Do you remain dissatisfied and uncertain about how to face emerging situations and challenges in today’s fast-changing world?
Do you frequently get the sense that however hard you or your team are trying, there seems to be always someone ahead of you and winning?
As you resolve a problem or a challenge, do you get confronted by fresh ones?
Are you frequently unable to prioritize which problem to tackle first?
However much you strive, are you unable to see the big picture and align yourself and your team with that?
….. And on a more personal level:
Do you want to get that job or assignment that you have been trying?
Do you want to get that promotion and recognition you have been aspiring for?
If you have been plagued by one or more of the above questions, the Winning in a Disruptive Worldprogram might just be what you need to improve your winnability quotient in today’s world.
The fact is that our present world is constantly getting disrupted. By new technologies, new competitors, or other factors that can disrupt traditional business models. The disruptive world with its VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) characteristics allows us to reside in a significantly narrow band in the present with a hazy and uncertain future in front and the inability to take recourse of our past experience.
Conceived and developed based on workshops and programs conducted for leading organisations and Business Schools, the course showcases the major types of disruptions that are shaping the world. You, as the participant, would gain an insight into what leads to us getting disrupted. You would review the process followed by a probability-based mindset and the need to shift to a possibility-based mindset to be able to better handle disruptions. You would practice and gain proficiency in the five action steps for the needed shift by conducting in-depth Inquiry through a structured process.
Creation of a context by using hard trends in three areas.
Creation of the three lists.
‘Plug into the future’.
Relational assimilation through a triad of competencies.
Sometime back, in a Leadership workshop for Larsen & Toubro that I was conducting, one of the participants shared a challenge he was facing.
“Earlier I had been involved in direct sales of earthmoving equipment to institutional buyers. A year back I got promoted and was moved to product and market development. However even now a few of the clients continue to contact me on even small issues.”
“That only goes to show that they still have a lot of trust in your support to them, is it not?” I commented.
“True,” the participant agreed. “But it often leads to negativity and bad blood with my sales colleagues who think I am trying to throw my weight around and stepping on their toes.”
“So, what is stopping you from letting go and clearly informing your ex-clients suitably?” I asked.
“That is what I am finding difficult to do. I feel I might be letting my clients down” was the response.
“That surely is a good intention. But are you taking accountability of future sales to the client?” I asked.
Looking at me, the participant slowly shook his head to conveying that he was not.
Each one of us, in our career, would have faced a similar situation. The problem occurs because of the clash between our stated positive intention and the negative impact we are making. If we are not careful, we can get sucked into a black hole of spiraling negativity which ironically arises from an initial intention to help.
The authority being exercised in some manner (even with good intentions) without being accountable is really abuse. If we expect others to be accountable for the task at hand, and we get sucked in, we need to be equally accountable to them, even if hierarchically they are junior to us.
Simply put our impact and influence may move in contrary direction leading to minimal or nil positive outcome. We thus need to explore how these two may operate together in the same direction to maximise the positivity of the outcome. Think of a train being pulled by a set of double engines.
Jim Dougherty, CEO of a software company, writes in Harvard Business Review ( Dec 12, 2012 issue), “If you want to get an emotional connect with the people you are working with or with whom you have business relationships — you need to be willing to commit and be accountable to them , unsolicited and without direct hope of reward.”
Should you wish to move on the road to better influence and impact, I invite you to explore and answer these questions:
Are you willing to make personal investments in people?
Are you willing to share what you are learning?
Are you willing to empathise with the stresses and frustrations others feel?
Are you willing to work for a shared purpose, results and consequences?
What could you do to maximise the overall outcome from the influence and impact you make?
Sometime back, at a ‘Learning & Development’ elective course I was running at Indian Institute of Management Kashipur, one of the participants came to me for a discussion.
“ Sir, you have been emphasizing again and again about the need to have a lifelong Learning mindset. You have also been mentioning about the criticality of the L & D template to remain relevant during unpredictable and disruptive situations in terms of one’s problem solving ability and initiatives. Don’t you think these two aspects are contradictory to each other? “, he said.
This intrigued me. I asked, “How so? Could you clarify some more?”
The participant explained, “In my MBA program, we are learning concepts and tools which allow us to make sense of a business situation and solve problems. They have stood the test of time. But what you have been advocating is to seek completely new way of looking at things to solve problems in uncertain, fast changing environments. So whatever we are learning in our MBA Course would no longer work. To me, that is both scary and disheartening”.
