Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Opposite of Talking

The Opposite of Talking


I just finished reading Daniel Pink’s latest book, To Sell Is Human. If you have not yet read it, I can highly recommend it. Like all Dan’s books, this is a very thought-provoking and perspective-changing book.

Ever since I read his first book, Free Agent Nation, in 2002, I have followed his work. Free Agent Nation describes with great accuracy the change in our workforce from employees tied to one company forever to independent agents moving from one company to another with ease and alacrity. What some saw as the demise of loyalty, Dan correctly identified as a tremendously creative force moving throughout the economy, allowing people to contribute to each project at their highest level of ability.

This theme, of each person contributing at his or her highest level of ability, permeates his next book, A Whole New Mind. In this work, Dan delineates the movement from moribund companies hiring large numbers of information workers to agile companies hiring smaller numbers of conceptual workers. Conceptual workers are those who can both understand the larger ideas, and have the ability to implement them.

Probably his most famous book to date, Drive, is about motivation in general, and what motivates the conceptual worker more specifically. Identifying conceptual workers, recruiting them, and helping companies create cultures that will motivate and retain them, has become the most important focus for a growing number of companies.

I have previously written much about Green Beret Leadership and conceptual workers. For software developers, the concept of Agile programming is familiar, and very similar. Late last year, an international group from Australia, The Netherlands, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States met to spend two days becoming certified in Dan Pink’s work. There are only 15 of us who are certified, all using one or more aspects of Dan’s work in helping organizations grow and flourish. With Dan’s latest contribution, we can now expand that work to include sales.

To Sell Is Human is a wonderful addition to Dan’s body of work. As always, he has done the social science research to turn our traditional thinking on its head. Sales is no longer a one-sided transaction where the sales person has the advantage of information. It is now a relationship of nearly-equal partners trying to find a solution.

In my Vistage peer group, we have been successfully using this concept for the past few years. My members’ customers expect them to share their knowledge about the future of their particular industry to assist the customer in his or her strategic decision-making process. In my group, we call it relieving customer anxiety. It has become a tremendous competitive advantage for companies that do it well.

To do it well, however, demands the skills and talents that Dan describes in To Sell Is Human. Empathy, service, and listening are all explained. Exercises are provided. Further resources are listed and recommended. As always, Dan’s style is crisp, interesting and fun. Don’t miss this book.

I will close with one of my favorite lines from the chapter on improvisation: For many of us, the opposite of talking isn't listening. It’s waiting.

Oh, how sad. Oh, how true!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Great Impostor


One of my Vistage members recently told me in a coaching session that he felt that he was the epitome of someone who was trying to ”fake it till I make it”. He said he didn’t feel that he knew what he was doing, and didn’t have the schooling necessary to make the right decisions.

Most people would have been surprised to hear that from him. He is quite successful by any objective standards: highly profitable business growing at 20 – 30 % a year, great house in a prosperous neighborhood, strong relationship, friends, family, dogs…

His statement reminded me of a classic case of the impostor syndrome I experienced at a similar age. I was working for a global French company, and had successfully completed three assignments in Scandinavia, Taiwan, and Japan. I had been invited to do a stint at head office in preparation for my next assignment in Germany.

I had arrived in Paris a couple of days early, bought a new Pierre Cardin suit, and showed up in the office bright and early on Monday morning. I met with the senior executive team, was even introduced to the Chairman. Then, I was shown my temporary office for the couple of months I was to spend there. The company has their own tower in La Defense. They had given me a corner office overlooking the Place des Reflets!

Just as I stepped into the office, I remember clearly thinking, “not bad for a kid from a small town in Oregon”! Immediately following that thought, I was absolutely paralyzed by an all-consuming fear that the next person who came through my door would know that I had absolutely no reason to be there. I was certain that they would recognize that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

For the next half hour, I sat frozen at my impressive, unfettered desk. All that ran through my mind was the long list of reasons I shouldn’t be there: I never studied business; I didn’t speak French; I started out as a dishwasher; most of the time, I was just guessing what needed to be done…

I experienced what I later learned was a true panic attack. Nothing made sense. Fear was everywhere. I wanted only to escape, to hide where none of my great shortcomings would be exposed. This was like the dream where you are naked in front of a crowd…except this was no dream. All the clich├ęs played out. I was in a cold sweat, heart pounding, stomach cramping, adrenalin pumping, not a single coherent thought.

