Are You Prepared for the Future? How to Deal Effectively with Global Turbulence and Uncertainty
We live in a period of what British management thinker Charles Handy has called Discontinuous Change - that change arrives in erratic, unpredictable bursts. Handy is regarded as one of the top thinkers of all time, ranking beside management guru the late Peter Drucker. Author of such highly acclaimed books as The Empty Raincoat, The New Philanthropists and The Age of Unreason, Handy remains at the forefront of global trend identification.
Charles Handy, however, is not the focus of today’s post; I’ll save him for a future one. I introduced Handy briefly to serve as the backdrop for another respected thinker and writer who has done significant work in the areas of foresight, strategic management and scenario planning.
However, the book from which I’m drawing this post is Inevitable Surprises: Thinking Ahead in a Time of Turbulence. Although the book was released in 2003 it’s perhaps even more relevant now, given the turmoil that struck the financial markets and the economy in 2008.
In the final chapter, Inevitable Strategies, Schwartz presents a set of skills and behaviors to help people prepare effectively for the onslaught of change. Before I present a summary of them, take a moment to watch this short video of Schwartz as part of a panel on energy venture capital firms. Take note of his frankness:
It’s impossible to predict what the future will bring. However, if you pay attention to emerging trends, gather information and data from eclectic sources, and learn to synthesize, I believe that you can stay a couple of steps ahead of others, especially market competitors.
To put you in such a position, Peter Schwartz provides this compelling set of 10 skills and behaviors. Reflect upon them and keep them in a handy location so that you can work on them regularly.
1. Build and Maintain Your Sensory and Intelligence Systems
First off, we’re not talking about IT systems. Rather, this is about “strategic conversations” with colleagues and friends, where your aim is to observe and interpret events unfolding around you and in far-off places, AND their potential impact on your organization and your community. Few people have a solid grasp on this. Be an exception.
2. Establish a sense of timing
As soon as you detect an event occurring, immediately try to determine its speed, impact, when it will exert its effect, and where.
3. Identify “Early Warning Indicators"
It’s key to determine in advance what these indicators will represent and their scope. For example, do they encompass events emerging from such rising powers as China, Brazil and India? And once you’ve identified these indicators, you must watch them studiously and act quickly when you see something occur.
4. Engage Creative Destruction by Eliminating Outdated Processes
The world is changing quickly, with new markets emerging. Rather than operating in a reactive mode, feeling under pressure to decide which products, services, processes, organizational structures etc. to change or eliminate, it’s more effective to initiate action before urgency strikes.
Note: The expression “Creative Destruction” has a fascinating history, dating back to Marx and Engels. However, it was Austrian Joseph Schumpeter who popularized it.
5. Avoid Denial
When you get whacked by a sudden change, don’t pretend nothing significant happened. Denial can lead to a worsening of the problem. Indeed, as Schwartz notes, big business and government excel at specializing in denial. My personal favorite examples are General Motors and Chrysler. Schwartz uses the AIDS epidemic as one example.
6. Know Yourself and Your Ability to Judge
This is especially important in an environment of constant change and market turmoil. But of even greater importance is knowing when not to step outside your bounds of knowledge to take advantage of perceived opportunities. This is when danger presents itself.
7. Embrace Continuous Learning
The majority of failures are what Schwartz calls “failures to learn enough in time about the changing circumstances.” One major problem is how Western countries continue to approach education, and unfortunately the struggle goes on among educators on how to situate it in a global context.
8. Value Environmental Sustainability
Schwartz argues that this extends beyond politics and the environment to how corporations integrate and develop themselves in a global sense, understanding the effects of all of their actions.
9. Protect Yourself Financially
Each of us needs to create our personal safety net involving finances and insurance. However, as a society we need to also look out for those who are vulnerable and less able to protect themselves. The risks of adverse effects are much higher than we realize; hence we must position ourselves to make the necessary transitions in the future as new changes arrive.
10. Build and Grow Your Connections
Continuously building relationships, at work and in our communities, is an essential daily practice. And relationship building and making connections requires depth, not just the shallow chats but the deeper conversations.
This set of skills and behaviors presented by Peter Schwartz are highly relevant to today’s chaotic global environment. View them as your toolbox, something you’ll carry for life as you become a master of change, or simply put: a CHANGEMASTER.
There is no recipe or playbook for doing this. There is only the ongoing knot of life to unravel. Perhaps the string that is the easiest to pull is the string of inevitable surprises.
- Peter Schwartz