Home Ideas that WORK Expert Talk ALL OR NOTHING: Catching up with our Smarter Future

ALL OR NOTHING: Catching up with our Smarter Future [videos+article]

In the end, our failure to realize the true potential of our innovative instincts lies not in the smartness of these technologies, but the dumbness of our leadership choices.

Networked devices engaged in machine to machine conversations can optimize what to do, when to do it, and by how much, but do we trust them to ever ask: “why are we doing this in the first place?”

Why are we so afraid of talent displacement as we move into the future?

The answer is to be found in our organizations!

Professor William A. Fischer

Thomas Friedman in his book “Thank You For Being Late” contests that environmental complexity is increasing at exponential rates, while our organizational capabilities increase at much more modest rates, typically tied to individual, and only partially shared learning, and frustrated by inevitable bureaucratic constraints.

THE ONLY WAY TO BREAK THIS PATTERN IN ORDER TO MAKE CHANGE A BIT MORE MANAGEABLE IS TO CHANGE THE WAY THAT WE DESIGN THE ORGANIZATIONS OF WHICH WE ARE A PART.

What if our organizations were designed on the metaphor of a brain?
Wouldn’t they be different; act different?
Wouldn’t we need new and different skills to staff them, manage them, and lead them? Wouldn’t it feel different to work in them? Wouldn’t more of us participate in real, meaningful decision-making?
Wouldn’t our organizations be faster, bolder, more experimental, open and inclusive?  
Indeed, anthropologist Chuck Farrah has pointed out that: “If Silicon Valley were a brain, it wouldn’t be the frontal lobe or brain cell; it would be a synapse, a connector”. 

“BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE ORGANIZATION REQUIRES PRETTY MUCH THE SAME EFFORT AS IT TAKES TO BUILD AN INEFFECTIVE ONE”.

                                                                          BEN HOROWITZ

Historically, organizational change has lagged behind technological change by several decades.
Yet, despite such lags, there are always those organizations which move faster, more nimbly into the future: A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that productivity growth has accelerated at “frontier” companies, which use the most efficient processes and technology, while slowing at the remainder of firms.
In other words, productivity is being held back by the inability of competitors to the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google to catch up.
In the same vein, Santa Fe Institute economist Brian Arthur, has added Airbnb, Instagram, Snapchat, and Uber to the list of firms which have recognized the advantages of network effects and increased returns, and which have moved faster than their competitors.

It was Steve Jobs who realized that: “To an artist, chaos is natural, [and he] was essentially an artist in a Chief Executive’s disguise.”
Since machines abhor “chaos,” it’s hard to believe that an algorithm can play that role as gracefully as a real chaos-loving artist in the flesh.
What we need, therefore, are more artist-CEOs who flourish in chaos, who are faster, or at least more comfortable with the unknown, and who are willing to adjust to it; who are explorers rather than exploiters.

Duncan Simester, of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, has recently pointed out that “Many executives in big companies attained their positions by excelling at getting things done. Unfortunately, a bias for doing rather than thinking can leave these executives ill-equipped for their new roles.

How did we arrive in a state where managers do not recognize that thinking is part of their job?”
And, the answer is, of course: managerial choice!
We have failed to rethink our organizational designs, and the failure to make a choice, is itself a choice! 
Organizational capabilities will never catch-up to our accelerating environmental complexities without serious reconsideration of the organizations in which our technologies originate and are brought to market.

In the end, our failure to realize the true potential of our innovative instincts lies not in the smartness of these technologies, but the dumbness of our leadership choices.

 

All or Nothing


Bill Fischer is a Professor of Innovation Management at IMD. He directs the Being Innovative Global Leadership in the Cloud program.
This article was originally published in Forbes.