2040’s Ideas + Innovations Newsletter is a series of thought leadership articles designed to help organizations navigate the complex, evolving changes in our digital marketplace. The 2040 team has worked with brands of all sizes in a range of industries, and our insights fuel these articles with opinionated, actionable and often provocative content.
The series touches on everything from emerging industry paradigm shifts and consumer behavioral trends to new business models, leadership skills and workplace culture issues. Our intention is to be active and interactive, raising questions and debate over what it takes for businesses to thrive in a post-pandemic world with an emphasis on transitions and transformations organizations must make to remain competitive.
We invite you to join the conversation and contribute your opinions and experiences. 2040 believes in the power and strength of community, and the more we know and share, the stronger our businesses will be in responding to the demands of our dynamic marketplaces. We look forward to featuring your participation in future articles. Sign up to keep in touch with us.
Beth Bush Stansel, Senior Partner, Strategy and Kevin Novak, CEO, 2040 Digital
Ideas and Innovations Newsletter
Why Does Belonging Matter?
Issue 136, November 23, 2023
The most fundamental motivation among the human species is to belong. Belonging is implicit in sharing trust, affinity and caring about someone or something bigger than yourself. Renowned philosopher Dan Dennett in a TED talk in 2006 encouraged everyone to dedicate and devote themselves to something more important than themselves to find meaning and purpose in their lives. We’ll let you draw your own conclusions whether the audience of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors were paying attention. We would add here that the point of communication is not the exchange of information but rather the exchange of understanding. And understanding is what makes belonging matter.
Are You Subject to Power Plays?
Issue 135, November 16, 2023
As mindful observers of today’s national and global discourse, we would be among the first to remind you that we are all both a witness and a victim to power positioning among politicians, world leaders, global business moguls, and everyday bullies. And as is often the case, when bad behavior is prevalent on the world stage, it tends to trickle down to the local level in organizations, relationships, families, and institutions. It is as though individuals have permission to mimic bad behavior emulating once well-respected public personalities.
With this in mind, we are going to review a phenomenon that often occurs within dysfunctional organizations. We wrote extensively about power positioning in The Truth About Transformation and are updating our findings lurking in the shadow of global events.
For starters, let’s define exactly what we mean by power positioning.
Why Women at Work Remains an Issue
Issue 134, November 9, 2023
We’re going to tackle an issue that, in our opinion, should no longer be an issue: gender parity in the workplace. McKinsey in its latest Women in the Workplace study reports, “Over the past nine years, women—and especially women of color—remain underrepresented across the corporate pipeline. However, we see a growing bright spot in senior leadership. Since 2015, the number of women in the C-suite has increased from 17% to 28%, and the representation of women at the VP and SVP levels has also improved significantly.”
Honestly? That’s a pretty low bar.
Ironically, there is clearly parity in the gender distribution in the US which has remained steady for several years, with women accounting for approximately 51.1 percent of the population since 2013, according to Statistica.
Our report is by no means comprehensive about this critical issue. It’s our selective canvas of the facts and realities that are holding gender parity back, which is shocking to us in the year 2023. We also have to ask why this was ever an issue, why society is so slow to change, and why gender roles have never reflected a fair and level playing field.
So, why is there still such a leadership gap between women and men?
Are You Sure You Matter?
Issue 133, November 2, 2023
Holding onto next-gen workers and customers (born between 1997 and 2012) requires more than a trick up your sleeve. They are actively changing up the rules of engagement in, and for, organizations of all sizes — whether they are employees or customers. Call them naïve or a brutal force of nature with critical mass, they are redefining the workplace culture and the brand/customer value proposition.
Here’s the key thought: You risk irrelevance when your products and services are viewed by Gen Z simply as commodities. Gen Z and Alpha are pragmatic. They have little loyalty to any one brand. They view brands to serve a purpose, and if the brands fail, they move on. This is not just in context of the consumer culture; it relates to employers, associations, organizations, financial institutions, retailers – any brand they engage with. If you don’t deliver what they want, they will find someone/thing that will. They have choice because they can. And that means the concept and strategy for developing a brand, one that builds loyalty ensuring customers come back time and again or retain their relationship with you, goes out the window.
What is a commodity?
The Value of Intangibles
Issue 132, October 26, 2023
We continue to be fascinated by the value proposition of intangibles. This isn’t some weird magical idea. We’re talking about assets that have no physical form but are nonetheless valuable. Considering that we are living in a digital marketplace, intangibility has a profound relevance despite our inherent and deeply programmed need to see, feel, and touch something tangible. If it can be seen, felt, and touched we believe it is real.
An intangible asset is non-monetary and not physical, and therefore cannot be manipulated physically. We cannot touch it, we cannot feel it and other than viewing it on a computer screen represented by the joining of millions of pixels, we actually cannot see it in three dimensions. Common types of intangible assets include brands, goodwill, patents, copyrights, trade names, trademarks, and intellectual property. Other types include social media feeds, digital images, bitcoin, blockchain, NFTs, and data created and managed in the digital realm. Businesses have several ways to value these assets, which can be challenging because of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Individual value determination can only come from “viewing” the intangible via computer or mobile interface.
