Opening our World View: A Second Playbook

"We're a planning organization. For nearly 100 years (241 years), we’ve known how to plot a path, lace up our boots, and take that hill. But our future isn’t in hill climbing. We've got to start surfing, and a wave changes constantly under your feet. Our old boots are a liability in this environment." (David Reimer, CEO Merryck & Co)


Change becomes inevitable when disruption is everywhere. Look no further than world events that drive how we train and fight. The pace of disruption in a world of "wicked problems" requires leaders to balance what has worked in the past with what will be required to win in the future. That future includes completely new dimensions in technology, talent, AI, and information systems learning and are dramatically changing the landscape of culture (see the attached NLEC chapter on "Leading Change").

"A company’s legacy can be a source of pride. But its future will be defined by the intentionality and speed with which it ring-fences those parts of its legacy that will not drive what comes next." (Merryck & Co)

Leading Change: Problem Solving vs. Opportunity Realizing

How do we manage complexity? We face challenges (technical and non-technical in nature), some that are daunting, with no off-the-shelf solutions. Our challenges cannot always be solved with known solutions and with existing expertise. We must learn how to face challenges with a new viewpoint. The distinction between a technical problem and an adaptive challenge is between a problem with a known solution and a challenge whose solution must be discovered.

  • Adaptive challenges cannot be solved with standard operating procedures alone...
  • They require constantly challenging and validating our attitudes, values and behaviors...
  • This is where our leadership practice begins...

“The single biggest failure of leadership is to treat adaptive challenges like technical problems” (Ron Heifetz & Marion Linsky: Leadership on the Line)

Our standard technical problem solving methods are used for issues that are familiar. Adaptive challenges are complex challenges, and managing complexity calls for different approaches, different methods, and different tools. It challenges us to pay attention to "How" to think as much as "What" to think. It mandates that we find systematic ways to recognize the source of biases, to understand "red flag" conditions that influence thought, to recognize patterns that impact our decisions. In the article, "Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions," the author states:

"The daunting reality is that enormously important decisions made by intelligent, responsible people with the best information and intentions are sometimes hopelessly flawed."

A way to develop adaptive challenges is to think of our problem solving tools or limits as horizons. Rather than letting our issues paralyze or deter us, we can shift our mind into considering new possibilities. Living a "whole brain" life means taking time and space for your unconscious and building waiting and wandering times in your day to create that new possibility of solutions. Reflections help us plan better for the future and pay attention to the multiple things our brain is processing. Dr. Srini Pillay, Harvard Professor and CEO of Neuroscience Business Group provides an excellent understanding for the science of possibility in his TED Talk, "Wired for Success":

WIRED FOR SUCCESS: The Science of Possibility at TEDxRockCreekPark