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The Untapped Opportunity of Institutional Narratives

Category:Emotions,Fear,Growth,Leadership,Narratives,Opportunity,Strategy

Everything I do is connected, even when the connections aren’t immediately apparent, even to me. Almost 15 years ago, I started writing about shaping strategies as a powerful way to unleash enormous value for companies – including here and here. Much more recently, I published The Journey Beyond Fear, a book that explored the role that narratives can play in helping to motivate people to achieve much greater impact that is meaningful to them. In that book, I discussed how institutional narratives can help organizations connect more deeply with their customers and third parties to create more value. Unfortunately, I have not yet made the connection between institutional narratives and shaping strategies explicit, even though they are deeply connected.

Institutional narratives

For those who haven’t read my writing, let me start by explaining what these two approaches are. Institutional narratives are not stories, even though most people view them as synonymous. For me, stories are self-contained – they have a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories are also about the story teller or some other people, real or imagined, but they’re not about you.

In contrast, narratives are open-ended. There’s some kind of big threat or opportunity out in the future and it’s not clear how the narrative will be resolved. The resolution of the narrative hinges on the listeners in the audience – it’s a call to action to them to determine how the narrative will be resolved.

In this context, institutional narratives are not about the institution. They are about some big, inspiring opportunity for the customers and stakeholders and the action they will need to take to address the opportunity. There are very few examples of this kind of institutional narrative, but a classic one was the narrative by Apple Computer in the 1990s that was condensed to the slogan “Think Different.”

Shaping strategies

Shaping strategies focus on opportunities to restructure entire markets or arenas in ways that create significant value for the shapers. Shaping strategies mobilize a large number of third parties to pursue the restructuring of the market or arena.

Shaping strategies rely on three elements. First, there’s a shaping view that focuses on what the new market or arena structure could look like and the benefits it could provide to the participants. Second, there’s a shaping platform that helps participants to come together and achieve greater impact with less effort. Third, there are shaping acts and assets which the shaper can use to demonstrate its commitment to pursuing the shaping opportunity.

Most organizations take the existing market or arena structure as a given and focus on how to thrive in the existing structure. In a world of accelerating change, the challenge is that existing structures are rapidly becoming obsolete. The missed opportunity is to imagine and pursue a new structure that could create far more value. Some of the most successful shapers in the business world have been Dee Hock (Visa), Malcolm McLean (containerized shipping), Victor Fung (Li & Fung), Bill Gates (Microsoft), and Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com).

Connecting 

So, what’s the connection between institutional narratives and shaping strategies? The connection is through the shaping view. When I originally developed the perspective on shaping strategies, I saw shaping views as very business-like, focusing on risks and rewards. As I’ve shared before, Dee Hock, the founder of Visa opened up my eyes. In one of our conversations, he cautioned me that it was not about risk and reward, it was about fear and hope, because that was ultimately what motivated people to act. It was an “a-ha” moment for me that helped me shift my attention to the world of emotions, which became the focus of The Journey Beyond Fear.

Institutional narratives emerged in my thinking as a way for organizations to create much deeper emotional connections with their customers and stakeholders. By framing really inspiring opportunities for those outside the organization, institutional narratives communicate a much deeper understanding of what really motivates these participants and help move people from fear to excitement as they look into the future.

For this reason, institutional narratives can become the foundation for a powerful shaping view. Once leaders have framed the really inspiring opportunity that can excite and motivate participants to take action, they can take the institutional narrative to another level by focusing on defining a market or arena structure that can help participants to address the exciting opportunity out in the future. This could attract a growing number of participants to join in the effort to evolve this new market or arena structure.

Exploring an example

So, what would this look like in practice? Let’s look at the wellness arena.  More and more people are becoming focused on strengthening their wellness and not just waiting until they get sick to get help and support. Today, the wellness business is highly fragmented with wellness coaches and a growing array of wellness service providers, ranging from gyms to nutrition experts.

I believe there’s a significant opportunity for wellness coaches to evolve into trusted advisors that orchestrate growing networks of specialized service providers to serve the needs of their clients. This could be a platform for significant growth by mobilizing more and more diverse expertise based on larger and larger networks of participants.

To address this opportunity, a small wellness coaching business today could begin by framing an institutional narrative that focuses on the growing ability of people to improve their wellness, driven by new technology and deeper understanding of what our bodies need to function at better and better levels. The narrative would emphasize that this opportunity requires action from people inspired by the opportunity to improve wellness to adopt new practices – it won’t just happen on its own.

This opportunity for improved wellness can then provide the context for framing an opportunity for a growing number of third parties to come together into a broader network that will be orchestrated by the wellness coaching business. Because these third parties will bring a very diverse set of skills and capabilities, the network will be a lot more effective in improving the wellness of its clients. These third parties can become excited by the potential to improve the wellness of clients much more than if they were just operating as isolated service providers.

This institutional narrative can thus become the foundation for a powerful shaping view. The institutional narrative focuses on cultivating emotions of excitement and passion among both clients and third parties that can help the clients. This will motivate them to act boldly to pursue the opportunity. A more detailed shaping view can then help to provide the third parties with a road map to guide them in the actions they can take to come together and address the opportunity. It will  also help them to see how they can collaborate in ways that will create more value for clients as well as for themselves.

Bottom line

Institutional narratives can play many different roles in helping organizations to connect more deeply with their customers and stakeholders so that they all can achieve greater impact. One key role of institutional narratives is to motivate third parties to come together and act more boldly in ways that will restructure an entire market or arena. Based on my research, there are very few examples of organizations that have made the effort to develop a powerful institutional narrative, but there are even fewer examples of organizations that have pursued the potential of institutional narratives to support shaping strategies. This is an untapped potential that needs to be addressed.


