Disruption needs Love

Last weeks blog Disrupt You definitely generated the most feedback that I have ever received. It ranged from “certainly makes you wonder about how society will look in the future with potentially less ‘career’ jobs and possibly higher overall unemployment. Two classes? Social anarchy? The rise of communism? Interesting”; to “I think the need to disrupt yourself comes from a sense of meaning and purpose to be more, do more, contribute more all for the greater good. I’m not convinced that a fear of falling behind is the impetus for change”. I believe that it is in the sweet spot of this feedback that a true future will emerge.

There is no doubt that digital titans like Facebook, Uber, Airbnb and Amazon have taken a massive leap of faith and ultimate success with automation, big data and mobile. This is not to say that this is the blue print for us all. If A/I or 3D printing is not your thing then something old fashioned like LOVE & EMPATHY might. Just as the legendary Tom Peters remarked: “Hard is soft and soft is hard”. So hard that the ‘soft skills’ such as imagination, creativity and dare I say it love, make it virtually impossible for robots etal to emulate.

Throughout history, it is the ‘hard’ industries (i.e. manual labour, metric driven, unskilled) that get unsurped. 100 years ago, half the US population were working on farms. Making food to feed the other half. Two pieces of technology: irrigation and the tractor got us where we are today where 1.7% of the population, feeds the other 98%. So if you think about it, half of all jobs disappeared to advancement in technology. But Henry Ford, industrialization and people in the city took those jobs in.

Now fast forward to now. Robots have taken 2.3M manufacturing jobs in the US this year. China loses 1M manufacturing jobs per month. So anyone who says that they are bringing manufacturing jobs back, they are running for Office. The truth is that manufacturing jobs are not coming back but manufacturing is on the rise. The industry just doesn’t need any workers. Whether by choice or circumstance every career gets disrupted. But here is the good news. Disruption isn’t about what happens to you, it is about how you respond to what happens to you. Obstacles are opportunities in disguise. It will be the companies that can amplify the imagination of its employees that will thrive.

David Byrne the iconic lead singer of Talking Heads, makes a strong case in his blog Eliminating the Human that innovation is now being designed to eliminate human interaction. That apps and devices are quietly reducing the amount of meaningful interaction we have with each-other. I tend to think that even with the rise of the machine new forms of interactions will emerge, and who knows, perhaps even more immersive and human than the ones Byrne mourns. Tim Leberecht provides a useful counter in Identity in the Digital Romantic Age Regardless, the future will be for organisations that provide environments where creativity flourish and innovation is the domain of every employee, everyday.

The future is for disruptors who want to change their organisations so as they can be fit for change. Fit for adaption. Fit for the future. For those who understand that more of the same is no longer going to be enough. As you dig into what matters now, I hope that you find some ideas that are truly radical. From a situation where organisations are managed without managers; where companies still maintain the elements of control and efficiency without the soul-destroying elements of bureaucracy.

The future is for disruptive companies that can take ordinary employees and turn them into extraordinary innovators. Where we remove the notion of creative apartheid (i.e. a belief that the majority of us are not imaginative) and replace it with the confidence that employees have the tools and perspectives they need so they can constantly see new opportunities.

Organisations will also have to look at how they equip their cultures with the lessons learnt from the aforementioned digital titans. Millennials are coming to work with an entirely new set of expectations. It used to be that strategy was set from the top, but the digital age has show that ideas should be judged on an equal footing. That what matters is not your credentials but your contribution. Hierarchies should be built from the bottom up.

To move to this new state of nirvana there will be 3 major challenges for us all to face as the 21st Century takes shape:

1. Purpose (Values, Identity, Philosophy)

In a free market economy there will always be excesses. But in recent years, CEO’s have been hell-bent in setting new records for egocentric irresponsibility. The result, not unsurprisingly is that once lauded institutions have now become the least trusted bastions in our society. And on the back of that has come wave after wave of regulation. The only way to reverse this is to have a moral renaissance in capitalism. If there is one thing that all stakeholders agree upon is that we need to rethink the fundamental values that underpin societies most important institutions. We can all play a role in this moral renaissance.

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.

People don’t often talk about philosophy much in day-to-day business. But if you think about it through human history, philosophical battles have been crucial in advancing human progress. The battle between tolitarianism and democracy, the battle between mercantilism and free trade has led to incredible advancements. And I believe today we need a philosophical revolution in business. If you strip away all the rhetoric our business life today was built on the notion of control. And bureaucracy was the way it was manifested in our workplace. Control definitely makes sense. We need control to keep organisations disciplined, focused and to allow conformance on critical issues. But we also need organisations that are open, transparent and free. And for that we need to rethink the fundamental principles from which business today has been constructed. Yes we need new practices but we also need a new philosophy.

2. Performance (Creativity, Innovation, Adaptability)

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 Philippines 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 products and services and even knowledge itself is almost instantly commoditized. To survive in this world, to grow your margins, to grow your top line you need innovation from everybody, everyday. And yet in spite of decades of CEO’s talking about innovation, the rhetoric is still way in front of the reality. I don’t know one company out of a hundred that has made innovation the work of every employee, everyday.

We also live in a world where change has changed. It is ever surprising, relentless and it can be threatening. The problem is that most organisations were not built for change. Not at their core. That is why that nearly always that deep change is the product of crisis. It is episodic, it is convulsive and is typically belated. We have to change the way that our organisations change. We need to build an evolutionary advantage where our businesses change ahead of the curve, without the force of crisis racing at our back.

3. Passion

Disruption and the will to change are born from the sparks of passion. A yearning married with a righteous discontent with the status quo. Problem is that the average workplace is a buzz kill. Petty rules, pedestrian goals, pyramidal structures; these are the things that drain the vitality out of the work force. In the creative economy what we need from every employee is their initiative, their creativity and their passion. These things are gifts that employees can either choose to bring to work everyday or not. With all the evidence it appears that employees choose not to bring them to work.

So we need to change management at its’ core. We need leaders to think of their job not to get people to serve the organizational goal but creating organisations that deserve and merit the gifts of those extraordinary capabilities.

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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