The impostor syndrome is a well-documented phenomenon, studied in depth by Joan Harvey in If I’m So Successful, Why Do I Feel Like a Fake? Studies of this syndrome claim that the two groups that are most severely affected are teachers, closely followed by upper-level corporate executives. The commonality seems to be the requirement to constantly have correct answers to an impossible number of questions.

Certainly, in today’s chaotic business environment, the challenge is exacerbated exponentially. With constant and rapid changes in the political, financial, technological, and generational aspects, running a business has never been more challenging. Yet, answers are expected…demanded, by employees, vendors, customers, shareholders. What is going on? What are your plans for the next 90 days? How are you going to meet your deadlines? Where are you going to find the A+ players we need to survive?

Sitting at my desk, immobile, in deep shock, I finally somehow began to breathe again. I started remembering why I was here. I began to realize that it was true that I didn’t know what I was doing. Nor had I known it when I took the job in Copenhagen…or Taipei…or Kobe. Yet, somehow, they had all worked out. Reflecting further back, I realized that I had never known what I was doing, that I had never been qualified for any job I had taken. But I learned on the job, and either succeeded or failed. Either way I grew and learned…and miraculously lived to do it all again.

My panic experience taught me a valuable lesson, which I recall with frequency when dealing with outsized egos in corporate braggadocio. The fact is none of us know what we are doing. All of us are trying whatever makes the most sense at the time with the available information. If any of the 16,000 business books in publication had the formula, all we would need to do is to apply it. Life is seldom that simple.

 Amazingly, most of the time, things work out. Sometimes, we have to start over.  All we can do is to keep on faking it. Eventually, we will succeed…or try something else. Isn’t that what keeps life interesting?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Whose job am I doing right now?


A very long time ago, I was the CEO of a company in turnaround. I had just joined Vistage, and attended a speaker meeting. After hearing a little about my situation, the presenter addressed me directly. He said, “I want you to put a sign on a wall so you can see it from your desk. Will you do that?” I, thinking what have I got to lose, said yes.

He told me to read the sign out loud to myself four times every day, at random moments. I agreed that I could do that, too. Then he told me what to put on the sign: Whose job am I doing right now?

I did as he instructed. I thought it was cute. But I really didn’t get it until one night, at about 10:00 PM. I looked up from my task, and read the sign: Whose job am I doing right now? I looked down at the task at hand. I was completing the budget.

I finally got the message. I was running an $85 million company that was in deep trouble, losing 20% on revenue, and distinguishing ourselves by being the worst performing unit in 60 countries. Yet here I was, at the end of yet another 15 hour day, trying to piece together a budget.

I asked myself, “Don’t I have a CFO?” The answer, of course, was yes, so I went home.

As it happened, the next day was our regular weekly Leadership Team huddle. I took the opportunity to explain to my team that the budget was not my job. Nor was the marketing plan. Nor was writing procedures. Nor was enforcing compliance with people getting to work on time. Nor was…

As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before one of the aggressive young Turks on my team observed that I was good at saying what my job wasn’t. “What, he finally asked, is your job?”

I am, to this day, embarrassed to admit that I did not have a ready answer. I did, however, have a Vistage meeting the next day. I raised this issue in the peer group, asking for a description of what we must do to be successful as enterprise leaders. The answer was surprisingly simple.

After much dialogue, with 16 different points of view, based on nearly 400 years of accumulated experience, we finally formulated the answer I still focus on today as I mentor current business leaders. The CEO only has two responsibilities:

1)      To grow the company: Obviously, any company that is not growing is dying. This truth is linguistically embedded in the word organization. Every organization is a living organism. All living organisms must grow to survive.

We are free, of course to define growth as we please. Growth is not only top line revenue, but may also be growth in efficiency, profitability, focus, market share, etc.

2)      To grow people: This was true 20 years ago. It is, if possible, even more true today. In this hyper-competitive environment, where disruptive change is constant, we can only thrive if we are singularly focused on honing the skills of our best people.

Even more important than skillset training, however, is development. Development is a holistic, experiential mentoring approach to bringing out the best in each individual, allowing them to contribute to the organization at their highest level of ability.

