Highly effective leaders are masters at observing and acting upon the obvious. They note the commonplace trends and the changes going on in their world and galvanize their teams and organizations to think and act upon them. These trends are like great waves of change, sweeping in and impacting all in their path. Leaders are the ones coaching and preparing themselves, and the people around them, to ride the waves. The choice, as they well know, is to ride the waves or be swept under by them. What are the great sweeping trends and changes that leaders need to see and act upon? I call them the four elephants.
I. The Elephant of the Global Marketplace
We exist now and will increasingly exist in a global marketplace. The competition is not from across town or even the next state; it is from Bonn, Seoul, Peking, Tokyo, London, New Delhi… We are increasingly affected by global capital markets, vast and inexpensive labor pools, and the flow of technical know-how. Our challenges, competition, and advantages are global in scope, whether they be technological, financial, environmental, organizational, transportation and communication oriented, or whatever.
II. The Elephant of Collapsing Time
Speed is becoming more and more the vital competitive edge and determining factor in success. The ability to move faster and get more done in less time with fewer resources is, increasingly, a critical factor. Being more productive in a shorter time, with fewer people, is the norm. Product-development cycles of three or four years used to be the norm. Today that is fatally slow. The pace is accelerating and the race does indeed seem to be going to the swift. As Tom Peters has observed, “Get fast or go broke!”
III. The Elephant of Universal Access and Proximity
We are transforming the world into a “global village,” making national borders less and less relevant for commerce, capital flow, and organizations. We can be in contact with any place on earth instantaneously, watching the bombing of Baghdad as it is occurring in real-time; seeing Putin riding bare-chested on a four-wheeler at the same moment the citizens of Moscow are seeing him. This means that the “nervous system” of the world has finally been wired in. This means that work can be done anywhere on the planet for anyone else on the other side of the earth. We have not even begun to really comprehend or make use of what this means.
IV. The Elephant of Accelerating Change
Change is accelerating and will continue to accelerate as technologies, manufacturing methodologies, educational tools, culture, and the like all move through increasingly rapid transformations. Our technological innovations and breakthroughs are like some rapidly mutating and evolving organism. A simple fact brings home the scope and pace of change: There is more information contained in one Sunday edition of the New York Times than the average individual of the 16th century was exposed to in an entire lifetime!
These “elephants” are obvious, yet the wisdom and perspective that they shed on our lives and the ways we conduct our business are seldom utilized. Leaders are the ones who will see these obvious megatrends and prepare themselves and those around them to live with and make use of the trends – learning how to ride the megatrends, instead of being trampled.