Category Archives: Emotions

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Where to Look

Category:Collaboration,Connections,Context,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Future,Learning,Opportunity,Passion

Ambergris Cay Island, Turks and Caicos Islands

We live in a world of accelerating change. There’s so much going on around us that we are understandably becoming overwhelmed.

And the advice we get can be very confusing. Many are saying to stay focused on the present. Others tell us to look ahead and focus on the future. And then there are those who insist we should stay focused on the past because we can learn from the past.

So, what is it? My advice is that we need to do all three, but in a very specific sequence, otherwise it will certainly be overwhelming.

Start with the future

We need to start by looking ahead. We need to search for really big opportunities that can inspire us to come together and act with others. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the Big Shift that we are experiencing on a global scale is creating exponentially expanding opportunities – we can create far more value, far more quickly and with far less resources than would have ever been required in the past.

But those opportunities will not emerge on their own. We need to look for them and actively pursue them. And we need to keep searching until we find a really big opportunity that excites us – let’s not be distracted by an overwhelming range of possibilities in the future.

And, yes, the future is uncertain – to some degree. We need to focus on the long-term trends that are already playing out and that are reasonably predictable.

Starting with the search for big, future opportunities is also important because many of us have adopted a view of the future that focuses on imminent threats. As I’ve discussed in my book, The Journey Beyond Fear, that view of the future is feeding the emotion of fear that more and more of us are experiencing, and that is holding us back from even seeing, much less pursuing, the opportunities ahead.

Focusing on a really exciting opportunity in the future can help us to overcome the fear that we are experiencing today. It can become a catalyst for drawing out the passion of the explorer that will motivate us to act now and pursue the opportunity.

Equally importantly, finding a really exciting opportunity in the future will help us to maintain focus as we deal with the infinite demands on our attention in the present.

Then shift to the present

Once we have a really exciting opportunity in the future that can maintain our focus, we can then shift to exploring the present. That exploration will be driven by three questions:

  • What are resources and capabilities that can help me to address opportunity
  • Who else can I collaborate with to amplify these resources and capabilities?
  • What are major barriers that need to be overcome to achieve opportunity?

There’s a lot to be learned from the present, and that will put us in a better position to learn from the past.

Learn from the past

Once we have a clear focus on the exciting opportunity ahead and the resources and barriers of the present, we’re in a much better position to look into the past and learn from the past.

We’ll now be much more focused on what can be learned from previous initiatives that will help us to achieve even more impact today. Again, the need is to stay focused on what can be learned to achieve greater impact in pursuing the opportunity that excites us the most. There’s so much in the past that can distract us unless we have a clear view of what we are trying to learn.

These lessons from the past can then help us to evolve our initiatives in the present so that we can have even greater impact and accelerate our progress towards the exciting opportunity in the future.

Return to the present and the future

We’re now in a much better position to pursue high impact initiatives in the present. We’ll need to stay focused on the present and continually reflect on the impact that we’re achieving as we pursue our initiatives. What is achieving greater impact than we expected? What is falling short in terms of impact? How can we evolve our initiatives so that we can achieve even greater impact?

As we pursue these initiatives in the present, we will also achieve much greater insight into the opportunity that we are pursuing in the future. It will become much clearer and even more compelling as we learn more about the details of the opportunity and the value that it can create.

Bottom line

Sequence matters. The key is to focus and cultivate the motivation to act and learn.

In the past, the emphasis was focusing on the past because we lived in a more stable world where the past could provide us with valuable lessons about the opportunities in the future. Today, we need to emphasize looking ahead into the future as a launchpad for impact that matters because the world is changing at a rapid rate, and new opportunities are emerging that could never have been addressed in the past.

In the end, we need to focus on action and learning from that action so that we can truly address exponentially expanding opportunities.


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Authors Shaping My Journey

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Context,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Growth,Learning,Opportunity,Potential,Trust

I’ve often been asked what authors have most influenced me. There are so many that I find that question overwhelming. However, I’m going to focus in this post on four authors who, when woven together, form a tapestry that has shaped my thinking for decades.

Carlota Perez – A unique period of history

Carlota has taught at many universities and in 2002 wrote an eye-opening book, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital. She looked back in history over several centuries and studied five technological revolutions, including the steam engine, electricity and the automobile. At the risk of over-simplifying her perspective, she found that each technological revolution followed a similar pattern. It started with a burst of innovation in one or more core technologies that led to significant performance improvement, but then the performance improvement leveled off fairly quickly. That set the stage for another burst of innovation in the infrastructures required to deliver the technology to the economy and society but, then again, the performance improvement of the infrastructures leveled off fairly quickly. That then set the stage for everyone in the economy to figure out how to adapt to the change and get the most value from the technology.

While she included digital technology as one of her technological revolutions, she under-estimated the extent to which digital technology has deviated from the pattern of earlier technology revolutions. Rather than quickly leveling off in performance improvement, both the core technology and the infrastructures required to deliver that technology to the economy have continued to improve exponentially in performance improvement.

This analysis led me to see that we are in a very different era from any other in history, one that is catalyzing exponential change over an unknown number of decades. This creates both a significant challenge and opportunity, as we strive to find ways to create more and more value from the exponential changes playing out around us.

Jane Jacobs – Cities as a catalyst for economic growth

Jane was a prolific author, starting with her classic work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1961. Throughout her many books, Jane argued that cities were a key catalyst of economic growth. She inspired quite a bit of controversy by her perspective that top-down urban planning was actually a hindrance to economic growth. Her view was that the potential of cities could only be unleashed through bottom-up organic growth. She argued that the growth and prosperity of cities resulted from a growing diversity of innovators and entrepreneurs who were drawn to cities because of their ability to connect and scale their efforts. The diversity and density of these initiatives has led to the kind of growth and prosperity that we see in ecosystems in nature.

Jane’s perspective led me to more deeply appreciate the role of cities in economic growth around the world. We can accomplish so much more if we come together with many others. But we need to evolve our cities through interactions at the local level, rather than relying on urban planning “experts” to determine what is best for us.

Annalee Saxenian – Cultures as a catalyst for growth within regions

Annalee is a professor at Berkeley who wrote an inspiring book in 1994 – Regional Advantage. She was intrigued by the differing trajectories of two major digital technology centers from the 1970’s in the US – Route 128 around Boston and Silicon Valley. While both began as major technology centers, over several decades Silicon Valley maintained a significant leadership in innovation in digital technology while Route 128 declined in importance. What explained this divergence in trajectories?

Annalee assembles convincing evidence that a major factor in the different paths of these two regions was the very different cultures that dominated each region. In Route 128, economic activity was dominated by a few large vertically integrated companies where employees went to work for their entire careers and rarely interacted with people outside their company. In contrast, Silicon Valley developed a culture where employees transitioning from one company to another every few years was not only accepted, but expected. Also, people often came together outside their companies with people from other companies and they were motivated to ask for help in addressing really challenging problems. The result was a culture that fostered widespread collaboration and collective learning.

Annalee’s research inspired me to see that people coming together in certain areas can unleash much greater innovation and growth if they adopt a culture that fosters connection and learning among a growing number of people. It’s not just enough for people to be together in the same area. They need to reach out and build relationships in ways that will help them to learn faster.

Carol Dweck – Mindsets as a catalyst for growth

Carol is a professor at Stanford University and in 2006 published an extraordinary book – Mindset. The book suggests that people can be placed on a continuum of beliefs ranging from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to believe that they have been given a fixed set of abilities, intelligence, and talents. At the other end of the spectrum, people with a growth mindset believe their talents and abilities can always be further developed through effort and persistence.

These are fundamental beliefs that shape one’s view of oneself and of the world around us. People with a fixed mindset tend to adopt a “win/lose” view of the world with constant competition to see who can capture the most for themselves. People with a growth mindset see the potential for continued growth of performance by everyone. They will be much more motivated to come together and help each other to draw out more and more of their potential.

The good news is that Carol believes that we can evolve our mindsets. If we develop a fixed mindset in our early childhood, we can shift into a growth mindset over time, but we need to make a conscious effort to do that.