“Well, It is YES and NO”, I replied. “ Your domain knowledge would always continue to play a role. It would be something like a searchlight which will show up a situation in a particular manner, highlighting certain aspects but hiding others. However, the L & D funnel which you would master in our course should allow you to do a Learning Needs analysis in terms of desired outcomes within a shifting environment and spot the needed L&D strategy. In other words, the superstructure that you would need to build on top of your domain expertise would be your new learning need tactics”.
We remain dis-satisfied and uncertain about how to face emerging situations and challenges. Be it on the professional front or may be in our personal life.
“Winning in a disruptive world” would mean succeeding in a business environment that is constantly changing and being disrupted. By new technologies, new competitors, or other factors that can disrupt traditional business models. So, what does one do to win?
The human mind loves continuity and certainty. These allow us to make sense of what we see as stuff we are familiar with. This is why we, our sense making brains, detest change and disruption. For the latter take us into uncertain and unfamiliar territory. We thus like to lull ourselves into believing we are living in a stable world, a world which we understand. We handle new and unfamiliar aspects by distorting and force fitting them into the mental model we hold of the world.
If you have seen the movie, Matrix. It is like living in a never changing, make believe world as the protagonist Neo was doing even though the real world was totally different with its own equations and challenges.
Neo’s real world….
So if we are to draw some lessons from the story of Neo in the matrix, ‘Winning in a disruptive world’ would require a mindset to embrace change and adapt quickly to new circumstances, as well as a focus on innovation, creativity, and agility.
I invite you to dwell on the following questions.
What are the questions we need to answer in the exploration ‘making sense’ stage of our Learning & Development cycle?
How do we align the outputs of the ‘making sense’ stage with our critical analysis of the emerging situation?
How do we carry out a decentering exercise between our domain expertise and the gaps thrown up by our critical analysis?
Sometime back, at a two-day Leadership Development program that I was running for Larsen and Toubro Ltd (a heavy engineering and multi-business conglomerate in India), a participant came to me during one of the breaks and said:
“All these techniques which we are learning seem to be of little value to me. I am faced with a different kind of problem. My boss has a strong controlling impulse. It is usually his way or the highway. It seems to me he believes this mindset is what has helped him reach his current position. So even if I try, there is never a win/win situation for my boss vis a vis me. What should I do?”
@ L & T Workshop
As I stood there listening to him, several thoughts came to mind. I asked him whether he was okay to delve into the issue some more.
We need to start exploring. We need to ask, ‘What is that which our ‘controlling boss’ would really like to control and change?’ And even more important, ‘What is that we ourselves are willing to let go?’ For ‘letting go’ could be the start of getting back in control.
Could we try and meet the ‘control freak’ half away down? For instance, certain relationships and one to one interactions could still be kept under our control. This realization itself can give us a sense of empowerment.
Could we ‘let go’ by avoiding reacting when we are being pushed to accept the controller’s point of view? Acknowledge what we have been told and then explain what we plan to do, why we have decided so and that we are willing to take full responsibility of the outcome.
The above exploration would allow us to create our action steps in the matter, thus elevating our own control of the situation.
‘Becoming a leader’ does not arise from knowing techniques or aping what we see great leaders do as they exercise leadership effectively in varied situations. Leadership and Performance is very little about what we know, it is almost all about how we see. ‘How we see’ comes from our ability to shift our perception through developing a contextual framework for our own selves.
Apollo, son of Zeus and one of the major Olympian deities, is the God of voyages.
The Apollo space program got its name from the image of Apollo riding his chariot across the sun.
It was the sheer audacity of President Kennedy’s speech in September 1962 which launched the Apollo program. A speech in which he declared, “We choose to go to the moon, 240,000 miles away using a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.”
A speech that was made based on US’s first manned space flight a year earlier (Alan Shephard, May 1961). A speech that shifted the goal post from near-earth space fights to a manned flight to the moon within the decade.
It was July 20th 1969 and humanity had come together as one. The Apollo Space program had succeeded in placing Man on the moon. Humanity had finally left its cradle. As a school kid, I accompanied my father to the US Information Services (USIS) center near Mandi House in Delhi. A crowd that milled around was gaping at a full size model of the Lunar Module which had successfully landed on the moon, allowing astronaut Neil Armstrong to step onto the lunar surface and utter those famous words, “ That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for Mankind”. These words, successfully relayed over radio stations all around the world, were uniting Mankind like never before. As a child, I could sense that from the manner strangers were excitedly speaking to each other as they pointed to features of the lunar craft named Eagle. Going to school over the next few days, I recall the exhilarating discussions of my classmates vying with each other about how many newspaper cuttings of the momentous event and the grainy photos they had managed to cut out and paste into their scrapbooks.
