The 21st Century Dual-Mindset Leader

The 21st Century Dual-Mindset LeaderThriving in the age of exponential growth

Business leaders of 40 years and over grew up in a linear world where progress, improvements, technologies all increased in small increments. Take cars for example, a 20th century dominating technology. The land speed record was first established in 1898 at 39 mph and increased an average of 7 mph per year until in 1997 when it topped out of 760 mph. That’s an increase of 19 times in 100 years. That was true for all technologies, trains, manufacturing, planes, medical etc. During this time we learned to succeed by focusing on improvement, ensuring control, avoiding uncertainty, managing by hierarchy, to name but a few. That linear experience shaped our beliefs about how to be successful.  It dictated our approach to growth. It shaped the management systems we put into place to lead and mange the business. It influenced how we structured our organizations. Ultimately, linear thinking became our mindset, our hidden attitudes and inclinations upon which we depend when making decisions.

Except, the linear age is rapidly transitioning to the exponential age. Whereas early-to-mid 20th century technological improvements grew linearly, today’s technologies grow exponentially.  Just compare the 19 times improvement of the speed of cars to computing speed. In the last 30 years PC clock speed has increased 1,500 times. The same is happening in other technologies such as 3D printing, digital imaging, wireless sensing, artificial intelligence, advanced materials, advanced robotics, genomics, and energy storage amongst others.

That kind of exponential technological growth quickly turns into exponential business growth. When we first became leaders 20% growth was considered phenomenal, and the path to a $1 billion company was counted in generations.  In the exponential world 100x growth and $1 billion happens in a few short years. Just look at Apple’s experience with iTunes store. They launched it in April 2003. Within five days they had sold 5 million songs. By 2006 they had sold a billion songs, by 2010 – 10 billion. From nothing they created a $1b business in 3 years and a $10b in 7 years.

That was an example from the past. Here’s one from the future. By the end of 2015 Qualcomm expects to announce the winner of its $10mil Tricorder X prize. The specifications; built a handheld device that can diagnose 15 diseases with the same, or better accuracy than a board certified physician. A combination of exponential growth in: computing power, artificial technology, cloud computing, bandwidth and lab-on-a-chip technologies will combine together to turn Star Trek’s 1960’s medical tricorder into a reality.

Now, think of how fast that will sweep through the medical field. Think of the disruption to family practitioners and hospitals. Think of how that device will transform medicine in third world countries. How long will it take before you can diagnose your disease and send the readout to the pharmacy to get your prescription? The growth curve for this device and its successors will be exponential. A whole new industry will grow from its launch.

It’s the exponential age – are you prepared?

Thriving in the 21st century takes a different mindset – a mindset that sets goals and manages activities and expectations based on exponential growth rather than linear growth. Successful leaders have realized this shifting is taking place. So they learned a new set of attitudes and processes; they’ve learned to think exponentially.  What’s emerging is a dual mindset: retaining the linear mindset to capture available profits in the existing businesses, and adding an exponential mindset to lead teams in developing new exponential-growth businesses.

Mindset Comparison:

Here are 10 examples of the differences in the two mindsets.

Linear Attitudes (Capture the present business) Exponential Attitudes (Secure the future business)
1)  Stay within the norms of the market/industry. Be better.
2)   Set growth goals based on historical data.
3)   Develop detailed growth plans, then execute to the plan.
4)   Reject growth proposals with high degrees of uncertainty.
5)   Acquire companies to gain market share and presence.
6)   Fund individual projects based on well-defined ROI requirements.
7)   Control employees.
8)   Form long-term stable partnerships.
9)   Market offerings to customers.
10) Tweak pricing for revenue growth.
1) Disrupt the market/industry by creating new value platforms and business models. Be different.
2)   Set 10-100x growth goals. Little data exists.
3)   Develop visionary growth plans, then learn your way to success or quick failure.
4)   Embrace proposals with high degrees of uncertainty when two conditions are met:
-   Rapid learning approach
–   Potential for market disruption
5)   Acquire companies to gain access to market disrupting technologies or capabilities.
6)   Fund teams to manage portfolio of growth projects.
7)   Unleash employees.
8)   Form transient-partnerships.
9)   Create such compelling offerings to customers that they “want to buy.”
10) Partner with inventors to gain intellectual property.

Now what?

What’s should be most obvious in the list is how opposite these attitudes are. That takes unique leadership. Teams that can hold two opposite belief systems in their minds and flip from one to the other depending upon circumstances.  So, as leaders we have a stark choice to make. We can continue to believe that the single linear mindset that made us successful will long endure. Or, we can recognize the shifting ground under our feet for what it is, a fundamental alteration of the mindset we need to be successful in the exponential age we call the 21st century.

In subsequent blogs I will lay out strategies for leaders who wish to undertake the journey of learning the attitudes, capabilities and structures required to thrive in this new millennium.

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John Sutherland




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