Friday, 25 February 2011

And the forecast is: Wrong

The Business Herald in the New Zealand Herald this morning (Friday 25 Feb 2011) features an edited extract from Dan Gardner's new book "Future Babble". In the excerpt Gardner writes mostly about how "we" continue to believe experts' predictions about the future when they are notoriously, conclusively, consistently wrong. According to Gardner this is because our minds are hard wired to seek simplification and certainty. But it doesn't work! Gardner's excerpt ends where I think the real problem lies:

"And that leads to the ultimate conclusion, which is one we do not want to accept but must: There are no crystal balls, no style of thinking, no technique, no model will ever eliminate uncertainty. The future will forever be shrouded in darkness. Only if we accept and embrace this fundamental fact can we hope to be prepared for the inevitable surprises that lie ahead."

The excerpt offers no clue on how we might "embrace" this uncertainty but the Christchurch earthquake and aftermath this week and ongoing, dramatically indicates how. The key to survival, recovery and prosperity lies in our capacity to collaborate.

But command style management, focus on dispassionate information, and individualistic reward systems ensure that most of us seldom, if ever experience collaboration. At best we experience co-operation only.

The key to thriving in a climate of uncertainty is unity through shared vision in culture that constantly questions and tests its assumptions. To get that we have to engage diverse perspectives. Conventional management practice requires compliant uniformity, often called "alignment".

It seems pretty clear to me what has to change. Education, especially Business education, for one, has to change: not so much what is taught and learned, but HOW it's taught and learned (and assessed): collaboratively.

That said, the problem then becomes how to change education. How do we do that when bad education is endemic:

Students expect “add water and stir” education. They just want a recognised qualification at lowest cost.
  • Universities want to deliver recognised qualifications at lowest cost.
  • Employers want recruits with recognised qualifications, like they got when they were at university because that’s the easiest criteria to winnow the applicants.
  • University teachers are up to their eyes administrating and researching. Why would they upgrade their pedagogy when the markets accept what they currently produce?
It’s a single loop system. It can’t learn/change because there is no way for disconfirming data to enter the control process. The system has no concept of what could be. The individuals within it possibly do, but the organisational system is self-sealing, impervious. The way it is managed has got to change.

Industrial era management practice is the main blockage in commerce too. Take the Borders failure. Check out Forbes blog for more on that.

Industrial era management ideology and practice is so endemic it doesn't get questioned. It's like water to a fish. We're immersed in it - hierarchy and compliance. Question it! Encourage others to question it. If you're a manager, encourage them to question you. 

Stop investing in what was, when the answer is in what could be. Stop using tools and technology to shore up the status quo. Together risk finding a radically new way to manage.

To manage the risk and grow your courage, hire an experienced change-coach, learn from people and industries that have already done it. Start with books like: Umair Haque The New Capitalist Manifesto; John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison The Power of Pull; Ranjay Gulati Reorganize for Resilience; Rod Collins Leadership in a Wiki World; and Carol Sanford The Responsible Business.

For a comprehensive account of the rise and fall of 20th Century management as well as an account of the principles and practices underlying the reinvention of management, read Steve Denning 's The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management (Jossey-Bass 2010).


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