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Exponential mindset

The results we achieve depend on what we do. What we do depends on how we see the world.

Nowadays, even knowledge that until recently we could call absolute truths can change abruptly, in a short period of time. The amount of new knowledge being generated at an accelerated rate in most scientific areas will force us to question our beliefs and force the learning cycle of new action paradigms while forcing a similar process, but in the opposite direction of unlearning the current ones.

In contrast to this continuous innovation that we are experiencing in nearly all sectors, throughout the 20th century we have consolidated an analytical and sequential learning model, which is based on the construction of new knowledge on the sediment of what has been acquired so far. This is basically the model we have all learned in school, and which we have then used in our personal and professional environment.

Hence, both as individuals and collectively as organisations, we need new procedures that systematically force us to question, (in)validate and, if necessary, abandon our most deeply-rooted knowledge.

In the 21st century it is as necessary for leaders and organisations to learn new knowledge as it is to unlearn knowledge which is no longer valid.

Developing an exponential mindset is essentially about understanding that our world is no longer linear. This means that we must assume that disruptions which radically change the rules of the game are and will continue to occur with some frequency. Consequently, at this point in time, any exercise in forecasting the future by projecting our past knowledge and experience will generate an illusion.

This is why leaders’ experience or analytical skills, which were so highly valued in the 20th century, become of secondary value in this new environment in which the rules that govern the world (or at least the world around us) can change abruptly.

In this new context, the qualities that every 21st century leader must develop are to frequently question acquired paradigms, both individually and collectively. In this sense, the actor and director Alan Alda affirms that «beliefs are like the windows through which we behold the world; if we do not clean them frequently, the day when we will not see the light will come «.

Moonshot

In order to develop an exponential mindset, it is at the same time healthy, necessary and uncomfortable to set extremely ambitious challenges or, in other words, moonshots. The great benefit of a moonshot is that it forces us to reconsider and, if necessary, change current paradigms.

In a sense, we have to see these ambitious challenges as the source of disruptive innovation because they will force us to look for entirely new solutions.

As an example, when President Kennedy in his famous speech explained the collective challenge of travelling to the moon within a decade, the vast majority of people listening to him at that moment thought it was an impossible project, including in this group of sceptics some of the scientists and engineers who would later carry out this project. Most of them would have preferred a more reasonable goal, such as sending an astronaut to orbit the Earth, because this was an achievable challenge, according to the paradigms of the time. The challenge posed by the journey to the moon forced them to review and question all the knowledge they had acquired until then.

To illustrate the challenge posed by this project, at one point in the film » First Man «, which partly depicts the Apollo and Gemini programmes, the actor Kyle Chandler as Donald Kent Slayton draws the distance between the Earth and the Moon on a line, explaining to the astronauts the great opportunity for the United States to overtake the Soviet Union in the space race for the first time: the journey to the Moon was such a challenge that nothing that had been done so far was an advantage. In this project, both adversaries were at the starting point.

It is always possible to achieve a 10% improvement without substantially modifying current systems. On the other hand, a target of a 10-fold increase in current performance requires questioning everything.

The theory behind moonshots is infallible: when faced with a paradigm shift, everyone starts from scratch. Past successes are no guarantee of future results.

However, translating this theory into practice and using it to one’s own advantage is not so easy. People are terrified of any possibility of error and we avoid the intrinsic risk of the unknown whenever possible. This is why, for the whole «moonshot» model to become a fact, it is necessary to learn fast: when setting an ambitious goal, it is necessary to identify those points which are critical to success and those which entail high levels of uncertainty.

Once those points that can be considered critical have been identified, we must establish a process of continuous experimentation which allows us to work on these aspects, detecting errors before disbursing huge amounts of money on initiatives whose future is limited.

Leadership in the 21st century

What we can conclude from all this is that we currently find ourselves in situations of disruptive change, in a thick fog that prevents us from moving forward with certainty, tracing a route from the current point to our target destination.

In this context, any effort we make to try to reduce uncertainty is a waste of time as it will in no way increase our visibility.

Instead, embracing the superpowers that this uncertainty gives us and moving confidently through the fog, reacting with agility when we encounter a rock in the road, but at the same time convinced of the myriad opportunities that this new context offers us, is key to developing the exponential mindset which organisations need in the 21st century.

However, translating this theory into practice and using it to one’s own advantage is not so easy. People are terrified of any possibility of error and we avoid the intrinsic risk of the unknown whenever possible. This is why, for the whole «moonshot» model to become a fact, it is necessary to learn fast: when setting an ambitious goal, it is necessary to identify those points which are critical to success and those which entail high levels of uncertainty.

Once those points that can be considered critical have been identified, we must establish a process of continuous experimentation which allows us to work on these aspects, detecting errors before disbursing huge amounts of money on initiatives whose future is limited.

If you want to develop an exponential mindset, we can help you challenge your current paradigms and implement the systems you need. We will be happy to guide you through this transformation.

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