The other day, I did a day excursion to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. For me the trip was a pilgrimage, growing up as I had in the sixties and seventies. When Space travel and Moon landings were what our dreams were made of. When our imaginations were fuelled by the stories of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein.
As I stood looking at the full-scale exhibit of the Saturn V Rocket that had powered the Apollo missions as well as the replica of the spacecraft that had successfully carried astronauts to the moon and back more than half a century ago, deep emotions stirred within me.
In the sixties when computing, communication and control systems were so rudimentary, I realised the awesomeness of the belief and effort that not only used brute rocket force to hurtle a spacecraft with astronauts beyond earth’s gravity, it could also deploy fine navigational controls to land the lunar module onto the moon surface and then lift off with the astronauts to dock with the orbiting command module before bringing them back to earth. It was the sheer cowboy-like bravado and risk of a journey into the unknown that had brought up the emotions.
NASA Command & Control center for the Apollo missions
Which brings me to the story of Artemis. In mythology, Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon and daughter of Zeus, is the twin sister of Apollo.
An apt name for Humanity’s next phase of exploring the unknown depths of space. Artemis is all about NASA’s vision to return to the moon after half a century. Artemis would deploy the cutting-edge technological advancements in computing, communications, robotics and materials of this century to not only put men and women on the moon but take them on manned flights to Mars and beyond. The Artemis vision incorporates sustainability, international cooperation and involvement of a plethora of private sub-contractors for developing innovative mission equipment and processes.
The following is an extract from the US Presidential Memorandum on reinvigorating America’s Human Space Exploration program:
“Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”
The Artemis initiative envisages the use of a powerful Space Launch System, the Orion spacecraft, a lunar space station similar to the International Space Station called the Gateway circling the moon, reusable human landing systems onto the lunar surface as well as a lunar basecamp. An initiative designed to leverage experience, technologies and mindset from Man’s return to the moon in 2024, to eventually make the quantum leap to Mars and beyond.
In the words of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, “Pushing the boundaries of space exploration, science, and technology once again, America is on the verge of exploring more of the Moon than ever before. This new era of lunar exploration is called Artemis. Named after the twin sister of Apollo, she is the Goddess of the Moon, and we are the Artemis Generation.”
Could it be that Man’s destiny to the stars remains inexorably linked to the son and daughter of Zeus?
In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal
Acknowledgment: ‘The ARTEMIS Plan – NASA’s lunar exploration program overview’, Sept. 2020
It is fascinating to see how technologies originate in response to unmet needs and then go on to transform and impact the world in unfathomable ways.
In this post, I look at two such technology initiatives and then explore how they might evolve and impact us.
The first technology initiative is Germ Pods.
It was early April 2020 and the Covid had just started making initial inroads into India with recorded infections hovering around a couple of thousand. The Government launched an innovative contact tracing and self-assessment mobile App called Aarogya Setu. It became the fastest growing App in the world with more than fifty million downloads in less than two weeks. The App gathered data from positive infection reports on a real time basis and was designed to identify infection hot spots and alert the user about the number of Covid infected people in the vicinity. Government ministries and Indian Airports made it mandatory for all people to register into the App to ensure low risk. Aarogya Setu was subsequently merged with the COWIN portal which was designed to register and update vaccination status at the individual level.
Countries around the world launched similar contact, movement and vaccination status tracing Apps during the pandemic.
As I muse, the import and the transformative potential of the tracing and status app becomes clear. The future would be about a real need to protect and secure the health of oneself and one’s own community. Increasingly, testing for various transmissible diseases, real time tracing and proximity alerts would form the basis of AI based algorithmic analysis to create hierarchies of health risk statuses. In spite of repeated assurances that individual privacy norms would be protected, geographic and digital clusters of such hierarchies would begin to emerge and, in more ways than one, would trample on individual’s privacy and behaviour. These clusters or “Germ pods” would over time become much more than mere health pods. They would morph as digital identifiers of micro-groups displaying differing economic, demographic and social behaviours. Can you imagine what such identifiers would do in the hands of marketing organisations, Government policy makers and politicians?
