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2023’s Reader’s Choice: The 5 Most Popular Issues of 2040 Ideas and Innovations

Issue 140, December 21, 2023

2023 is wrapping up and we’re doing a reader’s choice this week. After all, we preach customer centrism and make it a practice with our clients.  So, what’s interesting when we look at the top five newsletters we have published over 2023, which we sent to you and posted on LinkedIn, Medium, our website, and our Substack Newsletter, it says as much about all our readers as it says about the message.

Your North Star

The runaway most popular theme was “What is Your North Star,” in an exploration of what guides you forward. Considering the unpredictability of opinions, emotions, misinformation, contentiousness, and polarization in our cultural conversation, we may not always agree with those who take a stand, but we should try to respect them and hold them as honorable, courageous, committed, and strong. Similarly, organizations that hold onto their North Star benefit societally and across their markets, admired by their stakeholders, including their workforce.

As we wrote, Dr. E.C. Krupp, Director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and a world-renowned expert in ancient astronomy explained, “The north pole of the sky and whatever stars were close to that point told the ancients there was foundation and structure in their lives. It was an anchor that held the world in place, the stable, motionless hub of the night’s orderly parade of stars. Although we usually call it the North Star, it is also known as Polaris, Latin for “of the pole.” And translated into our more earthbound language, our North Star is what anchors us and gives us personal and professional structure.

So, metaphorically, a North Star is what inspires and influences us. It’s not goals. It’s not a mission statement.  It’s the fundamental ethos that your organization operates on. To be more precise, it is the reason you are in business. It is your shared purpose reflected and embraced by everyone in your organization. And your true sense of direction.

It’s no surprise that this message resonates so well with us. You can refresh your memory about the power and value of the role your North Star plays in your life.

Shapeshifting Our World

GenAI, ChatGPT and all of its variations have captivated us and unleased as many solutions as questions about its role in shaping our lives.  For decades we have been reeling from the unbridled worship of big tech. For starters, just look at the monumental architecture of their corporate headquarters as temples to tech. On the positive side, the country initiated widespread support of STEM curriculum. Girls who code became a badge of honor. The U.S. became the mecca for students from all over the world to study at our universities and compete for engineering degrees … and jobs. A legion of 20-year-olds drank the startup Kool-Aid and raised millions of dollars to fund so many solutions looking for a problem.

Society aligned with the promises tech titans made and embraced the excitement of the possibilities. As is often the case, the public loves to worship the pioneers who break with the norm. The American psyche likes the entrepreneurial spirit when rule breakers make day-to-day life a bit more interesting and forward-looking.

But as we wrote, the veneer began to crack. Privacy. Misinformation. Bullying. Shaming. Self-indulgence. Narcissism. Bias. Losses of millions of dollars. Unbridled, unbounded consequential decision-making of young, inexperienced leaders left so many of us across the business world thinking WTF.

Our intent was not to be overly negative or paint a picture of the end of the world as we know it. Our lives have indeed improved and have been made easier with tech innovations in so many ways; medicine is one obvious example. But at 2040, we live by Newton’s third law of physics, paraphrased, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Any reaction results in consequences, many unforeseen and surely unintended.

Revisit our debate on the brave new world we have entered and how GenAI will surely shapeshift our lives and businesses.

Optimism on the Edge 

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. 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.

The term “narcissistic entrepreneur” was coined by Michael Maccoby in 2007 when he described what makes leaders great and at the same time, damaged and dysfunctional. Maccoby is a psychoanalyst and anthropologist, and he describes the syndrome as a love of the limelight that generally stems from leaders’ personalities. As he says, that is both good and bad news: “Narcissists are good for companies that need people with vision and the courage to take them in new directions. But narcissists can also lead companies into trouble by refusing to listen to the advice and warnings of their managers.” Maccoby argues that “The most innovative leaders are not consensus-building bureaucrats; they are productive narcissists with the interrelated set of skills — foresight, systems thinking, visioning, motivating, and partnering.” On the plus side, he believes narcissistic entrepreneurs are best suited to lead during times of rapid social and economic change. On the downside, a narcissistic entrepreneur is not so great for sustaining a successful organization. They get in their own way.

It can often boil down to hubris. Actions and decisions are often based on limited sets of information, isolated data points, unconnected inputs, or just out of context. We and our leaders often tell ourselves what we want to hear, convinced that hearing something different may challenge or dampen our optimism.

A re-read of The Consequences of Unbounded Optimism is a useful exercise to not let “hoping for the best” be our guiding strategy and fallback position.

Anger and Rage

The conflict about changes in remote work, work/life balance and everyone’s fragile wellbeing and mental health has put the workforce at odds with management. We set up the conundrum with a short story: 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.

If this sounds familiar, it should.  The workplace has become a battleground in many organizations, and the solidarity that defined employees in the 80s is past history. Check our report on workplace culture and why it is harder than ever to keep a multigenerational workforce family.

Life Stages Beat Generational Differences

And the theme that connects all these five newsletters is the new reality of our workplace with five generations working together.  But more important than age is our outlook on life and the life stage that influences our worldview, outlook and emotions. Regardless of where we fall in the age bands of any generation, we are further defined by our life stages (single, married, divorced, parent, single-parent, recent graduate, early-career professional, late-career professional, etc.) our belief systems, and how we are touched by societal events — terrorism, political unrest, war, economic collapse, a pandemic.

Workstyles are different as well. Each generation approaches their careers differently and each needs to be managed in nuanced ways. Older workers value a slow, steady, and consistent career path, but according to trends expert Jasmine Glasheen, “Next gens are more focused on helping the collective whole through self-realization –– which translates into pursuing a career path that’s centered around individual evolution/success.”

We are controlled consciously and unconsciously by our personal biases. And according to Professor Megan Gerhardt, director of leadership development at Miami University’s Farmer School of Business and author of Gentelligence, “What we value as individuals is often influenced by events completely out of our control, dictated by our experiences at the beginnings of our lives and our careers. Each generation enters the workforce under certain conditions, which ultimately helped to shape our sense of purpose, our preferences, and our drivers for success.”

You can’t manage what you don’t understand. Gerhardt adds, “Many of the generational conversations in the news today rely on false stereotypes and clickbait headlines, rather than taking the time to understand the important differences that are a part of our generational identities. When we assign negative or overarching characteristics to each group, we imply that their values, beliefs, and goals are fundamentally flawed.”

Return to our report to see if you have any personal biases that may influence how you work and understand the five generations that make up our workforce. 

If you haven’t yet picked up a copy of our book, The Truth About Transformation. Take a moment and get a copy. It can serve as your change and transformation resource for 2024!

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