Category Archives: Passion

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The Imperative for Two Dimensions of Transformation

Category:Collaboration,Edges,Institutional Innovation,Learning,Opportunity,Passion,Strategy,Transformation

Now, more than ever, we live in a world of massive change. Not surprisingly, “transformation” has become a buzzword throughout our economy and society.

Transformation has been a focus of my work for decades and I’ve learned many lessons along the way. In this post, I want to explore two distinct transformation imperatives as we scale the edge.

Scaling the edge

Those who have been following my work know that I’ve become a strong champion of scaling the edge as a way to drive transformation in large, traditional institutions. This approach is in stark contrast to the more conventional “top down, big bang” approaches that are used to drive change. By seeking to transform the entire core of the institution, these efforts require a lot of money and they will take a long time – you can’t turn around a battleship overnight. As a result, these approaches have a high failure rate because they under-estimate the significant power of the immune system and antibodies that exist in all large institutions. The immune system and antibodies will mobilize aggressively to crush efforts at massive change, especially those that will require a lot of money and take a lot of time.

Scaling the edge can reduce the risk of immune system attack because it doesn’t seek to transform the core of the institution. Instead, it focuses on finding an edge to the existing institution that, given the forces at work in the broader economy and society, has the potential to scale very rapidly to the point where it will become the new core of the institution. To be clear, this is not just an “experiment” or a diversification or growth initiative – the commitment is to make it the new core of the institution and, in the process, drive the transformation that will be required to thrive in a rapidly changing economy and society. I’ve written a lot more about the design principles for successful edge scaling initiatives here.

The two transformation imperatives

But what does transformation really mean? Virtually every large institution today has a “digital transformation” program, but the focus of these programs is to apply digital technology so that existing tasks can be done faster and cheaper. That’s not transformation from my perspective. I use the metaphor of the caterpillar to the butterfly to describe transformation – it has to produce something completely different from before. If we’re just helping the caterpillar to walk faster, that may be helpful to the caterpillar, but please let’s not describe that as transformation.

So, what is transformation in the context of our existing institutions? I believe it will have to occur on two dimensions given the Big Shift that is transforming our global economy and society.

The first dimension involves re-thinking at a fundamental level the value that will be delivered to customers and other stakeholders. The nature of the value being delivered will change at a very basic level.

The second dimension involves re-thinking at a fundamental level what is required to deliver that value to customers and other stakeholders. The approach to delivering value must be redesigned from the ground up.

Let’s explore both of these dimensions more deeply.

Transforming the value delivered

We live in a world of exponential change. In that kind of world, there is a natural tendency to shrink our time horizons and just focus on today’s needs.

That tendency needs to be resisted. Instead, we need to look ahead, far ahead, to anticipate emerging needs that are fundamentally different from the needs we are addressing today. That’s certainly challenging in a rapidly changing world.

That’s why I’ve become a strong champion of a very different approach to strategy that I call “zoom out/zoom in.” I’ve written about that approach extensively here. This approach calls on leadership of institutions to move beyond their comfort zone and to look ahead 10-20 years. The two key questions to address are: What will our relevant market or environment look like 10-20 years from now? What will be the biggest unmet needs of our customers and stakeholders that will provide an opportunity to build an institution that is far bigger and more successful than the one we have now?

If we truly understand the nature of exponential change, we need to be prepared to embrace the fact that the value we are delivering today will become obsolete and that we need to embrace very different forms of value that will address emerging needs and become a key to success in the future.

What would be an example? Take the example of a large fossil fuel company today. Given the changes that are occurring in the energy industry, there may be a need to leverage some of the expertise that this company has developed and focus it in a very different direction. For instance, one of these companies might decide to leverage its expertise in resource extraction to provide extraction services in a wide range of industries that rely on natural resources. Another possibility would be to focus on its expertise in building and managing large-scale distribution networks to provide these services to a wide range of industries. Whatever path these companies take, they are likely to be serving a very different set of customers and delivering a very different form of value.

The zoom out/zoom in approach to strategy has many benefits, but one key benefit is that it can help the leadership of an institution to select an edge to their existing institution that has the potential to scale rapidly to the point where it becomes the new core. And they won’t just select the edge, they will commit to scaling it because it represents a much bigger opportunity than anything they have addressed in the past.

Transforming the delivery of value

But transformation doesn’t stop there. There’s another dimension of transformation that needs to be understood and addressed. This is transformation in how the value is created and delivered to customers and other stakeholders.

What do I mean by this? Large institutions around the world have been pursuing a scalable efficiency model for the past century. For them, the key to success has been becoming more and more efficient at scale – finding ways to do their activities faster and cheaper. They have determined that the best way to do this is to tightly specify every activity that needs to be performed, highly standardize those activities so they are done the same efficient way throughout the organization and tightly integrate those activities, removing all inefficient buffers.

This approach has been highly successful around the world for the past century. The challenge is that the world is rapidly changing and this approach to efficiency is paradoxically becoming more and more inefficient. Workers are confronting more and more “exceptions” – unexpected situations that cannot be addressed by the process manual. They are scrambling inefficiently to find ways to address these unexpected situations.

In this rapidly changing world, we need another dimension of transformation – institutional transformation. We need to shift from a scalable efficiency institutional model to a scalable learning institutional model where the focus is on helping everyone in the organization to learn faster together. This is especially challenging because the learning that is increasingly required is not learning in the form of sharing existing knowledge in training programs but instead learning in the form of creating new knowledge. That doesn’t occur in a training room – it occurs in the workplace when people act together to address new situations and reflect on the impact that they are achieving so that they can evolve their actions to achieve even more impact. I have written about this institutional transformation extensively here.

If we take this seriously, it will require challenging and changing virtually every aspect of how institutions organize and operate today. We’ll need to move from hierarchical, command and control organizations to networked organizations that organize around small, front-line groups of 3-15 workers – I call them impact groups. We’ll need to move from a focus on business process re-engineering to business practice redesign, cultivating practices within the impact groups that help all participants to learn faster. We’ll also have to redesign our work environments to provide all the participants with the tools they need to learn faster. One key objective is to help draw out and cultivate the passion of the explorer in all workers so that they become excited, and truly motivated, by the opportunity to learn faster together.

This dimension of transformation will need to be pursued in parallel with the other dimension of transformation.

Bottom line

If we’re going to unleash the exponential opportunities that are being created by the Big Shift, we need to commit to drive transformation on two intersecting paths – transforming the value that we are delivering to our stakeholders and transforming how that value gets delivered to the stakeholders. This is certainly very challenging – it’s why I urge leaders to focus on scaling the edge as the most effective way to drive transformation. Significant opportunities await those who see the need for both dimensions of transformation and aggressively pursue them on the edge of existing institutions.


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Increase the Power of Your Narratives

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Emotions,Fear,Movements,Narratives,Opportunity,Passion,Small moves

I’ve written a lot about the untapped power of narratives, including in my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear. But, what are the specific elements that contribute to that power? I’ve been participating in the development of quite a few narratives, and it’s led me to focus on four elements that will make or break a narrative.

Stories and narratives

Let me start, though, by reminding everyone what I mean by narrative. Those who have been following me will remember that I make an important distinction between stories and narratives, even though most people view them as the same thing.

For me, stories are self-contained – they have a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories are also about the storyteller or about some other people, real or imagined, but they’re not about the people in the audience.

