The Smart Managers' Secret to Navigating Disruption and Complexity

Photo: Adobe Stock / Monkey Business

Photo: Adobe Stock / Monkey Business

For managers working in this hyper-connected world, disruption and complexity are the new norms.

Yet, despite their best efforts, most find that stability and order have become fleeting and elusive. They feel baffled with nowhere to turn as established policies miss the mark and trusted metrics repeatedly fall short.

It is as if order and predictability are little more than faint memories. And certainty? Any hope of that is wishful thinking.

Or is it?

A New Way of Thinking

Most managers are resigned to the fact that business is now more unpredictable than ever. They know that the old ways are not coming back.

But a new breed of managers is navigating disruption and complexity in a whole new way. They're cultivating a new kind order and certainty. Consequently, their teams are far more effective despite constant chaos and upheaval.

For these "master navigators," their secret is a process I call "anchoring."

Anchoring: Rethinking Disruption and Complexity

The term "anchoring" is relatively new, but the practice is not. For instance, the managers I interviewed during my research have used it for some time with great results.

In the simplest terms, "anchoring" means to clarify a complex issue. It is a form of collaborative sense making that makes a complex issue more concrete. The result is that these problems gets clearer and options more obvious.

A Real World Example

Here's an example I found during my research. Sheila (a pseudonym) was a new social service manager. She told me about the difficulty she faced the first time she had to fire a staff member.

Sheila shared with me that when this happened she was initially nervous and confused. She had never conducted a termination meeting before. To make matters worse, this employee had a history of volatile behavior. Sheila was worried that the meeting would spin out of control.

But Sheila was lucky. Before the meeting she had a chance to speak with two seasoned colleagues. They shared their own experience with situations just like this. And to help keep the meeting on track, they gave her simple guidelines for what to say and how to act.

Sheila later told me that this discussion made all the difference. She now felt confident going into the meeting and let the employee go without incident.

More Than Clarity

Some may read this and think "What's the big deal? They helped her out! There's nothing special about that!!"

Perhaps. But let's look a bit closer.

While the challenge may have appeared simple, from Sheila's viewpoint, it was full of risks and unknowns. .

As Sheila saw it, the options before her were far from obvious.

The Power of Anchoring

By anchoring the situation, Sheila and her colleagues changed all that.

Together, made sense of the situation and created an effective game plan. This empowered Sheila to discard her confusion, gain confidence and take effective action.

This is the power of anchoring.

Anchoring transforms confusion and ambiguity into actionable strategy. In the process, it releases the disempowering emotions that commonly arise.

Anchoring Defies Traditional Management Norms

My first opportunity to see anchoring in action was conducting field research for my Ph.D. My research focused on why certain managers were effective despite ongoing complexity and disruption.

I saw that effective managers used an unconventional approach when engaging with their staff. They were more emotionally accessible and collaborative than managers following traditional management norms.

But the unconventional approach worked. And it worked well.

The Three Principles of the Anchoring Mindset

Questioning further, I found that the anchoring approach reflected three unconventional assumptions about management, order, and effectiveness. These three assumptions formed what I started calling "The Anchoring Mindset:"

  1. Policy and Data Are No Longer Enough. While policy and data are still important, they no longer offer the same degree of order and guidance the did during the industrial era. The world now moves too fast and is too complex. Order and certainty look very different today and require a more human approach.
  2. Anchoring Is a Manager's Top Priority.  Compliance and accountability used to be managers' top priority. But those days are gone. Ensuring quality anchoring has become managers' top priority.
  3. Anchoring Is All About Relationship. Because the world moves so fast, data and policy no longer tell the whole story. Trusting relationships are the new source of order and stability. When people feel safe and listened to, they become better able to address disruption and complexity.

Regardless of industry, managers facing disruption and complexity now see that the challenges have never been greater. Anchoring provides an important new approach for making sense of upheaval, creating a sense of stability, and maximizing team engagement.

Disruption: How Smart Managers Unlock Its Creative Energy

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As business and technology continue to accelerate, managers everywhere are facing disruption like never before. Every day it comes at them in the form of conflicts, chaos, and breakdowns.

And even though the details vary, disruption typically causes widespread feelings of anxiety, aggravation, confusion, and overwhelm.

But today, most managers are still totally ill-equipped to effectively deal with this. And that only makes things worse.

Managers Up a Creek, Without A (Disruption) Mindset

In 1968, Peter Drucker referred to the then-modern business era as the "age of discontinuity."

