Learning from extremes

Over recent decades the world in which we work has experienced rapid change on a massive scale. Globalisation, the emergence of new economic powerhouses and unprecedented technological developments have created what have come to be known as ‘VUCA’ trading environments.

Indeed, our increasingly Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world is as pressing a challenge for business leaders today as it was for the military generals that first coined the term at the back end of the last millennium.

Fear & uncertainty

How leaders address uncertainty – a challenge exacerbated by global economic struggles and the ability for new forms of competition to start gaining market share rapidly – is crucial for business success.

Volatility, complexity and ambiguity are certainly topics worthy of greater consideration. Right now it suffices to say that they add considerably to uncertainty, harming leaders’ ability to understand, plan and execute for the future.

Even the most positive leaders find their inability to plan several years into the future without a reasonable degree of confidence about the environment(s) they will be trading in discomforting.

Discomfort itself is not a problem, but all too often uncertainty creates fear, which all too often results in reactionary leadership, short-term decision making and paralysis by analysis. Consensus is sought, not to improve decision making, but to reduce the fear of failure.

These are not behaviours that create outstanding organisations.

As my good friend Kosta recently told me, most of us allow fear to control of our lives. The key for eliminating fear is to take back that control and look behind the self-imposed curtains our fears create. We all need to get out of our comfort zones.

Learning from those that think differently

Businesses need to develop highly adaptive, collaborative and self-aware leaders capable of complex thinking to meet the established and rapidly emerging challenges inherent in this VUCA world.

Intriguingly, it is often those at societies’ extremities that are able to flourish despite operating in a climate of significant uncertainty. There is a lot we can learn from those that think differently.

Because it is at the extremes that we find those with the passion, courage and resilience to withstand what the world has to throw at them and succeed despite significant chaos, conflict and complexity.

Psychopaths, for example, possess qualities that are tailor-made for success in today’s society. Fearless, confident, charismatic, ruthless and focused; they are not restricted by the anxieties that limit our potential.

And it has often been criminals, misfits and non-conformists – those prepared to challenge the status quo – that have achieved some of the greatest breakthroughs in innovation.

We should look to learn from criminality, in part because of how those unencumbered by rules or mainstream notions of the boundaries adapt to become more successful, but also because of the sheer amount of money they control.

Antonio Maria Costa, former director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime suggested in 2009 that black market money, fed into the legal economic circulation through money laundering, kept the global financial system afloat at the start of the crisis in 2008.

Desperation is an even more powerful agent of innovation than necessity. Without condoning criminal behaviour, there is much we can learn from how Somali pirates, for example, come together and approach their job of work.

It is often amazing what people can achieve to shelter and feed those they love when faced with few or no other options.

And at the other end of the extremes, there is a huge amount we can learn about how to perform under significant pressure, when it counts the most and faced with a large audience of potential critics, from virtuoso pianists and other artists.

We will explore what we can all learn from pirates, hackers, criminals, psychopaths and artists, as well as leaders of businesses at various stages of growth from around the world both before and during our annual PurpleBeach Experience in April.

Passion & courage

We are bringing together highly diverse people at London retreat to engage in conversations that leaders need to be part of in order to prepare themselves personally and professionally for the future.

To create action and change minds, the experience will be a crucible of connection, experimentation and diverse thinking.

We are providing leaders with the opportunity to discuss leadership, innovation, decision making, passion, courage and learning with people with whom they wouldn’t ordinarily connect.

These conversations will challenge how participants view the world, help define how they think and talk about challenges, and focus on the actions required to succeed in this VUCA world.

The retreat will help them to overcome uncertainty and the fear it creates by dragging them out of their comfort zones and exposing them to ways of thinking and points of view that might radically disrupt how they view the world.

Einstein said that no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. By redefining how leaders view fear and providing the opportunity to learn from those that think differently, we are helping leaders adapt to the new realities of this modern VUCA world and develop the skills required to achieve success personally and in business.

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