Category Archives: future

Some Quick Thoughts on Strategic Alignment

Fred Wilson wrote this in his blog today.

the longer I work in VC, the more I see misalignment between investors and founders.

And misalignment gets in the way of getting somewhere.

This is true more broadly as well. “alignment” is a great word to describe shared strategies, as in a team. But usually, we only worry about alignment when something bad happens. We don’t work on improving our alignment. Perhaps we assume that alignment is automatic. The sad news is that it is not. It is something that you have to work on.

I am thinking here of aligned strategies between people in a network. The networks we use these days are generally rather loose and do not promote alignment. So, for example, you see outrageous and hurtful comments to a rather innocent blog post.

So how do you promote alignment? This is something that was taught “on the playing fields of Eton”. It is less in vogue these days. We value our independence and autonomy more.

But my guess is that we will be talking about it more. Let’s see

The Pace of Interactions

A long time ago, I worked in a law firm. BTW, that was before the fax machine was introduced into the office as a standard piece of equipment. When I look back on how we worked back then, one thing  was very, very different. That was the pace of interactions.

The pace back then was much slower. Interactions with persons and entities outside the firm was largely by mail (now called snail mail) and meetings. Inside the firm, we wrote memos and had meetings.

There was a luxury to this. One could take one’s time in making decisions. Indeed, slowing down the pace of decision making was at least part of the value added we gave to our clients.

Now consider whatJeff Immelt says about GE in an interview he gave to McKinsey

My notion is we’re in a permanently complex world. And this historical organization chart with lots of processes is a thing of the past. We’ve basically unplugged anything that was annual. The notion is that, in the digital age, sitting down once a year to do anything is weird, it’s just bizarre. So whether it’s doing business reviews or strategic planning, it’s in a much more continuous way. We still give a lot of feedback. We still do a lot of analysis of how you’re performing. But we make it much more contemporary and much more 360-degree. So somebody can get interactions with their boss on a monthly basis or a quarterly basis. And the data you get is being collected by your peers, the people who work for you, in a much more accurate and fluid way.

The key words are “more accurate and more fluid”. In other words, things have sped up and the stress is on improving the efficiency of communication in this more complex and changing environment.

These are important factors to consider if you wish to develop strategic competence.

Just how Good Are you?

If we were standing on a tennis court, rackets in hand, the meaning of the question would be obvious. But in life, we are not standing on a tennis court. So what does this question mean?

Hmm … it is a question that would have different meanings in different times and contexts. Being good in the 17th century might immediately trigger religious thoughts. Are you good in the eyes of the Lord? In the 20th century, it might refer to a personal skill level (more like the tennis idea). And in the 21st century?

Consider one of the more controversial collaboration issues of the day. Which collaboration system works better – an “open” system or a “closed” system? We come from a closed system era. Business secrets were and still are jealously protected. But some argue that open systems innovate more quickly.

So if you are a network architect, which do you build? Consider this thought

you can “innovate” and win without an open ecosystem, if you are good enough at design. If you are really good, you can even beat the “open” crowd most of the time. You just have to understand the fundamental principles of great design. Fight for simplicity and elegance. Value both form and function and understand their essential synthesis. Build a team that “gets it” for all the above and delivers it every day with every product and service. Apply these principles to everything you do, not just the products you make. Drive endlessly for perfection, even though you probably won’t ever get there. Learn from your mistakes, but never apologize for trying. Rinse and repeat.

Notice that the above is talking about design within a closed system. Teams in a closed system can perform at high levels of efficiency. Apple under Jobs has proved that. But notice as well that we have not yet given much thought about open system design. That is something new. We might revisit the above idea in 50 years.

Getting Ready for Your 21st Century Life?

In the 20th century, young folks were told that education was the key to success. “Do well in school and everything will be just fine.” This advice followed early 20th century experience, where for the first time ever, huge numbers of people were able to enter knowledge professions by getting an education.

We forget, however, that universal education was only introduced in the 19th century,. In terms of social institutions,  it is very new. So the advice to get an education should not be taken as universal advice — it just fit that time — the 20th century. What about now?

Some experts argue that the education that schools offer now may not be good enough to insure a good life now. I am thinking. for example, of Sir Ken Robertson. He and others argue that formal education is too much focused on shoving pre-fab knowledge down your throat and not enough focused on building creative capacities.

Why would that be true? One reason is that in the 21st century, we are likely to see an acceleration in the production of new knowledge. Thus, knowing stuff will have a shelf life. One will have to participate in generating new knowledge to do well in the 21st century. BTW, if you doubt this, consider that knowledge geneatoin has been accelerating over the past 3 or 4 centuries. There is no reason to think that this trend will suddenly abate. Moreover, we are just now beginning to understand how the mind generates ideas. Finally, we have better and better tools for transmitting information.

So how does one prepare for participating in knowledge generation? Certain skills may be helpful

  • The ability to concentrate, to focus deeply.
  • The ability to distinguish between the “noise” and the message in the ever-growing sea of information.
  • The ability to do public problem solving through cooperative work.
  • The ability to search effectively for information and to be able to discern the quality and veracity of the information one finds and then communicate these findings well.
  • Synthesizing skills (being able to bring together details from many sources).
  • The capability to be futures-minded through formal education in the practices of horizon-scanning, trends analysis and strategic foresight.”

These are also recommended.

