things, anticipating new beginnings with a sense of excitement, if also with a bit of understandable trepidation.”  -Marina Gorbis The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World

Today’s leaders will need to become much more adept at test-driving our future, continually preparing their leadership and their organization for a much more VUCA World, one rife with…

Volatility of change,

Uncertainty of the future,

Complexity of systems,

Ambiguity of next steps.

For many, test-driving our future in a much more VUCA World will feel a lot like hydroplaning, where there is this overall sense that we have lost traction and our ability to effectively steer, brake and and retain power of control has abandoned us, while we continue to accelerate.  Leaving us with this feeling that we are sliding uncontrollably into our future.  Conditions under which we will have to make crucial decisions that will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of our leadership and our organizations.

Which will require some counter-intuity in how we steer our leadership and our organizations into this VUCA future.

Especially in this state of emergence we currently find our leadership and organizational systems, structures and processes entangled and struggling to pull free from, one of efficiency and sustainability.  This emerging effort to escape the confines of more efficiency and sustainability, to a future squarely focused on greater effectiveness and adaptability.

In the midst of the changes and transformations we are currently and will face, we would be well to remember that efficient is not always effective, and effective is not always efficient, even though the gravitational pull of the past will tell us different.  Learning to become more agile and adaptable as leaders and organizations often runs counter-intuitive to the systems, structures and processes that were created for the institutions and organizations of our past and present.

Designing different will be a necessity…

As Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity is Near shares, “What we spend our time on is probably the most important decision we make.”  Which will require a much more proactive approach to the future, both as leaders and organizations.  We must become much more interested in the design of things; our systems, our processes, our institutions, our organizations, and how we allow new ideas to not only infiltrate, but engage us in experimental and discovery learning that influences the next steps of that design.

We can choose to continually look forward in a linear and predictable manner…or we can learn to engage an ‘around the corner’ way of thinking and seeing our way into this future.

Because we do have a choice…

We can choose to turn into the turbulence of this unknown, volatile and accelerated future, or we can choose decelerate and pull over to the predictability and safety of the past.  For many leaders and organizations, this is a choice that has determined a future of (gain) relevance, or one of (loss) irrelevance.

It is not only the pace and acceleration of change and transformation, but how these often exponential shifts effect how we lead and our organizations operate that makes us feel like we are hydroplaning uncontrollably into the future.  Especially when we realize we cannot predict this future, no matter how hard we try.

But we can begin fore and future-cast it.  

In the midst of the complexity and turbulence that this accelerated VUCA future produces, we can become much more adept at seeing patterns and determining the disparate dots that are in need of connecting, that will lead us forward in a much more effective and adaptable way.  Seeing these patterns and dots emerge will allow us to better question and accelerate past the conventional wisdom that often keeps us confined to the same lane and same speed that we’ve always traveled.

And it begins with awareness…

Awareness of these patterns is paramount if we are to ever consider how we will begin to parallel pace these shifts, if we are to become much more adept at connecting the disparate dots that surround us.  It will be those connections that will eventually lead us forward into the future in a much more creative and innovative manner.

Change begins with a thought, it morphs into an idea, and transforms with an action.

“To be a futurist, in pursuit of improving reality, is not to have your face continually turned upstream, waiting for the future to come.  To improve reality is to clearly see where you are, and then wonder how to make that better.”  -Warren Ellis


The Tipping Point To Transformation


“Our distributed technology infrastructure, however, is increasingly de-gridding not only our communication but also our social and economic landscapes, with value flowing not through centralized nodes but through many more much smaller nodes; us, individuals.”  -Marina Gorbis via The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World

And it is disrupting everything.

Or as Gorbis adds in The Nature of the Future, “We are quickly finding out that when we go from a centralized communications infrastructure to a distributed one, when we connect everything and everyone, the result is not just to make things faster, better, and bigger.  The social system itself acquires a fundamentally different quality: it becomes more diversified, more emergent, and often unpredictable.”

It is not just the acceleration of change, but the speed of how change is evolving itself that is becoming so disruptive to the world around us.  Every day, we are finding our idea of possible being shifted in incremental and exponential ways.  It is this constant emergence of the new, and not knowing who or where that shift will arise from, that is causing such volatility, unpredictability, complexity and ambiguity in how we now see and face the future.

