More than seven years ago, Peter Senge alerted us to the need for more learning organisations. To my mind, that need has grown enormously. Yet, the number one limitation I find to organisations becoming better at learning is that their leaders are not very adept at it.
Last October (2012), I suggested that we should “Hail the Agile Leader”. Here’s how I closed my thoughts back then:
Research from a growing number of scholars suggests that leaders who are able to seek out, manage, understand and ultimately learn from new and challenging experiences are able to act decisively even when uncertain. As a result, learning-agile individuals can effectively take in and process information, integrate new ideas with previous experiences, reflect upon new insights and generate solutions to problems that ultimately lead to new ways of doing things. In my experience, agile leaders are best suited to utilise opportunity foresense when confronted by disruptive ambiguity. That is, agile leaders don’t allow themselves to become stuck with the solutions that worked for yesterday’s problems, even if they themselves were the ones who came up with those solutions.
Many have taken an interest in the subject and are regularly adding to the knowledge base on this subject. One good treatment of the subject that was published at about the same time as my own post (which I just discovered) is a post by Leanna Cruz with a most-interesting title: “Learning Agility — The Difference Between a Successful Leader and One on the Path to Derailment”. Cruz, writing for Positively Successful, has a nice four-point definition of “learning agility” that I would suggest you add to your own lexicon of critical business skills:
Individuals high in learning agility are describe as:
1. Seeking more experiences to learn from
2. Enjoying complex problems and challenges associated with new experiences
3. Getting more out of these experiences because they have an interest in making sense of them, and
4. Performing better because they incorporate new skills into their repertoire as a result
She also reveals how she might have decided how to title her article: “A study conducted by The Center for Creative Leadership [CCL] found that successful executives are those who tend to learn new perspectives and behaviours from both work and life experiences while derailed executives, all of whom had been successful for many years and had many experiences and key job assignments, showed virtually no pattern of learning.”
The CCL study was done in 2012, and you can download a 19-page PDF on the subject here. The A. J. O’Connor consultancy also has an excellent comparison-contrast of CCL’s view on learning agility versus two other studies. Even more recently, check out the 2013 Korn/Ferry Institute blog on the subject, in which they note, “Studies have repeatedly shown that the ability to learn from experience is what differentiates successful executives from unsuccessful ones.”
It may seem obvious that getting to next is, at the root level, an exercise in learning. But that does not alter the fact that some organisational leaders are averse to learning, placing 80 or more per cent of their confidence for sustaining the firm by relying only on what made it successful in the past. For such leaders, newly conceived processes, systems, products, services, technologies and workplace experiments are not only alien to their sense of what’s needed to keep their enterprise growing, they may even feel that any time spent by anyone discussing new possibilities is time wasted. When leaders are anchored in the past — what they learned and did in years gone by — their organisations tend to tiptoe into the future no matter how fast their competitors are racing ahead.
Organisations learn when its people learn, and I find that people throughout an enterprise are much more likely to develop a passion for learning when their leaders model the behaviour. And Cruz affirms that this is not an option for leaders:
The evidence is growing that long-term success as a leader seems to depend largely on a readiness and ability to learn, because it enables us to acquire new behaviors quickly and effectively, which ultimately enables adaptability and resilience. While this overarching concept of learning agility may always have been important, it seems even more so now, given the constant change in today’s business environment.
Before you can learn to seek the future, you have to seek to learn.
Don’t miss the thoughtful post by Steve Denning on Forbes.com, the one in which he speaks of “Leadership In The Three-Speed Economy”. It’s one of the best snapshots of “where we are” (in a global sense) in terms of business, society and the world economy.
Denning notes that, when people talk about the economy “recovering”, they need to ask, first, which economy. He identifies three:
The Traditional Economy of the 20th Century (General Electric, Walmart and the like)
The Financial Capitalism Economy (dominated by the big banks of today)
The Creative Economy (the “real economy that generates products and services for real customers”)
Denning explores the special traits of each economy, but he doesn’t mince words. He believes that the traditional economy is “in steep decline with a grim future”. The economy tied to financial capitalism is, he says, frail even though it is “flourishing today”. Why so? Mainly because this economy is protected by big governments and their central banks. Propped up by free money, the banks are not financing the real economy and thus are in a kind of twilight zone. When the real economy grows, these banks may be insulated from that growth. All this financial engineering has provided banks with phantom value.
