Today’s post is by Mats Lindgren, CEO of Kairos Future and author of 21st Century Management – Leadership and Innovation in the Thought Economy (CLICK HERE to get your copy). Here’s Mats…
“Mission: Get some ideas.” That was Dagens Media’s (Today’s Media) front-page headline on September 12th 2012. The article in Sweden’s leading trade paper for the media industry was specifically about the crisis in media and its search for new ideas and business models, but the simple and straightforward message could apply to almost any industry today.
Today’s management challenge is exactly that: getting some ideas, or more accurately, about getting some ideas off the ground. High-flying thoughts are not enough if businesses and organizations are to keep up with an increasingly fast-changing world. Ideas must lead to action.
Brainstorming about possible actions will not cut it. It’s just as necessary to have highly developed processes for production of new ideas and possible futures as it is to have such processes for production of goods and services. Not many organizations have that.
“Why should the Devil have all the good music?” asked William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, and decided to borrow heavily from contemporary popular music. We could ask something similar today, like “Why should ‘production’ have all the good methods and processes?”. Why are we not as systematic when innovating as we are when producing? And why do we, as managers and leaders, spend so little time taking the long view and charting the future? Why is so much time spent weathering storms, deflecting threats and merely reacting to events?
Because that is indeed what we do, and study after study confirms it. Many managers seem to enjoy this, however. They love being in the eye of the storm, more so in some countries than others, especially those with what Geert Hofstede calls short-term orientation, such as my home country Sweden. My own international studies confirm this picture.
Seemingly, laziness is the cause of much of this. Brainstorming and coming up with new ideas is easy, fun and often inspiring. Working on autopilot is similarly comfortable. But, taking these new ideas further and thinking through their consequences and implications, constructing models and solutions based on them, is hard work. It’s a skill like any other, a skill we haven’t really mastered yet (and a skill schools don’t teach us). Also, genuine creativity requires forming new connections in the brain, and that consumes energy, lots of it. But the brain is lazy and doesn’t spend energy unless it has to. The issue then, is to know when it has to. In the media industry it’s very clear: get creative or get lost; full mobilization of creative resources or everything will fall apart.
How about when it’s not so clear? Then it takes effort, and discipline. Great writers know this. Creative work is still work; you can’t wait for ideas to come to you, the only way is to actually start working.
The single most important task for businesses and organizations over the next few decades will be to demystify creative labor and introduce set methods, routines and discipline into their ‘future-production’. There’s empirical support for that. If we can do this, our businesses and organizations can become more T-like, where ‘T’ represents everything at the heart of tomorrow’s Thought Economy: Thought Productivity, T-competency and Timing.
Here are five concrete steps to turn your organization into a Thought Factory:
– Start building your own methodology toolbox as well as your own insights into the field of “productive” individual and collective thinking. There are numerous books and articles in the field, ranging from How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci to Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.
– Apply your new insights in your everyday work, as well as when working on intellectual challenges in team and workshops. Emphasis on improving “thought-productivity” is strongly correlated with organizational performance.
– Examine how your organization can make better use of new technology to reduce time-consuming low-value work; get better use of time-slots, for instance during traveling; and apply cutting-edge technology to identify patterns in big data.
– Identify how you can leverage people, partners, customers, information and knowledge in your business context and develop into a high-performing “thought net.”
If you want to take your organization from ideas to action, develop a model for how to continuously strengthen your organization’s abilities in the field of conceptual thinking, from individual level, via teams and the internal organization to a systemic “thought net” level.
– Mats Lindgren, CEO and Founder of Kairos Future, is the author of 21st Century Management – Leadership and Innovation in the Thought Economy. Read more about him and take the T-test here.