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Opportunity in Complexity

June 5, 2019

Lack of Clarity:

There are several posts on this blog that relate some thoughts I have about complexity and how our businesses are affected by the external forces in a global market. What I’m thinking about this time, however, is the opportunity we can find in that complexity.

Starting close to home, we are finding our workforce is multigenerational and multicultural. That adds complications for managing expectations and communications. It also provides us an opportunity.

Managing Expectations

The Millennial generation is moving into management positions. Generation Z, following the Millennials, is entering the workforce. We can expect pressure to switch from our typical command and control structures to a more egalitarian structure with distributed control. We cannot make such a change quickly. So managing the expectations of both senior leadership (many are command and control oriented) and the new Millenial managers (many are Intent Based Leadership oriented) will be critical.

In the potential chaos of cultural change are opportunities. Presumably, our company will be better aligned with our customers as our leadership demographic mirrors the broader community. Cultural diversity in our workforce will be an engine for innovation at all levels—such as our business models, products, services, and culture. Thus, the opportunity to take advantage of a multicultural workforce is in front of leadership now, and taking advantage of it will drive that innovation.

Managing Communications

My sense of history is that every generation has had difficulty learning how to communicate and motivate the generations coming up behind them. I also have the feeling that each new generation was the one “going to the dogs.” I know that’s how my father viewed my cohort! From an economic point of view, the Millennial generation may be the first that doesn’t do as well as the previous generations have done. However, my work with that generation tells me that we should not count them out. They seem to be very entrepreneurial as well as industrious in their way. They prefer being independent and work for themselves rather than someone else.

I admit that my audience is self-selecting since I work at a university business school incubator. However, the fact that these classes are full is an indication of the Millennials’ independence and desire to understand how entrepreneurship works. Therefore, the language we use to communicate and motivate this generation is different than with previous generations. More than ever, the Millennials require what Daniel Pink called the three motivators for knowledge workers—Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose [Drive]. Building a safe environment providing those three motivators and communicating in ways that support that environment will be critical going forward.

Final Thoughts

As I’ve said several times on this blog, businesses and individuals will continue to face an increasingly complex world and an accelerating rate of change. There is nothing we can do to stop the advance of technology, and so we will have to adapt—or perish.

In his new book, On Grand Strategy, John Lewis Gaddis relates the story of Isaiah Berlin’s thesis of Foxes and Hedgehogs. In short, Berlin learned from Lord Oxford that a Greek poet, Archilochus of Paros, had a line in one of Archilochus’ poems that Berlin remembered as, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” More on this in another post, but for now, let’s use the analogy. The one big thing we will need to know and communicate is the purpose of our existence. How are we, as an organization, making the world a better place? To what do we aspire? Knowing and communicating that purpose throughout the organization, we can then turn our attention to being foxes. That is, knowing many things, adapting quickly, and moving fast through the forest in pursuit of thriving and surviving.

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