Reports from the Knowledge Labs about our recent findings, research topics, and interviews with lifestyle leaders who are creating their own futures.

How to stimulate your own powers of foresight. Consider the following thought provokers. Ask yourself, in these categories what are the brand new trends and forces? Which are the ones growing in importance? Which current forces are loosing their steam? Which have peaked or are reversing themselves? Which are the "wildcards" about to disrupt us in the future? POLITICAL AND TECHNICAL thought for food: Electronics, Materials, Energy, Fossil, Nuclear, Alternative, Other, Manufacturing (techniques), Agriculture, Machinery and Equipment, Distribution, Transportation (Urban, Mass, Personal, Surface, Sea, Subsurface, Space), Communication (Printed, Spoken, Interactive, Media), Computers (Information, Knowledge, Storage & Retrieval, Design, Network Resources), Post-Cold War, Third World, Conflict (Local, Regional, Global), Arms Limitation, Undeclared Wars, Terrorism, Nuclear Proliferation, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Governments (More/Less Power and Larger or Smaller Scale), Taxes, Isms: Nationalism, Regionalism, Protectionism, Populism, Cartels, Multinational Corporations, Balance of Trade, Third Party Payments, Regulations (OSHA, etc.) Environmental Impact, U.S. Prestige Abroad. SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC Food for thought: Labor Movements, Unemployment / Employment Cycles, Recession, Employment Patterns, Work Hours / Schedules, Fringe Benefits, Management Approaches, Accounting Policies, Productivity, Energy Costs, Balance of Payments, Inflation, Taxes, Rates of Real Growth, Distribution of Wealth, Capital Availability and Costs, Reliability of Forecasts, Raw Materials, Availability and Costs, Global versus National Economy, Market versus Planned Economies, Generations: Y, X, Boomers, Elderly, Urban vs. Rural Lifestyles, Affluent vs. Poor, Neighborhoods and Communities, Planned or Organic Growth. Got Knowledge?

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The Journal of 2020 Foresight
Monday, May 05, 2003  

Lifework Solutions: Templates to Extend an Organization’s Life Expectancy

Chapter Two: The Ridge

By Steve Howard, CKO
The Knowledge Labs

Table of Contents
Chapter One: Basecamp
Chapter Two: The Ridge
Chapter Three: The Outpost
Chapter Four: The Tribal Territories

“So much random information reaches the brain that the vast majority of it must be ignored. The brain could not function properly if it gave equal priority to all the information it receives. Ingvar hypothesizes that our “memories of the future” provide a subconscious guide to help us determine which incoming information is relevant. The stored time paths serve as templates against which the incoming signals are measured. If the incoming information fits one of the alternative time paths, the input is understood. Information becomes knowledge, and the signal acquires meaning.”

Arie de Geus, The Living Company

Journal of 2020 Foresight: Before, when we discussed the four life work and the four work life scenarios, you said the process that the two expedition teams followed consisted of 8 steps.

Trailblazer: Yes, that’s right. The last two steps are to rehearse the future by playing out the original decision across each of the scenarios, and then to select relevant signposts or indicators to monitor.

J2020F: Why do you complete the last two steps? Haven’t you already predicted the future?

TB: Be careful. No, we haven’t predicted the future. No one can do that. What we are doing is examining the dynamically changing forces that will most likely play out over the course of our plan. There are no guarantees, but we can anticipate several ways our future story might unfold.

J2020F: How is that valuable?

TB: Usually crossroad decisions involve high risk and uncertainty. By rehearsing our decision across four qualitatively different futures we dramatically reduce the risk of being blindsided by events and shifting conditions.

J2020F: Kind of like contingency planning?

TB: Sure. Most of the time we’ll make plans or make a decision without considering something could go wrong. But, in the real world, the plan or decision is almost obsolete as soon as it is implemented.

J2020F: Earlier I believe you said that threats remain threatening as long as we ignore their presence, have not anticipated how to handle them, or lack the will to confront them.

TB: That’s right. By going back to the starting point – with the crossroads decision we will make – and rehearsing it against four future stories, we can anticipate major hurdles that we might not have considered.