The real economy, he argues, is the creative economy: “It exploits an inter-connected constellation of technological innovations and brings to the marketplace dramatic reductions in cost, size, time and convenience, new systems of infrastructure, new ways of socializing, new meaning as to how time is spent, and new ways of living these possibilities.” He cites companies such as Amazon, Salesforce, Whole Foods and Costco as exemplars of firms that are leading this economy.
Denning has a great five-point list of “how leaders think, speak and act in the workplace. Whereas the Traditional Economy flourished an ethos of efficiency and control, the Creative Economy thrives on the ethos of imagination, exploration, experiment, discovery and collaboration.” Make sure you take special note of his summation of the new leadership model.
What’s been clear to me for some time is that next will only be found in the creative economy. Operational efficiency and acquisitive growth — the mainstay engines of earlier economies — are passé. Generating novel insights and working to convert those insights into actions that lead to new value-creating activities is what firms must do to have a bright future.
Please glance again at the six questions/behaviours I listed earlier that define the look and feel of a nextsensing leader. Any other kind of leader is taking his or her organisation backwards or, at best, keeping it in a holding pattern. In this sense, Denning’s words from his closing deserve emphasis simply because they are so powerful:
In management as in science, some thought-leaders remain intransigent and continue to noisily defend the old paradigm. But the changes of the new paradigm are now inevitable and increasingly obvious to those with eyes to see. Sacred myths are being reexamined. New questions are being asked of old data. In due course, the textbooks are rewritten and university courses are revised.
Looking for next? Enter the creative economy.
Waze has been around since 2008, but it became a news headline this week when rumours circulated that it may soon be acquired by Facebook for $1 billion [here's one news story; there are many]. In a happy coincidence, the founder of Waze, Uri Levine, happened to be speaking at IE just yesterday. It’s always a treat to see a successful entrepreneur live, but there was no mention of mergers or acquisitions in his talk to IE’s students, faculty and interested others. Instead, Levine dazzled the audience with some great ideas about entrepreneurship, which was fitting as he was the keynoter for the one-day programme at IE called “Venture Days”.
What were Levine’s ideas? It might be helpful to tell you a bit about Waze first. Here’s how its own website describes its work:
Waze is the world’s fastest-growing community-based traffic and navigation app. Join other drivers in your area who share real-time traffic and road info, saving everyone time and gas money on their daily commute. Imagine 30 million drivers out on the roads, working together towards a common goal: to outsmart traffic and get everyone the best route to work and back, every day.
In other words, Waze is an app that — based on the reports of many other Waze users — will help you find the best way to get to where you need to go, be it your workplace, an appointment or a meeting with a friend or colleague. Waze, then, is a business built on crowdsourcing. In his talk on “The Power of the Crowd — Lessons Learned”, Levine stressed five key points, which I will summarise here:
- Know who your users [customers] are.
- Make your mistakes fast.
- It’s all about the journey.
- The biggest enemy of good enough is … perfect.
- Focus — it is what we are not doing.
While I can’t provide you at this time a link to a video of his talk yesterday, you can get a feel for Levine by watching this short 2012 video in which he discusses how Waze has been a major disrupter in the field of maps and map-making.
And that was my key takeaway from his IE talk — that he and Waze had to find new, disruptive ways to become the next wave in the world of maps. Levine said that Waze moved toward a crowdsourcing model after it found out how expensive it was to purchase maps from the “big three” suppliers back then: Nokia, TomTom and Google.
He recalled that the first contributors to Waze were drivers who enjoyed playing around with GPS and who were willing to become early adapters of Waze’s emerging technology. In time, with more and more contributors, Waze found that it actually had the best maps available for those locations where Waze users were detailing their driving experience. This accuracy came along with real-time data on what was happening on major roadways — a powerful combination!
He said that Waze found that its users were so insistent on making sure the Waze app reported everything exactly right, that any streets that were not labelled correctly on Waze were called out quickly, allowing the company to maintain quality control in a unique way: by relying on its user base to keep Waze operating at peak efficiency. This may be one reason why Waze was recently awarded the best overall mobile app for 2013. In his IE talk, Levine noted that, just as Wikipedia has just about replaced the Britannica dynasty, Waze could increasingly be seen as a threat to the big three map firms.
