An Explorer in an XLR World

I’m not a car guy. My Explorer will pass 100,000 miles sometime in the next few weeks and I’m happy because it gets me there. Somewhere along the way, I lost the car gene.

God has a peculiar sense of humor because I fell in love with a woman who could define the car gene. Karen had a long-term love for the Cadillac XLR – a hard-top convertible built on a Corvette frame, introduced a decade ago. A couple of springs ago, she finally convinced me to shop for one. One in particular was the V model with a 443 H.P. engine that Karen used to take me from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. Exhilarating, but not my style of driving…or riding!

That ride came back to mind during the holidays. Thomas Friedman used the car analogy to describe this time of exponential change. His premise was that change now moves at an exponential – not linear – rate. That’s the difference between an old Explorer and a hot XLR. Are we ready to live in an XLR world?

Oh…but wait there’s more…

Not only is change accelerating, it’s also moving along three different axes that exponentially increase its complexity: Markets, Mother Nature, and Moore’s Law. Markets become more globalized and more digitized by the hour. We used to think about globalization as containers moving across the ocean. Now it’s electrons moving through cyberspace. Mother Nature is also under stress as climate change accelerates and species diversity shrinks. Finally, Moore’s Law refers to the speed of technological change – effectively doubling capabilities every two years. Exponential change around these three interacting factors now makes it impossible for anyone – no matter how smart – to be THE expert.

Friedman’s perspective certainly complicated my world. I’m passionate about manufacturing and believe that the impending Body Gap is the most serious issue facing the Wisconsin economy. The lack of people for the workforce holds broad implications for everyone and the solutions require transformative change. Still, I saw this as one-dimensional, linear change. Now it looks like I need to exchange my Explorer thinking for a bit of XLR inspiration.

I’m accepting this challenge for the New Year: Feeding my passion by finding ways manufacturers can take advantage of this exponential change in their businesses. That involves the radical inclusion of multiple, diverse perspectives in order to step out of the echo chambers that make us too comfortable with incremental reactions to discontinuous change. It also means hitting the “Pause Button” more often than I like. Freeman made another great point: Hit pause and machines stop, but people grow because they have the time to stop, think, and reflect.

It’s a stark choice for everyone: Embrace change and grow or defend your present position and be left behind. Much of the world falls into that second category. They defend their positions and beliefs and feel a deep need to be right, no matter the cost. As a consequence, they have difficulty accepting the speed of change and the diversity necessary to address it. This approach causes people – and entire organizations – to get stuck in place with no way of moving.

These times demand that we embrace and reconcile different perspectives and search for the truth in order to take advantage of exponentially accelerating, complex change. It’s painful because it involves being wrong…often…in situations where we want to be invincible. That’s growth and a better way to address, enjoy, and thrive in these chaotic times.

I’m not sure I can make the Explorer to XLR-V change, but I’m going at it hard and maybe I’ll wind up in the Camaro neighborhood. I’ll actively search for new ideas and perspectives and – unlike the past – let them change my view of the world. By embracing this change and complexity, I intend to find ways to help manufacturers build bright new futures for their organizations.

As for the fast cars…I’ll leave those to Karen!

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