We are, according to the pundits, living the fourth industrial revolution. The information age is rapidly becoming history and we are now in the age of Big Data, the Internet of Things and of Virtual Reality. This collective will have a profound effect on our lives, the way we live and most definitely on the world of work.
It is said that there are only three certain things in life: Death, Taxes and Change. This article is about change and preparing for the changes that we inevitably have to meet, confront and manage as we walk down this Valley called Life.
Preparing and embracing change is halfway to making it work for you instead of it becoming a bogeyman that seems like the enemy.
So where do we start?
Handling change is much more of a mental issue than a physical one.
Having said that, however it is essential that we understand that the old maxim of “A healthy mind in a healthy body” is particularly important in the context of change! So getting yourself into a routine of exercise is a very healthy and productive way to prepare yourself to deal with the pressures of change. Exercise produces the most excellent, and healthiest happiness drug, serotonin, as a by-product. So, exercise away! But please just have a health check before you start if you have not exercised vigorously for a while. You will find that as you become fitter your concentration will improve, your stamina will improve and your resilience in the phase of difficulties will improve.
Now that we have established that a fit, healthy body makes you better prepared and more resilient let us take a look at what else you could be doing to transport yourself happily into the new age that awaits us:
Try to get into nature as often as possible, and not just for a few hours! Really clever companies are now actively learning from nature and producing products that mimic what they have found in nature. Nature has a wonderful way of reducing stress levels and creating an inner peace that is difficult if not impossible to find elsewhere. But you have to submit to the power of the natural world and this requires time. There are many ways of doing this: Visit the bush; paddle out so sea: run in the forest; cycle on open wild trails.
Forget about the idea of retirement. And try to persuade your company to revisit their notion of retirement and retirement age. These are really outmoded concepts especially since we are living longer and with much more health than ever in the history of the world and this trend is unlikely to change. It will not necessarily mean that you continue doing what you are doing but is does mean that you are preparing yourself for another new career doing something different, meaningful and useful. You have much to offer when you reach this time of life. You undoubtedly have earned a Ph.D. at the University of Life! Surely this wisdom is worth sharing!
Surround yourself with positive people. Dump those who are negative and can see no good in the world. These negativists and nay-sayers will make you tired and depressed. Leave them to deal with life as they see fit, but they are no good for you. Be realistic, but live with hope! Share your sense of wonder and hope with everyone. It will also help you to focus on all that is good in the world, and there is much!
Join or create a group that embraces the changes; that works hard at learning what they mean, how best to embrace them, make them meaningful and exciting instead of daunting and scary. By immersing yourself in this circle and cycle of learning you will see all sorts of new possibilities in the world that open up new opportunities for you and the wisdom you have developed during your life.
Do not put these steps off for some future date because actually the future starts right now!
We are, according to the pundits, living the fourth industrial revolution. The information age is rapidly becoming history and we are now in the age of Big Data, the Internet of Things and of Virtual Reality. This collective will have a profound effect on our lives, the way we live and most definitely on the world of work.
How often have you heard this exclamation?!
There are a few fundamental issues relating to it that have relevance in the world of organisations and the way we relate to each other. Let us unpack it a bit.
First of all, why is this kind of comment uttered in the first place? Generally we make these kinds of comments out of envy. We feel that others have it better than we do and feel a sense of unfairness. These comments are seldom based in fact; and are most often emotion driven.
Secondly, these statements reflect our own sense of inadequacy, and sometimes, loss. We wish that we could be different, have more, be more. These are all unrealistic.
Oftentimes comments like these are nothing more than wish-fulfilment fantasies.
Be these all as they may. Perceptions are often, maybe even always, our reality.
Why is it that we always strive to be more, want more, be different?
This is the nub of the issue.
It is a huge issue inside organisations because people spend an inordinate amount of time comparing their positions to those of others in the organisation. And we do it in families too. Brothers complain that sisters have it much easier; sisters complain that brothers are spoilt. You have heard these haven’t you?