In contrast, for me, narratives are open-ended. They focus on a big threat or opportunity out in the future, but the threat or opportunity has not yet been achieved. The resolution of the narrative hinges on the people in the audience – it provides a call to action that will ultimately determine the outcome of the narrative.

As I discuss in greater detail in my book, narratives can play a powerful role at multiple levels, starting with us as individuals – we all have a personal narrative. But narratives can also have significant impact at the level of institutions, geographies (cities, regions and countries) and movements. The elements that I’m going to explore below apply to narratives at all these levels.

The four elements of a powerful narrative

As I indicated, narratives can focus on either a significant threat or opportunity in the future. Since I believe we are in great need of more opportunity-based narratives, I’m going to focus here on opportunity- based narratives. Based on my experience and research, the four elements that will determine the power of an opportunity-based narrative are:

  • Framing the opportunity
  • Identifying trends enabling the opportunity
  • Identifying obstacles and challenges that stand in the way of achieving the opportunity
  • Framing the call to action

Framing the opportunity

The foundation of an opportunity-based narrative is of course the opportunity itself. This is ultimately what will motivate people to come together and act for impact. For this reason, it is important to find an opportunity that really inspires and excites the people we are trying to reach – it should not just be something that is “rational” or supported by data. Finding this kind of opportunity requires a deep understanding of the people we are trying to reach so that we find an opportunity that is aligned with their aspirations. Of course, they may not yet be aware of the opportunity, but we should explore whether this opportunity would excite them, once they become aware of it.

Effective narratives focus on a very big opportunity that will require long-term effort by many to achieve. If the opportunity can be quickly achieved by a few people, it will not become the catalyst for large-scale action by a growing number of participants. What we need are narratives that can sustain us and excite us over a long period of time. Of course, that also implies that we should be able to make progress in addressing the opportunity relatively quickly so that we will be encouraged to continue on the journey together.

The opportunity framed by a narrative also needs to be a positive-sum opportunity. This means that the opportunity will expand as the number of participants expands. If an opportunity is fixed in its size and rewards, it will discourage more people from joining and collaborating with each other.

Identifying trends enabling the opportunity

One of the big risks with framing large, long-term opportunities is that it can generate a lot of skepticism, especially from those consumed by fear. For this reason, it’s important to be able to identify some long-term trends that suggest this opportunity is achievable, and not just a fantasy.

But there’s a balance that needs to be maintained. While these trends should reinforce our belief that the opportunity is achievable, they should not be viewed as making the opportunity inevitable. If the opportunity is inevitable, we will tend to become passive. Why would we need to act and take risks if the opportunity is going to emerge anyway?

Identifying obstacles and challenges

That leads to the third element of powerful narratives. Somewhat paradoxically, the strongest narratives are those that identify and assess significant obstacles and challenges that will make the opportunity difficult to achieve. This will underscore that significant effort will be required to address the opportunity identified by the narrative. We can’t just sit back and assume that the opportunity will emerge on its own.

This will also help to prevent early participants from becoming discouraged too quickly. If they’re expecting obstacles and challenges, they’ll be motivated to forge ahead and find ways to overcome the obstacles and challenges.

Framing the call to action

A call to action is a critical pillar of powerful narratives. The people addressed by the narrative need to be clear that the outcome depends on the action they take.

For this to be effective, another balance needs to be struck. The call to action needs to be high level enough that participants can improvise and adapt the action to their specific context, especially as unexpected situations emerge. On the other hand, the call to action needs to be specific enough that it can provide tangible direction to people regarding the kind of action that will be needed to achieve the opportunity.

The call to action also needs to be framed in a way that people can initially make small moves and begin to see progress in addressing the broader opportunity. If people believe that their action will not yield any positive results for decades, they’re much less likely to maintain their excitement on continuing the journey.

This increases the importance of focusing on impact, not just action. Effective narratives have a call to action where the progress can be measured and monitored. The call to action needs to be specific enough that it can help to define metrics that matter. This will help all participants to assess how much progress is being made and to reflect on how to achieve even greater impact. It will also give them encouragement when they can see the progress that is already being made.

Bottom line

Properly framed, opportunity-based narratives can be very powerful. At their most basic level, they excite people about coming together and acting to achieve a really inspiring and meaningful opportunity. It’s ultimately about moving people beyond fear to hope and excitement.

As with most things in life, it’s ultimately about balance. We must believe that the opportunity is achievable, but also that it will not materialize without concerted action because of roadblocks and challenges that stand in the way. We need to be able to take small steps, especially at the outset, but we also need to see how those small moves can set big things in motion.


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Seek the Gift

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Exploration,Growth,Opportunity,Passion,Poem,Potential

Christmas

Is a time of

Giving

And receiving.

We should be grateful

For what we have received.

But let’s not just look around.

Let’s look within.

Our greatest gift is

The energy and spirit

Residing within us,

Waiting to be discovered

And unwrapped

And brought out

For others to see

And experience.

The greatest gift

We can give to ourselves

Is to seek

That energy and spirit

And nurture it,

Drawing it out,

To help us pursue

What is really meaningful.

If we do that,

We will offer

Ever expanding gifts

To those

Who mean so much

To us.

Our gift within us

Can be the gift

That keeps on giving.

The gift to us

Can become the gift

That we share

With others.


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Is Digital Transformation Missing the Real Opportunity?

Category:Emotions,Fear,Institutional Innovation,Learning,Opportunity,Passion,Strategy

Everyone is talking about digital transformation these days, but I have to confess that I am a bit of a contrarian on this topic. I’ve spoken a lot about this in recent years, but the catalyst for writing this post was a session on digital transformation at a conference that I just attended.

I work with a lot of large companies around the world and I can guarantee that virtually every large company now has a “digital transformation” program. When I press executives for details about the program, I invariably find out that the focus of the program is to apply digital technology to do what the company has always done faster and cheaper, but the business and the company remain largely the same.

Is that really “transformation”? Definitions differ, but I use the metaphor of the caterpillar and the butterfly in assessing whether transformation is really occurring. If we’re just applying digital technology to help the caterpillar to walk faster, that may be helpful to the caterpillar, but please don’t call it “transformation” unless the result is a butterfly that would be unrecognizable relative to the caterpillar. In my experience, digital transformation programs are just helping caterpillars to walk faster.

Why does this matter? It matters, because in a rapidly changing world going through a “Big Shift,” there are exponentially expanding opportunities that can only be effectively addressed if companies and other institutions are prepared to undertake true transformation, asking the most basic questions of all: What business should we really be in? How can we expand our ability to deliver more and more value to our stakeholders? How can we motivate ourselves to take more risk?

Let’s look at three levels of transformation:

  • Pursuing fundamentally different business opportunities
  • Crafting fundamentally different institutional models
  • Cultivating fundamentally different emotional drivers

Pursuing fundamentally different business opportunities

In a rapidly changing world, there’s a strong temptation to shrink time horizons and just focus on the business we have. The paradox is that this Big Shift world is creating exponentially expanding opportunities – we can create far more value with far less resources and far more quickly than ever before.

To see these opportunities, we need to be able to look ahead, far ahead, and anticipate significant  emerging unmet needs that we could address. This requires a very different approach to strategy – a zoom out/zoom in approach to strategy, something that I have written about extensively, including here and here.

