Coming: Dips, Rocks and Thunderstorm

Joseph Pistrui's post from his blog really resonated with me and I thought it would with you!  Jospeh is a friend, colleague and wise man. He diverse background and expertise gives him the credibilty to speak on our very dynamic world.  So read on and please ponder.  And thank you, Joseph, for letting me repost your words here!

A recent tweet by 7billCORPORATE (@7billcorp, part of @7billionideas) really nailed the truth about innovation and business. On 30 January 2015 via Twitter, a brilliant graphic was added to a post that contrasted the perception many people have about the path to progress and what it’s really like. Here ’tis:

Path to Progress

So many think that innovation happens quickly, smoothly, without roadblocks or bumps. And that may be true, for a few. If you are operating in a business environment in which there is a reasonably clear — and straight — line to who your future customers will be and what products and services you need to develop for them, first count your blessings and then get on the accelerator. Assuming you have the technology and know-how to make it happen, these are precisely the conditions when speed is critically important. Start. Go fast. Keep going. Don’t stop.

In these rare moments in the world of enterprise, getting to your destination as fast and efficiently as possible must be your paramount goal. The business world has countless tools for planning and eking out process improvements for such journeys, and you probably already know how to use them well.

In such cases, think of the time you may have watched with envy that shiny red Porsche Carrera speeding off down the highway with the driver pushing “pedal to the metal”. Recall the roar of all that horsepower as it reached top speed and peak performance, unchallenged by anything or anyone on the road.

Unfortunately, such an analogy isn’t the reality for most firms. “The future” for most businesses and organisations I encounter will be the kind of path that 7billCORPORATE displays. There will be dips, rocks, wobbly bridges over unknown chasms and deep water where you expected smooth pavement. Oh, and don’t forget the thunderstorms.

For most of those I meet, their future operating environment is uncertain, ambiguous and even (heaven forbid) unknowable. During their journey in time, many of the time-tested tools and techniques at their disposal will prove to be, well, not very helpful.

That does not mean that what’s needed is a new car and a new driver. Think now of that same Porsche, only this time keeping in mind its other performance capacities, such as cornering, shifting, braking and speed. This exceptionally well-engineered automobile is both ready for the high-speed straightaway as well as the curves, redirections and sudden changes of speed required to drive the rocky road to tomorrow.

Yet, if you lack the mindset to power up and power past unpredictable obstacles, you might as well be on skateboard with only one set of wheels. You’re not going to move far, fast or fearlessly. Which is why, as I work with companies large and small, I find that what’s most needed is a new leadership mindset, skillset and toolset. Too many leaders have great cars, but they lack versatility. The 21st century leader must be able to move fast when he or she knows the right direction, be cautious when the terrain is unknown or threatening, be willing to change directions when new and compelling information becomes available, and be able to stop quickly — even altogether — should the conditions for progress prove impossible.Porsche Carerra

Becoming more versatile (or ambidextrous) as a leader is no small task; but, in my experience, it is now an imperative for survival, and even more an imperative for growth. Our Nextsensing Project is about working with the mindset of any leader facing an uncertain future. No matter what kind of car he or she drives, moving into the future requires an understanding of the unique challenge at hand, the identification of the appropriate tools to use for the situation, and the building of confidence that only rough roads truly test the abilities of the vehicle — and the driver.

Porsche image from

Nextsensing: Aspire and Ye Shall Find

I am so thrilled my friend, Joseph Pistrui, agreed to post on my site.  Joseph is Professor of Entrepreneurial Management at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain and in the IE-Brown Executive MBA program as well as Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences. He just started a must follow blog, Nextsensing, to help entrepreneurially minded leaders make sense of "disruptive ambiguity".  One of the things I admire about Joseph is his ability to simply and clearly communicate the complex and ambiguous.  Enjoy! I know you will and definitely follow him at @nextsensing.

All business leaders say that they want their businesses to be competitive. It’s not unusual to hear that they have set “ambitious,” “aggressive,” or even “audacious” goals for their companies. That’s great — as long as they are also aspiring.

