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?

We’re all heroes now

Whether we like it or not.

Campbell’s iconic structure covers a compelling sequence, starting in the “ordinary world”, a call to adventure and departure on a difficult Journey. Along the way our hero meets a mentor, who changes our her understanding of the world which leads her in to a road of trials, in unfamiliar and frightening surroundings and inevitably to “a long dark night of the soul” where all seems lost. However, in meeting the challenge, she discovers what she needs, and overcomes the odds. She then has a decision to make- to stay where she is, enjoying the fruits of here courage, or to take the secret back to the ordinary world.

Most of us will recognise that our ordinary world, where we understood the rules, our position and could plan is well behind us.

We need mentors. They are not our normal leaders, they are those who care for you and your potential for genius. They are out there.

We find ourselves on a road of trials, and for many, where we are right now seems like a long dark night of the soul.

We can’t go back to the ordinary world. It doesn’t want us and we have nothing to give it, until we find our way forward through the current difficulties.

That’s our job right now. Individually and collectively. To embrace the frightening, the uncertain; to tame it and use it.

In our own worlds, right now, we have no choice other than to be a hero. Those around you, who share what matters to you, need nothing less

The Business Weather

One of the quietest but biggest advances we have made in forecasting is the weather. A few years ago, forecasting accuracy was laughable beyond even a couple of days. Now, we can be pretty confident up to around five days, and get a useful, if less accurate predictions for up to a couple of weeks.

The difficulty comes of course from complexity. Chaos theory was triggered by the change in weather forecast accuracy caused by recording data at five rather than six decimal places. Driven by that realisation, and aided by huge advances in AI and machine learning, we are where we are today.

As the business environment becomes ever more connected, and as a result, ever more complex, we face similar challenges. Our ability to forecast is heavily foreshortened. We used to write five year plans; today five months is a challenge.

We have to adapt, and to do that I believe we need to look not to forecasting technology, but to ourselves. If we accept that our forecasts are at best short term templates, and not reliable, we have to look to how we relate to these forecasts.

If we stick to our traditional habit of making forecasts, setting goals, and going for them regardless we end up blind to the threats and opportunities that will emerge around us.

We need, above all else, to consider the human aspect. Hierarchies, formal processes, bureaucracies and the like do not serve us well. What becomes important are the depth and honesty of our relationships, a deep understanding and sensing of what is happening in the markets we serve, our agility – freedom to move with as little encumbrance as as we can manage; making sure those who need to make decisions – those at the customer interface – can do so without delay and lastly, a really clear focus, understood by all, as to what needs to be achieved.

If we do this, we can not only cope with complexity, but thrive on it. It requires though big changes in our cultures and structures. Old ideas of hierarchical status, rank and ego have to go, and purpose, ownership and personal commitment have to be central.

Things will not “go back to normal”.

We have to start. Each one of us.