Zooming out requires us to look ahead 10 – 20 years and focus on trends that are reasonably predictable and that will give rise to opportunities far larger than anything we have addressed in the past. If we look ahead 10 – 20 years and believe we are still going to be in the same business that we are today, we don’t understand exponential change. It forces us out of our comfort zone to imagine becoming a fundamentally different business from the one we are today. We begin to see the butterfly.

As just one example of how different our businesses will become, I urge you to consider Unbundling the Corporation, a perspective that I first wrote about a couple of decades ago. We need to challenge ourselves to see how fundamentally businesses are changing and the opportunities that these changes create.

As a side note (worthy of an additional blog post), the best way to pursue this form of business transformation is by scaling the edge.

Crafting fundamentally different institutional models

As we look ahead and begin to see the magnitude of the opportunities that are emerging, we will begin to realize that our current institutional models are ill-equipped to help us on the journey to addressing those opportunities – in fact, they are becoming significant barriers.

What do I mean? I’m going to generalize, but over the past century, all large institutions around the world have embraced an institutional model that I describe as “scalable efficiency.” In that institutional model, the key to success is to become more and more efficient at scale, and the way to become more efficient is to tightly specify and highly standardize all activities in the institution so that they are done in the same efficient way everywhere.

Large and very successful institutions have emerged around the world using this institutional model. The challenge is that in a rapidly changing world this approach to efficiency is becoming less and less efficient. It also misses the key requirement for success in the future: scaling and accelerating learning.

To address the opportunities in the future, we will need to embrace a very different institutional model: scalable learning. I have written about this need for institutional innovation here.

And, let me be clear – when I talk about scalable learning, I’m not talking about learning in the form of training programs that focus on sharing existing knowledge. In a rapidly changing world, the most powerful and necessary form of learning is learning in the form of creating new knowledge. That doesn’t occur in training rooms, but requires all workers to learn through action in the workplace. It also requires coming together into impact groups and orchestrating larger and larger ecosystems of participants from many different backgrounds to learn faster together.

Scalable learning can help expand our focus beyond efficiency – doing the same things faster and cheaper – to see the potential to learn how to deliver far more value as well. When we unleash scalable learning, we have the potential to deliver exponentially expanding value to our customers and other stakeholders. We are constantly finding new ways to deliver more value in a rapidly changing world. Scalable learning can also accelerate our progress towards addressing the fundamentally different business opportunity that we see in the future.

Pursuing this kind of scalable learning requires us to re-think and redesign all aspects of how we organize and operate in our institutions. It requires us to explore what is needed to become a butterfly.

Rather than trying to transform the core of our existing institution, we will be much more likely to succeed if we scale the edge, viewing the edge as the cocoon that will give birth to the butterfly.

Cultivating fundamentally different emotional drivers

Transforming into a butterfly can be very scary. As I discuss in my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear, more and more people around the world are consumed by fear, given the mounting performance pressure that is being generated by the Big Shift in our global economy. While understandable, the emotion of fear can also be very limiting.

In this context, fear can increase our resistance to change. We simply want to hold on to what we have and continue to do what has made us successful in the past.

If we’re going to make the transformation journey, we need to add another level of transformation – emotional transformation. We need to find ways to cultivate emotions that will help us to move beyond our fear and achieve impact that is far more meaningful to us.

In this context, I believe the emotion that can help all of us to pursue the transformation we need is the passion of the explorer. It’s a very specific form of passion that I discovered when researching environments where sustained extreme performance improvement had been achieved. I have written about it extensively, including here and here. The passion of the explorer is a fundamentally different emotion from fear.

I believe we all have the potential to draw out the passion of the explorer within us – it’s not just something that is limited to the gifted few. The challenge is that we live and work in environments that are deeply suspicious of this form of passion and actively seek to suppress it. The good news is that the two other levels of transformation – business opportunities and institutional models – will help to foster environments that will help to draw out the passion of the explorer.

But if we’re serious about pursuing transformation, we need to find ways to draw out this emotion, even in environments that are still seeking to suppress it. External transformation will not succeed without internal transformation. We need to move on both fronts.

Bottom line

Pursuing genuine transformation requires evolving from the caterpillar into the butterfly. It can be hugely rewarding because it positions us to address the exponentially expanding opportunities that are created by the Big Shift. Of course, digital technology can play a significant role in helping us to address those opportunities, but the key is to focus the application of digital technology on true transformation.

But genuine transformation isn’t just an opportunity – it’s an imperative. In the Big Shift world, those who hold on to what made them successful in the past – or who simply focus on doing the same things faster and cheaper – will be increasingly marginalized. Transformation is an imperative.

Three levels of transformation need to be pursued in parallel, but we need to understand that emotional transformation is ultimately the foundation that will enable us to successfully pursue the other two levels of transformation. If we can find ways to move beyond our fear, we will soon discover the butterfly that is waiting to emerge from the cocoon and venture out to amazing new areas that have never been explored. And we will see that digital transformation is designed to limit us to the lives of caterpillars.


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The Journey Beyond Our Edge

Category:Collaboration,Edges,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Learning,Opportunity,Passion,Potential,Workgroups

Over the past four weeks, I’ve posted a series of blog entries providing an overview of the key themes in my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear. In this blog post, I want to focus on the journey ahead.

My book focuses on the fear that has been spreading around the world for years (it’s certainly not just the result of the current pandemic). While the emotion is understandable (we live in a world of mounting performance pressure), it’s also very limiting. My key goal in the book is to share lessons about the journey beyond fear that I’ve learned in my personal journey as well as from research that I’ve been pursuing for decades.

But, now what? My hope is that the book will help us to acknowledge our own fears and then see that we do have the ability to move beyond fear and cultivate emotions that will help us to achieve much more meaningful impact. I don’t want to suggest that this journey will be easy – it’s very challenging and there are many obstacles and barriers we’re going to confront along the way.

That’s why I suspect that reading my book will not be enough to make the journey. Hopefully, it will be a catalyst to help us see the potential of the journey and motivate us to get started on the journey.

Beyond the book

I want to do more than write a book to help others on the journey. My goal is to offer programs and services that will bring people together around a shared desire to make the journey beyond fear.

Some of the programs will be targeted to help individuals, but some of the programs will also be targeted to leaders of organizations, communities and movements who are seeking to move their participants beyond fear. As I indicate in my book, we as individuals will make much slower progress on this journey if we are living and working in environments that feed the fear, so my intent is to help individuals to evolve while at the same time helping to evolve our environments so we are supported and encouraged on our journey.

On both fronts (individuals and environments), the programs will not just be standalone events. They will be woven together so that individuals and leaders can continue to be supported throughout their journey.

A key objective will be to bring people together into small groups of 3-15 people who can both challenge and support each other on their journey. I call these groups “impact groups” – they’re not just discussion groups, they’re committed to acting, achieving impact and learning through action. Programs would help people to see the importance of these impact groups and help them to form an impact group. Then there would be coaching services to support the impact groups and programs tailored to impact groups.

Another objective (and they’re all related) will be to help people find and nurture their passion of the explorer. As people find their passion of the explorer and come together with others who share their passion, they’ll be driven to increase their impact in the domain that excites them. They’ll discover that this is a journey without end, because they’ll soon realize that, no matter how much impact they have already achieved, there is so much more impact to be achieved.

