Leading in the 4th Education Revolution
Central Leadership Retreat
June 2018
The future has arrived! We have entered the age of the
4th Industrial
Revolution, a future that is distinguished by a symbiosis of the physical, biological
and information world. In this new era, the quality of an individual, an organisation or
a product, will be determined not by the quality of the atoms but the value of its bits.
For example, the price of a laptop will depend not on its hardware price, but the
value of the owner’s contents.
There is every probability that the age of singularity may happen by 2040.
This is a tipping point when machine-intelligence is expected to exceed human
intelligence, and give rise to the majority becoming the useless class, a category of
people who will have no economic value, and, therefore, no employability. This is
also the time when the laws of physics and biology may cease to exist.
The world is already being characterised by four life-altering changes:
AI, automation and machine-thinking.
VUCA and the “Black Swan effect.”
High speed acceleration with no time to pause, reflect,
and make meaningful connections. Even time is accelerating. Long-term is no loner
100 years but 20 years.
Obsolescence in jobs. By 2032, about 47 % of today’s jobs will disappear.
Leadership Trends
The average tenure of business leaders is 4 years. Of these, 80 % fail to
impress in the first year, and 70 % remain stressed throughout their tenure. In a
VUCA world there is no time for apprenticeship or to wait and watch, and figure out
what to do. Leaders will have only
90 days to establish their credibility and
acceptability in their new job. So hit the road running, and refine plans as you go
along. Or else!
In view of the complexity and messiness of problems, no one person has the
expertise to solve them. We are witnessing the growing importance of teams that are
heterogeneous and multidisciplinary - people with different experiences and different
points of view. Even heroic leaders will have to depend on the power of their teams,
because talent is in the team, and not in individuals any longer.
So far we have witnessed a male-dominated leadership culture. We are now
witnessing the rising importance of women in leadership roles. In view of their
involvement with family commitments, they are unable to follow the traditional male
linear route. It does not suit women; we must, therefore, prepare for alternatives.
A revival and acceptance of the vital importance of liberal education, not
merely in school, but even during one’s life. Liberal education goes beyond the
narrow confines of liberal arts, and bestows:
Value systems.
Ethical consequences of our actions.
Civic engagement by way of social responsibility.
Competencies to flourish in the 21st century.
It is time teachers to develop cognitive fitness and look after their mental
health due to increasing workload and acceleration in a VUCA world. Teachers today
are under severe stress, and this impairs their ability to:
Raise self-esteem
Be creative
Engage students effectively
Balance home and work-life
Openness to new ideas and perspectives
Reskill themselves
New Leadership Model
Compelling Vision
Vision is the fountainhead of new age leadership; regrettably, its strategic
advantage has not been grasped. We continue with instant-coffee planning and
knee-jerk reactions to situations. Vision is the single most important attribute for
success. While everything changes, the vision remains constant.
Vision is not a destination, but a journey to excellence, to success, to purpose
and meaning in life, to happiness. Mandela once said that action without vision is
time-pass; and vision without action is daydreaming.
It is unrealistic in a real-world to expect every leader to have a vision. The
next best alternative is to have a belief system or life principles. So while we may not
be moving on a given bearing, we are at least moving in the right direction. The
question we should be asking is: do I have a belief system and do I practise it in life
and at work.
A compelling vision is a leader’s philosophy of life and work. It provides:
Direction and destination, and describes the desired legacy
an institution must have.
Focus for subordinates on the critical few (20%), and manage the trivia (80%).
Motivation to the leader and his teams to overcome challenges.
A deep sense of belongingness with the organisation.
Posting the vision on websites, offices and in corridors is not enough. The
leader must share its understanding and relevance continuously, ensure its
application; and role-model its core values.
In order to be visionary, 4th Age leaders will need a radar, a compass and a
trusted crew. Armed with these three essentials, as captains of their ships, they do
not have to retreat into the safety of sheltered harbours when tsunami strikes.
Instead, they can sail through the storm to the opposite shore.
Culture of Innovation
In an age dominated by VUCA and the Black Swan effect, innovation is the #
1 leadership competency, to succeed and flourish in life and at work. The future of
innovation is no longer limited to solving life-altering problems creatively, or
designing new products. The future of innovation belongs to platforms and not
products. This explains why Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon are the lead
innovators today. Platform thinking must, therefore, be at the top of your creativity
agenda. This is where the magic lies.
A point that has been missed out in nearly all the literature on innovation, is
that, unless senior leaders in a company are innovative, innovation will remain a
pipe-dream. You have to make a determined and conscious effort to build your
capacity for innovation. Those who do not possess high levels of empathy, creativity,
critical-thinking and risk-taking - key components of innovation, will find life and work
a struggle. There are other formidable challenges too: changing our hierarchical
culture, the fear of failure, a risk-averse society, reluctance to be team players; and
above all, building a culture of dissent for openness and inclusivity in the teams and
organisations you lead.
Culture of Dissent
Most organisations do not even attempt to think because they are afraid of
conflict, and not because they cannot think together. 42 % start-ups fail because
they make products nobody wants. 90 % companies enforce conformity, and 85 %
executives have issues and concerns, but are afraid to raise them - afraid of conflict,
afraid of losing the argument. Most disasters happen not because we did not have
enough information; rather we did not have the moral courage to act.
The new challenge is daunting: how do we develop thinking leaders, thinking
organisations and thinking societies? We must a build a healthy culture of dissent,
as it challenges one’s thinking, and helps in building consensus.
Developing and Nurturing Talent
There is nothing ready-made in life; ready-made parents, ready-made
children, ready-made spouses, ready-made whatever. To remain competitive, one
must invest in future talent. Man is born potential; he becomes talent. Leaders will
have to identify, develop and nurture talent within their organisations. While selecting
persons for higher positions and greater opportunities, the selection of individuals
should be based upon their potential. The following checklist will help in the selection
Learnability, growth mind-set, and openness to brutal feedback.
