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.
A little over an hour’s drive from Joypur in Bankura district ( West Bengal, India) where we were vacationing, The Gangani ravines are known as Bengal’s very own Grand Canyon. A remnant of the last Ice age and the glacial activities at that time (anywhere up to two million years ago), the carved rock formations offer a breathtaking sight. As if to provide some relief to the frozen cliff and ravines, the river Shilabati meanders lazily below.
An interesting Legend links Gangani to the great Indian epic Mahabharata.
It is said that after the Pandava brothers lost the game of dice to their cousins the Kauravas, they were exiled for twelve years in the forests. During this period, they reached these lands which were being terrorized by the demon Bakasura. The villagers had to provide a huge quantity of food along with a human every day to the demon to ensure that the land was not ravaged. On hearing of this, Bheem, the second brother of the Pandava clan, offered to go with the food the following day.
Now Bheem was strong and well trained but it remained uncertain if he could take on the might of the powerful demon. But in the epic battle that ensued, Bheem displayed frightful ferocity and slayed Bakasura. The crumpled land and ravines remain a testimony to that.
I stood there and looked at the ravines and the land formation below.
As I wore the geological lens, I could visualize how the weathering through millennia might have created those interesting carvings and structures which I was witness to.
As I changed the lens and wore the mythological one, I could well nigh hear the roars and sounds of that titanic conflict with the adversaries slugging it out over days.
It is fascinating how our beliefs about what we are witness to can be so much based on the viewing lens we choose to wear.
The long orange strip unfurled from the small roll at the end and then snaked across the entire wall. It changed colour from deep to light orange before morphing into a green strip and finally ending with a tiny four-inch blue coloured block at the end.
I was looking at a timeline representation of the start of life on earth, about three and a half billion years ago, culminating with the appearance of us humans two hundred thousand years back. That blue-coloured block highlighted the minuscule period ( around 0.006% of total ) that we humans have existed on mother earth as compared to all life.
I was at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History on a recent visit to Washington DC. Though the museum carries the same name as the more well-known American Museum of Natural History in New York, I was finding the format and the presentation refreshingly different.
As I looked at the representation, I was intrigued to see the periods of mass extinction that have taken place in the planet’s living history. There seem to have occurred around five major extinction events since earth cradled life. These were when between fifty to ninety-five percent of all living species died out. I got particularly interested in two such events.
The first was the one that led to the demise of the dinosaurs. I sat watching a video of what might have happened sixty-six million years back when the age of the dinosaurs ended. A large meteor comes hurtling from outer space and hits earth in the Mexican coastal region. The impact kills all life on land and sea for thousands of kilometers all around, its explosive power equivalent to billions of atomic bombs going off at the same time. And as if that is not enough, giant tsunamis and billions of tons of vaporized asteroid and terrestrial debris spew up into the atmosphere, envelop the earth and block out sunlight for years. Photosynthesis all over the world gets seriously impeded and the global climate alters leading to large-scale death of flora and subsequently the herbivores and carnivores going up the food chain.
It is estimated that three-quarters of all life on earth perished during what is today known as the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. But the event also led to an interesting development. The age of the mammals commenced. Being smaller in size and with less need for sustenance, the surviving mammals who had existed on the peripheries during the dinosaur age got the planet to themselves and started flourishing. The evolutionary path over several subsequent million years took the necessary steps toward modern humans with the ability to walk on two legs.
Writes Rick Potts, the Director of Smithsonian Institute’s Human Origins Program, “East Africa was a setting in foment—one conducive to migrations across Africa during the period when Homo sapiens arose. It seems to have been an ideal setting for the mixing of genes from migrating populations widely spread across the continent. The implication is that the human genome arose in Africa. Everyone is African, and yet not from any one part of Africa.”
The second extinction event that intrigued me was the one in which the human species more or less vanished around seventy thousand years ago. Estimates range from a few hundred to a thousand humans who remained to fend for themselves in a dangerous world. The event is generally linked to a super volcanic eruption named Toba which went off in Indonesia and spewed a colossal amount of ash, debris and vapour into the atmosphere. The Sun got dimmed for years disrupting seasons, choking rivers and killing all vegetation in large parts of the planet.
Says Science writer Sam Kean, “There’s in fact evidence that the average temperature dropped 20-plus degrees in some spots,” after which the great grassy plains of Africa may have shrunk way back, keeping the small bands of humans small and hungry for hundreds, if not thousands of more years.So we almost vanished.”