It is not just the technologies themselves, but the possibilities they create, that is often unraveling our often static view of the future.  And each new possibility arrives with a plethora of AND’s, with both positives AND negatives.  Disrupting us professionally AND personally, as individuals AND organizations, internally AND externally.  And it is affecting everything.

Amazon Go, Google Deep Mind, IBM Watson, Driverless cars, Mass Personalization, Big Data, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Augmented Reality, 3D Printing, are just a sampling of how technology is not only changing our world, but how we live and work, from our institutions to our organizations, from government, to health, and education.  And it is the speed at which these technologies emerge and evolve, that is not only accelerating this change in our world, but inserting much more volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity into these shifts.

It is this disruptive nature and accelerated pace of change that is going to require our leaders and organizations to not only be much more aware, but more proactive in how we approach the future.  Too often we find ourselves and our organizations flat-footed, caught off-guard, and reactionary in our stance to these shifts.

As they say, “we shape our tools, then our tools shape us” is very appropriate for understanding today’s world. However, it is not just us, but our organizations and institutions, as well.  And it is changing everything.

The ongoing emergence of the new will require us as individuals, as well as our leaders and organizations, to realize that we have all become beginner’s in this new world.  Understanding this shift, tempering our expert mindset, will allow us to fully realize that our greatest asset moving forward, if we are to begin to parallel pace this turbulent pace of change, will be and remain our ability to learn.

It will be our tipping point for transformation.

“Shaped by technologies we are only beginning to deploy, the very underpinnings of our society and institutions – from how we work to how we create value, govern, trade, learn, and innovate – are being reshaped.  All the systems built on top of the distributed technology infrastructure – governance, education, manufacturing – are undergoing this transformation.”  -Marina Gorbis via The Nature of the Future: Dispatches from the Socialstructed World

Organizational Agility Requires Agile Leadership


“As change accelerates, so does uncertainty and novelty: future threats and opportunities are harder to predict, and emerging challenges increasingly include novel elements.  Further, with the globalization of the economy and the spread of connective technologies, it’s increasingly clear that we live in a diverse planetary village where everything is connected with everything else.”  -via Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery For Anticipating and Initiating Change

We live in a world that is constantly under pressure from the continual turbulence created by this accelerated pace of change and the volatility that it invokes, in our organizations, our leadership and our lives.

And it can feel very unsettling…

It’s as if everything we do, create and design now lives in a constant state of beta, especially as we discover what was urgent and necessary today has become irrelevant and unnecessary tomorrow.  Too often we find ourselves in a search for sustainability, in a world that now requires greater agility and adaptability.  Which makes the idea of continuous improvement that much more difficult in the future.  More and more we are finding that adaptability and agility are not just necessary leadership skill-sets, they are vital modern day organizational mindsets.

In the past we built the ship to sustain, now we must build it to adapt.

Unfortunately, in many ways our organizations tend to remain grounded in hierarchical ways of doing and being, steeped in traditional leadership focused linearity and certainty, so focused on providing the best answer that we have often lost sight of whether or not we are even asking the right question(s).  Reframing this will be necessary for the future of our leadership and our organizations.  Especially as Joiner and Josephs share in Leadership Agility we see that, “The pace of change will continue to increase, and the level of complexity and interdependence will continue to grow.”

We have to recognize that permanence is an illusion that today’s VUCA World no longer affords us or our organizations and willingness to proactively adapt and remain agile is necessary to create ongoing relevance.  In most organizations, we continue to try and converge to simple solutions too quickly.  Instead, we must learn, especially in the face of the turbulence created by this accelerated pace of change, to inhale the complexity and spend more time wrestling with big questions.  Which will require today’s leaders to remain learners, focused on enhancing, evolving and engaging new skill-sets and capacities.

In Leadership Agility, Joiner and Josephs discuss that “in turbulent organizational environments (leaders) exhibit four mutually reinforcing competencies:” 

Context-setting agility improves your ability to scan your environment, frame the initiatives you need to take, and clarify the outcomes you need to achieve”

Stakeholder agility increases your ability to engage with key stakeholders in ways that build support for your initiative.”

Creative agility enables you to transform the problems you encounter into the results you need.”

Self-leadership agility is the ability to use your initiatives as opportunities to develop into the kind of leader you want to be.”

