One of the biggest problems leaders have today is making decisions based on the overwhelming wave of information pouring in. In a recent KPMG report (CEO Outlook 2016) 86% of CEOs indicated a "lack of time to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping their company's future" as a top concern. So what can they do about it?
“The future is already here — it’s just unevenly distributed” (William Gibson)
The modern world has become too complex for a single person - even a great CEO - to be in complete control of. There was a time when a master craftsman would know where all the tools in his workshop were, the stage all jobs were at, supplier prices by heart and customers by name. But the complexity and pace of modern business alienates CEOs from what’s really happening on the frontline and undermines their ability to lead effectively.
Emma Walmsley, CEO of GSK Consumer Healthcare offers insight into how a modern leader approaches this challenge. ‘Our approach’ she outlines, is to centre on “sharpening our listening skills internally and externally to ensure that we hone in on early signals and can be agile and entrepreneurial enough to shift course if necessary.” Though replete with commonly misunderstood and hard to action buzzwords her comment, unpacked, reveals real options.
Today more information flows through organisations than exists within them. Early detection and exploitation of weak signals (of emerging opportunities and threats) becomes central to gaining a competitive edge. Yet, too often, modern organisations focus on trying to anticipate what might happen rather than increasing awareness of what is really happening - hindering their capacity to act quickly enough, let alone entrepreneurially (which is likely impossible inside a culture of plenty).
In a probably futile search for a silver bullet half of top CEOs are looking to make deals to create “partnerships or collaborative arrangements with other firms.” But this attempt to import new capabilities quickly will be offset by the usual frustrations such deals bring: a failure to deliver the value expected; mainly due to culture-based challenges executives still don’t have an angle on.
Owning more sources of information, rather than better tapping the knowledge it triggers, is a numbers fallacy - a belief that more data increases the likelihood of more signals; but it also increases the amount of noise CEOs must wade through to get to them. Big Data will tell you who said what, where and when, but it won’t tell you why. More data equals less time for CEOs to reflect on the forces driving their business landscapes and what they should do about it.
“Thinking is difficult; that’s why most people judge.” (Carl Jung)
Colonel William Boyd was an airforce instructor, known affectionally as ’40 second Boyd’, as it took him just this long to turn any disadvantageous position in a dog fight to one of superiority. He did this be navigating what he called an OODA (Observation, Orientation, Decision and Action) Loop faster than his rival, throwing him off balance and putting Boyd in charge of the ‘battlefield.’ Advantage is not gained by increasing the amount of observations (or information) alone but using them to drive evidence-based decisions and rapid action that shapes the environment favourably.
Our approach - powered by SenseMaker® - seeks to accelerate navigation through the OODA Loop by: (1) tapping into the micro-observations of key networks (staff, customers, other stakeholders), which is self-interpreted to produce rich data revealing what’s really happening on the frontline, (2) presenting hard and soft data of the whole of system perspective to leaders in formats they can quickly see, understand and act on, and (3) monitoring the impact of decisions in real time to reduce the burden on reflection time.
In a complex world with more noise than signals, time-poor CEOs must learn to tap the knowledge flowing through their networks rather than trying to build new sources that will require even more time to make sense of them. The future beings to those who act on ‘thick data’ rather than just owning more ‘big data.’