As I continued to look at that unfurling orange strip and read about the extinction events, I found it indeed amazing how the present world stands dwarfed by close to eight billion of us humans. Even though our footprint remains that tiny blue coloured four-inch block on the timeline representation of life. The probability numbers about a meteor hitting or a super volcano erupting remain minuscule and clearly in our favour because of our small timeline footprint. But within that insignificant (fleeting?) footprint, we have managed to subjugate every other species, harnessing both flora and fauna to our needs. We have mastered science and technology in wondrous ways, improving our lot in every way conceivable. Be it food, be it energy, be it resources, be it our understanding of the Universe.
But could it be that we are willy nilly walking on the extinction pathway of our own making? Stemming from our sheer numbers and our continued actions to reorder and realign nature to our own needs. Vulnerability to increased incidences of diseases and viruses. Vulnerability to our own selves as we fight for scarce resources. Vulnerability from the very technology which we believe we have harnessed.
Scientists and environmentalists are raising the alarm that we may be already at the extinction tipping point arising from global warming and climate change. A tipping point that might lead to the mass extinction of more than half of humanity with the collapse of social, political and economic structures. Once the tipping point is breached, the world could witness accelerating global warming and climate change with no way to control. Simulation studies point to an overall ecological disaster and collapse leading to the mass extinction of a large number of flora and fauna species; more than a million species are on track to go extinct in the coming decades. Would this be Judgment Day for Humanity and its cradle planet?
It seems to me that we have been plain lucky. There really is no certainty of our continuing the domination of the world beyond the so very tiny and fleeting ‘blue block four-inch’ period that we have done so. If our luck was to change, we might just have an epitaph written about us by someone in the distant future. Like the way we have written one about the dinosaurs.
Standing there I was left wondering whether we are creating the right luck for us.
Man who gave you life, man who gave you home Man who gave you all you desire? All you do is blight, all you do is waste Don’t you see the ash of your fire? Our mother’s crying, our mother’s dying Our mother’s cancer is true Mother we belied, mother we defiled May your human child’s end be good for you
In mythology, Niflheim was a land of primordial ice and cold, with Élivágarand Hvergelmir, the frozen rivers from which arose all other rivers of the world.
According to legends, Niflheim was the primordial region that was born out of two realms. The Ginnungagap, the home of ice and the Muspelheim, the home of fire. Between these two realms of cold and heat, the world got created as ice mixed with fire. Niflheim became the abode of Hel, the goddess daughter of Loki (remember the estranged brother of Thor from the Avengers!), and her subjects.
As my flight cruised over Greenland, I watched the morning rays streaming, glistening and bouncing off the frozen land. A quote of Albert Schweitzer came to mind.
“As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
But is the melting ice really improving understanding and trust in the world I mused.
From my aircraft window, I could spot the rivers formed by the melting Greenland Ice Sheet.
Greenland’s glaciers, in existence for millions of years, have now suddenly begun to rapidly retreat and thin. Scientists have concluded that the Greenland ice sheet is in the throes of irreversible ice loss. Paleoclimatic evidence indicates that even a mere 2 °C of global warming could endanger the Greenland glaciers leading to a sea-level rise of six meters. Large swathes of inhabited coasts and islands in the United States, Europe as well as densely populated regions of Bangla Desh and India would go underwater.
My thoughts about Greenland, its melting glaciers and the impact on Humanity were interrupted by the flight steward politely asking me about my choice of breakfast. Looking up at him and then around me, I seemed to be in a cocoon far removed from the impact of global warming playing out below. But were I and my co travellers really in a cocoon or were we shutting our minds to the inevitable? I was left wondering.
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
Ichamati River, a distributary of the mighty Padma flows quietly, separating as it does the land masses of India and Bangladesh at places.
The town of Taki is one such place.
I sat looking at the serenity of the Ichamati waters from my hotel room in Sonar Bangla. As the tide ebbed, the river bed peeped above the water. As if separating the water itself between the banks of the two countries. The sad impact of the river bed silting is so visible. Decades of uncontrolled construction, encroachment and forcible occupation of the land have contributed to this.
But Icchamati continues to mesmerize the visitor.
I am told the Durga Pujo immersion ceremony on the Ichamati is a unique spectacle with boats full of folks of both the countries immersing their respective Durga Protimas.
