Having spent most of the spring and summer months head down in the office, I’ve been on the road more recently. And I’ve been reminded of how powerful an experience it is simply to be “elsewhere,” especially in times of uncertainty.
We find ourselves in an unsettled and unsettling era. Our politics are in turmoil; our economies heave and sigh; technological change occurs at a speed that makes even our robots’ heads spin. As humans and as organizational leaders, our world may often seem distressingly unpredictable. There is so much beyond our control and so much with which we need to keep pace.
If you’ve been following MIT Sloan Management Review during the past several months, you know that we — and perhaps I most of all — believe we are on the crest of the next management revolution, one that is driven by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, big data, and analytics that will fundamentally and permanently tip many of the most sacred of the organization’s sacred cows. People hired based on algorithms; machines making strategy; marketers literally reading our minds — one moment it all seems far-fetched; the next shockingly near. And it’s all happening within a global environment that shifts beneath our feet.
So what is a mere mortal to do?
You can begin by going outside. Get out of your office and into the parking lot. Jump in a car and take a former colleague to lunch. Hop on a plane and go to a conference. Find a lecture to attend. Pack up your laptop and head for a coworking space. Cross state lines.
Put yourself someplace where something unexpected is more likely to happen. Give yourself an opportunity to learn. But whatever you do, do something that is not a part of your routine — and then commit to doing so routinely. If your job doesn’t have you out of the office at least a few days every month, start blocking time on your calendar and force yourself to be somewhere else once a fortnight. Just as important, make it a top priority for those you manage to do the same. That means giving people the direction and the time to follow your lead.
The world is evolving in twists and turns, following patterns we do not recognize. Even if the environment directly within your sights seems relatively stable, the forces of change will find you soon enough. The only question is how soon. Whether fomented by technology, policy, or broader socioeconomic forces, the transformation of both your organization and your own role are all but inevitable.
The good news is that we have time to venture out into the less-known and see for ourselves what is happening. We need to listen to what other people are saying. We need to take a breath and imagine how our own lives and circumstances might be transformed. Reading MIT Sloan Management Review is not enough — even if you read Wired and The Economist, too.
We can’t control what the world has in store for us. We can’t become masters of every new technology that sweeps across the horizon. We can’t wish away changes already afoot. What we can do is spend more time peering over our own walls. It will make us a little less blind and maybe a lot less likely to be blindsided.
Editor in Chief
MIT Sloan Management Review