Today’s guest post is from Scott D. Anthony, president of Innosight and author of “The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times,” and Michael Putz, director of business development and strategy for Cisco Systems.

As if the non-stop economic challenges of the past two years weren’t bad enough, a hidden crisis is beginning to emerge from the economic rubble of 2007-2008: Corporate leaders have to deal with a challenge for which they are completely unprepared.

Companies are increasingly recognizing that today’s turbulent times require nothing short of continual reinvention. Weathering today’s storm isn’t enough. Companies have to develop the ability to regularly renew their firms before the next crisis hits.

This kind of corporate reinvention can only happen if leaders can reinvent themselves. Most leaders just aren’t ready to grapple with the paradoxes that will increasingly characterize their day-to-day lives. For example, are you ready to run operations with laser-like precision without stifling creativity? Or leverage current capabilities to win in today’s markets, and forget many of these capabilities to win in tomorrow’s markets?

If you are, you are in a very small minority. Research by Harvard’s Robert Kegan and others shows what we instinctively know—that a tiny fraction of adults, even the leaders of global firms, reach a self-development stage where they can confidently confront these kinds of paradoxes.

Leaders have to go to “innovation school” to begin the necessary process of personal reinvention. For example, managers can start a “nights and weekend” activity rife with ambiguity. Helping a family member with a small business, launching a volunteer program at work, or spearheading an activity in the community can be ways to gain exposure to new sets of challenges.

Alternatively, leaders can consciously complicate their lives. For example, attending trade shows in unrelated industries, trading jobs for a week with a colleague at a non-competitive company, or even reading an unusual magazine can provide exposure to new ways of thinking.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing and expecting different results. Einstein would surely raise his eyebrows at companies that ask mono-focused, execution-minded leaders to spearhead corporate reinvention efforts. Leaders need to start the process of personal reinvention soon, or suffer the inevitable consequences.

Image credit, iStock

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