Therefore, can we be sure it really exists and has value?
Misinformation, AI, Cyber Troops, and Our Need for Guardrails
Issue 131, October 19, 2023
We’re taking a moment (again) to consider the implications of the speed of technological change confronting us daily. What was charmingly referred to as the information superhighway by Al Gore back in 1993 has morphed into a bullet train … run by AI. What’s more, we face those with malicious intent to manipulate our opinions, bend our minds into believing fiction and influence us in what we believe is the truth.
Our questions for today are: Who can we rely on to place guardrails on the technological opportunistic race to the future? Is it ourselves? Our government? Our organizations? Or do we put all the responsibility on generative AI to protect us? The key point?
Issue 130, October 12, 2023
We’re picking up on a theme we’ve been hearing recently. It’s not exactly a new idea, but it resonates as we are challenged by living in an increasingly disruptive and disturbing world. It is, quite simply, living in the present.
Professor Scott Galloway (love him or not) has increasingly peppered his critical commentaries with the realization that his career has been defined by planning for the future informed by the past. His existential question is “Was I ever really here?” He wonders if he was ever in the now, the here, the moment.
It’s a good question to ask yourself when under pressure to outperform, out-innovate, and out-compete. If we are constantly scenario planning for an uncertain future and judging ourselves on the past, to Galloway’s question, are we really here in the moment?
So, we’re taking a slight departure from many of our recent newsletters. We’re exploring the paradoxical nature of living in the present, and we went to an inventor, artist and big thinker, Scott Thrift. He has built a business on The Present, which has captured our imagination. The Present is a collection of handcrafted timepieces that offer a more meaningful way of measuring time by revealing the present moment within life’s natural cycles. To give some context, he has engineered a 365-day “clock,” (illustrated above) and a monthly moon phase timepiece – all calibrated to your location. These unconventional timepieces give you a dramatically different understanding of time, the passing of time, and the present. Why does this matter?
The Motivation of Manipulating Data and Information to a Desired Outcome
Issue 129, October 5, 2023
Some recent headlines have reported disturbing news about respected and respectable scholars falsifying or just ignoring data conclusions in scholarly papers. This is another example of the skepticism many of us have with the shifts in misinformation flooding our inboxes and newsfeeds, compelling each of us to exercise our critical thinking skills. And the examples we’re referring to aren’t even results of AI. It is human error, strong bias at play, or manipulative intention for one purpose or another.
This leads us to another topic in our continuing explorations of human motivation. Why do we lie? Why do we cheat? We covered these topics expansively in our book, The Truth About Transformation, in terms of behavior in the workplace. Based on the recent news, we’re going to take a deeper dive.
There are cases of deception with public anti-heroes Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos and Sam Bankman-Fried of FTX, younger poster children for egregious fraud. But there are also reports of Marc Tessier-Lavigne who stepped down last month as president of Stanford University, and in the irony of all ironies, Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino, who stands accused of cheating in her published studies of why people cheat.
Pretty Big Lies
We’re going to start with a few big lies>
What Would You Do?
Issue 128, September 28, 2023
We’ve all been in business situations that are uncomfortable, confrontational, and dysfunctional. Even after spending decades building a career, we can get a curveball that puts us in an untenable position.
In our newsletters we seek to surface new ideas and realities of the workplace, always recognizing that the human factor is always of paramount importance and influence. It is our intention to help you and your organization manage change, successfully transform, and adapt to an ever-evolving marketplace.
We have covered topics and explorations focused on leadership, communication, workforce alignment, and more. In that regard, we hope we have given you the perspective, tools, and approaches that assist you in looking at situations, problems — and yes even innovations — in a new, informed light.
Preventive and Supportive Questions
Issue 127, September 21, 2023
Chances are when things go wrong it’s because of poor communication. You’d think that we would have figured out by now how to communicate with each other effectively. All the strategy in the world goes down the tubes if you can’t speak it. And managing a team starts and stops with listening and communicating clearly and empathetically.
The biggest landmine? Asking questions. Do it wrong and the conversation comes to a screeching halt. And most of us are not conscious of doing it wrong. We’ve established our style and we’re sticking with it.
So, we’re going to explore some of the more subtle, nuanced aspects of asking questions in the hope that we can become better communicators.
This may be a new one for you. And we’re all guilty of it from time to time.
How the European Union Is Ahead on Privacy
Issue 126, September 14, 2023
The Value of Observation Through the Lens of Complexity Theory
Issue 125, September 7, 2023
One of anyone’s life goals is to be a good observer. It’s fruitful to watch how things unfold around us as we try to make sense of the patterns and connections. Almost everything around us is connected, has interdependence, and influences all the parts that comprise the whole of a system. And that includes the systems of society and, of course, our organizations.
In that spirit, we’ve been observing how societies seem to be undergoing stress tests that challenge their very foundations. Presidential candidates are assassinated. Military chiefs usurp a government. Prime ministers are replaced in a series of revolving doors. And in this country, it appears that we have at least two different interpretations of our constitution.
