The world that we are facing today is so rapidly changing that leaders need a whole new range of skill sets, mindset and heartset in order to survive in this ‘Age of Flux’. It is not only required to change rapidly and adapt to the situations at hand but also change for the better being forward looking rather than resting on past laurels or basing decisions on what worked earlier. There exists an incessant need to – Change fast, Change FORWARD! So how is this possible? Let's look at some strategies.
Such an eclectic approach with changes to the skill set, mindset and heartset might possibly be a game-changer and augur well for leaders to Change FAST and Change FORWARD and constantly stay ahead in facing challenges of the 21st century workspace.
The future is digital, but not in the way we think
The question I get asked most often in conferences around capability building is, “What skills should I focus on, to be successful in a digital future”. I’ve always suspected that’s a loaded question. After all, if you ask a Global IT executive that question, you’re not expecting a response of “circus trapeze artist”, but most likely some variation of “computer science”. However, as an aside, are you really sure you want to ask any type of expert a question about the future? You see, when experts are wrong, they can be horribly off the mark.
When experts go horribly wrong
Consider these opinions from very reputable people about the future.
“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” — Darryl Zanuck, executive at 20th Century Fox, 1946
“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” — President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Company, 1903
“The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” — Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer, British Post Office, 1876
"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943
"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977
You might charitably call these “a swing and a miss”. More bluntly, you might wonder what these guys were smoking when they said this. After all, these were all experts in their field.
So, should we be asking any type of expert about the future?
The future is digital.
Seriously, everyone knows that the future is digital. But, what the best visionaries and change leaders know is that this statement cannot be taken literally. The risk with being literal is that you go down rabbit holes of technology in an attempt to find digital versions of products (digital ice cream?), services (digital dry cleaning?) or work processes (digital financial analysis?). To be fair, some of these are important ingredients for the digital world and they are future-oriented. However, they are all means to a digital end.
What most successful change leaders do, is to understand the context of the world around them, and then deliberately go about creating the future by marrying their own capabilities with future trends.
Where’s the future headed?
So, what key context should we examine regarding the digital future? Here’s a few examples I’d like to share to make a point about a digital future. This is what technology will bring to future life as we know it.
- Driverless cars, which were just a dream a few years ago, have gotten to the stage where children being born today may never need to apply for a driver’s license.
- Between 40-50% of jobs in the manufacturing, transportation and retail sectors could be done by hardware or software robots in the next 15 years.
- Even robots in manufacturing will be disrupted in the next 10 years, as 3D printing takes over. If you can print your PC or smartphone at home, you eliminate robots in the factory.
- Certain news agencies already generate 90% of their short, pro-forma real-time news updates on sports and financial markets using software robots. Artificial Intelligence (AI), with some human journalist help will generate 90% of all news in 15 years.
- Voice recognition is already 3 times faster and more accurate than typing. In the future, Natural Language Processing bots will understand and execute most of the day-to-day tasks at home and at work.
- Deep Learning can already read your lips with more than 90% accuracy, while the average lip reader usually delivers 50% accuracy.
- In 20 to 30 years, the cost of producing energy at home will be a fraction of the cost of buying it off the grid.
- More importantly, it’s the consequences of cheap electricity that are more exciting. Cheap electricity means cheap drinking water, as energy allows you to process all kinds of water including sea water.
- In the next 5 years, there will be apps that can tell by your facial expression if you’re lying. Imagine what that could do to the judicial system!
Wait! Don’t all these examples simply illustrate the criticality of building technical capabilities? No. Not necessarily. Let me share one final statistic to explain why.
- Over the next decade, modern manufacturing in the US will create 3.5 million new jobs. But, up to 2 million high-tech manufacturing jobs may go unfilled for lack of higher-skilled factory workers.
You read that right. In this case the gap will not be in IT programmer availability but in factory workers who know just enough digital technology to operate high-tech machines.
Follow your passion, but in a high-tech way
The future world will need lawyers, and bankers, and CEOs, and businesspeople, and teachers, and nurses, and sanitation workers, and cooks, and accountants, and priests, and factory and farm workers, and yes, politicians. Recent studies on the workforce of the future have demonstrated that beyond a technical digital skills shortage, the bigger skills gap will be related to right brained work. The future of the ice cream business isn’t necessarily a dystopian one where bits and bytes replace a snow cone, but in reimagining how we might better meet the need of ice cream consumers using digital technology. Design thinking, imagination, visual and intuitive product and service design, change management, bringing your organization along – these are all on the critical path to a digital future.
