I think that Michelle Martin’s search for the best curriculum for her Leadership Lab presents intuitively reasonable components – given today’s world. “Today’s world” is a key component to that statement, as leadership of 100 years ago would see leaders as Martin’s heroes (or more likely autocrats), with everyone else following. Leaders as hosts makes sense when it is near impossible to digest all the data that you may need to make good decisions. This was one of the biggest takeaways from the course for me: the amount of technology and data that is coming at everyone today is enormous. This is reflected in the Wikipedia List of Emerging Technologies and the 2016 Internet Trends Report, but also reflected in the Weinberger (2011) book – and all the readings for the course. Recently I was exposed to cognitive services and Bot Frameworks at work, and how we need to understand their core abilities, but then creatively discover what it can enable: the art of possible. There’s a great demonstration of this capability in this video that involves McDonald’s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAnz4Fi1-pg&feature=youtu.be. This is new technology that I had heard of peripherally, but this course has forced me to take note of these new technologies, and apply critical thought to determine their possible impact.
Leadership success is often framed as a checklist and sequential (i.e., these are the characteristics you need, or things you need to do). But today, it seems more like a science fiction movie where the actors are moving through a three-dimensional maze, only to realize that there more dimensions: turn left, turn right, move up or down, take a detour to another dimension (possibly with a different law of physics). Martin’s point about leaders as hosts accommodates the need for leaders to leverage assistance in this monumental, digestive task. But it also reveals a dimension needed to enable the new paradigm, which also reflects the Jesuit ethos we embrace: the ego must be humbled so that enablement of others can be successful. This is reflected in my favorite quote by Edith Wharton:
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” (Wharton, 1902)
Personally, the course has forced me to self-reflect on how I can be successful in such a fluid world – which is more about self-leadership. Tanmay Vora’s poster reflecting Janna Q. Anderson’s ideas of skills for success in a disruptive world, presents an excellent set of skills for anyone’s success – not just leaders (although presumably we are all leading ourselves). But if leadership is your job (calling), then these skills obviously apply.
I am beginning to think that sheer amount of information and data may actually force us all to experience what some on the autism spectrum experience in the normal world (i.e., what we would view as normal). As noted by Lynne Soraya in her Asperger’s Diary about Shopping While Autistic,
“A black mist has descended over my vision, I must fight to focus through it. My vision has become subtly pixelated, like a pointillist painting, and I see after images each time I change focus. Little bright spots dance across my vision. My ears hurt, my head hurts, and I feel nauseous, but I can’t leave”.
This reminds me of stories I heard in college regarding Russian shoppers who were introduced to American supermarkets only to be paralyzed by choice. According to an article in the NY Times, although Americans tend to think that there is no such thing as too many choices, as psychologists and economists study the issue, they are concluding that an overload of options may actually paralyze people, often leading to bad decisions (for them). But the same article points out that this may be not just a problem with too many options, but also of poor information. Perhaps the social-networking mechanisms that are part of the overwhelming changes we are experiencing can help us filter the noise, so the information is not overwhelming. My friends on Facebook can help me choose a good restaurant at the food court, maybe I should leverage those social technologies to help with leadership decisions.
Business leaders must solve the problem of information overload to be successful. They fundamentally have a fiduciary duty to serve their organizations. This means that they need to identify the threats and opportunities to their organizations. Blockbuster exploited a huge opportunity, but ignored data indicating consumer trends were driving growth in another direction. The rising popularity of streaming movies allowed an opportunistic Netflix to succeed, eventually forcing Blockbuster into bankruptcy in 2010 https://www.usanfranonline.com/resources/business-process-management/blockbusters-business-process-management-failure/#.WLixwoWcGkQ. My parents experienced something on a more micro-scale (but didn’t feel micro to them). They owned a travel agency for many years, but the internet made them all but obsolete. Luckily, my father (who ran the agency) was nearing retirement, so the impact was mitigated.
This class has enlightened me on many fronts, and frightened me on some. It is easy to be overwhelmed (like Russians in the supermarket) by all the inputs that are flying at us. The techniques presented in this class are all going in my quill. I suspect that, just as there are different arrow types, characteristics, and components, that an archer would use depending on where and what they are shooting at, that some of these techniques will serve me better depending on the task at hand. One thing that I need to keep reminding myself, and that I have often said to consultants and customers, is this apocryphal aphorism: Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is supported by Schwartz (2016) when he notes that one way to tackle the problem is to become more comfortable with the idea of “good enough”. I think many leaders will need to be diligent, try their best, and often just shoot for “good enough”. The alternative may be that their focus on decision-perfection allows others who are just “good enough” to best them by exploiting the next opportunity.
Schwartz, B. (2016). The paradox of choice: why more is less. New York: Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Weinberger, D. (2011). Too Big to Know. New York: Basic Books.
Wharton, E. (1902). Vesalius in Zante (1564). The North American Review, 175(552), 625–631.