The Good, The Bad and The Unimaginable
The 21st century has ushered in a rush of technology, with so many unforeseen consequences, some of which has to be called collateral damage, almost as drastic and far wider in scale as mistakenly killing civilians in a war zone!
It also ushered in a whole new set of business methodologies which are best summed up in the phrase: Lean Business Method. The panoply of new requirements for older, less tech-oriented entrepreneurs to upskill themselves has been challenging for those of us born in the pre-tech era.
But talking about minimum viable product, business model canvas, sales funnels, software for every imaginable process, social media marketing and the like does not begin to cover all of the new skills that are must-haves for entrepreneurs.
And, yes, there is another layer of 21st-century business at its best that is less obvious and not based on hard skills (easily measurable such as accounting, hardware and software management, etc) but rather on soft skills which are much more evanescent and harder to measure. So what the heck are soft skills? Here’s a starter list:
- Group flow/group awareness
- Assimilation of new structures and rules for meetings, organisations, business cultures (eg focus on growth hierarchy rather than power hierarchy) that are more about creating/changing culture than about getting measurable stuff done.
- Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
- Complexity thinking
In fact, some experts consider EQ and the ability to carry cognitive complexity and flexibility are to date the two neglected traits of leaders that will become the personal developmental challenge of anyone who wishes to lead in business in the immediate future. Many of the stand-out business leaders of today have gone a long way to mastering these slippery skills for which most of us have little background or awareness.
Startup and Innovation Tablelands (ST) has booked up umpteen events, small and large, as it launches into its sixth year, which have focussed on those easy to spot hard skills that are part of the portfolio of every lean business. ST has also provided many opportunities to develop soft skills, often through its monthly business mastermind series, Connection with Direction.
Some of the innovations of businesses keen to create outside the box organisational cultures may sound a bit banal these days: bean bags, meditation or snooze pods, yoga. Beneath those superficial and easily noted elements sit a whole gamut of practices, principles and processes that most of us would find simply incomprehensible. Even Startup and Innovation Tablelands (ST), an early adopter of lean and conscious methodologies on the Tablelands, struggles to find Driver Team members who wish to embrace consciousness as a Leitmotif for its work, or, indeed, for their own.
Most of us cannot even imagine a meeting without all the trappings of most present meetings: fixed agenda; hierarchical structure; linear format; high stress; conflict avoidance or outright conflict; and the inevitable feeling of alienation, boredom, and that inimical “why am I wasting my time being here?” question!
For our most enlightened business folk (not to mention neighbourhoods, volunteer groups, schools, etc etc) worldwide, a better path forward has been sought and is being put together in various styles that all emphasise EQ and the ability to grapple with disruption and complexity.
Systems like The Collaborative Operating System, Holocracy, Sociocracy, Crowdocracy and others have been conceptualised, tested and trialled, and refined. Some work better than others but all have the goal of seeking new ways of relating to self and others in business. Many other innovative systems and cultures are being explored without having fancy (or fanciful?) titles.
Lest you venture the thought that such attempts to establish conscious businesses within organisational cultures that most of us would not even recognise must be emanating from small groups of hippy remnants from the ’60s, think again.
To take one stunning example please read up on Bridgewater, the world’s most successful hedge fund with 160 billion dollars under management. Bridgewater, under its relentlessly inventive and successful founder, Ray Dalio, will not even consider a new applicant no matter how smart, well-educated, and ambitious ( Bridgewater does have the choice of the best grads from the most prestigious uni’s) unless that applicant also has an ineluctable drive toward self-development.
Back in 2011, the New Yorker dubbed it the “largest and indisputably weirdest hedge fund” because of its unwavering commitment to “total honesty and accountability” and awareness of minute detail in its corporate culture. Employees are encouraged to interact with honesty and within a flat structure where an extreme meritocracy of ideas and a resolutely mandated delving into each personality and relationship with transparency and openness have earnt it the reputation of being a cult!
But that cult status might also be simply the recognition that Bridgewater has stepped so far outside of the typical corporate structure, hierarchy and processes that it is unrecognisable to those of us involved in more typical organisations. Meditation, daily pairing off for heart to heart deep dives into self and relationships, sometimes gruelling but regular group feedback sessions, recordings (available to all from most junior to most senior) of all but proprietary meetings, and other oddball techniques have called in enough incomprehension from standard, old school businesses to have Bridgewater labelled a cult—by the same people who worship success and money.
A cult? The most successful hedge fund of all time that weathered the Global Financial Crisis without losing any of its investors’ money? A cult? Really? Maybe we should all be taking a second look?
Working for Bridgewater is not for everyone as it is emotionally demanding as well as requiring the highest performance from its associates.
I’m guessing, however, that when you begin to point to other highly successful companies which at least started grounded on quite different corporate cultures than what we see as normal, we may see a pattern emerging that probably should not be dismissed as cult-like. In that category are most of the giant tech firms from the 1990s onwards; Patagonia; massive chains like Whole Foods Markets; Ben and Jerry’s; Mailchimp and countless others.
What are they doing that we are not?
Lean methodology for business is difficult because business today is complex, open to disruption, arcane in its technology, and is competing in global markets with few protections as well as against multinationals with immense power and reach.
Conscious business is difficult for far more esoteric and daunting reasons. Conscious business requires learning not just an external skill set but also an internal skill set plus a relationship skill set. Business has been traditionally beset by mindsets forefronting ambition, status, money, power. How to transition from that starting point to work towards harmony, awareness, generosity, honesty, integrity, trust, flow? Not so easy to even imagine how that could work!
How could those values be insisted upon and a company still make money? They do it by fostering community, creativity, EQ and complexity thinking. And some of the biggest winners in the financial stakes are also grounded upon the most expansive but challenging corporate cultures.
What does all this have to do with ST and with our upcoming “Tablelands Business Summit3.0, The Rise of Transformative Tech”?
Trans tech holds out the promise of affordable, personal devices which can help you learn new skills, make more money, go for high performance.
Trans tech also holds out the less obvious promise of using the same or similar devices to work toward assimilating those soft skills that can change not only your own personal existence but also your relationship to others.
Wouldn’t it be great to make more money, have more time, de-stress and also have access to focus, flow, higher productivity and efficiency, and generally lead a more abundant life in a very holistic sense of abundant?