Want to be a futurefit leader? Three Questions to be answered

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In a complex and increasingly changing and disruptive world staying ahead of the curve is not easy. This ‘staying ahead of the curve’ is what we in TomorrowToday call being ‘futurefit’. There is not much you can do about the disruptive forces reshaping your envisaged future but the good news is, there is a whole lot one can do to give you the best opportunity to thrive in the unpredictable, uncertain context that is the future.

FuturefitHere are three ‘practices’ that will help build your capacity to be futurefit. I should warn you that whilst they may appear simple, the reality is quite the opposite.

#1: Challenge Assumptions
Samuel Clemens, better know by his pen name Mark Twain, put it best when he wrote, “It is not what we don’t know that gets us into trouble but what we know for sure that ain’t so”. The unchecked assumptions that drive business practice and behaviour can prove fatal when those assumptions no longer hold true. The leader’s responsibility is to ensure that what is  ‘happening in here’ (the internal organisational context) remains connected to what is ‘happening out there’ (the broader external context). When these two aspects – the internal context and the external context, become unhinged, there is a very real danger that the assumptions that have worked so well in the past, become the very things to ensure you don’t survive the future.

Think about Uber, the $51 billion start-up success that has totally disrupted the traditional taxi industry. Uber challenged the traditional assumptions underpinning the industry, namely that you had to own a fleet of vehicles to operate a taxi service. In doing so, Uber uncovered an entirely different business model, one that rendered the traditional assumptions obsolete. Challenging the assumptions that had been taken for granted was something that Airbnb, Alibaba and Facebook all did and in the process created massive industry disruption.

What are the assumptions (in your context) that should be challenged?

#2: Be willing to change
The Economist in 2005 (that is a long time ago!) suggested that real innovation (change) was not ‘product or service innovation’ but was rather the ability to innovate one’s ‘business model’. In a world of exponential change, leaders need to ensure their organisation’s capacity for change. Change needs to form part of your organisational DNA. The well-known ‘Monty Hall’ exercise instructs that change does not guarantee success but by not changing, our chances of success are reduced. Senior leaders have often asked me, “If I make these changes will I be guaranteed that they will work?” Of course the answer is, “no”. However, what I can answer is that, “by not changing the chances of success are reduced”.  We need to be willing to change and in order to help create this capacity leaders need to be willing to explode the myth that states, “if it isn’t broken don’t fix it”. Whilst there is a certain ‘logic’ to that, all too often that line is used to justify and maintain the entrenched position, the status quo.
If you are not failing at something within your business it is an indication that you are not experimenting…not trying to change for the better. Change is the watchword of the context in which we live and lead and what to change and how to change is the leader’s responsibility. Why we should change goes without saying.

What are you changing?

#3: Unlearn
Futurist Alvin Toffler wrote in his classic book Futureshock, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”.  For many leaders their experience and past success stand as twin fortresses against the need to unlearn. The very nature of an adaptive challenge demands the ability to learn new things and in the face of increasing adaptive challenges, senior leaders need to be willing to ‘unlearn’ before they can learn. Letting go practices (and mind-sets) that have brought success is not easy and can even create insecurity. However, the need for organisational and leadership ‘unlearning’ has never been greater. Eric Hoffer said it best when he wrote, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists”.

What might you need to unlearn in order to take the next step?

Being a futurefit leader is not optional. It will take a great deal to ensure that one is future fit but the willingness to challenge assumptions, change and unlearn is a great place to start that futurefit process.

P.S. And by the way…it is a process! Now go and get some exercise.

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TomorrowToday has developed a great video series for those leaders serious about becoming a futurefit leader. For more information, and to download the first video in the series for free, click here.

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