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The Risky Path Forward

by David Brock on July 4th, 2020

Our collective worlds have been disrupted and changed forever. Whether it’s how we interact in our communities or businesses, everything has changed.

Markets and industries have been turned upside down. Some will take years to recover. The nature of work has changed forever–and that change is not just virtual. How we get things done within our companies, how we get things done with our customers, how we get things done with our partners and suppliers, have changed.

As we think of strategies for moving forward, for recovering, for growing; we seek to understand and manage risks. Some seek to minimize or avoid risk, which is problematic.

As we look at the issue of risk, the single highest risk strategy is to do what we’ve always done, to do the things that were successful in the past.

I speak to people, longing for things to get back to normal, to the way things were 4-6 months ago. Implicit in that desire is to get back to doing things the way we have in the past.

All of this is a sure path to failure–or at best–just getting by.

By contrast, the least risky strategies for moving forward is to do new and “risky” things. To experiment, to learn, to drive the changes in how we work, how we engage our customers, how we create meaning and value with our people, our companies, our customers, our communities. As we learn, we adapt and continue to improve.

Our world, our work is characterized by complexity. We live in constant flux and unpredictability. There are many different ideas and views about what will happen in the future–and there are no right answers. We are discovering the old models are no longer effective or relevant.

In moving forward, our most effective course of action is to encourage experiments, to explore new ideas, pursuing them long enough to see what patterns emerge. We need to broaden our interactions and increase communications across diverse groups. Research is telling us the best solutions and the fastest path to solutions is through very diverse groups.

We have the opportunity to help our customers, while at the same time figuring things out for ourselves. After all, we are facing the same problems, only in different contexts. Why solve them separately, when we might be more effective in exploring them collaboratively?

The opportunity we have is stunning. I’m seeing leading organizations recognizing this opportunity, experimenting and changing with the intent of disrupting their companies and how they engage and create value for their customers. These companies will aggressively restructure their industries, markets, and seize share from their competition.

This is a time of great confusion. We don’t know the answers, possibly, don’t know the questions. As we move forward, we want to manage the risks. It turns out, however counterintuitive, the least risk path forward is to rapidly reinvent, restructure, and redefine how we work, and how we help our customers addressing the same issues.

Afterword: We have tremendous tools available to help us manage complexity for ourselves and our clients. I’ve written quite a bit about these tools and approaches in my posts on Sensemaking. Additionally, many of you know I’m a great fan of the approaches in the Cynefin methodology. Here are two references you may find as useful guides: and

  1. Christian Maurer permalink

    a very wise post. IMHO the 2 links to the hbr resource seem to be identical

  2. Ron Bohannon permalink

    Completely agree with this article. Sales reps who align with their customer to identify new opportunities, communicate and think outside the box will prevail. Waiting to do the same thing we’ve always done is certain death.

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