How to thrive tomorrow? Have a cat life!

Speech from the Global Service Design Conference 2014

Business life, institutional life and your professional is often tough. Fun but tough. Looking at the near future it will be a wild, wild world.  And as they say “when the going get’s tough, the tough gets going.

Surviving and thriving in today’s world depends on making fundamental choices (e.g. open networks, value creation, digitalization). For me, an underlying guideline is does any choice support us  to become more agile? Those making the transition successfully to agility are achieving performance and health improvements. On the business side growth in profitability, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement. On the professional life: more satisfying results, more career opportunities and a better wealth and health.

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New mindset and capabilities

As stated by McKinsey more  than any other factor, the key to a successful agile transformation is for leaders, particularly senior leaders, to develop substantially new mindsets and capabilities.

For me that implies design.  As a service designer I stick to Herbert Simon’s definition of design in his 1969 article Sciences of the artificial, he described the word ‘design’ as the ‘changing existing circumstances into preferred ones’. He  laid the foundation for design thinking. Design Thinking is always linked to improving the future.

But what to do when that future at a global scale is so unknown.  One should not exaggerate; probably there were even more challenging and innovative decades in the recent past. Not global but local or regional.  In those and these days a managerial approach – control and focus – worked well. But such an approach does not contribute to any success in a global, open, turbulent world.

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You are probably aware of the fact that leadership and cultures are the biggest barriers to – and sometimes the biggest enablers of – successful change initiatives.

Live like a cat does

I recommend any leader (professional) to live like a cat.

As predators, cats need to be able to sense movement well in very low light. To make that work, they have to sacrifice some of the finer detail and colour perception that humans have. For leaders this implies be aware of any movement in your environment; not with all the messy details.  Be aware and act, if appropriate.

What about cats and their nine lives? Yes, I know it’s a myth. Some people believe the nine lives myth is related to cats’ ability to always land on their feet.  In this way cats are also known for their agility. And that is what senior leadership must do: always enable the organization to land on their feet. Feet for the sake of clarity are the developing capabilities, competencies, skills and so on.

And what about hierarchy? Ever tried to be their boss? Forget any kind of hierarchy (although some experts believe cats themselves organize socially in a ‘despotic hierarchy, just like some leadership does).

Organizations, institutions and professionals better extend and transcend the competencies that made them  successful up to now. I strongly recommend to transform by building living like a cat  into the design and culture of the whole organization.

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