Friday, October 09, 2015

“Foresensing”–The Key to Evergreen

In the days before texting I had friends, who even after email had become common via mobile devices, would always call or leave a voice mail message when they needed something or had a question.

It typically involved a document or some research finding.  So I would fulfill the requests quickly via email to leave a paper trail, but these individuals would invariably call again for clarification.

That is unless they disagreed with the information I had sent or something our organization was doing predicated on the findings, in which case they would write a lengthy email neglecting to include the background and copy a trillion other people, now understood as a cardinal sin.

Boy, I sure miss that drama.  But don’t jump to the conclusion that they had a learning or reading disability.

People who did that may have been much more strategic and savvy than it seems.  They probably accepted something I, too, understood at the time but chose not to further enable:

1. Many people no longer read;  2. Even more prefer to shape decisions and opinions on anecdotes and personalities rather than data and information; and 3. Very few are paying attention to the future or evolving.

In community work, like business and government, the world is awash with dead or dying organizational models which are kept on life support by people either addicted to those behaviors or overly conscious of those still all-too-prevalent conditions.

This is why “best practices” are so easy to spot, not merely for purposes of copying, but because the organizations that exhibit them are purposely wired for what entrepreneurial researcher Dr. Joseph Pistrui calls “nextsensing.”

During my now-concluded career in community destination marketing to generate visitor-centric economic and cultural development in four different parts of the country, I was what some would now characterize as an “evergreen entrepreneur.”

Only, I was on the quasi-public-private side of things. Still, according to some, I exhibited all 7 characteristics of evergreen entrepreneurs to some extent in the five different startups with which I was involved and/or led.

I enjoyed startups because you not only get to build an organization from scratch but you get to evolve each one by quantum leaps each time.  During the last half of my career, I learned to do this every few months with the same organization.

Nextsensing doesn’t come from “group-think” exercises such as brainstorming which, as studies have shown, is a pure waste of time unless accompanied with a very healthy dose of critical thinking.

Unfortunately, most people who facilitate or are drawn to the “kumbaya” school of brainstorming seem averse to thinking at all, let alone critically, because to them, asking questions is criticism.

But this is only one of the reasons that the traditional approach to making strategic plans is often futile, or when successful, are destined to be quickly relegated to a dusty shelf (buried on a rarely seen portion of a computer drive.)

An even more compelling reason these plans are now ineffective is that true strategic insight, strategic foresight or “nextsensing,” must be woven into the DNA of an organization in such a way that it occurs organically in real time.

Writing about this aspect in a classic book entitled, The Living Company: Growth, Learning and Longevity in Business, author and researcher Arie de Geus famously wrote “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be your only sustainable advantage.”

Earlier, in 1988, de Geus termed this as “institutional learning” in an article in Harvard Business Review.  He explained that this type of learning is much more difficult than individual learning.

Organizations that are “evergreen” outperform those that are focused only on near-term returns.  According to studies, de Geus explains that they “institutionalize change” rather than reacting to crisis.

In the past, even evolving organizations could afford to gestate learning anywhere from 12 to 18 months before acting on it.

Today, that evolution must be in real time.

Researchers involved with the Nextsensing Project have identified four skills needed to see the future in real time:

  1. Stretch Sensibilities – A mindset and commitment to exploration.
  2. Stand for Change – Set new directions and adjust priorities.
  3. Create a new Order – Retool the enterprise to set new goals and trigger actions no one else has set or achieved.
  4. Lead with “Foresense” – Transform hunch to vision and new skills.

In late 1970s, Bert Lance, a banker and native-Georgian who headed the Office of Budget and Management for then President Jimmy Carter popularized the expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” an old Swedish proverb.

No even remotely sustainable organization has that luxury today.

No comments: