3 Paradoxes to Master for a Disrupted World

By: Nina Powell, Director, ?What If!

In a world where everything seems to be changing overnight, your people’s ability to go beyond “business as usual” is a key source of competitive advantage. But do they feel ready? Do they understand the mind-set and behaviours needed to drive a business in this disrupted world?

In 24 years of working in innovation we’ve learnt a thing or two about what it takes to help organisations like Castrol, Pfizer, Citi and Google nurture the critical skills that get people beyond BAU. Here are 3 paradoxes we’ve recognised…

Think Big, Start Small

We’ve all experienced it — you have a grand, world-changing idea you’d love to implement but it’s too massive to tackle so it’s shelved… until another company launches it and exasperation sets in.

It’s all too easy to find ourselves running incessantly on the hamster wheel of continuous improvement, but the ability to break out and kick-start the big ideas is a critical skill.

It’s why IBM’s voice recognition team found a fast, cheap way to test their core voice concept using typists not technology. Unsuspecting consumers were asked to ‘test’ the new system by talking to the computer while super-fast typists responded from behind a screen. Quickly and cheaply exploring key assumptions builds belief, momentum and engagement around an idea or quickly shows you why thinking is flawed.

Critical And Creative

A glance at Kickstarter shows that shortage of ideas is not today’s problem. Combining it with the nous to turn an idea into a future fit business is the rub.

The ability to think creatively and analytically is a cornerstone of innovative thinking. Practitioners understand that both modes are essential — but they don’t mix well. Too often we see teams struggle because of this; some are seeking to build radical new ideas whilst others focus on all the things that can go wrong. Of course you need to do both, but masters of the art are those who can help teams switch between the two.

We call this expansive-reductive thinking and help individuals become expert at spotting the modes, switching between them and helping others to do the same.

Confident In Uncertainty

Where’s the certainty in a disrupted world? Clue: there isn’t much. So don’t spend time clawing after perfection. Instead have an attitude of “I don’t know if this idea will work in the real world… so I’ll try it out and be prepared to pivot”.

Working with Castrol on their revolutionary Nexcel technology was fraught with uncertainty. Their leadership team gave the team space to explore and adapt, thinking like VC’s not business operators, recognising the need for portfolio strategies where failure was built into the model from day one.

Building the mind-set and strategies to embrace uncertainty and manage risk is a core skill in a “beyond BAU” world.

The last 30 years have seen unprecedented shifts in economic momentum. In this new paradigm the old virtues of BAU are still relevant but not the platforms of value creation they once were. Instead individuals, teams and organisations that embrace a more flexible and experimental mind-set will win the day.

Few excel at all these behaviours but it’s possible to cultivate them and give your people the confidence and tools to thrive in a disrupted world. To learn more, please contact Nina.powell@whatifinnovation.com and follow us on twitter:@whatifglobal