Thus the keen interest in Waze by Facebook and perhaps others. Take note: firms successful at nextsensing will quickly grab the spotlight away from even the biggest stars in the field.
The lack of civility, the entitlement and coddling in the workplace today is astounding; and it’s not Millennials: it’s older Gen-Ys and Baby Boomers. My adage is “When did the Golden Rule become the exception?” because it sure seems like it is. That’s why I think we need love in the workplace.
Bear with me: what we need is not love in the romantic sense, but love in the 2,500-year-old+ Aristotelian Greek Classic Virtue sense:
- Eros: passion, desire, devotion. Think of Zappos and Nordstrom’s view of customer service or Apple’s focus on design
- Philos: friendship, respect. Think of teams, collaboration, earning/keeping trust and talent
- Agape: sacrifice, empathy, humility. Think of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes — your customer, employee, and supplier
Let’s look at three key players in your ecosystem: customers, employees and suppliers.
As Steve Denning says, first and foremost, it’s all about delighting your customer.
Do you really think about your customers, their needs, issues, problems — from their point of view or from yours transposed on them? There were two companies in Colombia using text messaging for recruitment (text messaging is widely available, the Internet is not). The first one simply texted the job seeker a location and time, nothing about the employer, job details and so on. They weren’t very successful because most of the job seekers had to choose between paying for the bus to get to the interview or eating a meal (all for a job they knew nothing about in a potentially dangerous part of the city). The second company looked at the forces impeding people from getting jobs — such as access to and cost of transportation, information about the job, and so on. This company addressed those issues, and it is growing.
When was the last time you tried to discover, order, track the order, receive, unpack, get rid of the packaging, use/install, call customer service and dispose of what your company makes? How easy was it? Would you “hire” your company again based on your experience? Do you really understand all the forces impacting your customers — time, money, effort, convenience and so on — and how you can make those easier for them? Think about the buying experiences you’ve loved. What is it that makes it so delightful? What are you passionate about doing for your customers? Where can Eros and Agape apply?
We all know happy, engaged employees are more productive and therefore more able to delight your customers. Studies have shown this time and again, yet few companies really make this a strategic priority. The command-and-control days are over. Provide your employees with the freedom to make their own choices, including those that affect your customers. If you can’t trust them with that, you’ve got bigger problems. This may sound paradoxical with my initial comments on entitlement and coddling, but it’s not. Giving your people a healthy working environment, physically and psychologically (which means accountability), brings out the best in them. Coddling and tolerating inappropriate performance and behaviour undermines everyone.
When you walk the halls or factories of your organisation (which I hope you do), what do you see and hear? Smiles? Laughter? People helping each other? Or not? Would you want to work for your company in any of the other positions and levels? Would you want to work for you? Would you want to be treated the way you treat your people? How do you, will you, excite and engage your people? How can you encourage their Eros and Agape for customers and Philos for each other?
I can’t count how many times my clients complain about how their customers treat them. Issues are plentiful around payments, changes to orders, delivery dates, misaligned expectations, and so on. Many of these same people then turn around and treat their suppliers the way their customers treat them. So much for the Golden Rule. Similarly to how you treat your people, if you treat your suppliers with respect and honesty, odds are you will have a good working relationship in which you can align both sets of interests and both grow. One of my clients discovered new applications for one of their key suppliers, significantly growing both their businesses and opening up brand new market spaces.
Have you ever sat down with your suppliers and understood their business issues and how you could help them help you? Would you want to be a supplier to your company? Do your people communicate in a helpful way with your suppliers? Are there ways you can help your suppliers get into new markets and grow their business? What are your suppliers passionate about? Where can you help them supply to you with the Philos and Agape you’d like your customers to show you?
Love is critical in today’s workplace; but it doesn’t mean tolerating any type of performance or behaviour, and it doesn’t mean ignoring serious issues. It does mean understanding your customers’ needs even better than they do, from their world, tapping into your people’s passions for delighting customers, letting teams make their own decisions and encouraging collaboration and making your suppliers part of your ecosystem instead of indentured servants.
What will you try this week to show love at work?
