The Emotional Supply Chain – a tale of three businesses.

Having written about emotional supply chains earlier, a good example fell into my lap this week.

I took an opportunity to spend a few days in Puglia, which involved three companies; an airline, a letting agency, and a car hire company. Turned out to be three very different experiences.

In chronological order, the letting agency. The have a developed an outstanding app, which let me choose somewhere, check availability, talk directly to the owner, and book. A great combination of automated efficiency and human contact. It extended to arrival and departure, being looked after by a local contact. (A high five to home and away)

The airline, a currently strike prone national carrier, was heavy on automation, but it worked well. Very few humans, but easy check in, bag drop and a good flight.

The care hire company, a major international chain, was neither of the above. Cumbersome booking and opaque pricing on a very average web page, but where it got interesting was on arrival. It took as long in the queue to collect the car as it took to fly from the UK. Staff were harassed, no eye contact, and a frustrating experience given that the admin can hardly be much more complex than for the airline. In this case the humans were a real downside. I was longing for an app.

Overall, I came away with a feeling of trust and connection to the letting agency, neutral abut the airline (efficient, but the prospect of unexpected strike action negated the human side) and a real dislike of the car hire company, who I am unlikely to use again. Which is a shame, because if the got the human part of it half right, the rest worked well.

As we increasingly automate what we can, the human aspect will come to the fore. Size and scale will only really affect the logical supply chain, and I suspect it has an inverse effect on the emotional one.

It’s happening now.

Tension

There’s a space between what we’re doing now and what we’ll be doing next. Some of that gap we can measure in time, like the timing between two notes on a musical score.

Then there’s a more complex, nuanced version. The quality of what is happening in that space. The energy. The things that affect the nature of that change.

The combination of these two qualities – time, and nature- create a tension, an energy, between one beat and the next.

That tension cannot be measured, only sensed. To sense it, we need make space for it.

That tension is increasing. For any given time period, the change energy is increasing. The difference between 2020 and 2021 is likely to very different to that between 2018 and 2019.

The issues we are seeing are not isolated from each other. They will combine and morph into new forms in a similar way to viruses adapting to defeat antibiotics.

We need to pay attention to this liminal space in which these issues combine. If we pay attention only to the symptoms, we’ll miss the cause and if do that we are far more likely to be disadvantaged than energised.

Whatever time you put aside for reflection and research, double it.

Stranded on the summit.

To make the changes we need to not just survive, but thrive together, we have to go beyond what we know and be guided by what we believe in, our intuition, and our insight.

It’s difficult, because we’re used to proof. A solid business case. Someone to blame if it goes wrong.

We’re used to lionising those who succeed, and castigating those who fail, even when what has been as stake is little more than profitably rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

We’ve entered a period where to progress we need to go into the unknown and be prepared to fail in the pursuit of something worthwhile, whilst we gain the knowledge that will be the platform for the next decades of growth. (hint; people will be more important than systems)

Which brings me to an issue I see. Most of our training around innovation, creativity and leadership is formulaic. Designed for what we have been doing, not what we need to do. It is well delivered, professional, often expensive but has short time horizons. Its’ usefulness also has a short half life in periods of rapid change.

The capabilities we need to develop are significantly different. They address what is emerging but not yet clear, and focus on different values to the financial ones that have brought us to now. They are varied, developmental, often experiential and address more distant time horizons. They are not always expensive, or at this stage profitable for the providers.

This seems to generate a conflict. These two approaches speak different languages. They have different goals. Each can regard the other with disdain, as either too mundane, or too flaky. We need to resolve this conflict.

(Note – there is evidence of this changing. Attendance at Burning Man and some other settings includes senior leaders from a range of organisations – but we’re only making the tiniest of scratches in a very hard surface.)

We need a bridge; a common language. Otherwise, we get people to deep insights whilst exploring the unknown, and leave them stranded without any way to bring it back into the current mainstream. We can do the work, take them to the top of the mountain, but then leave them there.

The key is delivering insight, often to people who will resist it because it requires new thinking, new habits and new measures all of which are unfamiliar.

It places real loads on leaders who will require very different skills from those we teach in the mainstream.

It requires those of us delivering new ways of seeing to generate insight with a real responsibility to be not just guides, but Sherpas. To go along on the journey, share the load and the risk. To know not just the techniques, but the territory.

(and a High Five to David Chabeaux, who gave me the mountain metaphor. I like it a lot.)

Getting to the top of the mountain is dangerous, and the view is wonderful from there, but as any mountaineer will tell you more people die on the way down than on the way up.