Dare to Disrupt

In the last blog post, the spark that lights the disruption fuse is our ability to DARE. Jorge Barba boldly stated: “Every single industry, domain and business is being disrupted by emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, virtual reality, augmented reality, blockchain, internet of things, drones and 3D printing”. So either you drive disruption or you get outpaced by it. Disruptors have to design a multi faceted agenda for building organisations that can win in a world of relentless change, ferocious competition, and unstoppable innovation. You can’t fiddle at the margins. You have to attack the issue root and branch. More of the same is no longer enough.

To back Jorge up, this post is an impassioned plea for all of us to reinvent management and to rethink the assumptions that we have about the way we work. How do you provide management without managers? How do you get the control & coordination you need without the crippling and soul destroying super structure of bureaucracy? How do you turn ordinary employees into extraordinary innovators? In many organisations we have institutionalized a form of creative apartheid where there is a belief that there are some with incredible imagination and many that are not. We need to change that. And to change that we need to give employees tools and perspectives so they can constantly see new opportunities.

We need to create cultures that are fit for the future and fit for human beings. There are a lot of buzzwords that threaten to dwarf the agenda: virtual collaboration, risk management, open innovation and of course sustainability. But in a world of fractured certainties and battered trust, some things matter more than others. While the challenges facing organisations are limitless, leadership bandwith is not. That is why you have to be really clear on what matters now. So ask yourself: what are the fundamental make or break challenges that a disruptive culture will determine whether your organization thrives or dives in the years ahead. For me, to DARE & to unlock disruption an organization has to have in its DNA:

  • Purpose (Values, Identity, Philosophy)
  • Passion (Individuals, Corporates, Communities)
  • Performance (Creativity, Innovation, Adaptability)

Here is my logic for putting these imperatives front and centre:

1. Purpose invites us to dare greater

In Stephen Scott Johnson’s landmark new book Emergent he states “Identifying our purpose is a simultaneous invitation for us all to step up and lead in a different way”.

In a free market economy there will always be excesses. But it seems like in the last decade that we have had CEO’s that have set records for egocentricity. The result being that organisations now rank near the bottom of societies most trusted institutions. On the back of that has come wave after wave of regulation. To reverse this we need to have a moral renaissance of capitalism. To do this we need to rethink the values of even or most sacred institutions and to lead from the ‘bottom up’.

Why do our organisations seem less adaptable, less innovative, less spirited and less noble than the people who work within them? What is it that makes them inhuman? The answers: Leadership not aligned to values, Organisations that are devoid of identity & Management philosophies that exude control. Whatever the rhetoric to the contrary, control is the principal preoccupation of most managers and management systems. While conformance (to budgets, performance targets, operating policies and work rules) creates economic value, it creates less than it used to. What creates value today is the unexpectedly brilliant product, the wonderfully weird media campaign, and the entirely novel customer experience. Trouble is, in a regime where control reigns supreme, the unique gets hammered out.

The choice is stark: we can resign ourselves to the fact that our organisations will never be adaptable, innovative, or inspiring than they are right now, or we can search for an alternative to the creed of control. Better business processes and better business models are not enough – we need better business principles. That is why purpose matters more than ever.

2. Passion ignites our willingness to dare

John Mackey the celebrated CEO of Whole Foods, remarks that “the problem with corporate life is that love has been locked in the closet”. Disruption and the will to change are the products of passion. They are the fruits of a righteous discontent with the status quo. Sadly the average workplace is a buzz killer. Petty rules, pedestrian goals and pyramidal structures drain the emotional vitality out of work. Maybe that didn’t matter in the knowledge economy, but it matters enormously in the creative economy.

What we need in the creative economy is employees who will bring their initiative. Their creativity and their passion. These things are gifts that employees either choose to bring to work everyday or they choose not to. In nearly all the evidence it is alarming that employees choose not to bring these gifts to work. So we have to change to how we manage these employees at its core. We need leaders to think of their job not as how employees can serve the goals of the organization, but how organisations can serve and deserve the merits of these gifts and extraordinary capabilities.

Customers today expect the exceptional, but few organisations deliver it. The problem is not a lack of competence, but a lack of ardor. In business as in life, the difference between “insipid” and “inspired” is passion. With returns to mediocrity rapidly declining, passion matters more than ever.

3. Performance inspires our ongoing guest to dare

Creativity is the spark that differentiates our performance from our competitors. Every organisations can hire for ‘obedience’ – an ability to take direction and follow rules. This is the baseline. We can hire for diligence – employees who are accountable, who don’t take risks. Most companies work hard to hire intellectually gifted employees. They value smart people who are eager to improve their skills and willing to borrow best practices from others. I am not saying that these attributes are worth nothing. Yet today, obedience, diligence & intellect can be bought for next to nothing. From the Phillipines to Bangalore, they have become global commodities. Creativity underpins the gift an employee can bring to work. Apple recognizes this: “Designed in California, Made in China”. It is these gifts that employees can choose, day by day and moment to give or withhold. And hence it is cyclical. If we tap into these gifts, performance can become the differentiator. If we continually perform we have a platform to engage those willing to dare.

We live in a world of hyper competition, where services, products and even knowledge itself are easily copied and commoditisised. Without relentless disruption, success is fleeting. To survive in this world, to grow your margins, to grow your top line, you need to drive an agenda where innovation is expected from anywhere. Yet in an era where innovation is at the top of every CEO’s agenda, the rhetoric is way ahead of the reality. There would not be one company in a hundred that has made “innovation everyone’s job, everyday”. In most organisations, innovation still happens ‘despite the system’ rather than because of it. That’s a problem, because disruption is the only sustainable strategy for creating long-term value. It is now time to close the gap between rhetoric and reality. To do so we will need to recalibrate priorities and retool mindsets. To equip employees to be inspired innovators.

We live in a world where change has changed. It is surprising. It is relentless and it is often disruptive. Problem is that our organisations were not built for change, especially at their core. As change accelerates, so must the pace of strategic renewal. The challenge being that deep change is almost crisis driven. It is convulsive, traumatic, episodic, expensive and often belated. We have to change the way organisations change. We need to build within them an evolutionary advantage. We have to help organisations change ahead of the curve without the force of crisis breathing down their back. In most organisations, there are too many things that perpetuate the past and too few that encourage proactive change. The ‘party of the past’ is usually more powerful than the ‘party of the future’. That is why incumbents typically lose out to upstarts who are unencumbered by the past. In a world where industry leaders can be become laggards overnight, the only way to sustain success is to reinvent it. That wont be easy, but we have no choice, since performance matters more than ever.

If you strip away all the rhetoric, our organisations are built on the ideology of control. Bureaucracy was the way that control was manifested in organisations. Control certainly makes sense. We need organisations that are disciplined and focused. But we also need organisations that are open, transparent and free. And for that we need to rethink the very fundamental principles from with our organisations are built. We need new practices and we need a new philosophy. There are progressive companies that have radically changed their management models around values that celebrate freedom, openness and contribution in addition to discipline, focus and control. Together we need to bind behind purpose, passion and performance. A personal revolution is at stake.

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