J2020F: And those hurdles could be the show-stoppers, right?

TB: Exactly. If you remember both the life work and the work life expeditions began their scenarios with listing the highest impact, most uncertain forces.

J2020F: So, if we play out our plans against the highest impact, uncertain forces, we’ll be able to better anticipate the changes in our plans we should activate. Is that right?

TB: Remember, you aren’t trying to pick out one of the four. You are testing your plans across all four. If none of them support your plan’s success, then you’d better abandon them immediately.

J2020F: What happens, though in most instances?

TB: Usually two or more scenarios support your decision. The other two help you brainstorm alternative steps to include, if they begin to come true.

J2020F: So, instead of being surprised like a deer caught in the headlights when a negative scenario begins to impact your plans, you’ve already considered the threat, how to handle it, and so you can simply shift tactics. Is that it?

TB: Yup. We’re turning potential disruptions -- the kind most people react to with shock, bargaining, denial, anger, depression, and finally acceptance – into adventures. Without scenarios, you feel drained and stressed out. With scenarios you feel exhilarated.

J2020F: OK. Let’s turn, then to the types of original decisions and plans we’d likely make at a crossroads, according to the three clusters of options.

TB: OK. The first set -- Work for Others:

Change positions in same organization
Change organizations in same field / industry
Change careers in same organization or in new profession – do what you really love
Grow in same job, but moonlight

The second set -- Work for Self (in current or new geographical locations):

Start a business
Buy a business
Buy a franchise
Develop a consulting practice

The third set -- Maximize my Portfolio of Tangible and Intangible Assets:

Pursue a portfolio career
Live on investment portfolio and volunteer
Retire, yet freelance or consult

J2020F: The HR executives spun 4 scenarios about work life. From an individual life planning perspective they would give clues to selecting the best option for working for some one else.

TB: Some of the executives were also asking the individual decision questions for their own career.

Should I continue to work for this organization or another one?
Should I strike out on my own?
Will the human resource development profession become obsolete in the near, medium, or long term future?

If they planned to change organizations, they’d want to know what kind of culture they’d encounter? What the advancement opportunities might be?

At any rate, the choice they were considering had a direct and significant impact on the third category of options. Will I be financially independent? If not, shouldn’t I enjoy the work I’ll have to do?

J2020F: What about the “fit” question from the other side of the table – from the HR executive’s role as a representative of the organization?

TB: Those on the team in mature organizations responsible for thousands of employees and millions of dollars in budgets examined their current talent capabilities.

They questioned how long it takes to develop their talent pool to make up any gaps, and in worsening business cycles, how many of their surplus talent could they afford to let go?

J2020F: If I recall correctly, they listed the following key questions:

What is the future organization’s point of view about talent?

Will they “appreciate or depreciate” their “knowledge base”?

How will employees of the future view their relationships with future organizations?

Where and when (if at all) will development take place?

How will you go about converting talent into corporate assets?

TB: As they looked for answers in the Agent, Athlete, Associate, and Academic scenarios they discovered certain combinations of talent seemed to fit better in different stages or states of an organization’s lifespan.

J2020F: The talent contributed more in one stage, than in another?

TB: Not only that, but their influence and presence all but disappears in other stages.

J2020F: How is this significant?

TB: Well, the lifespan of huge, solid companies is only 40 years. Not all organizations even make it that far. The infant mortality rate is a decade. Arie De Geus says 40% of all newly created companies don’t last that long . Regardless of size, the average in Japan and Europe is 12.5 years.

J2020F: So hanging on to talent combinations at the wrong stage accelerates the decline?

TB: And, not attracting, developing and retaining new talent to move from one growth stage to another shortens an organization’s life expectancy.

J2020F: From the individual career changer perspective deciding to work-for-another, that’s valuable information.

TB: You bet. If you know which of the talent clusters describes you best, and if you know what stage of the lifespan the organization is in now and will likely transform into next, you’ve got a much better idea of how well you will fit and how to sell your expertise.

J2020F: From the HR executive perspective?

