Turbulence. We know the feeling: it starts out with a little shaking. The captain switches on the seatbelt sign, and just as you’re about to click the belt buckle in place, the plane hits an air pocket and it feels as if the bottom of the plane is going to fall out. Then, a few seconds later, the plane stabilizes and your stomach returns to its usual anatomical position. …
This experience of turbulence is akin to what we are experiencing in the face of the Global Economic Meltdown – we are feeling like the bottoms of our businesses are falling out. In fact, the last few months have created levels of uncertainty we’ve never experienced before. We’ve gone through periods of economic downturn before, but there’s a unique quality to the current meltdown: magnitude. The magnitude of this trend is bigger than anyone anticipated, and it continues to grow.
Uncertainty goes against all that we find comfortable as humans, and as managers. How do we manage during these times? It is clear that our traditional models, methods and approaches are being found wanting. Many leaders would say that the overall prerogative of managers today is to keep the business afloat: kick into survival mode and make sure the “bottom does not fall out” amidst this world-threatening turbulence. We would do this by “going back to business basics” so to speak. Cost cutting, retrenchments, restructuring and in general, creating a lean organization (doing more with less) seems to be the most intuitive response to surviving the meltdown.
Gordon Institute of Business (GIBS) head, Professor Nick Binedell, is quoted as saying, “Clearly times are now different and many sectors, although not all, are facing contracting markets. Contracting markets inevitably lead to a rise in competitiveness as companies battle for market share … [we need] to tackle this challenge head on by providing a series of highly relevant programmes that have this tougher, leaner business in mind.”
The brave new world that is upon us has very different rules – in fact, we’re not even sure what those rules are yet. It is because of this that business leaders should see the uncertainty and complexity they face not as a liability, but as an opportunity: an opportunity to discover a radically new way of doing things and radically new ways of doing more with their current resources. The business of today (the new emerging world) needs to learn how to harness this complexity, not eliminate it. The uncertainty we face when dealing with complexity is seen as a threat – to us this is not the truth … it could be an asset for the business wanting to do more than just survive this bout of turbulence.
We now need to adapt to the current storm to stay in the air, but the question we should be asking ourselves is: how do we adapt, and what is the extent of the adaptation necessary in creating a new business? So, the prerogative of today’s leaders and managers is to make sure their organizations adapt effectively to the economic meltdown and thrive in the new conditions.
We believe that the a good metaphor for this change is that leaders need to recognise that not everything is predictable, and for them to thrive in the new economy they need to shift their mindsets from being like builders, constructing rigid structures according to a fixed plan, to being more like gardeners creating resilient ecologies according to adaptable strategies.
What does a gardening metaphor have to do with managing people and running a business you may wonder? And, how does seeing myself as a gardener help me tackle this economic meltdown? You see, a successful gardener has some fine tuned skills at managing multiple drivers and processes, with an efficiency and economy of intervention that culminates in a flourishing system. Ecologies are also very sensitive, much like the current situation we find ourselves in. However, there are some unique mindsets and approaches a “manager of ecologies” can draw on that will help your business adapt effectively in these times.
We will unpack this concept in a series of blogs over the coming weeks.
This blog is based on Thrive!, a product offered by The Narrative Lab to empower leaders to adopt the necessary mindsets to thrive in the new economy. Contact us for more information or stimulating discussion over coffee.