Coping with fragility

However much we delude ourselves, we are all bad at predicting the future. In recent Annual Meetings in Davos, for example, there have been very poorly attended sessions on Afghanistan. Who cared? What relevance could an impoverished, resource-starved country in central Asia have for the leaders in Davos?

The events of September 11 did not create fragility or uncertainty. But one of the consequences was to make evident to all of us that we live in a fragile, uncertain world. The qualities that led to success in the comparatively benign conditions of the last decade may not be well adapted to today’s world. How can leaders deal with the complexities our environment presents?

One part of the answer must be to broaden your perspective. The demands of leadership in recent times, whether in the corporate world or in politics, have meant executives have become almost monomaniacally focused on the task at hand. There hasn’t been the time or leisure, seemingly, to indulge in scanning a wider horizon, either professionally or personally.

The evidence for this observation has been the responses to my question over the years: “What are you reading?” Few answers have been surprising. It’s clearly work-related, if there is any reading at all. For reading, you could substitute, I’m afraid, any intellectual activity outside the constricting parameters of the executive role.

But it is through the exercise of our intellects that our minds can be opened to other ideas and possibilities. In a volatile world, the leaders who have kept their minds agile will be able to reach the necessary decisions by forging new paths, not sticking to the railway tracks that sufficed for a steady-state existence.

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