The reality has a lot to do with the brainwashing we are subjected by the media and society around us. Look at any magazine, print or electronic, and it will be trying to tell us what we should eat, drink, drive, wear, which parties we should attend and where we should have holidays. And social media exacerbates the process so much more. These in themselves are not the evil. It is what we do with them that turns them into evil.
Each of us is uniquely privileged. There is not another soul of the roughly 8 billion people on the planet who has an identical replica DNA to our own. We are truly, each of us, one of a kind. However we are also herding animals. We are gregarious. We need others to affirm who we are and to reflect back to us our unique importance. It is these elements of our togetherness that drive us to strive to be what we are not. Even amongst those animals that we recognise as natural herders, like Zebra, each Zebra is unique with its very own configuration of stripes.
One of the wonders of our world is our diversity. Why then do we do all that we can to diminish it rather than to revel in it and to learn from it so that we can all, collectively and individually, be the very best that we can be?! Why do we make very attempt to lump all of “them” together when there is really no “them” in the first place?
Imagine a rugby team with only short guys in it; or only those who 2 metres tall or taller? What kind of game would unfold? How interesting would it be? What would happen to the game itself?
Each of us has unique capabilities. The very best that we can be requires that focus on and strengthen our own uniquenesses and not try to be like others. In our modern uber-connected world this is a difficult ask! But our most important contribution; our highest recognition; the source of the most personal fulfilment and satisfaction will come from being as much our unique selves as we can possibly muster.
We need to look to ourselves to recognise our unique, one-of-kind talents and strengths that we can offer to our team, organisation, family, community and then figure out how we can deploy those to best effect by being the very best that we can be at whatever it is that we can be.
Avoid the temptation of copying others because it seems like the sexy thing to do. There is no doubt that being the best at who we are is much more sustainable and much more exciting for all concerned in the long run.
Like the waning and waxing of the Moon there is a time to grow and burn bright and there is a time to slow down and take things a little more quietly. These are to be found in all parts of our cosmos. It is the way of Nature; the natural rhythm of life.
Is it not strange that we resist this?
Is it not somewhat bizarre that our lives are oriented towards acquiring things often with no more of an incentive than the need to own them?
Why is it that we feel the need to be continuously on full charge going forward except for whatever leave period we allow ourselves instead of running in rhythm with the natural world?
How come organisations are so good at starting new things but not very good at getting rid of old things?
Perhaps it is the fear of losing out? Or just plain old habit? We get so used to the way things are that we don’t even consider getting rid of stuff, or changing direction.
So we would like to look at the possibilities of cleaning out our cupboards literally and figuratively in a way that contributes to a more positive future, and in manner which fits with the natural rhythms of the world.
There are probably only two ways of tackling this:
Just start somewhere with anything and then keep going until you either feel exhausted or until you have exhausted all the immediately available options.
Or consider what the end result would look like and feel like in a perfect world.
You can make up your own mind which will be the most effective in the long run although both will probably work for in the short term.
It will be much more effective however and you will enjoy better long term benefits if you take the long view from the beginning and spend some time thinking about what end result you would most like to achieve.
When you build a home it is unlikely that you will start with the roof! You would usually conceptualise the whole structure within the environment and context in which it is to be located. In the process we would decide on what sort of roof we want; what design; and what it should be made of.
The best way to tackle your organisation, your own life and indeed the cupboards and garage and storage facility is to follow the same path to the end result. What is it that you want at the end? Or put alternatively: Why do you need to clean out the cupboard?
There can be a host of answers to this question!
Many, maybe even most, organisations undertake a regular strategic review of their business and products. This is good and well. Seldom is there a conscious cleaning out. Usually it is aimed at what we can do better, more efficiently, more productively…….what can we do more of at lower cost.
What would you do if you were to start the company now knowing what you know about it and the market place it serves? What would you do differently? What would you not do at all? How would the company be configured? These are the questions that are very difficult to confront but are all very necessary for the long term viability, vigour and sustainability of the organisation.
