It happened over 20 years ago, but I still remember the call. We got the ‘thumbs up’ on a major contract with Johnson & Johnson. The Task: Design an Executive Development Programme to run across Europe, North and South America. Bob Fulmer, Professor of Organization Behaviour in Columbia University, led the project. Bob was, arguably, the world’s foremost authority on executive development at that time. So, this was BIG news. Working with a major consumer brand was a breakthrough for a fledgling consultancy and gave me a chance to play alongside the Ronaldino of executive development. Getting the mortgage paid for over a year was a bonus. But the best part of it all was the primary task.
2020 Vision: My job was to figure out where the pharmaceutical industry was ‘headed’. This futuristic case study would become part of the training materials for participant’s, helping them anticipate and ‘get ready’ for industry changes. We christened the case 2020 Vision, looking outwards by almost 30 years.
Homework Completed: To explore the topic, I interviewed dozens of industry experts and academics and read tons of books and trade magazines trying to figure out likely trends. All the while I was driven by my core personal value – stealing ideas shamelessly! (since called benchmarking to make it more respectable). And, some great ideas emerged. Example: A key anticipated trend was the emergence of ‘nutra-ceuticals’, part food, part medicine (anticipating the emergence of cholesterol lowering yogurts and similar products by several years). At the ‘delivery stage’, the crème de la crème of the consulting world put the executive team through their paces and the programme received great press. Within J&J, I played the role of mini-hero and all was good with the world.
Future Proof: Consider, for a moment, what J&J were actually doing. Sit tight now for a breakthrough idea. It’s called… looking ahead! In another example, I recall an evening in Singapore, flicking through the TV channels and coming across a programme on social housing. The Debate: What would social housing stock look like in 50 years time? Can you see Phil Hogan (or any Government Minister) spending a lot of time on the 50+ Year agenda? Are you spotting a trend here? Anticipating the future is hardly a new idea. Yet, so few organizations put any real time into this that it seems new whenever it gets airtime.
Managing Versus Leading: As a consultant, I’m more than happy to provide an A&E, company doctor service. In the real world, problems occur in organisations and they need to be fixed. Quickly. Provided we do what we’re told and the results pay the bills, shouldn’t everyone be happy? On one level, yes. We are happy to nail problems and get repeat business on the back of that. But, every now and then, I long for the longer game. I keep wishing for someone to hit the blue beam headlights on the organization dashboard and look further out the road. If there’s a primary distinction between managing and leading it’s around this timeframe issue. In essence, Managers manage today while leaders create tomorrow. Of course managers understand the point that it’s important to plan for the future (it’s hardly rocket science). But most plead ‘busyness’ as a defense. Executives that never look ahead could be awarded an honoury ‘MBA in Excuses’ on why they don’t do this.
Always Busy: I generally tell them the following. Hey, it’s always busy; hoping for a time when it won’t be busy is like praying for sunshine in Galway. It comes in spots, but more often than not it’s lashing rain. To return to Bob Fulmer for a moment, one of his great lines was as follows: “It’s easy to manage in the short-term. And, it’s easy to manage in the longer-term. But managing both, now that’s difficult”. So, how far out the road are you looking?
May the Force be with you!
PS Lighter Moment: A woman is watching a film with creepy organ music on the TV and suddenly yells “Don’t go into that church, you stupid bitch!” Her husband asks: “What in the name of God are you watching?” She replies: “Our wedding video” (it’s hard to come up with clean jokes every week).
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