“I wake up every morning and think to myself, ‘How far can I push the company forward in the next 24 hours?’ ” — Leah Busque, Founder and CEO, Taskrabbit
“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” — William Shakespeare, derived from Julius Caesar
“To gain profit is important, but you must invest to build up assets that you can cash in the future.” — Akio Morita (co-founder of Sony Corporation), in Made in Japan
“Dinosaurs are extinct today because they lacked opposable thumbs and the brainpower to build a space program.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson, in The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist
“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in The Wisdom of the Sands
“Our future will be shaped by the assumptions we make about who we are and what we can be.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in America the Principled: 6 Opportunities for Becoming a Can-Do Nation Once Again
“Security is mostly superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” — Helen Keller, in The Open Door
Last September, I asked my readers to think about the perils of trying to copy someone else’s success. Specifically, I mentioned a great article, “The perils of best practice: Should you emulate Apple?”, by Marla M. Capozzi, Ari Kellen, and Sven Smit. Their message was that too many companies (they studied 750) appeared to be trying to imitate what other successful firms were doing (or acquire them) rather than growing their own enterprise. This excerpt will give you the flavour of the article and my post:
But I gasped when I saw that there was just 0.1 per cent average annual organic growth. Is that acceptable performance for a CEO? Worse still, only 28 per cent of the 750 companies studied were able to demonstrate any organic growth at all. Does this mean that the CEOs of the remaining 72 per cent simply focussed on acquiring their way forward? Sounds like a great business model for investment bankers and consultants, but perhaps less so for shareholders and consumers who benefit the most from the meaningful product and service innovations at the heart of organic growth.
I thought of that earlier post when seeing a recent SmartBlog on Leadership: “Memo to the CEO: 5 myths that are killing your talent development” written by Wendy Axelrod and Jeannie Coyle. The two writers summarise how CEOs are discounting their internal ability to grow their companies to the next level by not developing talent. What are the five myths they mention?
1. Development is for top talent.
2. Performance and development don’t mix.
3. Development belongs to HR, not managers.
4. Development requires major investments in training.
5. New knowledge is the same as learning.
All their points merit your attention, but I would like to cite their fifth myth in full:
Now more than ever, learning isn’t real until you actually do something with the knowledge. You’ve got to apply it to work linked to business goals. Development, as a result, is most meaningful when it occurs every day, on the job, with managers skillfully in the lead. In this way, the work itself becomes an invaluable development tool. None of the learning is squandered (as it is in training off the job) and, better yet, the development directly supports the business.
They’re absolutely right about this. Too many CEOs fail to see that growing talent and growing one’s business can be simultaneous endeavours. As individuals are encouraged to find their own career next, it is a powerful analogue to encourage people to join in any efforts aimed at finding their company’s next.
I have seen many a CEO fret about the health (even the existence) of their company “tomorrow”. One of the most effective ways to alleviate distress about this subject is to start developing the talent inside the company today.
“Intelligence is something we are born with,” said Edward de Bono, adding, “Thinking is a skill that must be learned.” That thought is a good place to start to tell you about the approach Jeffrey Phillips uses when helping others to innovate. Phillips’ ideas are profiled on a recent Fast Company post by Drake Baer, who opens with a story Phillips tells about Albert Einstein:
When asked how he would spend his time if he was given an hour to solve a thorny problem, (Einstein) said he’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and alternatives and 5 minutes solving it. Which is exactly opposite of what the vast majority of executives today would do.
Phillips’ thesis is that many leaders would be better served if they changed the ratio of how much time they spend on thinking versus acting. It’s the same spirit behind the clichè that it’s far better to “ready, aim, fire” than to “ready, fire, aim.”
Yet, my experience has been that this is a concept that seems simple and easy to understand; but hard for most leaders to practice. The pace of life seems more rushed than ever. And, indeed, Einstein had bigger problems to dwell on and the luxury of time to dwell on them. Yet, a packed to-do list is no excuse for leaders failing to think about what their firms are doing. I often get executives to stop glancing at the clock on the wall when I convince them that the nature of organisational and marketplace challenges today is different than in the past. Many problems facing leaders in 2013 are indeed much, much more thinking-intensive in nature. Since the problems are new, their past experience is insufficient to allow leaders to make snap judgements and then move quickly onto the next problem.
This is why so many firms seem dysfunctional today. Nonetheless, executives often tell me that the tenets of management and the expectations of leaders demand immediate action (speed) and unequivocal clarity (certainty). They often just stare when I advise them that neither is realistic. Complex organisational problems demand more thought. To act prematurely is to assure speedy failure and certain chaos.
