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Trending toward the unknown unknowns

Thornton May | April 1, 2016
Next-generation leaders will need to become masters at trend triage: figuring out how much time and resources to allocate to which trends

We are not so far away from the day when every product sold and service rendered will come complete with a help desk and a mobile app. 

Historically, IT was responsible for procuring, deploying and maintaining the technology used in manufacturing and selling a product. Now IT has to have a hand not just in the technology inside the product but also in the full range/free range technology seeking to integrate with the product. 

That means IT has to be included in the design, execution and delivery of products and services. I expect that rotations in product/service design will become a core part of the career path of future generations of IT leaders. 

Uncertain futures

Uncertainty reigns. We live in a time of profound upheaval. Many feel a general sense of disorientation and worry that leaders and institutions appear to have lost their bearings. Many leaders are uncertain what will happen next and what they should do next. 

Before you start building bomb shelters in your back yard and stockpiling guns, ammunition and Spam in the basement, it is important that you realize that this is not the first time our species has experienced a “Boy, things are really confusing” moment. 

Uncertainty is not a new thing. Making decisions under conditions of uncertainty has been a defining characteristic of effective leaders throughout the ages. It was 82 years ago that American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr felt the need to share with parishioners his “Serenity Prayer”: 

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.” 

There are things we can control. There are forces that can be precisely modeled. I come back to the troika of knowledge states Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld set forth in a Feb. 12, 2002, Pentagon briefing: 

“…there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know.” 

One of the key trends all to which leaders need to allocate significant time and resources that of known knowns becoming a smaller percentage of the knowledge set. The best path forward is to accelerate your ability to get smart about the things you know you don’t know and amplify your capacity to anticipate the unknown unknowns.


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