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The Old Becomes the New

Category:Exploration,Growth,Opportunity,Paradox,Passion,Poem,Potential

As we enter the New Year,

Let’s not become consumed

By the newness.

It’s an opportunity

To look within

And to see

What’s always been there,

Waiting to be discovered

And drawn out.

It’s not new.

It’s been there

From the beginning.

What’s new

Is our willingness to see more of it

And pursue more of it.

And it’s not just within

One of us.

It’s within all of us.

What is it?

It’s our spirit

That wants to make a difference

That is more and more meaningful

To us

And to others.

We’ve all been in touch

With our spirit,

But we’ve only experienced

A small part of it.

There’s so much more

To be discovered

And nurtured.

In this New Year,

Let’s make the effort

To nurture

What is already there,

So that we can all thrive.


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The Present Is a Present

Category:Community,Connections,Growth,Opportunity,Poem,Potential

During this holiday season,

We are showered with gifts.

But gifts are things.

Gifts can distract us

From a present that really matters.

Let’s never forget

That our present

That matters the most

Is the present.

We are so lucky to be in the present.

Without the present,

Nothing matters.

The present has so much to offer.

Yet, we are too often distracted

By what happened in the past

Or what might happen in the future.

We need to spend more time in the present

And savor all that it has to offer us now.

The present can also be shared with others,

Making it much richer for all.

We should also never forget

That the present

Is a time when we can act

And make the present even richer

For us and for others.

If we act with others in the present,

The present can grow

In ways that we never imagined.

The present is a present

That keeps on giving.

Let’s be grateful.


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Reflections on Gratitude

Category:Exploration,Passion,Poem,Potential

On Thanksgiving

We have an opportunity

To reflect on gratitude.

What should we be

Most grateful for?

My advice:

Don’t look outside,

Look within.

We all have a passion within –

The passion of the explorer.

Some of us have found it

And we’re pursuing it.

But most of us

Have not yet found it.

Many of us are not even

Looking for it.

But it’s there,

Waiting to be found

And pursued.

When we find it

And pursue it,

We will make a difference

That grows over time

And that is more and more meaningful

To us,

And to others.

We all seek meaning,

But we need to look within,

In order to manifest it

Outside.

Let’s be grateful

For the passion

That will spawn

Expanding meaning

For all of us.


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The Metapsychology of the Metaverse

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Context,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Future,Learning,Narratives,Opportunity,Passion,Potential,Uncategorized

The metaverse is consuming conversations about technology these days. But, what is it? And, is it something we should welcome?

What is the metaverse?

I can’t pretend to offer a definitive definition of the metaverse – I certainly haven’t been able to find one. It’s one of my concerns in all this talk about the metaverse – many different definitions seem to be floating around so it’s not clear what we are talking about.

My best guess about what most people mean when they talk about the metaverse is that it is an immersive and persistent three-dimensional virtual realm, shared with many users, that brings together virtually enhanced physical and digital reality. It integrates many different technologies, including augmented reality, the Internet of things, virtual reality, and blockchain. Blockchain provides an opportunity to use cryptocurrencies and NFT’s to create a fully functional virtual economy in the metaverse where you can buy and sell any virtual asset.

The metaverse can have a significant game component, where participants compete to achieve certain goals and win prizes for their efforts. In fact, I would suggest that the video game world is rapidly evolving into the metaverse and may lead the way for other metaverse initiatives. However, the metaverse can be much more than a game.

The term “Metaverse” was first coined by the great science fiction author, Neal Stephenson in his book, Snow Crash, published 30 years ago. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. In this book, Stephenson basically presents the metaverse as a virtual reality-based Internet populated by user-controlled avatars.

So, if this is what the metaverse is, is it good or evil? Well, the answer is – it depends. Like most technology, it’s not good or evil in itself. It all depends on how we use it.

The evil side of the metaverse

In a world that’s increasingly dominated by fear (see my book, The Journey Beyond Fear), there’s a significant risk that the metaverse will evolve in ways that limit our potential as humans, rather than expand it. What do I mean by that?

The metaverse is an artificial world that can provide an escape for those who are finding the real world very scary or limiting. If we’re driven by fear, it can draw us out of the real world and offer us a place to hide. If we’re consumed by boredom, it can provide us with an irresistible opportunity for excitement.

Temporary relief may be OK, but the metaverse can be designed to be addictive. Participants will find themselves spending more and more time in the metaverse, leaving the real world behind. Of course, for many metaverse designers, that’s what they’re seeking – make the metaverse an all-consuming experience.

The good side of the metaverse

While understandable, that misses the real opportunity of the metaverse. The metaverse can become a launchpad for all of us to achieve much more of our potential in the real world, but that will require a very different design of the virtual worlds we’re creating.

It requires a fundamental shift in focus in how to measure success. If the metaverse is designed to be an escape, the measure of success is how much time participants spend in the metaverse. If it’s a launchpad for impact in the real world, the measure of success is how participants are increasing their impact in the real world as a result of participating in the metaverse.

How could the metaverse help participants to increase their impact in the real world? It could begin by embodying the core elements of what I describe as opportunity-based narratives – a really big and inspiring opportunity out in the future and a call to action to address the opportunity. While the metaverse can present the opportunity in the virtual world, it would need to be clear that the opportunity exists in the real world as well, and help to motivate participants to pursue that opportunity there. Similarly, while the metaverse could provide an environment for action to pursue the opportunity in the virtual world, participants would need to understand that the real potential for impact is in the real world.

