What an extraordinary moment we are living in. As a range of technologies quickly advance and cultural norms shift to address escalating societal and environmental breakdowns, old systems, approaches, philosophies and increasingly, institutions too, are being dismantled, and the new ones—which will likely look very different—are yet to be created. This confluence is affording us all the opportunity to build an even safer, healthier and more inclusive “next”. To get there, however, we have to change what we believe and how we think.
One Percent In
Those visionaries who are actively building the future will tell you we are just one percent into a transformative economic revolution. Though this era ahead is currently being spoken about as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are actually moving into an age of “cyber-physical systems,” in which even the most static objects will imbued with the technology to enhance and improve user experiences. This wave won’t just allow us to do things faster or more cheaply, it will radically transform how we create value, exchange goods and services, and coordinate and communicate with one another; even our cultural structures and lifestyles will all continue to look different.
Using the word “industrial” to describe this exponentially digital future is part of the outdated mindset we need to change. As we are moving away from a society of manufacturing and consumption to one of innovation and regenerative value exchange, I offer the “First Productivity Revolution” (1PR) as the more accurate description. One that will put us on a much steadier, more inclusive and sustainable path.
Designing the Future We Want
So where do we want to go? And how will be there?
This moment in time represents a huge opportunity to redesign, reimagine and rebuild structures that serve people and the planet better. What if we could make our resources more abundant and much more accessible, inclusive and regenerative? For that to be possible, we must cultivate both the mindset and the capacities that empower much faster and more humane decision-making. When we put people at the center and are able to focus our vision on the contribution we can make and the value we can uniquely create, the next steps become clear: We are able to design the systems, products and algorithms that will meet the challenges to come and ensure both business and society thrive – short and long-term.
Successfully navigating this unknown space between what we know and what it gets to be, however, requires a very different way of thinking and behaving. We need to shift from an outdated industrial playbook called Leadership to a dynamic mindset and set of responsive practices I describe as Leadering.
Change Your Mindset, Change the World
Given the rate of change, most of the practices, approaches, and tactics which have worked in the past are no longer effective. And critically, the centralized, siloed, hierarchical and extractive structures put in place to reduce risk in the 20th Century are now often the very things creating vulnerability in the 21st Century we’re just beginning to navigate and build.
It sounds small, but the most crucial step you can take toward building a thriving future is to adopt a mindset that allows you to embrace possibility and recognize your agency to act. This one change can have a massive impact on how you orient toward the future and ensure your organization navigates confidently—and even enthusiastically—forward. Specifically, we need to shift our mindsets to:
Wonder (vs. Resist). It is time we approach the future with a sense of wonder and curiosity. We must resist the impulse to deny or dismiss that which challenges our current understandings, approaches or beliefs.
Navigate (vs. Replicate). As we step into what feels like a state of permanent ambiguity, the role of leadership is shifting from one of command and control to one that requires us to sense and respond. It’s no longer enough to replicate old practices to ensure efficient, consistent delivery. In an environment that demands constant innovation and on-demand delivery, we must build the capacity to adapt, to constantly design, test and iterate, and to collaborate in eco-systems of support.
Connected (vs. Alone). Change now happens so rapidly that no single individual or organization will have capacity to build everything alone. We need to learn to leverage the resources and strengths of external partners and internal teams, as well as ensuring harmony within the environments of which we’re a part.
Contribute (vs. Extract). It’s no longer sustainable to simply extract resources—whether time, energy, labor, attention or materials—for the benefit of a small number of investors or shareholders. Future success of business will be dependent on contributing value to a much broader set of stakeholders. This includes current and future society.
Be Audacious (vs. Incremental). As all business and civic arenas are being reexamined and redesigned (certainly by those eager to address nagging or even dangerous gaps in delivery), we have to be willing to imagine the biggest, boldest contribution your organization can make to the planet, and orient our teams toward that mission. Focusing only on granular steps is the kiss of death.
Thrive (vs Die). Survival is not guaranteed. Nor is longevity an excuse — many of the oldest, largest organizations are boldly adapting to the future. By harnessing potent new capabilities and technologies through a lens of caring (vs winning), we can ensure we all thrive: That we all have access to dignified housing, healthy food, and on-going education. That our unique skills and curiosities are cultivated and given outlets for expression. That we create technologies that serve society well both now and for centuries to come.
Bottom line, cultivating the mindset we all need to build the future we all want demands we shift from thinking of leadership as a static noun to embracing it as a dynamic verb. We must shift from reading the well-worn, now outdated map to having confidence being guided by a reliable compass and a motivating north star. We must reorient our organizational structures to sense and deliver more collaboratively and responsively; freshly shaped to harness the potential of a highly digital future, in much more humane and caring ways. We must move faster… while also considering our impact on generations ahead.
Welcome to the First Productivity Revolution. And to Leadering.