As we move through the first month of 2014, it has become clear that we continue to live and work in a VUCA environment, borrowing a term from the US military. With so many things being volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, we know we can neither predict nor govern most events. As Jim Collins and Morten Hansen pointed out in their book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, HarperCollins, 2011, “Given this rise of complexity, globalization, and technology, all of which are accelerating change and increase volatility we must come to accept that there is no “new normal.” There will only be a continuous series of “not normal” times.”
As leaders, we have important choices to make given the current environment. We can freak out and create fear through out our organizations or we can build “contextual intelligence,” namely the ability to accurately assess differences and similarities in perspectives about context across multiples sectors, and then translate this analysis into meaningful information for our circle of influence or organizations. When we create clarity about context, we create improved clarity before, during, and after people implement and cope with change. The result is an understanding of what and how to make change happen, but also an understanding of why it needs to take place. And it is the later than generates ownership of the action rather than simply effort to get the action done.
However, in many circles, we are witnessing leadership ADHD. One day “something new” is the savior of the month. Two weeks later, that “something new” is pronounced dead on arrival. Then, in two weeks or less “something new” is back in a “new and revised edition.”
To build contextual intelligence, Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen in the aforementioned book recommend the following: “10Xers [enterprises that beat their industry’s average by at least 10 times] zoom out, then zoom in. They focus on their objectives and sense changes in their environment; they push for perfect execution and adjust to changing conditions. When they sense danger, they immediately zoom out to consider how quickly a threat is approaching and whether it calls for a change in plans. Then they zoom in, refocusing their energies into executing objectives.”
This week and this month, practice improving your capacity to zoom out and then zoom in. It will require tremendous discipline but at the same time it will yield better decisions and more thoughtful actions.