If you believe that there is only one possible future for your organization, you might be limiting yourself to one scenario, creating a tunnel vision. That is why we help organizations become futures-ready, the plural form, which embraces the different possibilities ahead.
Remember: strategy is never something set in stone, it just provides a company with a sense of direction. By making it an everyday experience, it forces you to balance between a future vision and full presence in the now. This will help you to be better prepared for any future that may unfold.
This means that the future is something that can be altered, and made better. Change your perspective about how the world works, into a new way of seeing things. Or, to create change within your company, challenge the status quo: keep pointing at the failures in the old paradigm, act from the new one, and work with open-minded individuals.
And that… is how you can start making history by changing the future!
Forget cool ideas, innovation is all about (passionate) people
Recently, I was invited to clean up the old archive of my previous career, a global professional services firm where I was leading innovation for the EMEA region. I saw all the booklets, posters, campaign materials, tech gadgets and other materials we created throughout the years. It reminded me of how we innovated ourselves back then (2008) and how organizations are still struggling with similar challenges. Hence, I thought it would be nice to share some of my lessons learned in this article around the concept of innovating within an organization. Innovation is about passionate people!
To innovate or to not innovate, that’s not really the question (is it?)
The term ‘innovation’ has been used in so many different ways. It has almost become impossible to determine what an organization actually means when it talks about ‘being innovative’. After 15 years of working with and for organizations on the topic of innovation, I’ve seen many different approaches to the term. Not only the definition itself, but also the interpretation as to how an organization approaches it are so different. Ranging from creating a more entrepreneurial mindset for employees, to improving the existing business and launching radical new products or solutions that are cannibalizing the core business. I’ve witnessed organizations struggle with them.
“I see innovation as a means to help move an organization towards becoming Future(s) Ready.”
With regards to the definition, I see innovation as a means to help move an organization towards becoming Future(s) Ready. I use plural on purpose here, since we don’t know what the future will look like. So instead of focusing on what you think is the most plausible future, it might be more valuable to explore the different futures ahead and embrace them. We call this the Cone of Possibilities. There is a probable future ahead of us, but there are also plausible and possible futures. The challenge is to be ready for all of them. And in order to achieve that, innovation could be a means.
Successfully failing at organizing innovation
So with this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to share some of my learnings from these experiences. I see five lessons that are often key factors in the difference between successful innovation and successfully failing at organizing innovation.
Don’t be afraid to be bold to the leadership. If they don’t buy it and don’t truly want to innovate, then don’t bother. Note: I’m not talking about having it written down in the annual report as a nice innovation theater thing. Without commitment from the top it will be tough when things get challenging. What might help, is to (re)educate them. Bring them to clients to hear what they would like to see, or send them to a tech conference or other nicely designed program. We went to Singularity’s University’s Executive program to better understand the impact of technology on our client’s business (and ours).
Find people that intrinsically want to create change. As I once shared in my TEDx talk, innovation is not (just) about generating or identifying creative ideas. Rather it is about finding passionate people that believe in something and want to create change. Instead of focussing on identifying or generating innovative ideas, try to find passionate people with intrinsic motivation to create change. We shifted our approach from generating ideas to finding intrapreneurial people. We stimulate them through training and incentives to help us build new solutions.
Mind the corporate antibodies. Every organization has corporate antibodies. These are people or processes that will hinder what you are planning to change or hinder your new solution / product. It doesn’t help to neglect them. For example, the privacy team will for sure kill your idea if they see a risk with your amazing new data solution. Rather involve them from the start; how could you collaborate, what is the benefit for them? And don’t be fooled, they work just as in your body, they are fine with everything as long as the bacteria doesn’t become active. But, the minute it does, the white cells come and attack the intruder…
You’re smart, but they are smarter. Too often we see organizations that are too self confident about their expertise and knowledge. These organizations are capable of acknowledging the fact that for every employee there are 10 outside their organization that are as smart (or smarter). So instead of limiting your own beliefs, think how you could learn from others outside the organization. Who could be potential partners in the ecosystem? Who has tried this before and can share insights? Go sit and talk to people outside of your organization; visit incubators, talk to startups and entrepreneurs and learn from them.
It is about perseverance. So you thought being an innovation manager was fun and perceived as a cool job within the organization? Well it is. Nevertheless, we quite often (unfortunately) see it perceived more as a department that costs money instead of delivery money or value. This is also referred to as the fee burners instead of the fee earners. The thing is, change is per definition resistance. That’s how we are set up as human beings. Of course we say we like change. However, when things become real, then people tend to find it a bit more challenging. So, as a driver of change, you need to have thick skin and truly believe in where you want to head to create the desired change.