What Is an Observer to Do?
Issue 124, August 31, 2023
Innovation is one of the most hackneyed, misinterpreted, and overused buzzwords in today’s business vocabulary. Ask anyone – including yourself – to define innovation in context of the strategy and operations of doing business in the ever-changing digital economy. You may struggle to define it and asking others will often result in wildly different responses.
We did a straw poll to see what the general consensus was on what innovation means.
Here are just a few interpretations:
Planning Ahead: How Do You Ensure Better Outcomes?
Issue 123, August 24, 2023
With all the data at our disposal, why aren’t we connecting the dots to ensure better outcomes? To be more specific, let’s look at our healthcare system – and you can use it as a metaphor for your own strategic planning.
Next Gen Career Shifts
Take two trends: the US population is aging and so many next gens are more interested in entrepreneurship and tech startups than medicine as a career. What are the unintended consequences? There are not now, nor will there be enough physicians and healthcare workers in the near future to care for our population. Projections show the gap will continue at least through 2034.
Why We Overcommit
Issue 122, August 17, 2023
Nike may disagree, but just say no!
Let’s take a pause to consider how we make decisions and why we often over-commit. We wrote an entire book, The Truth About Transformation, about the misconceptions surrounding change and transformation. Many think the greatest obstacle to a significant change is the lack of resources or technological finesse. Those are contributing factors for sure, but the single barrier to change is: Us.
Individuals. Our leadership, management, and workforce. The reasons we do what we do or don’t, why we make one decision or another, why we react, peacock, roadblock, turn away, shut down and yes, overcommit, all result from unconscious and conscious behaviors. To sum it up: We are the most overlooked part of the change equation.
Anti-Perfectionism Is on the Rise
Issue 121, August 10, 2023
Recently it has come to our attention, and no doubt yours as well, that some organizations are having a rough go at it stabilizing new workplace models. Hell, society itself seems to be generally on edge finding some new stabilizing normal way to make sense of our ongoing disruptive quality of life.
On the one hand in organizations, hybrid models have settled into a norm. On the other hand, many CEOs are ordering employees back into the office five days a week. On top of this asymmetrical approach, many executives are struggling with how to lead. The result is a mashup of what work looks like in mid-2023 and such a diversity of viewpoints on how an organization should adapt, even rise to the occasion, that it often results in knee jerk reactions.
Professional and Personal Value Metrics
What is today’s measure of successful workforce performance and how are we individually assessing our own personal and professional value? There is a connection between the two as well as a co-dependence.
Issue 120, August 3, 2023
It’s been a hot summer for most of us. The political conversation continues to escalate. The war drags on. Inequity and inequality divide us. Next gens still raise their voices with demands and pleas for the planet.
But not all news is divisive and frustrating. One fact in the ongoing swirl is that only change endures. It would appear that our marketplaces and societies are settling into new models and realities as we assimilate all the changes we experienced over the past few years. Yes, we know the shifts caused by the pandemic have been over-reported, but it’s worth taking a pause to review some new changes that seem to be finding their way into better mindsets and improved situations. Here are a few top notes which are interrelated and when viewed holistically form a connective tissue.
The Case for AI Guardrails
Issue 119, July 27, 2023
Whatever you think about the U.S. government or our elected officials, it does have guardrails in place to protect its citizens. For pharma and food products, it’s the FDA. For workplace safety there’s OSHA. For mobility safety, it’s the Department of Transportation. For safe investments, there’s the SEC. For consumer protection, there’s the Federal Trade Commission. For AI and emerging tech, there’s nothing.
By human nature, we set boundaries made of guardrails to protect ourselves.
Change Is a Team Sport: We All Play a Role
Issue 118, July 20, 2023
Last week we gave you a case study to demonstrate how critical the human factor (and personalities and our own blind spots) becomes in seeking to innovate, make change and transform. Change is ever-present in daily life. It is also a constant in response to an organization’s market, system, and the needs and wants of customers and workforce. Resistance to innovation, change, and transformation is often unintentional given the failure to recognize that it is indeed a team sport where everyone involved must share knowledge and purpose — and everyone must know their roles and how their roles will evolve.
We are committed to bringing you the stories behind transformational theory and strategy to provide context as well as advice. In this issue, we offer some practical food for thought with our top 11 impediments that influence change and create organizational/cultural resistance.
As a start, we are getting interactive, so please take our pop quiz: Why do you, resist change?
Case Study: A Tale of Two Cities
Issue 117: July 13, 2023
We now present a true story, a tale as old as time, of what happens when you unknowingly create resistance to change. We’ll share the saga and let you draw your own conclusions about the outcome.
The founder of a digital media platform specializing in the strategy and operations of the design industry for a C-level audience needs a succession plan. She is in her early eighties and wants to be sure the brand she has nurtured and loved for 50+ years will have a home after she decides to step down. Having said that, she admittedly reports she will work until she can’t, assuming she will pass on defiantly at her keyboard.