What thus started off as mere health protecting ‘Germ Pods’ might become somewhat sinister gatekeeping tools allowing individual entry based on constantly tweaked algorithms; they would actually become functionally invisible to folks who do not qualify. Groups would get shielded from public view as well as from one another, as they get into exclusive symbiotic relationships with marketing organisations and the Government. Overall transparency and accountability in a society relating to spreading of resources would take a hit, further exacerbating the ‘have’ and ‘have not’ divide.
My sense is that in the future, the above transformative technology might usher in a societal problem.
The second technology initiative is Personal Learning Clouds.
For some years, I have been engaged in training the next tier Leadership for a large business group in India. While the need for Leadership development programs is acutely felt in today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environment, the organisation also senses that traditional class room case study-based programs are no longer working to prepare tomorrow’s leaders for the challenges they would face. The training manager thus finds it hard to justify costs relating to such training programs. Last but not the least, the program does not really get ‘owned’ by the participants’ boss and other team members leading to the program learning not getting the needed support for effective application at the workplace.
The pandemic has fast paced the shift of training programs onto Zoom and other digital platforms. My client organisation has started seeing this as a great alternative, cutting down as it does requirements of logistics and physical infrastructure. The participants are able to virtually join in from their work desks or homes with a much shorter lead time.
As I think of the emerging trend, I visualize the birth of ‘Personal Learning Cloud (PLC)’ in today’s rapidly changing and constrained environment. The PLC would be flexible, allowing 24X7 accessibility to learning modules aligned to the need and behaviour of an individual and his team. Over time the PLC would emerge as a networked learning infrastructure. It would not only allow overall lowering of training costs but would facilitate the organisational leadership to offer ‘just in time’ targeted learning experiences for personnel according to his / her role and immediate organisational needs. Finally, the PLC ‘s real time accessibility, relevance and interactive capability would allow the learner’s immediate superior to become an active stakeholder in the process and provide support and accountability.
I sense that over time the PLC would make learning personalized as well as democratized (in terms of access) and would allow organisations a better gauge to measure return on investment and ensure work place application. Something essential to keep the ‘just in time’ PLC based learning relevant in a fast-changing world.
My hope is that in the future, the above is where significant growth and development opportunity would lie.
In learning………. Shakti Ghosal
‘After the Pandemic: What happens next?’ – Document prepared by Ayca Guralp, Instititue of the Future, CA, US.
‘The future of Leadership Development’ – HBR March-April 2019
While doing a course on, ‘Welcome to our post-pandemic future’, the aspect of economic inequality trend jumped out at me. A trend that seems to have accelerated since the onset of the pandemic.
Statistics show that the eight wealthiest people in the world now have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion people combined! Incredible as it seems, that is correct. The combined wealth of this league of extraordinary gentlemen out weighs that of three and a half billion people! It set me thinking. What is that differentiating proposition that creates such a disparity? Is it the intelligence quotient, is it the emotional quotient, a combination of the two or something else?
As I reviewed the behaviour patterns and articulations of these extraordinarily wealthy gentlemen. I could discern a pattern. A common underlying theme behind such incredible wealth creation seemed to be a knack of envisaging a future that seemed impossible, in fact laughable to most folks around. However, these individuals held the belief to hunker down and live into that future, having the doggedness to hang on till they could make it true.
I discovered something else. As the world shifted in terms of technology and mindset, there came a moment when the window of opportunity aligned with the envisaged future and competence set of the individual. Because of the ability to hunker down and hang on, the individual could recognize that ‘clunk’ of the future as it arrived and take appropriate action. This seemed to be true for Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg as well as the others on the list.
In the next three to five years, how could we expect to see the growing economic inequality pan out and its impact on the world? One might envisage depressed ‘across the board’ consumer demand and a drag on the global economy. Most of us can recognize the negative potential of a severe long-term drag.
“…….Our Brave New World too seems to be a story of the blue and red pills allowing us a choice of the path we could take.
One road leads us to a virtual utopia. Inhabited by people fully able to realise their creative and innovative potentials. A world where people are uniquely free to follow their passions and creative urges. Where innovations are exploding every other day and unimaginable wealth is getting created. Where products and services are plentiful and available to all. Where being wealthy or not no longer matters. A world that has finally come to realise the socialistic dreams of Karl Marx and Lenin, but in a warped way.
The other way is to the land of dystopia. Of people lacking meaningful work and condemned to exist on the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy. With not a hope in hell of achieving the higher rungs of potential. Of folks condemned to live on a Universal basic income provided by the Governments of the day. Of large sections of society feeling increasingly dispossessed and spiralling down into drugs, gambling, terrorism and similar madness……….”
