How a Leader’s DNA Impacts Strategic Planning

One of the most important things organizations do is set strategic direction. Strategy is our ‘secret sauce’ for success and should provide a business with competitive advantage. However, each person develops strategy differently. As a result, individual differences can sometimes make strategic planning a frustrating process.

One way to minimize frustration and maximize differences is explained through an academic idea called temporal orientation (also called time orientation). Stated simply, we each have a unique, hard-wired way we approach and think about time (or temporality). Each of us view and interpret life through one of the following time orientations;

  1. The past,
  2. The present, or,
  3. The future.

If you have a past orientation, you make plans by assessing what can be learned from history. Those with a present orientation evaluate their current circumstances in order to make decisions. If you have a future orientation, you think and dream about what could be before you make plans. Each of these orientations is valuable for different reasons. Furthermore, each one presents opportunities and limitations.

Similarly, organizational strategic planning processes are also rooted in these three orientations. People who are past oriented tend to use historic data, charts, trend-lines and lessons-learned to inform strategic thinking. Those who are more present oriented gravitate to activities like SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) or SOAR (strengths, opportunities, aspirations, results). Those wired with future orientation use the discipline of strategic foresight (trend identification, scenario development, driving force identification and futurists) as their tools to plan.

So which time orientation is best? You guessed it – they all are! The absence of any one perspective will lead to gaps in your strategy. For example, what occurs if:

  • You fail to learn from lessons of the past?
  • You forget to leverage the resources/skills of the present?
  • You neglect to plan and adapt for the changes of tomorrow?

Experience shows that if this concept is not understood by a team (particularly during strategic planning exercises), an invisible tug-of-war will occur. When this occurs, our different time orientations will become a weakness instead of a strength (as a past argues with a future about the best way to approach things). It is also my experience that the future orientation is most difficult for teams to productively spend time on. Since discussions about the future revolve around ‘what-if’s’ and uncertainty, most organizations unknowingly rely on past and present styles because they feel more tangible. While past and present styles can develop good strategy, they will often produce results which focuses on yesterday’s problems.

Strong strategic planning processes need to intentionally involve all three of these perspectives. Effective leaders learn from the past, leverage the present and prepare for the future.


Dr. Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Contact him today to find out how he can help enhance your strategic planning processes –

Photo Credit –

Peg Thoms & David Greenberger (1995). The relationship between leadership and time orientation. The journal of management inquiry (4:3).

University Degrees of the Future

Futurist guru Thomas Frey recently posted a list of 52 university degrees that we will need in the future. His insights reminded us of two important leadership strategy lessons.

Leaders Think Forward

While this idea seems obvious, I believe we understand it much better than we practice it. To prove the point, consider these facts:

  • When Google launched, no one was teaching online search engine strategies.
  • When Uber launched, no one was teaching sharing economy business models.
  • When Apple first opened their App Store, no one was teaching smart phone app design (Frey).

Experience and history indicate that gifted future-thinkers are not typically the popular people at the table. They push boundaries. They identify problems with your business model (and are the ones who actually talk about it – over and over and over!). They are not content and often become isolated because they make us uncomfortable. However, in an era where we love buzz-word disruptive technology, we must embrace the reality that disruptive ideas are sourced from disruptive people. Disruptive leaders know how to think-forward.

Leaders Take Calculated Risks

In addition to anticipating the future, we must also discern when it is time to act in advance of a market need. Frey noted that the Colorado School of Mines has begun to offer a degree in Asteroid Mining. Yes, you read that correctly – asteroid mining. Since it takes 6-8 years to launch new degrees and train students, we must become adept at offering programs (or products or services) before they are in high demand. However, the term innovative and universities are often at odds. As a whole, universities tend to offer the tried-and-true (as do many other industries). We are more apt to copy what is working elsewhere than to boldly go where none have gone before. However, we will need more degrees like the groundbreaking asteroid mining program!