Leadership in Contentious Times
Issue 116, July 6, 2023
If you’re a leader of a public (or private) organization today, you may feel you wake up to a firing squad every morning. Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock has abandoned references to ESG because he feels that it was becoming politicized. Brian Cornell, CEO of Target made no public statements in response to several of his stores attacked by protesters during Gay Pride Month. And we all read about the dust-up with Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Any leader in our asymmetrical, disruptive marketplace is increasingly barraged by consumer groups advocating for so many causes that it puts true leadership to the test.
And then there are emerging tech issues that not only test leadership but confound it. Even Jerome Powell, Chairman of the Federal Reserve has weighed in on the vagaries of AI. As reported by Bloomberg, “On AI, we’re doing what everyone else is doing. We’re trying to get smart about it and it obviously has huge possibilities. Technologies tend to propagate through the economy fairly slowly and this may be the exception. It’s something that we’re spending a lot of time on. It’s way too early for conclusions.”
We believe that organizations during the rest of 2023 will have to reset, retrench and reformulate. It could be the result of continuing fallout from the pandemic, vocal consumer muscle, and the natural evolution of organizations that did not transform in time to compete in a digital marketplace. But, now more than ever, leading with courage has become table stakes. So, having just observed this country’s 247th independence, which was an 18th-century testament to courageous leadership, we believe it’s a good time to re-review our piece on “Leading with Courage.” And while you’re at it, check out our book, The Truth About Transformation, for an in-depth exploration of how successful organizations have navigated the uneasy balance between reinvention and empathy in empowering today’s empowered workforce.
Risk, Reward, Innovation, and Hubris
Issue 115, June 29, 2023
Every day we assess the potential rewards along with the real and perceived risks of the situations, desires, tasks, and ideas we confront. We may not be consciously aware of these assessments, but they are happening all the time.
Our ever-expanding technical prowess has resulted in new tools, more efficient production, opportunities to transform ideas into reality, and new platforms to engage and connect. We also have access to expanding our knowledge and deferring to AI to do the meaningless work for us.
Social Proof and the Powers of Persuasion
Issue 114, June 22, 2023
How often when you are choosing a new restaurant do you refer to Yelp or your local food critic’s review? Or when deciding on a weekend movie, you check out the film reviews, leaning toward the ones with star rankings. How do you find a hotel in another city? And when you are buying apparel online, do you go for the recommendations for how to accessorize it, or in Amazon’s case, “We think you might also like this.” Informally, this is the practice of the power of the “wisdom of the crowds” philosophy that others may know more than you do. If your style, tastes, and interests align with the recommended sources, it’s a handy shortcut for decision-making. It works best when it is fundamentally built on trust.
As the World Turns
Issue 113, June 15, 2023
We’re taking a pause to share several trends that we believe are bellwethers for a sustainable future. And we’re not including climate change, although it clearly ranks high on anyone’s list as a cause for concern. We’re talking about two trends that don’t get much attention: population shifts and life expectancy.
Here’s the big picture from the UN: The world’s population is expected to increase by two billion people, from 7.7 billion at present to 9.7 billion in 2050, before reaching a peak of nearly 11 billion by the end of the century as fertility rates continue to decline. Where that population lives and works, where a percentage of the population is growing or declining, who comprises the overall population (think age, gender. and ethnicity), plus the economic conditions and opportunities where segments of the population are located are all more important to you than you may think.
Are You Ready? Are Your Customers Ready for Change?
Issue 112, June 8, 2023
Wrong question. Are your customers ready? Is the market ready? Actually, the real question is a fusion of both. Is the customer base in your market ready to adopt what you have considered building and offering as you seek to stabilize, grow, and expand your organization? Put another way, is what you are contemplating developing something nice to have or necessary? Then add a layer of complexity to that: if the customer isn’t ready, how do you develop a need for your innovation? How do you ensure that its promise, benefits, and value are something the customer feels compelled to want? Then how do you ensure the customer believes it is something to adopt? Not to cloud the issue, but organizations can be super prepared, but not necessarily ready for market disruptions and seismic shifts. More on this last point later.
The Case for Slow Work
Mistaking Haste for Urgency
Issue 111, May 31, 2023
How do we anticipate what’s next before the breakthroughs are even made that will ultimately shape the future? History is written in the eye of the beholder. False assumptions are the roots of history, only to be reversed/updated/revised when new information is revealed to correct the false narrative. One way to look at it is how Piet Hut, astrophysicist at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, describes scientific advances: Research scientists are bodhisattvas, both teachers and iterative learners. They never achieve ultimate enlightenment (like the Buddha) because their role is to build on the knowledge that came before them, as they build their knowledge for future scientists.
When you think about it, that’s the role that the most talented leaders play. The innovations, moon shots and a quantum shift in new products and services are the domain of the iconoclasts, outliers, and geniuses. But the world advances with the wisdom and perseverance of the bodhisattvas – individuals who lead without being driven by personal success. And that generally takes time and mindfulness.
