Category Archives: Futuring

Step 1: Get over yourself

The four little words you need to embrace in order to be your best?  “I LOVE TO FAIL!”

Until you are comfortable with this concept, your greatest accomplishments will be just beyond you reach.  You simply cannot be your best if you are doing it all right all the time.

The challenge we face is getting out of our own head and developing the willingness to be wrong.  We are all products of our environments and from kindergarten through college we were rewarded for being right and punished for being wrong.  We were graded every step of the way and we learned to only hold up our hands if we knew the answer because the last thing anyone wanted to hear from the teacher was “you are wrong”.  We were taught to feel shame for this and it is something we learned very quickly to avoid.

The problem we struggle with after school is that the world doesn’t work like this but we are too fragile to do it any other way.  We seek and are comforted by the approval of those we perceive to have authority over us.  The list is very long and includes our parents, friends, spouses, significant others, bosses, co-workers, etc, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not their fault…IT IS OURS!  We give them the power and then become angry, frustrated, and even bitter when they use it.  We look for people to blame so that we never had to look at ourselves in the mirror and admit we gave up.   We are disgusted that somewhere along the line, we lost our self-worth and allowed the world to tell us our value.  This is why we avoid failing and take no chances…we are afraid that what we do defines who we are.  We are not confident enough in ourselves to commit to action unless it is a guaranteed success because we cannot withstand criticism.  Our fragile egos cannot handle someone’s opinion because we are somehow totally dependent on what others think instead of evaluating our own actions against our own standards.  Before you listen to anyone else consider these questions:

  • Why would you give more weight to someone’s opinion if all they are doing is telling you all the reasons you should not have done something?
  • What have they done to earn the right to offer your their opinion?
  • Did you ask for it?  When is the last time they tried something and failed…and tried again?
  • Is anything they are saying the slightest bit positive?
  • Is everything they are sharing coming from their own fear and shame?
  • Are they recommending you give up and accept your fate?

If they are, maybe you should stop talking to them!  Maybe your problem is that you have surrounded yourself with people who do not strive to learn and grow?  Maybe you are now just like everyone else and have become so delicate that you cannot withstand any shock to your ego?  I want to stress that this is only a problem if you want to achieve your potential.  If you are completely happy with your current level of performance in all aspects of our life, then please disregard everything I have shared and enjoy the rest of your charmed life!

If reading this has made you uncomfortable and upset, then you get it and I hope you are willing to do something about it.  If you want to, here are a few things you can try:

  1. Quit worrying about your “image” and what others think of you
  2. Spend some time figuring out who you are (or most specifically, who you were) and understand what that means to you and those close to you
  3. Figure out how to be more “you” than you have been in recent years
  4. Find your strength in you and not from others
  5. Begin acting in alignment with who you are and see how that feels.  There is no right or wrong (so long as it’s legal) so don’t be afraid to take some risks
  6. Find ways to FAIL more quickly and you will soon find that it feels quite good because at least you TRIED
  7. LEARN from your mistakes and continue to pursue your own version of excellence
  8. Find people who believe what you believe and create your own “tribe”

I leave you with these two thoughts from Teddy Roosevelt because he said it much more eloquently than I can…

“It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”  “

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

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Filed under Futuring, Leadership, Learning, Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

Mastering the conflict environment

I am reading “The Accidental Guerrilla” by David Kilcullen and was struck by this sentence, “This approach would be considered a ‘counterwar strategy,’ where the key threat to be mastered would be the conflict environment itself, rather than a particular armed enemy.” I thought of the state of business today and realized that we are faced with a similar issue.  We are faced with learning how to operate in a new environment marked by constant change and increasing complexity and spend as much effort there as we do on the business itself.

This also leads to two other concepts that tie closely to this that were originated in 1999 by General Charles Krulak.  He wrote an article for the Marines Magazine titled, “The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the 3 Block War” that outlined the changes facing the military in the what some would call 4th generation warfare.

The concept of a “3 block war” illustrates the complex spectrum of challenges likely to be faced by soldiers on the modern battlefield.  These soldiers may be required to do all of the following within 3 city blocks:

  • Conduct full-scale military action
  • Perform peace keeping operations
  • Provide humanitarian relief

The term “strategic corporal” was reflective of the “notion that leadership in complex, rapidly evolving mission environments devolves lower & lower down the chain of command to better exploit time critical information into the decision-making process.”

Now let’s think about the challenges we face on a daily basis as we strive to excel in our businesses.  Do you see any similarities?  Aren’t we faced with fighting our version of a 3 block war each day as we are faced with ever-changing & shifting priorities and the need to be “brilliant generalists”?

We must learn at a rate that exceeds the rate of change and that is quite a challenge.  Perhaps changing the paradigm is a start so tomorrow, think about how to better manage the conflict environment separate and apart from the normal course of business.

As Mother Teresa was quoted as saying, “Yesterday is gone.  Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

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Invest in preparedness, not prediction

For those of you who have not read “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb here is a terrific presentation from Maarten Cannaert that provides some of the most interesting quotes from the book.

