This was the key question that Ricardo Semler, Brazilian businessman, futurist and a man named a global leader of tomorrow by the World Economic Forum, asked delegates at this year’s Discovery Invest Leadership Summit.
Adrian Gore, CEO of Discovery, opened this year’s summit by reiterating the fact that leadership cannot be overstated. In the face of a changed world, particularly in the political, economic and technological arenas, it is particularly important for leaders to challenge the way they think. The speakers asked to present at the summit this year were chosen to do exactly that: challenge delegates, and hopefully inspire personal and business epiphanies as well.
Thinking beyond the box
The first speaker of the day, Semler used the car industry to illustrate his point of how we deal with change. “The model T Ford was designed and put into production 100 years ago. It had a chassis, four wheels, four seats, a steering wheel, it went forwards and backwards and it had a combustion engine. Today, after billions in research and thousands of engineers who specialise in motor vehicles, we have a car with a chassis, four wheels, a combustion engine….”
His point? First, that any gaps that cars today do not solve (like parking sideways), have still not been addressed. And that change cannot come from within a huge industry. We do things the way we have always done things, and we think there has been so much change, but actually we stick to what we know and have always known. If we really want to change – particularly given the fact that in many ways what we are doing now is not working – we need to challenge the norm, and question why we do what we do.
Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke university in the US, had his own take on change: In business and in life, many of the wrong decisions we habitually make are the result of people not questioning whether the decision is right or wrong in the first place, and simply trusting the fact that ‘this is the way it is done’. If we never question our intuitions, how can we know they are correct?
“Instead of always following our guts, perhaps we should sometimes try something else and see where it leads,” he said to the gathered delegates.
In a world where established economies are not immune to breakdown, and where emerging economies such as our own have a huge opportunity to close the gap between the two and possibly even propel the world economy forward, is it not up to South Africa’s business leaders to question whether the way things are done are the right ways? From SMEs to large corporations, thinking differently might mean the difference between lasting and successful sustainability, and another statistic of failure.