Steve Richards’ ‘The Rise of the Outsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost Its Way’ (2017), has prompted me to reflect on one of his many arguments and extend it to the corporate world.
Here is a paragraph where he refers to mainstream parties: ‘They may have ruled unchallenged for a decade, but they were not visionaries. They could brilliantly analyse the recent past and adapt their parties accordingly, but they could not see very far ahead”.
And that is precisely the problem behind ‘adaptation’, ‘flexibility’ and other apparent virtues of the enlightened corporate. For years we have been good at reacting, even reacting well, praising the survivors, the ‘doing OK’, the ones meeting the numbers. After all, what else do investors want better than predictability? That is the game.
What if this perfect feed-back-loop-super-adjusting-management could be an impediment to not seeing the future well?
Organizations must play with different futures and experiment all the time. And please, don’t tell me that we are all going to be uberized. This is not the kind of prediction I had in mind.Feed back, reaction to the customer and the market, is baseline survival. But this is ‘the incumbent strategy’ as put by Scott Miller and David Morey. Where is what they call ‘the insurgent strategy’? I don’t see many corporate willing to explore this.
Do we take our outsiders seriously? Do we know who they are? When I ask my clients, I get lots of comparisons with their own usual suspects, usual list of competitors, but few outsiders and potentially dangerous insurgents. Is this because ‘that list’ is defined by investors?
Recent world events demonstrate that ‘react’ and ‘adapt’ are now nothing extraordinary. Indeed you could argue that too much energy put on reacting and analysing the causes, the past, may produce a false sense of comfort, intellectually and managerially. And that, by doing so and congratulating ourselves, perhaps a bit exhausted in the effort, we could perhaps not see very far ahead.