The future doesn’t arrive for everyone all at the same time.There are pioneer leaders already deep in the Badlands and on their journey to the Far Foothills of the Future planning to cross over around 2030.
Think of the classic immigrant tale, of those who left or fled old identities to start anew and succeed in new places – often with no more resource than their wits. In a sense, we are all immigrants now who have joined a caravan sojourning out of a known past into an unknown future. Here are some of the insights and lessons from the trek thus far of those whose caravans are still intact and driving forward. Many have perished due to poor choices we signify as “Tombstones” on the way to the future.
Expect To Experience Fear and a Sense of Personal Inadequacy. Once useful habits and intuition no longer apply in this new landscape. This means you have to have the courage to change on deep, personal levels, and exposing vulnerability is a tremendous asset in doing so. Overcoming fear is a source of deep insight. You must use the alchemy of your experience to create new alloys of identity and behavior to define, and redefine your character. More than at any other time, your leadership depends on self-motivation, personal choice and adaptability.
Your Identity Will Morph. The old reference points of leadership and identity are vanished. We know from the lessons of historical cycles of innovation that the experience of this journey will lead to the emergence of a new identity. You will be challenged to represent yourself in a new context in which most of your local and global reference points are being dislocated by short-term relationships and new competitors. The sense of self evolves as the future unfolds and the context of life changes.
Don’t Get Lost in Familiar Territory. As a successful leader, you have “competency addictions,” the mindless, automatic repetition of legacy mindsets and behaviors that you resort to, particularly when you experience sudden pressures from new technologies, new competitors, or changes in customer preferences. Rather than feel threatened and triggered to fall back on the old ways, use the opportunity to innovate. These old ways are only comforting at first and will soon put you in a dangerous place.
Avoid Ugly Surprises. Only those leaders who don’t anticipate the future will be surprised by it. Having an understanding of the big picture and good peripheral vision are not optional. What are the threats, real or imagined, lurking ahead for you? What are the risks that most concern you? Hold “pop-up” sessions with heretics and trusted colleagues, and practice resolving the events they imagine before you encounter them in the rough landscape ahead. If you scan and scout the horizon, you should be able to steer successfully through it using fast decision making.
Simplify Complexity. As you cross inching forward toward the end of Badlands territory, this complex environment will prove fatal to simplistic thinkers and those seduced by glib slogans. Beware of magic potions, whose merchants abound in the Badlands. They offer nothing but fake news and noise. Don’t be distracted. The trick is to be able to manage complexity, break it down into its component parts, and communicate direction and action steps in clear, simple terms over and over again.
Avoid The Black Hole of Superficial Insights. Getting blindsided because you deny the existence of what you don’t know is a pitfall throughout the journey. You know less than you think. . Know that you need to learn, and learn fast. Seek Collisions at all times to avoid slipping into this black hole of superficial insight. Like all black holes it is almost impossible to get out. Ask more questions rather than jumping to quick solutions.
Seed an Epidemic of Innovation. Innovation is creating relevancy for the future. Top leadership must respond to the Radical Innovation imperative of this environment. Power will ultimately come from creating or investing in disruptive innovations in the marketplace-business or social. At the very least, try to be a new category creator. Leaders must ensure that a climate and culture of systemic innovation develops, and they must invest in those innovations most likely to create new wealth that will sustain the organization in the future.
Don’t be Fooled by Optical Illusions. In the Badlands, that sheet of water you see shimmering in the distance is most likely a chimera. Yes, we’ve made strides since the depths of the 2007-08 recession and jobs numbers, housing starts and the performance of the stock market are a welcome respite. But know that “leading indicators” can be superficial, measuring things that are going away. New jobs are not the old jobs. New industries and sectors are far different than those they replaced and they come and go much faster. Deep, disruptive and trans-formative change in the economy has only begun and much is iterative. Leaders must prepare for the economy of the Foothills of the Future, and avoid the temptation to rebuild old structures in the Badlands.
Create Meaning. A key form of capital in this transformed and transforming economy is meaning. This changed economy and the continuing failure of our social institutions throughout our global society are deeply disturbing. They challenge our assumptions about who we are, what we do and the value we offer. This can be profoundly disorienting. Acting with Integrity demands that leaders create meaning continuously and are vigilant about ethics. Meaning lives in the hearts and minds of people, not in memos or strategic plans or organizational charts. In times of uncertainty, people need to know the higher purpose of an organization, not just its mission statement. People need unifying themes in order to build trust that can set them on common ground and provide new coherence and connectedness.
Parting Thoughts on Your Caravan…
“The dogs bark but the caravan moves on,” is an old Arabic proverb I’ve used throughout my career. There is wisdom in this saying: Focus on what’s important, ignore distractions and above all keep moving. Momentum is imperative. Dynamic stability is the new normal. Moving forward is more like riding a bike than a hike. You can achieve balance and safety once you get a certain momentum. Although you need to be nimble, you must be fostering rapid decisions and effective execution at a higher speed than before. It is critical to up the pace of your progress to match this environment. This is a long journey, one that will last a full decade or more. Hone your Leadership Readiness for the future which will not resemble the past. There is no silver bullet, no rescuing miracle; escape is merely an illusion.