To help people address these opportunities, the metaverse could provide ways for people who are inspired by these opportunities to come together and discuss approaches that would have the greatest potential for impact in addressing these opportunities. These groups might even become what I call “impact groups.”

But it wouldn’t be just about discussion. In the metaverse, participants would be encouraged to take action. Initially, that action might be in the virtual world of the metaverse where it could be pursued perhaps more quickly and with less risk and more rapid feedback than in the real world. But, once again, participants would need to understand that this is simply a vehicle for learning how to have more impact in pursuing the opportunity in the real world. Designed appropriately, the metaverse could become a powerful learning platform that helps participants to learn faster through action together.

In short, the metaverse could become a vehicle for helping participants to overcome fear and boredom that they may be experiencing in the real world. It could do this by providing participants with the tools and connections that can help them address some very large and inspiring opportunities in the real world. Rather than providing an escape from the real world, the metaverse could motivate participants to return to the real world, excited about the potential to have much greater impact that is meaningful to them. Of course, they would regularly return to the metaverse to connect with more people and find ways to have even greater impact.

Metapsychology

So, why did I include metapsychology in the title of this blog? Of course, one reason was that it blended so well with metaverse. I may be using the term inappropriately, but it struck me that there’s an opportunity to explore the relationship between psychology and the metaverse.

In particular, it highlights the importance of understanding much more deeply how different design approaches to the metaverse could shape or influence the psychology of its participants. It’s also important to explore the relationship between the psychology of participants in the real world and in virtual worlds.

My view of the untapped opportunity is how the metaverse can help more and more people on the journey beyond fear and boredom. It can help to draw out hope and excitement in the real world that will motivate all of us to achieve much more of our potential.

Of course, we need to be careful about manipulation of emotions. From my perspective, manipulation occurs when we create environments or contexts that draw out certain emotions that are not in the best interest of the participants, but serve the interests of those who are creating the environments. In contrast, I am focusing on creating environments that will draw out emotions that we all as human beings have a hunger for – hope and excitement about an opportunity to have more impact in the real world that is meaningful to us and to others.

That’s ultimately where the money is. Many organizations seek to manipulate the emotions of others in order to serve their own interests. That may work in the short-term, but the key to generating long-term revenue and benefit comes from cultivating emotions that help us to achieve more of our potential.

Bottom line.

Like all technology, the metaverse can be used for good or evil. It’s up to us. As an optimist, I see the opportunity for enormous positive impact from the metaverse, but I’m concerned that there are strong incentives for metaverse designers to provide escape vehicles for participants and reduce the potential for positive growth in the real world. Once again, it’s up to us. How can we create more incentives for metaverse designers to provide us with launchpads in addressing very large opportunities in the real world?


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Learning Leaders

Category:Uncategorized

I’ve written extensively about the Big Shift in institutional models. I’m going to focus here on the Big Shift required for leaders of the new institutional models. The Big Shift challenges our most basic assumptions about what we need from our leaders.

Transformation of institutional models

I’ll resist diving into Big Shift that is transforming our global economy and society – I’ve written about some of my research on this here and here. Even though this Big Shift has been playing out for several decades, we’re still in the very early stages of this transformation.

As I’ve discussed in more detail here (pdf), this Big Shift will require a profound transformation of the institutional models that govern all our large institutions around the world today. For the past century, the institutional model that has prevailed is scalable efficiency – the key to success is to do everything faster and cheaper at scale. While this model led to enormous success in the past, it is now producing diminishing returns. Our approach to scalable efficiency is becoming more and more inefficient.

The institutional model that will flourish in the future is a very different one – scalable learning. In this model, the focus is on helping all participants to learn faster in terms of how to deliver more value to all stakeholders. To be clear, learning in this context is not learning in the form of sharing existing knowledge, like in training programs. It’s about learning in the form of creating entirely new knowledge that never existed before. In a rapidly changing world, this is the most valuable and necessary form of learning. In this new institutional model, this form of learning is not confined to research labs or innovation centers – it is the focus and priority of every participant in the institution.

So, what are the implications for leaders? Leaders will need to transform as much as, if not more than, the institutions they lead. Let me outline some of the key dimensions of leadership transformation:

Push to pull

I’ve written a whole book on this one – The Power of Pull.  Leaders of today are adept at push approaches – they develop forecasts of demand and then focus on pushing all the right people and resources into the right place at the right time to meet that demand. In a world where forecasts become more and more challenging, leaders need to embrace a pull approach – drawing out the right people and resources whenever and wherever they are needed. In my book, I explore three levels of pull. The most powerful level of pull is the third one – drawing out of each of us more of our potential. Leaders need to focus on how to draw out more of the potential of the people they lead.

Answers to questions

The mark of strong leaders in the past was that they had answers to all the questions. Whatever the question, we could count on the leader to have the answer.

In a more rapidly changing world, we need leaders who have the most powerful and inspiring questions, who will freely admit that they don’t know the answers, and who will ask for help. This sends an important message to the people in their organization: questions are necessary and we all need to ask for help in seeking answers to the questions. This will help to spawn a new culture since scalable efficiency institutions discourage questions and regard asking for help as a sign of weakness.

Pressure to passion

How do today’s leaders motivate performance from their people? It’s all about extrinsic rewards – if you do well, you’ll advance and earn more income but, if you do badly, you’ll lose your job. In a world of mounting performance pressure, the extrinsic motivation is increasingly about the threat of losing your job. This just increases the pressure on everyone and feeds the fear.