Obviously, this doesn’t take away from the need for a minimum level of digital literacy. We will all need a certain minimum amount of high-tech WITHIN OUR RESPECTIVE FIELD. That technical knowledge doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all skill like AI programming. It must be relevant to your field. So, if your field of passion is say, teaching, then keep building capabilities in that area. But ensure that you study enough digital teaching skills so that you can be the most relevant leader within the teaching field.
There have been very few instances in humanity's existence where the global need for agility is higher than what it has been in the past six months. This is at both a personal and organizational level.
In fact, for this article, let’s consider agility at a personal level.
Could we say that “agility” is a quality or characteristic? If so, it seems to be something we should measure and value similar to other personal qualities and characteristics.
For example, consider intelligence quotient (IQ) and emotional intelligence (EQ). Both of these are measured amounts of how much intelligence or emotional intelligence a person has, respectively.
I believe that one’s agility is a quality and characteristic of great value. Thus, we should understand, value, and know-how to assess one’s agility quotient (AQ), or one’s ability to swiftly adapt to the changing needs of customers, employees, and the marketplace.
Why is AQ Needed?
The rate of change is faster than ever. Disruption of organizations and industries is increasingly occurring.
In fact, there are three rapidly increasing phenomena that all organizations are facing:
Together, this means that if organizations want to stay viable in the long run, they need the ability to adapt and pivot. And, in order for that to happen, organizations need individual employees that have the ability to quickly adapt and pivot: a high agility quotient.
Low versus High Agility Quotient
What sets apart someone with a high agility quotient from someone with a low agility quotient?
At a basic level, someone with low AQ is someone who values certainty, consistency, and comfort. Often, the reason why individuals might possess such values is because they are focused on what is best and comfortable for them: a sense of safety and security.
Someone with high AQ is someone who values learning, alternative perspectives, and personal disruption. Often, the reason why individuals might possess these values is because they are more concerned about (1) providing what is best for the customer, and (2) doing what is best for the long-term success for the organization, over and above a concern of what is best for themselves.
I think a great example of an organization that has helped employees make a significant positive shift in their AQ is Microsoft.
When Satya Nadella took over as CEO, he found that Microsoft employees needed to be the smartest people in the room, which meant a lot of jockeying for power and position and an inability to be wrong and see different perspectives. They were more focused on ensuring stability for themselves than adapting to ensure value for their customers.
As Satya Nadella set out to work on cultural change within Microsoft to become more agile, he promoted the idea that instead of being “know-it-alls,” they needed to become “learn-it-alls.”
And, to promote this shift, he encouraged employees to meet more and more with their customers at their customer’s locations. They were to identify what needs they had and ways in which their products were falling short of what they needed.
A natural byproduct of this is that Microsoft employees were coming back from meeting with their employees having learned something new, seeing a new perspective, and a willingness to disrupt themselves and what they were doing in order to better meet the needs and demands of their customers.
The result of this has been a four-fold increase in market capitalization and stock price since Satya Nadella took over in 2004. It has been an incredible transformation!
Improving Agility Quotient in Your Organization
How do you take employees from having a low agility quotient to having a high agility quotient? At a foundational level, we have got to recognize that the difference between such individuals isn’t a difference in skill or ability, it is a difference in how they see and perceive their world around them. It is a difference in their mindsets.
Mindsets: The Key to Agility
There is a lot of information “out there” on mindsets. But, most of this information fails to identify specific mindsets necessary for agility.
After scouring decades of research in a wide variety of disciplines. I have found that there are four sets of mindsets that have received 30+ years of research attention demonstrating that they influence how individuals think, learn, and behave (i.e., how agile they are). Each of these sets range on a continuum from less agile to more agile.
The table below demonstrates what research has found related to how these different mindsets affect how agile individuals are.
What is Your Agility Quotient?
Does this give you a sense of your personal AQ level? Are there areas where you could improve in your AQ?
