There are three company directors on a train going to Scotland. One of them heads-up marketing, one is in Human Resources and the other is the Financial Director. Out the window they see a field in which there is a brown cow standing parallel to the train.
“Look”, says the Marketing Director, “the cows in Scotland are brown”. The HR Director replies, “No. There are cows in Scotland of which at least one is brown”. The Financial Director says, “No. There is a t least one cow in Scotland, of which one side appears to be brown”.
We all see differently – we process information differently even when presented with the same evidence. And the thing is we are often all ‘right’ yet our ‘rightness’ can also stand in the way of seeing what it is we really need to be seeing. Disruption is a little like this in that we fail to see how the disruption will play out in our industry or business. We have the information but because we are not looking at it in the right way we fail to see the big picture. Those with a financial or accounting background occupy the senior leadership position in most companies. It isn’t really a surprise as we have imbibed the Industrial Economy wisdom that states, ‘if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it’. We have got what we measure and this emphasis on measurement has meant finance has been the favoured route to the top.
The challenge is that in a world of exponential and unpredictable change, a world in which disruptive forces from beyond our field of vision can prove to be game-changers, a fixation on the numbers, on the analytics, can prove more of a hindrance than a help. The future simply refuses to conform to ‘the numbers’ and the way we have become accustomed to making strategic decisions, no longer works (well certainly not as well as it used to). I have often been in strategic conversations where the CEO has wanted some sort of numerical analysis that guarantees the future projections being discussed. There is a certain illogic to that and it is one that needs to be challenged and overturned if we are to learn how to navigate the future.
Leaders need to begin to think like futurists. You need to understand how the way you are seeing now might block your view of the future. Seeing through a different lens might well take some adjustment but this is the adjustment that will be required if you are to see the future with a sharper focus. Many of the corporate stories that tell the tale of demise and collapse are characterised by the failure to see the bigger picture.
So be careful how you see that cow in the field and don’t become one of those stories!