As we consider and design our way forward, both as leaders and organizations, the more we enhance our leadership skill-sets and capacities the greater our ability to parallel pace the accelerated pace of change we are faced with in today’s world, the greater our ability to adapt and remain agile in the face of the turbulence created by today’s VUCA World.  The greater our relevance in a world focused on discontinuity and obsolescence.

Which is why consideration of the four competencies above increases our ability to evolve more fluidly into the future, both as organizations and leaders.

“To develop organizations that are effective in anticipating and responding to change and complexity, we need agile leaders – not just at the top but at all organizational levels.”  -via Bill Joiner and Stephen Josephs Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery For Anticipating and Initiating Change

All Aboard The VUCA Train: Using The 8A’s Framework To Ride These Rails Of Tension


“In these troubled times, many leaders are judging too simplistically.  Others are deciding too late and paying a price for their slowness or lack of courage.  Such leadership responses are understandable, but they are also dysfunctional and dangerous.”  -Bob Johansen Leaders Make The Future: Ten New Leadership Skills For An Uncertain World

Knowing this does not necessarily make leadership any easier in today’s VUCA World.  Or as Bob Johansen adds, “If you are not confused by current events, you are not paying attention.”

And the more we do pay attention, the more we find that we are crawling out of a hole that was previously enveloped by a severe focus on efficiency and predictability, a world where we saw constancy and linearity as positive processes to overcome the technical problems of our day.

Unfortunately, the farther we continue to crawl from this hole, the more we find our leadership and organizations have been thrust into a very different world, one that has been overtaken by exponential shifts and unsolvable adaptive challenges for which our linear and predictable processes of efficiency are no longer useful or effective.  A world marred by new levels of chaos and complexity where the solutions to these challenges lay far beyond the veneer options of “Googling it” or dropping down a “what to do” binder from high above.

Or as Jeremy Gutsche shares in his book Better and Faster, “It’s the opposite of painting by the numbers.  There are no numbers.  And sometimes there’s no paint.”

Inability to recognize these shifts, often leaves our leaders and organizations riding the hamster wheel, spending inordinate amounts of time providing the right answers to the wrong questions.  We live in a world where we have to get much better at understanding the complexity and the depth of the challenges that we are currently facing, especially if we are to get our people and organizations to a place of creating greater solutions.

While we cannot predict this future that is whirling at us in a much more accelerated manner, we can begin to do the work that allows us to forward-cast both an individual and organizational “point of view” for the future.  One that pushes us past the current chaos, beyond the voluminous noise, chatter and turbulence created by this increased pace of change, so that we may better focus our filter to the array of options and opportunities that lay hidden in this vast unknown we now face.

Inability to push past the complexity of the present, inhibits our proactive proficiency towards designing our way forward into the future, which often leaving us mired in a foggy, murkiness, held back by mental models that keep us entrenched in our past and present.  In other words, inability to future-cast and engage ‘around the corner’ thinking is often a hardline to irrelevance in today’s VUCA World.  To overcome this hardline, we will not only need to engage new learning, abilities and skill-sets, we must also look at the processes and drivers that allow us to engage a much more future-focused mindset.

Such as incorporating the 8A’s Framework as a process to initiate future-casting and push our leadership and organizational thinking forward…


AWARENESS:  We begin with “awareness” and gaining a greater perception of how the world has and is changing.  Realizing the pace and turbulence of change is accelerating is paramount to seeing how the current digital transformation is disrupting our world in exponential ways, both in our personal and professional lives. Awareness of these shifts and how they are changing the world now, will allow us to better future-cast towards the changes to come.

AND:  It is no longer an either/or world, rather it has quickly become an “and” world.  The quicker we learn to ride this tension of “and” as leaders and organizations, the faster we will move from a focus on efficiency to one of effectiveness.

AMBIGUITY:  We live in a world that is no longer certain.  Yet, many of today’s leaders remain focused on creating a sense and semblance of safety and permanence throughout their organization.  However, if today’s VUCA World has taught us anything, it has taught us there is no permanence in a world focused on “accelerated obsolescence.”  So, we push forward with more linear and predictable ways of approaching our work, which does more to create greater uncertainty and incoherence than clarity, especially as our people and organizations lay witness to a world speeding up and quickly moving past them.  Today’s leaders need to focus more on capacity-creating if we are to better equip our people and organizations to grapple and grow a greater tolerance for the increased “ambiguity” that is invading this VUCA World.

