Leading Beyond Blindspots
From Executive Myopia to Futures Thinking Vision
One of the most discussed topics in the business environment is leadership. From management magazines to TikTok trends, we are flooded with information about challenges, styles, the evolution of the workplace, or the ideal path in the quest to find one framework to lead them all. Concepts like disruption, agility, transversality, progress, and innovation fall into the “desirable” categories, while ambiguity, uncertainty, iteration, complexity, and discomfort are seen as “undesirable”.
The desire to control the outcomes, diminish uncertainty and reduce ambiguity makes us blind to the changes unfolding in front of our eyes. Good leaders need to be able to read the room as much as they are required to have a long-term vision wide enough to anticipate risks or identify opportunities.
Leadership´s obsession with taming the future becomes one of the most critical blindspots to embrace the different futures and their possibilities. Someone not familiar with Futures Studies or foresight disciplines might think there is a spelling inaccuracy in the previous sentence, Futures. If that is you, this article will be a perfect place to start questioning your leadership’s unseen areas.
Mistaken as a predictive science with the ability to foretell what THE future will bring, Futures Thinking provides methods and theories that will help individuals and organizations to identify and understand drivers of change while fostering their sense of agency in the transformation required to move into a preferable future. Quoting the first law of Jim Dator, one of the most relevant futurists of our time, we can’t predict the future because it doesn’t exist, but we can study ideas about the future and transform them into actions to shape the present.
Organizations tend to plan in 5-year blocks, considering the minimum change possible. Too many times the plan ends up in a forgotten spreadsheet, and presentism takes the lead until a traditional consultant revisits it to transform it into 54 slides that will face a similar destiny.
But what could be the impact of thinking into a 10, 20, or 30-year spectrum? Probably a better vision of where you want to take the organization — or career-, also an improved sense-making of the trends, emerging issues, and drivers of change. These will give space for more effective, strategic planning, linked to the preferable future we desire to build.
No matter the size of an organization, from a 100-year-old corporation like Shell or a startup, incorporating tools like horizon scanning, scenario planning, collective sense-making sessions, etc. into the leadership core, prepare it to identify green and red flags to adjust in a more agile way.
The consequence of not addressing the blindspots is falling into a cycle of what we call Executive Myopia. Myopia is the medical term for nearsightedness, and in our experience, it is metaphorically a leading cause of commercial strategic planning failure.
From the corporate perspective, myopia is the failure to consider future high-impact uncertainties and even more dramatic wild cards in the planning process. As we have stated, the future is shaped by the actions we take in the present. Even if this may seem obvious, the collective comfort with repeating familiar patterns and our discomfort with being wrong or less-than-certain ignites Executive Myopia.
How do you identify if you are falling into the cycle of executive myopia or enhancing your futures thinking capabilities? The answer is in the strategic planning outcomes.
Most strategic plans that fall into executive myopia are built around so-called single-point forecasts that, consciously or unconsciously, reflect specific assumptions about what the business, technology, political, social environments and such will look like X years in the future.
With all these variables and uncertainties, is it any wonder that these forecasts are almost guaranteed to be wrong and the plans that reflect them are almost guaranteed to be ineffective? How many times have you participated in a strategic plan that was forgotten and reshaped without an actual change in the process?
We know that the thought of predicting the future is tempting, but no one has a crystal ball and if we did we would be closing the door to innovation, possibilities, and change.
Hopefully, by now you are wondering how to move away from executive myopia and embrace a different way of leading. Futures Literacy is a capability that comes in handy for every leader committed to helping their organization thrive, combined with partners who have a different approach to consultancy, management, or skill training.
At Cygnus Sprints we have found that a combination of environmental trend scanning and decision-focused scenario planning can correct the vision of companies afraid of risk and flummoxed by uncertainty.
We can work with you quickly to implement a straightforward system to capture the insights of your staff regarding interesting business, tech, and socio-political developments they encounter (and the analysis of these developments) to identify emerging trends, adapted to different markets due to our multidisciplinary and diverse team.
Subsequently, these emerging trends can be used to determine the forces that could shape plausible alternative future scenarios that can be employed as testbeds for potential strategies.
This vision correction for myopia increases the odds of developing strategies that will be functional across a range of futures, decrease the level of corporate fear of the unknown, and has the added benefit of being compatible with various innovation processes.
Following the same path will lead organizations to the same results. Extrapolating historical data to assume that today’s variables will be relevant in tomorrow’s reality is not enough to address the combination of uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that we know we are and will be facing. Executive Myopia without correction will have negative consequences for the organization as well as team members who replicate the symptoms.
This article is part of an ongoing thought leadership series developed by Cygnus Sprints — On-Demand Solutions for a Complex, Sped Up World and powered by the Grey Swan Guild.
Mercedes Baltazar Lobato is a teacher and co-founder of Meraki, a boutique strategy consultancy in Mexico, and updated her crisis management past with Futures Design. She works at the interesection of foresight, strategy and reputation with public and private organizations in Latin America, through consulting and research projects. She believes that narratives are far from being a “soft asset” and occupy a fundamental place in the strategy of a company. Mercedes is a member of the Worlds Futures Federation Society. She also teaches at diverse universities like Tec de Monterrey, Universidad Iberoamericana, and Mindway; and participates as a guest analyst on CNN, El Financiero Bloomberg and El Universal among other media outlets.
Mitch Halpern is Managing Director of Cygnus Sprints, a Senior Innovation and Strategic Business Development Executive who creates multi-million-dollar new income streams from emerging and mature technologies in a broad range of industries, builds and mentors cross-functional teams that reduce time-to-market by an average of 35%, and advises companies around the world on combining design thinking, scenario planning, IP landscape analysis, and consumer trend analysis rapidly to evaluate white-space opportunities and develop platforms that reduce R&D costs by 25–50% while increasing the success rate for new products and services.
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