Yet, almost half a century later, management thinking seems to have learned little from Drucker's words. Business still remains fixated on compliance, order and predictability.

Yet, ironically, the results this quest for stability are less than impressive.

A key reason is that, when disruption hits, managers are typically quick to react and begin dispensing blame. They identify a culprit and dispense directives and discipline. But these efforts usually backfire by undermining morale and decreasing engagement.

A Disruption Mindset and Uncommon Assumptions

But while doing research for my Ph.D., I discovered managers who got very different results.

These managers--I call them smart managers--were consistently effective and innovative. Even in the face of relentless disruption.

They were able to

  • avoid the angst associated with disruption.
  • strengthen team engagement.
  • unlock deeper levels of their team's creative energy.

I learned was smart managers had a radically different mindset based upon three assumptions. While uncommon, the three assumptions are simple to grasp, easy to adopt and generally make a difference for anyone using them.

Uncommon Assumption #1:
We Live In a Disruptive World

It’s clear that disruption isn't going away. But most managers continue to act as if the world were supposed to operate like a giant clock. Steady, predictable, and working with great precision.

However smart managers see it differently. Those I studied appeared to accept disruption as a basic fact of life.

For example Sally (not her real name), a seasoned social service manager I interviewed shared that

There are always unknowns. There is always unexpected....Every day I can walk in and have a game plan, but it is never going to be that way.

Sally didn’t act victimized by all the upheaval she regularly encountered. In fact, she saw it as a tremendous asset.

Like her smart colleagues, Sally saw disruption as an opportunity for her team to

  • improve their skills.
  • strengthen their ability to collaborate.
  • maximize their capacity for resilience.

Yet smart managers understood that effective teams still needed certainty and stability.

So in this regard, smart managers are very much like other managers. But what set them apart was where they found that certainty and stability.

Uncommon Assumption #2:
Stability Is All About Relationships

Organizations have always worked to transform chaos into stability.

In the industrial era, one way companies did this was by using capital and authority to control human behavior.

Today, the world is a very different place. However, many organizations still try to do this same thing.

Most contemporary organizations remain committed to controlling human behavior through authority. But today this approach typically creates chaos, not stability.

But smart managers intuitively understand this. They recognize that business has changed and that stability no longer comes from flexing authority. It comes through relationship.

As Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McGee have said, the key is “establishing close and smooth relationships so that everyone can share information easily and coordinate effectively.”

Smart managers live this. They know that stability comes from building strong, trusting relationships.  This is why smart managers rely on relationships as their main source of stability when facing chaos or uncertainty.

Yet if the situation called for it, smart managers don’t shy away from flexing their authority. But only as a last resort.

This, in turn, points to the third uncommon assumption informing the smart managers' mindset.

Uncommon Assumption #3:
Authority Serves People, People Don’t Serve Authority

The industrial era is long gone. But management thinking from that time continues to dominate most business settings. And a cornerstone of this mindset is the belief that managers create stability by controlling human behavior.

But smart managers know that people don't exist to serve their authority. Quite the opposite. Smart managers believe that their authority exists to serve their people. 

This is a simple belief, but for the smart managers, the implications seem to be monumental. But the key to making this work was using four "Anchors", or relational problem-solving strategies that I'll be introducing in upcoming postings.

What Smart Managers Understand

So smart managers don’t fight disruption. They embrace it. The key to doing this is putting relationships first and using authority to meet their people’s needs.

Innovation Is Essential. But Are Your Best and Brightest Killing It?

Photo: Shutterstock/ Africa Studio

Photo: Shutterstock/ Africa Studio

For organizations today innovation is critical. Without it they cannot solve their toughest problems and remain competitive. To ensure this happens, leaders depend upon their top performers, their best and brightest. 

Yet these days business has grown complex, super-fast, and hyper-connected. And in this world, top performers may actually be doing more to hurt innovation than helping it.

Unfortunately, many leaders, still employing an industrial-era mindset, aren’t able to recognize this. They can’t see that innovation no longer comes from innovative individuals. As the best companies are now showing us, it comes from innovative cultures.

But recognizing this and letting go of industrial-era mindsets and is not easy. In my own research, I found that innovative companies had to recognize at least three key shifts:

  • The Changing Face of Innovation
  • The Evolving Role of Top Performers, and
  • The Shifting Demands of Leading Innovation.