That leads to another objective: to help deploy and scale learning platforms where impact groups can gather and accelerate their learning and their impact. Impact groups will be pursuing a diverse set of opportunities on this platform, driven by the passion of the explorer that is finally manifesting within them. Impact groups pursuing the same opportunity will come together into broader and broader networks, helping them to scale their impact.  But there will also be growing interaction across these networks as participants discover that many of the opportunities they are pursuing are related and that the approaches being used to address one opportunity can also be applied to address other opportunities.

And then, of course, it can become even more complex as I seek to build relationships with other organizations and movements that share a common goal to help us move beyond fear and achieve impact that is more meaningful to all of us. We will hopefully see networks within networks and networks across networks blossom over time as people see the value of coming together in the journey beyond fear.

Exploring the edge

I don’t have a detailed roadmap or blueprint of what all of this will look like as it emerges and evolves. In classic zoom out/zoom in fashion, I’m focusing on framing the long-term opportunity to support people on the journey beyond fear and some of the early programs that can be offered to get the journey started.

I’m heading beyond the edge and that certainly brings out some fear as I explore terrain that’s never been explored before. But I’m so excited about the opportunity to build a platform that can bring more and more people together in their journey beyond fear that I am eagerly moving forward, in spite of the fear.

Bottom line

I need all the help that I can get in making this journey. I’m wide open to suggestions and ideas for developing and delivering programs that can help people to make the journey beyond fear. I’m also looking for ideas on how to build awareness of these programs and the opportunity they address. Of course, my hope is that many people will read my book and that it will pull them to these programs, but how do I pull people to read my book? There are so many things competing for our attention that it’s challenging to rise above the noise. Please message me if you want to help and have some ideas and suggestions on how to get started.

Let’s overcome our fear and venture out onto the edge together so that we can craft a platform that will help a growing number of people to achieve more and more of their potential!


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From Fear to Passion

Category:Collaboration,Connections,Emotions,Exploration,Fear,Growth,Learning,Movements,Narratives,Opportunity,Passion,Workgroups

My new book, The Journey Beyond Fear, was published last week! It suggests that a very specific form of passion can help all of us in overcoming fear. Passion draws out excitement and motivates us to act in spite of fear to achieve more impact that’s truly meaningful to us. But most of us have not yet found our passion and many of us have given up looking for it, because we live in environments that are hostile to passion. We need to change that.

Passion of the explorer

Passion is one of those words with an infinite number of meanings. My book focuses on the passion of the explorer – an insight that emerged from research into environments where we see sustained extreme performance improvement. Despite the diversity of those environments, all the participants had this specific form of passion.

The passion of the explorer has three components. First, people who have this form of passion have made a long-term commitment to a specific domain – it could be anything from gardening to sales. They’re not just committed to being in the domain, they’re committed to achieving an increasing impact in that domain over time.

The second component of the passion of the explorer is a questing disposition. People with this passion are excited when confronted with an unexpected challenge. In fact, they’re constantly seeking new challenges as a way to achieve increasing impact.

The third component of the passion of the explorer is a connecting disposition. When confronted with new challenges, the first reaction of people with this form of passion is to seek out others who can help them get to a better answer faster. They are extremely well connected with others.

Why it matters

We live in a world of mounting performance pressure. That world generates fear within more and more people. While understandable, that fear is very limiting. We need to cultivate emotions like hope and excitement that will help us to move forward in spite of our fear so that we can achieve the impact that is most meaningful to us.

The passion of the explorer generates excitement, not just in the moment, but over a lifetime. That excitement cannot be under-estimated. It turns pressure into opportunity that we pursue to achieve more of our potential.

This passion also cultivates a learning or growth mindset. No matter how much they have accomplished, people with this passion are eagerly seeking to find ways to achieve even more impact. They are never complacent or satisfied with the knowledge they already have – they are always wanting to learn more.

Equally importantly, the passion of the explorer drives each person to connect with others, not just in a transactional, exchanging business cards kind of way, but in a way that builds deep, trust-based relationships because they are very willing to express vulnerability. No matter how smart or talented any individual is, they will learn a lot more and achieve much more impact if they can find ways to build this kind of deep relationships with others. It will also help them to overcome their fears, because they are connected with others who share their passion and who will energize and support them through the most challenging of times.

Push back on passion

I often receive a lot of push back from people regarding passion. They say to me that some people are capable of passion, but most of us just want to be told what to do and have the security of a paycheck.

I resist that push back. I believe that we all, as humans, have the potential to find and pursue our passion. While relatively few children have found their passion of the explorer in terms of the domain that they want to commit to for the rest of their lives, they all have a powerful questing disposition and connecting disposition.

I also use the example of Toyota where they redefined work in their factories and told workers that their primary job was to identify problems and to solve the problems. Worker passion levels went way up because they were now not just cogs in a machine, but making a difference that matters by finding problems that no one else had seen before.

Our environments need to change

I believe we all need to find our passion of the explorer, regardless of how old we are (I was in my 50’s. before I fully connected with my passion of the explorer), if we’re going to make the journey beyond fear. My book outlines some of the approaches and actions we can take to find our passion of the explorer based on my own personal life experience and broader research that I’ve done on the topic.

But I’ve also come to believe that we’ll be much more successful in this quest if we live in environments that encourage and nurture the passion of the explorer, rather than seeking to crush it. Unfortunately, most of the environments we live and work in today are driven to crush this passion. It’s one of the reasons that, based on a survey I did of the US workforce, only 14% of US workers have this form of passion in their work.

In an institutional environment of scalable efficiency, we’re taught that the key to success is just to read the process manual, follow the instructions and deliver the anticipated results reliably and efficiently. Passion is viewed as deeply suspect. Passionate people ask too many questions, they take risks and they deviate from the script.

And our school systems are explicitly designed to prepare us for work in those institutional environments. As young people, we’re told that if you have a passion, pursue it on the playground or at home, but don’t bring it into the classroom. We’re also told to focus on finding a career that pays well and has high status, not something that we’re passionate about. Many parents also echo this message with the well-intentioned desire that their children do well in life.

If we’re all going to achieve more of our potential and have impact that’s meaningful to us, we need to come together to evolve our environments in ways that encourage and nurture the passion of the explorer for everyone. My book helps us to understand what those environments will need to look like.

Drawing out our passion

But we can’t just wait until our environments evolve. We need to get started now so that we can overcome our fear sooner rather than later and find a more fulfilling life.

In my book, I outline the role that our personal narrative plays in shaping our emotions and our lives. We need to make our personal narratives explicit (they are implicit for most of us) and then find ways to evolve our personal narratives so that they begin to focus on opportunities that are truly exciting to us. As I indicated in my previous blog post and in my book, I have a very different definition of narrative than most people do, so that’s key to understand.

And sooner rather than later, we need to find a small group of people (not more than 15 in total) who share our desire to move beyond fear and who will both support us in our efforts as well as challenge us to have even more impact.

The key is to move beyond conversation and focus on action that will help us to connect with the opportunity that excites us the most and learn more as we go.

As we begin to focus on the opportunity that excites us the most, we also need to take steps wherever possible to evolve our personal and work environments so that they support us in our quest to address the exciting opportunity.

My passion

As I share in my book, my passion of the explorer focuses on the opportunity to help people make the journey beyond fear and to develop platforms that will help to deepen their excitement, accelerate their learning and connect with more and more people who share their passion.