“But innovating is also about making small steps, experimenting, trying something new, daring to fail and believing in action rather than only theory.”
Take the first step
I have no illusion that these points are the only difference between success or failure when trying to ‘innovate’ your organization. There are for sure hundreds of other criteria that should be taken into consideration. But innovating is also about making small steps. Experiment, trying something new, dare to fail and believe in action rather than only theory. Hence, maybe these few tips may help you get on your way, review your current process, or simply think about your next step.
So, next time you are thinking about whether or not your organization is Future(s) Ready and how innovation can help, think of this article! Hopefully these five little lessons will be in the back of your mind.
Interested in learning more on how we help organizations be Future(s) Ready? Drop us a line and we would be happy to get in touch.
Urgency. It’s a fascinating instinct, a feeling, which has helped us humans greatly in the past, but which in our modern world sometimes prevents us from doing crucial things. Dwight D. Eisenhower said it nicely; “The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent”. We tend to find many things urgent and struggle to identify what’s really urgent. The same counts for organizations. In the modern world, organizations need to adapt to a changing world, it needs to think about new innovations, and perhaps a new strategy as well. And again, that’s of course all really urgent. But what exactly is urgency? What happens if we find things urgent? And how can we use the sense of urgency on an organizational level to drive change? Discover how to use stories to create urgency for better futures!
Urgency is a human instinct
In his book Factfulness, Hans Rosling talks about the urgency-instinct. It is a deeply human instruction, with a purpose: to survive. Back in the day, that came in pretty handy. As hunters and gatherers, we were roaming the face of the earth and might be surprised by a wild lion. In that case, you need to feel the urgency to act! Run! It’s not really helpful to start analyzing the situation, because before you know it it’s too late — you die. In other words, urgency puts us humans in immediate action modus.
But, we don’t live in that world anymore. There are no — or at least almost no — imminent life and death dangers that require immediate action. The challenges in today’s world are far more complex and, contrary to immediate action, they require careful analytical thinking in order to come up with solutions.
Urgency gone rogue
Knowing what urgency is and where it came from, it’s worthy to distinguish two types of urgencies in organizations described by John P. Kotter: Anxiety-driven urgency and opportunity-driven urgency.
“‘We need to do something now! Otherwise, we will become the new Kodak’”
Anxiety-driven urgency is the urgency of getting out of the current position because sticking around makes you anxious. Perhaps you have a crisis on your hands, are being disrupted, or something else is pressing. Just like you are running away from the tiger, you want to get out as fast as possible. This sense of urgency will put people in action mode. Everybody starts working hard to do something about the situation, but nobody has a clear picture of where they want to go. People are busy with urgent things, but not the important things.
“‘There is this bold opportunity ahead of us, and if we seize it we can flourish, but we need to act now!’”
Instead of focusing on getting out as fast as you can, the opportunity-driven urgency is focused on looking forward: Where do you actually want to go? What vision do you have? What opportunity do you see? This type of urgency will put people in action mode but now all actions are aligned to the envisioned opportunity. People are busy with urgent and important things, which empowers and motivates people.
Creating stories with the end in mind
We like to challenge you to pursue opportunity-driven urgency. Yes, it is more challenging to put into practice as it can be difficult to articulate what exactly the opportunity at hand is. It requires more thinking time and perhaps making bold choices of what to pursue and what not. But in the long run, such an opportunity for the future will help you drive change throughout the organization.
At Minkowski, we enable organizations to make history by changing the future and often help them define their future opportunities. We call it reasoning with the end in mind and it’s at the core of our applied futures methodology. This collaborative methodology helps organizations to explore future(s), see what opportunities lie ahead, and map these observations in a logical reasoning structure, a Story for Change.
Stories are an important tool in our work because having defined an opportunity to pursue is one thing, but having people believe in the opportunity is another. That’s why we always include Ethos (The character, the hands), Pathos (Emotion, the heart), and Logos (Logic, the mind) in the stories that we create.
Armed with an emotional story about a bold opportunity in the future, you are able to create a positive sense of urgency and an engaging story that will connect with the organization and that will drive change. Try it yourself! Use stories to create urgency for better futures.
