Meeting the Future Requires a Break from the Past

A lot changed in 2020, and much has changed since then. Marilyn Jacobson, the author of Turning the Pyramid Upside Down, foresaw these times back in 2014, writing, “Meeting the future will soon make what was done yesterday seem like ancient history.”

At present, we find ourselves in a constant state of needing to get more done with fewer resources while taking on more challenging work, making everyone’s contribution more critical than ever. How do we get out of our comfort zone, step up to the challenges, and be more effective and innovative?

Rather than listening for the correct answers, we must enhance our ability to see what’s real and have the freedom to act on it. When we’re relying on past knowledge, best practices, and more activity in the face of relentless change and disruption, we’re living in the past. We need to design ourselves and our organizations to be more forward-thinking.

For example, for much of my career in corporate America, I prided myself on being a person of action and getting things done. I updated my to-do list perpetually throughout the day. Countless meetings resulted in even more action items and lists. But what if I instead chose to jump off the hamster wheel for a few moments? What if, as Professor Patricia Shaw suggests, I paid a little less attention to generating yet another action plan and more attention to the ways forward that were opening up in front of me?10 I’d definitely see more new and better ways forward, as would anyone following this advice.

In early 2020, I began an exercise to identify what had changed as a result of my inside-out journey. How had I and my work changed? Figure 4 highlights the key areas of change over the past 10 years. The 11 shifts displayed on the right side of the figure is how I now live, work, and teach.

For example, when I started on this inner-leader journey, one of the first opportunities I had to show up as my “real self” versus “fitting in” was in 2012 when I wrote an article for Cutter IT Journal (renamed Amplify).11 In that article, I questioned why so many companies were continuing to focus on Agile, Lean,

CMMI, and so on, with so few results to show for their efforts. It felt risky to speak out against what so many supported and advocated, and I didn’t believe the article would be published. To my surprise, not only was the article published, it resulted in many new opportunities to work on exciting engagements and speak at conferences. The inner-leader journey will help you see reality more as it truly is and give you the insight, wisdom, and courage to share it with others.

I believe it is critical for our teams and team members to make this shift in order to thrive and achieve success in a turbulent world. In The Medium Is the Massage, Marshall McLuhan wrote:

Our time is a time for crossing barriers. Emotionally, it is much more gratifying and secure to live in Bonanza-land. It is the old environment. Every time a new environment forms, people go back and live in the old one.

We need to recognize this perspective and become the type of leaders who can help the current changes become real to our teams and organizations.

How important is it for team members to make the shift from Industrial Age thinking and practices that keep us stuck living in the past? All survey respondents agree or strongly agree with this idea (see Table 1). They also agree (to one degree or another) with the need to make the 11 key shifts shown in Figure 4, described in more detail in Table 1.

Do these results suggest a mandate to adopt these changes? Quite frankly, I was surprised at the overwhelming support for the ideas presented in this article. Thus, I believe there is a deep sense among many people that we need to make major changes in the way we work and interact with each other.