Each business and each individual needs to understand where they sit relative to the edge of innovation. Predicting the future is hard work. If you want to get closer to the edge you need to increase the diversity of your capabilities and your adaptability to change.
Prediction is a failing strategy
Organisations making fixed asset investments with long lives often want to predict the future. Individuals choosing where to build a career want to know that their choices will lead to prosperity. It is tempting to seek predictions.
We can’t predict the weather. We are terrible at predicting the future. No matter how much money you spend on analysis, research, futurists, consultants and other sources of insight it will at best give you a partial sense of the direction of change. If you doubt this, go back ten years and look for predictions of what the world will be like today. Humans are simply too creative and our systems too complex for our own future imaginations.
Innovation leaders use two other strategies to manage the uncertainty of what might be ahead. They manage diverse portfolios of opportunities. They build the ability to adapt quickly. Diversity gives you the chance to see some winners outweigh your losing bets. Adaptability gives you the ability to be a fast follower when directions become clearer or change is required.
Build Diversity and Adaptability
Organisations often compromise their diversity and adaptability mistaking present day efficiency for dynamic effectiveness. Individuals often surrender diversity and adaptability in an effort to specialise and under a range of social pressures to conform.
Change will come. Disruptive change will impact companies, industries and roles. Building some capabilities that offer diverse opportunities for both organisations and individuals is important. More important is the ability to learn and to change. Startups design their entire organisation around getting access to capabilities and adapting quickly to opportunities. Organisations with proven business models can add these capabilities to foster growth and become more responsive. Individuals can build their capabilities and their adaptability as optionality for future careers.
If there are capabilities aligned to your personal or organisational purpose, explore them. You never know when they might come in handy later. Most importantly, never surrender your ability to learn and adapt to change.
A personal story
Over a decade ago when I was working as a Regional Manager in a retail bank, I stood in a bookstore and saw a book entitled “Cultivating Communities of Practice” by Wenger, McDermott and Snyder. The title appealed to my life long interest in how people learn and the opportunities to bring people together around knowledge. Reading the book started a journey for me to explore other aspects of community, learning, leadership and organisations.
Roles came along that were off the beaten path and I was offered them because of my diverse interests made me a rare match to the challenges. These roles offered opportunities to practice some of these skills in other contexts like the launch of a Corporate University. I took on side projects like helping to champion a Yammer network and built new capabilities because they resonated with my personal purpose. I couldn’t have predicted these adventures would turn me into a consultant in collaboration, leadership and learning. I was building capabilities aligned to my purpose and I was building my ability to work in new and different contexts. When you add my personal passion for change and adaptation, new career options followed.