And if get into the habit of making these clean-outs to form part of the natural rhythm of the business, of your life, you will create space to grow and be innovative instead of being burdened by the baggage of the past!
Years ago I had the pleasure and privilege of spending some time chatting with Professor Charles Handy one of the most prominent management and organisational philosophers of all time.
He is famous for many important ideas that now permeate the organisational dialogue as though it has always been there.
One that resonates particularly strongly at this time is his idea that “a company ought to be a community, a community that you belong to, like a village. Nobody owns a village. You are a member and you have rights.” This is a powerful idea and one buried deeply in the DNA of all of us. People have lived in villages for millennia while companies have only been around for a couple of centuries. Some villages have grown into cities while others have disappeared off the landscape. There are, of course, many contributing factors but the concept of the village and the villagers taking care of their own is a powerful one. One that many organisations today would do well to pay attention to.
One of the biggest dangers for people at all levels but particularly those at executive level is the trap of busy-ness. The intense focus on ‘working’ hours; the virtual requirement to work beyond normal working hours; the expectation that you should take calls and respond to emails at any hour of the day or week is just that – it is a trap. Expecting people to Work harder and harder is self-defeating. It forces people to abandon rational behaviour and put themselves, their colleagues and the company at risk. Exhausted, over-worked, burnt-out, busy people begin to make mistakes, to take short cuts and these are all the start of the steady downhill spiral.
Of course there are times when long hours and intense focus and concentration are required, but these should not be the norm because if it is then the organisation is increasingly deprived of its most powerful resource – the thinking power, innovativeness, and resourcefulness of its people. Tired people cannot perform at the top of their game for a sustained period. Just watch any sportsman or -woman and you will see this to be true.
Tim Cohen wrote an article in Financial Mail March 9 2016. He was commenting on the demise of Anglo American and quoted an Anglo insider as saying: “It’s so odd, Trahar worked hugely hard, but didn’t take enough time to just think. Nicky Oppenheimer really didn’t expend much effort, but did find time to think. In the end, the difference was immense”.
In conversations that I had with Handy he made similar comments indicating that executives in whatever business who consciously did not put time aside for thinking inevitably would be left behind and their businesses, or parts of a business, would suffer.
As a consultant I see this often. There is such a focus on delivery now that sight is lost of the future coming at us like tsunamis and at an ever-increasing speed. Often it would be much wiser to stop the train, consider the future and context and to make long term decisions that have at least the possibility of avoiding the tsunami, and maybe even the chance of harnessing its energy. Just battening down the hatches and waiting for it to pass could well leave you worse off than before its arrival!
It is all very well to just think you may well say. Random thinking is also not going to be very productive. If you add to this mix that very few of us have actually been taught to think and to use tried and tested thinking skills it becomes a little like shutting the individual in a light-tight room and switching off the lights. You can see nothing and do not have any idea of which direction to walk in.
The starting point of thinking time is to focus on an issue and to imagine the perfect end result of whatever that issue is. Once you have that perfect and ideal picture in your mind work back from there imagining again all the steps that you would have to take to get back from the future to where you are now. Do that a few times and it is highly likely that new doors of opportunity will begin to open.
So thinking time is not just random thoughts floating in your head, it is the intense use of dedicated time to think about the future and how to get there.
You can do this with your team. It makes for a wonderful team-building experience.
Imagine your company as the world leader?! What does it look like? How do we get there if we plan back from the future?
It definitely cannot happen unless you make time to think.
As Einstein said: “The height of insanity is to expect anything to be different if you repeat the things you do today again tomorrow and the day after that again and again. If you want something to be different tomorrow you have to change what you are doing today”!
2017 will be interesting!
It is going to be a year of change, uncertainty, politicking, and opportunity.
It might be possible to say that about most years but let us consider just some of the activities that will affect us both at home and abroad.
Globally there will be change.
