We can see the difference between conviction and posture in the behaviour a person adopts in the storm compared to what they profess in general. This is called exemplarity. From this point of view my daily watch is desolating to say the least.
The model of organization and operation of companies inherited from the industrial era is otherwise dead, or at least at the end of its life. This is a generally accepted fact, even if no alternative model is unanimously accepted, if only because of the difficulty of deploying them, and a fortiori in large organizations with a well-established past and culture.
But isn’t the mistake, moreover, to believe that, as before, there must be only one and only one model? To believe that there is a single context that calls for a single response?
I have already explained at length what the complexity of the world means for our organizations. To say more or less the same thing, we are used to using the acronym VUCA to describe the world we live in. VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity.
Volatility: changes are rapid, difficult to anticipate and their causes are varied and changing.
Uncertainty: Difficulty in understanding the present because it does not correspond to any known situation and the past can no longer be used to understand the present or predict the future.
Complexity: a multitude of factors are intertwined and act without any apparent logic or cause and effect.
Ambiguity: things are unclear and therefore different readings are possible.
These are indeed the characteristics of the world in which we have been living for at least 20 or 30 years now, even if it has taken time to admit it. In any case, we have seen organisational management models, or even alternative business models, multiply over the last fifteen years or so. And not surprisingly, they were first born in the technology sector before trying to spread elsewhere.
So it’s been at least 10, even 15 years that I’ve been constantly seeing people’s Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin “feeds” explaining that “old models are dead”, that all companies must function like startups, that today’s companies are ill-adapted to today’s world and will disappear like dinosaurs. For some of them I have seen them explain the same thing on the stage of many conferences, in front of other experts, business leaders or change activists.
In fact, I’m one of them myself, convinced that we have a totally outdated view of the world in which our companies evolve and that we are therefore incapable of providing an answer that holds up, even if I am wary of oversimplifying ideas or an overly marketing approach that reduces management to a series of “punchlines” thrown on slides to an audience in awe and eager to retweet them.
I do not think that anyone today can say that we should not change our reading grid and move away from a model that relies entirely on predictability and the ability to “replicate perfection ad infinitum”. And the best example of this is COVID-19 and the way it is managed at the highest level. Indeed, who can today claim that the current crisis is something known, whose causes were easy to anticipate, whose consequences were predictable and whose answers were all the easier to find because they were already known? And I am only talking about the leaders because the understanding of the situation (or precisely the acceptance of the fact that at a given moment one cannot understand everything) is even more vague elsewhere. Moreover, looking at what is happening at the level of States only reminds us of the dysfunctions that we have been observing for a long time at the level of companies.
COVID-19 ticks all the boxes in a VUCA world: we don’t know where it comes from, how it was born, how it spreads, what its exact effects are, how to counter it, and it shows the limits of all known and proven models of response to a crisis of this type as well as our inability to accept to get out of these models.
I think that the great lesson that we will all have to learn in hindsight from the crisis (because far too many people lack the hindsight to understand it in the heat of the moment) is that from now on we will increasingly find it normal not to know, to use our judgment if we are not certain, to have to improvise, to make mistakes, to accept them and learn from them quickly and, overall, to accept the risk.
Nor can we avoid questioning the relevance of the precautionary principle in a world in which the leap into the unknown is no longer a luxury we can do without but the only way out.
In this logic I like to recall that Yves Morieux said in a recent interview that “You have to accept the fuzziness, even make an apology for it – even in maths, fuzzy logic has made advances possible! “.
I will also take up Christophe Roux-Dufort’s analysis in this excellent article on crisis management:
“If experts have never experienced a phenomenon they will think it will never happen. The more the technology is supposed to be developed, the more likely individuals will be to discredit any information or phenomena that do not fit the technology. Information systems will be such that they will only produce information that is consistent with the design that individuals may have of the system. However, it seems that the ability to develop a certain reliability depends on one’s ability to be able to accept information or events that do not necessarily fit with the technology being exploited. If there is dissonance, there is construction of meaning”.
As far as I’m concerned, it all seems pretty obvious to me and I’m quite comfortable with these ideas of accepting uncertainty, trial and error, taking risks. Not necessarily out of taste but out of necessity: there’s no point in clinging to what reassures you when you know it doesn’t work anymore.
It reminds me of the story of the person who lost his keys on the street in the middle of the night. He’s looking for them around a lamppost. Several passers-by join him and help him look. After an hour no one has found anything and he is asked “Are you sure you lost them here?” And he answers: “No, not at all, but it’s the only place where there’s light.”
In short, even if it’s unfortunate that it had to come to this point, there may be one positive thing that will come out of this dramatic episode: the way in which we will now read the world around us and how we will react to it.
Unless nothing changes, and that’s what worries me.
It is completely normal for some people to be uncomfortable with uncertainty. The fact that some people’s actions are totally dictated by fear is understandable, even if we know that it is the best way to make mistakes. It is natural for some people to prefer denial to questioning.
What saddens me in this matter is that when I look around me, when I do my daily monitoring of my various networks, I realize that among those who criticize, often vehemently the fact that they are not given certainties, that there is no fixed plan but things that are adapted as discoveries and events unfold, that beyond the main principles there can only be adjustments on a case-by-case basis, who don’t want to understand that there is no such thing as zero risk, who say that “test and learn” is a sign of incompetence. …I see far too many people who preach exactly the opposite when they are on stage, when they advise others, when they sell their added value to their clients. A turning around? Not always, sometimes just an unconscious reflex when you are directly involved and no longer just advising others. The real problem is not being able to get past it, get back to one’ s senses and explain an unavoidable paradigm shift, which they usually do very well.
When, in 1 month, 6 months, 1 year from now, I will see again the exhortations to change to adapt to a more and more complex and illegible world, and no doubt they will flourish because after the crisis business will come back, I will finally know in whom it is a matter of conviction and in whom it is only a communication stance.
There are many reasons why there will be no “next world”. One of them, but not the only one, is just the selfishness and lack of convictions of those who might accompany paradigm shifts in business.
Obviously personal branding is not virus resistant and this may be the only good news in the story.