That effort starts with this book, but it doesn’t stop there. My intention is to set up a new Center that will offer programs based on the book and support people over the long-term in their journey beyond fear. I’ve started to develop some pilot programs on this front, but I’m still at a very early stage in determining how to best support people in their journey. I will learn as I go and I seek help from others who see what an exciting opportunity this is. If you’re interested in learning more about this initiative and perhaps interested in helping me in this effort, please sign up here for updates.

Bottom line

The passion of the explorer is something that we all have within us, waiting to be discovered and nurtured. If we want to make the journey beyond fear, we need to make the effort to find that passion and pursue it, not just on nights and weekends, but in our day jobs. It will help us to turn a world of mounting performance pressure into a world of exponentially expanding opportunity.

I invite you to join me on this journey – it’s an exciting one that will help all of us to achieve more and more impact that is meaningful to us.


  • 0

Narratives Shape Our Emotions

Category:Collaboration,Community,Emotions,Fear,Growth,Movements,Narratives,Opportunity,Passion,Potential

My new book, The Journey Beyond Fear, that will be released on May 25 suggests there’s a significant untapped opportunity to be addressed with narratives. It explores the role that narratives can play in helping us to move beyond fear and cultivate emotions that will help us to achieve more impact that’s meaningful to us.

But, to address that opportunity, we need to embrace a very different definition of narratives. And we need to craft narratives at multiple levels – for individuals, institutions, geographies and movements. We can make progress at each level, but it’s only when we find ways to align narratives across all these levels that we will unleash the full opportunity.

What is a narrative?

Most people view narratives and stories as synonymous – they mean the same thing. I believe there’s an important distinction that can and should be made. Stories are self-contained – they have a beginning, middle and end. Also, stories are about the story-teller or some other people, real or imagined, but they are not about you in the audience.

In contrast, the way I define narratives, they’re open-ended. There is no resolution yet. There’s some kind of big threat or opportunity out in the future and it’s not yet clear whether it will be addressed. The resolution of the narrative hinges on you – the people being addressed by the narrative. Your choices and actions will help to determine how the narrative plays out.

Why are narratives so powerful?

By looking out into the future, narratives can play a powerful role in shaping our emotions and actions today. Threat-based narratives feed our fear. Opportunity-based narratives, in contrast, help to cultivate hope and excitement about the future and motivate us seek out the opportunity. The most powerful opportunity-based narratives become catalysts for finding and drawing out our passion of the explorer. As I discuss in my new book, the passion of the explorer ultimately holds the key to helping us turn mounting performance pressure into exponentially expanding opportunity. We need to do whatever we can to unleash that passion and to pursue it.

Narratives also are powerful because they are a call to action to others, so they bring people together. If it’s a threat-based narrative, it brings people together in fear, and amplifies the fear in each person. In contrast, opportunity-based narratives bring people together who share excitement about the opportunity ahead. Collective excitement draws out even more excitement, and we are encouraged to act even more boldly in our quest for the opportunity. That’s why I focused on narratives as one of three promising pillars that can help us to make the journey beyond fear.

In a world that is increasingly enveloped in fear, we need to become much more active in crafting opportunity-based narratives that will help us to move beyond fear.

Personal narratives. Narratives can be crafted at multiple levels, starting with each of us as individuals. Personal narratives are about our view of our future and they are about our call to action to others. We all have personal narratives that are shaping our lives, but few of us have made the effort to articulate this narrative, much less to evolve it so that we can have even more impact.

To address the untapped opportunity of personal narratives, we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions:

  • Is our view of the future primarily about threat or opportunity?
  • Are we really focused on an opportunity that is the most exciting for us?
  • Are we calling others to join us in addressing this exciting opportunity?

In my book, I share how my own personal narrative has evolved and how it has helped me to move beyond fear. We all have a need to do this.

Institutional narratives. Beyond personal narratives, institutional narratives also represent an untapped opportunity. Few institutions at this point have crafted a compelling narrative. The key in these narratives is to focus on framing a really big, inspiring opportunity that is meaningful to the customers or other stakeholders of the institution – it requires expanding horizons beyond opportunities for the institutions and focusing on opportunities for others. And it also includes a call to action to these customers or other stakeholders – what actions will they need to take that will be most helpful in addressing the opportunity?

One example of the power of an institutional narrative is provided by Apple back in the 1990’s. It condensed the narrative into the slogan “Think different.” The narrative indicated that digital technology in the past had taken away our names and given us numbers and made us cogs in a machine. Now, for the first time, there was a generation of technology that could enable us to express our unique potential and individuality in the future. But it wouldn’t happen automatically – we needed to think different. That was the call to action.

Institutional narratives, properly framed, can draw out significant excitement from customers and other stakeholders and pull more and more people in to address the opportunity. At a time when we all have a hunger for hope and excitement, this can become a catalyst for those emotions.

Geographical narratives. Moving up the stack, there’s another level of narratives – narratives for cities, regions and even countries. I’ve lived in Silicon Valley for over 40 years and I’ve come to believe that a key to its continuing success has been a geographical narrative that focused on the opportunity to change the world by harnessing the exponential improvement in digital technology. It has been such an inspiring opportunity that it has drawn people from all over the world to Silicon Valley. Few people realize that the majority of successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley were not born in the U.S., much less Silicon Valley itself. It’s a key reason why Silicon Valley sustains a culture of optimism – everyone is excited by the opportunity.

My book looks at the role of geographical narratives in helping to build the growth and prosperity of cities, regions and countries around the world. Unfortunately, again, these opportunity-based narratives are few and far between.

Movement narratives. But there’s more. I’ve studied movements for social change throughout history and in many different parts of the world. Despite significant diversity in these movements, the most successful movements have one thing in common. You guessed it! Opportunity-based narratives.

The classic example is provided by Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC. These narratives focus on the amazing and wonderful things that can be accomplished if we all come together and act together to address new opportunities. Yes, they certainly acknowledge the challenges and obstacles along the way, but the focus is on a really big and inspiring opportunity. That motivates people to come together and act now because now they are tapping into hope and excitement that enables them to move beyond fear.

My book explores the potential that current movements have to achieve much greater impact by crafting more inspiring opportunity-based narratives.

Bottom line

We all need to focus on crafting and evolving narratives that can help us to move beyond fear and cultivate emotions of hope and excitement – and ultimately unleash the passion of the explorer that exists within all of us, waiting to be drawn out and nurtured. If we make this effort, we will tap into exponentially expanding opportunity.

But, there’s a challenge. If the narratives at all the levels I’ve covered are not aligned, we’ll limit our potential for impact. If we’re able to evolve a more compelling personal opportunity-based narrative, but we work in institutions that are driven by threat-based narratives and we live in geographies that are driven by threat-based narratives, the fear of others around us will limit our ability to achieve more of our potential.

What we need are movements driven by opportunity-based narratives that can become catalysts for the profound changes we need in all of our institutions and our communities. If we all come together around opportunity-based narratives, the sky’s the limit in terms of what we can achieve.

The book

There’s a lot more to explore on this topic in my book, The Journey Beyond Fear. In addition to narratives, there are two more pillars that can help us on that journey – the passion of the explorer and learning platforms. But that book is just the beginning – once you’ve read it, reach out and connect with me so that we can continue the journey together.