In my Vistage group, and in the work I do through ExecuVision International, every initiative is linked back to this existential truth of leadership responsibility. Growth, personal and professional, is the essence of leadership. And the only truly competitive advantage we have today. Paying attention to MY job is the most important thing I can do.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dan Pink: The Reincarnation of Kierkegaard?

Many years ago, I spent four intense years studying philosophy at the University of Copenhagen’s Open University. The focus of my study was the most prominent of Danish philosophers, Soeren Kierkegaard. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Father of Existentialism was that he published his first book at 25, and each succeeding book was an extension of the thoughts of the first book. Kierkegaard claimed that his 20 books were all planned before he wrote the first one.

Kierkegaard was an ardent advocate of individual free will and responsibility. His work heavily influenced Jean-Paul Sartre and the French existentialists, as well as Carl Jung, Victor Frankl, and Erich Fromm. Much of his work was a counterpoint to the work of Hegel and Marx and their ideas of historic inevitability.

In a recent review of the work of Dan Pink, I was struck by the parallel in his work regarding one book building on the other. I have no idea if Dan has a Kiekegaardian vision of his next 20 books, but he seems to be well on the way. Judging by his work thus far, he stands out as one of the best predictors of the future of work.

Dan’s three major books show an extremely prescient path of organizational evolution in America. His first book, Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself (2002) describes the movement by business away from hiring employees, and replacing them with contract workers. Rather than whine about this trend, Dan advocates leveraging the change by building your own resume, and becoming a Free Agent. Today he encourages companies to treat those Free Agents at least as well as they would an employee.

In A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future (2006), he chronicles the acceptance of design as a strategic determinant in product development. He explains the right/left brain fusion, and the emphasis on design precluding engineering (see also Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson). Dan advocates for more attention to the creative process, and those who possess the ability to visualize the final product from an end-user perspective.

Building on those thoughts, Dan’s latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2010) purports to be about motivation. Indeed, he builds a compelling case for recognizing that money and bonuses are counterproductive for creative workers. Most of the press about this book, including brilliant YouTube videos, focuses on this part of the book.

 Much like Kierkegaard, the deeper underlying messages in all three books has been generally ignored. The much more significant revelations in Drive are:

1)      A description of the Conceptual Worker – a person who not only possesses the skills to accomplish a task, but understands the relevance of that task to the larger vision of the enterprise.

2)      The movement in organizational structure from Information Workers (skillset) to Conceptual Workers (mindset); allowing organizations to hire fewer workers at a higher level.

3)      Implementation of Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), which eliminates the need for over-the-shoulder supervision of the workforce.

 What this means in practical terms, of course, is a major shift from management to leadership. Indeed, Dan writes in Drive “Perhaps it’s time to toss the very word ‘management’ into the linguistic ash heap alongside ‘icebox’ and ‘horseless carriage.’ This era doesn’t call for better management. It calls for a renaissance of self-direction.” Kierkegaard would have loved this sentiment, reflecting conceptual workers willingly exercising free will and accepting responsibility for the outcome of their choices.
 
Much of what Dan has written has been widely discussed. Unfortunately, very few organizations have courage to fully embrace the cultural upheaval necessary for the transition to visionary leadership, personal responsibility for results, consequences for those who do not meet agreed upon expectations, and an emphasis on creating teams where failure is not an option (see Green Beret Leadership).

The final conundrum in the Dan Pink universe is where to find the conceptual workers we need. Please note that Dan intentionally uses the phrase conceptual worker not conceptual thinker. We are talking about people who can both think and implement! Where do we find them? Dan suggests liberal arts schools. He writes “The new MBA is the MFA.”

 That is a good start. My experience in creating dynamic organizations leads me to believe that all of us with leadership responsibility must accept a much more active role in mentoring and developing talent. We are all in the race to acquire great talent. How do we find and keep them? Mainly through intense investment in their development, with a careful monitoring of the corresponding ROI.

 So, is Dan Pink the reincarnation of Soeren Kierkegaard? I have no idea what Dan’s next book will explore and explain. My sincere hope is that it will, like Kierkegaard, be a further extension of his current body of work. I rely on him to keep us focused on the truly vital trends in the rapid transformation of our work culture.


David Belden
Professional Outsider
ExecuVision International

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Relieving Customer Anxiety

In my facilitation practice, I have worked with a wide array of companies. My usual focus has been on aligning teams around particular challenges. I have also established mentoring programs, run values profiles, and examined supply chain optimization.  Recently, I was asked to look at a different, and emerging, issue that I discovered is common to virtually all the organizations with which I am associated.