What about your organization? Does your organization’s workforce have the collective mindsets that fuel agility?
In my research, I have found that only 5% of people are in the top quartile for all four sets of mindsets. Also, I have assessed the mindsets of over 60 organizations and groups, and I have only found a handful that have two or more collective mindsets on the “high agility” side of the continuum.
Improving Your and Your Workforce’s AQ
If you want to become more agile, or if you want to improve your workforce’s agility, you are going to have to, at a fundamental level, shift how you and they see their world. In other words, you are going to have to focus on mindsets.
Little did we know when we were choosing the dates and topics for the ProjectManagement.com blog that we were on the cusp of a major shift in the world! The present, the past and the future – being an adaptable PM. That was the topic already slated for this week… What a timely topic! And I have broadened it to the topic of being an adaptable project manager now and where we expect it to go in the future. It is not just how we will project manage it is how we will live, choose, prioritize and stay sane! And all these are important components of project management too.
We have been down this hole before – or one like it!
As we look back on a time that was just a few weeks ago, we may be surprised at the number of things that we took for granted and just assumed would continue forever. Every day much like another, the same struggles, the same connections, the same processes. How do you feel as you look back at that time? What emotions do you feel about it?
To help you, take a look at the Plutchik Wheel of Emotions. Ask yourselves the questions that follow:
What is one thing you will keep doing from “before”?__________________________________
We are always navigating holes…
Change is something that many people don’t appreciate. A few weeks ago, there was a sudden change. For many we were told to “stay home starting tomorrow”. For some, that means working from home, for others it means losing a job and struggling with day to day expenses and for some it means juggling work from home, schooling the kids, making additional meals, buying groceries with less access to stores. And then of course there are many people who despite the stay at home orders, are still having to go out to work. Maybe to work on the food supply chain, or as a frontline worker in the healthcare field. The change has been dramatic, and we have had no choice but to adjust the best we can.
In group coaching sessions we often hear that people are “not experiencing anything different than usual”. They regularly or habitually work from home. It is “just the same”. When we pause and think about the truth of that statement, we are often surprised, and it turns out that the only thing that seems the same is the idea of working from home. For example, one person said “nothing has changed for me, I always work from home. We asked, how is it different?
She paused, reflected and answered:
She suddenly looked sad and relieved. She was sad that there were so many things that had changed and relieved because she admitted she had been feeling tired and a little down and had been criticizing herself when things were so “normal” for her.
Maria Sirois (Author of “A short course in happiness after loss”) says “pain, is pain, is pain”. Humans don’t experience pain in comparison to others. They experience their own pain and it is not less – or more – because of how it compares to others. It just is. Having just been in a four- hour mindfulness retreat and I am reminded to think about this present and ask these questions:
What is one thing you are doing now that you will continue to do? _______________________
Like holes before this one, we will find our way out
One significant job of a project manager is to collect, challenge and collate project predictions. Our experts predict how long each part of a project will take and what the optimal sequence is, and we put it together to form the plan. So often the plan is not what is ultimately executed and to some degree serves more as a benchmark (baseline) against which to measure the deviation from what we expected. This has never been truer than now.
As the world tentatively reopens, there is even more uncertainty than when it shut down. A few weeks ago, others made the decisions and we lived with – and adjusted to – those decisions as best we could. Our choice was not “what to do” it was “how to do it”. Some of us adjusted more easily than others. Some did not really adjust at all and now suddenly we will be asked to adjust again.
In the future though we will be making the decisions. We may be told it is OK to go back to work, but we will decide if that is safe – for us, for our children who may not be in school – for vulnerable loved ones. We will decide whether going to a restaurant, store, gym or sports venue is “safe enough”.
Our days will be a maze of decisions, and we will be called upon to use our strengths in new ways and to use strengths that come less easily to us in order to get through the next few months.
We are already seeing that everyone is being called upon to use more Prudence than normal. This character strength – the planning strength – is one that we are more likely to be adept with. We may have to lean more on Perspective – yes a choice may feel unsafe, but it may be less dangerous than the alternative (not going back to work and not being able to pay the rent for example).
We will need Hope – that is the strength of positive forward thinking AND taking action.