I’ve scheduled some virtual (and free) launch events next week that will help to introduce some key themes in the book.

My first launch event on May 25th will be with Jean Houston and will explore how we can achieve more and more of our potential when we cultivate emotions of hope and excitement. You can register for this event here.

My second launch event on May 26th will be with Quentin Hardy and the focus of this event will be on the untapped opportunity in the business world to cultivate emotions that can lead to exponentially expanding opportunity. You can register for this event here.

My third launch event on May 26th will be with Dale Dougherty and here we will focus on how movements can significantly increase their impact by focusing on positive emotions, rather than playing to our fear. You can register for this event here.

I invite you to join me in any or all of these launch events to learn more about the ground that my book covers. I would also deeply welcome any and all help you might be able to provide in increasing awareness of this new book within your networks. I believe it’s very timely and very much needed by all as we strive to make a difference that matters.


  • 0

Support AND Challenge

Category:Collaboration,Connections,Emotions,Learning,Narratives,Opportunity,Passion,Trust

 

In our world of growing pressure, the question increasingly becomes: are you going to support me or are you going to challenge me? Which is it? Well, my answer is that it’s both – it has to be both.

In our Big Shift world, we need to come together in order to move from mounting performance pressure to exponentially expanding opportunity. But, let me hasten to add, that coming together doesn’t just mean to support each other. We’ll also need to find ways to challenge each other – deeply and continuously.

We all need support

In these difficult times, we hear a lot about the need to collaborate, whether it’s coming together in small teams or building broader networks of collaboration to access a diverse set of expertise and resources. While the calls for collaboration differ a lot in their focus, most of them seem to emphasizie the need to come together to support each other.

This is essential in our challenging world. If we continue to try to do it all by ourselves, we’ll find ourselves increasingly isolated and vulnerable to fear as we become overwhelmed by the challenges ahead. No matter how smart any of us are, we’ll learn a lot faster if we come together, especially if we come together with others who bring diverse expertise and backgrounds to the situation at hand.

We can all use the support of others. But it’s not just about ideas and expertise. It’s about emotions. These are scary times. We crave the emotional support of others, especially when we run into unexpected roadblocks or failures along the way. We need others to be there for us and reassure us that our efforts are not in vain and we should not give in to the fear that we’ll sink when we’re trying to swim in choppy waters.

Challenging to support

So, support becomes essential to avoid surrender and provide us with the motivation to continue swimming. But, support alone isn’t enough. If we’re going to move beyond mounting performance pressure and finally find ways to harness exponentially expanding opportunity, we also need to be challenged. We need others to constantly challenge us to aim higher and expand the impact that we are seeking.

But, wait a minute – isn’t challenging the opposite of support? If you’re challenging someone, aren’t you trying to put them down?

Well, here’s the paradox. Successful collaboration in the Big Shift world requires both support and challenge. In fact, the most powerful way to support someone in this rapidly changing world is to challenge them to achieve even greater impact. If we’re not constantly seeking to accelerate our performance improvement, we’ll quickly find ourselves marginalized and certainly not in a position to target exponentially expanding opportunity.

But challenging in the context of collaboration isn’t easy. It requires a shared commitment to achieve growing impact in an area of significant opportunity. If all the participants share that commitment, they won’t just welcome challenges, they’ll seek them out. They’ll recognize that challenges to existing approaches will help them to develop new approaches that can deliver even more impact. They’ll realize that they’re not being challenged to be put down, but instead because others are excited, as they are, about the potential for even more impact.

In my research, I’ve identified this kind of challenging to achieve better and better outcomes as productive friction. In the scalable efficiency institutions that dominate our world today, friction is viewed as bad. We need to eliminate it wherever it surfaces so that we can perform our activities faster and cheaper. In the Big Shift world, friction in the form of challenging each other is not only OK, it’s essential to accelerate performance improvement. But the friction has to be productive and that requires mutual respect, shaped by a shared commitment to achieve better and better outcomes.

The broader context

So, what’s required to build that kind of shared commitment? Well, those who have been following me know my answer – the passion of the explorer. It’s a very specific form of passion that I’ve identified in my research and written about extensively, including here and here.

People who have this kind of passion are committed to achieving increasing impact in a specific domain that is usually fairly broadly defined, like wellness, manufacturing or gardening. No matter how successful they have been in the past in their chosen domain, people with this passion are driven to find ways to achieve even greater impact. They are constantly asking for help from others as they try to take their impact to the next level and they are excited by challenges.

And, how does one cultivate this passion of the explorer? There are many paths to this form of passion but one powerful catalyst is a specific form of narrative – opportunity-based narratives. Once again, I’ve written about this extensively, including here and here. I draw an important distinction between stories and narratives. From my perspective, opportunity-based narratives are about a big and inspiring opportunity out in the future that will only be achieved if people come together and act together to address the opportunity – it’s a powerful call to action.

People who are inspired by the opportunity will often find the passion of the explorer surfacing within them. They will be inspired to come together and support and challenge each other to achieve greater impact in their efforts to address the opportunity.

Coming together to accelerate learning

People who develop this form of passion tend to come together in small groups – I call them impact groups. These groups usually have somewhere between 3-15 participants. They find that, if the groups grow any larger, the deep, trust-based relationships required to learn faster together begin to weaken. As the number of participants expands, they will spin out other impact groups.

These impact groups are focused on action and impact; they’re not just discussion groups talking about ideas. They’re relentlessly focused on taking action and then assessing the impact that has been achieved from that action. Their goal is learn together through action so that they can have more and more impact over time.

It’s within this context that participants both support and challenge each other. They recognize that they are venturing out into new frontiers that have not yet been explored and that there are lot of risks along the way. They’re there for each other when someone stumbles along the way. But they’re also constantly seeking a better approach to make even more progress towards the bigger opportunity ahead. They are challenging each other to find a better way.

Scaling impact

When I talk about impact groups, people often become concerned that the potential for impact becomes very limited because each group must remain relatively small in terms of the number of participants. While understandable, that concern is not warranted. Impact groups can connect with each other into broader networks that enable more and more participants to reach out and learn from each other. The platforms required to do this are still relatively early stage in their development, but there’s a significant untapped opportunity for learning platforms to scale the impact of these groups.

In fact, these learning platforms will harness two levels of network effects. There’s the basic network effect that emerges simply from the growing number of groups and participants in those groups as they find ways to connect on the same platform. But there’s an even more powerful form of network effect that comes from the opportunity to accelerate learning and performance improvement as more and more participants are motivated to learn together. It’s this second form of network effect that will ultimately enable participants to address exponentially expanding opportunities.

Bottom line

If we’re serious about moving beyond mounting performance pressure to address exponentially expanding opportunity, we’ll need to collaborate, but collaboration isn’t just about supporting each other. Collaboration in a rapidly changing world requires a willingness and eagerness to challenge each other. The paradox is that the most effective way to support each other in a rapidly changing world is to challenge each other. It’s not choosing to support or challenge – it’s recognizing that one cannot exist without the other.

The best way to do that is to cultivate the passion of the explorer among participants in small groups. And the best way to cultivate the passion of the explorer and draw people together is by framing an inspiring opportunity-based narrative.


  • 2

Leveraging Longevity: Evolve Your Narrative

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Emotions,Narratives,Passion

I am a contrarian. At a time when we are wrestling around the world with a pandemic that seems to keep coming back for more, I want to focus on some of the long-term trends that will be shaping our lives in the decades ahead and creating expanding opportunity. Now, more than ever, we should address that opportunity, even though it may seem a bit counter-intuitive.

