As we look back at our journey through the Badlands since 2000, over the last 15 years and on toward 2030, we see that that the economy in which we started our journey is gone. Long gone.
A transformation of the economy driven by technology makes it unrecognizable — especially since 2007, a watershed year for innovation. The I-phone stands singularly among the radically disruptive makers of change. But that was also the year that an enigmatic engineer (or engineers) in Japan began the work on what was to become block chain, and the first crypto currency of Bitcoin. Twitter premiered on its own platform that year after Facebook had opened for business just a few months earlier. Google launched Android that year and Amazon its Kindle. AirBnB popped into our life and the lexicon of travel. A new open-source software platform known as Hadoop was also invented, enabling the massive storage of data and the limitless ability to handle concurrent tasks that we all but now take for granted as part of “cloud computing.” Such a list could go on at length but the seminal year is best captured in data reported by AT&T: mobile data traffic on its network jumped by more than 100,000 percent between the beginning of 2007 and the end of 2014. And so much continues apace, from a collapse in the price of human genome mapping to advances in Artificial Intelligence enabling autonomous vehicles, to the emergence of digital printing that can make everything from handguns to houses today, and perhaps a human liver tomorrow.
And meanwhile, the social institutions, such as health care and education which were created mid-20th century, are now failing rapidly – given they are mismatched to the issues and needs of today and tomorrow. In the world generally and America specifically, we still have what is really a “disease management” system in place of a true “health management” system. Our education systems globally remain models designed for an industrial past while the means to continually teach and train for skills needed amid accelerating change remain elusive. Accessing more information is not learning.
The disconnect between education providers, young people and employers is starkly revealed in research by McKinsey. Educators, by a wide margin believe they are providing skills needed by the workforce. The young and employers themselves, however disagree, with roughly half of both groups worldwide saying current degree programs don’t square with the job market.
Life in the Badlands grows only more intense as it merges with what author Thomas Friedman has dubbed “The Age of Acceleration.” We have been at similar junctures of the Badlands territories many times in history, where the old has vanished and we have yet to create the new. But this time our era of change is dramatically different on at least two fronts. For one, past technological innovations basically replaced physical tasks or made physical things easier or faster, like transportation by car or jet. But today, innovations are replacing cognitive tasks and skills, from reservations management to navigation to X-ray diagnostics. Machines now control more than 80 percent of trading on stock markets worldwide. The second difference, however, is one wrought uniquely by this new era of change. This is the sheer pace of change that creates a mismatch with our ability to adapt and cope, both socially and institutionally as it disorients our systems of education, management, trade, regulation and governance. As Eric Teller, the head of Google X labs has pointed out, by the time regulators figure out to cope with the issues created by ride sharing services, companies like Uber may well be obsolete, replaced by self-driving vehicles. It is a time that demands “dynamic stability.” This is a term that economists and engineers use to describe the physics of resiliency amid disruption, but which for leaders can be a core concept of the coping skills in the Badlands. More on this below.
For now we face the ultimate leadership challenge to create the new amid an epic battle between those who want to go back to the old who feel left out and afraid: the toxic leaders who lead with illusion vs. the pioneers of the future. Now, at the beginning of the Age of Acceleration we are rich with the promise of a better life with new technologies and science. But also we find ourselves crossing a patch of the Badlands where fear is rife; we are crossing an ethics waste land exemplified by the continuing rise of toxic leaders around the globe – both in our our political as well as business governance.
The historic journey to exit the Badlands, and reach the Far Foothills of the Future, will be unique for each leader and organization. There are many leaders and organizations that perished during the first phase. Remember Nokia, the unrivalled leader of cell phone manufacture? Or Blockbuster, the video giant that was at the top of its game in 2004, only to go bankrupt in 2010? Or Myspace, the one-time top dog of social media that today is no more than an afterthought?
The following Eight Principles of Leadership, continue to serve as general guidelines that can provide a better chance to survive and thrive over the next decade. In times of high uncertainty, huge shifts can occur rapidly, posing a serious threat to the core strategies of an organization. Obsolescence is an ever-present danger as you traverse the Badlands.
These 8 Principles are not linked to any single challenge. They apply widely, thus making for a rich and complex web of solutions that are strategically applicable to every phase of the journey.
1. Scan, Scout, Steer — Keep Your Spyglass Clean and Handy
Leaders must remain flexible and adaptive, scouting for opportunities while nimbly steering around sudden pitfalls. They must scan, scout, and steer – for not just their organizations and nations – but for themselves in their quest for personal growth and leadership readiness.
The primary purpose of scanning and scouting is to gain accurate near-term and mid-term foresight that keeps strategies properly attuned and ensures that you—and not your competitors—find the next big opportunity. Scouts provide a continuous flow of information, leading to visibility of weak signals, micro trends, industry shifts and new competitors. This intelligence will be paramount to creating and fine-tuning strategies along the way.
