Imagine If Companies Were Ruled By Explorers

The act of innovation might be considered the world’s oldest profession. Consider a profession that holds this title and it’s likely an inventor imagined and designed the job before it could be practiced.

A company’s lifetime is shorter than your career

Today the acceleration of disruptive innovation cycles, and the repercussions for organizations that don’t keep up, is a major driver for innovational exploration. Consider the average life expectancy for an S&P 500 company in 1935—it was 90 years—but today it’s a mere 18 years. Companies unable to keep up the velocity of today’s innovations are likely to go out of business or to be acquired by more successful players. With technology advancements and usages renewing faster than generations, a company’s lifetime is shorter than most careers.

Businesses need employees with an adventurous mindset

We’re the first working generation to face this phenomenon. The rules of the game are evolving and traditional vertical platforms for advancement have changed. In past decades, employees waited 10-15 years for loyalty, internal networking and the influence to be rewarded with a high-level position in management. But, in a Darwinian environment of extreme competition and productivity, today’s companies want explorers—people who think uncommonly and approach tradition with a fresh lens. The future belongs companies that attract and seek adventurous employees.

The company I founded, Nealite, works with one of the world’s largest insurance organizations. And although they’re highly successful, their corporate culture mimics that of most large, global companies. And like most global companies, they are fully aware of their own mortality and the necessity to transform to stay relevant in today’s society. AXA is beginning to think differently, breaking down their internal processes starting with a new outlook on employee talent.

A new path to join the business elite

A recent speech from AXA’s CEO made it crystal clear that the number one skill required to join the business elite is the ability to help the organization transform. He encouraged department leaders to shift their expectations and seek out individuals with a diverse mindset who can apply design-thinking and invoke a childlike curiosity to their day-to-day—The Explorer.

Corporations need explorers

Here are three UNCOMMON SENSE steps to encourage a company of Explorers:

1. Leaders must act as ethnographers

Claude Levi-Strauss began his watershed work, Tristes Tropiques, with the words “I hate traveling and explorers”, a provocative and ironic statement considering he was one of the most highly regarded ethnographers of the 20th century. He was expressing a natural instinct and desire to remain in one’s own comfort zone.

In today’s constantly evolving and changing environment, staying in the office, confined to your desk and stapled to your computer screen simply won’t work. Efficient leaders go out into the real world and look around, and encourage their teams to do the same. They don’t make assumptions or wait for pre-defined data to come across their desks. Like an ethnographer, they ask questions, make observations, and draw conclusions based on their own uncommon observations.

2. Lead like a commando officer

Groups make change, ‘reorganizations’ do not. An effective leader needs a group leadership style. Commandos are agile, immerse themselves in difficult environments and situations, and rapidly adapt their mission when the unexpected occurs.

Commando officers value team spirit, applying direct and constant communication versus demanding orders. They meet objectives with limited resources, and most importantly, every member of the Commando’s team shares a sense of co-ownership in the mission.

To succeed, you can’t rely on external resources or wait for the next company reorganization. Like a Commando officer, you need to take charge.

3. Be a traveler, not a tourist

American novelist Paul Bowles described the difference between travelers and tourists, The difference is partly one of time. Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler… moves from one part of the earth to another.

A tourist has a return ticket in his pocket, the traveler does not. In the business world, behaving like the traveler means that leaders value strategy over iteration. In the corporate world, processes are often repeated over and over without being challenged or completely thought through. The traveler embarks upon the road less traveled and disrupts the repeated process, encouraging a different (more efficient) route. Embracing the concept of ‘traveler’ may not be an easy role to take on. But this is what’d needed to encourage a company filled with Explorers.

As an agent of change, company leaders must practice and experience being an Explorer themselves before they can mold a team to do so. Oftentimes, structures and detailed planning implies limitations and lead to a more narrow perspective and a strict itinerary allowing little deviation. Take the time to discover. Creativity and new ideas come from ongoing journeys, not pre-organized tours.

We need a society of Explorers within businesses. With the rise of the sharing economy, and information spreading the globe at the speed of a click, business is changing rapidly and only those who are able to embrace this change will survive. So act like an ethnographer, lead like a Commando and move like a traveler. Sound risky? It is! But playing it safe is far more dangerous.

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