Spring Awakening: Assessing Your Leadership Skills for Change and Transformation
Issue 110, May 25, 2023
It’s Spring and we are coming up on a major holiday weekend where we hope for good weather and time outdoors with family and friends. At 2040 we’re feeling optimistic and seeking opportunities for renewal (even escape) as we see the landscape around us come to life once again. In fact, we recently came to the realization that organizations seeking to change, and transform could easily be compared to a natural landscape and garden. In this regard, organizational leaders can become master gardeners. Sound like a stretch? Think about it. Gardens represent a belief there is a future filled with promise. That there is regeneration and rejuvenation as well as fresh opportunities. In a garden, change and ongoing transformation occur as the months pass.
Like most things in life, honing a skill is an iterative learning experience just like a gardener who experiments and refines. And a skilled master gardener can step back and envision how to fill that canvas with a range of colors to create order out of chaos, identify natural resources, nurture a diverse group of plants and flowers, and help orchestrate all the parts of the garden to create an inter-dependent whole.
Can You Imagine Living Only in the Past?
Issue 109, May 18, 2023
What if there were term limits on your ideas, thoughts, hopes and dreams? What if you reached a point in your life where you learned nothing new and were limited by your past experiences and body of knowledge? And if this were the case, and you led an organization, you might become irrelevant pretty quickly since you wouldn’t have the knowledge and scope to address today’s issues and challenges.
Generative AI may be a liberally interpreted case of technological dementia; it’s similar to individuals who are trapped in the past with a repetitive present or a future only informed by what they have known.
A White Knight, or Dark Force?
Making Faulty Assumptions, Part II
Issue 108, May 11, 2023
Last week we explored how making bad assumptions can derail a business model and debilitate a team. Operational assessment and readiness can fall victim overnight based on assumptions that are out of alignment with shared purpose and market orientation. As we have stated, often the infrastructure can be so dysfunctional that bringing new strategies to life and achieving new goals simply isn’t possible. Here are a few signs that indicate a lack of readiness for change:
What Happens When You Make Assumptions?
Issue 106, May 4, 2023
Does your organization have what it takes to succeed? For example, how many times a day do you make an assumption? On a scale of magnitude, perhaps it’s the assumption that the sun will rise each morning and gravity will still be in place at night — to assuming that other people will drive responsibly and the trash in your neighborhood will be picked up. Assumptions are based on trust that something or someone external to yourself will perform as expected. In fact, enlightened societies are built on a series of layered assumptions that keep them operational.
Yes, but. How many assumptions do you make that are wrong?
What Do Top Performing Organizations Get Right?
Issue 105, April 27, 2023
For anyone that insists on predictability and familiar expectations, today’s disruptive marketplace can throw a wrench into a rigid planner’s world. Will there be a recession? Is inflation going to abate? Are current economic conditions the new normal? Will customers continue to pull back on their spending? There are so many moving parts to evaluate and consider for aligning organizational purpose, direction and focus.
Since we are hardwired to feel more comfortable with what we know and are anxious about change and what we don’t know we don’t know, operating in a digital marketplace in constant flux can be disorienting.
Why You Need to Listen to Gen Z
Issue 104, April 20, 2023
How well do you know your Gen Z employees? For that matter, how well do you know the millennials, Gen Xers and boomers? We have written extensively in The Truth About Transformation about the benefits and challenges of managing a multigenerational workforce. Since things continue to evolve and pivot at warp speed, we thought it was timely to update you on the trendline of recent developments in Gen Z’s attitudes about work. They are important. Their perspectives are important. They are the majority of your current workforce and your near-term future leaders.
Where Gen Z Wants to Work
Where do they want to work?
The Distortion of Time
Issue 103, April 13, 2023
With our celebration and awe of emerging tech (think generative AI), there is a basic issue that we rarely consider: the distortion of time. What we mean is that we are in such a hurry to develop and adopt new tech that we frequently leapfrog over its actual relevance, usefulness or even its consequences to our organizations and business models. Let alone do we address the potential legal or policy issues that relate to the application and applicability of the technology to our society, and yes, to our organizations and even ourselves.
Digital transformation presents an essential problem: By the time we build, adopt or buy tech solutions, the technology is often outdated or is unable to solve new problems that have emerged. These new problems may have resulted from the transformation process itself or new ideas that we have advanced.
The Future of Personal Agency
Issue 102, April 6, 2023
It can’t come as a surprise that many people feel they are losing their sense of personal agency in the face of such rapid technological change, global disruptions and polarized social and political factions. Personal agency? It’s a “sense that I am the one who is causing or generating an action. A person with a sense of personal agency perceives himself/herself as the subject influencing his/her own actions and life circumstances,” according to Springer. And Wiki defines self-agency that is also known as “the phenomenal will” — the sense that actions are self-generated. Scientist Benjamin Libet was the first to study it, concluding that “brain activity predicts the action before one even has conscious awareness of his or her intention to act upon that action.” And that ability to predict is precisely how we have created AI, mimicking our brain function.