Are you curious about how you can use storytelling techniques to find opportunities for change? Feel free to reach out.
As we always say: one aspect of Future(s) Readiness is to reframe problems and challenges and discover future opportunities. Reframing allows individuals and organizations to explore new perspectives and consider possibilities that may not have been obvious before. Céline Janssen illustrates something similar in her performance as an opera innovator, such as in the video below. Opera… and innovation? Yes, congrats! You just opened up to a new possibility! So, this is your sign to start reframing! Identify new opportunities and solutions, navigate the possible futures ahead, choose a direction, and start making history by changing the future for the better! What do you get out of the message of Céline?
Do you want to discover more about Céline? Check about us.
It is dazzling how fast things are moving and happening. Change that used to happen over years and decades is now taking place in weeks or days. We as humans have never dealt with change of this magnitude or at this pace and our lineair way of thinking is being challenged by the speed, and the complexity of it.
‘What got us here won’t get us there’ has never been more true. And who still believed in the all-knowing heroic leader who will get us out of the mess, is proven wrong for once and for all. Not a single leader holds all the knowledge, experience and skills to lead us into the emerging future and can anticipate the constant change all by him (or her)self. And if you think you do, please read on or scroll straight to point 1 below 😉. Or, discover one of the other 3 things strong leaders do really well!
As change becomes more and more pervasive and perpetual, there is a need for a new kind of leadership. One that is better equipped to lead our rapidly changing organizations and workplaces, manage our physical and mental health and well-being, and focus on the major trends and challenges that shape our future. On top of that, this new kind of leadership requires leaders to be able to develop the necessary resilience, cohesion, and collaboration in their organizations to perform at the highest levels, while change, by its nature, leaves people and organizations feeling anxious, confused, vulnerable, and divided. But how? There are 3 things strong leaders do really well!
How do you do that?
Admit you are not perfect. Yes, really. You are only human too. Let go of the idea of being the indispensable, perfect, infallible Leader with a capital L. Instead of showing power and control, show humility and authenticity. Feels counterintuitive when everyone is looking at you for what to do? As long as you have a view of the horizon, it’s okay to be open about the things you are unclear and uncertain about. In fact, it creates trust, psychological safety and it empowers others when you do that. This in turn will drive shared learning and intelligence, resulting in enhanced collective performance and leading to better solutions for all.
Listen with empathy and curiosity. Change is scary. Humans don’t like it. So when lots of change is happening, a good leader listens and shows empathy. It might feel as if it’s slowing you down, but it is a key step to contain the anxiety and understand the powers at play that might sabotage collective performance. Also, listen with curiosity: a good leader is no longer someone who brings his own knowledge to the table, but someone who ensures that all the knowledge sitting around the table is shared. So be open to the ideas and perspectives others around you have on the challenge at hand. It will increase organizational learning and enable effective navigation through complex change, driving better performance.
Give meaning. At the end of the day, all humans long for a meaningful life. When we contribute to something that is important to us, we feel fulfilled. Leaders who bring values and purpose into the organization enhance focus, cohesion, and resilience and this particularly is important in times of massive change.When it feels as though everything is changing it helps to be connected by an underlying set of values that are always relevant, no matter what is happening around us. It is your northern star while navigating change by reminding us of what really matters.
Some people are born with these skills as a natural strength but for the rest of us the good news is that everybody can learn and develop these human skills. Which of these skills do you recognise in yourself? And where do you see room for development? Not sure how to figure that out? Let’s have a chat!
Have you heard of the Johnny Depp v Amber Heard lawsuit?
If you haven’t, you’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding newspapers, tv, but perhaps most importantly: social media. This lawsuit is not a typical everyday one: It’s widely covert and broadcasted, which isn’t new on itself, but the role social media plays is a relatively new one. On platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok people share and like news pieces, video fragments, and whatnot. On TikTok for example, the two popular hashtags are #JusticeforJohnnyDepp (10bn views) and #JusticeforAmberHeard (8.4bn views) (The Guardian, 2022). This has moved the lawsuit away from the court of law to the court of public opinion. Who will win in court at the end remains uncertain, but if you just look at the number of views of the hashtags, the public verdict is already there. This is just one of many examples showcasing a rising phenomena: Public scrutiny.
Public scrutiny is connected to the ability of people to easily access information, form opinions on what they see and share that on e.g., social media platforms. These platforms function as a gathering place for people with (similar) opinions to unite. In this article, we zoom in on public scrutiny. What is it, how does it impact — next to individuals — businesses and how this development could unfold in the future.