Leaders will need to shift their focus from extrinsic motivation to internal motivation. Fear can produce some results in the short-term, but it will lead to increasingly dysfunctional behavior over time. The only way to thrive in a world of mounting performance pressure is to cultivate a very specific form of passion – the passion of the explorer (pdf)– that will generate excitement about new challenges and the opportunity to learn how to address those challenges and create more impact. Leaders will be measured by the amount of passion they are able to generate in the people they lead.

Squeezing to leverage

Today’s leaders focus inward on the organizations they lead. It’s all about what they own and control. Since these resources are fixed, the only way to get more out of them is to squeeze harder. That’s the essence of scalable efficiency – success depends on doing everything faster and cheaper.

Leaders will need to expand their focus, driven by a growing awareness that the connectivity created by digital infrastructures is making it more and more feasible to connect with, and mobilize, resources outside the organization to deliver more value to stakeholders. I’ve described this as leveraged growth. We live in a world where more and more value can be created with fewer resources and much more quickly than ever before. But leaders will need to find ways to motivate third parties to come together under their leadership.

Controlling to shaping

Leadership today is largely about command and control. Leaders operate in hierarchical organizations where the key is to be clear about what needs to be done by whom and when. Process manuals rule the day. The scalable efficiency model is driven by the assumption that all tasks need to be tightly specified and highly standardized so they are done in the same efficient way throughout the organization.

Going forward, leaders will need to pull back and develop the talent to shape their environments. This definitely does not involve tightly specifying all activities. Instead, it involves looking ahead and framing really big, inspiring opportunities that will help to focus and motivate participants to come together and act and address those opportunities. This involves mastering shaping strategies, which I have discussed here. It also involves crafting powerful opportunity-based narratives, which I explore here and in my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear.

Action to reflection

Leaders today are focused on action. As soon as one activity is completed, attention shifts to launching the next activity. The level and pace of activity becomes a key metric for performance.

Of course, action is necessary for impact, but leaders are going to have create more time for reflection. Participants need to step back on a regular basis and reflect on the impact that they have achieved with their actions. What actions produced even more impact than expected? Why? What actions produced less impact than expected? Why? By taking the time to reflect on impact achieved, participants can learn much more quickly about how to evolve actions to achieve even greater impact.

Uniformity to diversity

Leaders today are under increasing pressure to embrace diversity. Unfortunately, for many of them, diversity just means bringing more diverse participants around the table. Once they’re seated at the table, the message to all participants is to follow the leader and strive to be as much like the leader as possible, and the leader tends to be an older, white guy. Questions are discouraged and challenges are viewed as insubordination. Diversity of people is OK as long as we enforce uniformity of behavior and action.

Leaders need to understand that diversity is not just the “right” thing to do, but the necessary thing to do if we are truly committed to scaling and accelerating learning. But, here’s the catch. Scaling and accelerating learning requires us to embrace diversity of behavior and action, not just diversity of participants. Leaders need to foster cultures where unexpected questions are welcome (see above) because they can lead to new insight and where participants are encouraged to challenge each other in a quest to achieve higher and higher levels of impact.

Followers to leaders

The success of leaders today is measured in terms of the number of followers they are able to control. In a world of accelerating change, the success of leaders in the future will be measured in terms of the number of leaders they are able to cultivate and unleash. We are in desperate need of more participants who are excited about crafting new initiatives and mobilizing others to help them achieve greater and greater impact.

Bottom line

I’ve only skimmed the surface here, but hopefully I’ve drawn attention to a transformation challenge that is not yet on the agenda of most leaders. When they talk about transformation today, most leaders focus on the transformation that their organization must make. They rarely address the transformation that they themselves must make. If the leaders do not transform themselves, the participants in their organizations will dig in their heels and resist any efforts to transform the organization because they see that their leaders are not willing to change and will still demand what they have always demanded from their participants. Transformation starts at the top.

There’s no doubt that this is very challenging, but the rewards are significant. Leaders who make this journey will find that they are moving beyond a world of mounting performance pressure and entering a world of exponentially expanding opportunity, not just for themselves, but for all their participants and stakeholders. This could motivate even the most resistant leaders to break the mold.

The leaders of the future will not be those who have the greatest expertise, but instead it will be those who have the greatest motivation to scale and accelerate learning throughout and beyond their organizations.


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Shaping Serendipity with Narratives

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Emotions,Fear,Future,Learning,Narratives,Opportunity,Passion,Potential,Serendipity,Trust

I have long challenged our conventional view of serendipity. I believe that those who master the art of serendipity will ultimately achieve much more of their potential and create value that is meaningful to them and others. But it won’t be easy. It will require us to move beyond our comfort zone and embrace new approaches.

Shaping serendipity

Most of us believe that serendipity is something that just happens and that all we can do is be prepared for it when it does happen. I devoted an entire chapter in my book on The Power of Pull to the opportunity that we have to shape serendipity – we can, through our actions, significantly increase the probability of it happening.

What are some examples? If you live in a small village, the likelihood of serendipity is much lower than if you move to a large city. If you’re booked from early morning to late in the evening with meetings with people that you already know, you’re much less likely to run into someone that you didn’t know and who could provide real insight into an issue you are addressing. The choices we make on a daily basis can significantly alter the probability of those unexpected encounters.

I can’t resist tying this to my new book – The Journey Beyond Fear. In that book, I discuss how fear is becoming the dominant emotion among people around the world. If we’re driven by fear, we tend to isolate or hang out with people we already know – we’re very reluctant to meet people we don’t know.