Imagine how educational and entrepreneurial effectiveness could change if they worked in tandem!

For your interest, here is an abridged list of the degrees that Frey believes we need to offer to prepare for the future:

  1. Space exploration: space tourism, planetary colony design, non-earth human habitats and space infrastructure.
  2. Smart cities: autonomous traffic and construction integration, next-gen municipal planning and mixed reality modeling.
  3. Autonomous agriculture: robotic and drone systems, supply chain management and systems theory.
  4. Cryptocurrency: digital coin economics, cryptobanking design and regulatory oversight, and forensic accounting.
  5. Blockchain: Design, systems and application, biological blockchain technology, and municipal blockchain design.
  6. Unmanned aerial vehicles: filmaking, command center operations, and emergency response systems.
  7. Mixed reality: experiential retail, three-dimensional storytelling, game design, and therapeutic systems design.

Head ShotDr. Jeff Suderman is a futurist, consultant, and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Contact him today to find out how he can help enhance your personal and organizational effectiveness –

Source: Thomas Frey

Organizational Culture: Making the Invisible Visible

“Culture eats strategy for lunch”. Peter Drucker

Those who rub shoulders with me regularly have likely heard me quote this more than once. It’s a cornerstone concept in my organizational development work. Patrick Lencioni reframed this same idea when he stated that he would rather lead a unified team with an average strategy than a fractious team with an excellent strategy.

Most organizational leaders understand the importance of having a unified culture. However, I find there is much less clarity in how to facilitate understanding and practice of this culture. This process, something I call cultural transference, is how we help people understand and practice the norms of our organizational culture.

As I observe organizations, I find two the following two strategies dominate how we facilitate cultural tranference:

  1. The Virus Strategy: This implicit strategy is built on the idea of ‘watch me and do as I do’. This approach assumes that culture is strong enough to catch. Somewhat like the cold virus, given enough time, it will spread (and most everyone will catch it).
  2. The Immunization Strategy: This explicit strategy is built by defining culture and then intentionally communicating it. This culture is written down and prescribed to every employee – often with several booster shots.

I have seen the virus strategy work but believe it is risky. While culture can be caught, our environments are equally receptive to hosting different cultural strains. There is low certainty that the right virus will spread to all corners of your organization.

The immunization strategy is much more effective but it also takes more work. When culture is taught (and not caught), we have a higher chance of infusing the right strain into our organizational DNA. It does not guarantee cultural transference, but it creates clarity and provides a litmus test by which we can assess when people are not a cultural fit.

Culture provides us with a sense of organizational identity and generates a shared commitment to beliefs and values that are larger than themselves (Richard Daft). If this is true, culture is not a one-size-fits-all product. Different cultures have different purposes and achieve different outcomes. The goal is to develop a culture that fits your mission and strategic goals. Will you choose to accomplish this through a virus or an immunization strategy? Which of these two strategies do you most regularly encounter?

If you need to develop an organizational cultural immunization strategy please contact me.

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a cultural virologist, a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve culture, leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational future-readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


Richard Daft (2013). Organization theory and design.

Image Credit

A Year in Review: Three of Your Favorite Blog Posts and One of Mine

As I conclude my first year of blogging it is a good time to reflect on the topics that interested you, my readers, the most. Here is a quick reference guide to your most read posts of 2014.

1. Our New Four-Letter Word: This post focused on how we inappropriately use the simple word ‘busy’. This post even resulted in a twitter email from a reader who pledged to not use the word busy for the year (how is it going Cameron?).

2. What if Everything Rises & Falls on Followership? Coincidentally, this post was written days before my attendance at the International Leadership Association Conference (ILA) in San Diego. Followership was one of the hot topics of the event and I am excited to see leadership being reshaped to embrace the importance, power, responsibility of active followers.

3. Focus: Finding Strategic Clarity. Review three signs that indicate your organization may be suffering from a lack of strategic clarity.