How does this compromised feeling of personal agency show up in life?
What Were They Thinking?
Issue 101, March 30, 2023
Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, asked a profound question referring to the ancients in Easter Island. When they cut down the last tree on the island, what were they thinking? Seriously, what sane society would make a valuable natural resource extinct with one final hatchet job? Which in turn made their people extinct? Or how about a more complicated social problem replacing the US draft with an all-volunteer military, ultimately making war-related collateral damage and death for troops a problem principally for lower socioeconomic groups, not college grads from more affluent families for whom war is no longer personal.
But we could ask so many of the same questions., Here are just a few — in no particular order. What were they thinking?
The Pathway to Continuous Learning
Issue 100, March 23, 2023
Editor’s Note: Welcome to the 100th Issue of 2040’s Ideas and Innovations Weekly Newsletter. We thank you for your continued readership and your feedback and comments weekly.
Everyone has a personal learning style. Independent learners buck the system and find alternative ways to learn on their own terms. Traditional learners are comfortable with the classic teacher-student relationship. And then there is everyone else in between. Whatever preference you have, continuous learning is a requirement to be well-informed and capable in today’s dynamic society. The pace of change is enabled by continuous technological developments, and just like the necessity of machine learning iterations to stay relevant, recent research suggests that people also benefit from iterative learning throughout their lives.
Organizations seeking to change and transform need to recognize that when a workforce practices continuous learning, it enables an organization to evolve and grow, as well as to adapt. We are not yet at a point where machines can do it all for us and we can simply sit back and derive the benefits. Despite the hype of ChatGPT and the slew of similar AI tools, humans are still essential. Without individuals, an organization would be unable to perform and produce. And strengthened by promoting continuous learning throughout the workforce, an organization is better poised to be more knowledgeable and competitive.
Does Your Organization Have Tunnel Vision?
Issue 99, March 16, 2023
You think you see a light at the end of the digital tunnel, and then you realize it is the blinding light of tunnel vision that has derailed you. In considering how to change, transform or simply adapt to changing conditions across a market or profession, organizations (including ourselves) often fall back to doing what we know best and what has worked in the past under different circumstances. Believing we already know how to handle a problem, situation or even a request from others brings comfort and a sense of personal competency. We hold onto a (possibly false) level of confidence that we know how to lead, despite the dynamics of change that define us and our organizations.
Stalled in the Past
Generally speaking, we rely on our inherent, accumulated knowledge and experience to understand organizational systems, technologies, and market conditions. In truth, however, that reliance typically comes from over-confidence in believing that things stay the same. To follow this logic then, it shouldn’t be surprising when we are stopped short in understanding how to solve new problems that don’t conform to our preconceived views.
At 2040, we work with clients to identify what prevents them from “seeing” and “knowing.” There are so many factors and variables that influence what should be considered and understood to inform an action they are about to take. There are other perspectives that can contribute to solutions. And there are more relevant ways to respond to and interact with others that result in better outcomes using collective intelligence.
Case Study: Sidestepping Accountabilities
Issue 98, March 9, 2023
At 2040 we work closely with our clients to bridge theory to practice. Strategy is great, but if you don’t know how to apply the great ideas, it becomes a hard stop to any forward progress. We can get mired down by details, overthinking – and worst of all, not keeping out of our own way. So, back by popular demand, we bring you another case study that you may be able to relate to. It’s a common story about building a brand, a workplace culture, a pathway to profitability – and leadership blinds spots. Enjoy the read and see how you would solve the problems! For more real-life case studies and a playbook for managing an organization in today’s highly volatile digital marketplace, check out our book, The Truth About Transformation.
The Back Story
A young software technology company went public through a SPAC and overnight was infused with many millions of shareholder dollars. The CEO, Gabriel, co-founded his company 12 years ago and has been running the show alongside his original partners. As a public company, he now reports to a board of directors with direct fiduciary responsibility under regulatory oversight. Gabriel fired the chief revenue officer for criticizing the executive team in front of employees, among other reasons. Unhappy, the ex-sales director wrote a vengeful letter to the independent board members outlining a series of activities that he deemed negligent on the part of the CEO and executive management. The board had no choice but to open an internal investigation and retained a prestigious law firm (think, Mueller Investigation) to conduct it. Seven months and over $1.2 million in legal fees later, the executive management team was completely exonerated. The board, however, identified a hostile work culture that needed some immediate remediation, requiring that the CEO get some leadership coaching. It also put in place additional board oversight and “guardrail” mechanisms to ensure that executive management brings about genuine workplace cultural change.
Breaking the Bond of Trust
Issue 97, March 2, 2023
One of the unexpected outcomes of the pandemic was the development of a new level of trust between leaders and their corporate level workforce. With entire skilled workers at organizations forced out of the office and working remotely, the workforce and management had to implicitly trust one another to meet deadlines, goals, and quarterly expectations. During this time a shift to measuring performance by outcomes, not time or face-to-face contact emerged. This change shed the layers of an industrial age mentality for a predominantly white-collar workforce.