We live in a world with an abundance of online information. Information, on almost every topic, available right at our fingertips. Useful when you are studying, want to know more about the world or are investigating this new business idea you had. Whether it’s pictures, reports, news flashes or video’s — it’s all there. You can view it, read it and interact with it. The latter is especially powerful: With social media, we can share, comment, like, tweet and retweet with or to people around the world, optionally being anonymous.
Let’s go back to Depp v Heard. Many people watch or read about it, they pick out pieces of information or video fragments to their liking, form an opinion about it and share it with the rest of the world. Some people carefully assess the situation before they share their opinion online, others share it in a blond fashion. Literally anyone can spin a story online, creating a lot of turmoil. Before you know it, everybody is publicly scrutinizing the situation, giving bold statements resulting in what we now know as a “cancel culture”.
What’s at the core of public scrutiny is a misalignment of values underlying the situation (e.g. the lawsuit) and the values that the individual holds. This causes many people to raise their voice, or nowadays fingers on a smartphone for that matter, because they are concerned about something, or disapprove of something.
“Scrutiny is a misalignment of values underlying the situation and the values that the individual holds”
Impact for businesses
But what about businesses? Well, the same rules apply. Take for example the Starbucks shop in Philadelphia in 2018. Two Afro-American entered the Starbucks in Philadelphia and sat down, waiting for a third friend to arrive. Allegedly, one wanted to use the bathroom but the Starbucks employee refused as they hadn’t ordered anything yet. After a while, one of the employees asked the two men to leave. They refused and police came in to arrest the two men. This whole scene was filmed by another customer, who shared it on Twitter. Within 24 hours #boycottstarbucks was the most popular Starbucks hashtag.
In this example, we can clearly see the misalignment of values in arresting two innocent Afro-Americans and the values of society (such as anti-discrimination). It set in motion a boycott movement on social media impacting the business of Starbucks globally.
But does scrutiny, for lack of a better word, ‘work’? In order words; does it have a positive effect? The Starbucks’ CEO made a public apology and closed 8000 stores for one day to host a racial bias training. You can argue whether this action constitutes a positive effect, but at least the online unity of people put things in motion. Scrutiny is a powerful tool that society collectively holds and which has the power to partially dictate the agenda of businesses — and governments for that matter.
“Scrutiny is a powerful tool that society collectively holds and which has the power to partially dictate the agenda of businesses — and governments for that matter.”
A future perspective
At Minkowski, we help organizations make history by changing the future. One of the tools we often use is the ‘Cone of Possibilities’, in which we map possible, plausible, probable developments in the future. Below are three developments that could affect the future of scrutinization. If you have other things on your radar, let us know!
Acceleration of scrutiny: One perspective is that the amount of scrutiny will further increase. Research has shown that since 2006, the number of protests in the world has increased, especially in mid and top level income countries (Ortiz et al, 2022). On top of that, Gen Z and A — who hold other values compared to, e.g. Baby Boomers — are entering adulthood hence their voices will be more reflecting in the public conversation. Misalignment is lurking. Will every wrong move of businesses be watched closely? Will more individuals be canceled?
Fake news: In order to scrutinize publicly, you need to have information: newsflash, a video, an article. But who says it has to be real? Fake news has already been among us for a while in various forms. However, with technologies, such as deep-fakes, improving rapidly, the ability to create fake news will become easier. Hence, the possibility that you will be watching fake news will increase too. Questions that arise are; will we get more or less fake news? What role will social media play in this? Will the distinction between real or fake news blurr? What will this impact be?
Digital detox: Though Gen Z and A are heavy social media users, we already see the early signal that they often actively put away their phone, create digital detox moments or even move away from social media platforms. With less people online, is it still possible to scrutinize?
What can businesses do?
These developments provide some thought provoking questions on how scrutiny could evolve towards the future. At Minkowski, we always bring the future back to the present: what can you, as an organization in particular, do today? What actions can you take, knowing that there is the possibility of scrutinizing your business?
It’s important to understand that if you are prone to scrutiny, it doesn’t happen without reason — often it’s because of a misalignment in values. Too often we see businesses hide behind the claim that what they do is legal, that the public has no say over it. However, what is legally right might be considered ethically wrong by society.