Serendipity matters

So why does this matter? Well, it turns out that serendipity is becoming more and more essential for success. As I’ve discussed in my research on the Big Shift, we live in a world of accelerating change and intensifying competition.

In this Big Shift world, we need to accelerate our learning, especially learning in the form of creating new knowledge, as we confront situations that have never been encountered before. One of the best ways to pursue this form of learning is to seek serendipity – encountering people who can provide unexpected insight into some of the challenges we are confronting.

Narratives as a catalyst for serendipity 

So, how do we do that? There are many ways, as I discussed in my book on The Power of Pull. In this post, I’m going to focus on an approach that I have come to believe is particularly powerful and yet rarely used. It involves the use of narratives which I discuss in more detail in my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear.

Most people view stories and narratives as meaning the same thing. I make an important distinction. For me, stories are self-contained. They have a beginning, a middle and an end – the end, the story is over. And stories are about the story-teller or some people, real or imagined. They’re not about you.

In contrast, for me, narratives are open-ended – there is no resolution yet. There is some kind of big threat or opportunity out in the future. It’s not clear whether it will materialize or not. And the resolution of the narrative hinges on you – it’s a call to action to those who are hearing the narrative. Their choice and actions will help to determine how the narrative plays out.

Opportunity-based narratives can be powerful catalysts for serendipity on two levels. First, they focus on a really, big inspiring opportunity that can help people more beyond fear and cultivate the passion that will take them beyond their comfort zone as they seek to address the opportunity. Second, these narratives have a call to action that motivates people to take action, including seeking out and connecting with others who share their excitement about the opportunity to be addressed. These are often people they have never met before.

Personal narratives

In The Journey Beyond Fear, I explore how narratives can be crafted at multiple levels – personal, institutional, geographical and movements. Let’s start with personal narratives. We all have a personal narrative that is shaping our choices and actions. Unfortunately, more and more of us are consumed by threat-based narratives, viewing the future as very threatening and feeding the emotion of fear. As a result, we often do not have a call to action to others – with fear, we tend to lose trust in others and isolate ourselves.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we found a way to craft an opportunity-based personal narrative – a narrative is shaped by some really big and inspiring opportunity in the future that could help us to achieve much greater impact that is meaningful to us. That opportunity could help us overcome our fear and realize that the opportunity is not just for us – it’s an opportunity that many could share. It would motivate us to spread the word about the opportunity and seek help from others in addressing the opportunity. As word spreads, the likelihood of serendipity increases. People we never knew will seek us out, excited about the ability to come together and pursue a shared opportunity.

Geographical narratives

(I’ll leave institutional narratives and movement narratives for another time.) I believe that geographies – cities, regions and countries – can craft inspiring opportunity-based narratives that will increase serendipity. What’s the evidence for that? Well, cities like Athens, Florence and Vienna have harnessed that potential (see more in The Journey Beyond Fear). For now, let me focus on where I live.

I’ve been in Silicon Valley for many decades and people often ask me how to explain the continued success of Silicon Valley. Others would focus on things like the universities and venture capital firms. I believe the success of Silicon Valley has ultimately been driven by a powerful opportunity-based narrative. At a high level, it focuses on the opportunity to change the world by harnessing the exponential potential of digital technology, but the call to action is that you need to come to Silicon Valley to help address this opportunity. It’s the reason why the majority of successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley were not even born in the US, much less Silicon Valley. They were drawn from all over the world by the inspiring opportunity-based narrative.

Once they came here, serendipity was unleashed. These people were continually running into other people at gatherings and on the street that they never knew before. And because they were so passionate about the opportunity that drew them here, they would quickly begin discussing a challenge that they did not yet know how to address and asking for help and advice. Serendipity sizzles in Silicon Valley. And it can sizzle in any geography that inspires people to come together to address a really big opportunity.

Unleashing the power of narratives

Narratives have enormous potential but we only unleash that potential if we craft our narratives in certain ways. As I’ve already indicated, we need to shift from threat-based to opportunity-based narratives that can help all of us to overcome our fears and our tendency to isolate as we lose trust in others. The opportunities need to be really big opportunities that will take some time to achieve and that will require the effort of many people who can share in the opportunity (ideally, the opportunity will become even bigger as more people come together).

We also need to make an effort to spread the word about the opportunity and encourage people to come together to address the opportunity. We need to find ways to reach people that we don’t know. Word of mouth can help, but writing and speaking about the opportunity to large groups of people can be even more helpful in attracting people we don’t know (dare I mention social media as one important avenue?).

Bottom line

In a rapidly changing world, serendipity becomes more and more central to success, given its power to generate new insight that we would have never had on our own. We have the ability to significantly improve the likelihood of serendipity. One powerful (and largely untapped) approach that can help in this quest for serendipity is the crafting of inspiring opportunity-based narratives with a call to action to a broad audience.

If we get this right, we can turn the mounting performance pressure of the Big Shift into exponentially expanding opportunity. We are now able to create far more value with far less resources and far more quickly than ever before. Let’s get started!


  • 0

Shaping Markets and Shaping Psychology

Category:Collaboration,Emotions,Fear,Future,Leadership,Opportunity,Paradox,Passion,Strategy,Transformation,Trust

Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, recently passed away. It’s been a catalyst for me to reflect on the role he played in expanding my horizon beyond strategy to explore the role of psychology in shaping our impact. This post will take one of my approaches to strategy – shaping strategy – and focus on its ability to shape our psychology.

Shaping strategies

I’ve written extensively about the untapped potential of shaping strategies, including here and here. In a world of accelerating change, business leaders have been embracing approaches like agility that focus on rapidly and flexibly responding to the events of the moment. The goal is to react to whatever is happening at the moment.

