Think differently – do differently #FutureWork

think-differently-do-differentlyI have taken to including a short Think Differently session in my workshops with clients. It consists of riddles and brainteasers designed to engage, amuse and challenge. There are small prizes for those who can solve the riddles and teasers, and more prizes for those who are creative with their answers. Some come away bristling with satisfaction, others are annoyed. They are all entertained and stretched. And that’s the point of the session – to leave for a moment our groomed intention to find and offer a right answer, and instead to follow our own curiosity and find a different answer, our own answer. I want to inject an appetite for that, because it’s going to become more essential that we can think, and do, differently.

Think differently, see things differently, get to a place where you can actually do things differently, and you’re more likely to end up in the Blue Ocean.

“Creating blue oceans builds brands. So powerful is blue ocean strategy, in fact, that a blue ocean strategic move can create brand equity that lasts for decades.” – W. Chan Kim, Professor of Strategy and Management at INSEAD and Co-director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.

Here is a summary of Blue Ocean Strategy if you are not familiar with the thinking, Blue Ocean Strategy: Creating your own market, and an early Harvard Business Review write-up about it: Blue Ocean Strategy.

But here is the challenge. We’re not set up to think differently, and it is risky to do so. People who think and do differently can get hurt in organisations. In one large FS organisation it was simply understood that no items got a ‘red’ on the traffic light reporting system for a large project. That meant failing. And then everyone else could see you/your team/your unit were failing. The reporting didn’t reflect real progress, and surface real risks that could be mitigated for, it was about ensuring that you were not seen to be failing. How would sticking your neck out in this environment work, when time and budgets are the prize winners?

Take a look at the Millennial Disruption Index, a US study, but insights worth heeding globally: banks – your future customers would rather visit the dentist than listen to what you have to say. 73% would be more excited about a new offering in financial services from Google, Amazon, Apple, PayPal or Square than from their own nationwide bank. Nearly half the respondents in this study are counting on tech start-ups to overhaul the way banks work. They believe innovation will come from outside the industry. Given some of my own banking experiences, from the inside and as customer, I have to agree.

Establishing satellite innovation labs, or hubs, or hobnobbing with fintech start-ups seems like a very small piece of the puzzle you need to think differently about. I’d be inclined to shine the lens a little more on the motherships, the large institutions lumbering on with unwritten but carefully obeyed rules about status reports. I’d have a very frank conversation about “the way things get done around here”. That statement is another way of describing the real organisation values. On the end of that statement you could put “To Succeed”, or even “To Survive”.

The right-answer approach, and right-first-time, has been the bedrock of the ideally operationally efficient and nimble organisations we have been ruling over for years. This one-right-answer, time-and-budgets approach, often seeded in what worked in the past, seems to be a chain tightening around the necks of corporates who continue to mildly heed the imperative of establishing environments at work where it is safe to look for and experiment with different answers that might work. Or might not.

Our organisations are set up for traditional high potentials who are typically good at strategy and implementation, and understanding of incremental innovation or what we call polishing. We lay out ladders for these traditional leaders to climb, if they prove they have the right answers and the top-down, sealed-up script to implement them.

But how the world is changing – it is networked, participatory, choice-laden and unpredictable. Here today, disrupted tomorrow. How refreshing. Think Uber, AirBnB and all the other over-used examples. We need a wider range of roles, and appetites, to refresh our future.

Peter Druckers’ words seemed so outlandish at first, but feel perhaps less so now:

“Every organisation must prepare for the abandonment of everything it does”.  

Playing in a nimble and efficient space may be risker, it seems, than actually sticking your neck out. Because over time you will be out-disrupted. But what courage it takes to think and do differently in the environments we create and reinforce at work.

Grow and support appetites for thinking and doing differently. Get your head around new roles, like Game Changers, Play Makers and Polishers. If not for your organisation, then at least for your longer-term self.

