Developing Leaders Through Futures Thinking

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Hello and welcome to the Dr. Nilda Foresight Strategies Show we are back with a very interesting guest who is going to actually teach us how to merge leadership and foresight. Foresight is something that I’m always talking about and in order to lead in any industry or lead in the world, doesn’t it matter whether it’s a career or a business. You need to have foresight. It really is the best way to do it. I mean, you can lead any other way, but if you really want to stand out, one of the things that I teach in businesses that you really have to apply foresight. We have with us my cohost Rachel Calderon and our guest speaker is Marlus. Marlus a teaches about the intersection between strategy, leadership, and ethics. Welcome to the show Marius. How’s everything going? 

It’s great to be with you, Dr. Nilda and Hi Rachel. It’s good to spend some time with you.

That’s awesome. So you are speaking to us from South Africa.

I’m in Johannesburg at the moment. It’s a bit late in the afternoon. It’s about rush hour, but coming to you from South Africa,

That is awesome. So let’s just kind of jump right into it. I want to hear your perspective on leaders because one of the things that I find that it’s been really increasing is people want it to stand out and wanting to be leaders. So I want you to give me your perspective of how you merge leadership with foresight.

Well, I think in a context like I was in South Africa, we obviously have a very complex history where politics and racism really got mixed up with capitalism and development and business and created a country that’s very diverse. Lots of different people, lots of different interests competing with each other. And so in an environment like that, when we talk of leadership, it’s often not possible to just talk about leadership in a narrow sense, leader as an organizational leader or a political leader. You often find leaders having to navigate across boundaries between business and politics, business and society. And so we’ve started using foresight as a way to approach leadership in a way that’s much more open minded about the world, around the leader. That leadership is not something that’s limited to the organization but sometimes has to traverse these different spaces and we think foresight is a great method to do that.

Okay. Fantastic. Can you give me an example of a way that you’ve used this that has been successful?

Well, we had an interesting project about two years ago where South Africa was facing the need to rethink its energy policy in the energy sector. In South Africa we have a very large energy state owned enterprise called Eskom and it was very much orientated towards coal fired energy production and so what we did is we created a set of future scenarios on what the future of energy might be. One of those scenarios was committed to the high carbon emissions future that the state of enterprise was locked into. The second one was much more around technology and renewable energy and the third scenario was sort of a combination of the two. And what we then did is we convened a set of stakeholders from the energy sector the deputy minister of energy from the public sector, big players in the energy sector in private business as well as the nuclear energy regulator for instance. And we facilitated a future orientated, conversation about the future using the scenarios as the basis for the conversation. And what we found from that was a very powerful way of facilitating interaction between these different parts of that sector and getting them to think in new ways about the future of energy, not just from a private sector or public sector perspective, but really from a shared perspective, that’s only really possible when you’re talking about the future.

That’s one of the things that we use. We teach people that foresight is not just the knowledge, but it’s also the way you think. You have to really change the way you think and you have to have a very flexible thought process because foresight is very complex. But I think what makes it so complex is the fact that we’re not accustomed to adding all these other components to thinking futures, to thinking flexible to thinking creatively. Would you agree?

Well, absolutely. If you think about where we operate from as an emerging market in South Africa, within Africa and often engaging with other emerging markets like India or Turkey and other countries such as those. Leaders within those countries don’t only have to navigate their immediate environment. They also have to think about the global political environment. They’ve got to think about currency fluctuations, the developments in technology. They got to think about how a tweet by Donald Trump might impact the oil price in the Middle East and how that might affect their supply chain. And so how do you get leaders to think at that global level and synthesize all those different factors in the decision making. And we think foresights as a methodology of thinking, as you’ve said, a way that integrates complexity with systems thinking really gives them a map as it were that they could use to think thoroughly about those various factors in their environment.

Okay. So I know that this is kind of like something that I think we all are affected by globally. I mean, you say that in South Africa there is no issues with racism and everything and I think we face that here and actually I think that’s probably, if it’s not racism outright, it’s prejudice in some way, shape or form and I think globally, and you’re what you’re telling us, right? Which I know that we’ve been working with our clients to break that silo system and that’s just working in the different sectors and trying to get them to merge from different industries and things like that. So what you’re saying is that foresight has been that bridge that has connected everyone together, that you were able to break those barriers is what you’re saying.

