How to thrive in the uncertain environment?

 
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logoFriday, 2 June 2017
Jim Collins, the author of Great by Choice elucidates how companies thrive in highly uncertain chaotic environments whilst others achieve average performance or fade into irrelevance despite similar circumstances.

In order to elaborate the aforementioned situation, he has taken a real world phenomenal achievement which happened in 1911 when two teams of adventurers went on a quest to make history by reaching the South Pole. They were in competition with each other and one team was headed by Amundsen, the winner and the other team by Scott.

Reaching South Pole at that time is a spectacular achievement since there is no readily available communication, no satellites, no radio, no cell phones, etc. The environment was extremely harsh and unforgiving. At any given time the temperature could go down 20 degrees below zero F even during the summer.

In this treacherous environment, one leader led his team to victory and safety whereas the other led to defeat and death. What really caused these contradicting results when the circumstances were same? There is a book written in relation to these two men and how they endured the entire journey called ‘The Last Place on Earth’ by Ronald Huntfords.

According to aforesaid book, it especially emphasises the qualities of Amundsen, the winner, over the other leader Scott who led his team to a devastating defeat. In one instance, when he was in his 20s he had eaten raw meat of dolphins as a prior preparation for his upcoming very long adventure involving sailing from Norway to Spain a two-month journey and in case of ship wreck he would be well prepared to survive in the ocean.

Furthermore, in order to get firsthand experience about ice and cold and snow and wind, he made a pilgrimage to apprentice with Eskimos who have hundreds of accumulated experience in living in sub-zero conditions. He had observed that Eskimos never harried, moving slowly and steadily  in order to avoid excessive sweat that could turn into ice and he adopted Eskimo clothing, loose fitting to help sweat evaporate and protect.

Amundsen’s philosophy: You do not wait until you are in unexpected storm to discover that you need more strength and endurance. You do not wait until you are shipwrecked to determine if you can eat raw meat of dolphins, etc.

On the contrary, Scott had never followed any of those things what Amundsen had done.

In this book, ‘Great by Choice’, leaders like Amundsen are called 10Xers and according to his research these leaders carry some similar characteristics.

Fanatic discipline

02According to this book, discipline is defined as consistency of actions, consistency of values, long term goals, performance standards and methods, etc. Discipline is not the same as regimentation. Discipline is not the same as measurement or hierarchical obedience or adherence to bureaucratic rules. According to the author’s definition, true discipline requires the independence of mind to reject pressures to conform in ways incompatible with values, performance standards and long term aspirations. For a 10Xer, the only legitimate form of discipline is self-discipline, having inner will to do whatever it takes to achieve great outcome, no matter how difficult.

Furthermore, 10Xer are utterly relentless, monomaniacal even, unbending in their focus on their quests. They do not overreact to events, succumb to the herd or leap for alluring but irrelevant opportunities. They are capable of immense perseverance, unyielding in their standards yet disciplined enough not to overreach.

Productive paranoia 

According to the author, 10Xers have been hyper vigilant, staying highly attuned to threats and changes in their environment even when everything is in good shape. In other words, ‘they are looking for black clouds in the silver lining’.

The best real word example is Bill Gates – Founder of Microsoft Corporation. In its early days when the software industry was blossoming with so many head-on competitors, Steve Ballmer then CEO of Microsoft suggested to recruit further 17 engineers based on the forecast growth prediction.

Gates threw a fit and asked 17 people…. no way….. Do you want to bankrupt the company? We should have enough cash reserves to run the company for a complete year without a penny of revenue.

“Fear should guild you but it should be latent,” Gates said in 1994. “I consider failure on a regular basis.” He hung a photograph of Henry Ford in his office, to remind himself that even the greatest entrepreneurial success can be passed by.

Hyper vigilance is further reinforced by Southwest Air Lines in the wake of 9/11; Southwest, unlike many other airlines, did not to lay off employees or cut their pay. Southwest also faced a deadline to decide whether to make a planned $179 million contribution to an employee profit-sharing plan. Southwest made the payment and remained as the only airline to be profitable after such a devastating attack which blew up the whole industry. The golden rule they introduced to the whole world is being hyper-vigilant even in good times by running very lean operations by cutting unnecessary cost of the organisation then the organisation is well prepared for the next Black Swan which would disrupt the whole industry.

(http://buffalonews.com/2014/05/19/ex-southwest-airlines-ceo-offers-lessons-in-leadership-from-post-911-crisis/)

Empirical creativity

When it comes to creativity, almost all average leaders may have some form of creativity same as 10Xers. But the only differentiating factor is 10Xers creative instincts involving direct observation, conducting practical experiments, and engaging directly with evidence, rather than relying on opinion, whim, and analysis alone.

When Peter Lewis of Progressive, the car insurance company, had the idea of expanding into the safe-driver market, he did not move in one big swoop. Rather, he started with trials in Texas and Florida, then added more experiments in other states, and finally, three years later, when the concept was validated, he bet big on the new business. His idea was rooted in empiricism, not analysis alone.

Lastly, in order to be 10Xers in this chaotic environment, one must have all aforementioned characteristics. Fanatic discipline keeps you on track; empirical creativity keeps you vibrant; and productive paranoia keeps you alive.

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