Setting the Right Course in Times of Crisis

Is this art, or does it need clearing away? The crisis is leading to consolidation in many places. Short-term earnings today are inevitably gaining the upper hand over speculative ideas for the day after tomorrow. The art of ambidexterity, however, cannot be cleared away for this very reason! Diversity and dissent are especially important now to find the right balance.

The bal­ance between effi­cient­ly exploit­ing exist­ing busi­ness mod­els and coura­geous­ly explor­ing new oppor­tu­ni­ties for the day after tomor­row is at no time easy. The first dig­i­tal cam­era was invent­ed at Kodak in 1975, but it did­n’t stand a chance against the then dom­i­nant film busi­ness. And even the well-known Xerox Palo Alto Resarch Cen­ter (PARC), found­ed in 1970 in the face of the latent threat to the suc­cess­ful pho­to­copi­er busi­ness due to expir­ing patent pro­tec­tion for Xerox xerog­ra­phy, has a remark­able list of inno­va­tions from laser print­ers to pro­gram­ming lan­guages and graph­i­cal user inter­faces. The only flaw in this suc­cess sto­ry: With the excep­tion of the laser print­er, which was suc­cess­ful­ly mar­ket­ed by Xerox in the form of the laser copi­er, Xerox has not man­aged to take advan­tage of any of these great inventions.

The sixth the­sis of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship.

Thus, if the bal­ance between the all-dom­i­nant today’s suc­cess mod­el and the oppor­tu­ni­ties for the day after tomor­row is appar­ent­ly dif­fi­cult to find even in good times, com­pa­nies fall even more into this imbal­ance in times of cri­sis. Under­stand­ably so, because those who do not sur­vive today no longer need to wor­ry about the day after tomor­row. How­ev­er, if the focus is too much on eco­nom­ic sur­vival here and now, it becomes tun­nel vision and thus endan­gers the long-term existence.

May we nev­er con­fuse hon­est dis­sent with dis­loy­al subversion.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

The ramp-up to old strength after the cri­sis must be fast and tar­get­ed. Diver­si­ty and dis­sent are just dis­turb­ing. The cri­sis pro­motes con­for­mi­ty and con­sen­sus and, with this intel­lec­tu­al mono­cul­ture, lays the foun­da­tion for the next cri­sis. “Think dif­fer­ent” was yes­ter­day. Orga­ni­za­tion­al rebels and court jesters are there­fore not in demand, but all the more impor­tant because in this phase, with con­struc­tive irri­ta­tion, they broad­en the view again and direct it from today to the day after tomorrow.

The sec­ond the­sis of the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship.

Dur­ing the cri­sis the course is set for the day after tomor­row. Despite all the uni­ty and deter­mi­na­tion, diver­si­ty and dis­sent is not a mis­take in this phase. Quite the oppo­site. In his book “The Effec­tive Exec­u­tive” (Ama­zon Affil­i­ate-Link), Peter F. Druck­er explic­it­ly advis­es not to make impor­tant deci­sions with­out pri­or dis­sent. He men­tions Alfred P. Sloan as a prime exam­ple of this, who alleged­ly said at a meet­ing of his top man­age­ment: “Gen­tle­men, I take it we are all in com­plete agree­ment on the deci­sion here.” Every­one around the table nod­ded assent. “Then,” con­tin­ued Mr. Sloan, “I pro­pose we post­pone fur­ther dis­cus­sion of this mat­ter until our next meet­ing to give our­selves time to devel­op dis­agree­ment and per­haps gain some under­stand­ing of what the deci­sion is all about.”

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