Systems Thinking: The Key to Thriving in a Complex Future


Our future is very complex. The sheer number of building blocks complicates not just our ability to see the future, but any chance we have to navigate it. As these building blocks combine in ever increasing ways, the challenges multiply. Leaders of tomorrow will move towards systemic leadership, having an ability to connect dots. Innovation will move from a myopic view of offerings to systems innovation.

To accomplish this, systems thinking must be embraced by leaders. Systems thinking is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems. As leaders, we struggle with this holistic approach, choosing instead to focus on short term versus long term, and delivering immediate results versus positioning for the future. This focus is in direct conflict with where our complex future is taking us.

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The Catalysts that Drive Human Action


The conversation regarding catalysts that drive human action has been fascinating. This poll initially launched back in February has had a great response – with some great insight. Please take the poll if you have not already.


One of our Lessons from History was the presence of catalysts that drove actions that ultimately shaped our future. The major catalysts of the second revolution were astounding levels of innovation,

Catalysts
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World War One, The Great Depression, World War Two, and the eventual democratization of innovation. What catalysts force stakeholder actions that ultimately shape our emerging future? Please help me build on this list and identify the most significant catalysts. Choose all catalysts that you feel will contribute – or add anything that I am missing. For a deeper description of catalysts, please see the lessons from history post.

Reimagining the Future


Future thinking has often focused on a three-horizon framework that allows for the continued advancement of  core business, while planning for emerging opportunities. I believe the challenge these days is time compression associated with rapid advancement. When someone says to me: “I’m not worried about five years from now”, my reaction is always the same. What looks to be five years out is likely only 18 months away: A phenomenon I describe in this piece on Acceleration.

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Acceleration


As I described in my Thoughts on 2019 post, acceleration is the second major theme for me in 2019. The pace of innovation and change is often cited as a key difference between the next revolution and prior ones. We even came up with a catchy phrase to describe it: exponential progression. How did we come upon the notion that we live in world that is now moving at an exponential versus linear pace? Some explain it with a story; we have entered the second half of the chess board. Ray Kurzweil an American author, inventor, futurist, and director of engineering at Google describes the second half of the chessboard as follows: once you reach the second half of the chessboard, changes are exponential.  Each new square doubling that of the previous. Moore’s Law is said to have entered the second half of the chess board in 2013. A good description of this phenomenon can be found here.

This doubling accelerates the path to innovation. With an endless supply of building blocks fueling rapid value-creating combinations, this effect is amplified. While the window to realize value from innovation has shortened, there is a Rising Speed of Technological Adoption. Jeff Desjardins, Editor-in-Chief of Visual Capitalist, had this to say:


In the modern world, through increased connectivity, instant communication, and established infrastructure systems, new ideas and products can spread at speeds never seen before – and this enables a new product to get in the hands of consumers in the blink of an eye. Why do newer technologies get adopted so quickly? It seems partly because modern tech needs less infrastructure in contrast with the water pipes, cable lines, electricity grids, and telephone wires that had to be installed throughout the 20th century. However, it also says something else about today’s consumers – which is that they are connected, fast-acting, and not afraid to adopt the new technologies that can quickly impact their lives for the better.

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The Strategic Foundation


In my last post, I explored the evolution of business in the industrial age. This Fourth Iteration of Business establishes resilience on a foundation of automation and intelligence. Resilience may be more important than the productivity gains that are sure to be realized as we progress towards Business 4.0, providing the capacity to recover quickly as the pace of shifts accelerates. This visual represents a strategic foundation for Business 4.0.

The Strategic Foundation

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MBA Education and Short Term Thinking


This recent Article focuses on the failure of MBA programs to prepare leaders and innovators to cope with a fast-changing world: leaders that can put the long-term health of their company and customers first. Here is the bottom line straight from the article:

Far from empowering business, MBA education has fostered the sort of short-term, balance-sheet-oriented thinking that is threatening the economic competitiveness of the country as a whole. If you wonder why most businesses still think of shareholders as their main priority or treat skilled labor as a cost rather than an asset – or why 80 percent of CEOs surveyed in one study said they’d pass up making an investment that would fuel a decade’s worth of innovation if it meant they’d miss a quarter of earnings results – it’s because that’s exactly what they are being educated to do

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8 Billion Acts of Innovation


I had the pleasure of talking to Taimour Zaman of 8 Billion Acts of Innovation today. They have a TV show focused on Artificial Intelligence, with some incredible stories about current innovation in the field.

The 8 Billion Acts of Innovation venture capital TV show is focused exclusively on artificial intelligence. Recently introduced in Toronto, Canada by investment visionaries Sai Mohammed and Taimour Zaman, AI companies present their business cases and compete for venture capital financing. It’s the only show of its kind in the world, now being viewed by over 3 million people.

$20+ Million of Funding per Show

The show’s panel of investors are senior ‘C-level’ executives whose job is to assess AI companies’ business and financial potential. The funds are put up by Curah Capital, a Toronto-based private venture capital firm involved in real estate and technology.

Mr. Mohammed and Mr. Zaman’s objectives for their show:

1) Worldwide popularity via expanded TV coverage
2) Attract top AI companies from across the world
3) Award ever-larger funding amounts, and
4) Develop financed-firms into celebrated successes

We covered a wide variety of topics in this short video.