 

Are you in good shape? #futureskills #futurethinking

We are gradually phasing into a digital world, one that is starting to look and feel very different. And yet in our organisations, we still focus so much on what we have been used to in the past. We look for and build more traditional leadership and management skills.  Our HIPO’s (high potentials) are typically good at strategy and implementation. And we reward them for climbing a ladder to larger budgets and bigger teams. But will these HIPOs prepare us adequately for what’s ahead?

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‘We can no longer predict the future with any accuracy, but we can build ourselves to flourish there.’

 

 

Do you still think you can predict and control what happens tomorrow? Is your strategy to hang on to what you have, to keep doing what you do better than anyone else, to avoid out-disruption through your excellence, tweaking bits at the sides with a new product or service?  That is not likely to be enough.

What never seemed possible is now reality. New technologies, ways of living, consuming, working and interacting emerge all the time. We need people in our organisations who think and see things differently, who drive new frontiers, who believe in their ideas and pursue them, who take risks. What we offer (like the corporate ladder) may no longer be attractive for the people we need most, if it ever was.

Embracing and leveraging a future that looks little like today is held somewhere in the way you think. Vast and constant change presents a steady flow of new opportunity. Our mindset and the way we view the world, and the skills we build to thrive within it, are critical enablers to unlock that. But they are so often overlooked as we debate the differences between management and leadership, fight over technical expertise, and insist on ways of working that simply do not yield the outputs we need.

How about shaping a future that changes the game? How about refreshing the lens on the people you need, how you attract them, and the ways of working that make this all possible?

It is likely that the outputs and skills we need most will be in short supply tomorrow, exactly because many people and organisations are just ‘hanging on’, being buttressed by change and disruption.

Your appetite to explore and develop the skills you’ll need for tomorrow will become a competitive lever for you. Proactively and positively crafting your own future using new technologies will become essential.

At 33 Emeralds we challenge you to think about how you are going to fare in a world that is uncertain and unpredictable. We have worked with many individuals in organisations, as well as game changers who have left corporate life to shape their own craft. We believe in a business case, offer simple insight, and assess appetite for risk and change. We form intelligent strategy and define approach to fit current realities, allowing you to experiment, build your own savvy, and execute on whatever it is you have lined up.

Are you in good shape for tomorrow?

It is our belief that focusing on predicting the future will leave us short. Instead, we should aim to build ourselves for it. And then approach it with glee.

If there is nothing that excites you about your future, perhaps you should give us a call.

All change please

It is the human interface with new technologies that will mostly likely drive the best personal and business value propositions into the future. Yet both companies and individuals can miss the people behind the tools and the mindset of change for adoption of new tools. I sometimes wonder if one of the barriers to digital transformation lies in a thinking trap we’ve fallen into. It’s about change and the rhetoric around it.

climate-chalkboard_310x206I once attended a Social Anthropology lecture that covered “The myth of the unchanging past’. My much-admired, clever and somewhat quirky lecturer presented it so eruditely, and it’s been with me all the way since I was a student. But it’s taken a while for what was presented to fully sink in.

The myth speaks to the fact that we tend to assume the past never changed, and it was rather idyllic for that. We see the past as rose tinted, constant and in sharp juxtaposition to today, where there seems to be constant change clutter and chaos. Our worldview of change is as an imposter, arriving one night and settling in, needing management and containment. That’s why we have separate ‘change management projects and budgets’, run by change specialists. We don’t see change as part of who we are, and what we drive.

If you think about it, not even two days have ever been the same. Change has always been with us. Yes, the rate of change has increased. But aren’t we the ones with our feet on the pedals, accelerating the pace of change through our preferences, choices, actions and inventions?

If we have come to view change as an outsider to be managed, how does that shape our orientation to both the present and the future?

Drew Hanson interviewed Rita J King in an article for Forbes in 2012: Imagination: what you need to thrive in the future economy. Rita had this to say:

In the Imagination Age, we can collectively imagine and create the future we want to inhabit … The shape of the future is reliant on the ability to think ahead. In the Imagination Age, we are attempting to create the future we can imagine.