Phillips believes that executives need to respect a “deliberate process”, and I commend his ideas. For my part, I would ask you to do everything in your power to resist the impulse to move instictively and immediately into advocacy mode (this is what we need to do and how we should do it) for every problem. Sure, some problems may be addressable with such low-level thinking, but the vast majority of problems that demand the attention of senior managers are not.
My ideal would be for the organisational world to accept the new reality that leaders should most often be in inquiry mode (let´s consider what is really going on as our first order of action) and thus grant leaders the time for a deeper understanding of the problem itself before any other action is taken. I’m not saying Einstein’s 55 minutes thinking/5 minutes solving ratio will ever be possible, but any move in that direction would improve the impact leaders have on the shape and direction of the firms they lead.
When a group is in nextsensing mode, it often has a feeling of being stuck or being lost. I liken it to driving off a main rode into wilderness on a moonless night. Sure, you have headlights and you’re moving; but you can’t be sure you’re moving in the right direction. Many of those in the financial world right now are wondering if they’re moving in the right direction. The problem, mainly, is the on-again-off-again Bitcoin bubble. If you haven’t heard much about this phenomenom, CNN addressed its up and down modes in a post last week. A quick excerpt:
Early Friday, Bitcoin prices traded as high as $136.43 before pulling back to $119.36. That’s more than double this week’s low of $50.
Trading volume doubled in just two hours.
The price of the virtual currency, which was created by an anonymous hacker just four years ago, has increased almost 20-fold this year. It gained particular attention in the wake of a mini-bank run in Cyprus, which had raised concerns about the health of government-backed paper currencies like the euro and the U.S. dollar.
As traders and investors jumped on the bandwagon, prices spiked to $266.
Why should this matter to anyone? There is one enormous reason: Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are not controlled by any central bank. You don’t have to be a financial whiz to know that the global financial marketplace — the buying and selling (and managing) of currencies — is now done by so-called Central Banks. Wikipedia’s definition is succinct and will do nicely: “A central bank, reserve bank, or monetary authority is a public institution that manages a state’s currency, money supply, and interest rates. Central banks also usually oversee the commercial banking system of their respective countries.”
At the moment, central banks have been famous (or is that infamous?) for altering stock market norms by direct interventions; many say the FTSE, the DAX, the IBEX and the like are as high as they are only because of central bank actions.
And you may have heard, very recently, that a possible “currency war” is afoot in the world because central banks have quite intentionally been lowering the value of their currencies. Why might that matter? A country or region with a high-value currency will also have goods and services that cost comparatively more than what they would in a lower-valued country or region. Case in point: Japan and the lowered value of the yen; by contrast, things cost more in Europe. So, from where would you buy equivalent goods and services right now, if you are operating on a global basis?
Thus, you will not have to go far to read reports like this, from DW: “Eurozone countries are beginning to seriously worry about an overvalued euro currency. France, in particular, is concerned about its export industry should the euro become too expensive. French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici insisted there should be coordinated action against erratic currency fluctuations as they endangered growth.”
I first became interested in these parallel money universes when Matthew Lynn on MarketWatch wrote about the possibility that Amazon.com might introduce its own money! He raises this altogether preposterous (yet still might happen) suggestion. What should central banks be most worried about in the future? His view: “But in the long term what they should perhaps be most worried about is losing their monopoly on issuing money. A new breed of virtual currencies are starting to emerge — and some of the giants of the web industry such as Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) are edging into the market.” Lynn also notes that a virtual Web currency already exists in BitCoin, that there are currencies in the gaming world of Second Life and Farmville and that Apple and Google may be dabbling into generating currencies. Says Lynn:
For investors, this matters. As a general rule, investing in the right currency matters far more than what stocks or bonds you choose. If you’d invested in Swiss francs (ICAPC:USDCHF) in the 1970s, for example, you’d have done very well over the next four decades, regardless of whether the stocks you picked were any good or not. Likewise if you’d invested in gold (COMEX:GCJ3) — a quasi-currency — during the 1990s you’d have done better than most other investments.
