There is no way to fix a broken mirror

“The increase of disorder or entropy is what distinguishes the past from the future, giving a direction to time.”

— Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time

I can see it happening every day. People waiting and expecting that sooner than later the pre-Covid situation will come back. They talk about “the new normality”, “coming back to the office”, “coming back to the old good days”,…

I have important news from them: that won’t be the case. Period.

And it won’t be the case for a very powerful reason. It is not my very personal view or a subjective criterion.

The reason why the past situation won’t be back is just that it would be against the laws of Nature, against the fundamental principles of Physics, against what has happened every time a deep disruptive event has introduced chaos in a complex system.

If a mirror is broken, it is absolutely impossible to recover it to the previous status. You can glue it or use it for making a beautiful ornamental device, but it won’t be the same mirror anymore.

It is the Entropy, my friend

The law of entropy increase was first born out of thermodynamics and was discovered when studying the efficiency of perpetual motion machines and heat engines.

The second law of thermodynamics states that “as one goes forward in time, the net entropy (degree of disorder) of any isolated or closed system will always increase (or at least stay the same).

Well, but in the business world, Physics don’t apply…

You think so? OK, just please tell me any mayor industry disruption that ended into a situation close to the original one (same market dynamics, same competitors, same customer behavior,…). I bet you won’t come with any example, because that simply does not happen.

Physics do apply to every process in the world, and business is not any different. In fact, I believe a key element of business success has very much to do with how team leaders manage energy

OK, so as the future will be a disaster, I just give up

No way!!!. I haven’t said the future will be terrible, I just said that it will be different, by definition. So, the sooner we all stop moaning and focus on observing how this complex system is evolving and how to capture the bright opportunities to come, the better.

Time to mentally reset

It is over. Your bright past business is gone. Those customers won’t be back, those prices won’t be the same. The full ecosystem has changed massively and there is much more disorder. But grief and mourning won’t help us building the brilliant future ahead.

It is time for us to rethink the industries in which we are competing and the value proposition that we deliver. For example, in the airlines world where I work:

  • Classic approach (the aircraft being in the center of the strategy):
    • Competing in the “60 tons aluminum tubes transportation from A to B” business
  • Potential new approaches (the customer being in the center of the strategy)
    • Competing in the “time saving” industry
    • Competing in the “experiential” industry

You competitors will change according to the industry in which you define you will be competing. In the first case, you would compete against other aircraft operators, while in the second you would compete against players in the videoconferencing world, or in the media industry. We need to understand in which industries does our brand have legitimacy to pretend to occupy a space in the customer top of mind, and be brave and go for it.

But it is not fair

I don’t know if it is fair or not, or how much effort you made building what you had before. We should defer judgement. It is not about what we think it should happen if the world was “fair” but embracing what will happen. Nature does not care about what you did in the past but acts on the situation as from now and builds from here to the future according to its fundamental laws.

Why I’m so optimistic

There is a human tendency towards believing that what happens to us now is the most relevant phenomena that has ever happened to the human kind. But that’s always far from being true. The world used to be a much more terrible place. We have now strong assets that we can fully utilize to build from where we are. Never the human kind has had better access to education, to medical care, to technology.

Businesses have also access to an enormous and worldwide pool of talent and customers, and any new challenge opens the opportunity to new products and services to be delivered.

Next time I want to be prepared

Let’s learn something from what we have just went through. For example, I have personally decided to heavily invest in:

  • Building an “anti-fragile” life. Instead of a rigid architecture that may suffer when the next storm will hit (and it will), a flexible backbone for your personal life will help pivoting if necessary. For example, avoiding leverage heavily on non-liquid assets or teaching your kids languages so they could eventually start a new life anywhere.
  • Personal development. Relevant knowledge fields are endless, and very accessible. For example, I want to be self-sufficient when conceptualizing new digital products and services so I’m considering training myself on “no code” software development.
  • Ecosystems. I’m convinced about the fundamental power of networks and ecosystems in every aspect of life in the years to come. Competitors will suddenly become co-opetitors, industries will merge to deliver new unique value propositions. The definition of what a country or a company or any other institution as aggregators of human volition will be blurred. Associations between individuals will be much more related to achieving a certain goal.
  • Working on the variables under control and explore scenarios. As an engineer, I never forget that for controlling a complex system, your focus must be on input variables under your control. All the others should be understood and observed, but if there is not much you can do about them, they shouldn’t occupy much mental bandwidth. At the same time, spending some time on “futures thinking” can help you understand potential outcomes of current course of action. The future will never be as you imagined, but preparing for several future situations will very much help you to act rapidly as circumstances will change.