The Changing Face of Innovation

Digital technology has had a big impact on how organizations approach complex problem-solving. Such problems are often contextual and involve more information than ever before. Under such conditions, it is impossible for one person to comprehend all that is going on.

Often the knowledge needed to solve complex problems is dispersed throughout vast electronic networks. Hence, the process of generating innovative insight is dispersed throughout vast human networks.

Thus, innovation–once the exclusive domain of elite problem-solvers–is now a collaborative process involving many.

For many organizations the impact of this shift has been monumental. For instance, David Weinberger has pointed out that “as knowledge becomes networked, the smartest person in the room…is the room itself.”

The Evolving Role of Top Performers

But what does all this mean for top performers (a.k.a. The long-considered the go-to people for tackling the organization’s toughest problems)? For many top performers, the shift toward collaborative may not be so smooth.

In 2015 Fast Company reported that most top performers excel because they have drive and high standards. Yet these same traits often mean that top performers “are not acclimated to being part of a team.”

But, as Chris Argyris found, one thing top performers are acclimated to is winning. Hence, they rarely had to learn from their mistakes or integrate a different point of view.

As Argyris reported:
because [top performers] have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure. So, whenever their…strategies go wrong, they become defensive, screen out criticism, and put the ‘‘blame’’ on anyone and everyone but themselves.

But that’s not all. Many companies encourage such bad sportsmanship by showering top performers with status and reputation.

So it is easy to see why people are afraid to voice a contradictory observation or insight.

But my purpose is not to launch a wholesale indictment of all elite performers. Often these individuals are quite humble and collaborative. My point is to show that how many companies today unconsciously undermine their own drive to be more innovative.

And this is exactly why leadership is so important.

The Shifting Demands of Leading Innovation

During my Ph.D. I researched how innovation happened under conditions of chaos and disruption. I looked closely at how teams came up with innovative solutions even though they were working in chaotic conditions.

The findings shocked me. Of the four key variables, none had to do with skill level, expertise, training, or resources. Instead, all were related to the quality of the relationships between team members. And the most influential of the four, by far, was the level of psychological safety. 

Psychological safety is the sense that people feel safe to be themselves. They feel that it is safe to be vulnerable, admit mistakes, and share unpopular views without fear of ridicule or judgment.

Many leaders have not yet heard of this term, but they soon will. More and more organizational research now shows that innovation and effectiveness depend on it.

Google is, without a doubt, one of the most innovative companies around. In a recent study of its own teams, Google found that the key predictor of innovation was psychological safety.

For leaders wishing to develop innovative organizations, these findings hold huge implications. They point to the need to let go of command-and-control practices and create cultures rich in psychological safety.

Top Performers as Innovation Coaches

A lot of this involves working with top performers to help them shift their own thinking. Leaders can encourage them to share the spotlight and use their influence to create a more open and collaborative environment.

Doing so will help create organizations that are truly innovative. These are places where everyone feels that they are a welcome and vital part of the innovation process.

The Collapse of Expertise and Rise of Collaborative Sensemaking

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If organizations are going to thrive in these turbulent times, they must surrender many longstanding assumptions about expertise and quickly start leveraging the power of collaborative knowledge. But for many organizations, this won’t be easy as most continue to believe in the kind of power-driven, top-down knowledge management strategies common to the machine age.

But given the disruptive challenges most businesses now face, collaboration is key and collaborative knowledge generation–or sensemaking–is essential for staying attuned to competitive the complex, ever-shifting landscape that defines our hyper-connected universe.

But there’s a glitch: paying frontline or mid-level staff to collaboratively make sense of complex problems and strategize solutions flies right in the face of traditional management thinking and the belief that the only valid source of knowledge is authoritative expertise. So clearly, new mindsets about authority, expertise, and the generation of strategic knowledge are needed.

Traditional Management: In Authoritative Knowledge We Trust

Anthropologist Brigitte Jordan has observed that “The power of authoritative knowledge is not that it is correct, but that it counts.” How true!

Jordan’s point hits home on several fronts: First, it speaks directly to management’s long-standing dependence upon the "cult of expertise" to justify its own authoritative management style. We see this in the assumption that, for most problems, there is only “one best way” to address it; and that one best way can only come from those who have specialized training and knowledge. This helps explain why authority is automatically bestowed upon the appointed “experts” who, because of their advanced know-how, are able to assess problems with greater accuracy than those who are dealing with them first-hand.

