Toeholds on the future

When working with large organisations it can sometimes feel as if I am trying to resuscitate dinosaurs and that it might be kinder to shoot them and let evolution take its course more rapidly. With all of their legacy systems, and legacy attitudes, it can feel like trying to turn around the Titanic and people inevitably end up shuffling deckchairs.

(Does having two metaphors in such rapid succession count as mixing them?)

But most of the office based working population works in those sorts of organisations, and they are increasingly aware that massive change is heading their way, if not already upon them. A combination of faster networked communications, increasing potential for automation of repetitive bureaucratic processes, and often a customer base whose expectations are far outstripping the organisation’s ability to respond, and it is clear that something has to be done.

The trouble is that often what is done is more of the same. More initiatives, more communications plans, more technology spend. But underneath nothing changes and everyone knows it. The phrase “lipstick on a pig” frequently comes to mind.

What if the future is about less, or smaller? Incremental changes rather than large corporate initiatives. Individual behaviour change rather than sweeping “culture change”. Smaller, more autonomous teams rather than vast open plan offices full of people feeding the system.

What would it take for you to adapt to that world? What would you start doing? What would you stop doing? How would the next conversation you have at work be different?

How could you grasp that first toehold on the future?

3 thoughts on “Toeholds on the future”

  1. Love this observation. I think there’s huge likelihood that the future will consist of smaller organisations – suspect that v recent history has shown us how unable we are to work at scale in an inclusive manner, that’s fair for all.

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  2. Leaders in organizations like to surround themselves with myths of rationality and constructed causal chains to prove their decision-making ability. Chance, luck and unpredictability are the natural enemies of the omniscient conductor in politics and business. Nevertheless, the belief in control and steering is stubbornly part of the bullshit moniker of the position elite to stay at the helm. Or in the words of the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt: Bullshitting makes the smart-ass appear clever and is always unavoidable when circumstances require talking without knowing what about. It is not easy to predict how one can work successfully. It is therefore much more important to deal with the phenomenon of contingency: You can’t build the future on a drawing board. Contingency means: there are other ways – there are several possibilities. Instead of wasting time with stupid visions, strategies and plans, organisations should prove themselves as observers of contingency. Recognizing opportunities instead of chasing a chimera of rational decision. For the economist Israel Kirzner, an entrepreneur is an incapacitator of the occasional – an exploiter of opportunity. Occasio is the goddess of opportunity with a mop of hair falling forward, where you have to grab it; if you miss this moment, you don’t get a second chance, because the lady is bald from behind.

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    1. Fantastic. Totally agree. In fact in my team at the BBC we used to use an American Marines saying which is “keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground.”
      The perceived need for right answers and chains of causality to justify positions of power are a large part of the problem.
      The challenge that I am currently facing when doing keynotes is that asking people to step away from that and behave fundamentally differently represents an existential challenge. I just have to keep reminding myself that if I can reach the two people in the audience who are up for it then I have done my job.

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