Wayfinding in Times of Change

The Synergia Foundation in collaboration with the Government of Karnataka (GoK) organised a roundtable discussion on “Wayfinding in Times of Change” by Kenneth Mikkelsen on March 13, 2019. The event was chaired by the Chief Secretary, GoK at the Vidhana Soudha. The attendees of the forum included the Principal Secretary to CM of Karnataka; Secretary to the CM; Additional Chief Secretary, Finance; Managing Director of Bengaluru Metro, CEO of Café Coffee Day, Executive Director of Dynamatic Tech, former Director General of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), educationalists and members of the media. The objective was to bring policymakers, executives and experts from various fields in order to gain a holistic understanding of what it means to be good stewards of the future. 

Background

Mr. Mikkelsen is the founder of FuturelShifts, an associate of the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies and the Drucker Society. Together with Richard Martin, he co-authored The Neo-Generalist:Where You Go is Who You Are, which explores multi-disciplinary thinking. Mr Mikkelsen is an executive coach and lead designer of executive programs for companies such as Carlsberg, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation and A.P. Moller-Maersk. 

Analysis

The 51st Synergia Forum brought together government and industry experts for a roundtable discussion on “Wayfinding in Times of Change”. The event sought to explore the value of multi-disciplinary thinking and life-long learning. 

“Organizations don’t transform, people do.” Living in unsettled times of economic, technological and socio-political change, Mr Mikkelsen focuses on how we can use the ongoing cultural shift in society to replace outdated industrial practices. Visionary leaders identify and tackle big upheavals, shifts, shocks and slides in the world by cultivating the right skills, behaviours, organizational systems, and most importantly, the right mindset. 

Mr. Mikkelsen spoke of the shift in normative values from the industrial era to the connected age. Rejecting old paradigms of capitalism that focuses on profit maximization and managements’ lean-seeking agenda, Mr Mikkelsen sought to institute an emphasis on lifelong, wide-ranging, deep learning.

Mr. Mikkelsen presents the state of the world as a combination of shocks and slides; shocks are those ‘black-swan moments’ such as a natural disaster or the 2008 economic crash, while slides are mega-trends in the world such as climate change or globalization. Shocks and slides in combination influence humans in profound ways, serving as a catalyst for initiating necessary reforms. 

Mr. Mikkelsen speaks of four things for humans to work on; a mind-shift, skill-shift, behaviour-shift and system-shift. Mind-shifts are those unquantifiables such as ethics and world-view. A skill-shift involves the upskilling and reskilling of people. A behaviour-shift alters human competencies, while a system-shift involves organizational changes. Working on them simultaneously, viewing them as interconnected, Mr. Mikkelsen calls for a balance in the exploitation of past human knowledge and an exploration of what is yet to be known. Navigating the two allows one to understand megatrends and how that influences us. Companies must strike a balance between organizations and individuals, wherein leaders must comprehend the greater inter-connectedness of things. 

Neo-Generalists are those that are both specialists and generalists, and maintain a healthy balance between the two, visualized as a continuum (see image). They are able to learn multiple things in a world where one needs to add layers to one’s skills, e.g. a good surgeon now needs to be cognizant of robot technology in order to stay at the cutting edge of his field. They are bridge builders and changemakers, facilitating the connection of people and ideas, making good stewards for the future, Mr Mikkelsen adds. Their characteristics include adaptability, resilience and agency in order to aid amplified augmentation of leaders who focus on leaving a positive change on the future of the earth. 

In order to reinvent oneself in a manner that is relevant in the 21stCentury, Mr. Mikkelsen asserts that one must begin by being curious. In addition to curiosity, one is to inculcate mindfulness of health (in spirit and body), clarity of self, mastery through learning, creativity, interchangeability of big-picture and microscopic perspectives, relevance and agility. The fluid equilibrium of the aforementioned, Mr Mikkelsen believes, are the stem cells of learning. In building such a system, one must begin by understanding pedagogy.

In summation, Mr Mikkelsen called for responsible stewardship of the future. In order to adequately accomplish such a task, one must respect the past, act wisely in the present and serve the future. 

The panel, in fruitful engagement with Mr Mikkelsen, spoke of the nature of happiness, its manifestations and how it was to be secured. Bhutan’s high-ranking in the world’s happiness index was put forth as an exemplary example. One panellist reflected that the leader of a nation has a profound impact on the happiness of his constituents. 

Counterpoint

Mr. Mikkelsen mounted an offence against two pillars of the capitalist economic order; specialization and greed. While calling for a tempering of greed and selfishness, Mr. Mikkelsen poses a critique of Adam Smith’s position that greed yields the best results for the greatest number of people. Specialization is that which affords targeted allocation of resources, economies of scale and efficiency. However, Mr. Mikkelsen fails to posit an alternative system that substitutes Smith’s capitalist utility, while still accounting for the levels of efficiency human motivators such as greed gives us. History provides us with evidence that capitalism is the most effective method for the exponential expansion of wealth for the greatest number of people. Given this, how are we, as students of the past and judicious participants of the present, meant to ensure good stewardship of the future without these basics tenets of capitalism? 

Assessment

Our assessment is that Mr. Mikkelsen’s evaluation that we live in a period that demands flexibility in response to shifts is of significant value. We believe that it is imperative for individuals to prepare for these shifts and respond appropriately both within an organisation and in their private lives. We feel that learning encapsulates one of the most potent tools available to man; multi-disciplinary thinking yields visionary thinkers capable of a healthy balance of specialization and generalization, arming them with holistic tools in the quest to be responsible stewards of the future. Mindful of the benefits that capitalism has given the modern world, we believe that it is essential to continue our focus on specialization.