I grew up working on a small ranch in Montana and my father tried to instill in me some common sense. One of the things you learn is to use everything at hand to keep equipment like tractors working and saddles at least functional. It wasn’t about being pretty or new. Duck tape and pliers, as I quickly found out, were a man’s best friends.
During graduate school abroad, my Dad and I would try to speak regularly. I remember telling him what happened when our toilet was not flushing in our group house (one bathroom!). Among my three roommates, I was the only one who knew how to simply lift the toilet lid box and re-connect the chain. My roommates were in awe. In sharing this story with my father, we realized that what we considered was common sense may not be so common – maybe it was actually rare sense.
I have spent most of my career helping organizations plan better in times of uncertainty. This approach called scenario planning combines both sides of the brain: our thinking, rational side with our more creative and imaginative. It’s about seeing signals and patterns unfolding – ahead of time – and helping an organization open to new insights, change their strategy (or, re-invent themselves) and, at the very least, learn how to navigate uncertainties for a better future. After over 150 projects, one clear message is: the sooner you can open to new insights, the better chance of succeeding. I led the now infamous “Kodak moment” work, where executives realized that the digital wave had already hit and they hadn’t yet noticed the signals.
Today’s crazy world is full of more uncertainties than I’ve ever seen. From rapid technology shifts to artificial intelligence (AI), geopolitics, trade wars, consumers in more debt than pre-2008, the challenges are enormous. And, most are very complex. We need to learn continuously, think hard, understand signs, navigate, work smarter – and use all of our brains. I learned scenario planning from the master, Pierre Wack, who first created the approach in the 1970s for corporate planning in Royal Dutch Shell, who became famous when they saw the emergence of OPEC before anyone else did (see my recent HBR article on Pierre Wack and scenario planning — https://hbr.org/2018/05/mindfulness-as-a-management-technique-goes-back-to-at-least-the-1970s.). He spoke and wrote about “seeing,” seeing the current and future environment with full consciousness. Planning well, in his experience, required “training the mind.”
Maybe a “rare” sense today is: not needing a crisis to change. Do you really need one? Does your organization? If you were to pause and really think about what is going on over the next twelve months, plan differently or re-invent how you do things, you could probably avoid a potential crisis. When 2019 is all done, what story do you want to be able to tell – about your organization, your leadership, even about your life?
*A shorter version of this piece was shared with 6th Level Consulting — https://6thlevelconsulting.com.