The basis of competition has changed dramatically over time. The digital revolution of the 21st century has changed the rules of competition in a massive way, requiring flexibility and adaptability. Simply put, too many new things are being introduced, things are changing too fast, and things have become too interdependent for the top-down approach to work any longer. The foundation of business—competition—has changed. So must our leadership.
In the VUCA age of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, a leader’s job is to respond constructively to negative complexity outside the organizational boundaries and increase positive complexity inside. Negative complexity abounds in the business environment of the post-digital era. Many leaders feel paralyzed by the increasing speed, interdependence, variety of input and density of interaction in the environment, which renders decision-making overwhelming. Managers lose confidence in their ability to make fast decisions with limited information.
I call leaders who become effective in VUCA environments “quantum leaders.” These trailblazers harness negative complexity. These days, their job descriptions read like this:
- Increase the variety of input by generating diversity of thought, tapping into the power of the wisdom of the crowd and crowdsourcing
- Amplify the level of interdependence by forging more cohesive teams and choreographing an ecosystem of tightly linked complementary products and services
- Accelerate speed by removing friction in communication and minimizing the destructive influence of politics.
- Intensify the density of interactions by housing employees in crowded, open spaces