As I think of the growing inequality of today, I do spot some of the above-mentioned patterns of change. But I remain unsure of a pre-determined outcome. Would the economic disparity continue to grow? If so, what could each one of us do to support folks to more effectively handle the situation?
I sense that over the next few years, the world would need to go through a period of healing, not only emotional healing from the damage and trauma of the pandemic but a movement to restore overall consensus and a more equitable share for all towards livelihood. All of us would need to get involved and ensure that groups who have been disproportionately affected are at the table for coming up with plans and solutions, including young people, and that they have a chance to really have a say in what happens next to ensure a better and safer future in the coming years.
The Pandemic has been with us now for more than one and a half years. A virulent new strain, the Delta variant, is the new weapon unleashed by the wily COVID 19 virus to negate all that the vaccines have been doing. Conspiracy theories abound. We look on helplessly through a tunnel with no apparent light visible at the other end yet.
The West and its much vaunted ideal of human freedom is on the backfoot. As US retreats, Afghanistan has once again proved to be the graveyard of Empires- earlier the British, then the USSR and now Pax Americana. The swiftness of the Taliban takeover has been shocking as they begin the task of taking the country back into the medieval ages.
Almost two decades back, US President Bush had declared, “Engendering democracy across the Middle East ‘must be a focus of American policy’ for decades to come”. Today democracy is sputtering like a flame about to go out, with the failure of the much-vaunted Arab Spring and the Middle East in a far worse situation than previously.
We are into an irreversible global warming era, possibly the most serious climate crisis faced by Mankind. July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet. An extreme heat wave in Canada at a searing high of 49.6 deg. C. was a one-thousand-year weather event. Floods ripped through geographically distant countries like Germany and China. Drought stalked others. It is now being widely claimed in scientific circles that the Arctic would soon be devoid of ice with the resultant rise of sea water levels and low-lying areas going under.
The above are glimpses of a frightening and dystopian future we are headed into.
Now here is the other story.
In the last month alone, one billion people have been vaccinated against COVID 19. By the end of this year more than half the people on the planet would have received the vaccine. Truly a stupendous achievement in terms of swiftness of response and effectiveness.
The COVID-19 crisis has led to a veritable explosion of scientific progress in the tinkering of genetic information flow and the formulation of proteins, the ultimate nano machines. Trials are currently being done for protein-based vaccines for diseases ranging from Cancer to HIV.
As we speak, electricity generation from the clean sources of solar, wind, hydro and nuclear has outstripped that from ‘dirty’ coal. Closer home in India, the wind and solar generating capacity has exceeded the milestone of 100GW output. In more and more countries, low carbon economy valuations are rising rapidly. The reason is economic. The average cost of power generation from clean sources is now half that from fossil fuels.
As investors spot a rising opportunity, more money is getting committed to climate investment funds in a day than used to be raised in years a short time back. Three weeks ago, two global asset managers, TPG and Brookfield, closed a combined $12.4 billion in climate investment funds.
Reforestation and conservation funding is taking place in countries as disparate as Indonesia and Bolivia who are supporting equatorial rain forests to United states and Canada who are focusing on wetlands, grasslands and coastal areas and the regeneration of flora and fauna therein.
These are but a few stories of a Utopian future we seem to be headed into.
So which future, whether the Dystopian or the Utopian, would come true?
As Morpheus says to Neo in the Matrix:
“……This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you…. believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill……. and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more….”
Is our future really like the story of the blue and red pills and the need for us to make a choice of the path?
Or could it be that there is no choice after all? The two futures, dystopian and utopian, would always exist together, like the two sides of a coin. It would all come down to our world view and the context lens we choose to use. If our context was one of dystopia, we would see signals of collapse in every situation we look at. Similarly, if we were to deploy our utopian context, we would notice the signals of renewal and hope all around.
Our story, the shared and evolving narrative that it is, would always contain both dystopia and utopia, both collapse and renewal. It would depend on us which context lens we choose to deploy, which future we would wish to live into.
“What we do makes a difference, and we have to decide what kind of a difference we want to make.” Jane Goodall, English Primatologist & Anthropologist
Acknowledgement: The above piece is inspired by ‘Collapse, Renewal and Rope of History’ written by Angus Hervey, Future Crunch Journal, Aug. 24th 2021