Thursday, April 9, 2009

Interesting Times

Reserving the right to object, I think we fail to recognize the level of challenge we face in the outset of the 21st Century. We live in interesting times and we must be willing to look at new ways of addressing the challenges before us if we are to continue to lead. There are lessons from the past that can be valued, but the solutions of the past are likely inadequate to the future.

The reason for our dilemma is that revolution is sweeping away old theories and calculations. It has been at least two centuries since we have seen the kind of seismic change now underway. Two centuries ago we completely altered the theories of governance, ushered in a new economic presumption, wrestled with the advent of new technologies and saw significant cultural changes.

So it is today. Revolutions are occuring simultaneously in politics, economics, technology and culture. The politics of individual empowerment is making bureaucratic decision-making obsolete. The twin economic towers of information based value where intangibles compete with tangibles and the globalization of the economy makes competitors anywhere in world relevant mean that we can no longer use industrial age data and performance as our benchmarks. New technologies from computers to nano scaled material hold great promise but also create new problems. And cultural change brought on by mass immigration, religious intolerance and educational dysfunction are both worldwide and individual community questions.

Dealing with the Four Revolutions requires four leadership characteristics. Leaders must start with a vision that recognizes the full scope of the revolutionary climate. They must then design strategies that implement that vision. Only after a strategy has been developed can they successfully design the projects that allow the strategy to succeed. And the tactics required to implement the projects are the final piece of successful leadership.

The problem we see in government now is a focus on projects and tactics rather than grounding those things in a true strategy based on a real vision. The result is drift and dysfunction now matter who the leaders are. And when your whole program is basically tactical, the bitterness of the political battles becomes even more intense because the fights are at the narrowest points.

Therefore, if we think about the 21st Century there would seem to be four concepts around which to organize a vision and begin to address the reality of our challenges. The four vision concepts are opportunity, security, innovation and integrity. Each of the four must be seen in its broadest interpretation and it is that broad definition of each that I will discuss in future columns.

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