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What’s Next?

by Carol Rozwell  |  December 13, 2012  |  2 Comments

This week I met with a variety of clients. In one session attended by 11 people, we started the meeting by asking each person to introduce themself and mention the questions they wanted me to cover. One of the attendees responded that they’d like to know what’s next. “What is the next thing over the horizon, as yet undetected, that we need to plan for?”

I’ve always been troubled puzzled and troubled by this question. I wonder why people search for the next new thing when generally they’ve made such little progress dealing with the current new thing. Social media is a case in point. Why wonder what the next black swan event is when our research shows that most enterprises are only at level two on the Social Business Program Maturity Model?

There are a few issues to consider. First is that by their very nature, black swans are not detectable before they become apparent. The definition of a black swan, according to Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author who coined the term is “a surprise event that has a major effect.” So we can’t figure out many of the “what’s next” things by trying to the detect the patterns in past or current events.

The second and more important issue is how poorly most organizations respond when the unexpected happens. (Unfortunatley, most also don’t do that well when responding to an anticipated disaster either.) I think that’s one of the reasons people want to know what’s coming next – so they will have more time to develop an appropriate response.

But it doesn’t work that way.

The times we live in are volatile. The unpredictable happens. They are also filled with complexity. Situations such as the financial meltdown and climate change alert us to the extreme interrelatedness that affects us all. We must deal with wicked problems but we need new techniques and approaches to do this. David Snowden’s Cynefin model warns us that in chaotic times, we cannot rely on good and best practices. They won’t help us because  they’ve been derived in times of stability. In times of high volatility, the best we can do is take action and observe the results. Best practices are not possible in situations you’ve never encountered before.

The desire to know “what’s next” is rooted in the belief that the longer the time available to develop a response to a new situation, the more manageable the situation will be. We recommend a different approach: increase your ability to deal effectively with constant change. If change is constant – and many will argue it is – then learning to cope with change in a way that causes less personal and business disruption is the critical skill. This is a concept we call “organizational liquidity.”

But who owns this responsibility, to “up” the organization’s capability to deal with change, its organizational liquidity quotient? Well that’s another issue. Effectively facilitating organizational change is frequently everyone’s responsibility – hence no one’s.

Organizational liquidity is a topic we will continue to explore in 2013. Gartner clients can read our existing research Organizational Liquidity: Change Management for Tumultuous Times. It’s time to update this research because the next new thing is right around the corner. If you have ideas about who should orchestrate organizational change or think your organization has a cool model for dealing with complexity and volatility, please let me know.

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Category: change-management  collaboration  knowledge-management  social-media  social-networks  strategic-planning  

Tags: change-management  collaboration  organizational-change  organizational-liquidity  risk  social-networking  social-networks  socially-centered-leadership  storytelling  

Carol Rozwell
VP Distinguished Analyst
11 years at Gartner
21 years IT industry

Carol Rozwell is a vice president and distinguished analyst on Gartner's Digital Workplace team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on What’s Next?

  1. […] What’s Next? […]

  2. Tom Ritchey says:

    Re: “Wicked Problems”, we thought that you might like to know about this:

    “Wicked Problems – Social Messes: Decision support Modelling with Morphological Analysis”. Springer, 2011.

    You can see a description at Springer here:


    Tom Ritchey

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