If we want truly novel things to happen in our organizations, we need to learn to let go of the thought that we can always foresee and plan what that newness is going to look like.’

Is that a bit of a departure from what is expected of our leaders now?

Change is all about us, it is us, and it always has been. The mindset we need for future imaginations doesn’t manage change the imposter (the thinking trap). It accepts it, lets it out and plays with it – not always an easy thing to get right in an organisation. But there are some skills that we can develop that would be useful for that. I’m interested to hear what you think those are.

A value proposition for the future

What’s your value proposition for the future?

I have a few questions to reflect on.

Here’s the context.  More than a few individuals and businesses are ‘doing’ social media, seemingly because everyone else is doing it.  There is a mix of urge, rush, relish and reticence to be present, present on platforms that are fast-growing or driving lots of referral traffic, new platforms, old ones.  And some are feeling somewhat skeptical about the value of it all.  When times get tough, it’s a low’ish priority, and social activity and commitment drops.

What’s happening is that social wasn’t crafted and formed up front with a good dose of reflection and strategy, and it hasn’t  stuck in any value-driving way.  In place of developing an orientation for the future, we are just busier!

What could be happening, is that social engagement could be steering us to a better place in tough times, keeping a thread that’s linking into the future, staying connected and exploring new possibilities.

So here are the questions:

Do we start with our goals and context as number one, and see how social technology may or may not plug-in, where and how, to everything we do?  Or is it a pack-on?

Is there a change process involved in adopting new social tools?  How does that impact enjoyment, uptake and return?

Do we sometimes say no thanks to some platforms, even if they are (very) popular? (We can and we should.)

What happens when we let an external provider take all the reigns for our social media activity?  Are you just present, with a target frequency of posts?  Do you lose some of the nuance,  because interaction is brokered through a third-party, and you are not close to that interaction?

16054830Social media can activate a piece of a larger puzzle, a plan, a future goal.  To do that, we need to think about our individual context, where we are now, where we might want to be, what tools can make that possible.  Then we need to identify the skills we need and focus on developing them.

The MIT Leadership Framework, one of many, speaks to ‘sense-making’, ‘visioning’, ‘inventing’ and ‘relating’.   Developing and exercising your curiosity, learning, connecting, finding and sharing new insights, showcasing your thought leadership, shaping current and new offerings – that’s leading too.

Leadership is enabled these days with a myriad of new social media at our disposal.  We can all lead, ourselves, others, our businesses.  And we can also shape our own value proposition into the future in so doing.  In place of a one-size-fits all, let’s think about the unique and different, the personalised, the customised.

Explore what’s new out there, evaluate what tools might work for you, say no to ones that don’t, experiment.  Think about what will make you valuable in the future.  Find and remain connected to a network of global early adopters who explore, engage and share.  With curiosity and an open mind, we will delight ourselves.

The Social Leader

In Why Being Social Makes You a Better Leader, Geil Browning talks about a new era of leadership where relationships and social connectivity matter more than ever before for powerful leadership.
Agree?
She says a social, relational approach is going to take you places, and that’s characterised by:
  • intuitive thinking
  • care for how decisions affect people
  • orientation toward relationships and a desire to get things done through people
  • a collaborative, team focused approach
  • an ability to connect ideas and work to people.

The last 3 points are most interesting.  We have powerful new tools at our disposal.   Ideas, people and social technologies are all growing up together, creating something that’s different from before.  That’s powerful.  A leadership revolution is drilling its way up through the core of ‘the way things used to happen around here’.

I like these words from Jane McConnell (@netjmc):
‘Certain social capabilities disrupt the way organisations work, challenging hierarchical management.  HR no longer controls the definition of expertise: experts emerge in discussions in internal social networks.  Communication no longer completely controls the message, the target and the timing: employees share information and make announcements spontaneously in blogs and discussion groups.’
The bird at the top of the perch is no longer necessarily the leader.
Social leaders can be anywhere.
This blog was first published in Aug 2013