In the words of the famous Bengali writer Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay
‘The ashes of so many burnt bodies have been carried by the river to the blue ocean over millennia. The man who expected so much return from his plantain trees on the southern side of that green, and at the bend of the river put bamboo traps to catch fish, is lying today on the bank of the Ichamati – only his white bones remain, bleached by sunrays.
…….… one listens to the music of eternity when one spots the old flowers or smells the pungent fragrance of herbal plants in Autumn. Some can visualise and dream the unlimitable unknown eternity in the image of the Ichamati river during the turbulent rainy season.’
As a visiting Professor, I was invited to the Ninth Convocation ceremony of IIM Udaipur yesterday.
While I have attended convocations earlier, this was the first time I was attending one on a virtual platform.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well and seamlessly the ceremony took place with more than 250 participants.
Mrs. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairman & Managing Director of Biocon Ltd, as the chief guest, delivered an excellent convocation address on the huge business and start-up opportunities that the current pandemic continues to throw up.
The event reminded be of those immortal lines penned and sung by Bob Dylan, so many years back!
The Times They Are A Changing
Come gather ’round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown And accept it that soon You’ll be drenched to the bone If your time to you is worth savin’ And you better start swimmin’ Or you’ll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin’
The Three Horizon methodology was developed by Bill Sharpe to provide a simple framework to envision the future and how to engage in constructive conversations about how to achieve that future, This becomes all the more critical in an environment which is uncertain and complex.
The three Horizons framework, to me, is a powerful reboot tool which we need to keep in our toolbox for an environment that we are currently into.. It allows us to coordinate disruptive innovations and create transformative change which has the best chance to succeed.
As per the methodology, envisioning the future always needs to deal with three horizons at play, which are always there, with the capacity to impact the future.
Y Axis is the dominant thinking or WorldView.
The first horizon ‘H1’ is all about how business is done at present, but there is something in it which is not fit for the future. It thus contains the seed of its own demise over a period of time.
The third horizon ‘H3’ is the future we desire and there do exist green shoots of that today. We would like them to grow and become the predominant way of doing business in future, replacing and improving upon H1.
The second horizon ‘H2’ is the most interesting space as this is where disruptive innovation takes place. Disruption can take many forms. It could be technology fueled like the Electric car, it could be event fueled like the current COVID19 pandemic or it could socially fueled like Occupy. Disruptions usually lead to innovations, new ways of Doing or Being. The opportunity of change actually exists in the space between the crests of H1 and H3.
The key question would be, “How would the disruptive innovation effect the transformation between H1 and H3?” To answer this, we will take the example of the current predominant transportation technology using the Internal Combustion engine. This is a H1 model which has survived over a century with its negative impact of Carbon footprint and Climate Change.
Now let us look at the disruptive innovation of Hybrid Technology. This technology actually is the creation of the old world H1 horizon. The problems of H1 are somewhat reduced in this innovation but remain; they in fact get accentuated by addition of another layer of technology on top of the existing one with suboptimal utilisation of either of them. This is called the “H2-” innovation as it is captured by old dominant structures to extend the life of H1 horizon. Why we are using the word ‘capture’ here is because its innovative energy is not being used to help the H3 horizon to emerge.
In contrast now let us consider the same disruptive innovation technology but now paired with the H3 horizon, to support the emerging future to emerge and help to hasten the decline of H1. It would be the pure Electric car technology of Tesla, which essentially is a transformative exercise of building some kind of a computer on wheels; it is envisaging the future ground up. This is called “H2+”.
For the 3 Horizons Reboot tool to be effective, we need to do an enquiry based on three questions:
What is being born and how could we support it emerge and succeed?
What is dying and how can we help it to let go?
What is being disrupted and how can we harness it as in H2+, not be captured as in H2- ?
Enquiry questions for conversation about how to achieve the future:
H1 Horizon :
What is business as usual, the key characteristics of the prevailing system?
How did we get here, what values, cultures, regulations, events led to this?
Why do we believe it is failing its purpose and no longer a good fit? How fast do we want to see its decline?
Is there anything about the old system that we would wish to retain rather than lose?
What is the future that we would like to bring about, its key characteristics, how it looks like, feels like to be there?
What are the green shoots of that future visible in the present?