Good scouting explores not just the industry horizon but virgin territories and zones of likely opportunities, including “Blue Ocean.” Many companies lack leaders who are good scouts. Often, this responsibility is relegated to a strategy group that may be isolated from the rest of the company, a near fatal move. Traditional scouts are typically unable or unwilling to wander outside their old, familiar territories. Smart companies will strategically improve all leaders’ readiness to identify both opportunities and risks. This in turn will enable them to act quickly to steer to emerging opportunities by providing the necessary resources and authority to experiment. And steer around toxic leaders.
Leading in uncertain conditions demands great belief in yourself, as well as strength of character. Integrity lies at the heart of every leader’s journey out of the Badlands, just as it has in every historic epic.
Much more than just honesty, integrity includes coherence, connectedness, wholeness, and vitality. It is the capacity to remain integrated under the pull of entropy, uncertainty, and disorder—omnipresent conditions as you exit the Badlands and try to establish a toehold in this new terrain that must be traversed to arrive in the far foothills of the future. The toxic leaders that rose up in the Badlands are not all gone but actually are still continuing to rise up in numbers and locations and demand a courageous response to move beyond them. Living your integrity is important, and you will feel the difference when you do. Integrity it is not an abstract quality. It is the core of Self-Leadership.
Acting with integrity demands that leaders continuously create meaning and be vigilant about ethics. The changes currently underway in the economy and social institutions of our global society at an accelerating pace are deeply disturbing & dislocating. They challenge our assumptions about who we are, what we do, and the value we offer. While profoundly disorienting, we can navigate them successfully by maintaining our integrity.
3. Seek Collisions — Drink at Dangerous Waterholes
As you continue through the Badlands, most companies will still lack both the right people and the right diversity of people needed to make a rigorous journey marked by continuous innovation . The practice of not just avoiding but seeking collisions will help them create the optimal diversity they need. Most leaders don’t know what they don’t know, and they know less than they think. They struggle to apply what they do know in conditions of great uncertainty. Collisions will help them figure it out.
To collide is to crash or smash into something; to have an accident in which something gets bent or changed or you have an “Aha!” moment. Leaders need to choose pathways that will provide surprising encounters with outsiders who can often see possibilities that are invisible to them and other insiders. They will want to bring some of these diverse voices inside the company, whether through an alliance, a short-term contract with specific deliverables, or a direct hire. Constructive collisions will be a vital part of building a richer, more robust intelligence web. Much innovation can be fed by simply talking with new people, often people you don’t know and don’t like, and listening deeply.
An extremely important field in which to seek collisions is one’s own customer base. Deeply understanding the customer will help leaders stay close to the often dormant and unconventional convergences between their business potential and their customers’ real-life pains.
Drinking at dangerous waterholes is another form of seeking collisions that targets competitors. Getting close to and, perhaps even collaborating with, actual or potential predators can be a useful collision. They have become successful in different ways than you have, and there are lessons to learn that can help you thrive.
4. Fast Learning – Know What You Don’t Know and Then Learn
You can’t lead if you can’t learn—and the power in traversing the Badlands and creating new institutions, business models, products, and services comes from learning over and over and over again. Many leaders find it difficult to learn in unstructured, uncertain environments. It is hard to get traction. Under these conditions, leaders often describe feeling fearful and closed down. This Leadership Insecurity is a huge obstacle to being successful in this phase of the journey the Badlands successfully. It takes fearlessness to learn in a fast-paced, chaotic environment where the stakes are high. Leaders must find ways to move beyond fear and find a calm place that allows them to embody both shared leadership and Self-Leadership.
Trial and error constitutes a critical pathway for accelerated learning. Success means engaging in many experiments, knowing full well there will be many failures. The trick is to fail fast and in interesting ways so that you learn as much as you possibly can about yourself and your strategy. Each experiment provides rich opportunities to learn things about yourself – both positive and negative.
Each leader must learn new skills for the future. The ability to create critical, unique insights and apply them with novel solutions in unexpected situations will be demanded frequently. Many leaders confuse access to knowledge and information with learning. It is only through acting on knowledge, though, that leaders become intelligent. And they must do it quickly. There is no time in the Age of Acceleration to sit around and devise the perfect strategy. You have to travel like you are riding a bike. It’s hard to stand on a stationary bicycle. It’s much easier if you are peddling and moving fast. This is the analogy that Google X’ Eric Teller uses, as quoted by author Thomas Friedman, to argue for the idea of “dynamic stability.” Leaders crossing the Badlands need to find their own ways to create and maintain dynamic stability.
Leadership in this phase of the Badlands is different and more demanding. . It is an environment of temporariness and Velcro relationships where you collaborate with other leaders despite being disoriented. This collaboration is rooted in intense focus, attaching very strongly and quickly detaching when you are done without causing damage. Collaboration is critical. We got into the Badlands alone, but we can’t get out alone.
With a culture that encourages risk taking, and the use of the first four of eight principles of leadership in play, we have the ingredients for radical innovation, our next principle. We will discuss this and the remaining Principles of Leadership in Part 2.