ADAPTABILITY:  Creating “adaptability” will be founded in our ability to create environments of learnability in our organizations.  As times change, so do the abilities and skill-sets that once defined us as individuals and organizations.  This ability to learn, unlearn and be reflective of how our mental models push in on these processes will be vital to how effectively we can adapt to the exponential shifts inherent in a VUCA World.  Creating this environment of constant learning and “adaptability” will be a defining ability and skill-set of today’s modern leaders.

AGILITY:  Many of today’s organizations operate like the Titanic, unable to see the obstacles that they are facing and too late to turn once they are finally recognized.  Modern organizations are not only going to need to be much better at adapting to a shifting world, they will need to operate in a much more agile manner.  Moving to the opportunities that rise out of the complexity and chaos of a VUCA World will be paramount to ongoing relevance.

AMPATHY:  Organizations and their leaders must not only be much more aware, but much more vigilant in their efforts to amplify empathy across and at all levels of the organization.  The VUCA World requires a village and an “all hands on deck” approach to this work.  Gaining greater levels of empathy, especially at the leadership level, creates the relationships and trust necessary to allow our organizations to move much more fluidly through these 8A’s and the VUCA we are facing in today’s world.

ACCELERATE:  As the pace of change accelerates, especially in the midst of this volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of this world, so must the pace of our organizations and leadership.  This is not to say we can parallel pace this acceleration and exponential shifts that are gripping our societal ecosystem, however, we have to begin to be much more strategic in how we move our organizations forward into the future.  We are going to have to become much more fitter and cognitively stronger to survive this amplified pace that the VUCA World is serving up to our systems.

AWE:  Our leaders and organizations not only have to find the opportunity amidst the current chaos and complexity of this world, they must also engage a vision that moves their people and organization forward.  A vision that inspires awe and how being a part of this work and vision ultimately allows us to be part of something bigger and greater than ourselves.  Finding these opportunities and spaces where “awe” can be created will not be easy, but necessary in moving our organizations and people forward in a much more relevant manner and way.

And while these 8A’s will not provide us the ability to predict the future, they do provide a framework for our leaders and organizations to forward-cast a future “point of view” that makes our approach to designing the future both accessible and actionable.  It is a much more proactive approach to how we will determine to ride this VUCA Train that we’ve all received a ticket to ride.

In most organizations and systems, we have been determined to converge to simple solutions much too quickly.  We have to learn to inhale the complexity and chaos that this new world is creating, which will allow us to better engage and wrestle with the big questions and challenges that currently are and will be facing our organizations.  In the midst of this upheaval, our first response is to look to create order.  Instead, choose to make your first step towards finding the opportunities that lie hidden in this vast new unknown.  It is only in this proactive approach, that we will ultimately design a better future for our people and our organizations.

“Organizations are often blind to emerging complexity, characterized by unexpected opportunities and disruptive change.”  -via Theory U: Leading From The Future As It Emerges

What Is Our Future POV?


The problem with how we think about the future is very often how we think about the future…

How strategically are we framing our idea of the future?

Are we considering how effectively we are designing our systems for an unknown and rapidly changing future?

Are we reflecting on the variety of ways our current mental models are diminished by past thinking and past practices and limit how effectively we move future?

Are we able to wrestle positively with the tension created by the accelerating pace, speed and turbulence of change?

How engaging and shared is the vision and big opportunities we’ve determined create greater urgency to move our individuals and organization towards an action and next steps?

Remember, it is not just in thinking about what shifts and changes will come in the future…

It is also in considering what stays the same?

In many ways we have to move from thinking about the future, to thinking for the future.  We must learn how to become much more proactive in how we frame, forecast, chart and design our way forward into this unknown and uncertain future.

As Steve Case shares in his book The Third Wave, “It starts with developing a point of view – a hypothesis that the world is changing.  Just the simple act of a CEO embracing and articulating such a world view is critical.  It’s a way of delegating a mix of paranoia and curiosity, making people a little nervous and getting them out of their comfort zones. It’s also a way of expressing optimism, rather than dread, about the future – which naturally gets employees to pay more regular focused attention to what is happening around the edges of your industry, with an eye toward what may happen next.”