Jordan’s point also illustrates the false dichotomy organizations still foster between managers whose job it is to think and workers who are only there to do. This thinking/doing split can be traced to the very origins of professional management training. It was a key premise that Frederick Taylor, the founding father of modern management, used in his theory of scientific management. So it’s not surprising that, even today, we still hear managers lament "why can't these people just get the big picture!”

It's About Integration!

But we have to be careful to avoid the trap of just jumping to the other extreme and declaring that expertise has absolutely no value and needs to be banished. While collaborative sensemaking is crucial, it also needs to be integrated with the broader perspective and enduring insight afforded by more rigorous and tested thought. This means that for today's businesses, expertise remains a vital--but equal--component of a dynamic and evolving sensemaking landscape.

Suggestions For Introducing More Collaborative Strategies

So what can business leaders do to begin integrating sensemaking processes into their people's problem-solving toolkits?

Peter Morville has said that those in positions of authority should see themselves as decision-making architects. This implies using positional power smartly–not to control others, but instead to create cultures and contexts in which mutually-empowering decision-making processes become the norm.

Those looking to make a start may want to consider these suggestions:

  1. Look for pockets of resistance: If you know of departments or programs continually complaining that “management is out of touch”, they may be right! This may be a good place for managers to start practicing their listening skills and begin implementing more collaborative practices.
  2. Change your story: Stories are powerful tools for transformation; you may want to revise you talk about the power of expertise vs. workforce input. A more inclusive message valuing workers’ knowledge helps workers feel that it is safe to contribute their own thoughts and impressions.
  3. Utilize more collaborative platforms that promote for collaborative problem-solving: Venues will differ based on the organizations’ size and type of work. But still be sure to seek out ways to incorporate social technologies for unlocking collaborative potential.

A Deeper Awareness of Social

As we move deeper into the often-awkward shift from industrial heroism to social interdependence, organizations of all kinds must look closely at what it means to be “social”. Social is more than a buzzword, and it’s more than having a company Twitter account. At its center, a social mindset is about a more dynamic and integrative way of seeing the world.

For organizations committed to leveraging disruptive change, a collaborative mindset must be at the heart of their worldview. This includes how leadership approaches the role of authority and expert knowledge. Nothing better reflects this understanding than how those in authority–day in, day out–balance reliance upon expert knowledge and the process of collaborative sensemaking.

An earlier version of this piece was previously published on the blog http://www.GonnaGrowWings.com 

Baffled By All This Disruption? It’s Time You Learned About Liminality.

Image by Dan Zen

Image by Dan Zen

For those working in organizations and industries beset by continuous disruption and upheaval, it is difficult at times not to feel repeatedly victimized or violated by disruptions and upheavals that seem to be beyond one’s control. Constant exposure to work environments that are unstable or even chaotic can quickly undermine productivity and lead to excessive anxiety, low morale, scapegoating, and rapid burnout.

Such conditions can be especially difficult for those in positions of authority who, despite such recurrences, remain responsible for maintaining order and/or delivering according to set standards or timetables.

Under such conditions there are no quick fixes or easy answers. However, there is reason to believe that recurring patterns of instability and upheaval may actually be symptoms of broader deep systemic imbalances that, in turn, indicate a culture in the throes of deep transformative processes.

Granted, every upheaval or breakdown does not mean a system is in transition — after all, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. However, in an increasing number of cases, awareness of a condition known as liminality may provide some, particularly leaders, with much-needed insight and context that can, in turn, help organizations feel more empowered, less reactive, and better able to sense what may lie ahead.

A Modern Phenomenon, With Roots In Ancient Rituals

While the experience of liminality has been occurring for thousands of years, the term itself — which means a “quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals” — was just coined in the early 20th century by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep.

Van Gennep often referred to liminality as an uncomfortable state of “betwixt and between.” During such a state a person’s sense of self, temporarily ripped away from a comfortable, familiar routines and identity, becomes deeply disoriented and in turmoil as it undergoes a life-changing passage into a more mature or sophisticated identity. Van Gennep used an example drawn from indigenous cultures and the harrowing rituals adolescent boys went through as they made the passage into manhood.

A Passage For Societies and Culture As Well

In the mid-20th century philosopher Karl Jaspers noted that liminal passages were not just something individuals experienced; liminality was something an entire civilizations could experience. In such cases, entire populations were thrown into turmoil as customs, values, and institutions that were well-suited to one cultural stage of development began to collapse as a new, not-yet-fully-formed cultural era began to emerge.

