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Beyond Crisis

April 5, 2018

In 2010, three of us – Oliver Sparrow, Patricia Lustig and I – wrote a book called “Beyond Crisis”. It was divided into three parts:

  • Explaining why the post World War II world had broken irrevocably, so that after the crisis of 2008 there would be no return to Business As Usual
  • The implications for leadership – the new shape of organisations
  • Tools that could help manage in this new and uncertain environment.

It argued that products and services are able to be delivered efficiently using widely adopted management tools. But these could then be commoditised and were subject to price collapse. The increasing use of machine and augmented intelligence and robots has only accelerated that trend. To survive, organisations need to insightful and adaptive. The Beyond Crisis model represents organisations in two parts – one responsible for efficient day to day operation and the other responsible for adaption. Crucial are the links between the two parts and this is where the book focuses, distinguishing leadership characteristics needed for this organisation.

B Crisis 2

The book was well received, for instance by the former editor of the Economist and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, Rupert Pennant-Rea “If you want to know how countries, companies and individuals can master the winds and waves that will dominate the next decade, this is the book for you”.

And it highlighted for us two things

  • The difficulty of creating compelling images of the future compared with the relative ease of analysing history – and hence basing decisions on a foresighted view rather than a backward one
  • The need to build the implications for leadership and the new shape of organisations into wider management thinking.

To tackle the first, we looked at some of the new science fiction. For instance, three new science fiction novels in 2017 engage with climate change. Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 (Orbit) is a multilayered novel set in a flooded Big Apple. Paul McAuley’s Austral (Gollancz) is set in a powerfully realised near‑future Antarctica transformed by global warming. Jeff VanderMeer’s vivid Borne (4th Estate) takes a different, neo-surrealist approach, with a flying bear as big as a cathedral rampaging through wastelands.

So science fiction can create strong images. But it has some hurdles in creating images of the future which help organisations think about their strategy. One is the pace of change, so that fiction is often overtaken by events. The second is – that it is fiction. The third is that there are a number of mega trends affecting the world today, so that in addition to climate change we are facing warfare through social media, the impact of changing demographics on the planning assumptions of many major corporates, the increasing inability of governments to match tax revenues with citizens’ expectations. Science fiction finds it difficult to integrate these.

What is needed is a link back to informed thinking, which traces the potential trajectory of the megatrends, explores their potential impact and connections. So this will be the next book that Tricia and I write – watch this space.

The need to build the ideas from Beyond Crisis onto wider management thinking got a major boost by their adoption into a seminal work, The MultiCapital Scorecard: Rethinking Organizational Performance, by Martin P. Thomas and Mark W. McElroy. This book is about building a world where business and society thrive together. It argues that companies need to focus on solving the world’s challenges and that using the tools of capitalism and markets are our best bet. The structures in Beyond Crisis provide a model for how such organisations could function. But how will business leaders know whether they have made this big pivot or how far they have to go to get to the hard-to-define sustainable? Business has been missing the right metrics and tools. This new MultiCapital Scorecard fills that critical gap: it is a . robust dashboard managers need to understand how they are really doing on environmental, social, and financial performance.

The common theme is the need for leaders to be able to engage with society in order to be sustainable.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow Emeritus.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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