The client, a very large player in the government contracting arena, presented the issue to me as this: They have been working with a government agency for nearly eight years. The client has specified the work that needed to be done, and my client executed the work. For eight years, that was enough, and there were no significant problems in the relationship.


This year, however, the agency told my client that their expectations had changed. They said that, for years my client had provided the workforce to complete specified tasks. They want my client to continue providing the excellent fulfillment work. Now, they also want my client to provide innovative suggestions to improving the process; making it more efficient, faster, and ultimately, cheaper. More importantly, they expect my client to help them anticipate the future!

This took my client by complete surprise, and raised a multitude of issues within their organization. The main concern was that the people who had been performing their work for the past many years were now being asked to redesign the work. They were also being asked to collaborate and dialogue on the customer’s expectations...something that had never been required in the past. This became a transition from task fulfillment to problem-solving.

TWO COMPONENTS OF ANY ORGANIZATION

I believe that the core components of running any organization are a combination of two aspects, the first of which is process. Process is the delivery of the service or product for which a customer is willing to pay. I have learned two things about process:

1)      Every process is designed to produce exactly the result that it delivers. If we are not getting the result we want from the way we do things, we must redesign the way we do them.  The difficulty in process redesign is that the people who designed the original process often are locked into the system, and are not able or willing to completely rethink the process.

2)      Eventually, all business issues will be solved by process. No matter what the business, we are all constantly refining our chain of supply to make it more competitive.  We either shorten the chain by eliminating steps altogether, or we disintermediate some of the sub-suppliers to the chain by automating the work that in the past required human intervention.

Most of the companies I have worked with over the past 13 years as a Professional Outsider have focused almost exclusively on process. To their customers, they defend their own processes, believing them to be unique.

We often believe that our primary contribution to a customer is to convince them to trust that our process is superior. That engenders a belief that we have now taken our offering forever out of the realm of commoditization. We forget that a product or service is a commodity when the customer knows, or thinks he knows, enough about it to shop the specifications to competitors. We know that we are considered a commodity when we start selling to the purchasing department instead of the President.

What I am seeing in an ever-increasing trend since the economic shift in 2008, is that all offerings from all companies are becoming a commodity at a highly accelerated pace. No sooner has a company perfected a seemingly unique process than it is overtaken by a new, exciting, and even more intuitive technology that either makes the process irrelevant, or at best reduces it to a minor link in the overall chain of supply. It finally seems to be dawning on many of my clients that improving process only slows, but never stops, the slide toward commoditization.

If our process is well-designed, but we’re still not getting the results we expect, then we need to look at the second aspect of profitable and sustainable organizations;

PEOPLE

The client I mentioned in the beginning of this article faced the same challenge I hear from all my other clients. He said that they have great people for the work that they do. It is all technology, and they have some exceptionally skilled developers, programmers, network administrators, etc. The problem is that they are all doers. They are what Daniel Pink, in his latest book, Drive, describes as information workers in an era that requires conceptual workers.

The difference here is critical. Information workers are perfectly capable of performing well-defined tasks. The task may require great skill and ability. Task-based performance, however, does not require a great deal of spatial thinking, and is quickly perceived as a commodity. Problem-solving demands something other than skillset. It demands a completely different mindset.

And this is the crux of the matter. In the Vistage group I facilitate, all 17 companies are in growth mode. They are all seeking to hire more employees. The one thing they all agree upon is that they are not willing to hire the same quality of mediocrity they had prior to 2008. They are looking for problem-solvers and solution providers. They are seeking conceptual workers, not just conceptual thinkers. This means that it is not enough to have great ideas. We also have to find people who can execute them. And they are not finding them in anything approaching abundance.

In an age where customers expect that we are going to provide more than basic services; that we are going to suggest improvements, shorten delivery time, under-promise and over-deliver, etc. etc., where do we find the people who can do this?

Part of the problem, as various writers and speakers are pointing out, is that our educational system is geared to graduate people who have learned to execute, not to think.  Many of our employees possess a very significant tool bag. They come to us with impressive university degrees in a variety of disciplines. They have all the certifications that we stipulated in our recruiting advertisement. They have fulfilled all vocational prerequisites.

