grappling with the future

January 25, 2016 0 comments

“Being future strong is living at the intersection of today and tomorrow: where living in the moment and who you have chosen to become dance together as one.” How would you explain the relevance of such a rhythm in the context of modern businesses?

550-1All of us live under constant pressure to produce results ‘now’! This has created a horrifying shortage of long-term thinking, habits, and practices. Not just at C-suite levels or in our strategic planning, but among many frontline workers and mid-level managers.

Yet most of tomorrow’s solutions cannot be solved through today’s ‘get-it-done-now’ actions.

We are heading toward eight billion hyper-connected people, a trillion-sensor economy, and tech startups that will completely disrupt healthcare. Dangerous divides between haves and have-nots will grow ever more harmful and violent. And while the sharing economy is freeing human capacity and creativity is exploding, the shifts are also creating just as many new ways for people to struggle and lose.

The quests for clean water, clean energy, and a better-educated workforce are growing more urgent and more global. Within the next decade, 25 major economies around the world will face massive labor shortfalls. Artificial intelligence, analytics, and robotics will forever alter how we think about labor, skills, and the future of jobs.

Breaking the cycle of ‘just-get-it-done-now’ has never been more urgent. Now will not easily and peaceably transition into the future. Each of us—every leader, every individual contributor, every business—must actively, boldly, and sometimes aggressively, begin working on tomorrow’s challenges today.

We each must find better ways to address the challenges we are creating for our future selves in how we check off today’s ‘to do’ lists.

‘The future is personal’—how do you justify this in a world of looming disruptions and uncertainties? How can ‘being future strong’ unleash human potential?
The immediate future will be filled mostly with two types of leaders and two types of businesses: Those who ‘get Uber’d’ and those who ‘Uber others’.

The transportation service company, Uber, has morphed into a verb. In that form, it represents the idea that all businesses will experience massive disruptions that seem to come out of nowhere—disruptions that can uproot entire businesses and industries within a few months.

‘Getting Uber’d’ is being a victim of those disruptions. ‘Ubering’ others is proactively setting new standards for success and getting things done.

Most of today’s businesses, industries, and 20th century ways of doing things (most companies still use outdated hierarchies and budgeting and reporting processes) do not willingly disrupt themselves. That takes visionaries who see a different future than today. And it takes disruptive heroes who embrace greater tolerances for risk and innovation in every level of the organization.

So when I speak about the future being personal, the first step that decides whether or not you will do the ‘Ubering’ is not driven by technology or business needs. It is your personal ability, grit, determination, and passion to take yourself outside of your own comfort zone and disrupt yourself. That is true whether you are a frontline forklift driver or a global CEO who leads thousands.

How do you perceive the transformational power of crucible moments/inner truths? Harnessing the fire of the soul and being driven by the ‘one thing’—how crucial is this for a leader?

For most of us, being that disruptive hero—defying what most would call conventional wisdom—can be scary! It means becoming secure with insecurity. It means embracing risks instead of avoiding them.

During our interviews, we found that leaders who had the most conviction to stay the course, even as it appears risky, did so based on a drive from deep within them. Leaders like Steve Jobs, who kept persevering until their vision is realized, no matter what.

Executives from around the globe told us of how their inner fire was forged during crucible moments from their past. Shaping that drive were experiences like charity from a stranger, being bullied as a child, the death of a family member, being a refugee from war, global travel, a meaningful moment in problem-solving, sports, or service to others.

Most every successful leader has experienced some personal transformation that shaped who they are. Like Jobs’ trip to India when he was young or when he was fired from Apple, the company he created—and those moments—gave him the courage to embrace the risks and unknowns of building a new future.

Each of us has had one or more moments like that. The key is understanding them fully and then leveraging them to become a disruptive hero.

Being ‘strong’ by being ‘vulnerable’—how would you deconstruct the seeming paradox in this thought?

A chosen vulnerability begins with embracing that the only way forward is to defy conventional wisdom and accept that what got you here (successes to date) will not get you there (success in the future).

Each of us must be more entrepreneurial and innovative—challenging and changing conventional wisdom. That may feel risky at first, but is truly the only path forward to ensure we can achieve our own dreams  and goals.

For example, I recently met an IT consultant who had just flown home after spending many long days helping his company’s client in another city. Conventional wisdom is that, to be successful, he should keep investing in his company’s clients to ensure his own success. But he did not see that creating enough options or revenue for him and
his family.

So how did I meet him? He picked me up on his way home from the airport. In addition to IT consulting, he is an Uber driver. Rather than over-invest in his employer and their clients for his success, he is creating his own path. Conventional wisdom might declare him a fool, and that he was risking his full-time job. But he saw it as choosing to invest extra hours and invest in himself to support his own independence.

‘Engagement’ assumes a new meaning in the context of the emerging workplace reality. How can an organization ensure 50/50 partnership in embracing hardships and successfully fulfill each individual’s needs, dreams, and aspirations?

If we have leaders who have the will to truly care about their people, and not just pay lip-service, we can achieve a 50/50 partnership.

For several decades, millions of employees around the globe have known that “our people are our most valuable asset” is a hollow talking point. (All one has to do to understand that hollowness is to study the decades-long trend line on global engagement scores.)

A 50/50 partnership is nothing more than acting with integrity on those talking points. Proper investments in training and development; career opportunities that are as focused on what each individual wants and needs, not just what companies want and need; rules, tools, and infrastructure that are as user-centered as they are corporate-centered.

During our interviews and surveys, we found that only about 10% of the mainstream workforce can achieve their personal dreams and goals where they currently work. Does that sound like a healthy and equitable relationship to you?

Everyone who works deserves a 50/50 relationship with their leaders and their company. Period.

‘Reliance relationships’ as opposed to ‘team relationships’.

An organization or manager can encourage and support great team relationships and still burn people out and diminish their personal successes and goals by focusing too much on company needs and not enough on each individual’s needs.

Reliance relationships are enhanced by their focus on each individual’s personal dreams and goals. Teammates become each other’s longer-term mentors and support group, focused on each other’s life needs, not just work needs.

How would you place the Maori concept of Utu in future work environments?

Utu is one culture’s version of the golden rule—the ethic of reciprocity, with an emphasis on the value of taking care of each other.

There is no secret here. No need to separate work environments from all other aspects of life. Practice caring for others as your mom, your family, your faith, your community taught you to do. Deep caring.

The bottom line for life is how well we cared for each other during our time on this earth.

As told to Anitha Moosath

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