At such points, familiar customs and traditions begin to lose influence as long-standing social hierarchies started to lose their authority amongst those who now seemed to hold values that did not fit within the same old established structures. Eventually, new traditions and social structures emerged to better reflect the new order of things. But until that occurred, things would become quite rocky road for all concerned.

Also An Organizational Phenomenon

In recent years, several authors —including me and, most notably, Dave Gray — have begun to recognize liminality as process of growth and maturation that impacts organizations as well. And, if we think about, this notion of organizational liminality makes a lot of sense.

History tells us that, from time to time, the Earth’s population has gone through a number of large-scale paradigm shifts that have dramatically altered social structures, intellectual traditions, and the institutions that embody them. With the changes our planet is now experiencing, it seems reasonable to assume that today we are in midst of another liminal passage of planetary proportions.

Assuming that is indeed the case, it then makes sense that organizations designed to accommodate a particular order, would start to experience instability and breakdowns as society starts to experience the emergence of a new, more sophisticated order.

But What’s A Leader To Do?

That question has no easy answers. However, it does seem reasonable to assume that, if the values and social structures surrounding an organization are experiencing a process of evolution, organizations that begin to align with that evolution have a much better chance of surviving and thriving than those that insist on holding onto the old order.

For those in positions of leadership, the most important part of fostering this alignment is to begin learning how to listen in new way. Every day now new signals and patterns are emerging hold potential as valuable indicators of the new alignment we will be seeing in broader structures and institutions. In addition, new management mindsets, such the Anchors and Sails model I am now beginning to develop, offer one way of becoming more receptive to emerging patterns while still delivering on critical strategic outcomes.

But our awareness of what is unfolding is still in its infancy. In fact, there a lot emerging at this very moment will disrupt “business as usual” even further. The best thing any of us can do is to simply stay tuned.

In a Turbulent World, Successful Organizations are Masters of Weaving

In the 1988 movie “Working Girl” with Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford, there is a pivotal scene in which the distressed working girl, Griffith, proves to a corporate mogul that she, a “mere” secretary, was the real mastermind behind a lucrative merger deal. Griffith’s character proves herself by talking the mogul through the mental twists and turns — involving shock jocks, the New York Post, charity balls, and visions for corporate expansion — she traversed to forge a vision of an inspired business venture.

The scene is brilliant, but not just because it deftly saves the day for Griffith so she can finally get the corner office as well as Harrison Ford; it’s brilliant because it illustrates how the ability to interweave seemingly unrelated concepts, influences, and interests is — now more than ever — one of the most important capacities organizations can now possess.

New Thinking About Thinking For Turbulent Times

In an era defined by extreme levels of complexity and upheaval, traditional brainstorming processes and problem-solving strategies are often proving themselves to be little more than distractions. These methods — holdovers from the industrial era — rely upon linear thought processes and proven formulas. This rational underpinning makes them fairly unreliable in a world where butterfly effects and black swan events can unexpectedly shift or decimate the best-laid plans or practices.

For this reason, businesses that wish to not only survive, but thrive through during these turbulent times will need not only new thinking, but new ways of thinking about thinking in order to do things like magnify weak signals and leverage the power of group intuition.

A (Not So) New Idea

And while the challenges most businesses now face seem unprecedented, the notion of interweaving disparate thoughts or influences as a key strategic asset was first introduced nearly a century ago.

Business professors will tell you that contemporary management practices as we now think of them originated in 1911 when an engineer and efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced an evidence-based model of organizational operations he called scientific managementTaylor’s model was steeped in data gathering and logical thought processes. As a result, such esoteric pursuits as trusting one’s intuition or mixing together things that did not appear to belong together was quite taboo.

But a contemporary of Taylor’s, social reformer and management consultant Mary Parker Follett, saw things quite differently. For Follett, the mechanistic world view that Taylor so idolized, while useful at times, was far from the be all and end all. As Follett saw it, the world not a giant mechanistic construction; for her, every thing and thought in the universe exists as part of a complex and ever-evolving experience of interweaving forces.

For this reason, Follett frequently declared that interweaving was the basis of all creative processes. Furthermore she also believed that, for managers, the ability to perceive and facilitate interweaving was one of the most important things they could do. As Follett saw it “the ceaseless interweavings of new specific [situations], is the whole forward movement of existence” (1924, p. 134).

