Somebody once famously said—”When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?”
For the record, it was not the famous economist John Maynard Keynes who made this statement.
A similar quote, also erroneously attributed to Mr. Keynes, goes like this: “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”
Whether it was Keynes, Kipling or a Kardashian who uttered these timeless lines, it makes no difference. Both statements are extremely relevant in today’s business world. What do you do, when facts or information change at the speed of light? Do you change, or stay the course? Here’s a clue: Woe be to the man—or woman—who doesn’t defer to reality in favor of pre-determined actions and plans.
So, let me ask again: when the facts, or the information, change, do you change? Can you change? Do you have the flexibility, the will, the support, the PERMISSION, to change?
If so, congratulations. You, not the competition, will win the day. Or the contract. Or the race to be number one.
But for those less flexible, unpredictable and sudden change is the enemy that may cost your company dearly in the end.
Change used to be far more predictable. Not always easily predictable, of course. But predictable, nonetheless. Conventional wisdom held—and still holds on dearly today—that if you have the right leader, strong teams and a lot of money you can overcome any challenge thrown your way.
Today’s organizational models—the hierarchical structures that have served the business world since the 19th century—are all based on being able to predict or control complicated environments. But guess what? The world has been changing at an accelerated rate.
Traditional management structures use teams to create operational efficiencies. These teams are designed to operate independently, but trained to deal with predictable outcomes. And, while these teams are somewhat effective, they are often relegated to operational silos. Often the one hand—TEAM A— doesn’t clearly know what another hand TEAM B is doing. And neither hand is willing to lend a hand without being asked or ordered to do so from the hierarchical food chain, thus change overtakes even the best TEAMS.
Team building today is still focused on a horizontal structure and independent personalities, designed more for competition than collaboration. And here is where a giant opportunity is being missed. And, as teams grow larger, the same traits that once made them adaptable are now hamstringing them in the face of today’s rapid-fire change.
Traditional leadership models think of the leader as the planner, synchronizer and coordinator responsible for overseeing interlocking initiatives—initiatives which form the basis for producing predictable outcomes. And today, the structures of most organizations very much reflect this ideal.
Unfortunately, a constant stream of breathtaking technological advances, the accelerating speed of events and information delivery, and the swelling number of seemingly random events that have little or no relation to one another—but do—are growing in their complexity of interdependence. So, now you have a million different factors overwhelming the heroic hands-of a leadership style still revered but perhaps less effective.
Simply put, one person is no longer smart enough to make it happen. Even when the traditional management structure increasingly uses teams to create more efficiencies.
WHAT EINSTEIN AND A BUNCH OF OTHER SMART PEOPLE SAID
The once famous words uttered by Albert Einstein still hold true. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Similar feelings are held by thought leaders like Stanley McChrystal and Harvard Business professors alike that today’s new business environment is not just incrementally different from the old one—it can’t simply be fixed with a new intricate set of precise instructions delivered from on high. To survive and flourish will require a fundamental rewriting of the rules of the game.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
Harvard professor Edward Lorenz, a famed pioneer of chaos theory, famously wrote: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” What Lorenz means is that seemingly small, random and unrelated events can have large and long lasting effects thousands of miles—or only milliseconds—away.
The turn of a storm, the sudden shortage of foodstuff, a seemingly meaningless local election, a new discovery, the misuse of a single word, all lead to unpredictable outcomes and chaos. For example, incidences described can directly affect global supply chains, the value of the dollar, the outcome of a war, the approval of a drug, the availability of food—just to name a few examples. The carefully crafted contingency plan and team you had in place may find itself suddenly outmaneuvered and outdated. So, how in the world can you predict the unpredictable, or at least can respond to the unpredictable more quickly and efficiently than the next guy?
Where traditional challenges were complicated, but led to predictable outcomes, the new business world, despite our increased abilities to track and measure; has become vastly less predictable. All that planning and positioning yourself for everything and anything that might possibly happen while executing your plan is no longer enough. Only those organizations that create an environment where adaptability is the centerpiece of their culture will be able to thrive in the new world. In other words, without missing a beat, you must be able to adapt to the butterfly’s wing flapping in Brazil before the tornado occurs in Texas.
So, what to do? Bluntly put, adapt or die. Evolve or die.
EAT. OR BE EATEN.
While somewhat dramatic, it’s true. Consider the species in history that has survived the unexpected. As for the ones who didn’t make it, well, all we have to contemplate is their frozen or fossilized remains.
Today, the real challenge for organizations is to be able to build a new leadership and team culture that has teams—partnerships between teams— equipped to survive and flourish in the new emerging business environment.
The general nature of the new environment has produced a new dynamic that threatens to overwhelm—no, is overwhelming— time-honored processes and cultures. Again, let me restate this reality: the accelerated speed and interdependence of things in today’s world has created complexities that challenge traditional methods of leadership and management. The large number of interactions required in today’s world have created a situation that is fundamentally different from the challenges of the past—resulting in less predictability.
To win in the new world, organizations must set aside a century of optimized efficiencies and fundamentally re-write the rules of the game. We simply cannot get better by getting bigger. Tell that to the dinosaurs. And by dinosaurs I’m referring to both ancient creatures long past and more than a few corporations that have outgrown their ability to change.
The short answer to all this? Climb out of your ivory tower. Get off the corporate jet. Abandon the electronically endowed war room. Turn your back on that wall of advice books. Stop listening to the voices in your head, or those coming from the next office or conference room, and start subscribing to the belief that, at the moment stuff happens, you’ll change your mind and tactics to accommodate that change. Fact of life – you cannot fix the problems with the same culture that created the problems.
As, the old cowboy said, “If you find yourself in a hole stop digging!” The time to move is now. Or, one day soon there may be nothing to change. Ask the dinosaurs.