One long-term trend that we should not ignore is that, even with pandemics, the average life span of people around the world is likely to continue to extend significantly. This presents both challenges and opportunities.

The Boomer opportunity

For many people, a longer life comes as a surprise. To the extent they have saved money along the way, they may find that they have not saved enough – they didn’t expect to live that long. At the same time, many are now seeing that there’s an opportunity to define a whole new chapter in their life – a chapter where they can aspire to having an impact that is much more meaningful to them and to others.

There’s a significant shift within the Boomer generation in the United States. In the past, the assumption was that someone would retire and then go out and golf or play bridge for a few years until the Grim Reaper would come and take them away.

Now, fewer and fewer Boomers are willing to embrace that path. They’re viewing retirement as an opportunity to step back and reflect on what really matters to them and find ways to make a difference that matters. In this context, I highly recommend the book “Disrupt Aging” by Jo Ann Jenkins, the CEO of the AARP.

For many, they are continuing to work and earn money, but they are shifting to work that excites them and motivates them to have an impact. Often, they are taking a hobby that really has excited them throughout their life like wood-working or gardening and finding a way to make a living from it. In other cases, they are dedicating more time to community initiatives that are meaningful to them.

Some fortunate Boomers already know what really excites them, but my research indicates that is a very small number. The challenge is that this generation grew up in a world where the key message was to go find a job that could earn a decent living. It was all about income and status in the community. The message was, if you have a passion or are really excited about something, pursue that in your leisure time, but don’t let it distract you from doing what’s necessary to advance in your chosen career.  And, if you don’t have a passion, that’s fine – very few people are capable of passion and it’s often a distraction from making a good living.

So, many Boomers are now facing the challenge and opportunity of finding out what really excites them. How do they do that? Well, that’s a key focus of my new book, The Journey Beyond Fear. It won’t be published until May, but I can give you some hints regarding approaches that have been helpful for me and others whom I’ve worked with.

The role of personal narrative

One approach is to make an effort to articulate and reflect on the personal narrative that is shaping your choices and actions today. As I’ve written about here, here, and here, I have a very different view of narrative than most. In this context, it involves looking ahead and determining whether your view of the future is shaped by threat or opportunity. If it’s an opportunity that really inspires and excites you, what is that opportunity and why do you find it so exciting?

Many people find that articulating their personal narrative is an eye-opener. More and more of us are driven by a view of a significant threat out in the future – e.g., loss of income, erosion of cultural values, or illness. We’re driven by fear.

Articulating our personal narrative can become a catalyst to begin the search for opportunities that really excite and inspire us.

This search can lead to discovering for the first time the passion of the explorer that lies within all of us, waiting to be found and drawn out. Again, I have a very specific view of passion that I’ve written about here and here. I’ve come to believe that the passion of the explorer is key to motivate us to have increasing impact in an area that is truly meaningful to us. And I’ve also come to believe that we’ll have much more impact if we can find ways to integrate our passion with the work that helps us to earn a living.

OK, I can hear the skeptics among us saying that this is all a hopeless fantasy. Even if we could discover our passion, we could never make a living from it. Well, but that’s what’s so interesting about the Boomers. Many of them (but certainly not all) have accumulated savings and have the ability to pursue something that, at least in its early stages, may not generate significant revenue.

Fragmentation expands opportunity

But this is where another long-term trend comes into play that I believe will help more and more Boomers to find and pursue something that is really meaningful to them and to others. Many years ago, I led a research effort looking at fragmentation and concentration trends in the global economy – the primary research report can be accessed here.

Long story short, we found that a significant part of the economy is fragmenting over time. What’s fragmenting are product and service businesses. It started in digital product businesses like videos, music and software, but this fragmentation trend is increasingly spreading into physical product businesses like craft beer and craft chocolate.

There are many forces at work driving this trend. It starts with the increasing desire of customers for products and services that are tailored to their specific needs and that will evolve quickly as their needs evolve. Customers are less and less willing to settle for highly standardized, mass market products.

On the supply side, the fragmentation of these businesses is supported by the increasing availability of scale intensive resources that significantly reduce the cost of entering and building a business. Think about it. If it’s a physical product, we can find a contract manufacturer to produce the product. We can rely on massive logistics networks to get the product from the factory to the customer. We can use online market platforms to find and connect with relevant customers, wherever they are in the world.

We actually need less and less investment to get started in these product and service businesses. Now, because of fragmentation, these businesses are unlikely to become massive, global corporations, but they can certainly provide a comfortable living for a small number of people who come together to build and operate the business.

And this is what more and more Boomers are discovering. As they evolve a personal narrative that is focused on an opportunity that is exciting and meaningful to them and to others, they can begin to build a business to address that opportunity and draw out the passion of the explorer. Now, that expanding life span becomes energizing, rather than intimidating – it’s an opportunity to find a way to make a difference that’s rewarding for everyone involved. It helps to motivate Boomers to invest the time and effort to articulate and evolve a personal narrative and, in the process, to discover that long hidden passion of the explorer.

And, yes, we need to acknowledge that the pandemic period can be very challenging for starting a new business, especially if it involves personal contact with customers, given widespread restrictions on business activity. Nevertheless, this is the window that Boomers can use to gain clarity around the opportunity that excites them and begin to prepare for the launch of a business when the restrictions ease.

Also, I have been talking about the opportunity in terms of a business, but the opportunity could take many different forms, including charities, local community initiatives to strengthen the community or much broader movements to drive significant change. While I haven’t done specific research on these other approaches to impact (except for movements), I believe that many of the forces that are making it easier to start new product and service businesses will also make it easier to launch other, non-commercial initiatives.

A growing number of people, including Chip Conley, with his Modern Elder Academy, and Marc Freedman, with his Encore.org initiative, are recognizing the growing desire of Boomers to find ways to have meaningful impact and mobilizing to support them on their journey.

Beyond the Boomers – an opportunity for everyone

So far, I’ve been talking about this in terms of Boomers and the opportunity created by longer life spans. But, if we focus on the other trend of fragmentation of product and service businesses, we can begin to see how this applies to all of us, regardless of our current age. Wherever we are in our life’s journey, we now have more and more opportunity to pursue work that’s exciting and meaningful, and not just a source of income.

But the key is to make the effort to reflect on what is most exciting and meaningful to us. There’s now a significant incentive to do this.

And crises like the pandemic can also become a catalyst. I’m struck by the number of people I’ve talked to who have told me that the pandemic has caused them to step back and take the time to reflect on what really matters to them. Many of them have been quite disappointed to discover that most of their time is being spent on things that do not matter to them, often because they were driven by a sense of fear that pre-dated the pandemic. But now they’re on a quest to change that.

The pandemic is just one manifestation of the much broader trend towards mounting performance pressure in our global economy. Fear is a natural human reaction to a world of mounting performance pressure. But here’s the thing. We’ll be much better able to respond to the growing pressure if we can find something that excites and motivates us, rather than just pushing forward on a path that has little meaning.

And the paradox is that the same forces that are generating mounting performance pressure are also creating expanding opportunity. But we need to find ways to discover and focus on the opportunities that are most meaningful to us if we are going to overcome the pressure.