TB: If you know the same things, you can better plan how to move the organization’s culture, its people policies, its processes and practices, its very organization structure in order to survive longer and compete more effectively.

J2020F: We know mastery and development take time. And the more sudden a change is sprung upon a person or a culture, the more resistance they’ll produce, right?

TB: That’s right. The more HR executives can anticipate ahead of time and begin to change, the less resistance the organization is likely to produce.

J2020F: So as a result of the four scenarios, what should HR executives pay attention to as key organization development drivers?

TB: I think one of the most fundamental is that the organizational solution chosen today, to address the current state’s set of problems, actually creates problems for the future.

J2020F: So, solutions for surviving the start-up phase in infancy, actually cause problems in the next growth phase?

TB: Well, not only that, but to move ahead companies must consciously introduce planned structures that are 180 degrees different than what worked in the recent past.

J2020F: So the organic, creative, ad hoc looseness in the start-up phase has to be reversed 180 degrees to begin the growth phase?

TB: Right. And that illustrates the next fundamental. Each stage evolves through a mostly incremental growth phase with only minor periods of upheaval, only to end with a chaotic period of turmoil.

J2020F: The chaos marks the boundary between states?

TB: Yes. But, keep in mind organizations don’t necessarily proceed through an orderly sequence from start-up to decline any more. And, how long an organization stays in a period of evolutional growth depends on the industry and market. High tech companies have moved through life stages more quickly than insurance companies, for instance.

J2020F: Are there any other fundamentals?

TB: Well, the key drivers are age, size, states of evolution or revolution and industry growth rate.

J2020F: What do we have to know about age?

TB: Over the 40 years or the 12.5 average – depending upon the mortality rate – the same practices differ. They are not the same throughout the entire lifespan.

J2020F: So, in many cases the types of management problems encountered are rooted in a particular stage?

TB: Yes. In slower developing and longer living organizations, employee attitudes become institutionalized. That makes for more predictive employee behavior. But, it also means that they are much more resistive to change when those attitudes become outdates.

J2020F: What about size. I’d imagine you encounter problems tied to coordination and communications, right?

TB: Briefly, an organizations problems and solutions change dramatically as the number of employees increase, and as sales volumes increase.

J2020F: I remember some of the HR executives on the expedition team wanted to discover stand alone organizations of talent clusters, such as an Academic organization.

TB: The best way to do that is to choose not to grow to the next state. If you choose not to grow, you can retain many of the same management issues and practices for a longer time.

J2020F: You already talked about periods of incremental improvements – evolutionary change periods versus the radical innovative improvements – revolutionary change periods.

TB: The longer a period of continuous growth without major internal disruption or economic set back, the longer an organization can continue to grow without shifting their practices 180 degrees.

J2020F: But, if growth accelerates, what happens then?

TB: A chain reaction. A rapidly expanding market environment pressures the organization to add more employees as rapidly as possible. When that happens it triggers the need for new organization structures to accommodate large staff increases.

J2020F: What about organizations that have enjoyed success with less struggle?

TB: When profits come easily – usually in periods of incremental evolution – as in mature organizations, poor practices can be masked. That sets up conditions for decline.

J2020F: How?

TB: They fail to recognize the need to abandon past practices in favor of triggering a major organization change. Delays in doing so put the organization into sudden chaos. The ensuing crisis and turbulence produces significant upheavals.

J2020F: So, before we go into each stage one at a time, it is important to remember that the critical challenge to HR executives is to find a new set of organizational initiatives that will become the basis for managing the next period of evolutionary growth.

TB: Yes, because in time, the new practices end up sowing their own seeds of decay. And, that always leads of another period of crisis and turbulence.

J2020F: The grand irony in all of this, then, is organizations witness a major solution in one stage becoming a major problem at a later date.

TB: As we will see, when we examine the Start-up, Growth, Maturity, Decline, and Reinvention stages one-by-one, each phase is both an effect of the previous phase and a cause for the next phase.

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Copyright ©2002 - 2006 Aarnaes Howard Associates. All rights reserved worldwide.

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