For a command-and-control leader, this was a moment of crisis infused with insecurity, suspicion, and defensiveness based on a lack of clarity or established baseline in how to lead this new model. The acceleration of non-stop, on-screen meetings was an attempt to keep control … or at a minimum, a way to keep tabs on employees. But using the same on-site leadership skills with a remote workforce quickly failed. Some super controlling organizations moved to measure screen time, keystrokes, and other computer-based metrics to monitor their newly remote workers. It was a time when everyone had to rethink work and reinvent how and where to get work done.
Connecting the Dots
During the pandemic at 2040 we counseled our clients on the necessity to release the past in order to adapt and change in a highly dynamic, tech infused world where many individuals reassessed and realigned what was truly important to them (and their mental health).
Can You Hear Me … Now?
Issue 96, February 23, 2023
The challenge of communicating with colleagues has become increasingly difficult. With the proliferation of tech experts and Next Gens in the workforce, we may need a translator to ensure we all understand each other.
Here’s a real-life example. A content team is struggling to understand how to load a certification testing module into a new software platform. The project lead from the platform is a developer who thinks with a literal, sequential mindset. The content team leader, although logical, is more of freeform thinker, making associations and finding patterns in conversations intuitively. Which is to say, the mindset is horizontal, holistic, and nonlinear. The two leads are currently at an impasse; neither individual understands the other, which makes conversations awkward, at cross purposes, and impedes forward progress.
The inability or lack of desire to listen and hear others can be a deal breaker. Understanding how to actively listen, ingest what is being said, and how to fundamentally recognize that although we seemingly are similar individuals, we have very different and diverse ways and means by which we communicate. Those differences and the diversity represented by individual personalities, life experiences, values, generational life stages and regional or cultural nuances can make communications a test. Few individuals share the same life experiences and values as others outside of their immediate families (and even then, siblings are more like their parents than each other). And to further complicate the process, our individual minds are programmed to communicate literally, conceptually, in freeform, directly, complexly and even dismissively. Finding the right match of speaker to listener is yet another hurdle.
ChatGPT: Shapeshifting Our World
Issue 95, February 16, 2023
If you’ve been paying even a nanosecond of attention to the tech news headlines, you might think the universe shifted on November 30, 2022, when OpenAI introduced its natural language, generative program that produces text and images in response to user prompts, ChatGPT. Yes, we know that everyone under the tech corridors’ suns have weighed in on its disruption. And guess what, we’re going to as well, and as you will discover, for a different reason.
What are the Consequences of Unbounded Optimism?
Issue 94, February 9, 2023
All societies live by stated or perceived mantras. In the United States we reach for the stars, believe the sky is the limit, and if we build it, they will come. These sentiments permeate our culture, inspire our children, and guide our business leaders.
We love entrepreneurialism; we reward it, admire it, and aspire to it. The entrepreneurial spirit and manifest destiny represent the American can-do ingenuity and genius of overcoming adversity and risk. Agility and being nimble are standards of excellence.
Optimism on the Edge
But not so fast. Blind embrace of optimism can result in a misperception of true reality. Unbounded optimism can infuse organizational actions and decisions and make them out of step with current or emerging market conditions and customer needs.
We’ve seen the tech unicorns breakthrough with impressive solutions and influence. And we’ve also watched 90% of all startups fail. We’ve also witnessed organizations build expansive workforces, revise forecasts, and commit to goals with shareholders based on optimism that is out of context with the realities of the market and society.
How Do You and Your Organization Master the Art of Storytelling?
Issue 93, February 2, 2023
Storytelling and narrative have become the buzzwords of modern marketing. You’ve heard it before: What’s your organization’s brand story? Make your organization come alive through narrative. Help customers relate emotionally to your business by telling a story. And possibly the most ominous: Tell your story, or else your stakeholders will write it for you.
Storytelling has been around as long as humans; the 50,000-year-old cave paintings and petroglyphs tell stories and validate “I was here.” What those stories mean is still a matter of debate. We recently visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York and saw an exhibition on Guillermo del Toro’s making of Pinocchio, nominated for one of this year’s Oscars as a best-animated feature film. Aside from the fascinating models and videos of stop-action technology, there was a storyboard about the arc of Pinocchio’s life that caught our attention. When we studied the production notes, we realized that we are looking at the blueprint of the story of an organization’s life, from birth to old age, and life after death when it transitions to another level.
Too Big to Manage? When Less Is More
Issue 92, January 26, 2023
“We’re too big to fail.” Try that one out on Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg. If there were ever two visionaries with an overabundance of hubris, they’re the ones. Although the concept of “too big to fail” technically refers to an organization that is so important to a financial system that a government would not allow it to go bankrupt due to the seriousness of the economic repercussions (Wiki), one could argue that what we are experiencing in the tech sector right now can also refer to the egos and perceptions of self-importance of tech leaders. Economist Alan Greenspan, has said of overlarge organizations, “If they’re too big to fail, they’re too big.” And if the tech sector is faltering, chances are it is because it has become too big to manage, is spending most of its time and effort focused internally to manage the complexity it has created, has too big an imprint on the global economy and is vulnerable to implosion from the inside out.
