Our modern capitalist economy is a highly competitive environment. This is especially true for Industrial Manufacturing and Industrial Services. Globalization has recently drawn dozens of under-developed and emerging countries into the global capitalist economy. The global supply of productive resources, commodities, and labor has thereby grown significantly and rapidly. However, the global demand for products and services has seriously lagged behind the growth of supply. Welcome to the new world of hyper-competition, where only the fittest organizations will survive.
Survival of the Fittest
As the leader of an Industrial organization, you need to manage, motivate, mentor, and monitor your company to survive and excel in this competitive environment. Good intentions and hard work are important and noble attributes, but alone they are not sufficient to lead your organization to realize its full potential.
The successful leader of a high performance organization needs to develop a diverse repertoire of relevant skills and experience, and constantly refresh, update, and expand this knowledge, in order to provide the high quality guidance and direction an organization requires to achieve and maintain success.
The Technological S Curve
Technological development and innovation is not a new phenomenon. Humanity has been innovating and constantly pushing the envelope of knowledge and technology since man first learned to harness fire and developed the wheel.
Technological development is not, and has never been, a linear process. Knowledge and technology develops exponentially. This was true for the Gutenberg printing technology, the steam engine, electricity, aviation, and our various digital technologies. Moore’s law is not unique to the computer chip. The exponential development theory underpinning Moore’s law was equally valid for each of the aforementioned technological innovations.
The difference between the printing press and the computer chip is that the time scale for technological development has been compressed. This is also a feature of technological S curves. As new technologies build upon previous discoveries and innovations, the pace of development and distribution of technology increases. An S curve is much more noticeable to mortal humans when the development takes place over a period of a decade or less. It has historically been much more difficult for us to recognize the exponential nature of technological development when the development timescale was on the order of one or more centuries.
S Curves don’t merely describe the pace of technological innovation. Nearly everything in our professional environment is undergoing exponential change. This includes government regulations, domestic and international taxation, social change, economic change, geopolitical change. The whole world is becoming a fast moving blur.
You Can’t Get There From Here
With the constantly accelerating exponential changes that our world is experiencing, a manager must work diligently to keep pace with the changes. You may manage to navigate the way to your destination using an out of date map, but you will certainly encounter serious delays and detours along the way. If your competition is using an up to date map, or more likely, using Google Maps with real-time traffic advisories, you have no hope of beating your competition to the destination.
If you want to keep pace with our rapidly evolving world, and ensure that your skills and experience remain up to date, you need to seriously commit to lifelong learning.
Reading the local newspaper, watching CNN or the BBC, and following updates on Facebook and Linked-In is OK for keeping up to date on basic current events, but sorry, this does not constitute lifelong learning.
Despite the proliferation of digital technology over the past decade, the best sources of knowledge remains old fashioned books. Well respected authors and experts continue to pour their knowledge and wisdom into new books each year. The competition for book sales and royalties continues to improve both the quality and quantity of books available.
The good news is that it is no longer even necessary to go to a bookstore to buy your books (good news unless you happen to own a bricks and mortar bookstore). If you still prefer traditionally printed books, Amazon is a great source. If you are like me and have made the transition to eBooks, you already know that Apple iBooks and Amazon Kindle offer digital versions of virtually all current fiction and non-fiction books, as well as the classics.
A Diversified Portfolio
As a business leader, you face a diverse range of professional challenges and opportunities. You need to pursue a diverse range of professional knowledge if you wish to lead your organization to achieve its full potential.
Certainly, if you are a manager, you should read books on management and leadership. If your primary responsibility is sales, there are many great books on selling, marketing, customer relationship management, etc.
However, don’t make the mistake of focusing too narrowly on your core competency or primary area of responsibility. Don’t limit yourself to becoming a “one trick pony.”
Work diligently to expand your knowledge. Exercise your mental faculties. Expand your academic and intellectual horizons. Broaden your mind. Enrich your intellect. Seek interesting new cliches to use in your future essays.
In the past few years I have read quite a few economics books. I don’t expect to start a new career as an economist. However, by studying both current and historical economics, I am much better able to understand, evaluate, and utilize economic trend and forecast data that is an important factor in our business strategy development.
I also read books on geopolitics. Geopolitics involves elements of economics, leadership, strategy, tactics, intelligence, positioning, signaling, and history. The goals may differ, but business leadership and political leadership utilize many of the same skills and tools as does industrial leadership.
Corporate Governance, Science, History, Management, Sales, Philosophy. There is a nearly endless range of non-fiction topics that can directly or indirectly enrich your skills as a business leader and your overall success and satisfaction in life.
I spend most of my personal development time reading non-fiction books. However, probably around 25% of the books I read are fiction. I usually choose classics for my fiction diet, such as Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, and Charles Dickens. I occasionally also read modern fiction. Fiction of course provides enjoyment and relaxation, and represents an important break from intellectual pursuits.
However, don’t underestimate the value of fiction as a source of leadership and strategic advice and inspiration. Fiction also helps expand your social and empathic skills, which are vital to your role as a leader.
Readers are not necessarily good leaders. However, true leaders are always readers.