Holly G. Green
Have you responded to the wakeup call that has been sounding
for business leaders?
For the past few years I’ve been talking about and sharing
with anyone who will listen - clients, seminar and learning session
attendees, keynote audiences - the world is moving faster and
getting more complex all the time. I see people nod their heads in
agreement, but I am not sure any of us does a lot about it. When I
work directly with clients, I know the logical conclusion has been
drawn that it is harder than ever to keep up and takes more time to
understand the ecosystems of our own business as well as all the
forces that impact it. And I read a lot and see quite a few books
about innovation and doing things differently today, but I don’t see
much of it happening. Many companies or leaders just aren’t set up
or able to process how fast changes are occurring. The problem is,
a few, nimble individuals and organizations are and if others don’t
come to grips and behave differently in today’s harsh reality, they
will soon find themselves desperately trying to catch up with those
Here’s some convincing evidence to support this position. IBM
just came out with a fascinating report entitled, “Capitalizing on
Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Study,” a
summary of findings from interviews with more than 1,500 CEOs around
the globe who run companies in the finance, distribution,
communications, industrial manufacturing, and public sectors. The
report lists four key findings:
1) Three-fourths of the CEOs polled said they anticipate even
more complexity in the near future.
2) Most now consider creativity (thinking differently) as the
most important leadership quality.
3) The top companies are outperforming others with the help
of their customers. Specifically, they’re integrating customers
into their core processes to aid in the development of new products
4) Other companies are leading their markets by figuring out
ways to manage complexity for their organizations, customers, and
What do CEOs mean when they refer to “complexity”? According
to the report, it’s not just that opportunities,
changes in the marketplace are happening faster or with less
predictability. It’s that they are becoming increasingly
interconnected and interrelated in ways we have never had to deal
with before. The result is a significantly more volatile and
uncertain world. One that is highly susceptible to tectonic change
on a moment’s notice, and one where incremental change may no longer
be enough to survive.
The report goes on to say that in order to position their
companies for success in the 21st century, CEOs now feel
that they and their teams must “lead with bold creativity, connect
with customers in imaginative ways, and design their operations for
speed and flexibility.” Easy stuff to say.
What really stood out for me was the feeling among many of
the CEOs that their organizations were not prepared to effectively
cope with current levels of complexity. Despite these concerns,
however, a small group of companies was learning to meet complexity
head-on and turn it into an opportunity rather than a threat. How?
Through three distinct strategies.
This was defined as “inviting disruptive innovation while
encouraging people to drop outdated approaches and take balanced
risks.” I call it thinking differently day to day and it
includes challenging assumptions, getting clear on winning,
developing new perspectives, focusing on targets and re-focusing
frequently. It requires a skill set that enables individuals to
pause and ask questions to trigger their brains versus just running
Around the globe, CEOs are increasingly seeing the value in
developing intimate relationships with customers. Many companies
are now making concerted efforts to actively engage customers in
helping them differentiate their products and services. This also
requires a new set of thinking skills. Individuals and
organizations must be willing to suspend beliefs about what has
always worked, what they are absolutely, positively sure is so, and
constantly question themselves to forge new relationships in new
This is similar to
a term I have been using for several years now – ‘strategic
agility’. It refers to the ability to act swiftly and with focus
when unexpected challenges or opportunities present themselves. It
includes the ability to make change happen on your terms rather than
sitting back and waiting for it to dictate how you will react. It
requires an organization that can shift appropriately when necessary
and focus relentlessly all the time.
Ultimately, says the report, CEOs must “shake up their
portfolios, business models, old ways of working and long-held
assumptions.” More important, they need to get a better grip on
what customers really care about, and get rid of outdated
ideas about how their organizations create and deliver value.
Pause and consider your business environment today. Practice
thinking instead of just running. Ask yourself if you are dealing
with the pace and complexity well. Ask others what they have
recently learned that surprised them. Consider what you need to
unlearn. It is not going to slow down or get simpler. You have to
learn how to deal with it effectively in new ways!
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Holly G. Green.
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