The edge will find you

Icebergs fracture at theIr edges.

Landmasses erode at the coast.

Businesses change at their edges.

Despite that, most businesses respond to change by retreating towards the centre.

They focus on business as usual and take comfort in easily managed lagging indicators. Margins. ROA. Annual profit.

It’s easy to find comfort in wilful blindness, and to avoid the difficult and scary work that takes place at the edge, where there is no historic data, no best practice, and no maps because nobody else has been their either.

People operating in the centre don’t need leadership; they need effective management. Best Practice. The centre isn’t going anywhere.

Leadership is required at the edge. The place where there are varied, unproven options, all with a real risk of failure. Where people need to be inspired, to commit and do it anyway.

As change becomes faster and more complex, the edges get closer, and they will find us.

It’s a good time to look round. Who will follow you? Who might you lead?

Gradually, then Suddenly

“How did you go bankrupt?
Two ways. Gradually, then Suddenly.”

Ernest Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises

Any of us who have been involved in a failed venture will identify with this. Things happen at the edges, small at first. They happen in several areas, still small, but becoming slightly bigger and more numerous. None big enough to be a crisis in their own right, because we have other things, “noisier” issues to attend to.

Promises and assurances from partners and suppliers (particularly Banks, as they position you as carrion) suddenly evaporate.

Then, we have a “Suddenly” moment. Obvious in retrospect, but almost sneaky in the moment.

The lesson, once learned, is obvious. It isn’t the noise that will kill the project, it’s the quiet insidious intrusion of calculated self interest. For those with practice, it’s part of the game. For those new to it, a surprise.

The same is true for most areas; Business, Politics, Careers. The signals are there long before the event eventually manifests.

What’s interesting right now is that we are facing the challenge simultaneously on several fronts, all of them interdependent.

Business, Climate, Politics. All of these have been exhibiting signal for a while-decades in some cases.

I’m an optimist. This has been coming for a while, and is probably as necessary as it will be uncomfortable.

The “Suddenlies” will test our values, our purpose and our relationships, as well as determination to come out of this change stronger.

We will be presented with choices. We need, individually and collectively, to make good ones.

Old Game, New Rules

For just about all of my working life, over four decades, organisations have held sway. They had the resources, the status, the networks and the power. When I left university, the conventional wisdom was to look for the “solid organisation”.

That makes it quite strange to suddenly realise that it’s changed. Quite disconcerting really, like the transition from winter to spring. One minute snow and Aga, and what seems like a few minutes later, shorts and grass mowing.

Organisations no longer hold sway. People do. It’s no longer about who you join, it’s who you travel with.

That makes for really new rules. Not adaptation. More like revolution.

Individuals can cope with this far better than organisations. Organisations want stasis, certainty, or at least change on their terms. It rarely works. Most change initiatives fail, and those that succeed rarely do more than keep them in the game.

I believe that means we need to reboot. The realisation that the organisation cannot look after us, for anything other than the shortest of terms, is disconcerting. It’s not that the organisation is malign (though I can think of several exceptions) it’s just that they are not capable. Culturally, structurally, spiritually. They have been designed to make money, and that is no longer enough.

We are in the age of the connected individual. Some of them, the Musks, Bransons, Rhen Zengfeis’, combine connection with capital to create new entities. Others combine connection with politics to develop power. Others combine connection with influence, from the mundane stuff of social media to the dark side of insurgency.

Some, do all three.

I think it creates an uncomfortable imperative for us. If we cannot belong to an organisation, what do we belong to? To what are we “hefted”? What, when all around us is uncertain, matters? Do we have a compass to guide us?

Then, do we have a community who we support, and who will support us? People at our shoulders?

If we do, then are as potentially powerful as anyone else, and we can make a difference to something that matters. If we don’t, we are in danger of becoming refugees, looking for somebody to help us.

It’s uncomfortable, but right now, inevitable.

The infinite game of business remains unchanged. The finite game of traditional organisations is melting beneath our feet.