I’m sure I am not alone among senior executives and especially consultants in periodically reassessing my worth.  Every now and then I find myself considering what I am bringing to the party in both my work and private life.  Now, you might take that to be the act of someone who is paranoically insecure and you are entitled to your view, but I firmly believe that we owe it to ourselves and those around us to question our contribution from time to time.  As a consultant, that’s how I get to be able to articulate to potential clients what I can do for them and in my private life it means that, despite my obsession with my work I am able to make the most of the time I do spend with my family.

I emerged from my most recent foray into this zone glowing with the happy discovery that, since my last session, I had evolved as a manger.  I’m a firm believer that we are constantly changing in response to external influences and experiences, so that’s not surprising in itself.  However, I notice that once they land on a mind-set that  they are comfortable with, many people shut out anything that might cause them to question their established views, attitudes and processes.

Happily, I’ve never been one for this approach.  In fact, I’ve instinctively sought and embraced change and therein lies my latest discovery. Having lived and worked in more countries than I could count, I guess my experiences are more varied than those of many people.  I make no claims that the skills and insights I possess are the product of rigorous academic study, they are just an accident of fate.  However, the benefit this gives me is that I find I can adapt to new geography, cultures and situations as quickly as I need to be able to contribute to businesses in the ever-changing landscape of my business life. I guess it has been a case of “adapt or die”, and being a born survivor I’ve chosen to adopt and adapt.

My musing led me to conclude that against the background of a dramatically changing business landscape, most of the old rules have been discarded and replaced, not by new rules, but by no rules at all.  Now, for a consultant that’s not all good news, because we tend to roll up to business problems armed with tried and tested processes and systems that we apply to arrive at solutions.  I make no bones about it.  I’ve done it myself and I’ve advised many of my marketing services clients to do the same.  “Invent a process …” I hear myself saying “… and lead with it as your point-of-difference”.  And its worked, spectacularly, many times.

However, as I said, the world has changed, there are no set problems anymore, and definitely no set answers.  The skill of a manager or consultant these days lies in their ability to tackle the unknown.  And that, my friends, is where I arrived with my self-discovery episode.  For a good while now, I have been tackling new, different and unexpected problems in the search for business growth for my clients, with both the infinite number of new, different and exciting tools that are emerging each day and also by inventing tools to answer specific problems.  That’s how business is now and I discovered that it’s what I have been good at all along.  Maybe my time has come?

To add fuel to that encouraging possibility I discovered that there’s a name for the ability to learn and invent on the run like this.  Professor Ronald Heifetz at Harvard calls it “adaptive intelligence”.  That, according to Heifetz is what facilitates “adaptive management”, which in turn is, apparently, the next big thing in management philosophies.

It makes sense, with the world spinning as fast as it is, with change a constant and the unexpected the norm, there’s no room for cookie-cutter business solutions.  You have to respond to unique situations as they happen.  Yes, it involves risk and yes, we’ll all have to get used to the idea of every successful solution being accompanied by a bunch of failures, but as the great Ralph Halphern once said to me “Its not about making the right choice every time, its about making more right choices than wrong ones” and in that respect the wisdom and experience that comes with age is definitely a trump card.  So I’m batting 1000!

I owe the inspiration for this post to Graeme Codrington at Tomorrow Today whose piece “Adaptive Leadership versus Authoritative Expertise” which he summarised in one of his many great little videos, started me thinking about this again.

Phil Darby
November 30, 2013

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