There are few journeys that are as forbidding as those that take us into the unknown. We neither know what to really expect, nor how to respond. This is truly frightening, especially for the modern managerial class that has been honed to sharpness via a collection of analytical approaches and the wisdom of case studies, all of which lead us to the development of a mastery of the uncertain. Alas, the uncertain is of little use in confronting the unknown.
In confronting the uncertain, we are blessed with access to knowledge, numbers and likelihoods that allow us to make judicious, not to say “optimal”, choices based on what we know about the past. While the uncertain is different from what we know, that difference is in degree, and by applying lessons learned from past uncertain experiences we appreciably raise the likelihood of making a good choice for the future.
With the unknown, however, there is no knowledge, numbers or likelihoods to rely upon. The unknown is unknown. We know not where the future is going, nor even if we have the capabilities to get there. There will be new customer expectations, with new players addressing them. There will be new sources of talent, and new rules of the game. All of these are unknown. We cannot predict them or forecast them, they are unknown! Nonetheless, it is in the unknown that the future of most industries are to be found, and as managers we have to somehow overcome our hesitancy and try to move forward with some degree of grace.
Read more: New Leadership Mindsets For A Digital Age (foreward to Abhijit Bhaduri's "The Digital Tsunami")
The robotization of professional services. The introduction of blockchain thinking to more and more industries. Access to truly Big Data. The colonization of Space. Life after streaming music. The significant extension of human life-spans. What happens next?
In each case, we know that some reasonable realization of each of these phenomena will undoubtedly take place in the not-too-distant future, but we have no idea of what it will eventually look like, nor what the economic, technological or societal implications might be. This is the unknown! It is hard to even think about such things, much less make judicious managerial decisions regarding them. READ MORE on Forbes.com
Amundsen’s success in the race to the Pole symbolizes the power of both learning before doing, as well as learning from diverse sources. The importance of these success factors came to mind when I read about the initiative of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel to encourage bright young people to drop-out of university so that they can get right to work as entrepreneur-aspirants. Thiel is offering $100,000 apiece to 20 or so carefully selected young people in an effort to create more innovation by sponoring their pursuit of an entrepreneurial idea in Silicon Valley instead of going to college. The underlying message, apparently, is that knowing more about the world, and thousands of years of accumulated hunman knowledge, is no longer an advantage. Read the entire article on Forbes.com
Among the leadership traits which have made Steve Jobs so effective as an innovator has been the ability to create an inspiring vision for talented people to work towards and then get out of their way so that they could make full-use of their talents in pursuit of this vision. While he has always been associated with strong “top-down” leadership, much of it has been applied in the service of releasing innovative energies found towards the “bottom” of the organization. He was able to use his position of power within Apple to both energize innovation project teams, set them loose, and then, if necessary, protect them. The result was often that most magical of innovation outcomes, when the assembled talent believes that they have absolute freedom to apply their energies and skills, while senior management believes that it is in complete control; both at the same time! Jobs did this, with varying degrees of self-restraint in his involvement, with the Lisa, Macintosh and iPod projects, at least, and in each case not only changed the technical worlds of which they were a part, but also launched the careers of the next generation of innovation leaders in the industry. This partnering between a visionary senior executive, and a sort of renegade band of innovators, is not a new phenomenon, but while powerful, is often invisible, and frequently a “secret ingredient,” for those organizations savvy enough to support it, in the realization of successful innovation.