This applies to all of us, including those who are marginalized in our communities and struggling to stay alive, much less earn a decent living. We need to mobilize to create environments that will help all of us to find the motivation and resources to achieve impact that matters.

Bottom line

Long-term forces are making it more and more important for us to step back and reflect on our personal narrative so that we can focus more effectively on emerging opportunities that can help us achieve more meaningful impact. By framing these opportunities, we can draw out the passion of the explorer that will help us to address growing pressure and connect with others on the rewarding journey that awaits us. The pandemic is a significant near-term obstacle to be overcome, but it can become a catalyst for action if we stay focused on the opportunities ahead.

<For those who are interested in learning more about how to articulate, reflect on, and evolve your personal narrative to achieve more meaningful impact, check out some of the online courses that I offer here.>


  • 1

From Shareholder to Stakeholder Market Economies

Category:Collaboration,Community,Connections,Context,Institutional Innovation,Learning,Opportunity,Passion,Potential,Trust

What better day than Labor Day in the U.S. to address the growing discussion about shareholders and stakeholders in market economies?

In recent years, there’s been more and more discussion about the need to expand corporate horizons beyond just serving shareholders to serving a broader range of “stakeholders.” While at one level this is long overdue, I fear the need is being expressed too narrowly.

It’s often framed as a choice – do we serve shareholders or serve other stakeholders, like employees, customers, business partners and community members? I’d like to suggest that it’s not an either/or choice but a both/and. Given the way the world is changing, the best way to generate expanding returns for shareholders is to find more creative ways of serving the evolving needs of all stakeholders. Those who continue to focus narrowly on shareholder interests will be increasingly marginalized and prove to be a deep disappointment to their shareholders.

Why is this true? Let’s look at how the world is changing, building on some of the perspectives that I outlined in my book The Power of Pull.

Diminishing returns from current approaches

For over a century, we’ve lived in a global industrial economy where the key to economic success was achieving economies of scale in asset intensive businesses. Those asset intensive businesses required massive investment and shareholders were increasingly demanding short-term returns on their investments.

This led to the emergence and growth of the scalable efficiency institutional model that has ruled the business world. The key to economic success was to become more and more efficient at scale, with a relentless focus on cost reduction and delivering short-term quarterly returns to shareholders.

But here’s the problem. The world is changing. What was efficient and successful in the past is becoming less and less successful over time. Need some evidence for this assertion? Check out the work I have done on return on asset trends for all public companies in the US. It turns out that from 1965 until today, return on assets for all public companies has declined by 75%, it has been a long and sustained erosion. (I know the link I provided only showed results up to 2015 but we have recently updated this to 2019 – the trend continues, and I will be writing more about this soon.)

Now, I will point out that return on assets is not the same as return to shareholders. It turns out that over this time, return to shareholders has also declined, but the decline has been cushioned by a series of financial engineering measures designed to serve the needs of shareholders – adding debt to the balance sheet, and increasing dividends and stock buybacks. Companies are remaining focused on serving the shareholder, but this is not a sustainable approach in a world of decreasing return on assets. There’s only so much debt that can be added to the balance sheet and less cash available to increase dividends and stock buybacks.

The scalable efficiency model

This erosion in return on assets is particularly ironic because we increasingly live in a global economy where much more value can be created with far less resources and far more quickly than was ever imaginable a few decades ago. What’s preventing us from harnessing this opportunity? It’s the scalable efficiency model.

Scalable efficiency encourages us to squeeze all other stakeholders in our never-ending quest to become more efficient. Employees? Keep their salaries as low as possible while increasing their production quotas. Business partners? Seek to get as much from them while paying them as little as possible. Customers? Raise your prices wherever possible and find ways to lower the production costs, even if quality may suffer. Community members? They’re a distraction – stay focused on the means of production.

But here’s the problem. Scalable efficiency is a diminishing returns proposition. The more efficient we become, the longer and harder we have to work to get the next increment of efficiency. The paradox is that, the more we focus on delivering short-term returns to shareholders through scalable efficiency, the lower those returns will be over time.

This approach diverts our attention from the opportunity to create more value – all our attention is focused on cutting costs. In a world of exponentially expanding opportunity, that’s a big loss. Here’s another paradox: the more we focus on delivering exponentially expanding value to shareholders, the more we will need to commit to address the needs of all stakeholders. Why is that?

Addressing the context of all stakeholders

Value depends on a deep understanding of context – the context of all stakeholders. It’s a key reason that I’ve suggested we’re moving from the Industrial Age to the Contextual Age.

It starts with the customer. Customers are becoming more and more powerful and increasingly insisting on products and services that are tailored to their specific and rapidly evolving needs. Understanding and anticipating those needs requires a rich understanding of the context of our customers. The most successful companies will be those who don’t just wait for customers to tell them what they need, but who instead invest the time and effort to anticipate those needs – and who understand the needs that are most fundamental and rapidly expanding.

But, that’s just the beginning. The companies that will be most successful will harness the potential for expanding leverage – creating more much more value with far less resources of their own. They will deliver much greater returns to shareholders. But the focus on leverage requires a deep understanding of the context of an expanding array of potential business partners. Understanding the context of business partners helps to identify their needs and what would motivate them to devote more time and effort to delivering more value to you and your customers. You will be much more successful in harnessing the power of pull and expanding your ecosystem of business partners if you understand and serve their needs.

And, of course, there are your employees. In a rapidly changing world, it has become a truism that employees are going to have to commit to lifelong learning. The learning that is most valuable is learning in the form of creating new knowledge through action together with others. The institutions that succeed in the future will be those who make the journey from scalable efficiency to scalable learning.

But few people are asking what’s the motivation to learn. The unstated assumption is that it’s fear – if you don’t learn faster, you’ll lose your job. While fear can motivate some learning, it’s a very limited motivator, especially when the learning involves risk-taking and working closely with others. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, the passion of the explorer is a much more powerful motivator for learning.

The challenge is that very few workers today have that kind of passion for their work, as some of my recent research demonstrated. If we are really committed to cultivating that passion in our workforce, we need to develop a much deeper understanding of the personal context of our employees and what kind of impact has the most value and meaning for them. If we’re not addressing this value and meaning for our employees, we will not be successful in motivating them to learn faster and find ways to deliver more and more value to their colleagues, business partners and customers. We will not pull out of them more and more of their potential.

And, if we’re serious about serving the needs and delivering more and more value to our customers, business partners and employees, that inevitably leads to addressing another set of stakeholders – members of the communities we live and operate in. Our communities are a key element of the context for all of our stakeholders. If our communities are not thriving, then our other stakeholders will find it much more challenging to achieve the potential and impact that is most meaningful to them. The companies that understand the needs of their communities and actively contribute to their flourishing will be much more successful in creating value for their other stakeholders.

Bottom line

To harness the exponentially expanding opportunities that are emerging in our Big Shift world, we need to become much more aggressive in creating and delivering value for all our stakeholders. Shareholders will receive far more value from companies that find ways to expand leverage and accelerate learning. Those are the companies that will create much more value with far less resources and far more quickly than other companies. But leverage and learning require a deep commitment to all stakeholders – understanding their context and the value that is most meaningful to them and committing to deliver value to them. By addressing the needs of all stakeholders, companies will unleash the network effects that can create exponentially expanding value for shareholders, and for all stakeholders.


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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