Trump will bring his own form of unpredictable dynamism to bear on World affairs; we have not seen even half of the impact that Brexit will have economically and politically, not only on Europe but also on our own country and its neighbours; we are in a year of elections and election fever both in our own country, on the continent and abroad.
Our economy teeters on a knife edge.
It has often been said that killing poverty will be done by the growth of small businesses and not by big corporates and certainly not by government. Indeed we have seen in our own country how government has done much to hamper and even smother business at all levels but especially small business.
But…..there are encouraging signs of positive growth. Commodity prices have been moving upwards – this is a sure sign that the big economies are starting to grow again; civil society is becoming more and more vocal and is not prepared to be quiet when politicians and others behave badly; our press remains vocal and alert; there is significant evidence to suggest that here and overseas more and more of the important work of growing the country is being devised and executed at local level while the politicians and bureaucrats in the centre fiddle. These are good signs and creative opportunities for communities and individuals to engage and grow.
So, here are some things we can do in 2017 to grow and develop ourselves, our society and our economy.
1. Fix your Mindset; Have a Clear Vision of the Future
There is little more demeaning and self-defeating than a victim mentality! When one listens to the public discourse it often seems that we South Africans are increasingly becoming whingers and the victims of politics, the economy, crime, others who do not like us (they and them), our neighbours, other countries, the police and on and on. How does this help?
If you fix your mindset and consider what you can do to change just the space around you positively, you will at the same time be helping your community, yourself and the country. You will be creating opportunities and this is what our country needs more than anything.
Have a sense of hope, spread this hope and be joyful about life. It really is worth living!
2. Be Courageous
Leadership can be lonely but does not have to be!
Courage is required to lead, certainly, but the rewards are worth the effort especially if you work hard at surrounding yourself with like-minded people who also want to make change happen in a positive way. The intrinsic essence of leadership is to take people on a journey that they would probably not have thought of themselves but become excited by the journey itself and the destination you have defined with them. It is important to constantly challenge yourself and your team to seek new, different and better outcomes that benefit most. It has often been said that the happiest people are not those who have the most money but those who focus on doing as much as they can for others.
In fact, what may be true about great wealth is that it enables one to be unhappy in comfort!
3. Make Creativity your Centrepoint
If ever there was time for innovativeness and creativity it is now and it is especially necessary in the South Africa of today.
We CANNOT leave the future to the politicians. We know they are incapable and probably also unwilling to really work hard at creating a better future for all. This has become increasingly the domain of the private sector and civil society. Even the government when it is in real trouble calls on the private sector and civil society for help. This does not mean that we should exclude the government. No, indeed the opposite is true. We must take the lead and include, engage and involve government in building a better society for all.
Just to be clear – society starts with you. You are the centrepoint of all of society that is relevant to you so do not start your journey looking to others to provide direction for the things that are important to you. Start with yourself and engage those that want to travel the journey with you and as the journey progresses involve all the relevant stakeholders in your journey to make it a success. We need successes to share!
There is no way you would be able to summit Mount Everest unless you are prepared to persevere, hang in there, keep going. Especially when the going gets rough and tough!
It is in conditions like this that leadership really counts. Leadership is about leading. It is what leaders are called to do.
As a leader your job is to make things happen.
As a leader the most important resource you have is your team and in tough times one of your most critical jobs is inculcate this attitude of persevering against all odds. This they will do more successfully and with more determination if you continually fill them with the lightness of hope.
It is the hope of reaching the summit that has kept mountaineers going when the odds seem to be totally stacked against them.
5. Spread the Love
There is too much animosity in the world. We are all too angry about too much. Some of us are angry but we are not sure what we are angry with, or at, or about.
We really need to change this mindset. Anger is a useless emotion which usually leads nowhere, other than to some negative end. Why continue with something that offers no benefit in modern society?
We all, and especially leaders need to find ways to love and to spread this sense of love and caring as widely and as vigorously as possible. We need to build a society that looks for opportunities to be of service to others. We need an attitude of abundance as this will lead to a greater propensity to share generously, of our time, expertise and resources.