Life is too important to adopt an attitude of “wait and see”. We normally have more levers to press than we think, and it is by far so much interesting. Let’s recover the control of our “aircraft”. Let’s do it, and let’s do it now.

Food for thought:

Metiéndonos en un jardín (COVID edition)

Jardín Inglés en Múnich

“If you put fences around people you get sheep.”

William McKnight, promotor de los principios de gestión de 3M en los años 50

Hace unos días leía el magnífico relato de Miguel Arias de Telefónica sobre la gestión de la creación de la app para autodiagnóstico del COVID19 CoronaMadrid. Antes había tenido la suerte de hablar con Danny Saltaren de Mendesaltaren que contaba la experiencia de forma parecida.

Escuchando a uno y otro, no puedo sino tener sana envidia acerca de su vivencia gestionando en tiempo récord la creación de una herramienta que ha sido crítica para la descongestión del call center de la Comunidad de Madrid en las primeras semanas de la pandemia de COVID19.

Los principios del éxito de la gestión de su trabajo podrían resumirse en:

  • Foco absoluto en la consecución de un producto muy definido en un marco temporal muy concreto.
  • Equipo de alto rendimiento, con un talento descomunal.
  • Trabajo en un entorno que no tiene miedo al error, a las críticas, a estar en modo “beta” permanente asumiendo que trabaja en un entorno complejo y de absoluta incertidumbre.

Su historia me recordaba los principios fundacionales del estilo de gestión de 3M, entre los cuales la experimentación siempre ha sido uno de sus activos fundamentales. La prueba y error como motor de la creación, en un entorno con toma de decisiones descentralizada.

Estos días de confinamiento llevan a numerosas reflexiones, y al hilo de la experiencia de CoronaMadrid, me paraba a pensar en diferentes estilos de liderazgo y su eficacia en esta época de incertidumbre absoluta. Pensaba en la metáfora de la diferencia entre un jardín francés y un jardín inglés.

El jardín francés surge en el Renacimiento y se caracteriza por un cuidadoso diseño en el que predomina la simetría y el orden, trazado con escuadra y cartabón. Todo se gestiona a través del control, no dejando nada al azar, ejecutando con precisión hasta el último detalle. Si has estado en el parterre del Retiro en Madrid o en el Palacio de Versalles, sabes de lo que te estoy hablando.

Frente a esa concepción renacentista surgió el jardín inglés, muy influido por las corrientes del Romanticismo, y que trata de integrarse con la naturaleza caracterizándose por permitir el libre desarrollo de la flora y las formas irregulares. Juega habitualmente con la orografía del terreno, tratando de no domesticar demasiado el entorno natural.

A los paisajistas ingleses les resultaba una aberración el forzar la acción de la naturaleza, al mismo tiempo que con su concepción menos intervencionista rechazaban el régimen absoluto de sus vecinos franceses. Preferían definir unos principios fundacionales y dejar hacer a la naturaleza.

CoronaMadrid es un ejemplo de “jardín inglés”. Para poder salir en producción en un tiempo récord ha debido adaptarse a los condicionantes del “terreno” (políticos, tecnológicos, legales,…). De haber optado por una estrategia de “jardín francés” probablemente todavía estarían discutiendo sobre la gobernanza, el protocolo, las funcionalidades,…

La llegada del COVID19 nos ha expuesto a la realidad de los “sistemas complejos” que tan bien explicaba hace unos días Samuel Gil en su post en Suma Positiva. Son sistemas conectados, dinámicos, interdependientes, adaptativos, emergentes, retroalimentados,… En estos sistemas es muy complejo predecir su evolución y el llegar a controlarlos es una aspiración tan legítima como fútil.

Frente a estos fenómenos caben dos aproximaciones, la del “jardín francés”, tratando de “meterlos en vereda”, o la del “jardín inglés”, buscando comprender su esencia y gestionarlos dotándolos de grados de libertad adicionales.

¿Y tú, cuál eliges?

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“Nota: esta constituye la segunda de una serie de reflexiones personales que iré compartiendo en próximas semanas sobre el impacto del COVID19 en las organizaciones”