Weaving the tapestry

While these authors address a widely different array of topics, I find that their perspectives weave together in a powerful way. Carlota Perez sets the stage by looking at history and helping us to see how different the current stage of technological innovation is from many previous eras. Digital technology has launched a period of exponential change that continues to unfold and will likely shape many decades ahead. In a world of exponential change, thriving and flourishing will depend on finding ways to learn faster. Exponential change also means that we need to shift our focus from learning the form of sharing existing knowledge, which is becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate, to learning in the form of creating entirely new knowledge as we confront new situations never encountered before. So, how do we do that?

This is where Jane Jacobs comes in. She focuses our attention on the role of cities in bringing us together and the power of geographic connection in helping to drive greater innovation and learning.

But then it is Annalee Saxenian’s turn to remind us that culture shapes how people connect. It’s not enough for people to be in the geographic area – they need to embrace cultures that will encourage them to connect and build deeper, trust-based relationships so that they can express vulnerability and ask for help in addressing really challenging questions.

And, of course, we then need to turn to Carol Dweck who shifts our attention to the beliefs about ourselves that shape our choices and actions, and the kinds of relationships we will build with others. If we don’t have a growth mindset, we are very unlikely to build the deeper, trust-based relationships that can unleash the potential of living closer together in urban areas. As a result, we’ll be unlikely to unleash to exponential potential that can come from learning faster in an exponentially changing environment.

But, is that all there is? As those who follow me will recall, I’ve come to believe that heartset is even more fundamental than mindset and will help to shape the mindsets that guide us. We need to focus on the emotions that are shaping our choices and actions. That’s what led me to write my latest book, The Journey Beyond Fear.

A coincidence?

Here’s an interesting observation. All four authors that have had a profound influence on my view of the world are women. Is that just a coincidence?

I don’t believe so. I believe it’s an interesting indicator of the profound differences that define the feminine archetype and the masculine archetype in our societies around the world, something that I have explored here. Women who represent the feminine archetype are much more likely to focus on deeper, long-term relationships, adopt a holistic approach to understand the world around us, and embrace change as a powerful catalyst for growth and learning. These four authors, each in their own way, demonstrate the feminine archetype in action. I am very grateful for their insights and different perspectives from the “conventional wisdom” of the masculine archetype that rules much of our world.

Bottom line

We live in an exponentially changing world that unleashes the potential for exponential learning. But, to address that potential, we need to come together and build much deeper, trust-based relationships. And to do that, we need to embrace a growth mindset where we see extraordinary potential that we can all cultivate that will help us to achieve much greater impact that is meaningful to us, and to others. This will require us to challenge and change many of the beliefs and practices that have guided our behavior in the past. Most fundamentally, we need to address and overcome the emotion of fear that motivates us to resist change and distance ourselves from others.


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What Does Strategy Really Mean?

Category:Collaboration,Emotions,Future,Growth,Institutional Innovation,Leadership,Learning,Opportunity,Strategy,Transformation

Strategy is a commonly used word, but it’s rarely defined. I’ve become concerned that we are using the term “strategy” much too loosely in our business world. We can gain considerable insight by making an effort to define the term and reflecting on what makes it so valuable in a rapidly changing world.

What does strategy mean today?

Again, business strategy is rarely defined by those using the term. When I search for a definition of the term, I get many examples like the following

  • a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim
  • a plan of actions that fit together to reach a clear destination

Stepping back, I find it hard to differentiate between this meaning of strategy and an operating plan. Is that all it is? An operating plan?

I have to say that, when I talk with leaders about their strategy, I’m often directed to their five-year plan. That’s their strategy. Yet, when I read through the five year plan, it very much seems like an operating plan. It specifies goals to be achieved and the actions that will need to be taken to achieve the goals.

This approach to strategy is very consistent with the institutional model of “scalable efficiency” that I’ve written about here. It certainly gives people a sense of direction and specifies the actions required to become more efficient at scale. But is this really a strategy?

We certainly need operating plans but, in my view, strategy provides a context for developing these operating plans – it’s not the operating plan itself.

What will strategy need to become?