That’s why we believe that companies who are purpose-driven and show-by-example, are the organizations that stand strongest against scrutiny. Being purpose-driven is more than a fancy inspiring statement. It’s something that the whole organization needs to believe, and needs to act upon. Every decision that is being made should be in line with the purpose. To create such a strong purpose, you need to think about what your business stands for and what values you — perhaps as a leader — hold dear.
“Being purpose-driven is more than a fancy inspiring statement; it’s something that the whole organization needs to believe, and needs to act upon.”
If you are looking for inspiration, you can check out Patagonia — one of many great purpose-driven organizations. Ads like ‘Don’t buy this jacket’, donations of 1% of revenue or 10% of profit — also known as tithing — to social or environmental causes and their repair programs are just three examples of how they live their purpose: building the best products, cause no unnecessary harm and use business to protect nature.
The examples of Patagonia above are in line with today’s zeitgeist, in which we focus on sustainability, see the effects of climate change and see society reacting to that. Hence, the possibility of being publicly scrutinized by society is very little for them.
And don’t get me wrong; it’s not the goal to limit public scrutiny for your business to avoid negative publicity. Rather, it is to tune in to what society at large deems acceptable. Afterall, your organization wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for society — the customer at the end. Power to the people.
What’s your purpose going to be?
Final reflection: Minkowski’s spectacles
The reflection above is an illustration of how we see the world and the futures unfolding. We translate it back to today, to be able to decide what actions to take today.
Working with scenarios, as we do in our work, is a continuous act. Scenarios are never set in stone. Actual events happening in the present have an effect on the future paths that you’ve sketched out. The reasoning above is just an example of how the tools we apply can be used to explore various perspectives on a topic.
Want to know more about our latest thinking or about us, please reach out. We are always happy to think with you about your future.
Before I became a leadership and team development coach I’ve worked at Unilever for 15 years. Unilever is a purpose-driven organization that uses its brands consciously, strategically and intentionally to work towards making a positive impact on the world. I don’t know if I would have lasted for this long and would have been so proud of the work I did if it had only been about the P&L. I see the power of purpose everywhere around me these days. Companies need an organizational mission that creates a better future and goes beyond profit. It is in fact the most crucial element in the war for talent. Here’s why it matters (and why I’ve joined Minkowski).
When Dove, the personal care brand, announced it wanted to make a positive impact on women by broadening the view on beauty, quite a few eyebrows were raised in the (mainly male) boardroom of our Dutch office. Commercials featuring “real” women in white underwear? While competitors Photoshopped beautiful celebrities to market their products with credibility? The board saw that as risky business (even though the average female size in the Netherlands is 42). But I, as a young marketer, believed that beauty should be a source of self-confidence, not fear and insecurity. In fact, our entire Dove team was so inspired that, to make a point, we went out of our clothes to undergo a Dove photo shoot in white underwear ourselves and exhibit it to the entire company in the quarterly meeting.
“I didn’t sleep much, knowing that the next morning a few hundred colleagues would be looking at our unretouched bodies. But it felt incredibly good to participate in a movement that has turned the beauty industry on its head and helped millions of women around the world gain a more positive body image over the past 2 decades.”
Fast forward, years later, I was proudly in charge of the Blue Band brand in Indonesia. Proud of margarine? Yep! Because the brand is committed to providing nutritious breakfasts for school children in a developing country where 1 in 4 children go to school without food. A few years later, as marketing director, I was organizing mentorships for young underprivileged women in the townships of Johannesburg as part of the marketing program of Dawn, South Africa’s largest local body lotion brand. This way, the brand wants to help young, underprivileged women get one step closer to their dreams and offer them a support system to not give up. This showcases the power of purpose.
Dove’s Real Women campaign, shot by leading fashion photographer Rankin. Photograph: Dove/PA
Three types of purpose
Organization purpose lies at the interface between ‘who we are’ and ‘what the need is in society’. It answers the ‘why’. There are roughly 3 types:
purpose driven by conviction (wanting to do the right thing),
purpose driven by impact (taking responsibility for your footprint)
purpose driven by mastery (striving for excellence and quality).
The power of purpose for your organization
Several studies show that purpose driven organizations grow faster than those that are not. 85% of purpose driven organizations show top line growth, compared to only 42% of non-purpose driven organizations. They are also more innovative because they want to find a solution to a social problem that is also commercially interesting. They are more adaptive to change because purpose provides direction in an increasingly complex world and instills an intrinsic motivation to do better. This is why these companies attract more talent and make the workforce healthier.
Why is purpose so hot?