Forgiveness may be needed more now as people make decisions that turn out to be less than optimal, or tempers fray, or energy is lower. In fact, when we look at the twenty-four research- based character strengths (see below), EVERY one of them has a place in what is coming in this future.
Look at the list and think about which of the strengths come most easily and naturally to you and then make a plan for how to engage those strengths purposefully in the future. These questions may help:
What is one practice you want to adopt going forward to help make each day 2% better? _______________________________________________________________________
Take what you learned in the past, are learning in the present and launch into the future with a curious mind. In mindfulness we call this “beginner’s mind”. In the next few months we will all be beginners. Embrace it, take care of yourself, and see what you learn!
And, remember to put on your own oxygen mask first!
For a great little book to read during these times of uncertainty – to understand how we process change – read Carole Osterweil’s book Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience: A Leader's Guide to Walking in Fog.
Welcome to my second blog on dealing with Corona Uncertainty. The message in my first blog was clear
We need Thinking brains online for high quality decision making.
This means learning to contain anxiety so we don't get caught up in Project Stress Cycles. With Thinking Brains online we can have informed discussions and take high quality decisions about how to proceed.
In this blog, I'm offering a tool to facilitate your discussions and decision making. This tool is designed to help keep your Thinking Brains online because it allows you to talk explicitly about uncertainty.
Yes, you read that right! It's a tool for talking about uncertainty - not risk.
The case for talking about uncertainty
Project Managers love a business case - here's mine.
I unpacked the differences between risk and uncertainty with help from Elmer Kutsch and colleagues in Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience 
Corona is an uncertainty that has come to pass and it's bringing many more in its wake. We can't manage the risks away - no matter how much we want to! We simply don't have the past experience to draw on.
Sticking our heads in the sand or pretending we can manage the risks away doesn't work. It doesn't contain anxiety - people can see straight through it - as our politicians are discovering. The only way to proceed is by being transparent and talking about uncertainty.
Doing so reduces social threat and social contagion. When you use the tool below, talking about uncertainty it is quite straightforward. You'll find it makes a huge difference.
Tool for Exploring Uncertainty
My tool is based on Eddie Obeng’s project typology and Ralph Stacey’s work on complexity
Source: Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience © Visible Dynamics
Try it now in three steps. Go on.
Step 1 Use the graph to plot where you are today with a project to deliver and Corona looming. Put a cross in the top right if you feel like you’re Walking in Fog (very uncertain with little agreement on the way forward ). Put it in the bottom left if it’s more like Painting by Numbers (you know the kids’s game – where there's a clear outline and you just have to add the colours to make the picture)
Step 2 Forget about Corona, think about your personal preferences. Where do you usually feel most comfortable? Top right, bottom left, somewhere in the middle?
Step 3 What does this tell you about yourself and the impact of Corona Uncertainty on you and your Thinking Brain? I’m guessing that most of us are in the top right. I’m also guessing that it's a pretty uncomfortable place to be - even for those of us who like fog and are drawn to uncertainty.
And I’m curious, what is it like to have these labels and to be explicit about your response to uncertainty?
In my experience these labels help us make sense of uncertainty. They provide great clarity and help to bring our Thinking Brains online.
Add to this the knowledge that Walking in Fog needs a completely different approach to Painting by Numbers and you have a way forward.
Walking in Fog needs a completely different approach
When you’re Walking in Fog the best approach is to set out to explore and understand the uncertainty. You make progress by explicitly exploring the terrain, aiming to put stakes in the ground as you gain clarity, and making informed decisions about where to look next to reduce the uncertainty further.
Working in this way, you eventually develop enough experience of the terrain to make realistic risk assessments. When you reach this point it’s appropriate to adopt more traditional approaches to project planning and risk management. You can start Painting by Numbers.
There is no way of escaping the fog! Pretending it’s not foggy, or confusing risk and uncertainty leads to all kinds of problems.
If you don’t want to get caught out (and this applies to starting a new project or taking over an existing one) as well as responding to Corona:
And tell me how you get on!
Other Blogs in this Series
 Osterweil, C (2019) Project Delivery, Uncertainty and Neuroscience – a Leader’s Guide to Walking in Fog, London: Visible Dynamics