We live in a world of intensifying competition and accelerating change, something that I call the Big Shift. In this kind of world, strategy needs to evolve into something very different. Strategy will be about anticipating growing unmet needs of people outside the organization and developing approaches that can deliver more and more distinctive impact over time by addressing those needs.

Successful strategies will

  • Anticipate growing unmet needs of people outside the organization
  • Develop rewarding approaches that
  •         can deliver more and more impact over time with fewer and fewer resources
  •         are fundamentally different from any other provider
  •         are very difficult to replicate
  • Evolve those approaches in response to a rapidly changing environment

Anticipating growing unmet needs

In a rapidly changing world, we need to look ahead and try to anticipate emerging opportunities that can create enormous value with relatively modest effort. Rather than focusing on the five year time horizon of the five year “strategy” plans that are so prevalent today, we should seek to look ahead 10 – 20 years since that will encourage us to see the most significant changes ahead. I have called this the Zoom Out/Zoom In approach to strategy.

In looking ahead, we need to start by anticipating the growing unmet needs of the people our organization will be seeking to serve. We should start by asking whether these will be the same people we are serving today or whether there will be others that we might want to, or need to, serve 10-20 years from now.

We then need to explore how the unmet needs of these people are likely to evolve. Why are these needs evolving? What are the trends that are shaping these needs? What unmet needs are likely to be most meaningful to these people?

In this context, we need to move beyond the material world and make a concerted effort to understand the evolving emotions of the people we are seeking to serve. To what extent is fear shaping their choices and actions? What would really excite them and motivate them to achieve much greater impact? These emotions will shape how meaningful the unmet needs are.

Developing approaches that create value for the providers as well as people being served

Anticipating meaningful unmet needs of people provides an important foundation for successful strategies, but it’s just the beginning. Strategy requires developing ways of meeting those unmet needs in ways that will create growing value for the provider as well as for the people being served.

In our Big Shift world, successful strategies will focus on leveraged growth. This means discovering ways to deliver more and more value with fewer and fewer resources. It stands in sharp contrast with the approaches of large institutions today which focus on scalable efficiency – how to provide the same products and services faster and cheaper using internal resources.

Leveraged growth shifts the focus from cost to value delivered. It seeks to rapidly expand the value being delivered by orchestrating larger and larger networks of third-party providers who can help to address the unmet needs of the people being served. By doing this, the provider will restructure the broader market and industry, pursuing what I have described as a “shaping strategy.” Rather than simply taking existing industry structures for granted, shaping strategies recognize that, in a rapidly changing world, we have far greater ability to restructure entire industries to our advantage.

The value being delivered from these growing networks needs to be very different from the value that other providers are delivering. It needs to be value that is carefully tailored to meet the unmet needs of the people being served in much more effective ways than any other provider is delivering.

Equally importantly, the value needs to be very difficult for other providers to replicate. Once other providers see how powerful this value is in attracting a growing number of people to the provider offering it, they will make significant efforts to replicate it. Winning strategies deploy approaches that are very challenging, if not impossible, to replicate.

It’s important to emphasize that these approaches are not yet operating plans. They are high level efforts to frame ways of delivering more and more distinctive value. These approaches then provide a foundation for much more detailed operating plans that focus on how to deliver this value.

Rapidly evolving approaches to delivering value

In a rapidly changing world, any strategy, no matter how effective at the outset, will need to evolve quickly to anticipate changing needs and resources. That’s why successful strategies in the future will ultimately need to be learning strategies driven by leaders with a learning mindset.

Leaders need to pursue their strategies with a desire to learn on two fronts. First, what impact are they achieving with their current approach? Where are they achieving more impact than they expected and why? And where are they achieving less impact than expected and why? This is learning through action and can be very powerful especially given the increasing ability to unleash richer and more real-time feedback loops.

To pursue learning through action, leaders will need to make a fundamental shift from the current institutional models of scalable efficiency to institutional models that seek scalable learning. In this context, it’s important to emphasize that the most necessary form of learning is learning in the form of creating new knowledge, not just sharing existing knowledge. To scale this form of learning, it needs to spread beyond necessary research centers or innovation centers – it should be an imperative for all participants in the organization. It should also not be limited to participants within the provider’s organization – the provider should seek to pursue this form of learning among all participants within the growing ecosystem of providers that it orchestrates in pursuit of leveraged growth.