Yeah. The way we’ve thought about that,  and we found it to be very powerful is if you think about the future as a cognitive space, obviously the future is not yet crystallized concretized. And so, the post in contrast to that is very often a very contested space, particularly in a place like South Africa. And we see the same sort of movement as you said, around the world where people have very conflicting versions of history and very emotive versions of history that are in conflict with each other and so when you bring them typically into a dialogue to talk about the present or the future, they tend to be locked into their history that history very much in the present through the emotions that it evokes. And so we find those kinds of conversations often lead to polarization. Whereas if you create a foresight conversation. So in other words we say we accept that our histories are contested and our futures will be contested unless we create a future together. What we find is foresight is a way of decompressing some of that emotion and getting them to talk about a future in which everyone has a stake, but we don’t immediately have to be in conflict where we can cocreate something that would be beneficial to everyone involved.

Now, let me ask you this. Have you found that the younger generation, like the millennials have been more open to that concept? Because I know that the baby boomers and the Gen Xer’s, they’re probably a little bit more resistant, but have you found that the millennials have been more open to this idea?

I think the millennials as a generation do appear more open, but I think there’s a nuance to that. What I would say is when your dealing with the baby boomers. We often find that they tend to be quite institutional in their thinking and so they want to bring the structure and the process of the institutional world into the conversation and find it very difficult to operate outside of those boundaries and those rules, the millennials by contrast or sort of anti institution and so are quite ready to challenge the status quo and speak their mind. Yet at the same time, what we find with the millennials is they have a very different way of using their voice. And so we talk about Hashtag activism or hashtivism as a way they are quite ready and quite willing to provoke and to be quite emotive and confrontational in their way of engaging, which sometimes can be less productive than, than productive and more counterproductive in some instances. And so I think the key when it comes to using that in foresight is to create an environment where a conversation can take place that is both confrontational and constructive and that I think it’s something where the possibly the baby boomers can teach the millennials something.

Because here’s the thing, and this is one of the things that I find that almost scares me with millennials, is the fact that they have a voice. They use their voice, which is quite contrary from baby boomers, definitely in my age were more conformist. But what I find is that often times they are arguing points and they are standing up and they’re using their voice without all of the information they’re so ready to attack or so ready to use their voice. And although that’s an excellent point, they’re not really exercising good leadership skills because they don’t always know what they’re talking about. If that makes sense? Politically and in business, they have a voice and oftentimes they talk without having all of the information. And so that’s a little disturbing to me because I come from a time where you spoke when you had something to say. Okay, maybe that was an extreme. But I love the fact that you say that maybe the baby boomer could teach the millennials. I love the fact that they’re very assertive and willing to use their voice, but are they really good leaders if they’re not leading with good information? And I think foresight is one of those things that is core to good information. Would you agree?

I could give you an interesting example from South Africa where last year sometime we had a phenomena called the fees must fall movement, which was very similar to occupy Wall Street, except that the target of the protest was not the bankers. It was the university campuses, and so what you had is you had a generation of millennials protesting about the high levels of student debt, the high cost of education, and the very exclusionary state of the education system. Obviously the counterpart to that protest, typically your administrators within universities would be baby boomers that have spent the last 20, 30 years working their way up as professors and administrators in the university, and so this conflict between the baby boomers and the millennials really played out along exactly the lines that you’re saying where the millennials will protest for a future where they have inclusive education. Whereas the baby boomers will argue about the constraints on things like resources and finance and infrastructure around the university system. And so what we found is if you convened what we would call stakeholders in a conversation what we would call a dialogue about the future of education, where everything was on the table, where the baby boomers were able to say, look, these are the constraints in that future. The millennials were able to say, look, these are our demands and our aspirations in that future, and we’re then able to cocreate a future together. One is able to bring that real world of institutionalism and inflammation in line with this world of aspiration and ambition that the millennials bring to the table.

I’m all about leadership. I’m all about strategic foresight. This is what I, this is my passion is what teach. So how does strategic foresight help leaders to think about inclusive growth and development?

