What Orange Trees Teach Us About Organizational Success

Some of my most interesting insights are gleaned from real-life. Like orange trees (see The Tale of the Orange and the Lemon Tree)! This week an orange tree taught me another valuable lesson about how we can maintain ongoing organizational success.

We live in an area of the California desert which has an abundance of citrus trees. In February and March these trees blossom. For several weeks our desert air is filled with the cloyingly sweet smell of citrus blossoms. It is one of my favorite times of year.

However, this year I noticed something in addition to the aroma. Amidst the spring blooms, most of the orange, lemon, grapefruit and lime trees are still filled with ripe fruit. While these trees are still bearing the literal fruits of their labor, their work for next year is already underway.

This is a rich lesson about how we can foster ongoing organizational success! It is not uncommon for our organizations to experience a fruitful season. However, only focused organizations experience success on an ongoing basis. If you don’t believe me, perhaps these statistics will convince you.

In 1920, the average company on the Standard & Poor’s stock exchange (S&P) lasted 67 years. By 2o15, this has been reduced to 15 years. This means that an S&P company is now being replaced every two weeks. Analysts estimate that 75 percent of today’s S&P 500 firms will be replaced by new firms by 2027 (The Atlantic).

These sobering statistics remind us that over time, success over time is earned and should not be assumed. So how do organizations facilitate blooms amidst their fruitfulness? Let me answer this question from my perspective as a consultant. Here are three types of organizations that I regularly encounter. Can you guess which one has the best chance to maintain success?

  1. Late Bloomers. When we don’t take time to plan amidst our fruitful season, we eventually realize that we need to catch up. These clients often come to me and ask how they can be successful ASAP. When we neglect doing our work in season, late bloomer must play catch-up. This can be a very vicious cycle. I believe many late bloomers are casualties on the S&P 500 list.
  2. Resistant Bloomers. It is not uncommon to speak with potential clients who are in the midst of a rich harvest. Some of them believe that their current bounty will last forever as long as they keep doing exactly what they have done. These clients usually tell me that they don’t need help as there are still oranges on the tree! However, the pace of change in the 21st century seldom affords us the opportunity to stay the same. There will not be low-hanging fruit forever. As a result, I believe that most resistant bloomers will someday discover that they have become late bloomers.
  3. Anticipatory Bloomers. These clients do their best to run their organizations like a fruitful orange tree. They do the work for the next harvest while there are still oranges on the tree. They work to assess their environment, plan ahead and sow at the right times. It is challenging to blossom and bear fruit at the same time but it can be done. These organizations thrive amidst changing environments.

Unhealthy organizations are those who have failed to prepare their blossoms at the right time. Even organizations that appear healthy will fail if they lack the foresight to look beyond their current harvest. However, healthy organizations will do the hard work required to blossom amidst fruitfulness!

Success does not always breed success in a changing global marketplace. The S&P data reminds us that the things that made you successful in the past may not work in 15 years! So is your organization doing the work required to blossom at the right time?


 

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor, consultant and pracademic 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. Email: jeff@jeffsuderman.com

Reference:

Lam, Bourree (April 12, 2015). Where do firms go when they die? The Atlantic on-line.

Unlearning: The new leadership skill

In order to thrive in the future we are going to need to learn how to unlearn. Amidst unparalleled change, leaders can no longer rely on ‘what they know’. Instead, effective leaders will be defined by the capacity to unlearn outdated and ineffective ways of doing things. More importantly, they will also have the capacity to help their organizations do the same.

A recent article in The Futurist defined this as unlearning and uplearning. The authors note, “one of the most important skills in a time of immense change is to develop the capacity to unlearn old ideas that are increasingly obsolete and learn how to reason, adapt, and act at a higher level of complexity”. Here is what this looks like:

Unlearning: This skill requires us to be able to identify and unlearn ideas and activities that have worked in the past but do not work in today or will not in the future. For example, teachers are no longer sole content providers/experts as a result of the internet. This week, I have observed my children being taught in classrooms (bricks-and-morter as well as on-line) as well as through gamification, Kahn Academy, Wikipedia and Google Translate. Their learning comes from many content providers and experts! However, the teacher as the expert is a longstanding tradition that drives our educational system. We need to unlearn how we teach in order to improve education.

