By: Simon Anderson
*editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from an article written for the quarterly management magazine, the “Hernsteiner”, published by the Austrian Hernstein Institut.
On February 4th, Microsoft appointed long-time executive Satya Nadella as their new CEO, only the third in its 39 year history, and he sent out an email to all employees to introduce himself and share his vision for the future of the company. Of the many insights he revealed in that email, I found one to be particularly profound: “Our industry does not respect tradition — it only respects innovation.” That’s certainly true in the software industry where Microsoft is a dominant player, but it’s also becoming increasingly true in all industries now.
The sad truth is that today many companies and other organizations are having so much difficulty simply reacting to new trends and technologies that they have no time to innovate. Expectedly, many of them eventually fall too far behind and become insolvent. Gone are the days when major innovations took place during decade-long cycles. The dangers of not paying attention in todays’ world are significant and examples numerous. Without a solid plan, even the best intentioned executives find their companies becoming yet another example of what happens when you lack foresight. The problem is that staying current even in just your industry is becoming progressively more difficult as technology continues to advance and the rate of advancement itself increases.
While it’s impossible to future-proof your business, what can forward-looking leaders do to stay informed about the latest technology and trends impacting their companies and their industries? How can they move from frantically reacting to changes in the business environment to leading the way into uncharted territory?
The Importance of Unlearning
My esteemed mentor, friend, and fellow global futurist Jack Uldrich has taught me well the concept and importance of unlearning in today’s exponential age, and he’s in great company. Legendary futurist and author Alvin Toffler also believed unlearning to be profoundly important, writing “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Before we can even consider conquering the future, we must allow ourselves to let go of the past. This is much more difficult than it sounds. “Because that’s how it has always been done” has almost become an unfortunate mantra in many of today’s organizations. Unlearning also requires a large dose of humility. It’s not easy to admit that your years of success and experience may mean precious little when it comes to some new technology or operational process. Our preconceptions are often so ingrained in our decision-making that we don’t even realize that we are discounting new possibilities because of long-held (and now obsolete) assumptions.
It Starts From Within
One of the single most influential ways that a leader can begin to cultivate the attitudes and skills needed for their organization to continue to compete and win in the future is to create a corporate culture conducive to making fast decisions and responding dynamically to an ever changing market. Although many mission statements may claim this as a core tenet of their organization, this too often is not the case. Below are some ways to help foster the kind of culture that embraces change and recognizes opportunity instead of seeing risk. Read More →