Right now, what the virtual currencies need is a major company to make them universally acceptable. Amazon may be the one, or it may be an iCoin from Apple, or G-Dollars from Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) , or some new company we haven’t heard of yet. But the potential is surely there. If a virtual currency can be just as good as a medium of exchange, and a better store of value, it will start to gain traction, taking its place alongside traditional currencies. And perhaps even replacing them.
I don’t say that all this is likely. But I would stress that when “value” is exchanged virtually, who needs paper and coins? Is the existence of BitCoin a weak signal on the periphery or a modern day eventuality? As I have observed so many times, sometimes nextsensing revolutions start as a kind of hunch: small, speculative, and not particularly important. But when they catch on, one can come on like a freight train and rattle a lot of widows in the process. G-Dollars from Google may never have the official backing of a country or region; but if the world starts to use G-Dollars — widely — then, in fact, central banks have much to fear.
When should you take all this very seriously? As Lynn wisely notes, watch for central banks to try to squash a virtual currency in one way or another. If that happens, will they be successful? I side with Lynn’s view: “But the online universe is very hard to regulate. Governments haven’t managed to stop spam, or pornography, or terror chat rooms, or any of the other online activities they don’t like. There is little reason to imagine they can prevent virtual currencies circulating either.”
Meanwhile, there are two major Bitcoin conferences happening this year, both centred on the future of how people will pay for the goods and services they buy. One is in San José, California, in just a few weeks; the other will take place in Vienna in November. The financial world has become a new world.
When I was a young boy growing up in Detroit, you bought a new car every year. If you worked at General Motors, you had to drive their latest new model. Same for Ford and Chrysler. It seemed that every family in one way or another worked for the automobile industry. It was, after all, the “Motor City”.
More recently, something unimaginable (to a Detroit boy) is now part of the regular discourse about automobiles: cars without drivers! Really?
It seems that cars are quickly becoming the new technology frontier and that all the bells and whistles (not horns) of our smartphones are finding their way into our cars. That kind of technology is now envisioned as increasingly capable of serving as an “auto-pilot” for cars. The Economist has a great article about this, but you can easily find many others.
From what I glean from a number of sources, some manufacturers have already tried to integrate smart technology directly into the dashboard, which is a slow process since new-model cycles of such a production-driven industry puts such innovations 3-5 years into the future. That’s multiple lifetimes in the mobile apps world! Others have made it possible for smartphones to become integrated right into the driver’s cockpit, thus putting the onus of continual updating onto the phone, not the car’s dashboard. Either way, this could be the shape of the next automotive industry.
In cultures such as the US, the automobile is one of the top three places people spend their time (along with home and office). Now, when in the car, what if you didn’t really have to drive because technology converted the driver’s seat into just another passenger seat? Given that people would freely be able to use their smartphones, the expanded potential for managing information and communication and enjoying entertainment would become plentiful.
How the global automobile companies respond to this possibility (or is it really an inevitability?) will be a key determinant of what kind of future automotive choices you will have when you select the car or truck you want to, ummm, drive. Driverless cars with added communications capabilities will give a whole new meaning to “what is under the hood”. Is this a major change? If it goes the way some are thinking, you bet. Automobile manufacturing has long been controlled by designers and engineers (and not of the telecommunication persuasion). Will some future Bill Gates or Steve Jobs choose to be a car designer instead of a computer geek?
But will the industry choose to move in this way? Up till now, car buyers have been attracted to dealerships based on the sleek designs, interior elegance, greater horsepower or fuel efficiency (but not both) of the cars they carry. Then, too, cars have been sold simply because of the “experience” and the “feel” that one has on an open road driving in what they believe is the ultramobile of all time. Do the auto executives who have inherited a legacy of more than 100 years of mass production efficiencies and emotionally compelling style choices have what it takes to answer the driverless call? And will buyers open their wallets simply because a new car gives them time to read and write more emails? When driverless cars are as common as, say, hybrids are today, what will be the most compelling value proposition for prospective buyers?
More questions than answers, to be sure. To me, this seems to represent another convergence of things that were once mutually exclusively. We now live in a world that takes a harsh view on distractive communication while you’re driving. Soon, that may not matter.
