This article was taken from the August edition of Proteuslife magazine.
I remember as a child going to my Grandparents farm just outside of Adelaide in South Australia and right across the lounge room wall was a line of plaster ducks, all positioned in perfect unison, with a definite leader and a row of followers. There was something about my grandparent’s row of ducks that always caught my attention, even though their house was full of every type of ornament you could find.
Each of the grandchildren, and there were many, had their names figuratively, written on the bottom of each ornament, just in case granny died. This way we thought that we were then entitled to it in the will. My claim to her will was a fish tank full of stuffed birds. It seems gross now, but as a child they fascinated me, and I wanted them.
When my grandmother did die, well into her nineties, one of my aunties, who I never liked, swooped in like one of the birds of prey in the tank and claimed them as hers. She was older and grumpier, so she got them. In hindsight I don’t know what I would have done with them, or where I would have put them, but in my mind granny was leaving them to me. I think though that they were far more suited to my Auntie’s personality.
Anyhow, back to the ducks!
Everyone, it seemed, as they walked into the room, made it their business to straighten the ducks up if one had inadvertently slipped, and wasn’t in perfect unison with the others. It was just an unwritten rule that the ducks had to be in a perfect row, because any one of them out of place somehow upset the whole effect.
Running an organisation or a department and leading it into the future is just like the row of ducks on the wall. And yet some of our organisations are more like a flock of pigeons, all over the place, scavenging for scraps, with no structure or sense of purpose, with leaders that are leaving their future to the currents that direct them.
By the way, I’ve never seen a line of pigeons on the wall, have you? Getting all you pigeons in a row just doesn’t sound the same!
Preparing for the future requires exactly that, preparation. Anyone who leaves their destiny to chance, or in the hands of others, is destined to achieve far less than they could have if they had been prepared to get all of their ducks in a row, and continue to straighten them when one got out of line.
In the last edition of Proteuslife I wrote an article on creating a culture of innovation and some of the steps that we need to take for that to happen. In the article I mentioned the disappearance of the stand-alone entrepreneur and their replacement by intrapreneurs, in other words, a return to every one of us leading future innovation within our organisation.
But, as important as innovation is, it must be developed and maintained. It is hard work, both mentally and physically, and unless we do this, and get all of our ducks in a row, then what looks so promising at the time will often not last.
So, what does it mean to get our ducks in a row in our organisations and lead the future?
Well, it simply means that with innovation and risk, comes administration and process, accompanied by strong decision-making, sophisticated project management and a gritty determination to push through in the inevitable tough times. It is more than just having the idea, or in fact rolling that idea out. It is about ensuring that our ideas and decisions are sustainable, that they move us forward and they create new opportunities that constantly motivate us to be better and different.
This means that unless we pay attention to every detail and manage innovation, then the project will be out of balance and ineffective, wasting precious resources and leaving people disillusioned, making it much harder next time.
We all want to be successful both personally and professionally but to do so we must recognise that our lives need to be lived, and our businesses need to be managed, both with our head in the clouds and our feet well and truly planted on the ground.
So let me give you some thoughts around creating a sustainable future, as opposed to creating an unsettled, repetitive environment:
1. We create our own future
The sooner we realise this and take responsibility for our own future the sooner we will begin to see results. Every person in the organisation must understand where they fit into the overall picture and what their role within that picture, is. This statement itself can be provocative, because many people read it as meaning the organisation must do the work and lay it all out for the staff member. Sure they must lead the way, but we are not puppets or robots, we each need to take responsibility for our own involvement and if you don’t know what that is – ASK!
2. We must look forward with excitement not gloom
Building a sustainable future does not happen through hit and miss ideas
We must be completely committed to our ideas and projects, believing that they will pave the way for opportunity and success. People will not support an idea that is shaky, or approached in a hesitant way, they want to work at something that has a great chance of success and provides a clear picture of how the idea will bring about positive change. So, if we are to have a sustainable future then we must believe in what we are trying to achieve and approach it with vigour and enthusiasm.
3. Adapt to our changing environment
It simply does not matter how old you are or how long you have been doing something, change is happening all around us. Research will tell us that people who have a fixed mindset towards change will not only have a miserable life, but they will create that same misery for the people around them. I am sure that you have seen that demonstrated by people close to you, or in fact, you do it yourself.
As blunt as this statement might be I make no apologies for writing it:
Adapt to your changing environment, or get out of the way and let others with vision get on with the job!
By the way, that statement will only offend people who are in the way!
4. Build innovation into everything you do
I have spoken and written about this so often, but I cannot speak about building a sustainable future, without again highlighting the need for everyone within the organisation to adopt an innovation mentality. The future will not be created by a single organisational guru, it will be created and led by everyone thinking about it and feeling safe enough to act on his or her convictions.
If we spent as much time on building the innovation DNA into our businesses as we do managing chaos, then we would see a total shift in both behaviour and productivity.
Most of the answers that you need for yourself and for your business are right there in front of you, but you must be brave enough to seek them out and then act on them.
5. Embrace the paradox of technology
Embracing technology means getting rid of the thinking that believes it is replacing everything – it is not!
What technology is doing is allowing us to do what we do better and then some, albeit differently.
It is not a fad anymore. It is a part of the world we live in and what building a sustainable future is all about. If we use the analogy of getting our ducks in a row, technology is currently the leading duck on the wall and when we get in line with it and embrace where it is taking us, then we will be in unison with
We are incredibly privileged to be living in a time where technology is moving so quickly and is allowing us to do things that we never thought possible.
However, as good as technology is, it must, like everything else, be challenged. I have seen many people and businesses adopt pieces of technology because everyone is doing it. We must be selective and embrace the things that help us to be more productive and move us forward. One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to technology and social media. Embrace it, but be selective and choose the bits that take you forward.
We are already seeing a return to relationship leadership, or a return to our tribes, where we support each other and have open and honest face-to-face conversations; what technology does for us is gives us a new set of skills and a different toolbox to work with that compliments relationship leadership.
6. Work Hard
We are currently in a period of time where the catch cry is to work smarter, not harder. I agree with this, but again the paradox is that the smarter we work, the more productive we are, the more ideas we make happen and the harder we need to work.
You cannot achieve anything meaningful without a work ethic that includes working hard.
Yes work is hard! That’s why they call it work! If we are always looking for short cuts and ways to cut down on our workload, then we will frustrate ourselves far more than if we just got on and did it and made a few mistakes along the way. Sure, look for better and more efficient ways to achieve the results you are aiming for, but never be under the misconception that anything is achieved without hard work.
That is why some people succeed and others don’t. Some people are dreamers, always coming up with ideas but never making anything happen, others are schemers, always looking for shortcuts and ways they can beat the system and others just get on and make it happen. If you truly want to build a sustainable business, then never resent the hard work that you have to put in, because in the middle of it all, is the place where lessons are learned.
So, take control
Getting all of our ducks in a row means that we understand the importance of all of the above six points. It is not either/or. It is embracing all of them with the same level of passion and commitment and then working hard to bring about positive, sustainable results. I am incredibly optimistic about the future of business and leadership in Australia, but I am also very aware that to bring about the changes that we desire is up to us and the attitude we have towards our role in creating the future. So, next time you are at Grandma’s house or in fact your workplace, straighten the ducks up and get them back into order so that they are all heading in the same direction, because this is the only way that we can build sustainable lives and sustainable businesses.