Paradigms are an interesting construct.
The tricky problem is that events, time and perspective can create ‘paradigm busters’
Nasim Taleb famously reflects on the shock felt by those people who believed that all swans were white in colour, who then visit Australia to see real, live (unadulterated!) Black Swans. The paradigm is shattered and everything associated with current knowledge must be re-evaluated and often re-learned.
Many examples of ‘paradigm bursting’ exist in business –
- A large corporate could never collapse from fraud
- A large investment house could never collapse overnight
- A nation state could never go ‘bust’
- It needs 100 years to build the world’s largest company
- The world will never need more than 5 computers
- The new site, Facebook is just for kids
- Internet companies will never make money
All of these things have been proven to be untrue in my lifetime and thousands more are in existence today just waiting to be opportunities or threats to our corporate success.
Whilst so much uncertainty exists in business, it amazes me how little organisations spend on skilling their managers to think and plan for the future. Scenario Planning (or ‘what if thinking’) seems to be the preserve of ‘important’ or ‘top’ managers and at risk of a lack of attention against the competing clamours of shareholders and financiers.
It strikes me that the best scenario planners should be line managers rather than ‘senior managers’ who can use the information immediately to help the organisation to ‘sense’ risks and upskill the workforce and improve process incrementally to future-proof the organisation on a day by day basis.
Leaving future-proofing to a CEO or a specialist department and focusing operational managers on simple execution removes them from the responsibility of ensuring continuing business success and puts the planning process into an ‘ivory tower’ or someone too busy or removed from the day to day operation – where it really counts.
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Investing in and measuring development against the creation of skills, potential and confidence should be the aim of organisations rather than simply job related skills or training for the ‘here and now’. Many of the largest, modern technology companies who constantly innovate products and results, develop their people for the future – however, they also expect results as well. This contrasts with the traditional approach of training people for skills and expecting very little…!
The need to be future-proofed is becoming more important as the rise of technology has created a linked world where business shocks reverberate around the world and have unforeseen effects on both a macro and micro level. In other words, the knock on effect of change anywhere can make or break a business somewhere else.
Here are a few paradigms which I have spotted in the media and are part of a current UK worldview – surely none of these things could happen….?? But what if they did – is your company future-proofed to maximise the opportunity…?
- A nuclear war would never happen in this modern world
- Websites will become irrelevant and will be replaced by mobile apps
- The Euro currency is too important to collapse
- A dictator could never seize power of a large nation state
- The motor car will be the principal means of transport for the next 50 years
- We will have enough rainfall never to need to import water
- The traditional retail outlet will survive as shopping is one of our favourite pastimes
- Cash is King
- China will continue to grow at approx 7% pa
- Money will remain the principal means of trading
- Sales people will always be needed
- Insurance and saving will secure our futures
- A solar powered car will never make economic sense
- Wiring a mobile phone into our brain is impossible
- A cure for cancer is at least 20 years away
- The NHS is safe in our hands
Can you think of more….?