Cannibalism, Course Correction, & Recalibrating Corporate Vision
How did we get here?
In my last post, "How might we create a more beautiful world?" I began what is becoming a deep dive into vision. It's not a random or a passing thought. It's intentional. I'm currently working on a project for leaders to give them a quick and easy tool for implementing leading by design with their teams. As mentioned in the post, when using design thinking as a leadership principle, the vision question (aka the "how might we" statement) is the starting point. Different than product or service design which doesn't ask the vision question until phase 2 of the process. Starting with vision is a leadership 101 principle. By definition - leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality, according to Warren Bennis, who was considered a pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies. So if that is true (which I believe it is), how the
HE😡K, did we get here? Where's the leader(s) that had the vision that created our current realities:
Supply chains are broken and expected to get worse.
The financial, real estate, and energy crises are hurting people from the kitchen to corporate headquarters
Whose vision was this?
The answer is there isn't a leader that you'll find that had that vision. But that is our reality, so what happened? In simple terms - the law of unintended consequences. And these unintended consequences didn't happen overnight. They have been growing and growing, and few leaders have taken the time to reflect on the cause. Historically,
Leaders have been caught in the relentless cycle of think-act-repeat. Instead of the adaptive cycle of think-act-reflect.
Society can no longer ignore the magnitude of unintended consequences we are facing. And life (with the pandemic) is giving us ample time to sit down and reflect on the cause. We can no longer hotly pursue our goals without reflecting on whether their achievement has created heaven for ourselves but a living hell for others.
It starts and starts again with our thoughts
The longer you study innovation, the thing that becomes evident is that every creation you see beyond nature starts with a thought. And I do mean everything. Including our current reality. Religion "as a man thinketh," to philosophy, to geniuses of invention all point to thoughts being the creator (and destroyer, I might add) of worlds.
We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world. - Buddha
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. - Albert Einstein
And as much as it would be nice to place the blame (aka responsibility to correct) on our governments, our competitors, our enemies, or let those that come after us deal with the consequences, we can't. It's our responsibility to leave this world better than we found it. So what thoughts in the corporate board rooms could have led to these realities.
Cannibalism not capitalism
While many would like to blame capitalism, I want to state upfront that I don't believe that to be the case. Whether you're an employee, solopreneur, or a Corporate CEO who worked hard to develop your product/service into a multi-million dollar company - on a basic level, you are a capitalist. At its roots, capitalism intended to reward hard work. Originally developed to give individuals agency over their lives and not let government powers control their lives or dictate how they earn a living.
Capitalism is an economic system of investment and ownership maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations. Especially contrasted with state-owned systems. -Dictionary
Unless you are unable or unwilling to work, it's unlikely you disagree with the desire and human nature of being rewarded for your hard work. Even in our hunter-gatherer days, we desired a reward for our efforts. The cancer that has attached itself to the system of capitalism reflects the collective individuals that make up the system. Now there are arguments regarding Wall Street, Governments, and the slimy ways they conspire. I am not going to go there. My goal is always about helping leaders achieve greater success through leadership, design thinking, and innovation. Not get enthralled in a political or philosophical debate. Again let's return to the common denominator - the individuals, the leaders. You reading this blog, me writing this blog - all have the capacity for unintended consequences. The core mistake we make is not in our desire to be rewarded for our hard work - that's human nature. The core mistake is our belief about how we gain said reward. It's choosing a belief in cannibalism over beliefs in connection and creation. Let me explain.
In this case, cannibalism isn't consuming other humans' flesh. Instead, it is the consumption of the energy and resources of others.
Corporate Cannibalism is the consumption of the resources (mainly physical, mental, and financial energies) of the majority humans for the benefit of a few.
It is the survival of the fittest mentality to benefit a few individuals. However, in nature, it has been shown that cannibalism decreases the expected survival rate of the whole population. Unfortunately, the business world is slow to get the memo that cannibalism isn't our means of survival but connection and creation. It is connection and creation that pave the way forward. But we can no longer ignore the cracks in the system. I've written about a couple of examples of how this cannibalistic approach has played out. And true to the laws of nature, it is threatening the business's very survival. Here are the previous articles:
What the great resignation is telling today's leaders. The objectification of employees and how employers suck the life energy out of their employees. The great resignation is the employees' response to fight back and take their lives back. To reconnect to themselves, those they care about and create a life that matters to them.
Your companies next big innovation is hidden in plain sight. The innovation by acquisition model fails companies at the rate of 70% or more while they overlook their greatest assets for innovation - the creativity of their employees.
These are just two examples. While I am willing to bet if we examined each of the crises happening in our world today, we would discover this cannibalistic approach is at the root cause of many of them.
For brevity and simplicity, I'll use visuals to show the complex process of cannibalism vs. the needed course correction. Let's begin with an image of the current structure. On the micro-level, the simple exchange of money for time, money for a product, or whatever seems to make sense. However, when you look at it from the macro-level, you'll see how cannibalistic it actually is. The imbalance is evident when you examine the long list of unintended consequences.
Leaders at the top of the food chain in corporate cannibalism are busy looking for their next victim and designing products and services that lure victims—devouring their life (physical, mental or financial) energies. It's easier in hindsight to understand that you have been caught in the trap of corporate cannibalism because when you walk away (or escape), you feel depleted, used, or worse, abused. Yet, the organization/leaders appear more emboldened and empowered at the same time.
The way forward is a human-centered design for being in the world. A world where each individual is recognized as human - with value to offer and needs to be met. And it is in the connection of these two, remarkable results are created. Results that don't just benefit a few but benefit all - regenerating mental, physical, and financial energies to sustain a better world. A flourishing world. It's creating win-win's on the micro and macro level. Future leaders will be those courageous enough to connect, daring enough to empathize with the needs of their fellow humans, those bold enough to envision innovations that are co-created with their fellow humans, not for the good of a few but for the good of all. These leaders will be courageous enough to awaken from the trance of think-act-repeat to think-act-reflect. To face the signs of unintended consequences rather than become addicted to the frenzy of cannibalism. Leaders who choose to live to their highest potential and help others do the same.