The Orange Rag Newsletter is Here! Embracing the challenges of 2024 – Let’s start with a look in the mirror

January is typically the month of the year when we either go on a health kick, or rant and rave at people going on a health kick for ruining an already miserable month. It is also a month that we begin delivering on new strategies and projects, and I’m betting that there will be hundreds of meetings talking about generative AI as I type. 

What your firm’s particular strategy should be, fully formed or not, will be particular, to an extent, on the type of firm, the services provided, size, client, and jurisdiction. But one thing that everyone ought to be doing, as well as those extra sits ups, is some introspection into what you will bring to the table personally this year, as we start to make sense of and capitalise on (or not) this inflection point.  

Mitch Saunders, a pioneer in innovation and leadership, who earlier in his career led research and taught at the Center for Organizational Learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wrote a paper a few years ago observing that inflection points are “a fissure between past and future that create an opening or unique window of opportunity for leaders and companies.” If, that is, they can spot the emerging future. 

To spot opportunities they need to recognise shifts – a product reaching the end of its lifespan before sales have dropped. Technological innovations and their implications for society. And they must cultivate new ways to work with and lead others. The problem? Traditional leadership is not typically built with these skills.  

To stay viable, Saunders said, individuals and organisations must undergo a change process. First comes the Adaptive Dilemma phase where the organisation faces demands or opportunities that exceed its range of responses. The Initiation phase is where the new experiences awake possibilities and the organisation adopts new behaviours and suspends familiar reflexes and habits. Incubation is where the organisation experiments with new approaches, repeatedly, strengthening the neural connections associated with the change. Success is deepening the pool of resources the organisation can call on in various situations, which is called Maturation. 

The change process starts with individual leaders and personal resiliency, which means becoming intentional about the process; engaging in self-enquiry; evolving our reflective responses; and broadening our repertoire of behaviours.  

“All too often, good people end up outpaced by technology, industry trends, or new organizational priorities,” Saunders said. “When organizations support their leaders in engaging in self-inquiry and intentional metamorphosis – while at the same time making fundamental changes to their businesses – they create a vehicle for not only retaining those individuals but also creating the competency needed for leading into the future. Creating an ongoing infrastructure for learning and experimentation is essential for realizing the potential of leadership at the inflection point.” 

Saunders is by no means the only one to have written powerfully about inflection points, but this article resonates with me personally. This is a month where we can either look at the year ahead and feel exhausted already by the speed of change, and by all the other stuff on our list that doesn’t involve bloody generative AI. Or we can work out how we’re going to learn, grow, and work smarter. 

Ask me in a year how it went, you know I’ll be asking you.