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Leaders Need to Practice Being Alert, Adaptive, Responsive, and Confident

The special Business Insight section of Monday’s Wall Street Journal highlighted technology as the driver of New, Faster Innovation. The ways in which we can collect data on customer purchases, reactions to new product developments and marketing messages, and the speed with which we can alter our offerings in response to customer demands are remarkable.

Change has never been so easy — or so cheap — says the lead story, and as a result, more companies will be willing to try new things because the price of failure is so low.

As I read, red flags began to pop up. Cranking up the rate of speed at which decisions are made gives me pause. So does the notion that retailers can “cheaply collect terabytes (trillions of bits) of data on customer interactions, the performance of products in the field, employee productivity and other factors.”

Who will peruse such data? Who will make decisions based on it? What if these quick decisions turn out to be precisely wrong?

No worries, says the article. Bad decisions can be changed quickly based on new incoming data.

“Experiments will become far more pervasive and persuasive as information technology improves testing and grows faster and cheaper.” Consequently, traditional R&D will likely be abandoned, conventional wisdom increasingly challenged, and neat ideas put to the test in the blink of an eye.

At the same time, managers will be expected to give up control of good ideas — a classic organizational struggle — and welcome new players into the decision making process.

I can’t help but wonder how all of this new, faster technology-driven innovation will affect organizational performance. If the price of failure is low and we move on unaffected by it, does the value of learning disappear? New Data: New Decision seems a jerky way to exercise excellence.

Still, there’s no sense pushing aside what is already here. The human challenge will be to think fast. Which of course means that we must be willing and able to think period. Critical thinking in the face of increasingly rapid bombardments of data will be essential. And critical thinking is different from assumptive thinking, categorical thinking, and memory.

Technology has been increasing the velocity of our lives for decades. What worries me today is that another forward push of the throttle at a time when school systems are faltering and bureaucratic structures are blossoming might take us to the end of our capabilities to create what’s next. This is not a new worry, I know.

We need to practice being alert, aware, adaptive, responsive, and confident. Innovation is ours for the making at a pace and cost never before so accessible. I hope we can be wise enough and deliberate enough to build great people, too.

Categories: Leadership

About Susan Marshall

Susan Marshall

Susan A. Marshall is author, speaker and founder, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future, one person or team at a time.  Through personal experience and hands-on work with executives from diverse industries at all levels, Susan has had the privilege of helping thousands of people do the difficult and exhilarating work of growth.