2020 will be recognized as a disruptive year on the stages of history. We have all witnessed the effects of a global pandemic, increasing domestic and international political tensions, and calls for social and organizational reform. Leaders throughout all industries have begun to weigh in on what the new normal looks like, and although we are not exactly sure what the future holds, we can be sure it will be much different than the past. The world is disrupting, and opportunities are increasing.
As we round out 2020 and enter 2021, leaders looking to capture opportunities should embrace the following key principles:
Understand That Assumptions Change
We each maintain a model of how the world works that is created based on our assumptions about it. Throughout history, notable people have mistakenly resisted change and innovation only to be metaphorically ‘left in the dust.’
“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” President of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Company (1903)
“There is a world market for about five computers.” Thomas Watson, IBM Chairman/CEO (1943)
“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first sixth months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox CEO (1946)
“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” Steve Balmer, Microsoft CEO (2007)
These leaders did not recognize that their assumptions from the past would not remain true in the future, and they missed incredible opportunities as a result.
Although many of the changes brought about within the last few months may only be temporary, it is likely that several changes may become more permanent. For example, San Francisco reports record MLS listings as residents look for more space and more recreational activities. Influential corporations like Twitter, Facebook, Square, and Shopify are instituting permanent work-from-home policies, setting a strong precedent of future work habits throughout the tech industry.
Although the future may not be clear, effective leaders continue to look at the data, think through cause and effect, and embrace new environments.
Share a Compelling Vision. Defining a clear vision serves as guideposts to both your peers and those you lead. Business researchers consistently iterate the importance of autonomy, but it is crucial to precede that autonomy with a clear vision that will guide decision-making processes. The ability to successfully navigate change, known as change agility, requires an answer to the question “why?” Without effectively communicating that “why?” actions are made in a vacuum that are not as effective as a cohesive plan.
Show How > Tell How. In addition to painting a clear picture, leaders must make it compelling. Late in the Independence War, George Washington came across a group of soldiers unsuccessfully trying to move a piece of heavy timber to shore up their defensive position. The corporal supervising the soldiers had given clear orders, but his men visibly continued to struggle moving the timber. Washington asked the corporal why he was not assisting them. Not recognizing to whom he spoke, the corporal responded that he was a corporal and could not help because he needed to give the orders. Washington dismounted his horse, assisted the men in moving the timber, and as he left, he instructed the men if they needed help in the future to send for the Commander-in-Chief. The corporal painted a clear vision but did not set the needed example that would encourage his men to lift harder. Sharing a compelling vision requires a careful balance of words and actions.
Leverage Previously Overlooked Tools That Already Exist. Often, meaningful innovations existed years before they were adopted. To “zoom” with others is now a common household term, but earlier this year, it was a term only used by geeks. Technology and other innovations sometimes need new use cases for them to become relevant. Taking time to think through the toolbox you have at your disposal and finding the best solution to a task pays dividends.
We have every reason to look forward to 2021. The world has changed, and new opportunities exist to create value within our industry. Maintaining a healthy attitude of embracing change and seeking ways to innovate can mean the difference between mediocrity and becoming an industry leader.