Whose ideas and work are the present possibilities built on? What history, values, culture are they embedded upon?
How can the possibilities be scaled and spread?
What are the competing visions of the future being pursued by others? Can we collaborate with them or are these essentially competing visions? If the latter, how do we prevent their vision from derailing ours?
What is being disruptive in terms of technology, social, economic, ecological and cultural aspects? What are the roots of those disruptions? For each of those identified, what would it look like if captured as in H1-? Or harnessed as in H2+? What could be strategically done to ensure it is harnessed?
If you are a disruptive actor viz, Tech. Innovator, social movement etc. what kind of guidance can you set for yourself to ensure that your disruption is harnessed under H3 ( H2+) rather than captured under H1 )H1-)? What allies will you seek, what actions will you take, how will you assess potential offers of collaboration or finance?
How could we use the current pandemic experience to develop a COVID 19 Warrior Leadership mindset?
A Do-It-Yourself program.
We are currently witnessing a level of Uncertainty from the COVID19 situation that none of us have faced in our lifetime. There is no past experience relating to such a pandemic or for that matter anything else to guide us. So how do we negotiate the right pathway? How do we exercise leadership that is effective?
We, due to our innate survival instinct, follow a herd mindset. A mindset formed by what we read, what others are saying, the ubiquitous social media of today.
Our COVID19 pandemic mindset is thus wholly focussed on the containment strategies of the spreading viral infection, how to flatten the medical curve so to say and gain more time before we as a species could fight back using some vaccine under development. And nothing wrong with that.
Now let us talk of Leadership and effectiveness. What makes leaders effective is that they see, comprehend and thus engage with the same situation differently. As if they see and come to live in a different world!
The COVID19 warrior leadership would review the ensuing economic recession curves arising out of the containment strategy based infection curve and determine an optimal balance.
Let us now explore the effect of the COVID19 lockdown on the business and economic cycles. As we can see several links in the cycle would get disrupted and are shown by crosses in RED. The general mindset arising out of this would be to hoard, avoid spending and investments. All this would further exacerbate the situation!
A COVID19 warrior leadership in contrast would be visualizing new and innovative policies and funding methods to remove the prevailing blocks.
So what could you do to develop yourself so that you gain the ability to exercise a COVID19 warrior leadership effectively in an increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world?
I give here some pointers. Should we mull over them to try and determine your thoughts and answers, you would be well on your way to becoming a COVID19 warrior leader.
Clarity about a future that others cannot yet see.How could you communicate this future simply without being simplistic?
Dilemma flipping: How could you turn dilemmas into opportunities?
Immersive Learning: Do you have the ability to learn in a first person way viz. ‘on the Court’ rather than ‘from the stands’ ?
Bio- Empathy: Could we inculcate the ability to see things from Nature’s patterns and use that wisdom?
Smart mob organizing: Do we have the ability to engage and nurture social change networks through intelligent use of electronic and other media?
How to be an effective leader during accelerating change and disruption
Change is the only Constant. Or is it?
In my previous post, ‘Heralding the Twenties’ I had spoken of the Change Trap. To cope with an ever accelerating pace of change, we need to become someone or something we were never before. Which in turn leads to a negative impact on our creativity, performance and engagement. I had outlined a practice to avoid this negative impact.
As a changing environment and disruption touches us, we need to have a flexible surface to engage. Which essentially means the need to jettison our past derived rigidity and mindset. With accelerating change, our surface is always in a state of flux. For many if not most of us, this surface flux permeates inwards and starts effecting our core consisting of our values, our passions and relationships. This is when we fall into the Change trap.
Effective leadership in the midst of accelerating change and disruption starts with that changeless core containing your values, passions and relationships. You hold an enhanced awareness of these aspects. You then use these as guiding posts in your language and relationships. This becomes the basis for your effective tango with change and disruption.
An un-fixed and possibility-based mindset allows you to use future-based (rather than past-based) language with others.
If you already know based on your past experience, there is no place to change.
Be willing to reach out to others even if they are not seeking you.
Be willing to speak about the uncomfortable elephant in the room even if it disturbs a cosy status quo.
I invite you to think of and answer these questions in your dealings within your organisation and with team members.
What gets in your way of helping others who have taken on new and unknown challenges?
What language might you use with others which would ignite transformation?
What did you do that encouraged others to perform?
…… and more importantly,
What did you do that drained the energy of others?