I also want to remind you of one of my first, and personal favorite posts, The Tale of the Orange and the Lemon tree. I jogged by this amazing fruit-laden tree this week and was reminded anew of the richness of this metaphor.

As we anticipate 2015, I look forward to getting to know and work with many of you in the months ahead. Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. King Solomon


Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


Change Agents: The personal characteristics required to navigate change

In the class I am teaching on organizational development, my students are studying how to facilitate change, both personally and organizationally. Part of this process has included discussion about the attributes of people who are good at leading change.

Based on our dialogue, here are four attributes of people who effectively facilitate change:

1. They are willing to be wrong. It takes courage to acknowledge that you are wrong. However, a lack of willingness to do so creates a barrier to change. As Einstein once said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”.

2. They embrace learning. Some individuals derive a lot of enjoyment from learning new things. As a result, mistakes are a required ingredient in learning new ideas. Bill Nye (the Science Guy) exemplifies this when he states, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t!”.

3. They know how much they don’t know. This relates to my first point about courage but focuses on the attribute of humility instead. It takes humility to acknowledge how much you don’t know. I experienced this a few months ago when a friend gave me a back-handed compliment. He stated, “I enjoy being with you more than I used to because you are less certain of things”. I trust that reflects personal growth in realizing how much I don’t know!

4. They have a thick skin. Sometimes you have to be tough when you learn hard lessons. John Piper once noted that you will never make it if criticism disables you (thanks to Marissa for this great quote and idea). At times, change will require you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start again.

In summary, courage, enjoying learning, humility and toughness are all ingredients of people who are good at facilitating change. What are some other attributes you would add to this list?

Jeff Suderman is a professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California.

Piper, J.  (2011). The Marks of a Spiritual Leader (p. 25)


The Death of Privacy: Life in a Post-Private World

Imagine if privacy was dead. You know, like absolutely nothing was private. As I see it, we don’t really have to imagine it.  Here is newsworthy support of this premise from the past few weeks:

Ray Rice Abuse | Facebook Messenger Tracking | The Snowden WikiLeaks | Jennifer Lawrence Photos

To further prove the point, each of these stories are archived for our viewing for…well, presumably forever! Privacy is dead. We just don’t live and act like it yet.

As a futurist, I work to identify trends which could significantly change our lives and our organizations. About four years ago I first saw the term “Death of Privacy” on a  trend-map. The concept resonated deeply with me, not because I liked it, but because it seemed to be true. As time progresses, I see this trend continuing to grow in significance and impact.

As a reader, you may be asking, “So What!?” Here are five implications of the death of privacy in our personal and organizational lives.

1. The rise of going dark. Traditionally, going dark refers to unplugging from our electronic addictions. In the future going dark will be a means for us to engage in life without fear of being tracked. How will your workplace change if people believe that they are only free off-the-grid?

2. ‘Free’ will become increasingly costly. We live in a time of free apps and software. However, we are learning that ‘nothing-free-is-free’ as these programs monitor our habits and sell our data. As a result, watch for a movement of people being willing to pay (perhaps pay a premium), for products and services that provide assurances of privacy.

3. Privacy and secrecy will become synonyms. A Google search provides us with robust information about most people we want to know more about. In an open information society, those who become adept at keeping their lives private will be viewed with suspicion.

4. A new multiple personality disorder. Have you ever joked about that person on Facebook that has a life that is too good to be true? We can create on-line identities which are different than our real selves. As we adapt to a lack of privacy, we will spend increasing amounts of time curating our on-line personas. As a result, expect there to be confusion between Avatar-Joe and Real-Life-Joe.

5. Insert your insight here.  I invite you to add your own ideas in the comment box below!

At this point, it is tempting to rant about living a life without a modicum of privacy. However, I prefer to focus on things that I can change and I know I cannot change the diminishing nature of privacy. Instead, thoughtful readers will identify what they can do. For example, why don’t we require job applicants to submit their social profiles instead of sneaking around their backs and looking at their Facebook pages. We could proactively teach staff how to create healthy digital profiles which would benefit both themselves and their organization. Or we could educate our children about integrity so they understand that having separate private lives and public lives is a myth.