  • The ability to learn constantly in a self-directed mode
  • Social Intelligence and ability to connect with people beyond geographical barriers virtually in a deep/meaningful way and collaborate.
  • Adaptive mindset to evolve the thinking and learning to keep pace with the pace of changes around us.
  • Interdisciplinary thinking (more here)
  • Critical thinking (more here)

Indeed, collaboration skills may be the most important. Why? Because, as Steve Johnson points out, generating new ideas has a social dimension. If you can collaborate creatively, you can network effectively.

Catch Knowledge or Use it?

Over the last several centuries, we have become a bit obsessed by the concept of learning. It is a worthwhile obsession too! It has opened the door for millions to “create” a new identity based on what they have learned rather than what they were born to. A boy may have been born a farmer, but via learning, he can become a doctor, lawyer or perhaps even the president. And this stepping up allows all of us to enjoy the high levels of connection made possible by a flood of people into the knowledge based career paths.

But is learning the ultimate? I would argue that it is not. When we learn, we take over “accepted wisdom”. In other words, we strive to understand what others before us have created. For example, calculus from Newton. In other words, learning is a backward looking activity. There is nothing inherently wrong with looking backwards.Indeed, we probably should do more of it in order to capture more of what the people around has learned. That is something that “knowledge management” strives to do.

At the same time, looking backwards is not the same thing as looking forward. Looking forward is a strategic challenge and it requires a different perspective. For example, a person who has mastered quantum mechanics may be not up to the task of dealing with climate change.

I would argue that the 21st century will embrace this idea  – that we need to be more forward looking in a strategic sense, in order to create the type of future that our children are more likely to enjoy. In this light consider this cautionary note for persons who aspire to get paid for giving advice

If you are going to be an adviser and integrated part of your client’s team, you have to have ideas about what the future holds. You need to know what challenges your client is likely to face, and you need ideas about the opportunities that the future will provide them. You need to be future-oriented.

The bigger and more strategic your thinking, the deeper your knowledge, the more valuable you are to high-level stakeholders. They want to know how to guide their business into the future, and they need to see around corners. You need to have ideas about what lies around those corners.

Future thinking is about forming opinions rather than giving right answers. And so the last sentence in the above quote should actually, read “You need to have ideas about what is most likely to be found around those corners”.  And not just that, the more important strategic question is what you should one do about it. How do we best create value in light of what is most likely to occur?

From Hive to Eco-Campus

What will work look like in 2040? Ray Kurzweil thinks that we will be cyborgs already – with our brains directly enhanced by web connection. In other words, work may look a lot like meditation.

but we may still need to interact socially – and I hope that we do. Indeed, I am pretty sure that we will. How will work look at a social level+

Johnson Controls has some thoughts on this that Forbes has summarized. Our homes will be more like “hives”. Think about services in the home that enhance your rest as well as prepare you for what you need to do. When we need to connect in real time, we may use a phive. We call that transportation now. Well, we will not need to drive. Instead, our phive enables us to connect with digital services as needed until we get to our eco-campus. that is whwere our social interactions take place.

One thing is clear from this. The flow of our work will be different. And opportunities to enhance productivity much greater. Hold onto your hat!

21st Century Thinking – The Heart

Before we go too far in trying to predict how things will turn out in the 21st century, it is useful to consider carefully where we re and who we are now. That is, what will be the legacy of the 20th century?

There is quite a lot one can say about this, and not all of it is good. Consider this from Gary Hamel, writing for HBR

Writing in the early years of the 20th-century, Max Weber, the famous German sociologist, said this about the modern age:

The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, the disenchantment of the world. The ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life.

Hamel goes further

We live in a secularized, mechanized and depersonalized world—a fact that strikes me anew each time I find myself scrunched into seat 22B on a dyspeptic airline, or when I’ve been compelled to navigate through an endless phone tree in a quest for “customer service,” or have gotten lost in the maze of a government website that purportedly has a form I need to complete.

Takin gthis as true for the moment, it is just possible that during the 21st century mankind will seek ways to re-introduce passion and engagement into our systems. It is all about how we connect.

Some Skill Sets Worth Thinking about

If the 20th century was about the development of the consumer society, it is likely that the 21st century will be about the development of the creative society. culturally, we will move from passive recipients of what markets can offer to active creators of value added for ourselves and others.

If this is so, what skills do we need to thrive in the 21st century? Here is a list — and it is a pretty good one. I especially like the last item on the list – mastering our thoughts.

21st Century Thinking: Deconstructing the Neo Village

The 20th century was all about agglomeration and scaling. the reason was simple. Producing at scale produces incredible economies of scale. Big markets need  big producers, big distributors and big retailers and on an d on – not to mention big media.

Will this trend continue? Well, some think that cities will grow a lot more in the 21st century. But there is a competing view of where we are headed. If you think about it, living in a anonymous, huge metropolis may not be ideal.  Remember the movie Brazil? If living this way is not ideal, why would people do it?

In the old days, the answer would be that they have no choice.Big cities are where the action is. But what if there were more choices? What would an ideal choice look like? Would it look more like a village? VB thinks it does and argues that we will see a growing village mentality over the next years. I agree.

Certain Trends

This chart is pretty interesting

 

decoupling

 

As Fred Wilson points out, the grim reality is that there is a growing gap between median family income and labor productivity.  Whatever the reasons, this is bad news for families. Not all families, but many of them.

There may be policies that can reduce the effect, but I do not think that policy can eliminate it. If I am right, we can expect that more people will be relying on a few who are doing very well indeed. And we should not be surprised if younger folks do not get quite so excited about spending money as folks used to when incomes were rising more abruptly.