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IT and the forever revolution

Thornton May | Jan. 18, 2017
We live in revolutionary times, and we have to figure out what we are going to do about it

The bottom line is that we live in revolutionary times. We have to figure out what we are going to do about it. 

The good news is that there is a boatload of knowledge accumulated by people who lived in revolutionary times. Scholars have studied revolutions for centuries. Some of the lessons learned may be helpful for modern executives. 

The most important thing to know about revolutions is that you are in the midst of one.

H. James Dallas, formerly CIO at Georgia Pacific, COO at Medtronic, author of Mastering the Challenges of Leading Change and board member at several publicly traded companies, believes you are in the midst of a revolution “when you know what you’re doing is not the right thing and you don’t know what the right thing to do is yet.” 

Nancy Schlichting, retiring president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System and author of Unconventional Leadership: What Henry Ford and Detroit Taught Me About Reinvention and Diversity, believes that a signifier of revolutionary times is that

“It was no longer radical to try something radical in our field. It was logical to try something radical in our field.” 

After figuring out that you are living in revolutionary times, the next critical question is how to lead while in the middle of a revolution.  

Situational awareness

A good place to start is to understand the forces swirling around you. Revolutions all have three critical ingredients: deep discontents, passionate beliefs and ardent hopes. If you understand the discontents, beliefs and hopes of key current and emerging stakeholders you have the beginnings of your revolutionary map. 

Passionately held beliefs and ideas have been labeled the “radioactive substance of transformation” (Scott L. Montgomery and Daniel Chirot, The Shape of the New). Tracking the disruptive ideas circling your enterprise should not be relegated to staff functions or external boffins. They can assist, but responsibility for placing company operations in context of “the ideas of the time” should fall to operating executives. 

In the knowledge economy, where massive computational and analytical resources can be marshaled at the touch of a button (or a conversational command to an A.I. appliance such as Siri, Cortana, Alexa or Google Home), understanding idea flow is critical. 

Revolutions are polarizing. There are players supportive of change and actors resistant to change. When possible, step back and listen to the story each community is telling. 

The stories being told inevitably come back to discontents and hopes. If you can accurately map these, you are well on your way to prospering in the midst of the revolution.


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