Too often, we lack any type of point of view for the future.  We might have a vision.  We might even have determined the big opportunity in front of us.  But we haven’t truly created an idea or “point of view” on how we plan on approaching the future.

We see it as far off star that is not necessary for us to worry about in the present.  We fail to see the necessity and urgency to begin designing our systems, organizations and individuals on how to proactively meet and move into the future in a much more relevant and effective manner.

Which may be just what we need…

To begin to determine what our individual and organizational “point of view” for the future is before it’s too late.  Before it upon us.  Especially as the pace and speed of change in today’s world continues to rev up and accelerate at an often unfathomable rate.

Or as Steve Case puts forth in The Third Wave, “Incumbents often fail because they underestimate the speed at which the future is approaching.”  Or as he adds, “Objects in the mirror are closer – far closer – than they appear.”



Considering An AGILE Approach Towards The Speed Of Change And Accelerated Obsolescence


“We believe the real secret sauce in looking to the future and staying agile lies in your organization’s openness and receptivity to new possibilities.”  -via Focused, Fast & Flexible

As times change, so do the abilities and skillsets that once defined us as individuals and organizations.  We are finding more and more that what was relevant today, is often irrelevant tomorrow.  The increasing pace of change is teaching us that learning and unlearning will become a much more natural part of who we are and what we do if we are to avoid what many see as a world being defined by “accelerated obsolescence.”

To avoid approaching this concept of constant learning and unlearning in a reactive and often antiquated manner, we will have to be much more proactive in the depth and breadth of the idea flow that we funnel through and determine to curate forward as individuals and organizations.  We will have to stretch and pull from sources beyond our current circumstances if we are connect these dots forward in much more imaginative, creative and innovative ways.

Which means we will also have to become much more agile and adaptive in our learning and unlearning ability, understanding when a linear approach suffices…and when a pivot is necessary and needed to avoid stifling and pushing our systems, organizations and individuals into disorder and dysfunctional structures and processes.

Inability to have awareness beyond our current circumstances will limit the depth and breadth of the dots that will be necessary and needed to connect our way forward proactively through a much more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world of “accelerate obsolescence.”

Creating this environment of constant learning and adaptability will not only require new dots to be connected, it will be a defining ability and skillset of today’s modern leaders.

Drawing from a depth and breadth of models and drivers will allow us to not only connect these dots more relevantly, but allow us to proactively face the turbulence brought on by the pace of change in a much more dynamic and positive manner, both for our individuals and organizations.

As we look to add more breadth and depth to the dots we connect, The AGILE Model may be one of those models and drivers that may be worth exploring as a proactive approach to keeping pace with the now disruptive speed of change that we now face.  According to Horney and O’Shea in their work Focused, Fast & Furious, “In The Agile Model, agility for organizations, teams and leaders is driven by five critical abilities: Anticipating change, Generating confidence, Initiating action, Liberating thinking and Evaluating results.”

Here are a few snippets that Horney and O’Shea provide in their book, Focused, Fast & Furious on defining those AGILE drivers:

  • “The ability to anticipate change requires you to pay systematic attention…you must have effective processes for visioning, sensing and monitoring.”
  • “The ability to generate confidence requires you to address issues related to how your people feel about their capacities…you must have effective processes of connecting, aligning, and engaging.”
  • “The ability to liberate thinking requires you to assure that your organization has the means to originate and incorporate new ideas…creating a supportive environment to build capacity and energy for innovation.”
  • The ability to evaluate results requires you to align vision to action…acquiring the knowledge and facts necessary to learn from and improve the actions you and your organization take.”

All of which allow us, both as  individuals and organizations, to remain more agile and adaptive in how we approach our work, our processes, our structures and our systems.

However, in the end…

If we are unable to effectively consider our current ways of doing and being and not determine why a change would be of a benefit, then our ability to learn and unlearn no longer serves an advantage as much as it adds to the current disorder and dysfunction that tends to bury our organizations in stasis and status quo.

Seeing beyond our current circumstances, engaging ideas and concepts that provide new dots in often unknown spaces, allows us the ability to not only make our organizational environments for our individuals more creative and innovative, but provides the impetus to remain more relevant in the face of the unrelenting pace and speed of change that has been thrust upon us.

In being open and receptive to new possibilities, we find that we can learn to outpace a world dominated by “accelerated obsolescence.”