Innovating In An Uncertain World

Two words have come up frequently in leadership dialog: Innovation and Ecosystems. Several posts have described ecosystems and the dominant role they are likely to play in future economic activity. The number of organizations pursuing ecosystem-related initiatives is growing rapidly. Innovation on the other hand has been a topic of conversation for most of our economic history. Yet, something is different. The conversation about innovation culture is intensifying and the need for an innovation mindset to permeate the organization is increasingly recognized. Why? What changed? We can attribute some of the change to uncertainty. One could argue that business has always operated in uncertain environments. I would argue that a number of factors make the uncertainty in our current environment unique, comparable only at some level to past transformative periods in history. We then must consider complexity, pace, volatility, unpredictability, and the unexpected.

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An Education Revolution

There could hardly be anything more important for the future of the country than the strength of its education system. 

Steve Denning

I read a great Article on education the other day written by leadership thinker Steve Denning. My passion for the future of education is expressed in frequent Posts on the topic – so the article struck a chord. As a leadership guru, Mr. Denning focused on the management of education and provided some fascinating statistics. For example, in 2006, only 43% of school personnel in the US were teachers, while in other countries, that percentage was 70 to 80%. Seems that this imbalance is driven by a compliance focus that has employees trying to monitor and comply with federal and state requirements. Mr. Denning believes that lost in this period of industrial-era bureaucracy is the purpose of organizations involved in education. He describes a current corporate revolution in management and leadership that he believes needs to take root in education. There are two very critical points made in the article that speak to a need to Think Differently.

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Dots in a Complex System are Connecting Rapidly

In their now popular book on The Second Machine Age Andrew McAfee and Eric Brynjolfsson describe one of the forces behind our accelerating pace. This force could be key to understanding the dynamics of our environment; the number of potentially valuable building blocks is exploding around the world, and the possibilities are multiplying like never before.

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Perspectives on the Journey

A key message in the Reimagining the Future body of work is that our growing digital world challenges every aspect of how we do business, how we govern and how we live. It will drive significant strategic, tactical and structural changes and fundamentally alter our long-standing beliefs, success strategies and institutional constructs. We’re already seeing it.  Just look at companies like Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Tencent, Google, Alibaba and Facebook.  They are rewriting the rules and redefining how value is created and captured, using digitally-centered platforms and ecosystem-enabled business models.

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Belief Systems, Purpose, and Balance

At the Health Summit in D.C. two weeks ago, I was asked to articulate those things that leaders should consider as they navigate the complexity of our emerging future. The three that always top my list are:

  1. Resetting our intuition and belief system for a new era – think differently
  2. Shifting to a hybrid profit and purpose orientation
  3. Seeking a balance between innovation that enhances society and mitigating the risk of unintended consequences.

This two minute video captures that portion of our panel discussion.

 

Women Leadership in an Exponential World

I was honored to deliver the opening keynote at the SIM Women Executive Leadership Forum on Thursday May 5th. SIM Women Founder Kristen Lamoreaux did a wonderful job organizing the program. I met some fascinating leaders that selflessly give their time to their communities and society in general. As we look at the challenges that face our world, these are the type of leaders I want to stand with. In a room full of outstanding women, I saw the leaders of our future. As our exponential pace accelerates, a gap widens between exponential progression and our linear and incremental progress. This gap represents disruptive stress or opportunity – and increasingly, it is our right brain characteristics that help determine which.

Linear to Exponential Shift

Creativity, imagination, big picture vision, emotional and social intelligence, empathy, and other human characteristics are critical to navigating in an exponential world. As automation accelerates, these human traits become even more critical. In a recent report by Citi on Technology at Work, the authors point to our propensity for social interaction, communication, and empathy being something machines can never replace. Women excel in these areas, positioning them as leaders of our emerging future. In a different Citi report on Women in the Economy, they highlight the importance of women in the labor market, where a 50% reduction in the gender gap can lead to a 5% increase in global GDP. Women are uniquely positioned to play a critical role in the digital economy.

At this SIM event, I focused on our emerging future and the unlearning that it requires. The last time we faced a similar scenario was a century ago, as a shift occurred from the steam engine era to the electricity era. That transition did not go well – something I’ll explore in future posts. We find ourselves approaching another transitory point in history. Will we learn from history? My focus remains on this transition and the mindset shift so crucial to navigating the change. This time, I believe women leadership could be the difference. You can view the presentation Here.

Future Structures

Some time ago, I did a series on the enablers required to propel organizations into tViabilityhe future. With the passage of time, and after considerable dialog, the time has come to update that point of view. In continuing with this future of business series, the next several posts will provide an updated list and perspective on these enablers. Leaders must effectively manage the exponential forces that drive them on a path to viability. In the absence of a burning platform, the growing gap between these exponential forces and the linear constructs of our day should spur leadership action. Continue reading