Turning Crisis into Opportunity – part 1
JUST THINKING AND FEELING
The Leadership Challenge
DR. ICHAK ADIZES gave the keynote address at the IEDC Annual Presidents’ Forum at the Bled School of Management, Slovenia, on October 9, 2020. He shared insights with the foremost global management thinkers of today about how to manage change, crisis, and use integration as a tool for survival and continuous improvement. Here we present excerpts from his presentation.
The question of how to manage in a time of crisis, and specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic, requires an analysis of the roots of the crisis. How did this happen? We need to have the answer to this question so that we know how to handle it.
Time and space started with the Big Bang. The explosion resulted in the creation of multiple sub-systems; the universe became one big web of sub-systems. In this universe, every system is part of a bigger one. There is a hierarchy of systems that have to collaborate horizontally and vertically for the total system to operate.
What else started with time? Change. And since time cannot be stopped, change cannot be stopped either. Some people try. Some political ideologists attempt to do just that as well as some religious fanatics. You can stop yourself. You can sit in a cage in the Himalayas and contemplate your navel. But even then change will continue and your body will age. You can stop your company from changing but your country will move on. You can try to stop the whole country from changing but you cannot stop the world.
The universe is a big web of systems and vertical subsystems. And what happens as a result of change? The subsystems do not change at the same speed. Let us look at an example of a company, which consists of multiple subsystems. You have marketing, sales, production, finances, information technologies, human resources. These do not change synchronously. Some change faster than others. Marketing tends to change faster than the others. You do some marketing research and then you analyze the data. Then you decide how to price the product, what channels to use, and how to advertise it. You can change plans relatively fast. But changing sales takes some effort.
You have to train the sales force, produce new materials, convince the clients. This takes a little bit longer than marketing. And how long does it take to change operations and production? Much longer. And how about accounting? You should live long enough. As for human resources, we are talking about culture, attitudes, people’s behavior, knowledge, competences. You need multiple lives to witness this change.
What is the implication? As these subsystems do not change together, the result is gaps. Those gaps are manifested in what we call “problems.” All problems are manifestations of disintegration. Look at a car. Some parts work longer than others. As a result of that, the car falls apart. That is disintegration. It is the same in the human body. Different organs age at different speeds. You can accelerate this aging or slow it down by choosing what to eat and drink. Nevertheless, they change at different speeds.
What is the implication?
As these subsystems do not change together, the result is gaps.
Those gaps are manifested in what we call “problems.”
All problems are manifestations of disintegration.
Look at any problem you have, with your company, your marriage, your car, or the faucet in your kitchen, and ask yourself: What has changed? What has fallen apart? What has disintegrated? That is your analysis. That is what the garage man will do when you take your car to be fixed. What is he looking for? What has fallen apart.
Now, if all problems stem from change that causes disintegration, what is the solution? Stop change so that it does not create problems? That is the preferred solution of some political parties or some religious fanatics. They try to stop change because it creates too many problems. Will they succeed? No. You cannot stop change. Time is change. With time, things fall apart. You can buy the most expensive car and not drive it, not even touch it, and what will happen some years later? It will stop working. What caused that? Entropy.
But there is a development that is new in the history of humankind. The acceleration of change. What is happening as a result of that acceleration? Disintegration is also accelerating. And problems are facing us faster than ever before in the history of humankind. Our grandparents were poorer than us, but they were happier. There was less stress in their lives. The standard of living has improved because of change, but the quality of our lives has deteriorated. The fastest growing mental disease of modern time is depression. And look at the rate of divorce. The more developed the country – which means the most changing – the more divorces per capita.
So, what should we do? Since we cannot stop change, we need to learn how to integrate. That is the solution. If all problems stem from disintegration, the solution is integration. It is sad that some universities are beginning only now to teach how to manage change. That is the most important subject that an executive needs to know. You have to lead change, so you should know how to manage it.¹
If all problems stem from disintegration,
the solution is integration.
What happens if you do not integrate? Change continues. And what happens to the problems? As change continues, so does disintegration. It keeps deepening until the problem becomes a crisis. To me, a crisis is the result of untreated disintegration or untimely treated disintegration. I think that is what is happening with COVID-19. This is not the first pandemic crisis we have had. There were other pandemic crises before. There was the Black Death in the Middle Ages. In the last century, we had the Spanish flu. Then we had Ebola, and MERS, and SARS. And now COVID-19.