Uplearning: The ability to be comfortable working with complex problems, not because you know the answers, but because you are equipped with critical thinking skills . These skills – such as synthesis, adaptability, systems-thinking and a multidisciplinary approach- enables individuals to ‘pull’ themselves into the unknown. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors, demonstrates uplearning in his proposed ‘Hyperloop’, a solar-powered transportation system designed to move people between LA and San Francisco in about 30 minutes. There is currently no way to accomplish this dream. However, he believes that a group of people committed to uplearning can learn how to do so.

This change will be challenging if we rely on historic models of education. Richard Ogle highlighted this in his book Smart World when he noted, “Western education is based on two fundamental principles…rational thinking and content of knowledge that already exists … and, by definition, traditional learning looks backward. In a world of radical change, imagination, intuition, insight and innovation are required …and, by definition, learning looks forward”. Education itself must transform by applying unlearning and uplearning principles.

Alvin Toffler once said, “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. While the terms unlearning and uplearning may not be common, you can expect them to become cornerstones of effective education and leadership in the decades ahead.

What are the common barriers you encounter that inhibit uplearning and unlearning?


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Ogle, R. (2007). Smart world: Breakthrough creativity and the new science of ideas. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, p. 113.

Budd, B., de la Tega, M., Grove, B., & Smyre, R. (July-August 2014). Creating a future forward college: What if…Collaborations in transformational learning. The Futurist (Vol. 48, No. 4). Retrieved Octtober 21 from http://www.wfs.org/futurist/2014-issues-futurist/july-august-2014-vol-48-no-4/creating-future-forward-college-what-if-c

Live|Die|Repeat: Thinking Like Gen Y/Z

Sometimes, popular culture provides us with unexpected insights about life. This recently occurred during family movie night when we watched Edge of Tomorrow. This futuristic science fiction thriller was not only an entertaining movie, but it helped me understand aspects of how generations younger than my own think (I’m a Gen X’er).

live die repeat

SPOILER ALERT: Content below will spill movie details!

In the movie, Tom Cruise is unexpectedly caught up in a fight against aliens who have invaded earth. However, the aliens are almost invincible and Tom and his partner find themselves regularly being killed only to wake up the next day to relive the same sequence of events. As a result of what they learn from their recurring identical experiences (like the movie Groundhog Day), they get closer to their goal of killing the mother-alien each day. This is more succinctly summarized by the movie tag-line: LIVE. DIE. REPEAT.

MAXIMIZING GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES

The idea of repeating a task and doing it more successfully a second, third or twentieth time is a fundamental premise of most video games. As a result, ‘do-overs’ are a normal part of life for a generation raised in homes with multiple gaming consoles. Since they think, study, work and live differently, employers need to equip themselves to work with Generation Y & Z employees who enter the workforce with different mindsets. It is critical that we do not label these differences in negative ways. Instead these differences carry both positive and negative components, just like the prevailing set of characteristics that any generation possesses.

At this point in my blog, I typically cite research which supports my insights. However, this weeks research won’t be found in any academic journal or book. Instead, it is based on 38 cumulative years of observations of my three children. As a result of this research, here are a four principles and implications of a Live, Die, Repeat mindset which characterize many who make up Generation Y and Z .

1. Perfection is less important than trying.

The upside: They are willing to fail. Since innovation requires that we try new things, comfort with failure is important!

The downside: They are not perfectionists and often do not expect to get it right the first time. Perfectionist bosses beware!

2. Jumping-in vs. planning ahead is encouraged. Most video games are fast-paced and encourage doing and then thinking (see my recent blog post  Do–>Think or Think–>Do).

The upside: They are people of action.

The downside: Extensive listening is slow death for them.

3. Experimentation is required.How many times did it take to beat the final level of The Legend of Zelda? Many!!

The upside: They are taught to think creatively and try things that may seem illogical.

The downside: The journey may become more important than the destination. 

4. Motivation is intrinsic.Since games teach them to live, die and repeat, the motivation to beat the challenge comes from within.

The upside: They need a deeper reason to do something than “because I said so”.

The downside: Sometimes they simply need to do it “because I said so”.

An important caveat must be included at this point – this generalization is not fully true for every person and every situation. However, the themes of these behaviors are regularly observed in our family.

How does the LIVE, DIE, REPEAT mindset manifest itself in your personal and work lives? What observations would you add?

 


Family photo cropped.docx

I provide consulting solutions which help organizations achieve their mission. Organizational improvement occurs by developing leaders, fostering organizational alignment and blending strategic planning with foresight. The sample group for this article are proudly displayed in this recent family photo.

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