Second, the learning should not just be about reacting to the impact achieved from action already undertaken. The learning should also result from relentlessly tracking the trends that led the leadership to believe that specific and significant unmet needs are emerging among the people being served. Are those trends evolving as expected? Are there other trends that will also play a significant role in shaping those unmet needs? In what ways could these evolving trends help to anticipate even more significant unmet needs?

Learning in the form of creating new knowledge by acting together with others requires cultivating a set of capabilities among all participants – curiosity, connection, imagination, and creativity. That’s curiosity in exploring what’s changing, connecting with others to explore how the world is changing, imagination in seeing how the world and new opportunities are evolving, creativity in developing approaches that can deliver more and more value to the customers.

These capabilities are often highly suspect within existing organizations where the focus is on doing the assigned tasks without asking questions or deviating from the script. As a result, these capabilities, if they exist, are siloed in research labs or innovation centers.

This is one reason that successful strategies will be so difficult to replicate. They’re not a fixed target. They will be continually evolving as leaders learn how to deliver even more distinctive value.

Bottom line

Strategy is an evolving approach on how to achieve greater impact over time that is meaningful to the participants with the least amount of effort (and that is very difficult for other providers to replicate). It’s very difficult for existing organizations to pursue, which is why the five year plan has become the default strategy for most organizations. It may be difficult to pursue, but it will be increasingly necessary for success in a rapidly changing world.


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Escalating Return on Attention

Category:Connections,Emotions,Fear,Future,Learning,Opportunity,Paradox,Potential,Workgroups

Last week, I gave a talk at the South By Southwest conference in Austin where I focused on the increasing importance of return on attention. I believe this is becoming more and more central to success, but that business people are viewing this much too narrowly. There’s a significant untapped opportunity waiting to be addressed.

Paying attention to return on attention

Let me begin by saying that most business people are primarily focused on a very different metric to measure progress – return on sales. While I don’t want to dismiss this, I suggest that it’s too limiting for two reasons.

First, it’s inward looking – it focuses on the financial performance of the company. While that’s certainly important, the financial performance of the company is shaped by events and needs outside the company.

Second, by focusing on financial performance, it draws the attention of management to lagging indicators. It tells them how they have been doing. In a rapidly changing world, we need to be looking ahead, focusing on indicators that will help us to anticipate emerging opportunities.

We need to pay more attention to return on attention. In an increasingly competitive world, customers are gaining more power. Where customers choose to allocate their attention among a growing number of options competing for their attention, will determine who succeeds and who becomes increasingly marginalized.

We need to find ways to measure and monitor return on attention. But the challenge is that return on attention can be viewed at many different levels.

Level 1 of return on attention

When I talk with executives about return on attention, I find that they quickly narrow their focus to their own company. For them, return on attention is how much they have had to spend per unit of attention from their customers and promising prospects.

Once again, they understandably fall back to financial metrics and what they have had to “pay” for the attention of their customers. This is still very focused on the company and lagging indicators – how much have they had to pay in the past.

Level 2 of return on attention

We need to expand our horizons. Rather than focusing on the company, let’s shift our attention to the customers and their return on attention – what value are the customers receiving for the attention they are providing to the company? What’s their return on attention?

And, let’s stay focused on value received, rather than the amount of time and effort that customers have to invest in order to receive the value. The temptation here is to narrowly define value as delivering what the customers want and need today.

The challenge is that what customers want and need today may not be what is ultimately most valuable to them. As I’ve written about in The Journey Beyond Fear, people around the world are increasingly driven by the emotion of fear. In this kind of world, the most effective way to draw attention is to address the fears that are consuming customers – feeding the fear, providing them with defenses against perceived threats and helping them to escape from the fearful world around us (dare I mention metaverse?).

Addressing current needs can help to attract attention with less effort but, if the needs are not sustainable, is this the most promising way to increase return on attention for customers over time? Even more importantly, if the needs that customers perceive today are limiting their potential to create value that is more meaningful to them, are businesses serving the true needs of the customers?