Privacy is dead. However, life after privacy is not.

Thanks to the following author for his thoughtful insights about the death of privacy which influenced this article.

Preston, A. (August 2, 2014). The death of privacy. The Guardian/The Observer. Retrieved from

Effective Leaders Think Differently: 10 Quotes to Make You Think

I see and I forget

I hear and I remember

I do and I understand


This week I have been poring through textbooks as I prepare to teach some on-line Master’s levels courses this fall. As I prep, I am reminded how much learning occurs through the ‘doing’ process. Learning is a journey that challenges our assumptions and helps us learn to think in new ways. The process of thinking differently must also occur outside of the classroom and is a critical ingredient in successful organizations.Warren Bennis, often considered the father of contemporary leadership, listed creativity and thinking outside-the-box as one of the most important leadership qualities.

Gareth Morgan, an organizational development expert provides a great reminder of the importance of this skill:

“Skilled leaders and managers develop the knack of reading situations with various scenarios in mind and of forging actions that seem appropriate to the understandings thus obtained. They have a capacity to remain open and flexible, suspending immediate judgement whenever possible until a  more comprehensive view of the situation emerges. They are aware that new insights often arise as one approaches situations from ‘new angles’ and that a wide and varied assessment can create a wide and varied range of action possibilities. Less effective managers and problem solvers, however, seem to interpret everything from a fixed standpoint. As a result, the frequently hit blocks they cannot get around; their actions and behaviors are often rigid and inflexible.”

Nurturing the ability to see things differently takes time and effort. As you consider the need to look at old challenges in new ways, here are a few of my favorite quotes to inspire you:

  1. I skate to where the puck is going to be. Wayne Gretzky
  2. The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. F.Scott Fitzgerald

  3.  A person who never made a mistake has never tried anything new.  Albert Einstein

  4. Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Seneca
  5. People will not believe what does not fit in with their plans or suit their prearrangements. Barbara Tuchman

  6. What everybody knows is what has already happened or become obvious. What the aware individual knows is what has not yet taken shape, what has not occurred. Sun Tzu
  7. We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

  8. No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Russian General von Moltke
  9. Doubt is not a pleasant condition but certainty is absurd. Voltaire

  10. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein
What helps you break out of rut thinking?

Gamified Life: Gaming goes mainstream

It was a hot summer day and our teenagers and their friends were playing in our pool. As I observed them, I grasped how video games have affected how they speak and play. I heard Ben tell someone that they had ‘lost a life’. Kaden issued a challenge and the task was called a ‘mission’ and lack of success was a ‘fail’. An effective flip was referred to as ‘a sick combo’ and earned someone a ‘level-up’.

As a trendwatcher, I like to keep the pulse on trends which are going to change the way we live. Gamification is one of these trends. The communication in our swimming pool, a domain I once believed to be a video-game free zone, demonstrates how video gaming has also crept into our mainstream lives.

Gamification is …the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems”.[1] Practically, we are seeing this concept creep into things such as exercise (review a recent Apple fitness ad), learning (engage in brain games at or staff training (see how Deloitte Consulting is using it to teach). Those of us who are Starbucks reward card holders see elements of gamification in the way they award badges or accomplishments after the completion of certain tasks (first on-line purchase, gold star status, or sending an e-gift).

As I monitor trends, I set signposts as a means to monitor how a trend is progressing. Like roadside mileage markers, the more frequently you see these signposts, the faster the trend is developing (or diminishing). Here are a few signposts to monitor as you observe the trend of gamification.