Aspiration, however, is tricky when it comes to management. The reason for that is in the root definition of the word. To aspire inevitably leads you to the word hope, and you’ve probably either heard or spoken the phrase “hope is not a strategy.” Yet, the state of the business world today is one of enormous disruptive ambiguity, an incoherent jumble of trends, headlines, opportunities and threats.

In such a state, it’s increasingly difficult to answer even the most basic questions about your own business. The marketplace seems, to many, a swirl of new competitors (is Apple soon going to be making wristwatches?), new risks (will the price of oil plunge or soar?), and new challenges (what new government regulations will we face next month?). As a result, few, if any, business leaders speak with rock-hard confidence about the probability of success for their own firms (other than on some public relations platform). One reason for this is that few business leaders seem to feel certain about the integrity of their customers’ baselines for probable future success. Simply put, whenever someone’s future is ambiguous, their mind is usually disrupted by fears.

So, they set goals. And, sometimes, they hope.

Which is why I found Deb’s thoughts on the HBR Blog Network so compelling: “Hope recognizes the reality that failure happens, success is not assured, the laws of physics don’t change and prudence is needed to discern when to persevere — and when to pivot. Hope doesn’t demarcate a linear path, but it does guide us through twists and turns. Hope views the glass as half full, not half empty. Hope supports realistic optimism, a necessary component of success.”

In fact, hope can be a winning asset when viewed as an aspiration to do something extraordinary, to discover something new, or to generate a key insight that can set new actions into motion with enough confidence to persevere. Hope is also a required ingredient when one is engaged in nextsensing.

Nextsensing is a process that I have been refining for several years. It’s a structured yet open-minded way for leaders to think forwards, not backwards. Too often, people confront a problem (such as defining a credible business strategy when the future is a haze) by trying to solve it by facing backwards. The default impulse for many leaders is to employ techniques learned in the past, to come up with solutions designed to return to the way things were before they had to confront a new and challenging future. For example, if sales are sagging this year, many executives fall back and use the same techniques they used last year when sales were more robust. (“Let’s do what we did last year — only faster!) It’s as if, when lost while driving, they can get back on track simply by increasing their speed.

However, thinking backwards lacks aspiration and, as a consequence, blocks (intentionally or otherwise) the necessary foresight to keep pace with changing times and to find new ways of doing business. It’s a form of wishful thinking rather than novel thinking.

Remember Napster? It introduced a platform for users to trade digital music files across the Internet, and the recording industry scrambled to shut Napster down. Instead of recognizing the critical digital shift in the world of music and attempting to find a way to capitalize on that new reality, the industry sought to stop file sharing.

By contrast, the industry could have engaged in a process that (1) honestly and objectively observed conditions as they are, not as one would wished them to be, (2) organized these observations into patterns and insights — pivot points for moving in new directions, and (3) originated a novel point of view, one that listed any and all interesting and emerging possibilities. These three steps (observing-organizing-originating) are the heart of the nextsensing process, which strives to leverage our cognitive, emotional and social capacities to unravel new meaning from current data and events.

When engaged in nextsensing, we are interested in unlocking the meaning hidden in the ambiguity of a promising opportunity. In short, nextsensing is about converting confusion into clear thinking. Only then can business leaders evaluate the full range of potential opportunities inherent in an evolving market.

Imagine how the state of things today might have been different if the recording industry had invented first what the world now knows as Apple iTunes. The recording industry then — and many other industries now — will never succeed by driving their status quo vehicle faster, by setting goals that attack their problems in a backwards way, and by deep discounting the hope inherent in aspirations.

Thus, the counterweight to disruptive ambiguity is opportunity foresense. I urge leaders and their management teams to use a simple Opportunity Canvas that reduces their critical need to observe-organize-originate to a one-page thinking exercise. The amount of paper needed to catalog new thinking may be slight, but the task itself is as big as the available collective knowledge base and imagination reach.

This is why I urge leaders to aspire whenever they set goals. When the hope for something new or something better (even something that may never have been done before) is integrated into a disciplined thinking process, finding one’s next is a hopeful process of discovery.