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  • Writer's pictureSherry

April Newsletter - Bob Johansen and Reflections for our Post-virus Future

April’s conversation is a continued reflection on our "new normal" from another very respected leader in our community who looks at the future and leadership in unique ways. Bob Johansen is a futures thought leader and he has been writing about what it will take to lead in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world for many years. I invited Bob to reflect on this moment in time to learn how his current message about the future is illuminated by the COVID-19 crisis and what it might mean for our future.

In my last question of our interview I also asked Bob to tell us specifically about his newest book. While the Corona virus has postponed Bob’s launch events, you can read about it right here in this newsletter!

Sherry: What has this moment of crisis illuminated for you?

Bob: The likelihood of pandemics has been in Institute for the Future’s forecasts for years, but few people paid attention and even fewer imagined what living with something like the novel coronavirus would actually be like. I hope that the shock of this experience will loosen our thinking even as it disrupts our habits. The challenge will be to draw some positive lessons from all the negatives around us. The novel coronavirus does not fit our categories of the past. We need new ways of thinking about futures we have trouble imagining.

The future will reward full-spectrum thinking, but punish categorical thinking such as the thinking that prevented a more robust response to COVID-19. Full-spectrum thinking fosters understanding. Full-spectrum thinking is more nuanced and robust.

The central question of governance is this: what do we choose to do together? Right now, the political mood in the United States is so polarized and trust is so low that we don’t choose to do much together at all. Public health is one of those areas where we have to work together across boundaries and central government is necessary.

Sherry: What is the mindset that would have been “prepared” to respond quickly to this VUCA event and why/how? What are some of the important qualities that could have helped in retrospect?

Bob: First of all, it is important to look long and then think back from the future. The present environment is so noisy that present-forward strategy just doesn’t work as well as it did in more predictable times. We are in the midst of a scramble now and it’s going to get worse.

The big lesson military strategy is that what wins in a VUCA World is to be very clear about where you want to go—but very flexible about how you get there. Leaders must develop their clarity, but moderate their certainty.

Sherry: What do you hope this current crisis awakens in us now/next?

Bob: I hope it will teach us the need to look long, imagine a wider range of possible futures, and create new low-risk ways to simulate and practice in order to become more ready. The military does war gaming and the best companies use gaming and simulation to help leaders prepare even when they cannot predict.

Sherry: What are the dilemmas that we should expect coming out of this time?

Bob: The core dilemma is clarity vs. certainty. We need more clarity, but less certainty. The second big dilemma is what we choose to do together vs. what must be distributed. Over the next decade, everything that can be distributed will be distributed—including authority.

Sherry: I know you have a new book being released this month, called Full Spectrum Thinking. What prompted you to write this one?

Bob: For more than a decade, beginning just after 911, I’ve been wrestling with the question of leadership profiles that will be required to thrive in what the Army War College calls the VUCA World. I ended up writing a trilogy of books, all published by BK, that describe the skills, literacies, and mindset that leaders will need to thrive in the future. Even while we struggle to live through the current crisis, we need to get ready for the next one. Full-Spectrum Thinking is all about preparing leaders for the next future shock that will inevitably come, whether we are prepared or not. It is possible to be much more future-ready than most leaders are today.

You can purchase Full-Spectrum Thinking here.

If you are interested in group orders for the book, contact:

Leslie Crandell, Senior Sales Manager at Berrett-Koehler


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