I am placing my bet on those auto manufacturers that sensed early that something driverless was on the horizon and took the steps to experiment with these daring new possibilities. Their 2015-16 models are still on drawing boards, and I for one can’t wait to see what’s coming. And while there are clearly engineering and design challenges aplenty, the real challenge (hence, opportunity) is thinking differently about what the automobile can become and how that will drive (pun intended) the buying decisions of the next generation of car buyer-passengers. In the meantime, I plan to ponder the wonder of the 50th anniversary Mustang with my fingers crossed that it still needs to be driven.
PS: Some good thoughts on this subject can also be found in this FT article by Emily Steel. There’s also a super article by Jamie Page Deaton on “How Driverless Cars Will Work”; it’s well worth your time as well.
While it’s easy to find news about the top leaders of most countries, those who are at the top of businesses rarely make news unless it’s about a company breakthrough or the opposite, a company scandal. Yet there are thousands of CEOs around the world, who collectively lead millions of employees. What are these leaders thinking?
The PwC consultancy (@PwC_LLC) has, for 16 years, been surveying CEOs and issuing annual reports. What is PwC? Per their website: “We’re a network of firms in 158 countries with more than 180,000 people who are committed to delivering quality in assurance, tax and advisory services.” What is its Annual Global CEO Survey? Again, per their website:
In total, we conducted 1,330 interviews with CEOs in 68 countries between 5 September and 4 December 2012. By region, 449 interviews were conducted in Asia Pacific, 312 in Western Europe, 227 in North America, 165 in Latin America, 95 in Central and Eastern Europe, 50 in Africa and 32 in the Middle East. The interviews were spread across a range of industries, with further details by region and industry, available on request. To better appreciate CEOs’ perspectives for 2013, we also conducted in-depth interviews with 33 CEOs from five continents over the fourth quarter of 2012, and more extensive extracts can be found in this website where you can explore responses by sector and location.
PwC’s full report is, as you might guess, extensive. It’s “key findings” can be scanned quickly, though [link]. Here’s my own quick take from reviewing the PwC findings.
Most of the CEOs do not see much chance of robust economic growth in the coming year. The list of global concerns is a long one. Problems abound. Solutions, not so much.
Most are worried about unexpected bad things happening (“catastrophic events, economic and policy threats, and commercial threats”). Says PwC: “We asked CEOs about their organisation’s ability to cope with a range of disruptive scenarios. Most felt their organisation would be negatively impacted, with major social unrest being cause for the greatest concern.”
Most know that internal changes are needed, that the status quo operational policies and practices of their firms won’t be sufficient in the future. Says PwC: “That’s why nearly half of CEOs say improving operational effectiveness is one of their top-three investment priorities this year.”
Yet, many (between 20-30 per cent) embrace optimism that their companies can grow, and the top two ways these CEOs said they could do that is via (1) “new product or service development” and (2) “organic growth in existing domestic market[s]“.
The CEOs know that customers are key to their future. Saws PwC: “So it’s no wonder that 82% of CEOs are looking for new ways to stimulate customer demand and loyalty this year.”
Lastly, many CEOs are worried about trust, which PwC profiles in impressive detail: “… CEOs know they have to repair the bridges between business and society. The global financial crisis and questionable behaviour of some companies have badly damaged faith in institutions of every kind. And this is impacting on their brand value and performance. Indeed, 37% of CEOs are concerned that lack of trust in their industry could endanger their company’s growth.”
It’s not easy to lead a country these days, if it ever was. And, in many ways, PwC’s findings demonstrate that it’s also a challenge to lead a business of any substantial scale. That’s why you can actually find lists of CEOs whom some say will (or should) be fired. On the list published 26 ecember 2012 by 24/7 Wall St., the first CEO on its list is Ron Johnson, who was just dismissed by the department store chain, J.C. Penney.
The pressure being felt by CEOs in general, and especially those facing high degrees of disruptive ambiguity, is relentless and even escalating in 2013. The business philosopher Joseph Schumpeter spoke of “gales of creative destruction”, which implies that — sooner or later — all leaders (and leading companies) will stumble and fall.
Is any CEO safe?
And what of the companies they lead?
And their many employees?
My sense is that different CEOs with distinct legacy challenges will face quite different challenges. However, all CEOs must face the uncertainty of disruptive change and have less time than they would like to sort things out. The first problem to address is how to think about what needs to happen next in order to steer safely into the future. For CEOs, this is not an option. As so many environmental websites declare, “Extinction is forever.”