Interweaving and Anchors

However, as encouraging as Follett may make it sound — or as enticing Melanie Griffith may make it look — for both managers and workers navigating in contemporary organizations and their near-constant turbulence, the process of interweaving is rarely simple or without substantial risks.

Today, both managers and workers are typically overwhelmed with unknowns and anxieties. For this reason, those striving to weave solutions in environments dominated by turbulence and ambiguity need to have reliable anchors in order to serve as a constant source of coherence and stability.

I recently proposed a model to help organizations navigate turbulent environments in a manner that fosters innovation and personal growth. Since introducing the Anchors and Sails model (not even 24 hours ago) I have had several exchanges that have prompted me to recognize even broader implications than what I had originally envisioned.

Several of these that I’ve not yet discussed, dive deeper into the relationship between anchors and interweaving. I plan to discuss these implications in more depth in the next several days.

Creating Coherence and Unleashing Vision in Business: The Application of Anchors and Sails

Note: Much gratitude to the wonderfully fun and brilliant Martha Valenta [@MarthaValenta] for her assistance in bringing these ideas into more tangible form.

Most models of management practice and business operations are based on an underlying presumption that the world is an orderly place where careful planning and logical execution consistently result in the attainment of intended outcomes. Ironically, most of these models appear to be unfazed by the fact that this rarely happens.

To thrive in our current age of deep turbulence, organizations will need frameworks for action that not only acknowledge the disruptive and non-linear nature of organizational life, but also use disruption and nonlinearity as opportunities for expanding capacities and consciousness.

In the coming years, this emphasis on growth and development — particularly through self-education — will be the critical determinant for an organization’s success or demise. The reason is simple: to survive in the face of rapidly accelerating disruption and unprecedented levels of complexity, rather than seeing upheaval as a catastrophic collapse, organizations will instead need to develop an ability to rapidly create coherence and unleash vision.

Anchors and Sails: A Model For Navigating Turbulent Organizational Waters

Throughout the next several postings I will introduce a preliminary draft of a model for effective leadership of teams working in environments where disruption and upheaval are seen as the rule rather than the exception.

This model is tentatively called “Anchors and Sails” because it posits that organizational effectiveness in turbulent environments demands that teams have simple tools for making sense of chaotic conditions (Anchors) and moving ahead toward meaningful outcomes when the future is full of uncertainty (Sails).

The Anchors and Sails model. Relational processes support teams to collaboratively make sense of past and present turbulence (Anchors), while conversational processes support teams in moving toward meaningful outcomes amidst high levels of uncertainty (Sails).

The Anchors and Sails model. Relational processes support teams to collaboratively make sense of past and present turbulence (Anchors), while conversational processes support teams in moving toward meaningful outcomes amidst high levels of uncertainty (Sails).

Success is Relational, Not Formulaic

The underlying logic of the Anchors and Sails model is that success in highly-disruptive environments is dependent upon relationships, rather than fixed formulas. Specifically, to consistently produce effective outcomes in such environments, rather than strict adherence to prescribed “success formulas”, leadership must instead commit to fostering psychologically-safe cultures based on high levels of trust and frequent collaboration.

The Four Anchors

Psychological Safety: The cornerstone of the entire model. A pervasive sense by all stakeholders that they can be vulnerable, admit mistakes, and share incomplete or inaccurate impressions without fear of judgment or reprisal.

Mindfulness: A willingness to be fully open to experiencing and learning from events and conditions without a need for quick judgment or defensiveness.

Interdependence: A cultural attribute that continually affirms that all team members, regardless of position, need one another to succeed. All are equally important and valued in creating valued outcomes.

Shared Experience: A common background or history in which previous trials and shared struggles serve to forge bonds of trust and reciprocity.

The key benefit to Anchors is that a team’s internal bonding and shared experience helps create a safe environment where novel approaches to current challenges is encouraged.

The Four Sails

Process: An awareness of all events — both expected and unexpected — as vital components of deeply interconnected patterns of behavior. There is understanding that these patterns are where growth and novelty are constantly emerging.

Foresight: An ability to draw from previous experience and knowledge of underlying patterns to discern possible futures.

Integration: Continually striving to maintain a holistic perspective by interweaving multiple, often-diverse, influences, agendas, and value systems.

Humility: A demonstrated sense of gratitude and service based on the premise that external events and influences — even those considered “disruptove” — can act as catalysts for individual and organizational evolution.

