‘Play big’ to deal with digital future

By Keith Larson

Nov 12, 2018

Nancy Giordano believes that in the face of today’s exponential advances in technology and the potential disruption they represent, we’d all be better off if we opened our imaginations to what the world could be—rather than close our minds to uncertainty.

Whether we like it or not, the future is already here and it’s not just “widely distributed” as the saying goes. “It’s everywhere and it’s in real time,” the strategic futurist said in her guest keynote talk at the Rockwell Automation Process Solutions User Group meeting, which kicked off today in Philadelphia.

Indeed, the pace of change permeates and is intertwined with every aspect of our work lives, our personal lives and, increasingly, our roles as members of society, Giordano added. “We all need to ask ourselves two questions: What does the future need and expect from us? And, what are we in a unique position to create and contribute?”

Four rules for thinking big

Giordano’s advice for making meaningful contributions on all three fronts is to “think big,” and her rules for doing so are to: 1) cultivate an attitude of wonder vs. resistance, 2) learn to navigate changing landscapes vs. replicating past successes, 3) embrace LeaderING vs. LeaderSHIP, and 4) be audacious vs. incremental.

By wonder vs. resist, Giorando means being open to imagining just how very different the future might be. Don’t reject out-of-hand scenarios that seem unlikely. Rather, embrace and explore them. As an example, she brought home Amazon Echo Dots for her family to “try on,” but when even her teenagers rebelled against them, out they went. But it was the try that counted, Giordano said.

In addition to “wonder,” words like “curious” and “agile” comprise those companies and individuals who will continue to adapt and thrive, according to Giordano. In contrast, individuals who work in manufacturing and industry are used to methodologies like Lean Six Sigma that rely on incremental process improvements. But they need to become more comfortable with thinking outside the box to deal with the inevitable disruption that is headed their way.

Giordano cited a recent workflow analysis at Boeing that indicated only 13% of the company’s activities in the course of a year had been called for in the previous year’s strategic plan. A further 18% emerged from the implications of the plan, but a full 59% were outside the scope of the previous year’s planning activities.

Agility quotient on the rise

Dealing with this sort of rapidly shifting landscape has even given rise to AQ—agility quotient—as the latest successor to intelligence and emotional competencies. Companies increasingly need to rely on agile processes for product development and other processes, and where appropriate iterate on minimally viable products. “The iPhone’s a good example of that,” Giordano said, noting that the original iPhone had no app store, and didn’t support copy and paste. “This allows your customers to learn and grow with you,” she said.

By leadering vs. leadership, Giordano means the less formal, less hierarchical structures that can arise spontaneously when needed, then disband without fanfare when their purpose has been served. Leadering also implies a more compassionate view of one another, such as how we support and “hold” one another as we journey through disruption. “We all deserve to be better held—by each other, by the systems we design, by the technologies we advance,” Giordano said.

Finally, at the core of “thinking big” is an audacious outlook vs. an incremental one, according to Giordano. “We must think big,” she said, leaving her audience with the words of author and spiritualist Marianne Williamson to ponder as a warning of the alternative: “Your playing small does not serve the world.”

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