Purpose is nothing new. But a few trends make it seem more relevant now than ever. First, there is global agreement that things cannot go on like this. Climate change, environmental degradation and social inequality are high on the agenda. Ensuring that social responsibility is no longer a PR trick to look good, but is increasingly recognized in business as a strategic necessity for survival. The paradox between those who earn a lot from capitalism and the price paid for it by others (low wages, child slavery, pollution, waste of natural resources, inhumane working conditions, unemployment, pension deficits, to name a few) is no longer sustainable. This tension is causing investors, employees and consumers to expect organizations to think about the impact they are making on society. The financial crisis of 10 years ago has only reinforced this attitude towards organizations. Moreover, younger generations are genuinely concerned about climate change because they will have to pay the price for it in the future. The power of purpose is growing.
“I have seen how an organization’s purpose releases human energy, even when times are tough, and provides direction in an increasingly complex world. And I’ve experienced how it makes people feel to work for a purpose. Or to buy it. It’s a powerful tool to connect people emotionally to your organization, but it only works if it’s authentic and embedded in the organization.”
How do you arrive at an organizational purpose?
There are four key steps to arriving at organizational purpose and actually bringing it to life. Some of the steps have probably been done before, but it’s built with a certain structure and in a framework that drives results if you do it right.
Define — make explicit what the organization is really good at, what positive impact it wants to make and what social need is going to be fulfilled.
Articulate — create an inspiring purpose statement and the story that goes with it.
Activate & communicate — walk the talk and roll out the purpose. Build credibility and authenticity. What it means for the leadership team to carry out the purpose in word and deed.
Embed — bring purpose into the core of your business as a strategy for success.
Purpose can transform the organization, but there is no short cut. It takes time and is a constant process of trial, error, and learning. So take the time to define and articulate your purpose. Involve leaders and ambassadors in the organization who will help propagate the purpose and have a long term view. And “aim high”; if the magnitude of your purpose makes you nervous, you’re in the right place.
Minkowski is named after Hermann Minkowski. He was a brilliant mathematician who developed a scientific model to look at the future in the 19th century, and also had an important role in Einstein’s development as one of his teachers. We believe that the world needs many more Einsteins, people who consciously use their talent to imagine a better future. Our purpose is therefore to co-create 1 million Einsteins. We do this by developing people in organizations who want to make history by changing the future into something better.
“Developing 1 million people sounds impossible, but when we succeed, we’ve helped make the world a better place. And that is the biggest motivator there is for our entire team.”
Do you want to know more about us and our approach? Please, let’s have a chat!
Clients often ask us what we think the most important themes for the future are, based on the insights we gain from our work. It is true that we collaborate with many different kinds of organizations on the futures they see. This gives us a broad perspective on what the current thinking on the future of business looks like. These perspectives are never a prediction of a certain future, but they do inform us on what the sentiment on the outlook of business is. The clients we work with benefit from these insights of course, even though we don’t make this explicit to them. We think that anyone can greatly benefit from these perspectives on the future. So here are the 3 things every boardroom is thinking about these days, according to our experience.
“How will sustainability and climate change impact us, how can we leverage digital technologies to tackle some of these challenges and how will we organize ourselves to best deal with the second and third order effects of both these aspects?”
Signals from the futures
Almost every organization we work with is challenged by two developments in the near future and present that have a tremendous impact on the way they will run their business. The third aspect that always surfaces in our work is the question ‘how do we do this?’. We’ve combined these three aspects in a graph so that it can become a tool to orient your organization on these three axes. Future challenges can arise on any of the axes separately, but they are also connected to each other. So combinations between digitization and sustainability for instance good be challenging (or in some cases they hold solutions).
Three aspects on boardroom topics
Sustainability: Every organization identifies sustainability or the energy transition as one of the most important and challenging issues in the near future. Whether this has a direct impact on their core business or whether this provides new opportunities for them is different for each company. Whatever the impact is, action and adapted strategies are always essential for any of them. Aside from direct energy and climate issues the spill-over effects of this theme are also felt by most organizations. Increasingly they get confronted with the mentality of a younger generation that sees the threats of climate change as the most important issue facing their personal futures.
Digitization: Perhaps for some organizations and frontrunners inside organizations the topic of digitization almost sounds like a thing from the past. But for most organizations the real application of what digitization means for them is only just starting. Most organizations we work with see digitization as something that challenges them in different ways, but they all see it as a necessity for the future. Again, new generations entering the workforce bring new expectations of what it means to work for an organization in the 4th industrial revolution.
