On the growing need to think
Jordi Albareda is one of the prominent social entrepreneurs in Europe, founder and president of the Fair Saturday foundation, born out of the creation of the Fair Saturday movement. Fair Saturday is a global cultural movement with a social impact taking place every year the day after Black Friday. In only 7 years this project originated in the city of Bilbao Bay of Biscay has been adopted by many hubs worldwide – highlighting the Scottish-wide embrace of the initiative, becoming a global movement.
Jordi is MSc in Business Administration by University of Deusto and current professor of Strategic Innovation in the Executive MBA at Deusto Business School. Former consultant at McKinsey & Company, Jordi advises multinational businesses and social projects at strategic level, helping them to adapt their business models and spark innovation processes. Board member of several companies and collaborator with different media with territorial impact, he participates in projects related to new technologies and social innovation.
Nowadays we have the feeling of living (or surviving) in a perfect storm. The environment changes without warning and sometimes abruptly. Changes and innovations follow one after another without being able to be assimilated with serenity and our time is increasingly scarce, flooded by an overabundance of information and stimuli. Probably never before have more things happened. We have more perception of them, we have less time, and it has been more necessary to think about the future.
In this context, three types of attitudes are common:
Those who trust everything to fate, hoping that everything will get better, that the variables will adjust themselves again and things will return to their place. All this, while the world offers us a lacerating and unmanageable number of opiates in the form of ‘entertainment’.
Those who, being in the last years of their professional career, have the progressive syndrome of “who wants the keys to my responsibilities?”, reluctantly delegating the baton of leadership to those who come after them.
Or those who, whether motivated by their passionate convictions about the opportunities of the future or by the urgent need to reflect on the existing, try to think and create the new.
In this sense, and especially for the latter group, what are the keys that can help us to think strategically?
First, it is absolutely necessary to be up to date and have cross-cutting knowledge of the main economic, geostrategic, technological, scientific, political and social trends. This holistic understanding of the environment will help to anticipate risk situations or new opportunities, especially those arising from the intersection of disruptions in fields that are – a priori – far from each other. Will neuroscience have something to do with law, or ethics with biotechnology, or social media with democratic systems? Probably yes, and we will only be able to anticipate these future risks and opportunities through a broad and transversal knowledge of the world, as opposed to the specialisation and reductionist pragmatism of most educational systems.
Secondly – as is required in any other activity that wants to be mastered – it is essential to have a methodology. Defining specifically the challenge that requires our reflection, structuring the possible solutions, analysing those identified as priorities, knowing how to communicate the solution appropriately to those concerned and, finally, implementing the solution by adapting it to each situation. This methodology, used time and time again by strategic consultancies such as McKinsey&Co, allows us to concentrate all our energy on the content rather than getting overwhelmed about how to approach each strategic thinking process.
Thirdly, reflection spaces are advisable. In the same way that we have gyms in our cities to keep our bodies in shape, it is a good idea to reflect on the spaces we reserve around us to keep our minds in shape. Spaces to think. In fact, the original concept of the Greek gymnasium was intended for the exercise of the body, but also for the mind as a study centre and meeting place for philosophers.
Fourthly, thinking requires time, as well as a certain serenity. And as I mentioned earlier, we are short of time. And perhaps also of serenity. Everyone should reflect on the possibility of increasing the net time available to them. The good news is that in this world of over-stimulation, abundance of information, multiplicity of social media, devices and platforms, it is possible to go on a content diet, selecting those we consider most nutritious and healthy for our reflections. The rest, as with trans fats and saturated fats, do not provide nutritional values but harmful fat, however seductive they may initially appear.
Fifthly, we must appreciate the extraordinary wonder of having people around who help us to think, both because they nourish us with knowledge and because they are useful to us in the process of reflection. These people will challenge our beliefs, push our boundaries, and take us further. Just as seafarers in times of distress were guided away from dangerous cliffs by lighthouses, we need a small selection of people around us to give us light.
Sixth, we should reflect on our flexibility. Increasingly, learning means unlearning, changing our trade, questioning our dogmas, and listening to others as if they were right rather than stubbornly defending our own positions. And we are certainly not living in times that encourage flexible thinking. Social media and their algorithms have exaggerated the need for self-affirmation, bringing us closer and closer to “our own and their way of thinking”, impoverishing debates and fostering binary totalitarianism.
And finally, curiosity is necessary. Curious beings observe, question, and learn. They live life with an eagerness to know. And that vital engine fertilises their thought processes, making them more valuable professionals in their profession.
In short, it has probably never been more necessary to think. And never before has it been more complex. Just as there are voices warning of the need to master new disciplines such as data analytics, cybersecurity, or any other modern field of knowledge, we must invigorate the old craft of thinking. Defining good strategies is vital for the progress of any organisation and, increasingly, of our civilisation.
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