Some decisions are permanent. Once you make them,
there is no going back. It can be a little intimidating to
consider that there is no undoing what you are about to put in motion.
Yet, in certain circumstances the risk and the uncertainty are
justified by the gains.
To lean far into the future, you must know what is
non-negotiable, what is stable at the core. There you find the
stationary fulcrum that will
give you the purchase you need to shift your world for the better.
Archimedes said in the Doric speech of Syracuse, “Give me a place to
stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.” When he spoke of
his lever, he assumed the presence of a fulcrum. Just as the word did
not make it into his statement, it sometimes does not make it into a
change strategy: what will stay the same?
I was recently working the CEO of a $100 million professional society
that made the choice to take his organization into the 21st century by
adopting new business practices that would forever change the way work
was done both inside and outside the walls of the organization. Once
the transformation was put in motion, there was no going back. It was
certain there would be ramifications for years to come, both beneficial
and challenging, not the least of which included impact on the members
and their perception of the organization that stood for their identity
in society and the marketplace.
It must be daunting to face such an overhaul. And yet this is exactly
what this particular leader lives for, leading the growing edge by
staking a claim on the future. His fulcrum is his clarity of purpose.
He stands for the future of his field and will not back down. Further,
some aspects of his organization will never change including its
uncompromising focus on serving the best interests of its most
important stakeholder group: the professionals who rely on the
organization to stay abreast of their ferociously changing world.
Last year I had the chance to talk briefly with one of the executive
VPs at Hewlett Packard, ranked #11 in the Fortune 100. The man
absolutely leaned into uncertainty. He was not only aware of the risks
inherent with pushing the future forward, he used those very stakes to
increase his rate of transformation. He does this by requiring that his
senior managers understand how to wield strategy so they can adjust
their course as they speed into tomorrow, harvesting opportunities as
Months before we spoke they had uncovered a new revenue source that
seemingly far afield of his primary mission. Nonetheless he developed
and implemented it, tying it to his strategy and generating a revenue
stream that was measured in $ billions.
Profitable growth stands as non-negotiable in the center of his playing
field and makes possible seemingly wild activity that shoots far to the
periphery but ultimately brings profits home.
Just two weeks ago I spoke to a hospital system in the state of Vermont
that will be changed forever by healthcare reform. Staff are
facing an abyss, staring into a great nothingness when it comes to
certainty, except for the fact that in the midst of the transformation
they will continue to provide the very best care to every patient who
comes through their doors and they will do it in an academic
environment that provides faculty and students with unparalleled
learning opportunities. This is their central gravitational field.
One manager pulled me aside and said something to the effect, “You know
there are people out there who thrive in this kind of unstable
environment. They love the uncertainty we are facing. They see it as an
open book where the variables are in play and they want a chance at
this table. They want to walk through the very same world that gives us
such great anxiety because for them it’s a thrill. That’s whom I will
be recruiting in the months ahead to work side-by-side with my team.
Together we will master this roller coaster and succeed into a new
day.” He understands his mission and it keeps him from getting too
dizzy as the world spins around him.
I have a lot of empathy for unbridled enthusiasm in the
face of the unknown. In just two weeks my wife and I journey to New
Delhi, India, to pick up our newly adopted daughter, Ruchi. She is
somewhere between five and six years old. We have been working for
three years to make this happen and now it is upon us. There is
no doubt that this little girl will change our family forever, and we
will change her.
We are about to turn the page to a new chapter, and it certainly brings
uncertainties to mind. But, we are going forward with joy in our hearts
because we know, absolutely know, that this is the next step for us.
Bringing her into our family is at the center of life, even as we
choose to go half way around the world to make it happen.
That’s what it feels like to charge headlong into the Great Mystery,
the sense that in the midst of all that is unknown there is one central
thing that is known which justifies the entire adventure.