What’s the difference between ‘success’ and ‘not failing’?

Economic Powerhousing (the process a nation deliberately commits itself to in order to be a global economic force to be reckoned with) is stronger than it has ever been. There are a host of nation states that braces the economic landscape with gleaming satisfaction. Regarding theatrical display, I want to liken the gladiatorial era to the world economic one we are currently in. A chariot comprising a minister and trade committee struts into the arena with bold vigour. Every wheel carefully designed and constructed to display the essence of its power. Each horse willfully trained for maximum splendor.  What was striking about this bygone era was that winning this contest was simple: You stay on your chariot and outlast the others. A contest more measurable and tangible will be hard to find.

The International Labour Conference released a report in 2006 and focusing on what changes the world of work, it identified 4 major drivers of change:

–       The Development Imperative: reduce poverty and income gaps

–       Technological Transformation

–       Intensified global competition

–       Politics and policies: the role of states and markets

A few decades ago almost all major political powers felt they could control to a large extent their fate. Success was finite, an attainable goal pursued by the minor adjustment of fiscal and monetary policies. Failure was equally measurable. The global economy gradually shifted. The line in the sand separating success and failure turns out to be just that, a line in the sand. Sand blown and washed away by tides strangely unpredictable.

I once heard it said, “The future isn’t changed by the behaviour of man. The future enters a man and changes him.” I believe much of current leaders’ struggle to cope with a changing world isn’t so much trying to be successful by the same measure as before, it’s being confronted with open ended options and not knowing how to make decisions when the decision making frontier has become a minefield. It’s being exposed to a world of infinite intangibles and not knowing the answer.

I was caught up in a vociferous debate recently regarding the uprisings in Greece and the potential impact on the EU. We examined various outcomes and unofficially laid out worst-case scenarios. What was peculiar to note is that it wasn’t worst-case scenarios as currently defined, it was worst-case in the sense that the territories chartering the functional mechanics of the EU monetary system are partially left undefined and ungoverned. What the EU is increasingly facing, is not necessarily trying to help an international system recover, it’s finding workable solutions for the countries involved whilst trying to define what their system is all about. It is trying to come to terms with changing what was supposed to be a fanciful trade agreement into a fiscally untouchable borderless state. The EU is rewriting the rules of engagement as they go along.

We task strategic committees to find success. What that means in a minefield is simply ‘to not fail’.  Not failing used to be very simple and largely still is. It’s winning that no one knows how to do. What does success imply for your company? Landing a few big deals? Operating lawfully and seeing your number of employees grow?

If we trust a January Harvard business review that claims between 50-75% of all employees believe that what they do are meaningless then let’s redefine the last token of success. Success would then be seeing more than half of the people that work for you come to work every day fulfill tasks they see no value in and hoping that next year this time we’ll have more people on board to share the joy.

Where does the challenge lie for the employer? Defining happiness and meaning to the employee? When does success arrive? When a survey suggests the people love what they do?

“The future isn’t changed by the behaviour of man. The future enters a man and changes him.”

The world’s structured business courses generally have a separate module on the likes of corporate social responsibility. This works wonders in an exam and in group projects. Students get to push the boundaries on what is acceptable and what not. They are taught how to deal with ‘difficult’ and ‘controversial’ matters in a business environment. It aims to make sense of the ‘bigger picture’. A bigger picture tainted with incredibly difficult issues. I do have this question though: Are we at least trying to make faint sense of where we fit in or are we contempt with navigating our way to survival? Do we weave our way through these complex issues with great effort to not get our hands dirty?

A challenge for our strategists doesn’t lie in not finding failure. It lies in redefining success. Redefinition can only happen when the intangible weighs in heavier that the tangible. Reports like that of the ILC are not slowing down, nor are the factors driving the change. The EU is in dire need of redefinition. In the expansive modern economic landscape, sensational success will rest with those who feed on tangible victories. The crowd will pay to watch the spectacle but in the greater scheme of things it remains just that, a show.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to friend