What they have in skillset, they often lack in mindset. The mindset we require today is innovative and collaborative, not specialized and isolated. It is no longer enough to be able to do a job. We now have to be able to solve problems, and even more importantly, anticipate challenges that will emerge in a highly dynamic future.

Once this question of changing client expectations emerged from my government contracting client, I began researching the subject with all my other clients, as well as several Vistage members in the Baltimore and DC areas. Vistage provides me with a database of over 400 small to medium sized local companies, and a total of 15,000 companies globally.  

It turns out that what my client was experiencing is a universal trend! Every single company I talked with has confirmed that their customers are raising expectations, desiring a forward thinking response from their suppliers rather than a simple reaction to a request.

Customers are increasingly expecting suppliers to anticipate needs and changes in their area of expertise. It is now incumbent upon the supplier to propose new technologies, end-to-end supply chain management, new social media venues, new forms of advertising, new space designs for virtual offices, new communication possibilities for remote locations, new ideas for lines of business, new potential partners for collaboration. And the list goes on... Our customers expect us to relieve the pervasive sense of anxiety permeating the marketplace!

While there is general agreement in my client base that a new type of employee is needed, there is no agreement on where to find them. Dan Pink suggests hiring liberal arts majors for their generalist knowledge, then training them for skill. At the same time, enrollment in Liberal Arts majors is at a record low at universities. Seth Godin encourages young people to become “linchpins” wherever they are employed.

Yet, Clay Shirky tells us that our current employees are brimming with “cognitive surplus”, and usually devote their problem-solving skills volunteering online. He describes the millennial worker coming home from a boring job as an information worker, then dedicating all their creativity to editing articles for Wikipedia without compensation. Wherever these young people are, we certainly need more of them.

The first retreat I facilitate with new clients is focused on the dilemma described above. I use a tool called the Core Values Index™ (CVI). It is an improvement over the Myers-Briggs genre of assessment tools in that it measures what Carl Jung described as the innate self, rather than the personality. The Core Values Index™ gives us a viable indication of what a person will most likely succeed at over a long period of time. A colleague of mine, who is a technology genius, collaborated with me to use the CVI as well as a number of other indices to provide an assessment that can predict the probability that a person can function as a true conceptual worker. The tool is specifically designed to differentiate between conceptual thinkers and conceptual workers.

The retreat we facilitate around this data usually creates quite a stir. Everyone would like to be considered a conceptual worker, yet very few people possess the combination of intelligence, intuition, creativity, focus, and stamina required. And while most people would like to be considered conceptual workers, a company consisting only of conceptual workers would not be the ideal structure. Helping organizations find the most effective mix of core values is a major part of the work we do.

At ExecuVision, we also work with a tool for measuring whether an organization is geared toward innovation and creativity. The Management Innovation Index™ (MIX) is a survey taken at three levels; executive, managerial, supervisory, to determine the discrepancy in perception of innovation and creativity within the organization. With that assessment, we can then institute metrics to chart innovative progress.

It seems to me that the entire area of identifying, attracting, and retaining creative and innovative people is the key to meeting ever higher customer expectations. We must also create an organizational structure and culture that supports creativity. My experience is that the companies that focus on these elements are doing well, even in this challenging economy. As business owners, I believe our greatest difficulty will be to find enough people who can fill measure up to this challenge. The danger, of course, is that if we don’t, our competition somehow will.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What Technology Wants

“The proper response to a lousy idea is not to stop thinking.”
 Kevin Kelly

Every so often a book appears that unexpectedly changes everything. For me, these books are usually accidental. I frequent Politics and Prose, a local, independent bookstore in Washington, DC. It is one those rare places where authors still present their works, and take questions from the literate and thoughtful audience. Come to think of it, it was here that I first met Dan Pink.

A couple of weeks ago, Politics and Prose held their membership appreciation day, where all books are discounted by 20%. This is always an expensive time of year for me, and also deeply rewarding. As I wandered amongst the plethora of arcane literature, I happened upon an incredible book that turns out to be my most important read of several years.

The book is What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly. Kelly is a former editor at Wired magazine. He also spent 8 years wandering around Asia with nothing but a bedroll, has lived in Amish communities, and, it seems, has truly questioned every premise of modern life.

