I will warn you in advance that this post will take a few twists & turns and you may need a score card to keep track of all of references and connections, but at the very least it will be interesting.
I want to start with a list of the people/articles/events that served as the genesis for the idea of this post:
- Conversation with Nick Seguin
- Article from WSJ
- Q&A with a class of MBA students
- Article on Digital Darwinism (courtesy of the aforementioned Mr. Seguin)
Over coffee earlier this week, Nick & I were talking about how business is changing. We were discussing the impact of the notion of businesses as “complex adaptive systems” and how this will affect how people work in the future. Nick referenced the Digital Darwinism article in the context of how the people needed in businesses now are integrators and/or conductors. This stemmed from the fact that there was a need for people who can work across organizations and speak intelligently with people from any/all functional areas. There are 2 very specific reasons for this:
- As we continue to embrace and understand that individual actions affect people throughout the system, it will no longer be acceptable to take action based solely on your needs without regard for others in the system.
- If the previous point is true then we will also need systems thinkers to assist in developing & executing initiatives as the pace of business continues to increase.
Nick had run into this recently with a client as they (dynamit) were discussing a new project. Nick told his contact that they needed to have the CIO in the room to ensure their current system could handle the changes they were discussing. There was shock all the way around but he CIO was called in and was appreciative of being included on the front end of the discussion. In this case, Nick is the integrator and he is conducting the process. This is the additional value he brings to the client because he does “get it”. Dynamit has taken the approach that they do not just want to build a wonderful website but they also want the client to be able to maximize the impact of the changes. As Nick said, “What good is increasing the traffic by 30% if it is either the wrong goal or there’s not sufficient infrastructure to support the increased business. Either way, it’s bad news.”
Later in the day as I reflected on this, I read an article talking about how it will be quite some time before the jobs come back and many never will. What really stuck in my mind was that in 2003, Alan Krueger calculated that 25% of US workers were in jobs the Census Bureau did not even list as occupations in 1967! As I reflected on this in context of my discussion with Nick, an idea began to take shape. I guess it was more of a potential problem than an idea because the thought centered around the challenge of preparing for the future when it is evident we do not know what the future holds.
Later that same day, I was facilitating an MBA class on succession planning and the predicament became even more clear. One of the more significant challenges in succession planning is determining what future competencies will be needed by the leaders in the organization to ensure they can move the business forward. In addition, there is a need to balance polishing existing competencies for the current state and developing new ones for the future state. This fits right into the old adage, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
What this led me to was the idea that what we really need is a list of meta-competencies that work in any business at any time and will truly be the foundation for anyone who wants to survive as the future catches us. Here is what I came up with:
- Generalized specialists – There will be a need to have a working knowledge of all areas of the business. This goes beyond the ability to carry on a conversation and into the realm of functional literacy. You will have to know enough so you know and understand these intricate relationships and how to leverage activities to produce results
- Pattern recognition – The core of being a strategist is being able to “see” how all the pieces fit together sooner than everyone else. A significant part of leading is solving a problem before it impacts the organization on a large scale and this is how it is done.
- Knowledge aggregator – Being able to take what is learned and apply it entirely different scenarios enables one to be extremely efficient. Seeking out new and different information and data strengthens your ability to recognize patterns as well.
- Thrives in ambiguity – There is nothing certain and constantly wrestling with the fallacy of control only frustrates people. We live in a complex adaptive system and there is not control. I can disturb the system, but I cannot predict the results of that disturbance with any certainty. I can, however, leverage the energy created by the disturbance to get assist me in achieving my goal if I chose to.
- Nimbleness – Being quick to learn, move, think, act, etc. We have all heard the phrase “Light on your feet”, this is being “Light on your mind”.
- Use data intuitively – Engage both sides of your brain and do not let one overtake the other (see nimbleness)
- Play classical & jazz – Finally it is important to be able to follow both follow the music as it is written but also be able to improvise when the opportunity arises.
There is one thing I can say with certainty, it will not become easier unless we allow it to do so. It is my contention that we make things more difficult than they need to be by trying to impose our will on the systems. As Vollmer says in Digital Darwinism, organizations are like ecosystems and they have their own set of rules. We can choose to maintain the fallacy of control or we can embrace the opportunity that comes with being free of the need for control.
Just like Neo, you have to choose…red pill or blue pill?