We are living in unprecedented times. In his book, the Tale of two cities, Charles Dickens states, amongst others, in the opening line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”… Unfortunately, during this period of draconian lock-down measures, we tend to focus on the worst of times. There are also many best of times.
However, it is during these worst of times that we have seen many extraordinary things emerge to become the best of times.
With consumer income and confidence plunging, the unemployment rate rising, the GDP rate falling and our economy in junk status, there’s little hope of good economic news anytime soon.
Economists and historians point out that such circumstances can, however, be an opportunity for innovation and innovative leadership. Tough times can make for good startups and boom times can sometimes be fatal to entrepreneurial success. Inventors and innovative entrepreneurs should be smiling. That timeworn proverb about “an ill wind that blows no good” truly applies in an economic downturn. What do Lindt chocolate, the Rubik’s Cube, French perfumes and a pair of Wellies have in common? They’ve all had increased profits during a recession (source: New York Times blog 2009).
Many hard pressed consumers’ needs and priorities have changed. As households budgets are squeezed, people are looking for cost-cutting measures from their desperate situations. Domestic trends toward internet shopping, board games that supplant high-cost entertainment systems, inexpensive household comforts, new gadgets that enhance consumers’ homes — which will be with them for a while and entice inventors and entrepreneurial minded people.
Today, we have great power at our fingertips, but we also need to solve problems that we did not need to face in the last decades. Everywhere we turn, and every day, we are faced with circumstances and challenges that we did not confront before.
A lot has been written about the accelerating pace of change and globalisation. This has been fuelled by the rapid technological innovation that has transformed our environments in business, politics and personal lives. Just look at EDCON now and previously Blackberry, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Stuttafords and soon SAA.
These changes have placed new demands on how we must think in order to thrive. People need to break old behavioural habits and establish new ones. We need to let go of our comfort zones and become more comfortable with ambiguity and contradiction. We need to reframe our questions and assumptions and look through a new lens and be open to new paradigms.
As leaders, we cannot rely on only cognitive (IQ), technical and analytical skills. Although these are powerful, it proceeds in a linear fashion. We need a new way of thinking – proceeding largely in the unconscious. It is a non-linear mode of thinking, emotion derived, able to integrate diverse and multiple information. It allows the consideration of ideas that seems unusual or even bizarre. It fuels creativity and leadership. It is more an art than a science. Leaders in this mode have a high degree of self -awareness, self –regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. These components are visible in individuals with a high degree of emotional intelligence. Leaders with this high degree of Emotional Intelligence, have seen their performance, influence, persuasiveness and optimism soar even in the face of failure and doom.
I want to end with the full opening paragraph of a Tale of Two Cities, so evocatively and beautifully expressed by Charles Dickens and so relevant to our times and situation:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
- Leadership insights – Harvard Business Review (Article collection)
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
- Elastic: Flexible thinking in a constantly changing world by Leonard MLodinov
Author: Gerald McKinnon – Director at ODI
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