And that leads us to the topic of this week’s newsletter, when less is more.
The Future Isn’t Going to Look Like You Think
Issue 91, January 19, 2023
Organizations founded on exponential growth are in for a wake-up call. In reverse-trend thinking, some experts believe that good enough is just good enough. Entrepreneurs believe that there are no limits to growth. What do we believe? It requires a deeper look at what is going on in our global population shifts to really understand future growth…or constriction. We wrote about this in our book, The Truth About Transformation, detailing the facts about the future population shift, re-sizing of markets, the demise of data point over generalizations, and the revelations of transformation hidden in plain sight.
Your market and workforce are going to look very different in the future. Demographic factors and variables must be considered in context of your own organization, whom your organization serves, and whom your organization employs. Stresses and tensions to find the right individuals with the right skills in a constantly evolving competitive environment are made even more complex by shifting and changing cultural attitudes and demographic shifts.
Consider the implications of the most significant demographic changes underway across the globe. Immigration, migration, changes in family structures, the changing role of women in the workforce, increasing mobility, declining birth rates, growing diversity, and generational shifts are just a few of the factors to watch and understand. Each of these megatrends relates to your current and future workforce and customer base, and should guide you in determining where your organization may be heading.
According to Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson, authors of Empty Planet, the global population will peak around the middle of this century and then begin to decline especially in what we consider to be the most affluent places on the planet. According to the authors, Japan, Korea, Spain, Italy and much of Europe are facing long-term reproduction rates that won’t be able to sustain their current population levels.
Do You Have It? Anger? Rage?
Issue 90, January 12, 2023
A group of white men wearing T-shirts, Patagonia fleece vests or zip-front sweaters, Allbirds sneakers, and faded jeans are sitting around a conference table. It is 7:30 in the morning. They are collegial, familiar with one another, and engaged in friendly banter. The senior team turns their attention to their leader who has just walked into the room; he looks exactly like they do. Two women follow him, dressed in the female version of the unofficial company uniform. They are the comms and HR executives. The meeting starts; the agenda is to review recent diversity and inclusion initiatives and try to figure out why so many of their employees are quitting. The leader admits he has no idea why a third of his younger workforce is either losing pace or outright abandoning him. He is convinced he is a role model for a balls-to-the-walls work ethic, logging in longer hours and more weekends than anyone else to deliver on the organization’s short-term goals.
The executive team comes to attention, each with a Starbucks cup placed to the right of their mobiles, which they watch attentively not to miss any texts, emails, or breaking news. The meeting begins.
Forging Your Pathway into 2023
Issue, 89, January 5, 2023
Two of the most important qualities we need (personally and professionally) to make good decisions are perspective and context. In order to move forward, both give relevance to how the past informs the present and can be predictive of how to plan for the future. If we take three tenses, we can reflect on what we have learned and how those insights can guide us today and tomorrow. Having said that, we are not talking about using the past as a static standard, but rather part of the flow that shapes our lives. As we contemplate the year ahead, we look forward to bringing you new insights based on our perspective in context of the ever-evolving, disruptive marketplaces we operate in.
Here at 2040 we want to take this opportunity to thank all of our readers who have shared their appreciation and support when they found a newsletter highly connected to a challenge they were experiencing or simply as a reminder to consider a problem or situation differently with a new perspective. In that context, your feedback inspires us as we move forward.
As we look back across 52 issues of our 2022 newsletters, we learned from your feedback how a few key issues are shared among many of our readers.
Taking Stock: Our Predictions and Considerations for 2023
Issue 88, December 29, 2022
One could argue that January 1 is an arbitrary date to evaluate the past 12 months. We routinely like to look back to the past calendar year, determine what went well and reflect on what we wanted to change. We view January 1 as a fresh start to tackle our procrastination, fix things that are broken, generally refresh, and forge a committed pathway forward. We all know that for many, these reflections, decisions, and goals are soon forgotten or made less important than they were in the moments leading up to January 1. And that results in an endless loop of déjà vu, which stalls progress.
The Truth about Transformation
Book Preview Excerpt
Organizations, whether private companies, non-profits, charities or governments seek to transform to take advantage of new opportunities, including technological advances. Often, technology is the major driver of change that results in transformation. As a result, the organization often fails to achieve its objective and goal to truly transform. You see, technology remains an enabler, not a silver bullet. True transformative change requires understanding of the human factors at play, human conscious and subconscious behaviors, how humans inter-relate and how society itself and all of its members are changing.
Our workforces are changing, the expertise we need is becoming harder to acquire and roles are shifting. In addition, before and because of Covid in 2020, the world around us is becoming very different, a new reality is taking hold, one that will fundamentally change who we are, how we work and yes, how we seek to ensure organizations transform for today and for the future.
The Truth about Transformation, a new book by Kevin Novak, is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Apple Books. Enjoy a short preview.ard and upward from the 2040 Team