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So this is pretty basic. But it’s huge.
Problem: You are working at a bank and have been tasked with developing a new customer care program. You’re making good progress, and reach out one day to a colleague for their ideas. Word of the meeting gets around, and an executive walks into your office one day, assuming you’re floundering, and tells you what to do.
Problem: Your second grader is in trouble at school. Teachers and other parents call you on the phone, asking you to fix the problem. You are starting to develop some good ideas and making plans. But one day, the school principal makes the decision to move your child to a special classroom.
Problem: You work on an automobile assembly line. Your bonus depends on the quality of the cars you help to build. You see a problem with a welding machine which would cost $100 to fix. But management won’t approve the repair.
What’s the common pattern here? It’s responsibility without authority: a good recipe for insanity.
In the swirl of events, I’m often left wondering if there’s something deeper going on. Our leaders seem to be increasingly missing the bigger picture. A glimpse, here and there, into the underlying cause of dead ends we’ve reached: problems with capitalism, the media, politics, climate, conflict, health care. Is there a common cause?
2016 might arguably be characterized as the year we all decided we’d had enough of government as usual. Between Brexit, the Trump ascendancy, and the sheer energy behind the Bernie Sanders campaign, it seems that many are thinking, “enough is enough”. And that’s the good news. When disenfranchised groups have zero representation, then terrorism and revolt seem to be the inevitable outcomes.
When asked “who created Apple?”, it’s tempting to say Steve Jobs did it. The truth is that, although he may have been necessarily, he was not sufficient.
Similarly Bill Gates, who (as Malcolm Gladwell tells us in Outliers) experienced a unique confluence of circumstances that led to the founding of Microsoft. Gates deserves tremendous credit, but alone he was not sufficient.
The brain likes to simplify, and history sometimes prefers to leave out the details for the benefit of a better story. Continue reading
Last month I received an intriguing email inviting me to an event at Kimberly Wiefling’s house. I’d met Kimberly before through Jonathan Trent, as part of the work I’ve been doing to help out the Omega Global Initiative. I knew she was an international consultant, but it was great to also learn that she was passionate about systems thinking and visualization. Jonathan and I drove up to Kimberly’s house together, where she and Peter Meisen explained their initiative to bring a Buckminster Fuller-inspired Sim Center, based on a similar center in San Diego, to Silicon Valley.
Great leaders make the right call at the right time to deliver outstanding results. They avoid relying on outdated mindsets and practices in a complex and changing environment. Leaders today must be willing to help others to think strategically, question past practices, and explore new alternatives.
Relying on old habits, acquiescing to group think, and depending on obsolete assumptions limits individual careers and reduces organizational viability. A painful example: in the 1990s, mortgage bankers granted 95% mortgages based on the wrong assumption that home prices never fall more than 5%. They paid a high price for their narrow thinking. Additionally, they ignored expert warnings about a real estate bubble. One bank executive stated that he knew it would blow up, but as long as the music was playing, he had to keep dancing. Instead of searching for a new melody, he went along for the ride.