radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

Prototyping Your Future Self.

Oct 31, 2023

A client recently offered me a mostly blank canvas to design & co-facilitate a 2.5-day executive leadership program. The theme, Leading for the Future, was definitely in the sweet spot of what we do well at be radical, while also being sufficiently open-ended to allow for some riffing and exploration with my co-designer & facilitator.

We knew from the start that we’d devote the first portion of the program to sensing futures—unpacking expected vs. possible futures, getting into trend & signal work, identifying cascading implications and emerging opportunities, and exploring how improved prospection can support mental agility in the longer term and strategic decision-making in the present. From there, it made sense to devote the second portion of the program to navigating the world of convergent trends and accelerating change that we’d spent the first block sensing and envisioning. We would share and apply specific frameworks for leading through ambiguity and complexity—all of which emphasize the critical importance of continuous learning and empathic communication through change.

The last part of the program focused on that change, or transforming. My co-facilitator, the wonderful Catherine Brown (whom Pascal & I know from our time together at Singularity in the 2010s), suggested that we focus specifically on the transformation of the individual leader—rather than the transformation of the culture or the organization at large. It was the right choice, and I suspect anyone who has led or supported many change initiatives in organizations eventually comes around to the same conclusion: If you can’t change the way people lead & work at the individual level, nothing above that will ever really stick.

I’m reminded here of Pascal’s fondness for the Herb Kelleher quote: “The business of business is people.” True enough, and if an organization hopes to build adaptability as a skill and master continuous transformation, the individual leaders—the people involved—had better be capable of transforming themselves. And then doing it again.

So in the final portion of the program, which actually ran last week, Catherine introduced the cohort to the Immunity to Change framework created by Lisa Leahey and Robert Kegan to draw on 30 years of research in adult development. [Sidenote: I can recommend their book by the same title.]

Our executive learners began the workshop with a personal improvement goal in mind (e.g., “I want to be more effective at leading through influence.”) and were prompted first to come up with all of the things they were doing—or not doing—that might be working against that goal. The next steps of the process delved into the deeper and more unique aspects of ITC work as the participants unearthed and explored “competing commitments” that had become obstacles to making the desired change. These are often hidden beliefs and stories that become our rationales for not doing or for doing instead.

With the competing commitments surfaced, the cohort—working individually and then in pairs—was invited to dig deeper into the unconscious assumptions that shape and support competing commitments and limiting beliefs, to really understand the particular structure and strength of their own immunity to change. And in the last step, each participant identified an experiment—a concrete thing that she could do—to test one of those assumptions and begin to overcome the hidden obstacles & inertia standing in the way of desired change.

The outcome of the workshop extends well beyond that follow-on experiment. The individual leader emerges with what Kegan calls a “mental x-ray,” providing a deeper understanding of her own mindset and resistance to change, and moreover, she emerges with a framework for unlocking and supporting the ability to make change and then make change again.

And in a world of accelerating change that will ask us to remain ever capable of change as well, what is more valuable than a proven tool for prototyping one’s future self? (via Jeffrey)