Kelly makes several observations about the nature of technology that were completely new, yet absolutely resonant with me.  His view of technology, or the technium, as he calls it, is that it is a near-living system, subject to the laws and inevitability of all living things. The view of a vast system of technology creating the conditions for its own further development is a fascinating, and sometimes unnerving concept.

Yet, here it is. Kelly is an amazing and interesting writer with a compelling message. He tells us that by embracing the technium as our ally, we can maximize our utilization to solve a wealth of challenges of this and future generations. The greatest challenge for us is to steer this technology towards benevolence and equity, and not allow it to be controlled by a few institutions, whether private or governmental.

It is no accident that Kelly makes his case that Information Wants to Be Free. He worked with Stewart Brand at Whole Earth Catalogue, and is an eloquent advocate of technology as a liberator. If you are looking for a stimulating, entertaining, and brilliantly written book, I would suggest picking up What Technology Wants. You won’t be able to put it down until you are finished!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Four Uncertainties

As I talk with my clients, who represent a highly diverse cross-section of businesses, from virtual consultants to blue-collar, mid-market operations to Fortune 100 telecoms, I sense a consistent reluctance to move confidently into the future. As I explored with each of them the source of their reluctance, we uncovered together a pervasive anxiety about the future.

 The most predominant anxiety we explored was an encompassing uncertainty. For each of my clients, this usually takes one or more of four forms:

1)      Uncertainty of the consequences of political decisions (or lack of same): This is not about party politics. It is simply the confusion generated by an inert Congress and an increasingly polarized society. The unbelievable ineptitude of political leaders of all persuasions has resulted in a gridlock that prevents any future planning on the part of business. This leads, of course, to the second uncertainty;

2)      Uncertainty of the economic future: Even though most of my clients are doing exceptionally well, the fact that the global economic news is contradictory and complex means that orders are not being placed in a timely manner. The lack of clarity and conflicting news about future growth engenders reluctance to commit investment dollars. The results are inefficiency in planning and execution.

3)      Technological advances that can game-change an entire line of business: Phenomena such as iPads, virtualization, Skype,  Mechanical Turk, eLance, the death of Web 2.0, social media, etc., etc., have created massive confusion regarding investment, hiring, relocation, outsourcing, and even the hope of strategic decision-making.

Advances in the popularity of cloud computing have caused many of my clients to hesitate to make any major purchase. They are concerned that an investment in new servers or software licenses today may be wasted. Apple’s introduction of iCloud in the fall is one more game-changer.  iCloud is the first major business-to-consumer use of cloud computing. Because it is Apple, we will see a massive acceptance of cloud computing by consumers, as well as by commercial interests, creating instantaneous ubiquity. The movement skyward will be accelerated exponentially.

Technological advances have also mandated organizational restructuring into totally non-traditional forms. We are already seeing everything from virtual assistants to virtual CEOs. We see more and more employees working remotely, without offices. I was talking last week with an attorney who has created a virtual law practice with other attorneys on a global scale. Technology has made all of this possible, if not inevitable.

4)      Customer uncertainty:  Customer expectations have radically changed. I have surveyed all of my 22 current clients. Without exception, they have confirmed that their customers have come to expect new and different services from all of their vendors and suppliers. What I hear most often is that a long-time customer that has been fully satisfied with my client’s services in the past now expects both the current service and an additional service that includes advice on anticipating the future.

The major challenge this generates is the need to provide innovative solutions from a staff that has traditionally only provided task completion. Some of my clients welcome this as a fantastic opportunity to define new service offerings to current customers. Others see it as an incredibly challenging change in the direction of today’s business model.

The result of these four uncertainties is that businesses are hesitant to invest, hire, train or develop staff. They are also resistant to creating new, venturesome lines of business. Furthermore, since everyone is uncertain and hesitant to invest, when a decision is finally made, the expectation is that the product or service will be delivered immediately. Only a few years ago, most businesses had a substantial backlog, which made production of product or provision of service orderly and predictable. No longer! Now, everyone puts off any purchase until the last possible moment, then expects immediate fulfillment. This precipitates surges and lulls, which makes strategic planning and efficient execution all but impossible.

Are you seeing the same trends? I would love to collect your examples, and hear your opinions on other uncertainties that are slowing us down. The inexorable forward movement toward efficiency and automation can overcome the most stubborn human resistance. For that to happen, though, humans must first recapture the courage to invest and embrace risk. How can we help make that happen?