The book itself is a great read but really makes you stop and think…almost every 5 sentences or so.  It took me about 3 months to read it because I could only digest 3-4 pages at a time and I read it twice.  There are still many points that Taleb makes that I have not really wrapped my head around.

I can tell you that it fundamentally changed my thinking on forecasting.  For 15 years, I had been involved in rolling forecasts which are basically our predictions about the future based on past performance and my knowledge of current events.  Taleb’s point (which is the title of the post) is not that we should throw our hands up and just sit back and wait.  It is more about changing our point of view so that we acknowledge we DO NOT KNOW what is going to happen so the best we can do is spend time preparing for the future.

So enjoy Maarten’s favorite quotes from the book…

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Filed under Complexity, Futuring, Strategy

What Matters Now (Seth Godin)

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Filed under Adaptation, Complexity, Futuring

Connecting the dots

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:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?

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Filed under Adaptation, Complexity, Emergence, Futuring

What they should be teaching in business school

I realize that we want our future business leaders to be able to make quantitative decisions and understand the intricacies of corporate finance but I also believe they need to gain a greater understanding of human and organizational systems.  Now more than ever, people who lead organizations of any nature must understand how the actions of people within the structure affect the structure.  This is even more complex with the advent of social communication tools and impact they can have as well.  We can no longer work under the old “command and control” ideology when it comes to information and knowledge.  As Alvin Toffler said, “Knowledge is the most democratic form of power.” This means that organizations are now flat whether they are structured that way or not.  There can be no expectation that people will not know what is happening (or about to happen) and that dramatically changes how we need to manage (yes manage and not lead…this issue will be addressed in an upcoming post).

Here are some things that we need our future business managers to learn before they take the reigns:

  • You cannot change an organization.  The organization will change as the cumulative effect of the changes in behavior from the individuals within.
  • Manage as if everyone knows what is going on (because they do or soon will via twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc.)
  • Embrace transparency as a way of thinking (see previous bullet point)
  • Understand that you only influence people and they will not just do as you say.  Directives will work a small part of the time and they will not work at all for issues of importance.  Your success is linked directly to your ability to influence those around you.
  • Organizations will become more decentralized so your ability to develop and nurture relationships is a skill you must hone.  This is one of the foundational skills of success in life and should be a class (or series of classes) in business programs.  Truly understanding things like social capital and communication theory will pay tremendous dividends.
  • Finally, if you want to lead others effectively spend more time leading yourself and they will follow your example.

The fundamentals of business itself will never change but the way in which we need to manage businesses will.  We have to embrace that our own development is a process and not an event.  We must continually evolve in order to survive.

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Step 1 – Forget everything you know

It is funny how some of the most basic ideas get lost in the static of all of the newest fads, ideas, technologies, & management tips of the week.  In some recent conversations, the one thing that came out repeatedly was the challenge we face of “already knowing that”.  I think this stems from two separate issues and they are:

  • the need to prove that we are knowledgeable (fear of looking stupid or inept)
  • the desire to do things faster and check them off the list

These are things that we all suffer from in some degree and that are so deeply ingrained in us that most likely are not even conscious of them.  This gets to the core issue – challenging our own assumptions.  The irony is that we are skilled and adept at challenging others but not so agile when it comes to the person in the mirror.  If you would like to experience this firsthand in a very personal manner, click on this link and follow the directions.  It is Johari Window process (you can read more about it when you visit the site).  To ensure it is completely accurate you will also need 5-6 of your friends and/or business associates to assist you by visiting the site as well but it will take them less than 90 seconds to do it.  This is just an example of how we are “blind” to our assumptions even though they belong to us.  In order to make better decisions, we need to look at things with a “beginner’s mind” and stop thinking we already know.

This can dramatically affect organizations when they are in the process of strategic planning (although I am not sure why we refer to it as this as I am not aware of any non-strategic planning sessions).  During this process, there are many tools & models that are used (SWOT, 5 Forces, KSFs, Competitor Profiling, PEST analysis, Driving Forces, etc) to assist us in gaining some perspective on the opportunities in the marketplace.  The problem is that there are times we move into these types of processes with the “strategy” we want to pursue clearly identified in our mind) and try to find a way to prove this is the best approach.  The problem with this is that we tend to discount any data that does not confirm our opinion.  Obviously this is not really a conscious decision (at least let’s hope not) because the real purpose of any planning process is to gain insights which could help us make better decisions.  This takes us back to the need to be knowledgeable and the mistaken belief that, as a business leader, we are somehow omnipotent (or need to be).  The one skill all business leaders should focus on developing is pattern recognition because this is the foundation of strategic planning.  It is also provides great relief once we accept that we do not have to know it all, all the time.

So the next time you are going to “be strategic”, remember to go into the process “blank”.  Forget everything you think you know and look at the data with a beginner’s mind because “in a beginner’s mind there are many options, in an expert’s mind there are few.”

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Filed under Complexity, Decision Making, Futuring, Strategy, Systems Thinking