As a contrarian, I have challenged that view. In times of accelerating change and increasing uncertainty, we have more degrees of freedom to shape the markets and environments around us to create more value for ourselves and for other participants. But we have to see that opportunity and pursue it. And, to do that, we need to escape the reactive mindset that shrinks our time horizons.

Three elements of shaping strategies

Shaping strategies focus on addressing this opportunity. They rely on three elements: a shaping view, a shaping platform, and shaping actions and assets. The shaping view is the foundation of these strategies – it looks ahead and describes how a future market or industry might be structured in a very different way to create and capture much more value for its participants. Shaping platforms then provide a way for more and more participants to join in the effort – they help to reduce the effort and cost of participation while bringing quicker and larger returns. Finally, shaping actions and assets are ways that the shaper can overcome skepticism of potential participants that the shaping opportunity is achievable.

Even though we are in a world where shaping strategies are becoming more and more viable, very few companies or other institutions have pursued these strategies. Some of the most successful shapers have been Dee Hock (Visa), Malcolm McLean (containerized shipping), Victor Fung (Li & Fung), Bill Gates (Microsoft), and Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com). I discuss their approaches and the lessons that can be learned in my book, The Power of Pull.

Shaping psychology

So, how does this shaping strategy approach connect with shaping psychology? All three elements of a shaping strategy can be very effective in shaping the emotions of the participants.

Let’s start with the shaping view. When I developed this approach to strategy, I focused on the role of shaping views in framing an opportunity that would increase our perception of rewards and reduce our perception of risk.  When I was talking with Dee Hock about this, he interrupted me and said “you’ve got it all wrong. It’s not about risk and reward, it’s about fear and hope. That’s ultimately what motivates people to act.”

That was a wake-up call to me. I had been thinking in narrow business terms, when the real need was to focus on the emotions that shape our actions. I began to realize that the most effective shaping views seek to overcome the fear holding back many participants and cultivate hope and excitement about an opportunity that could be achieved if they all came together. After all, it’s fear that is holding us back from seeing big opportunities in the future and focusing us on simply reacting to whatever is going on at the moment.

Shaping platforms also help to shape the emotions of participants. By reducing the effort required to participate and creating more rewards for participation, these platforms make it easier to participate, even if participants still have some fear. They also help participants to overcome fear and build hope when they see more rapid rewards and connect with others who are enjoying similar rewards. These platforms would be even more effective if they were explicitly designed to address these emotions and help participants to make the journey beyond fear.

Shaping actions and assets provide a way for the shapers to demonstrate their commitment to the shaping opportunity. This can be a powerful way to overcome the lack of trust that comes with fear. For example, the shaper could make a large investment that would be viewed as a “bet the company” investment to demonstrate its commitment. If it is a smaller, entrepreneurial company, the shaper could also develop some early partnerships with larger and more influential companies that would increase the perception that the shaping strategy will succeed. These actions and assets help to strengthen hope and excitement that the shaping opportunity is real and will be accomplished.

Bottom line

I have written before about the paradox that we confront in the Big Shift that is transforming our global economy and society. On the one side, the Big Shift is creating mounting performance pressure – global competition is intensifying, the pace of change is accelerating and extreme, disruptive events come in out of nowhere. At the same time, the Big Shift is creating exponentially expanding opportunity – we can create far more value, far more quickly with far less resource than would have been imaginable a couple of decades ago. Shaping strategies are a powerful approach to help many of us to move from giving in to the mounting performance pressure and instead seeing and addressing the exponentially expanding opportunities.


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Connectivity and Decentralization

Category:Collaboration,Connections,Context,Decentralization,Edges,Future,Learning,Opportunity,Paradox,Passion,Potential,Trust,Workgroups

We’re in the early stages of a Big Shift that is transforming our global economy and society. The Big Shift produces many paradoxes, but here’s one that I haven’t written about: it is rapidly creating global connectivity while at the same time generating a growing desire for decentralization. How can we reconcile the two?

I’ve written about the Big Shift for a long time, including here. A key driver of the Big Shift is the ability to connect more quickly and cheaply with anyone or anything around the world. Certainly, this includes our ability to send a message to anyone in the world, but it also includes our ability to monitor in real time physical goods with Internet of Things technology. And it’s not just about communicating and monitoring, but also controlling and directing activities from a distance.

So, with all these connecting capabilities, we might anticipate more and more centralization where activities are controlled and monitored by fewer and fewer large, centralized global entities (e.g., governments and corporations).

Certainly, we are already seeing some of that. But, at the same time, I anticipate that we’re going to see more and more efforts to decentralize our activities – distributing or delegating activities, especially planning and decision-making, away from a central location or group. Why is that?

Accelerating pace of change

Growing connectivity accelerates the pace of change and makes the specific changes more and more challenging to anticipate. In a more rapidly changing and unpredictable world, we need to find ways to respond more quickly to unexpected developments. The conventional approach of tightly specifying business processes in advance from a central location is becoming less and less effective. Those who are in the best position to confront the unanticipated changes quickly are those who are on the front lines, not those who are sitting in some command center, even when supported by more and more powerful computers.

Context matters

Changes don’t occur in isolation. They occur in a specific context that shapes the change and the impact that it will have. Context is complex – it can’t be reduced to numbers or images. Those who are in the best position to “read” context are those who are living in it in the moment. If we want to address change effectively, we need to rely on those who are deeply embedded in the context. Context is becoming more and more important for value creation, as I have written about here.