But something interesting is happening. The time between two pandemics is shortening. Why?
Change is accelerating. Major change. I am not a historian but I think that the plague epidemic broke out during a time of major change. The Spanish flu happened during the First World War. It went from the United States to Europe. What is happening now? COVID-19 has been around forever. It is nothing new. It has not been created now, unless you believe that it was created on purpose by humans in a lab.
Why is COVID-19 wreaking such havoc? The human body has been changing for millions of years at a certain speed. How long did it take apes to lose their tails before they became humans? Then, how long did it take the hominids to start walking on two feet? It took millions of years. Now, there is an accelerated rate of change but the human body cannot keep up with the speed at which the world is changing. We cannot adapt to all the chemicals in the food and the polluted air and water, and the stress in our lives. Our bodies cannot handle the speed at which the environment is changing. What happens then? We lose our immunity and our strength, and COVID rules. It has started killing us now because we are weaker now. And look – whom does it hit? The old, who are falling apart. Those who are sick, people with diabetes and other chronic diseases. And it affects people with weakened immune systems. Their bodies are unable to handle the disease. COVID-19 is a result of rapid and accelerated change to which we are unable to adapt. Will a vaccine solve the problem? No. It is just another band aid. The problem is a lack of integration. The real solution, dealing with the root cause, is integration.
What kind of solution are we talking about?
COVID-19 is a global problem. Therefore, it requires a global solution. More than ever before, the world is becoming one. In California, we have had millions of acres on fire. Do you know what happened to that smoke? It went to New York. And now it is in Sweden. Air knows no boundaries. We, humans, make boundaries. We draw borders. Air is not aware of them. Neither is water. There was an explosion in a Japanese nuclear reactor close to the beach. The radioactivity went into the water. We stopped eating fish in Santa Barbara, California, because we were afraid that it might be radioactive. We are one but we are disintegrated. COVID-19 is a global problem. It crosses all borders. The virus knows no borders.
The higher the rate of change,
the higher the importance of the integrator
for the success of the company.
All pandemics were messages for us to realize that we are one. They were testing our resolve. And we did not have it, so they are becoming more frequent and more devastating. And if we do not learn our lesson there will be another COVID, and soon.
Go to any church, of any denomination, or any place of worship, including the ashrams of India. The saints stand with one raised hand, showing the palm. What does that mean? It is called the Hamsa. Just look at it. You see four fingers pressed together. What does this tell us? Be different together. Do not be the same together. That would be fascism, racism, or communism. These are ideologies that say we should stay together and be the same. And if you are different, you are in trouble. You may get killed. That does not work well. In a company, it is called bureaucracy. Everybody must follow a manual. In that way, everybody becomes the same. And what happens? The company gets paralyzed. A whole country can get paralyzed. Humanity can get paralyzed. We go back to the Middle Ages. We need to learn how to be different together.
What is the meaning of an open hand, with the fingers spaced out, in front of your face? It is a curse. Be different, but not together. Imagine being different but not together, in a marriage, or in a company.
Being all similar is a curse that we create for ourselves, whereas being different alone happens on its own. It is called disintegration. Why does it happen? Because of change.
Integration is not a one-shot deal, like a single seminar on integration. You cannot achieve it by going to a workshop for the weekend. Integration should be on going, like losing weight should not be a diet but a lifestyle. You need continuous integration. You have to maintain it consistently. Integration must be an ongoing process in a company. Who should do it? Which finger should be responsible for it? The pointing one? No. The thumb. It is not really a finger. It is a different type of finger.
What is the purpose of a thumb? To make a hand. It is the integrator. It is the only finger that “works” with all the other fingers. The higher the rate of change, the higher the importance of the integrator for the success of the company. This is the essence of my presentation.
The higher the rate of change, the faster and the deeper we fall apart, and the faster a problem becomes a crisis. Hence the importance of the integrator who brings us together.
To solve the problem successfully, we have to start thinking as one, not as many. This problem cannot be solved within the boundaries of one country. Will that happen? I doubt it. We do not have the forum and the will to create a global structure that collaborates and cooperates.
To be continued.
¹ Ichak Adizes: Mastering Change (Adizes Institute Publications, Santa Barbara CA, USA)
Excerpts from a presentation made to the Presidents Forum at IEDC, Bled School of Management, Slovenia, October 9, 2020.
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