Organization: The third topic that has many organizations puzzled is the question ‘how?’. Whatever the new direction for the future is, every organization want to understand how to best approach the changes at hand. There is no scarcity for new ideas anymore and inspiration about the future is omnipresent, but what to do with all of that is unclear. A decade ago this question was less prominent as many organizations were at that point searching for new perspectives and ideas about the future, but today, this question is the most posed one.
Your futures change domain
When we plot these three topics in a graph (as illustrated above) a domain for future change arises. Simply ask yourself: to what degree are we uncertain what to do on each of the axes? The higher you score the bigger your change domain becomes and the more important it will be to gain clarity on these aspects. But don’t worry, as we said at the start of this article: these topics give every boardroom headaches, so you’re not alone.
“For every organization the question becomes: how will sustainability and climate change impact us, how can we leverage digital technologies to tackle some of these challenges and how will we organize ourselves to best deal with the second and third order effects of both these aspects?”
The future is always changing. Whether you like it or not: change is a constant. As the future can not be predicted, the best way to prepare for a future is to embrace the possibilities that lie ahead of you. So how can you become future ready?
In our work at Minkowski we help organizations map these possibilities in a so-called ‘cone of possibilities’. The basic idea behind this, is that you explore what is possible for your organization in the near future and identify what these possibilities could mean for your company. By doing this you’ll be able to identify the (weak) signals of a possible future, so that when these signals show up, you know how to respond to them (or how to use them to accelerate on your strategic path forward). There’s one crucial factor in doing this successfully: you really have to believe that these possibilities could occur and you really have to believe that you are able to react to them with your organization. Or in other words: you have to embrace these possibilities: you have to embrace the future.
What does this mean? Let’s look back at that last sentence: ’embrace the future’. And let’s use the analogy of something that is ‘waterproof’ and replace the word future for the word water. Embracing the future then becomes: embracing the water. For something that should be waterproof that is the last thing you want. Instead of embracing the water you would want to keep the water out. Now ask yourself: if you want to prepare your organization for the future do you want to keep the future out?
From future proof to future ready
I’m assuming that your answer to that question is ‘no’. You don’t want to keep the future out, on the contrary, you would want to get the future in. As I’ve described above, the way we get the future in with our work at Minkowski is by starting from the future and then reasoning our way back to today. This way ‘the future’ is ingrained in all the things you do afterward. As soon as you’ve seen something, you can never not see it anymore (at least if you really believe in the possibility) and this also goes for your thoughts about the future.
If it’s not future proof, then what should it be? Arjan suggested ‘future ready’. If you phrase it like that futures thinking becomes an activity to make yourself ready for when that future emerges. Just like you get ready for the final of a big tournament you can then train yourself for it.
We believe that is a much better way to make your organization sensitive for the changes that lie ahead, because the question is not: will it change, but when will it change?
The other week I was asked to talk about collaboration at a company with a group of architects. They were trying to cross the boundaries of their silo’ed departments more often in an attempt to become more innovative. They’d tried many things but none of them really stuck.
One of the reasons for this, as my friend Maria so nicely explained to me before, is because (company) culture is a complex (and very resilient) ecosystem. Just like in nature those resilient systems can only be changed by a ‘comet-strikes-earth’ approach. However, that will leave a lot of destruction in the wake of the trail. Another approach is by turning a lot of little changes into an evolutionary change. That way you can actually direct or lead the change. So… I suggested to deliberately design for small interventions of collaboration and gave them a recipe on how to do this.
Slowing down to build relationships so you can speed up on innovation
The one most crucial first ingredient of that recipe is ‘empathy’: connect with your collaborators on an emotional and personal level first. So very often people forget to do this. We all run into meetings or gatherings, sit down and get things going. But when you do that, you have no idea ‘where people are coming from’. What’s on their minds, what’s in their heart, are they really present in this moment of collaboration or ‘is their head somewhere else’? And even: who are they?
In my work I always take time for this ‘empathy’ phase. For instance, with this company I asked them all to share a personal experience of moment when they collaborated best. It sets the tone for the rest of the meeting, it builds personal relationships and it increases the chance of being better collaborators. More and more I take this approach of really ‘checking in with the people around me’ to my personal life as well and I have turned it into a version of what Morris Pickens taught me as ‘your locker room’ moment. Thanks for that Mo!