If you think about, the active leadership on the continuum between sort of past, present and future, a leader is typically someone who is acting in the present and shaping the future. And so a leader often makes the mistake. If you think about leaders who manage from the past, typically leaders will take information, whether it’d be financial information, performance information that is historic data and they will make future decisions based on that historic data and so what foresight enables us to do is to take these storing data if you take the financial performance of a company for instance, and to say the company may have grown at five or 10 percent over the last five years, but foresight enables us to say what are going to be the future influences on the environment of that company, on the industry and how will those factors influence the performance of the company? And so what that enables leaders to do is to think not about the future as a product of history, but as the future as a product of multiple impacts coming from trends in the environment. It’s a very different head space for leaders to be in.

Okay. Tell me about the work that you do with cross sectoral dialogues?

So we’re, we’re based at a university in a city called Johannesburg in South Africa. And within the university, we’re part of an institute called the Gordon Institute of Business Science and this is a very interesting, it’s a business school really but as an institution it has the legacy of convening societal stakeholders that wouldn’t typically talk to one another. So if you were in a mining town for instance, it would be unusual for the mining bosses and the regulators and the workers in that community to come together and spend time together talking about the future. But that’s something that this institution has a set out to do. And so we convinced a sexual stakeholders from different industries and we structure what we call facilitated dialogues where we talk about the future of their industry and that enables them to talk about the interests of their particular community. So the workers, instead of simply protesting or demanding higher wages in a very polarized conversation with their bosses, they’re able to come into a cocreative space where they talk about the future of their industry. But as a stakeholder, that’s part of creating that process.

Okay. So were at the end of this segment, Rachel, what are your takeaways?

My takeaway is that I love the fact that although the millennials have a way to be able to break through a lot of barriers, a lot of these racial barriers and all these barriers that are being put up today, but how they still need that foresight data that historics to help our structure and our systems and things that we’ve been through that can actually help assist them in, I may be able to just pass what I’ve learned onto them and then they can just take it away from there. But the point is that we’re all getting the point across and we’re getting it across together. And I love the fact that you know how they say I’m a to two heads are better than one. I love that idea and I love the fact that foresight systems can enforce that, which is what I love.

Okay, awesome. Okay. So my takeaway here is the fact that leadership is so important to merge with foresight because again, what happens and I think is where we’re pretty much like a lot, like Rachel says we operate in silos and so to be able to merge leadership and foresight and to be able to look into the future and then being able to lead that future not just designed to be able to be leaders in that future. I think that’s ideal. I am very fascinated by this whole process. I think it’s awesome. I come from that background because of course we both went to Regent University and I think we both were trained under Dr. Gary. Okay. So that was instilled in us, but I find that it’s not necessarily instilled into many people in many companies. So it’s almost like they see leadership management, they see that as separate and that’s where people operate in silos and it’s very difficult. So that coming together is awesome. As a leader, that’s what you want to do. You want to be able to bring everyone together. So I think that’s fascinating. I absolutely love it. So Marius. I thank there’s so much for being here. Do you have any last words?

Well, I think maybe one takeaway for me, very often when I’m approached by leaders who are in an organization that feels stuck where they don’t think that they can take the organization forward, they need change in the organization and they think that a foresight process can help them. What I often say to them is that with foresight, the process is the product. When you do strategy, for instance, you can design a strategy and do a strategy document and then the work is done. But really with foresight, it’s the process of engaging in strategic conversation about the future that builds the relationships, that builds the perspectives, that gives the insights. And so that as a leadership skill I think is critical, especially in a world that is increasingly complex. It’s been great spending some time with you and I thank you for the opportunity.

Thank you so much and we definitely want to have you back because this is again, we need to continue this conversation. This conversation is quite fascinating and again, as I call myself a foresight evangelists, I really feel that this is really important. I love that the fact that we are bringing this as so many different ways to the public, so thank you so much. Okay everyone. I want to thank everyone for being here today and for visiting our site. We have Marius Oosthulzen with us today and we talked about leadership and foresight and we look forward to seeing you next week with another foresight strategist. Until then, I will see you. Goodbye.

Bye.

Our Guest

Marius Oosthuizen is a member of faculty at the Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He teaches on the intersection between leadership, strategy and ethics. Marius holds a Master of Arts in Strategic Foresight from Regent University, VA and is completing a Master of Philosophy in Social and Political Ethics. He often facilitates cross-sectoral dialogue with executives and policy makers to develop long term strategy.

Guest Link

www.thecusp.co.za

Interview With Marius Oosthuizen- “Developing Leaders Through Futures Thinking”
 

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