A Work In Progress

This current iteration of the Anchor and Sails model can be loosely thought of as version 1.2 or 1.3. A great deal of refinement and integration lies a head. In that spirit, I look forward to the feedback and reflections of those who can relate to and benefit from the model’s unique perspective.

During the next week, I will come back to this model to dig a bit deeper and forge more useful insights into its application and benefits.

Why The World of Business Is Still Scared of Your Inner Life

Until business addresses its long-standing inability to acknowledge humans as psychological beings with complex, emotionally-driven inner lives, it will remain unable to harness the deeper capacities and commitments of its people. As a result, most organizations will continue to operate under a pervasive cloud-cover of anxiety that keeps solutions to many of our society’s most vexing issues out of reach.

While many believe that lack of human connection is the product of money-hungry executives or poor management training, the real reason goes much deeper. The actual culprit are the deep intellectual divisions that characterize the Enlightenment-era thinking that still underlies most business thinking.

A Lineage of Separate Domains

Back in the day, the primary benefit of Enlightenment-era ideals was that they sought to free Western thinking from the centuries-old belief in magic, superstition, and individual prejudice. Ideas by thinkers like Descartes, Newton, and Rousseau helped do this by introducing new systems of thought based on principles of logic and rationality.

As a result, Western thought — and the scientific thinking that underscored it — worked long and hard to create a clear intellectual divide between the physical world and anything associated with the subjective part of human experience. According to British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow, what then ensued was a large-scale separation of the human experience, including its intellectual progress, into separate domains of human existence now known as the Sciences and the Arts.

As things worked out, anything related to material laws or mathematical processes — including the study of economics from which business thinking emerged — fell under the domain of science. Conversely, anything related to emotions or human beings’ subjective experience — such as creativity, philosophy, and psychology — were all assigned to the domain of the Arts.

Business was a Science; However Thinking About Business (or anything else, for that matter) Was an Art.

Another key premise of Enlightenment-era thinking was that every “thing” and experience that existed, belonged to one — and only one — category of human experience. Enlightenment thinkers were clear that these domains could never be mixed. (“Once you’re a Jet, You’re a Jet all the way, From your first cigarette
To your last dyin’ day.”)

Sorry, it’s really late.

So if something is considered a “science” everything within that thing or experience must also be an aspect of “science.”

This logic makes it much easier to understand how — for the past several hundreds years, if not more — business could treat human beings as little more than animated tools that needed to be fed and given rest in order to perform their assigned duties. This belief, now just a tad abhorrent, made total sense in its day as it served to maintain the separation of domains that had long defined Western thought.

And, Fast Forwarding To Today…

Today most organizational thinkers, including many university professors who write new theories and are charged with pushing the boundaries of how the world of business thinks about itself, remain unconsciously bound by the same rational separation of domains that has existed since the time of the Enlightenment.

The problem, however, is that today’s most pressing challenges — in both business and the world at large — require more nuanced, cross-disciplinary problem-solving strategies than that used at previous point in human history. For example, contemporary business challenges often call for greater use of capacities such as intuition, empathy, and collaborative sensemaking.

But, despite the growing intensity of such problems, until organizations can begin to employ not just new ideas, but a whole new paradigm of thinking, the solutions we so need will remaining confoundingly out of reach.

You Haven’t Heard of Behavioral Intelligence, But Chances Are Your Organization Desperately Needs It

An Unexpected Discovery

My doctoral research was focused on learning how managers were able to consistently produce effective outcomes while surrounded by continual disruption and upheaval. Once I started field interviews, I was quickly surprised to find that, for the most effective managers, the key determinant was not skill, training or experience: it was the degree of “psychological safety” they were able to establish within their teams.

The term “psychological safety”, may be new to many managers, but it is increasingly becoming seen as a critical factor in organizational success. The term, first coined by Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, refers to “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”

During my my field research, I was constantly struck by how central psychological safety was to overall organizational effectiveness, particularly in the case of organizations that regularly have to navigate high levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

However, as important as this knowledge was, it helped me to realize an even greater discovery: the critical role of psychological safety in organizational effectiveness helped me to see that, in our current age, awareness of invisible flows of interpersonal behavioral dynamics, was one of the — if not THE — greatest factor in organizational resilience and success.