  1. Vocabulary: Watch for an increase in daily language terms related to gaming, especially with non-traditional audiences. This will range from terms such as badges or accomplishments to levels and domains.
  2. Location Diversity: Watch for gamification in non-traditional venues. The Toy Story ride at Disneyland is an example of the predictable gamification in amusement parks. However, when you see gamification concepts being used in venues like churches or employment training centers, you know it is hitting the mainstream.
  3. Recreation: Watch for gamification concepts to enter traditional forms of recreation. Concepts such as Laser Tag, Bingo Bowling, or TopGolf are indicators that gamification is affecting old-style games in new ways.
  4. Teaching/Learning: Watch for an increase in the use of tablets, apps and games in classrooms. The increasing use of resource such as Kahn Academy, a gamified college course (Olds College) or the elementary curriculum which uses on-line games to reinforce learning  herald the acceptance of gamification.

New trends are always accompanied by both advantages and disadvantages. Strategic organizations learn to leverage the advantages. Gamification will provide many opportunities which will help organizations to achieve their mission in fresh ways.

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© Dilbet -

[1] Gamification. Retrieved July 21, 2014 from



Open Source Life

In June 2014 the CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, made a surprising announcement, “…in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology…Tesla patents have been removed”.[1] Most experts consider Tesla to be the global leader in the electric vehicle movement so giving away their patents is a very big deal.

As a futurist, I keep an eye on trends which are impacting our lives. The idea of ‘open source’ has been on my watch list for some time. Most of us are familiar with successful practice of open source via software development. Platforms like Firefox, Android and WordPress (which this blog is built upon), are all open source. However, Tesla’s move to release patents to their competitors is a significant move towards open source in the non-software environment. I suspect that it will be the first of many.

The decision to share patents is even more interesting when we consider it alongside another major trend, the increasingly complex world of copyright in the digital age. The information age makes it easier to access information, while at the same time, making it more difficult to copyright protect information. File sharing, music streaming and Wikipedia all exemplify how copyright is getting more difficult to enforce. In fact, some would state that copyright is already functionally dead. If you extend this copyright idea to the domain of patents, we see that Musk’s move may reinforce the concept of  the death of copyright.

I do not believe that copyright or patents will die. However, we may have reached a tipping point where the complexity of enforcing copyright can be more difficult and costly than being consistently innovative. In the words of Musk;

”When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.”[2]

In an era where patents and copyright are increasingly difficult to enforce, open source can be a strategic business choice. For Tesla, the stated advantage of this choice was humanitarian – slowing harmful carbon-based emissions. I suspect this choice will also bring Tesla long-term financial benefit (batteries are the most expensive component of electric cars and they plan to build a $5B battery factory. Ergo, more electric cars means more electric batteries). While the motive for open source will be complex, I believe that Tesla’s open source experiment will one day be viewed as a historical landmark in the open source movement.



[1] Musk, E. (June 12, 2014). All our patents are belong to you. Tesla Motors. Retrieved from

[2] Ibid.

Social Media Genius: Walmart’s corporate response to a scathing article in the NY Times reveals the power of effective social media.

Walmart Blog long

A portion of Walmart’s blog response to Timothy Egan, a NY Times writer.

A recent New York Times article harshly criticized Walmart for paying low wages to their employees. David Tovar, the Vice President of Communications at Walmart chose to respond to these allegations by using their blog. By posting a red copy edit of the article, he effectively corrected several points that he believed were inaccurate. The point of this post isn’t to support either the NY Times nor Walmart. Instead, the focus is on the effective use of social media

While Tovar’s response is scathing, the use of their own blog to publicize a response avoids an all-out war of words. The secondary publicity of his response through news articles and blogs (such as this post and over 22,000 likes on Facebook) has allowed others to carry the message on their behalf. This type of coverage could not be achieved by purchasing a full-page newspaper ad.

I get tired of receiving daily emails from people telling me they can provide all my social media solutions. Social media is important. However, it supports strategy, it is not strategy. The simplicity of Walmart’s response demonstrates that they get this!

You can read the full Walmart blog post here.