To facilitate change, we have we have to facilitate the evolution of people’s paradigms.  ~ Doug Engelbart

Leadership Lost - Paradigm Blindness | Leland Russell

Paradigm Blindness: Leadership Lost

Leland Russell

A decade ago, I facilitated strategic planning for the International Leadership Association’s Board of Directors. Before the process began, I asked the board members to consider a core question: “What is missing in leadership today that, if provided, could enable breakthrough solutions for many pressing problems?” 

After we reviewed the responses to “What is missing?” one board member had this insight:

Clearly, the old paradigms are not working…” 

A paradigm is a way of perceiving the world. It frames the boundaries of your attention and defines rules for success within the boundaries. Let’s look at a powerful example through the eyes of a paradigm pioneer.
Back To The Future - Origins of the GEO Paradigm™It’s 1990 and I’m sitting beneath bright television lights. My attention is focused on the gray-haired man I’m about to interview. This was Doug Englebart ─ one of the greatest technology visionaries of the 20th century.

Engelbart first foresaw ─ in the early 1950’s ─ the power of personal computers to “augment human intellect.” A decade later, he invented many of the personal computing tools we use today, including the ubiquitous tool he nicked-named, ‘The Mouse’.

Before our interview began, we watched a grainy black and white video. It was Englebart presenting his early work at a computer conference many years before. Today, that presentation is widely known as ‘The Mother of All Demos’ and you can watch it on YouTube.

The Mother of All Demos

GEO Leadership | Paradigm Blindness | The Mother of All | Demos Doug Englebart | Leland Russell

In December 1968, Doug Engelbart astounded over a thousand of the world’s leading computer scientists with a remarkable technology tour de force. At the event, Engelbart sat on a large stage with an array of technology around him. He was projected onto a 22-foot-high video screen that allowed the audience to see what he was doing.

In just ninety minutes, Englebart demonstrated almost all the fundamental elements of modern personal computing: windows, hypertext, graphics, efficient navigation and command input, video conferencing, the computer mouse, word processing, dynamic file linking, revision control, and real-time collaboration.

When that grainy video ended, I asked Englebart about the impact of his demonstration. “What happened then? How did the world’s leading computer scientists respond?”

He seemed sad as he remembered. He lowered his eyes and spoke softly.

“After it was over, I looked up and everyone was standing and applauding. It seemed that I had excited them quite a bit and I thought they would get going and take what I had shown them to the next level. But nothing happened.

“In the years that followed, I would demonstrate, write, and gives talks everywhere I could. Yet, it seemed as if what I was saying did not relate to people’s lives in the real world.

“Now I realize that back in those early days I was experiencing the power of mental models, the patterns of thinking known as paradigms.

“It’s a human characteristic to have a firmly held perception of what the world is like, based on what we grew up with and unconsciously assimilated. It’s not something we talk about much or even recognize, so we come to believe ‘that’s the world’.

“When someone starts talking about something that doesn’t fit inside your pre-existing paradigm, it’s just a non-recognizable thing. You don’t understand it. You think they’re talking strangely.

“If the person speaking is a nice guy, you may listen for a while. But pretty soon you stop listening and get irritated. And years later, when you finally start understanding it, you think, If only HE could have explained it better!

“What I was experiencing back then was paradigm blindness and that’s still the biggest challenge we face today. To facilitate change, we have we have to facilitate the evolution of people’s paradigms.”

“That’s why the work that you are doing with GEO — getting people to examine their leadership paradigms — is so important.” ~ Doug Englebart

Paradigm Blindness | GEO Leadership | Leland Russell

Lately, I’ve been hearing serious concern from many leaders. They feel something is fundamentally wrong. They are not mistaken.

Consider these shortfalls in current leadership paradigms:

  • Strategy shortfalls – 67% of leaders say capabilities don’t fully support their strategy; 52% are not confident in their company’s strategy.
  • Execution shortfalls– Over 80% of organizations fail to execute their strategies effectively; CEOs from 40 countries rate “Execution” as their #1 concern.
  • Speed shortfalls – 90% of senior leaders agree that speed is critical to success, but only 40% say that they are moving fast enough. 50% lower operating profit is the result when organizations are outpaced by their competitors.
  • Engagement shortfalls – Only 33% of employees are engaged in their job and 51% are looking for a new job.

What’s wrong? As the Board member of the International Leadership Association pointed out, Clearly, the old paradigms are not working…” 

A paradigm is a way of perceiving the world. 

What happens when our patterns of perception are outdated? Many aspects of the future we knew was coming “someday” may have already arrived and we don’t know it.

A paradigm frames the boundaries of your attention. 

Far too often we are not paying attention to the right things at the right times. We may be focusing on what was important in a world that no longer exists.

A paradigm defines rules for success within the boundaries. 