Learning is an imperative

In a rapidly changing world, learning becomes essential. To be clear, this isn’t about learning in the form of sharing existing knowledge which is the focus of most learning today. Existing knowledge is becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate. The learning we all need to pursue is learning in the form of creating new knowledge and that is best pursued by coming together with others and learning through action, not just conversation.

When I say “coming together with others,” I mean coming together in small groups – I call them “impact groups” – which I have written about extensively, including here and here.  These groups range between 3 to15 participants. They stay small because the need is to build deep, trust-based relationships among the participants so that they can support and challenge each other in a continuing quest to pursue increasing impact in a specific domain.

Passion is the best motivation for learning

Learning in the form of creating new knowledge through action can be very challenging and involves taking a lot of risk. What’s the motivation to do that? Based on my research, the most powerful motivation is a very specific form of passion – the passion of the explorer – which I have written about here and here. People with this kind of passion naturally come together into the impact groups that I mentioned earlier and they seek environments where they can pursue their passion without constraints. They want to be free to take initiatives that have never been done before and to rapidly iterate on those initiatives when they gain insight on how more impact can be achieved.

Customers are gaining more power

Because of all the connectivity globally, customers are becoming more and more powerful and demanding. They have more access to information about more options and the ability to quickly switch from one product or service to another. In this kind of environment, they are less and less willing to settle for mass-market, standardized products and services. Instead, they are seeking products and services tailored to their specific needs and that will evolve rapidly as their needs evolve.

Erosion of trust in large, centralized institutions

Around the world, trust is eroding in all the large, centralized institutions – companies, governments, media, universities, etc. – that are so prominent in our economy and society. There are many reasons for this, but they are driven by a growing realization that these institutions are not addressing our evolving needs and are increasingly unsuited for the rapidly changing world around us.

Tying it all together

Decentralization will be driven by the intersection of many different needs and desires. If I had to summarize, I’d say that the two key forces are our growing need as providers to learn faster and our growing desire as customers to have products and services tailored to our needs. If we’re going to learn faster, we need to come together in small groups, driven by a passion to achieve increasing impact and we need to be able to act more quickly in ways that are tailored to our local context. On the other side, as customers, we are seeking providers we can trust who will address our unique and rapidly evolving needs.

The paradox is that both of these forces are being driven by growing global connectivity. The more connected we become, the faster everything will evolve and the more rapidly we will all need to learn in the form of creating new knowledge. And the more connected we become, the more ability we will have to pick and choose the products and services that meet our specific needs.

What will emerge?

What shape will decentralization take? Of course, that’s hard to predict in detail. But, as someone who enjoys exploring the edge, I am drawn to early indicators of how this decentralization might evolve.

From a corporate (and broader) institutional point of view, I’ve written about the “unbundling of the corporation.” Without going into too much detail, we’re already starting to see fragmentation of businesses in the digital space – everything from software to music and video. That fragmentation is beginning to spill over into physical products like craft beer and chocolate. I believe that’s just the beginning – we’re going to see more and more small, but very profitable, businesses emerging to address small segments of customers.

We’re also starting to see the growth of decentralized, autonomous organizations (DAO’s) that are focusing on decentralizing decision-making within organizations. There’s also a variety of initiatives to organize front-line workers into small pods or workgroups that are given more freedom to take initiative on their own. In China, the Rendanheyi model being championed by Haier with “micro-enterprises” operating within a much large company is beginning to attract more attention from around the world.

Of course, I have to mention blockchain as a major initiative in the technology space that embraces decentralization as a key organizing principle. While there’s been a lot of speculation and “boom/bust” initiatives in the early days of blockchain, blockchain reflects a strong desire for decentralization and is likely to provide a foundation for many initiatives seeking to decentralize Internet activity.

More generally, we’re seeing the spread of initiatives within the “human potential” movement that are organized around small groups of people who share a commitment to achieving more of their potential. Social change movements are increasingly focusing on “bottom up” approaches to change that embrace a cellular structure of small, local groups rather than pursuing a top-down centralized approach to change. In facing the challenges of the pandemic, we’ve seen the growth of mutual aid groups in local neighborhoods and communities.

Admittedly, these are all still early indicators of a trend towards decentralization, but they merit attention because the forces that I described earlier are going to drive significant growth of these kinds of initiatives.

Connectivity and decentralization

To be clear, I’m suggesting that connectivity and decentralization will unfold together. I’m not suggesting that decentralization will lead to increasing isolation of small groups. On the contrary, the proliferation of small groups will become increasingly connected into broader networks that can scale their learning and impact. Decentralization will actually drive a need for greater connectivity in the same way that connectivity is driving a growing need for decentralization. That’s the paradox.

Bottom line

We are in the very early stages of a paradoxical Big Shift. Growing connectivity will foster a growing need for decentralization and decentralization will increase the need for even more connectivity. This will have profound implications for how we organize and create impact in a rapidly changing global economy and society.

Those who are consumed by the connectivity trends are likely to get blindsided as decentralization begins to gain momentum. Decentralization will create enormous opportunities for value creation and will disrupt many of our large, centralized institutions around the world. We need to evolve a profoundly different set of institutions that will embrace the twin gifts of connectivity and decentralization.


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Improving Return on Attention in the Idea Business

Category:Connections,Context,Emotions,Learning,Opportunity,Transformation

I recently participated in an interesting discussion with prolific authors who were becoming concerned about the future of books as a way to communicate ideas and as a source of income. It prompted me to return to a theme that has engaged me for quite some time. Everyone focuses on “return on assets” as a key measure of performance in business, but I’ve come to believe that a different form of ROA will become increasingly critical as a performance measure – “return on attention.”

