Reinventing the way we work, live and lead
We, as people, are skilled in adjusting to our environment. When circumstances change, we change accordingly. We organize things differently like we always have done as a species. One could say that the 21st century challenges this ability to change to its limits. Everything is evolving more rapidly and is becoming more complex. The current systems are on the verge of collapsing, business-wise, but also earth-wise. Our present forms of organizations and leadership have a hard time keeping up with these demands.
What will the new organization-shapes look like? What will work look like in the coming decades?
Speaking about form and shapes, one interesting challenge is that a lot of things seem to becoming shapeless, virtual or fluid. We used to work from 9-5, now we work any time. We used to work in an office, now we can work anywhere. We used to have a clear career ladder, now we create our own career path. For a long time fixed forms gave us a clear insight in life and work. Now it seems as if it’s all up to us.
Everything we thought we knew on organizational development is changing -- from large massive organizations, to small agile ones -- to owning everything, to owning nothing, like taxi-company Uber -- from power to a few persons, to power to the people through the Internet. From fixed rules to ultimate flexibility.
In our current society old institutions and fixed rules are becoming more and more obsolete. Even the long celebrated fixed hierarchy structure is on the verge of dying and is being replaced by flatter, rather complex networks. The way we cooperate with distant, virtual teams is relatively new to us. Our leaders, who formerly were regarded as heroes, don’t fit that image anymore – now they are acting more as hosts, who design the interactions within the networks.
So these new times invite us to be designers. The disappearance of fixed forms and appearance of new technologies, challenges us to be innovative and define our own. But how can we best do this?
Take the purpose as your starting point
The concept I am about to describe, always guides me to a perfect answer. Jouke Post, who is a trainer at the Pulsar Academy, introduced this to me. It’s so simple that once you get the hang of it, it sticks with you.
Every form is an expression of an intention or purpose.
Working from 9-5 (form) was once created, because it was practical to have everyone at one place at the same time (purpose). A table (form) has a flat surface, because it is designed to hold things (purpose).
A hierarchy organizational chart (form) was designed to make centrally influenced decisions (purpose).
When a form fits the function really well you immediately notice the good design. Imagine the ambience in your favorite coffee spot – the music, the staff, the cups (forms) everything seems to be made to let you feel at home (purpose). Or imagine your favorite chair – it seems like it’s especially designed for your body.
We also recognize the poor ‘designs’, where the actual form doesn’t fit the meaning of the product or service (anymore). For example team meetings, where we meant to connect with colleagues and remain up-to-date, but often just cause an energy-drain.
If you focus on the purpose first and stick to it while exploring ideas, it serves as inspiration to create a better-chosen process. If your purpose is to connect with your colleagues, it is better to have a coffee, take a walk or play a quick game than choose a suffocating room without windows and a flip-chart without markers. And if your purpose is also to remain up-to-date with your colleagues work, you better design a 1-min pitch process to keep momentum.
For a long time we accepted the already existing form (getting married in your twenties, same religion or political preference as your parents, chasing career status). It’s interesting that these times with fluid, fast changing forms, challenge us to redefine and begin with our own purpose instead of relying on pre-destined forms.
Why is this important for leaders?
New technologies such as 3-D printing, alternative energies and algorithms/big data will change the way we engage our consumers, we ship our products, we hire new people and predict new trends.
In fast-changing business environments it’s a natural habit for people to search for stability. If you don’t want people to stick with fixed forms that need to be changed, you’ll have to provide some other opportunity for stability.
More and more leaders in fast-changing organizations realize that their focus on the purpose serves as an eye in the storm. This purpose doesn’t need to change as fast as the forms and is an inspiring compass to keep holding onto.
One part that was already important in leadership and helping people to change, but will only grow in importance, is to be authentic.
An authentic leader is someone whose intentions fit with his expressions.
I once met a Yoga teacher in India – it was like he ‘was’ yoga. His inner purpose perfectly coincided with everything he did and taught us. With his 100 % authenticity he got the most stiff and cynical participant to try challenging yoga positions.
So if you’re looking to become more authentic your outside has to fit what’s going on inside – when you would be afraid of speaking in public, why try to hide this with a too loud voice? So question yourself: ‘What might be inauthentic actions, which don’t fit with your inner intentions?’
Besides this, what is more inspiring than having a leader who isn’t attached to fixed norms and rules, but challenges you to define your own authentic actions as long as they match with the defined purpose? This is how you create an entrepreneurial culture full of autonomy.
Try it yourself
1. Take time to reflect on the purpose: So before the next meeting, project or holiday, take a few minutes and start concentrating on your intention. What is it that you are trying to accomplish for others or yourself? Formulate a brief, inspiring statement.
2. Allow the creativity to kick in: Now allow the creativity to kick in and come
up with a suitable form. Be aware of settling for the first ideas. I challenge you to
come up with more than five ideas, just to train yourself in this concept. Most
importantly, allow yourself to let go of assumptions or rules and restrictions. They
often don’t make sense any more.
3. Select the best form: Choose the best idea for the form with the intention in
mind, execute and enjoy!
Try this for yourself, but also together with your team – the discussion on the purpose will give you more insights than you imagine and the creativity of your team-members might surprise you.
I myself applied this concept most successfully while starting and executing projects. I was way more inspired since I started each project with formulating my purpose: ‘What does this project has to offer to whom?’ But the real game-changer for me was not settling for the quick fix, allowing the creativity to kick in and let the form emerge. For me this concept lead to unexpected, new and fitted results.
I am curious what it has in store for you!