Setting the Right Course in Times of Crisis

Is this art, or does it need clear­ing away? The cri­sis is lead­ing to con­sol­i­da­tion in many places. Short-term earn­ings today are inevitably gain­ing the upper hand over spec­u­la­tive ideas for the day after tomor­row. The art of ambidex­ter­i­ty, how­ev­er, can­not be cleared away for this very rea­son! Diver­si­ty and dis­sent are espe­cial­ly impor­tant now to find the right balance. 

The bal­ance between effi­cient­ly exploit­ing exist­ing busi­ness mod­els and coura­geous­ly explor­ing new oppor­tu­ni­ties for the day after tomor­row is at no time easy. The first dig­i­tal cam­era was invent­ed at Kodak in 1975, but it did­n’t stand a chance against the then dom­i­nant film busi­ness. And even the well-known Xerox Palo Alto Resarch Cen­ter (PARC), found­ed in 1970 in the face of the latent threat to the suc­cess­ful pho­to­copi­er busi­ness due to expir­ing patent pro­tec­tion for Xerox xerog­ra­phy, has a remark­able list of inno­va­tions from laser print­ers to pro­gram­ming lan­guages and graph­i­cal user inter­faces. The only flaw in this suc­cess sto­ry: With the excep­tion of the laser print­er, which was suc­cess­ful­ly mar­ket­ed by Xerox in the form of the laser copi­er, Xerox has not man­aged to take advan­tage of any of these great inventions.

The sixth the­sis of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship.

Thus, if the bal­ance between the all-dom­i­nant today’s suc­cess mod­el and the oppor­tu­ni­ties for the day after tomor­row is appar­ent­ly dif­fi­cult to find even in good times, com­pa­nies fall even more into this imbal­ance in times of cri­sis. Under­stand­ably so, because those who do not sur­vive today no longer need to wor­ry about the day after tomor­row. How­ev­er, if the focus is too much on eco­nom­ic sur­vival here and now, it becomes tun­nel vision and thus endan­gers the long-term existence.

May we nev­er con­fuse hon­est dis­sent with dis­loy­al subversion.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The ramp-up to old strength after the cri­sis must be fast and tar­get­ed. Diver­si­ty and dis­sent are just dis­turb­ing. The cri­sis pro­motes con­for­mi­ty and con­sen­sus and, with this intel­lec­tu­al mono­cul­ture, lays the foun­da­tion for the next cri­sis. “Think dif­fer­ent” was yes­ter­day. Orga­ni­za­tion­al rebels and court jesters are there­fore not in demand, but all the more impor­tant because in this phase, with con­struc­tive irri­ta­tion, they broad­en the view again and direct it from today to the day after tomorrow.

The sec­ond the­sis of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship.

Dur­ing the cri­sis the course is set for the day after tomor­row. Despite all the uni­ty and deter­mi­na­tion, diver­si­ty and dis­sent is not a mis­take in this phase. Quite the oppo­site. In his book “The Effec­tive Exec­u­tive” (Ama­zon Affil­i­ate-Link), Peter F. Druck­er explic­it­ly advis­es not to make impor­tant deci­sions with­out pri­or dis­sent. He men­tions Alfred P. Sloan as a prime exam­ple of this, who alleged­ly said at a meet­ing of his top man­age­ment: “Gen­tle­men, I take it we are all in com­plete agree­ment on the deci­sion here.” Every­one around the table nod­ded assent. “Then,” con­tin­ued Mr. Sloan, “I pro­pose we post­pone fur­ther dis­cus­sion of this mat­ter until our next meet­ing to give our­selves time to devel­op dis­agree­ment and per­haps gain some under­stand­ing of what the deci­sion is all about.”

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By Marcus Raitner

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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