Monday, 9 November 2015

"Wicked problems", the most important problems a business has.

Dr. Patricia Seemann is a Swiss surgeon and the founder of The 3am Group, with a specialty like no-one else. Her unique expertise is diagnosing and treating the most complicated and intractable issues that plague large global corporations … the “Wicked Problems” that, left unaddressed, can endanger the entire enterprise. She is a former member of the Group Management Board of a major financial services firm and has 15 years of experience in helping CEO identify and deal with “Wicked Problems.” She will be addressing those issues in a keynote presentation at #MCE55 Event in Brussels in April 2016 (19-20 April 2016).  

MCE: Does EVERYONE, no matter how driven, successful, ruthless, or misunderstood genius they may be, have that 3 a.m. trauma in their make-up? Why ? and what is it ?

Patricia Seemann (PS): Some will claim they don’t. The idea is to project complete command over everything. As one guy told me: If I were losing sleep, it would reflect a lack of competence on my side. Vulnerability isn’t in the make-up of conventional leaders. They don’t know that there is a whole bunch of stuff they don’t know. Which is what makes them so dangerous.

In a recent paper, two journalists interviewed about 60 leaders (government, military, corporate) who all agreed that Leadership is failing because individuals cannot have the answers anymore. The word has become unknowable.
What keeps them awake? Some things never change: where do I get real talent from? How can I get my team to play nice, etc. Today it is also a kind of impostor syndrome, feeling deep down that they aren’t up to the job. The thing is, in a way nobody is.

You can help but helping them acknowledge that having the answer is no longer the requisite or even possible skill. What is critical is the ability to ask the right questions and to draw on the collective intelligence of the firm. That of course predicates a very different leadership model

MCE: Can YOU cure them of these night time bogeymen the “something” lurking in the shadows ?

PS: I don’t know whether curing is possible, but certainly helping the cope, yes.

MCE: Does guilt, unfulfilled dreams, unrequited ambition and the need to be top dog play a key part and should certain behaviours act as a warning flag? Can YOU do anything about it?

PS: Well, Carly Fiorina had a larger-than-life portrait hung in the lobby of HP. I think that is a pretty clear signal that she has a problem. Would I have been able to change that, probably now, because she wouldn’t seek counsel from people like me. Of course all the things you point to can and do play a role. I cannot change deep rooted character traits. But what I can do is show them how working on some of their behaviours is to their advantage.

MCE: We’ve seen a whole slew of M and A’ s seriously derail because tough CEOs want to empire-build to the exclusion of all rationality. Will that always be there, or is it inherent in the “beast” that is the 21st Century CEO?

PS:Certainly! But it is also the inability to think in non-linear, messy ways. People assume that doubling the size of the firm doubles complexity, in fact it increases on a logarhythmic scale. They also rarely understand the notion of company as social systems with deeply tribal characteristics. Tribes really don’t like to be brought together.  Note also the role of the bankers. They can make any deal look compelling good on paper. The numbers are always pretty. But they do not reflect reality, because that is grounded in humanness, not numbers. And finally scale means something very different in a knowledge economy than if you are producing bricks.

MCE: Finally, If you had to say (or gently whisper) one word or phrase to a CEO with his or her eyes wide open at 3 a.m., what would it be?

P S: Build a company that’s smarter than you Then you can rely on it.


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