Scholars of social movements and also of all forms of radicalization processes agree that, quite constantly, there seems to be a threshold from which a particular development seems inevitable. It is like a point of collective massive groupthink, now a days shaped by social media and ubiquitous real time communications, which says: the revolution is already happening, there is no turning point, look out, don’t you see? Join in. So people do. Factually, this may or may not be true, but what matters is that there is a belief that it is, and it is confirmed in your television screen. Or via a massive hashtag.
That sense of inevitability easily drives more and more people towards a serious critical mass, which is then the real basis for inevitability. It is a marriage between ‘Self-fulfilling Prophecy’ and ‘Bandwagon Effect’.
What we see in the macro-social arena, has a mirror in the micro-social world of the organization. Leaders need to be aware of this. It is sometimes not what is happening (or not yet) but what people believe that it is inevitable that will happen.
A typical situation is the one where a company grows in size, therefore in complexity. The bureaucracy risk, and disease, seems to be inevitable. People may now say that ‘we are more bureaucratic, mechanistic, entering into Big Company dinosaurian mode’. And they say this with the same inevitability of the macro-social world, which risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. But there is perhaps no cut in stone inevitability. There may even be no signs of becoming bureaucratic, mechanistic, or Big Company dinosaurian. What matters is not what it is, but what people believe it is, or will be.
These preconceived and expected scenarios are very powerful and could indeed take a life of their own. A merger that will fail, as all mergers do; a geographical and cultural expansion that will not cope with diversity; a growing R&D that will lose all flexibility; a selling of a family owned company that will kill the good atmosphere. These are all collective scripts in search of an author.
Leaders need to be aware of this phenomena and tackle this false inevitability at root level, before it is too late, and enough ‘critical mass of belief’ will dominate the airtime. At that point, the Inevitable Brigade would have won.
Managing the inevitable is a poor leadership capability. Before the evitable becomes inevitable the leader needs to step in. And grab the script.
The merger will be inevitably successful, our geographical and cultural expansion will inevitably enrich us in diversity; our growing R&D that will inevitably produce great things; the selling of the family owned company inevitably will keep will keep the good atmosphere.
Write the alternative script. Behave as if these were inevitable.