As a leader intent on designing a different kind of future for your organization, where do you start? Some answers are obvious, albeit not necessarily easy to implement. Simply put, you have to boldly start doing things differently. Change comes from questioning heretofore unassailable conventions and smashing the paradigms.
If that’s the answer, why is it so difficult to do? The are a number of reasons. For starters, far too many senior executives today are in denial, readily dismissing disquieting developments as either implausible or inconsequential to their business. This conclusion stems from the delusional belief that their current business model or strategy is inherently superior. After all, their dominant skill sets, beliefs and perhaps also their careers are inextricably tied to dealing with “what is” not “what might be.” Hence, it is difficult to conceive of alternatives that may cast doubt on their current self-reaffirming convictions.
These old-school leaders have invested a great deal of emotional capital in convincing others of the rightness of their existing direction and the concomitant allocation of precious resources. Such rigid thinking prevents a dramatic change in course. However obvious the need, change is threatening to their comfort zone, their perquisites and their power. Indeed, the more power is consolidated in the hands of the few at the top of the organization, the less adaptable and open to new ideas that organization becomes.
This type of thinking is clearly wrong-headed. Not doing things differently, and relentlessly so, is to succumb to The Insanity Principle – doing the same things in the same way and expecting the results to (somehow) be different than they’ve always been. Here are five suggestions for stopping the insanity:
Listen to new voices. Many organizations are genetically unequipped to deal with the future. That’s largely because the same people always have a say in determining the future direction. A lack of diversity of viewpoints makes it difficult to understand and then exploit the forces that are shaping the future and which can be leveraged to create value. Leaders need to bring new voices into the discussion, especially those who can envision new possibilities and are willing to challenge the old perspectives and mental models that constrain the organization from achieving its potential.
Initiate new conversations. Good strategy depends not only on involving a diversity of voices but on ensuring connections between those voices. The conversations must cross the boundaries of function, technology, hierarchy, business units and geography. If the same people continue to have the same conversations in the same way, new insights and ideas will simply not emerge. Planning strategically for the future requires a rich and complex web of conversations across previously isolated pockets of information, knowledge and intelligence. The objective is to create a web of communications, bot internally and externally, leading to a shared or collective intelligence.
Develop new perspectives. Constantly strive to see the changing landscape in new and different ways. Become mindful. Endeavour to see the world through a new lens, one that goes beyond the traditional analytical, rational approach that has governed business for too long. Develop synthesizing and creative thinking skills. Strategic thinking requires more enlightened ways and tools for perceiving current and future challenges and conceiving new approaches. Sometimes it’s a matter of changing your vantage point – maybe the future can’t be seen from where you’re standing. Apply Jimmy Buffet’s advice: “Changes in latitudes. Changes in attitudes.” Novel experiences beget novel insights. That is the grist for seeing new ways of doing business.
Ignite new passions. Good strategy is about collective purpose and shared destiny. Leaders must reflect that emotional state in the way they develop new directions. It takes emotional commitment across the organization to carry out a new strategy. Without it, the time between the idea and action is too long. This commitment is ignited when people are involved in the process: they have a say in determining the destiny of the organization to which they devote their efforts. Inside each of us resides a passion for discovery and novelty. We harness that passion when we get others to participate in the pursuit of a common vision. Smart leaders know that initiative and passion can’t be commanded. These “gifts” are freely given when people feel they are appreciated and part of something important.
Encourage experimentation. The only way you can discover the road ahead is to start the journey. Finding your way along that road is as much about experimentation as it is about vision and passion. In too many organizations, the quest for efficiency stymies creativity and innovation. Bureaucracy controls and stymies experimentation; freedom liberates. Explore the possibilities. Ask new and different questions. Understand how the changing universe and the flat earth especially will impact your business. The answers may not be clear at first but the insights should generate even more questions. And that is the recipe for rethinking your future.
The future is rushing at us at breathtaking speed. Future markets and opportunities are emerging and technology changes daily. In this new environment, thinking differently is the critical imperative. It is an iterative process that illuminates the business strategies most likely to succeed. The goal is not to design the perfect strategy for tomorrow. It’s to find one that will take you in the right direction.