The art of thinking big and failing small

Madlen Popignatova 9
May 3rd, 2018
Article by: Mark Vernooij
The art of thinking big and failing small

In 1865, the United Kingdom introduced the Locomotive law. The new legislation required automobile drivers to have someone walk ahead of the car holding a red flag to warn people of the upcoming vehicle. The speed limit was 3 kilometers per hour.  

 

Today, new technologies speed ahead at an alarming pace. In the words of Futurist Michell Zappa, “Today is the slowest day you will ever live. And if that doesn’t scare you, think again!”

 

 

 

 

A simpler past

During the industrial revolution, new technologies like manufacturing machines and steam engines introduced new risks; companies introducing them faced financial risk and operators faced the chance of personal injury. While these risks were serious, they were relatively confined. It was unlikely that all the machines would break at once or that all operators would simultaneously injure themselves across factory locations.

In the early 20th century, the most successful companies were those that conquered the international trade. Companies like Coca-Cola could expand to the entire world while confining risks primarily to their home markets.

A century later, in the early 21st century, large international banks introduced risks that spread beyond their sector. Although their questionable investment products were confined to only part of the economy, the negative impact rippled out to large parts of the global economy, dragging the world into a financial mess.

thinking big and failing
Today is the slowest day you will ever live. And if that doesn’t scare you, think again! — @michellzappa #creativeleadership #disruptivetech #innovation #disruption Click To Tweet

Exponentiality brings exponential risk

Fortified by exponential change and increased scale, the modern digital revolution has altered our financial, fiscal, and social rules. Today, when large companies take risks, the consequences impact a wider range of people.

Exponentiality has increased the impact and risks of mammoth services like Amazon, Google, AliBaba, Tencent, and Facebook. In addition to dominating every facet of the online world, this relatively small group of tech companies also controls large portions of physical trade as well as our social and political systems.

How pervasive would the repercussions be if something went wrong with these so-called tech giants?

In March 2018, the world recoiled at the revelations and implications of abused Facebook data when a whistleblower came forward to reveal how Cambridge Analytica used personal information taken without authorization to build a system that could profile and target individual US voters with personalized political ads.

thinking big and failing
Today, when large companies take risks, the consequences impact a wider range of people. How pervasive would the repercussions be if something went wrong with tech giants like Amazon, Google, and Alibaba? #technology #disruption Click To Tweet

Integration as a fast-track to risk

Beyond exponentiality, the integration of today’s technologies further multiplies their risk.

We can regard the internet as one gigantic system that connects infrastructure, governments, individuals, and companies all day, every day. In this integrated system, security leaks, hackers, and cybercrime can have instant detrimental effects.

We have seen this happen when millions of passwords were stolen in 2017, when a teenager broke banking systems with a DDOS-attack, and when the Russian government succeeded in hacking email servers and even tampering with the US elections.

The risks of emerging technologies are not confined to the digital realm. They also impact our bodily worlds. With CRISPR-Cas9 (a set of new techniques that have made tinkering with DNA relatively easy), small mistakes can have irreversible effects on our bodies. A mutated virus can easily spread across our planet in very little time.

The art of thinking big and failing small
The risks of emerging technologies are not confined to the digital realm. They also impact our bodily worlds. How do we play with these technologies without knowing their impact? #technology #innovation #disruption Click To Tweet

With great power comes great responsibility

In our quest for progress, people have often crossed physical, legal, and moral boundaries. With the exponential rise in today’s risks, so too must we exponentially increase our responsibility.

Will our future planet remain livable? The United Nations has identified 17 goals which humanity should reach before 2030 in order to survive safely, fairly, and sustainably. The Sustainable Development Goals are essential for our survival– and they’re as measurable and attainable as the targets of a typical corporation.

A typical MBA student learns that progress comes from leaders who set a direction, map the risks, chart a course, and develop detailed plans to get from A to B. That approach is out the window for today’s challenges. There is no space anymore for linear thinking, for incremental improvements, or for controlling today’s complexity. Mid-term management with yearly reports and budgeting cycles, election cycles, and even the news cycle are remnants of the past.

What we need is a new strategy, a bipolar approach.

On the one hand, today’s leaders need to be more brave, to think bigger, bolder, and more long-term, embracing exponential change. At the same time, they need to be more iterative and transparent to discover mistakes faster, and be more cautious, opting to test with small scale experiments.

The exponentiality, increased scale, and interconnectedness of new technologies brings challenges and fear. We’re jumping of a cliff without a parachute. We hope to build one as we fall through the air – before we hit the ground.

The new leadership art is to think big and fail small.

To master the new leadership art of thinking big and failing small, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program. Visit the program page to find out if you qualify or download the program brochure.




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