by Jeremy Nulik
This time of year can be a special kind of hell for people in leadership. In addition to closing out your annual goals, you are trying to take every spare moment to think about next year. Given how unpredictable the past couple of years have been, it is hard to know where to start. Do we assume the pandemic disruptions continue? Do we focus on working from home as part of our inclusive workplace?
Given this level of uncertainty, it is no wonder that this feels like a kind of hell. What was an already difficult task has become yet more difficult.
But here’s some news that you may not like: You made this hell.
True, you did not create all the circumstances. You did not set a pandemic in motion. You did not orchestrate the uncertainty. But you made your leadership challenge more difficult with your understanding of strategy and leadership.
There is a way up and out. The only requirement is an openness to acknowledging the shortcomings of strategy and leadership, at least strategy and leadership as they are understood generally. After that, the way out is through a new mindset. One that embraces uncertainty and possibility as the fuel for continued innovation. It is an organizational foresight mindset.
If we are to assume that the Fortune 500 of any particular year represents the most excellent in strategy and leadership, then we can, perhaps, assume that the longevity on the list represents their ability to adapt or innovate. A recent Forbes analyst found that of the companies on the original list in 1955, 88% of them were gone by 2017. Additionally, leading firms are falling off the list at a faster rate.
The same Forbes analyst came to the following conclusion: The companies that sustain on the list have one common feature. They were lucky. There was some combination of happenstance, curiosity, ambition, and need that created innovations. So how do organizations cultivate the environment in which luck can happen? The organizational foresight mindset.
This mindset is fostered by a continued, intentional set of rituals intended to find the drivers for change for you and your industry. It can start as low impact as a quarterly discovery session with the insightful people on your team in which you look forward together. Ask yourselves: What are the potential forces that could disrupt us? What are new opportunities? How can we talk about what we see in five years? It can start that simple, and you will be surprised at what you find. The point is that you make the beginning. That is leadership.
Developing, at an institutional level, foresight thinking must become a working part of your organization. You must create the discipline to explore possibility. It will seem, at first, to be disconnected from the task-oriented, manager mindset. It is. It is not a break / fix model. You will likely spend all of your leadership capabilities on just getting the buy-in necessary to think this way. But you must do this. It is worth it.
If you fail to start this now, you are marching in lockstep toward irrelevance. There is no other end. Your organization and its response to the marketplace or culture will become less and less useful with changes to that marketplace or culture.
But the best reason that I challenge you to start intentionally incorporating foresight mindset into your organization is this: It creates a deep sense of meaning. Tapping into imagination and cultivating potential futures is proven to increase motivation, adaptability, and confidence. It is an indirect investment in your people strategy. When people are encouraged to think about what could be, they are more likely to address present-day challenges as opportunities for innovation — even if a majority of those innovations fail.
It is with this mindset that you can face chaos and challenges with serenity. Because you will have learned what disruption feels like, you have trained up that skill in yourself.
Jeremy Nulik (email@example.com) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.