The story about leaking buckets, crazy screws, hamster wheels, groundhog day and square wheels.
If you want to know where we’re going, it’s best to look at where we come from. You can see into the future better if you let go of your dominant logic, follow patterns and principles, and see from different perspectives. Based on current events, I share my radar to get a sharper picture on future-driven organizing. You can use this for better strategies, policies, and decisions. This time I look at the question: do you want business as usual?
After the corona crisis, we are now on our way to the old normal for a few weeks. The expectations that structural changes would take place in how we organize (office) work, for example, were immediately crushed in my mind. Traffic jams are increasing again, training courses are canceled, and innovation projects are suspended because people are busy with the day’s issues. Rather have more projects, technology, and tasks on the cart than replace square wheels with round wheels.
We have learned little, and apparently, we need even more restrictions on freedom to wake up. Strategies are not about working less but about hybrid working. We called it ‘The New Way of Working’ not so long ago. Hybrid working is mainly new wine in old bottles. We change within the existing operating model, while the system with which we organize is precisely the problem. We expect a different day, but tomorrow will be the same as in the movie ‘Groundhog Day’.
“If you get rid of your e-mail, we will do the shopping for you,” says an advertisement from a Dutch supermarket: Jumbo. Dealing with many e-mails is seen as a given circumstance. And to create some time, we let others do our shopping. The convenience industry doesn’t invite you to be more productive in the office. And if we do the shopping ourselves and forget the milk, there are always the flash deliverers. So we don’t have to think anymore because the solution is around the corner if you forget something. What does that do to our brain when we no longer have to think about whether we have forgotten something?
We carry leaking buckets of water to the sea. IT systems are being patched up further, making them even more complex and more susceptible to ransomware. Insuring cyber-attacks is becoming increasingly difficult and probably impossible in the long run. How do you prepare for that? Just keep turning the screw until it’s gone mad?
And if a major network, Facebook, in this case, is down, we shrug our shoulders, and a day later, it’s business as usual. Even when a whistleblower makes the real intentions of Facebook public to the US Congress a day later, few people leave the platform. What does that say about us and our habits? Facebook earns from unrest and polarization. Do you think something of that, or does it take too much effort to think about it?
Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for his research into system1 and system2. Most of our decisions are made with system1 (reflexes, patterns). I think we know it but don’t act on it much. We prefer to float on routines and reflexes because that takes the least effort. Our brains are organized to take the path of least resistance when we have to make a decision. Staying on Facebook is much easier than getting off it.
Within organizations, too, people usually choose based on system1, from the subconscious, fast, associative, and with the ‘automatic ‘pilot’. People choose to maintain and upgrade existing systems rather than use a new, more suitable operating model. The choice, I prefer short-term improvements over long-term innovation, was made quickly. Many people now know that this choice leads to a dead end in the long run. Adam Smith already talked about path dependence: “The world of today is determined by choices that others made in the past”. The solution to this problem lies in a double-track approach. People of a particular generation still remember this from the eighties when the Netherlands started placing cruise missiles and, at the same time negotiating with the Russians about limiting these weapons. This worked out well. The cruise missiles did not arrive in the Netherlands. Working with a double-track approach within organizations means maintaining, upgrading, and phasing out legacy systems, on the one hand, innovating a new operating model and transferring existing processes to it on the other hand.
The story of the leaking buckets and square wheels is perhaps most visible in the formation of a new cabinet in the Netherlands in 2022: it is expected that after thousands of hours of talk and negotiation, little has changed; business as usual is the most likely outcome of the formation. Hiding behind ‘the will of the people who voted’ shows little leadership if you know what to do: regain trust, develop a vision and ambition and then make policy and choose your ministers. The Hague prefers the reverse order. Certainly not in the interest of the people.
There are societal challenges. We see more and more shortages occurring. We have been experiencing shortages in healthcare and education for some time, but now we are also witnessing energy prices rising and scarcity in the labor and housing markets. But can we speak of shortages when waste occurs? I don’t think we have shortages of workers, energy, or housing, but we have an organizational deficit. We try to solve 21st-century problems with 20th-century perspectives, ideologies, and systems. We run fast, but we don’t move forward, and, like a hamster running around in a hamster wheel, we suffer from active inertia.
The future is durable, digital, and decentral. The sooner you start with an inevitable renewal, the greater the chance of survival and enjoyment in your life: “The future of more, means less”. Do you want to participate in that, or do you keep carrying leaking buckets of water to the sea, twisting screws, running in a hamster wheel, constantly experiencing the same day, and working with square wheels?
Do you also want to become future-wise? Then sign up for the Weconomics distribution list https://forms.gle/mb31jkQcWBcXhgNF7 and receive the paper: ‘Why digital transformation (often) fails’.