6. Live and Work IN the World
The world is truly a village. But it is a village of increasing complexity which simultaneously becomes more accessible and more opaque; bigger and smaller; faster and slower; closer and further.
Without education it must feel like a world of chaos. Even with education it is often extremely difficult to understand. And yet it is our world. It is critical that we are part of it; just as it is part of us. We cannot escape from this globalised world. It is all encompassing. We can benefit and find opportunities by working hard at looking at what the world wants and needs; and avoid looking only at the needs and wants of our village, or our country.
Be sure to be a world citizen.
7. Make sure you Stand for Something
Far too many of us concentrate on being busy. It is almost as though we believe that busyness will bring its own rewards. This may be so on occasions, or for periods of time. But busyness on its own will inevitably lead to disaster. At the end of one’s life no-one will ever ask what we were busy at; instead they will talk about what we represented; what we stood for. Make sure that you are standing for important principles; important values; important ends. These are the things that make for positive change in society. Think of global icons – Mandela, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu. All of these individuals are known way beyond their singular area of activity or interest because of what they stood for. What do you stand for?
2017 lies ahead. It will be full of twists and turns, ups and downs. It is within your power to make it a great year of change and renewal for yourself; just as the world itself will be doing this anyway!
There is no business school or philosophy programme that offers a course in wisdom. In fact defining wisdom is something of a challenge.
Sometimes you will hear adults describing a child as having wisdom beyond his years without really being able to define what it is that makes them say that.
Wisdom is a little like riding a bicycle. You can spend days in lectures about the mechanics of the bicycle, its aerodynamics, the physiology of cycle exercise, the psychology of cycling, the biomechanics of the sport, handling a bicycle, and so on. The reality though is that none of this will actually give you the ability to ride the bicycle.
In order to be able to ride one has to hoist one’s bottom onto the saddle, put your feet on the pedals, hold the handle grips and launch forth, often to fall off almost immediately. This will continue until one has mastered the art and wisdom of balance. This is something that no-one can teach one. It comes from studying at the University of Falling Off a Bicycle until you learn not to.
If you ask someone to describe balance they find it almost impossible to do so. They find it even more difficult to teach one how to balance.
Wisdom is the same. You cannot categorise, nor codify wisdom. It comes with experience, from exposing oneself to life’s trials, tribulations, challenges, joys, upsets, elations, sadnesses and successes.
What we can do though is to speed up the process of acquiring wisdom. The best way to do this is to provide the young with mentors. One of the biggest, most important, negative consequences of the dissolution of the extended family is the fact that the very young at best only have intermittent access to grandparents, aunts and uncles who, in the past would have given them the mentoring that is so valuable in the maturation process.
Today the young pretty much have to find their own way in life. A life that is hugely complex and one which abounds with many very visible poor role models.
This is where those that have lived life and are in the sunset period can play a massively important role in our society. They can take on the role of mentoring young people. They can provide a safe environment in which young people can explore their ideas and receive guidance on some of the most important and challenging issues they are confronted with every day.
We can bring the sunshine they so need in their lives. We can give them hope. We can build positive attitudes. We can help them acquire the most important skills they need to find their way on their journey through the valley of life. We can show them how the right values are much more important than great wealth, or fancy clothes and cars. We can show them how to really love life.
In short we have it in us to build a nation!
It is quite surprising that there are still some who don’t believe in the inherent good for business, that is part and parcel of doing good as a business; or, if you prefer, from being a good corporate citizen.
Indeed there is much evidence that supports this notion both here and abroad.
Investors are increasingly finding that investing in businesses that adopt ethical and contributory business practices are a better long term, less risky and more sustainable investments than those which don’t.
Ask those businesses that arguably produce products like tobacco or arms, how complicated their lives have become in recent years because of the pressure and publicity associated with the harmful results of their products. Every element of their existence is under constant scrutiny.