Level 3 of return on attention

This takes us to an even more promising level of return on attention. Rather than just focusing on the current needs of the customers, maybe businesses should look ahead and anticipate emerging needs of customers that can create much more value.

Businesses need to expand their horizons even further. They need to not just focus on the return on attention to the customer today, but the return on attention to the customer over time. They need to ask what can help customers to achieve much more impact and value that is meaningful to them than what they are achieving today. What are the unmet needs of customers that customers themselves might not even be able to articulate today, but that could help them overcome their fear and motivate them to provide more and more attention?

While this requires businesses to look ahead, business executives should realize that the timing could not be better. One of the challenges for businesses today is the significant erosion of trust from their customers. While most customers could probably not articulate what is eroding their trust, a key driver is the growing recognition that companies are focused on serving their own short-term needs, rather than understanding and addressing the evolving needs of their customers to achieve more impact that is meaningful  in a more and more challenging world.

Businesses that understand what is driving the erosion of trust and actively seek to increase the return on attention of their customers will find that they will draw and retain the attention of those customers  much more effectively than they have in the past.

Level 4 of return on attention

But that’s not all. There’s an even bigger opportunity that remains to be addressed by both customers and the businesses serving them. In a rapidly changing world with mounting performance pressure, all customers have a need to find ways to continue to increase impact that is meaningful to them.

This creates a need for all customers to learn faster about how they can increase impact in areas that matter to them. In this rapidly changing world, this is not about learning in the form of training programs that share existing knowledge, but instead it’s about creating environments and conditions that can help customers to create entirely new knowledge at an accelerating rate – finding ways to create more and more value with less effort.

This kind of learning doesn’t occur in a training room. It occurs out in the real world as customers take action, assess the impact they are achieving, and reflect on what new actions they can take that will yield even more impact. As customers begin to see the need for this and the value it can provide, they will also begin to see that they can learn much faster and more effectively if they come together in small groups where they share a passion about increasing impact (I call them impact groups and have written about them here).

Customers will significantly increase their return on attention if they can participate in these learning environments because they will create much more value for themselves and for others. Businesses that see this emerging need and act aggressively to provide these learning environments will ultimately draw more and more of the attention of more and more customers and create much more value for themselves as well.

We need to see an intriguing paradox. The same long-term forces that are creating mounting performance pressure and a growing need for impact that is meaningful are also creating exponentially expanding opportunity – we can create far more value far more quickly and with far less resources than would have been imaginable a couple of decades ago. Those customers and businesses who see this exponentially expanding opportunity and actively seek to address it will dramatically increase their return on attention.

There’s an untapped business opportunity that I describe as “the trusted advisor” where businesses focus relentlessly on increasing the impact that their customers can achieve. This business opportunity has exponential potential.

Bottom line

In a more and more challenging world, where fear is becoming the dominant emotion, it is understandable why businesses are pursuing more and more short-term financial metrics for impact. But those metrics are increasingly limiting our ability to create value.

If we are going to unleash the exponentially expanding opportunity that is emerging around us, we need to find metrics that will excite and inspire us, and help us to overcome our fear. We need a deep and nuanced understanding of “return on attention” that is focused on the growing impact that our customers can achieve. This will help both our customers and our businesses to move beyond their fear and succeed in ways that will help all of us to flourish.


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Evolving Boards Into Springboards

Category:Collaboration,Connections,Emotions,Fear,Future,Leadership,Opportunity,Transformation

In a rapidly changing world, Boards of Directors (or Trustees) can play a significant role in becoming a catalyst for change within large, traditional companies and other institutions. Unfortunately, this role is still an untapped opportunity in most institutions.

What’s the need?

As I’ve written about extensively, we are in the early stages of a Big Shift that will transform our global economy and society. The paradox of the Big Shift is that it creates mounting performance pressure and exponentially expanding opportunities at the same time.

Mounting performance pressure takes many different forms – intensifying competition, accelerating pace of change and extreme, disruptive events. That pressure creates an imperative for change – if we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’ll become increasingly marginalized and ultimately be wiped out.

