Running on empty as history ruptures

It is now very clear, in this second decade of the 21st century, that the rules for success in almost every sphere are changing. The very basis of competitiveness is being reinvented before our eyes. In other words current ideas and associated value propositions are not delivering the energy to keep organisation’s moving. Those caught up in the eddies of chaos are finding that the old and now tired technique of yet another externally lead efficiency review does little to arrest the pace of decline. That is because a focus on incremental change, based on a mindset of problem/design/change, is simply insufficient and transitions that have no clear understanding of the destination are demotivating time wasters. Thus for many it feels as though we and they are ‘running on empty.’

With respect, those confronted with such situations might do 3 things:

CONFRONT. The first is understand where they are and to have both the honesty and courage to confront the situation.

ENGAGE.The second is to engage in an intense and highly focused conversation that has as its intent the renewal of value.

TRANSFORM. The third is to have a framework which will enable the organisation to transform itself into something that is better and different than what it is now.

Only this last proposition requires any new knowledge. What it outlined below is an overview of the steps that one might take in creating a transformation process. Some caution is required though. Transformational processes require careful design and management. If the design is poor and focus is lost then the second law of thermodynamics (that everything runs to entropy) will take over. If transformation is what is intended and required, design and conversations need to start at a whole of system level and then work into second order questions. This is in stark contrast to most of our ‘normal’ conversations which are almost always the other way around.

Based on our view that transformation is a process of ANTICIPATION, DESIGN and INTEGRATION, some suggested steps are:

1. STEP BEYOND LIMITS. Define and agree what ideas/ notions of value and the like are at their limits and what impact external triggers, including expensive energy, grossly indebted governments, ubiquitous mobile devices and rapidly shifting climate/environments, might have on the organisation.

2. CREATE NEW PATTERNS OF THINKING. Explore both explicit and tacit assumptions that underpin the organisation’s patterns of thinking and test them for validity. Unbundling old assumptions and evolving new ones is a critical piece in the reconception process.

3. FRAME NEW BUSINESS MODELS. Based on this understanding of limits and new ways of thinking, explore and design the frameworks and and business models that will delver future value. Recent history shows that radically different business models are emerging in every sector of our private and public economies and they are rapidly reframing the basis of future advantage – this in almost every case is based on a networked cooperative and distributed model.
4. UNDERSTAND THE NEW SYSTEM. Try to go above (transcend) these new assumptions and frameworks to understand what the nature of the new system is that these assumptions and models are suggesting. This is hard to do for organisations that have historically focused mostly on the parts but it is essential for transformational change. If in the course of this part of the conversation people are feeling that most of what they now know won’t help, then the conversation is probably in the right place.

5. COMPOSE AND DESIGN. In order to design the transition pathway a coherent ‘story’ or narrative of what the transformed entity looks like must be developed for narratives (and song) are how we humans make sense of our past and our future. This narrative should include the fundamentals of strategic design; a sense of direction, how value will be created and delivered, what capacities are needed, how the organisation would be ideally networked and finally how it will use resources to deliver superior value. Superior value in this instance is defined at a minimum as half the resources and double the value. All of this of course will require a new culture or ethos.

6. INTEGRATE AT SPEED. With a view of what the organistion needs to be, the key then is to design a multiple variable pathway that will allow rapid migration to the new state.

7. THINK ACUPUNCTURE. In many instances the process of transformation can be dramatically accelerated if a key inflection point can be found. In addition the change projects that will deliver transformation must be carefully designed and managed in an integrated way. Its not sufficient to be on the right track, you can still get run over if you are not moving fast enough! Adverse unintended consequences can be minimised through ensuring that these projects have clarity about what they intend to do (content), how they intend to do it (processes), appropriate structures, sufficient resources and a culture or ethos that is aligned to the new narrative.

Finally transformation is about legacy. It tests our individual and organisation humility, it allows us to escape that soul destroying end games that seem to inflict so many entities at the moment and it has the possibility of creating the kind of value and prosperity (a new normal) that sits a little more kindly and gently in this second decade of the 21st century.

Mike McAllum – Global Foresight Network.

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