As 2009 comes to an end, the sentiment that most immediately comes to mind is good riddance to what Time magazine dubbed the “decade from hell.” Many Americans are suffering as a result of bad management, fraud and misguided policy – particularly in the financial sector.But let’s remember that even painful change is the precursor of opportunity. Rather than wait for a new era, we must take an honest look and find ways to benefit from the incredible opportunities obscured amid the turmoil and wreckage.
Each of us has a rare chance to help define what will be; and the only constraint, beyond our financial situation, is our capacity to imagine. With this perspective, I share my optimism about the year and decade ahead while telling you about an unprecedented project that harnesses the expertise of people like you around the world.
Yes, the world has changed dramatically since 2000. Consider the industries that are now in flux: energy, health care, transportation, technology, and education. Not-for-profits have been decimated, just when the need for social services and support are ramping up. Even individuals with good incomes are less able to give. Throughout all of this, heavily indebted governments are falling behind on critical needs that were already neglected.
Now consider the advantages to the individual. We have unrivaled global access to information, combined with a transparency that never existed before. We have an ability to make intelligent choices as consumers, investors, entrepreneurs, and global citizens that our parents never even dreamed of. Ready or not, we are all now self-managers who can be as entrepreneurial in our outlook as we choose.
Our world is connected in ways never before seen. Even large companies need each other more than ever. AT&T’s dependence on Apple’s iPhone overshadows its dependency on its own products. The old-line media companies rely on Google for ad revenue. With the technology for borderless commerce, small companies can connect with customers globally without the conventional intermediaries. Governments and regions are reliant on one another for economic stability. We’re seeing the positive and negative of the rise of Chimerica – a term coined by Niall Ferguson to denote the United States and China. America buys Chinese products; China lends us back the money. That relationship makes a military war unlikely, but a trade war may have already begun.
Finally, the connections among individuals have changed dramatically as well. As knowledge workers, we are more specialized and thus more reliant on the expertise of others outside our specialty, thus amplifying the need to be part of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. At the same time, as information-empowered people and micro-businesses, we are less dependent on conventional “outside” experts and organizations.
|The world today is so different from the one at the beginning of the 21st century that sometimes it is dizzying. And certainly we are prompted to re-visit our assumptions: § Is Austria, a country I have always thought of as closed-minded, set to be more innovative than America? They have free day-care for all two-career families.§ Is unemployment really up if I measure it using a global metric? Or should I think of the 16 to 24 year olds in Spain where unemployment for the group nears 43%?§ Will the next generation ever again have the opportunity to earn more than their parents?§ What is too big to fail today? Might it be every SMALL business?
Here in America, I think we have a unique challenge relative to a number of other countries that are more accustomed to the dynamics of rapid change and lack a long history of global dominance. Jim Collins tells the story of a Brazilian friend, who grew up with monthly inflation of 30%. Some days it was cheaper to take a taxi than a bus because the bus fare was paid up front. What we construe as today’s disruptions and discontinuities, they view as relative stability and opportunity, not chaos. My friends from China have experienced extreme, rapid change for the past 25 years and find relief when visiting what they view as a slow-moving, unchanging New York City. Back at home, their GPS is unreliable because streetscapes are changing so quickly.
Not only are we uncomfortable with this ongoing economic roller coaster, we Americans are challenged by the very real threat to our long-standing position as the biggest, most dominant economy on the planet. Russia’s GDP is only 4% of ours, but economists are projecting that China’s will pass ours by 2027, and India’s will pass us by 2031. This new reality brings into question how we think about democracies. Our democracy gives us freedom of expression and quality of life, but it also lets interest groups delay stem cell research and other innovations for years. Our two-party system has degenerated into partisan agendas that constantly delay vital innovations and entrepreneurial support. Meanwhile, Korea, China, and India are eclipsing us in energy development, scientific research, and industrial policy.
Whether we are self-managing knowledge workers in a large institution, small business owners/entrepreneurs, or CEOs of our own careers, we all have greater freedom thanks to access to information and the reality of borderless commerce. We can do many things without third-parties, and often without leaving the house. This is both reassuring and daunting, liberating and imprisoning. Collaboration is the linchpin of our interconnected Lego world. So, let’s stop being spectators to our future and instead create it.
From my long-time consulting and advisory work to management spanning many countries and the public and private sectors and my more recent work with Peter Drucker, I have become convinced that management effectiveness is the key to a proactive, smooth transition to a sustainable future.
To paraphrase one of my favorite Drucker quotes, our responsibility is to balance change and continuity. If we have no change, we risk atrophying in our irrelevancy. If we have too much change, we risk losing ourselves in chaos. The debacle of the last decade was not due to malice. It was due to people enjoying their greater freedom while failing to step up to their responsibilities individually and collectively.
To meet our responsibilities head on, we need to be skilled at management effectiveness, not constrained by our tunnel-vision focus on ‘efficiency’, or quarterly profits. Management effectiveness means having the perspective and judgment to be more right than wrong, to leverage the power of people and their creativity throughout the repeating cycle of vision, execution, and outcome.Management effectiveness requires synthesizing information from all sources, challenging and enhancing conventional wisdom, learning from mistakes, and balancing multiple, often competing, objectives in a manner that enhances individuals and society.