When we’re paying attention to the wrong things, it’s hard to grasp the new rules for success. It’s like assuming the sport is curling — which moves very slowly — when it’s actually Jai-Alai, the fastest sport in the world with very different rules for success. 

Paradigm Progress: A Timing Problem

GEO Leadership | Paradigm Progress - A Timing Problem | Leland Russell

The paradigms that human beings have used to operate in the world have continually evolved. Paradigm progress, however, has usually occurred gradually and unconsciously over many generations.

But today, in the VUCA New Normal, we are encountering a timing problem. The rate of change has accelerated dramatically. With the volume and velocity of new circumstances, history is being compressed.

Ray Kurzweil, who Forbes magazine called the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison,” says that we have entered the Age of Acceleration.

 “Because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress.”

This unprecedented acceleration is one reason it’s hard to navigate on the new leadership landscape. So much is happening, so fast, in so many different areas, it hard to understand where you should be going. 

Sometimes I feel like the legendary Kentucky frontiersman, Daniel Boone when he asked by a group of reporters if he had ever been lost in the woods. He slyly smiled and replied. “I can’t say I’ve ever been lost, but I was once confused for two whole days.”

With the future on fast-forward, can leaders afford to wait around for gradual paradigm progress? The premise of GEO Leadership is that we cannot. We must be proactive and facilitate faster evolution of leadership paradigms

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Read Next – Convergence: Moving Toward A Master Key

On January 11, 2019, I logged into an online leadership theory discussion.  The first post that appeared was from a young university student in Nigeria. She succinctly summarized some of the endemic problems with leadership and concluded with a question.

There are various leadership styles; and scholars seem to agree that the choice of style depends on context, conditions, and configurations. This makes leadership practice fraught with uncertainties, making leading a function of whim and unpredictable work-place atmospherics.

Couldn’t there be a convergence of styles giving birth to an approach that is applicable across the board — a Master Key that opens all doors?

In the next article, Convergence: Moving Toward A Master Key, we’ll look at some innovative ways to meet a profound challenge.  

 >>> Read Next  Convergence: Moving Toward A Master Key *Will be posted on March 11

Ready to reset your leadership paradigm?

Send me a MESSAGE or Schedule a 30-minute SESSION.

© 2001-2019 Leland Russell | All Rights Reserved

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The following three posts explain why this critical and how we can begin the process.

GEO Leadership | Three Uber ChallengesThree Uber Leadership Challenges provides compelling reasons WHY we need a sense of urgency about paradigm progress:

  • The VUCA New Normal is the perfect storm for leadership. It’s a world that’s more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous than anything we’ve ever experienced.
  • Our Individual Cognitive Capacity has been surpassed. When the amount of information input exceeds our capacity, there is a corresponding decrease in the quality of our critical thinking.
  • A Terminology Tower of Babel exists because there are so many different leadership styles and each tends to employ different terminology. When people use different terminology without effective translating mechanisms, there are communication gaps.

 Leadership | Moving Toward A Master Key | Leland RussellMoving Toward A Master Key was inspired by a young university student in Nigeria. She succinctly summarized some of the endemic problems with leadership today and concluded with a compelling question.

There are various leadership styles; and scholars seem to agree that the choice of style depends on context, conditions, and configurations. This makes leadership practice fraught with uncertainties, making leading a function of whim and unpredictable work-place atmospherics.

Couldn’t there be a convergence of styles giving birth to an approach that is applicable across the board — a Master Key that opens all doors?.

When I read this I immediately wondered, “How might we accomplish this?” I realized that the key takeaways from my three-decade journey to develop GEO Leadership™ would be a good place to start.

Genesis of GEO Leadership | Leland Russell | Intense Learning JourneyThe Genesis of GEO Leadership™ describes the four milestone moments that shaped my thinking about how to move toward a Master Key:

  • Milestone 1 — The GEO Paradigm — Conceiving an innovative way to communicate the mega-forces of change and delivering a widely-acclaimed ‘Knowledge Concert’ to introduce it.
  • Milestone 2 — Unleashing Knowledge at TI  — Driving three strategic projects for Texas Instruments (TI) that had a common purpose: unleash TI’s enormous innovation knowledge base.
  • Milestone 3 — Winning In FastTime® — Co-authoring a strategy book about Desert Storm that was endorsed by top executives, senior military officers, and best-selling authors.
  • Milestone 4 — GEO Group Strategic Services — Founding a consulting firm that has served many exceptional leaders to advance strategy design, accelerate execution, and drive culture change.

Based on what I’ve learned during my milestone moments, I’ve identified some criteria for moving toward a Master Key. I invite you to join the Paradigm Progress Group that will examine and expand this criterion.

 >>> Suggested Next Read Three Uber Leadership Challenges

Join our Paradigm Progress Group. 

Send me a MESSAGE or Schedule a free 1-to-1 SESSION.

© 2001-2019 Leland Russell | All Rights Reserved