Titanic, Icebergs And Network Leadership

The Need for Network Leadership 

The movie Titanic left a lasting memory about ‘change’ in my mind. Though the Titanic accident happened over 100 years ago, the key message of change still rings true to this day.

Titanic, Icebergs And Network LeadershipAfter receiving six alerts about ice bergs, with radio relay problems (the message didn’t reach the captain) and the last-minute spotting of the ice berg from the crows nest on the ship, Titanic couldn’t carry out a course-correction in time to avoid the iceberg.

The issue was not its speed or size. Key people didn’t listen, communicate and act in time. These types of communication breakdowns still persist today.

Why not rally around Network Leadership, where everyone can listen and contribute in order to keep communications flowing seamlessly?

We’ve seen so many businesses (Kodak, HMV, Blockbuster LLC etc) and people around us who spot an issue but are either unable to change in time or simply don’t want to change, thinking they will be fine. Then you have others who don’t spot the issue at all. There is a general view that people fear change, but reality is – people fear the unknown, mainly when they see it as a threat.

Those who look at the unknown as an opportunity – explore, understand it, embrace it and thrive; those who ignore it don’t realize that it may not be an ice-berg that is far away from them but right ahead. Also in today’s networked world, an iceberg that is far away can still impact a person/business when that ice-berg impacts someone else in the direct or in-direct value chain (Duolingo project on TED). Spotting this requires a well nurtured network that cultivates and leverages peer relationships.

Albert Einstein once said ‘The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them’.

A good starting point for network leadership is to build outcome and impact based measures, enable networking at a formal/informal level, align goals across borders, then move towards collaboration and community development to drive towards common goals, together. Today with social media and access to information through various sources, people in the engine rooms’ equivalent of a company can spot the ice-bergs threatening the company and can also spot the ice-bergs that threaten the engine room itself (automation, revolutionary technology) – See new Shock wave technology vs 100 year old internal combustion engine model – early days though .

We are the beta generation – where periphery engulfs the core.

People embrace change that impacts the periphery:

Most of us embrace the latest technologies without much of an issue when it improves the overall standard of life, entertainment etc – smartphones, video conferencing (Skype), social media etc. Think about the journey from telephones to cordless phones to pager to mobile to smart-phones (next is wearables – Google Glass etc) – how did people and businesses in these industries adapt to changes to their core, which was the periphery for others?

People resist change that impacts the core:

When it comes to career, business models, family network etc which forms the core, people tend to resist change. In business, the distance between original value creation and end customer consumption has shortened, cutting out intermediaries. In the software industry, the movement from on-premise to cloud will over time shorten the original value creation to end customer consumption path.

On the career side, if we are on the DVD platform, the trick is to watch out for the new wave and adapt to the Cloud platform, it’s not easy, but it won’t be easier when the phase of irrelevance sets in. As a beta generation we are better equipped to spot the icebergs, go online and learn how to deal with them and navigate. The adaptation is out there but the drive to adoption must come from within.

Technology ‘Empowers’ and ‘Levels’ things, across three key areas:

1. Demand pulls in Supply – Agency members are moving to the client side, journalists/publishers are joining corporate communications teams, similar to what happened with the rise of Desktop publishing. This includes consumers pulling in marketing/branding/pricing and other areas from the supply side into the demand domain forcing supply side to become enablers, aggregators and be elastic (embrace Cloud).

2. Reduced barriers for start-ups – the number of tech start-ups has just shot up, though some are getting acquired by large companies. Customer impact technology is exposing the rigidity of larger companies. When it comes to adoption, the smart ones are quickly doing so on their own. While the founder of Kodak, George Foreman managed to embrace a new trend at the right time twice (once when he turned down profitable dry-plate business to move to film and then when he invested in color film even when their black and white business was doing well), the successive CEO’s managed to stay on the same old trend and failed consistently.

3. Pulls in other products/services – Digital cameras, credit cards, car keys, TV remotes etc are being replaced/pulled in by smart phones. At a service layer, there are indirect impacts: example from TED – the reCAPTCHA that we type in for online authentication (on Ticketmaster, Facebook etc) converts around 100 million words a day which is equivalent to digitizing 2.5 million books a year. Translating Wikipedia into Spanish can be done using 100,000 users in 8 weeks, which might cost around $50 Mn if it were done using agencies – see the Duolingo project on TED. So if you are in the book digitizing or translation business, here is an ice-berg which is far away but can still cause damage.

In a turbo charged dynamic world it’s important to inculcate ‘Network Leadership’ so that people shape their mind-set to act like a river instead of a pond. Be brave, imagine the impossible, seek the unknown, embrace the new wave and surf through – you, your Titanic and engine room will be safe.

Keen to hear your views.

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