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I Have Seen the Future

Mark Crocker - February 14, 2023 - 0 comments

Creating the future rather than predicting it requires moving from managing the probable to leading the possible and requires us to address challenges in a fundamentally different way. The temptation is normally to break up any complex task into bite sized chunks. However, rather than simply disaggregating complexities into pieces we find more manageable, we should also broaden our range of possible approaches by breaking out of familiar patterns and using a whole new approach that allows us to expand our options, experiment in low-risk ways, and realize potentially material payoffs.

Uncertainty in the modern world cannot be resolved through traditional methods and so it takes new leadership habits and techniques to lead the possible in this new environment. There are three habits that will stretch the capabilities of todays modern leaders and help them not only to lead the possible but also thrive in the pursuit of it, despite the complexity.

The first habit is to ask different questions, the second is to take multiple perspectives and the third, to adopt a systems thinking approach. The third approach is key as it enables leaders to see patterns of behavior, and then enables them to develop and try small changes to nudge the system in a more helpful direction. Leaders are best served when they get a wider, more systemic view of the present.

Unfortunately, we have been trained to follow our natural inclination to assume a straightforward and linear connection between cause and effect. In addition, we look for root causes at the center of problems, but we often then fail to perceive the broader forces at work. The more we can understand the special features of systems, the more we as leaders, can start to create alternatives to open up new possibilities.

One consequence of such an approach may be our reluctance to let go of our existing image of the traditional leader. The default model of a clear-minded person, certain of his or her outlook and ideas, is not consistent with the qualities that allow possibilities to flourish. In a complex world, an organization is often better served by leaders with a commitment to understanding, a keen sense of their own limitations, an insatiable curiosity, and an orientation to learning and development and continuous improvement.

The world is neither simple nor static. There are patterns for sure, but patterns that are not necessarily predictable. In the face of new challenges, we all default to how we think we should act and to what seems to have worked before. Managing the probable is reassuring but leaves us more open to being blindsided by the unpredictable and improbable. When we treat situations as different, complex, and uncertain, we can unlock solutions that can deliver meaningful rewards. Fluid and complex circumstances require flexibility.

We can’t foresee how uncertain conditions will unfold or how complex systems will evolve, but we can conduct thoughtful experiments to explore the possibilities. When people think in new ways, very small shifts can have unexpected and significant consequences.

Understanding this can have significant implications and the very different requirements of leadership in unpredictable settings helps an organization to select and develop the leaders they really need.

Transformative change is certain to happen, often in unforeseen ways and not necessarily led from the front.

Some problems do not lend themselves to traditional, prescribed methods, simple models, or established norms. When we treat them as different, complex, and uncertain, we can unlock solutions and deliver material, incremental returns on our investment. By exercising the three simple habits above, we can begin to delight in the possible.

Awareness of the very different requirements of leadership in unpredictable settings should underpin all leadership development programs. As recent history has taught us, the only certainty about the future is that it will remain uncertain…

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