Imagine for a moment that you are an astronaut. You have been tasked with launching a Rocketship into the ether of space. You assume that you have what you need for a successful launch and more importantly, you have a destination in mind. At this stage, you don’t know what you don’t know, but you are ‘geared’ to deal with the unexpected. As you prepare for takeoff, the possibilities of success and failure become infinite. You could misfire and fail to produce the intended result, you may launch but then realise that you do not have what you need to sustain your survival, or you may discover that what you had anticipated is far from the reality of this new unknown world.
If we take a moment to reflect on the analogy and the nature of space itself, a variety of words come to mind; infinite, unknown, scary, new, different, vast, exciting, possibility. When we then think about the environment in which organisations find themselves today, similar words tend to come to mind. The concept of space seems to then provide various parallels that are helpful in contextualising our experience as well as providing a useful framework against which to have meaningful conversations about what this may mean for us and our future.
The realisation that the world has changed and will continue to change is fast becoming an exciting yet daunting reality for organisations. They are finding themselves operating in a ‘new’ world with new rules, new competitors and on a new playing field. Within the space analogy, organisations are now required to transform into a Rocketship, so to speak, and gear themselves appropriately to successfully launch into this new world, into a space, an environment that is unknown, infinite and scary, but at the same time exciting and full of possibility. Of course, this is easier said than done.
How we as organisations navigate this new world and what we pay attention to largely depends on the direction in which we are going. Direction should be provided by the customer in terms of their needs and wanted experience, and we should then ensure that we are listening, but more importantly, thinking beyond the now to ensure that we are solving their problems of the future.
Within this new world, organisations are now faced with what Keith Coats describes as major disruptive change drivers which are shaping the new world of work. In his article ‘Disruptive Change: The Marching Tune for Leaders’ he states that ‘understanding change is important if organisations are going to engage with both the threats and opportunities that the change invites’. Within the space analogy we have classified the major disruptive change drivers as meteors, suggesting that if organisations are not mindful of these disruptors they are likely to experience the ‘damage’ that they can cause as opposed to understanding and leveraging them and utilising them to enable their competitive advantage.
“We should ensure that we are listening, but more importantly, thinking beyond the now to ensure that we are solving their problems of the future.”
This is all good and well, but the most important aspect of the analogy is the Rocketship itself and what it symbolizes, which is an organisation of people! Engaged and empowered people are the greatest asset of the organisation and drives its heart and soul. If we are to lead in this new world, we need to focus our efforts on maximizing the potential of our people in becoming our competitive advantage. Organisational leaders play a critical role in the transformation of their people. Thriving in the new world of work will soon become everybody’s job. As such, organisations will require something new and different from their employees as they become an absolute necessity in navigating this world and truly understanding the needs and wanted experience of customers, now and into the future. It should be the collective responsibility of each person to ‘look out of the window’, so to speak, and understand and interpret the disruptive change drivers (meteors) from their perspective, and then use this insight to develop better, faster, more innovative solutions in a more collaborative way.
People are a critical component, but what then holds an organisation together as it navigates through this unknown world of uncertainty and instability? Organisational values and purpose tend to remain relatively stable over time as our values inspire our purpose and our purpose speaks directly to our reason for existence. As such, both our purpose and our values provide us with a sense of certainty and stability as we navigate an ever changing world. The purpose of a ‘wing’ is to facilitate movement and via its streamlined cross sectional shape, it produces lift. In our Rocketship analogy, purpose and values are our wings as they guide us, remind us and provide us with something to ‘hold on to’ and a level of certainty to enable continued movement when we are forced to question every other aspect of ourselves as organisations in relation to this new world.
As we launch into space, we may begin to notice that certain organisational aspects either enable our takeoff or create ‘drag’, preventing us from fully embracing the opportunities on our doorstep. Essentially, these drag flags constitute our past, our history and our baggage. To mitigate their potential impact, we firstly need to become mindful of what the drag flags are and secondly understand how we may need to rethink them as a key enabling factor for the future, which is now!
One of Elon Musk’s goals is to set up a human colony on Mars to reduce the ‘risk of human extinction’ by ‘making life multi-planetary’. With this looming prospect it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to be insular and isolated in our thinking about life on planet earth without allowing ourselves to cognitively move outside the confines of our own thinking towards what could be. As such, maybe we need to not just ask organisations to adapt to the new world of work, but to rather envision a new world?
We certainly do not know what the future holds for organisations. We believe that providing a framework that enables us to contextualise and simplify this world will stimulate interesting and meaningful conversations, where together we can look to understand what this means for us as people in organisations across different industries.
The analogy of space and its parallels to organisations will hopefully enable us to ask ourselves the right questions (which are sometimes difficult questions). It is our hope that these questions will lead to robust conversations that enable decision making that is based on how the world actually is, driving our leaders towards envisioning and creating the future instead of simply responding to it.