Once I realized this, I felt an insatiable hunger to unconver everything I could about this largely unexamined, but strategically-critical, aspect of organizational life I am now referring to as “behavioral intelligence” (BQ). While I am learning more every day, I am currently defining BQ as

an organization’s overall awareness of the influence and impact of its internal behavioral dynamics.

A Step Beyond Emotional Intelligence

To better understand the idea of BQ, it is important to, first, understand the concept of “Emotional intelligence” (EQ). EQ — popularized in countless blog postings and, most noteably, in the the writings of psychologist Daniel Goleman — refers to an individual’s understanding of their emotions and how those emotions influence their actions.

While there are clear similarities, the concept of BQ goes far beyond the idea of EQ.

While EQ focuses on a simple awareness of one’s own emotional experience, BQ speaks to a much broader and dynamic awareness of the complex network of behavioral “chain reactions” that — much like wifi signals — infuse and influence all human interactions that take place as organizational members interact for the purpose of getting the job done.

This means that — to borrow a different tech-related analogy — if EQ provides us with a slow-motion selfie, BQ plugs us into realtime, live streaming video captured in 360 degrees.

A Systems Orientation

The idea of BQ uses a much wider lens than EQ in capturing the dynamic impact and influence of collective behavioral patterns. Whereas EQ focuses more on the individual’s experience and capacities, BQ borrows from the discipline of social psychology focuses on the systemic impact of ongoing patterns of behavior.

Because of its systems orientation, discussions about impact and influence of BQ can quickly jump over traditional silos and departmental boundaries to encompass system-wide cultural patterns and organizational outcomes.

An Emerging Field of Inquiry

While I have always been drawn to understand more about how human emotions and vulnerability play out in formalized settings (like work, school, church, etc.), my identification of this thing I am now calling “Behavioral Intelligence” is recent, coming directly out of the field research I conducted as part of my Ph.D.

As a result, this largely-undiscussed and uninvestigated aspect of organizational life is very much a work in progress. For this reason, I will continue look for relevant established research that can help to expand my current, very limited understanding. To that end, I am also keen to learn from and help others whose whose real-world organizational experiences further expands this awareness and how it can be applied to enhance organizational growth, resilience, and effectiveness.

I look forward to sharing those experiences with you and hope, fellow learners, that you will share yours with me.

To Think into the Future , We Must Begin Questioning the Past

The greatest barrier most organizations have in moving into the future is their inability to recognize how their present thinking and practices — regardless how progressive — remain largely trapped in the distant past.

Moreover, because organizations, and the people that lead them, are typically so focused on tangible processes and bottom-line results, there is often little time or tolerance for stepping back to think about their thinking. This includes considering how that thinking obscures their perception of pressing obstacles and opportunities.

For example, today our world is increasingly defined by networked communications or exchanges. These are typically non-linear interactions of complex interdependent systems and individuals.

This is very different from the industrial era, when business transactions were more predictable and direct. However in a networked economy, coherence and effectiveness in business depend on the ability to discern context and sense the emergence of novel patterns.

But even with a relentless focus on market dominance and innovation, contemporary business thinking remains deeply anchored to the sequential logic and predictability of Newtonian-era thought.

As a result, managers and those working under them feel tremendous pressure to steer clear of creative practices or problem-solving that fails to clearly demonstrate how Point A connects to Point B in order to create Outcome C.

The source of this limited, sequential thinking can be traced back to business’s continued allegiance toward the classical economy theories of Adam Smith. In his book The Third Industrial Revolutionthe Wharton School’s Jeremy Rifkin points out that Smith’s thinking followed the same commitment to logic and predictability favored by Isaac Newton.

This prompted Rifkin to write that

Anxious to ground their musings in the mathematical certainties of physics, Adam Smith and his contemporaries argued that just as the universe, once set in motion, acts automatically like a well-balanced mechanical clock, so too does the marketplace. (p. 194)

Today, this commitment to a mechanistic model of human action stifles innovation and prevents business from recognizing any option or opportunity that lies outside familiar, time-worn mindsets.

To successfully innovate and move into the future, contemporary organizations must learn to take the same kind of brief look backwards as Rifkin. Businesses and those that lead them have to develop the skills to recognize how the sequential logic of Newtonian thinking continues to influence and constrain their thinking.

This recognition, in turn, can inform a growing awareness that linear, mechanistic thinking, while still needed, is only one mindset in a much broader array of diverse thinking styles organization now need to effectively navigate challenges today and those on the road ahead.