Leaders need to be prepared for sudden changes that affect their organizations.
If you are a leader and you don’t have surge gear, then guess what? You might not be a leader for long. If you lack the wherewithal to move your business from its normal mode of operation to one that is turbocharged, then you’ve no way of responding effectively to either sudden problems that could send you into a tailspin or unexpected opportunities that could send you rocketing.
Nowadays, being able to surge when necessary isn’t a useful add-on. It’s an imperative. Problems tend to be too pressing. Things move too quickly. Social media storms blow up too explosively. Steady-as-you-go won’t hack it. Being surge-prepared, having the capacity to respond rapidly and robustly to events, is an absolute must. So is being able to move full steam ahead on want-to as well as have-to projects, though they often amount to the same thing. Think, say, “opening up again,” infrastructure, and rewilding projects.
“Surge or die.” It may be stark and scary, but this could well be a priority mantra for all kinds of organizations, from global agencies to tiny businesses. It’s a pithy version of what Greta Thunberg might say to governments and businesses about tackling the impending horrors of climate change. As a contracted form of “you surge or we all might die,” it expresses the challenge that Kate Bingham, the woman who led the UK COVID vaccination task force might well have delivered to Big Pharma. “We must surge or they might die” is the imperative that galvanizes the response of humanitarian agencies to meet the needs of those affected by devastating natural disasters. Quick fix solutions can be effective and are absolutely necessary.
There’s another way of framing this: if you lead an organization, then for goodness sake make sure it has an emergency services mindset to shift into when it needs to. I say “when” not “if” because, as sure as eggs are eggs, there will be times when it will be required. You’ve no real resilience without one. Add to an emergency services mindset an alchemical mindset (“What can we morph into to survive?”) and you’ve a proper livelihood-saver. Just think of all those companies which thrived last year from surge pivoting – from, say, manufacturing drinks or perfumes to making hand sanitizers. And all in the blink of an eye.
Nowadays, any organization can be thrown into chaos if it lacks an effective surge response to crises, and reputational hammer blows are among the worst of them. Just ask Kate, Eileen and Tina, the first names of just a few of the many school leaders I’ve supported as they and/or their schools were suddenly rocked by unfounded and vexatious allegations that threatened to be career-ending (It’s why I wrote Stopping Bad Things Happening to Good Schools and Good School Leaders in 2018).
Like it or not, being surge-prepared and surge-able are critical capacities for all of us and for every kind of “us.” Actually, we should like it, because if we can get things done in a fraction of the time it might otherwise take, then why on Earth wouldn’t we? That’s why I wrote The Power of Surge (published in 2020) and why it has the subtitle it does: Achieving Big Things Quickly for You, Your Team, Your Community – And The World.
I don’t think it any coincidence that over the last fifteen months or so the word “surge” has appeared in just about every media report and newspaper piece on virtually every aspect of the coronavirus ecosystem. Surge phenomena have been everywhere. Closures have surged. Insolvencies have surged. Mental health problems have surged. Domestic violence has surged. Online shopping has surged. Almost everything has surged.
Surge data patterns are everywhere. Surge action is required everywhere. Understanding and working with what I call Surge Dynamics is going to be an essential requirement for leaders of all sorts. It’s going to provide a common framework for making sense of and tackling everything from climate change (itself a global surge phenomenon) to the conditions under which every business and every community will operate and encounter problems and opportunities. We’re living in a world that is both surge-ridden and surge-needy. We need a new, interdisciplinary framework for recognizing, capturing, and working practically with it. We need Surge Dynamics, and I’m working to bring it into being.
One final thought: The framework by which the coronavirus pandemic has been managed has been “the science” selectively picked over by the leading politicians. Had the framework been Surge Dynamics, integrating scientific contributions with those from every other surge-affected area and sensitive to the dynamics between them, then who knows how different and possibly how better things would have been.
Dr. Michael Waters is founder of Surge Studies and author of The Power of Surge: Achieving Big Things Quickly for You, Your Team, Your Community, Your Organisation … And the World (2020). He’s a trainer, conference speaker, author, coach and consultant, and he’s worked with more than 1,000 organizations.
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