Return on attention

What do I mean by this? I’m talking here about the return that customers receive when they allocate their attention to something. It certainly doesn’t have to be a financial return (even though for some reason we talk about “paying” attention), but it has to be the value they perceive they are receiving when they spend time paying attention to something. I’ve been writing about this for over 15 years, including in these two blog posts here and here from 2015.

Why is this form of ROA becoming increasingly important? It’s one of many outcomes of the Big Shift that is transforming our global economy and society. The Big Shift has many dimensions but one key trend is the expanding array of options that are competing for our attention, which is a limited resource – limited by 24 hours in the day. Because our attention is a limited resource, we as customers are becoming more and more powerful and demanding. It’s becoming more and more challenging to attract and retain the attention of customers given the growing options that are competing for our attention.

The shift in return on attention

How do we choose to allocate our attention in the realm of ideas? We understandably want to earn a return on that attention. Over the past couple of decades, this has taken the form of scalable efficiency. Customers have been seeking faster and cheaper ways to access ideas. The result has been the decline of longer formats like books and lengthy papers that require a significant investment of our time. Instead, we have been drawn to social media where we can quickly access ideas for free. Our approach to increasing return on attention is to reduce the time and money we spend, rather than focusing on maximizing the value we are receiving.

I believe that’s about to change. In a world of mounting performance pressure, the quest for efficiency yields diminishing returns. The faster and cheaper our quest for ideas becomes, the harder it becomes to get that next increment of efficiency improvement. More importantly, we are under increasing pressure to achieve greater impact that is meaningful in our lives.

As a result, I believe we as customers are going to become increasingly focused on the impact that we achieve when we allocate our attention, rather than narrowly focusing on the time spent or the money spent. What are the implications for those of us who are in the “idea business”?

Implications for idea providers

We’re going to need to expand our focus beyond the ideas themselves. In the recent past, we’ve focused on how novel and interesting our ideas are and whether we can present the ideas in an entertaining and engaging way. It’s all about the ideas themselves. And, of course, we’ve become increasingly focused on how much time is required to present the ideas, so that we can attract a bigger audience when we find shorter and more concise ways of presenting our ideas.

As customers focus more on value received from the ideas, those developing and presenting the ideas are going to have to shift their focus as well. Success in the idea business will increasingly hinge on the extent to which we’re able to move beyond simply attracting attention. We’ll need to find ways to help the recipients of our ideas to act on those ideas and to achieve impact that is meaningful to them. Even better, we’ll need to find ways to help the recipients of our ideas to learn from the action they take and the impact they achieve, so that they can achieve increasing impact over time.

So, how can we do this? It starts with explicitly framing some compelling calls to action as part of the presentation of an idea. What should the audience do differently as a result of this idea and what kind of impact could be achieved from that action? It would be even better if we can provide some advice on how to act in ways that will be most likely to yield the impact that is being sought. Of course, there’s also the opportunity to cultivate trainers and coaches who could help the audience to take action that yields greater impact. By clarifying what kind of impact might be achieved as a result of this action, we can help people to focus on assessing how much impact has been achieved and reflecting on how to achieve even more impact, so that they can learn how to achieve even more impact over time.

That’s a powerful way to increase the return on attention of the audience we’re trying to reach. It has the potential to significantly increase the size of the audience we reach as word spreads about the growing impact that’s being achieved. Of course, we want to make this approach as efficient as possible as well, starting with how much time it takes to access and absorb our ideas and extending out into the time and effort required to action, impact and learning. But the key is shifting beyond time spent to focus on impact achieved as the key component of return on attention.

This isn’t just a theoretical perspective from me. I’m living it. Many of you know that I published my 8th book last year – The Journey Beyond Fear. I’m not just stopping with book. My plan is to create a new Center that will offer programs based on the book and help people to take action that can significantly increase impact that is meaningful to them. I want to significantly increase their return on attention. If this sounds interesting, you can see more here.

Early indicators of the shift ahead in return on attention

What are some early indicators of the shift ahead in return on attention? Well, one interesting indicator is the growth of coaching businesses across a broad spectrum of impact, ranging from physical performance improvement to overcoming emotional obstacles. Customers are increasingly seeking help in achieving more impact that is meaningful to them – of course, it starts with ideas, but the focus is on action, impact and learning.

Another indicator is the “Great Resignation” that we’re seeing as the global pandemic continues to unfold. More and more people are realizing that they spend a significant amount of their time and attention at work but that they’re not achieving enough impact that’s meaningful to them. The result is that they’re seeking new work that will offer them a significant increase in their return on attention.

Bottom line

If you’re in the idea business, you need to focus on the return on attention that you’re delivering to the people you are trying to reach. Rather than narrowly focusing on how much time people need to spend in accessing your ideas, expand your focus on how to help your audience achieve greater impact from your ideas through action and learning. In a world of mounting performance pressure, the ideas that can lead to more and more impact that is meaningful to people will be the ideas that prevail. Those are the ideas that will generate the greatest return for the idea providers. In short, if you want to improve your return on assets, find ways to increase the return on attention of the people you are seeking to reach.


NEW BOOK

(if you've read the book, click here)

My new book, The Journey Beyond Fear, starts with the observation that fear is becoming the dominant emotion for people around the world. While understandable, fear is also very limiting.

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The book explores a variety of approaches we can pursue to cultivate emotions of hope and excitement that will help us to move forward despite fear and achieve more of our potential. You can order the book at Amazon.

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