At the other end of the scale since Unilever decided to pursue the fully sustainable and ethical route revenues have increased since 2008 from Euro40 billion to Euro48 billion in 2014 while in the process reducing water consumption by 32% in the same period. There are real and measurable benefits of going the ethical way! And organisations are increasingly finding that this way is the lowest cost of doing business in the long run.
So what do companies have to do to demonstrate their commitment to helping to create a healthier society and a more sustainable planet?
The very first thing that is required is for organisations to have really good hard introspective look at themselves and question hard what contribution they are making to the well-being of the community of which they are part and to the growth and development of the nation.
This is much more than the self-satisfying notion that we make profits, turn out well-educated students, or pay at least our fair share of taxes.
These are at the very lowest level of socially acceptable compliance and may just, only just, serve to ensure a continued licence to operate.
However world-class organisations do way more than this. They do not have a compliance culture which unfortunately is the reality for many organisations today, i.e. we do what the law requires of us, no more no less. This is a defeatist, minimalist approach and you will not find organisations that operate at the pinnacle of success with a culture like this.
The very best organisations set the standards, and automatically comply with the law as a by-product of doing so. Here the culture is one which asks how we can exercise leadership in every element of our business for the greater good of all.
This can be a very tough transition.
And one that Volkswagen is beginning to pay a very heavy price for not adhering to.
This type of culture will require the organisation to constantly challenge existing norms and standards.
It goes to the essence of the way we do and conduct our businesses, and involves the type of relationships we build with the society of which we are part and to which we should be contributing positively.
This should be done as part of our organisational mission and not as
begrudged add-on. Organisations have a massive impact on society. After all people spend 60% of their waking and conscious hours at work. The organisations for which we work cannot help but have an impact on the way we think and behave.
We must be deeply engaged in the national debate because for our organisations to be able to grow and contribute we need a nurturing environment within which to operate. The conversation has become far too adversarial and businesses do not seem to be visibly engaged in the process of building a new inclusive and vibrant country.
The mechanical implementation of illogical and unjust laws simply because they are laws is certainly not a solution even if it does more or less keep you one step ahead of the law.
In the bad old days there were many companies who did the right thing, broke the law if you like, as contribution to creating a more just society. Those companies who were part of the Sullivan Code are an example of this, but they were not the only ones.
When we do the self-examination these are the questions we should be asking of ourselves:
How do we use and develop all our employees to the limit of their talent;
How do we create a vibrant and healthy workplace;
How do we actively and constructively engage with communities around us;
How do we constructively challenge patently illogical or unjust laws
What can we do to build a better nation?
We should be reflecting on what the right thing is to do, and not only making certain that we do things right.
Many think that giving money and providing resources is what this is about. To do so is an important component but on its own giving money and resources is not good enough and is really only public relations.
Real corporate social investment is much more than that!
When an organisation really decides to go the Corporate Social Investment route it means immersion in every element of society to ensure that we are contributing to a better world than the one we found.
It starts with serious and deep self-examination and the creation of a culture of commitment, courage and contribution!
It is entirely in our organisations’ best self-interest that we should engage in, contribute to and influence society. All organisations, other than those engaged in criminal activity of one sort or another, thrive best in a well-organised, ethically governed, vibrant and thriving environment. Organisations including public, private, commercial, non-governmental, indeed all of civil
society should be engaged with the singular objective of creating this type of society.
This is only possible with deep, persistent and focussed engagement.
An excellent opportunity presents itself now with elections for local government in South Africa on the horizon. We should all be engaging in this process because it is at local government level that we are all most directly affected and therefore have the most direct interest in the outcome.
And we need to engage with all parts of our existence – environment, economics and society!
This is a marvellous opportunity to demonstrate real corporate investment for a real and with a serious outcome.
The process should start with engagement with all the key stakeholders and the community of the organisation to work on creating a common view of the type of future we will all strive for. This is not a party political imperative it is a growth and ‘thrival’ imperative.
Difficult, challenging? For sure.
Important, worthwhile?! Definitely! !