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Look For The Signs To The On And Off Ramps

Leadership

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“We do on stage things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else.” (Tom Stoppard)

We rush through the world on the way to our imagined destinations. Though the freeway is disordered and the traffic unyielding, we stay in our lanes and keep watch for halfwits and trespassers. As we flow down rivers of taillights and radio stations we merge with others and ease onto our exits until we return to them as entrances in the morning. The pattern becomes so familiar that we hardly notice. We accomplish the most complex of maneuvers without really thinking. And then it happens – construction zone or an accident or a chatty thought. Go around. Take another route. “Make a U Turn” the dominatrix on the GPS commands. In a lapsed moment, what was familiar is now strange as the complexity and chaos through which we routinely travel is revealed in an instant. Now we must read the signs and make sense of it all. The road doesn’t change – our patterns of travel do. Myopia may be as much a condition of believing the future is an extension of the present as it a failure to see the subtle signs that precede the monstrous excursions. It’s not the shift but the rate and degree at which it happens that leaves us astonished. To understand is to navigate in real time.

There are dynamics of speed and magnitude that are created by the four competing forces that drive growth at all three levels. These can be summarized by the questions “How much?” and “How fast? The answers help us plot a course to our desired destination. We cannot travel all roads the same way. Some are mountainous and snowbound while others smooth and blistering.

The first tension appears between Create and Control forces that set the level for the amount of growth pursued. Create is a radical force focused on breaking with convention by all means to give rise to the “new”. While it brings the greatest quantity of growth it also produces the lowest quality. The more innovative the gadget the greater the risk it will fail early. This is because the Create force is driven by variation while quality is the result of its foe standardization. Conversely, Control forces, while incremental in nature, seek to optimize these minor improvements by diffusing them everywhere.  They make things a little “better”. As the stingy old maxim states, “It is more virtuous to do with less what could be done with more.” The early part of our journey, or at least this time around, is typically characterized by greater growth and associated risk. Later we work to maintain what we have gained by reducing our risk and increasing the efficiency of our resources. Like a portfolio of investment, we start aggressively and end defensively.

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The second is the tension of time that occurs between Compete and Collaborate forces. The former seeks short term performance, sports car speed, while the later is a fuel efficient vehicle in search of sustainability. The right automobile is determined by the pace and distance of the trip. The faster the speed the more probable it is unsustainable. Consider the fad diet or the torrid love affair. They start strong but usually fizzle by the half-way marker. The slower the speed, the more difficult it is to keep up with traffic and emerging opportunities. They make us late to work.

Somewhere between anxiety and anticipation, we must be mindful of what may happen next. There are signs that give us cues as to where and when we will find our on and off ramps. A comment overheard or a personal epiphany or a manic “can-do” moment may be portents of a change in circumstances. Breaking, passing and merging all require us to be omnipresent in the moment and looking in all directions. Traffic jams are reality. Positive thinking will do little to clear the way. Shifting gears and lanes is required. Myopia may be as much a condition of believing that the future is an extension of the present moment as it a failure to see the subtle shifts in traffic patterns before they become monstrous excursions. The commute is different everyday for everyone. It’s not that we change our destination; it’s that we change our route. Timing and touch are acquired sensibilities that cannot be gained without looking forward through the glass and backwards through the mirrors. To view is to review.

Determine the appropriate speed and magnitude of growth

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