But the good news is that the same long-term forces are creating exponentially expanding opportunities – we can create far more value with far less resources and far more quickly than ever before. These are not just opportunities – they are imperatives. In the Big Shift world, only those who see and address these exponentially expanding opportunities will navigate successfully through the mounting performance pressure.

Re-imagining the role of boards

Boards today are generally viewed as fiduciaries for shareholders in the institution. Unfortunately, this role is generally defined too narrowly in today’s world. Board members are expected to represent the interests of shareholders as they currently express those interests. The problem is that shareholders are increasingly focused on maximizing short-term returns. “Short-termism” reigns supreme.

If the shareholders truly understood the exponentially expanding opportunities being created by the Big Shift, their interests would shift from maximizing short-term returns to unleashing the exponential returns that can be generated in the Big Shift. So, the challenge for Board members is whether they should continue to pursue the current short-term interests of shareholders or become catalysts to help shareholders (and management) see the much bigger opportunities that could generate far greater returns over time.

Catalysts for change

Boards are uniquely positioned to become catalysts for change in large, traditional institutions. While boards typically include some leaders from within the organization, they also bring together a group of individuals from outside the organization who represent diverse backgrounds. These individuals are uniquely positioned to provide an “outside-in” perspective for the management of the institutions who tend to become consumed by “inside-out” perspectives as they embrace scalable efficiency institutional models.

But to harness the potential of this “outside-in” perspective, board members must be willing and able to become provocateurs, challenging the implicit assumptions held by the internal management of the organization. They must invest time in exploring how the world outside the organization is changing and they are uniquely positioned to do this, given their backgrounds and experience outside the organization. They can not only rely on their own experience – they can also be proactive in inviting more outsiders to engage with them and the leadership of the organization regarding the trends that are re-shaping the environment of the organization.

These perspectives can help to build greater awareness of the large, emerging unmet needs of customers and other stakeholders of the organization (e.g., business partners and suppliers). They can also increase understanding of the potential to mobilize a broader set of resources to address those unmet needs and create much more value, with far less resources, and far more quickly than ever before.

These emerging perspectives can be catalysts for change at two levels. They can engage the internal management of the organization. At the same time, they can engage the external investors who are likely still pursuing narrow, short-term returns.

From provocation to excitement

Board members should never under-estimate the challenge of shifting the perspectives of the internal management or the external investors. To shift these perspectives, board members need to move beyond provocation. They need to frame exciting opportunities for creating much more value and focus on identifying the trends that are making these opportunities more and more feasible. Where possible, they should provide explicit examples of organizations that are already starting to address these opportunities and the impact that they have achieved. If those examples are not yet available, they should focus on identifying some short-term initiatives that the organization can pursue in addressing these opportunities and demonstrate tangible progress with relatively modest effort.

Those who have followed my writing will recognize that I am suggesting that board members should embrace a version of the “zoom out/zoom in” approach that can help to drive change by helping to overcome the fear and skepticism that often makes people resistant to change.

While the primary focus should always be on the exciting opportunities that can overcome fear and skepticism, board members can also be helpful in broadening the perception of risk among management and investors. Most risk management discussions focus on the risks associated with new initiatives. Very rarely is there any discussion of the risks associated with continuing on the current course. In the Big Shift world, continuing on the current course is often the highest risk option of all, yet few leaders or investors understand those risks.

The key is to understand that just focusing on the risk of the current path will only strengthen the fear that will increase resistance to change. If Board members want to become catalysts for change, they need to focus on framing exciting opportunities that can motivate management and investors to abandon their current beliefs and embrace new approaches that can deliver much greater rewards.

Bottom line

Board members are uniquely positioned to become catalysts for change, creating a springboard for the delivery of much greater impact and value in a rapidly changing world. To harness this potential, board members need to leverage their position as outsiders and help both management and investors to see exciting opportunities that are not yet on their radar screen. The key is to help both management and investors move beyond fear and cultivate intense excitement about exponentially expanding opportunities.

By playing this role, board members will become true fiduciaries for investors, helping them to significantly increase the return on their investment, while at the same time helping management to achieve much greater impact.


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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 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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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!


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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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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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