Critical thinking and desirably creativity.
Team player.
Grit and resilience.
Given rapid knowledge and job obsolescence, continuous re-skilling will be
the order of the day, and shall primarily be the individual’s responsibility. With
decreasing importance of formal education, and rising eminence of informal and non-
formal education, self-directed and on-the-job learning are paramount.
The key objectives of developing and nurturing talent will be:
Possessing an entrepreneurial mindset, with innovation as
the capstone foundation.
Having an independent point of view.
How to do forward and contingency planning to cope with VUCA
And Black Swan situations.
Acquiring the ability to Think 2-up and Act 1-up.
Building Organisations for Speed
A question on which everyone must reflect is whether their organisation is
built for speed. Responses in a VUCA situation have to be much faster than in
normal conditions, because disruption is happening faster than what we can cope
with. In the new scenario, the winner takes it all. There are no prizes for coming 2nd;
and coming 3rd and 4this irrelevant.
High-speed responses are possible provided all leaders and managers are
trained in:
A directive-style of command,
wherein the leader’s higher intent,
the ’why” of organisational goals, is shared 2-down.
Intuitive decision-making,
as opposed to deliberate, logical and reasoned thinking.
Algorithmic processing of big data and rapid decision-making.
A flat structure organisation that lends itself to decentralised
decision-making, and real-time 360feedback.
Working as teams in an information-transparent environment.
Anticipatory thinking: Scenario planning and contingency plans.
Leading Through Chaos
In a VUCA age, all organisations are in a start-up state.
We must accept that chaos is a natural phenomenon. We are born in chaos;
we live in chaos; and we die in chaos. VUCA is chaos. A chaos does not have to
happen because of a Big Bang. Edward Lorenz describes chaos theory as the
butterfly effect. A small change in the initial conditions of a situation can result in
large unseen and unrelated upheaval at a completely different location. Namely, if a
butterfly flaps its wings somewhere in Japan, it could result in a tornado in the Gulf of
In the 4th Revolution, chaos is the new normal, and the challenge for all
leaders is how does one achieve excellence and high performance while operating
through chaos? The best strategies for leaders to deal with chaos will be to practise
the following:
Accept chaos is normal, and be worried if the surface of the sea is calm.
Hold on to the magnetic bearings of your vision to see through the chaos,
and navigate forward. While everything will change, the vision shall remain
Never lose sight of the big picture, the ‘why’ of what you are doing.
In every order there is disorder and in every disorder there is order. Try
and identify the order by developing the habit of pattern recognition, and
avoid focusing on single events.
Leaders must be mentally robust to sustain high performance and achieve
one’s goals whilst under stress.
While nurturing talent, it is desirable to artificially inseminate chaos. The
best talent emerges only out of struggle.
Warrior Leaders
The fundamental difference between well-established organisations and start-
ups, is the difference between peacetime generals and wartime generals. During
peacetime you don’t need a Patton, a Rommel or a MacArthur. The peacetime
general is keen on motivating his troops, training, delegating and getting promoted.
On the other hand, the wartime general is determined on winning.
New Age leaders are warriors - wartime generals:
They lead from the front.
Manage change on a daily basis.
Think strategically - the big picture.
Share their intent two levels down.
Innovation to deceive and surprise the enemy
(in this case, the competition)
Less talk and more execution.
Less business, more products.
A coach and a mentor.
Pursuit of Excellence
There is no such thing as perfection; perfection is an unattainable goal. The
only perfect state is death. The only perfect person is an imperfect person. The
alternative to perfection is excellence; a habit, a way of life.
Excellence is the new religion because nobody is average or normal.The word
average is a myth, a mathematical fact, and a divine belief in most religions. Each
human being is unique, and has an identity (although many may not have discovered
it so far). The reality is that we are individuals; we have been evolving as atoms, as
bits for the past 50,000 years. We are evolving in every single facet - genes, IQ,
knowledge, competencies, potential, and talent. The concept of average, therefore,
destroys talent.
What is Excellence?
In brief; excellence is a spiritual experience. Purpose
(not profit) drives
- gives meaning to life. In turn, meaning makes one restless; thus
creativity is born and gives re-birth to an individual.
Excellence is not a goal, but a journey for continuous improvement. The
Japanese call it kaizen, the desire to do better than yesterday. An easy example that
comes to mind is Steve Bubka, the Ukrainian, who broke his world record in pole-
vaulting 35 times. On his own he kept of raising the bar till he could not raise it any
higher. A true seeker of excellence keeps asking himself/herself everyday: How can I
improve by 1 percent every month, a concept described as the “aggregation of
marginal gains.”
Excellence is scaling the peak, overcoming a challenging goal. When you
conquer a peak, you conquer yourself. You become self-aware.
Excellence is not just about one’s self; it is also to make others excellent too.
The Excellence Mindset
Those who strive for excellence, do it regardless of benefit, rewards and
incentives. They are inspired beyond profit, and are purpose-driven. Purpose gives
them meaning and happiness to their life. The practitioners of excellence are
characterized by:
Achieving mastery by raising the bar continuously.
Taking up challenging goals.
Willingness to pay the price for excellence, by sacrificing what is most
precious to them - time, money and relationships.
Building an Eco-system for Excellence in Schools
There is a general belief, with some exceptions that, mass systems go against
the notion of excellence. This is not true. For example, in schools, it is possible to
build an eco-system for academic rigour by:
Adherence to systems and processes
Predictive data analytics that enable early intervention.
Developing a growth-mindset where students are praised for the effort
they put in, rather than praise them for their intelligence.
Student-teacher feedback.
1 % improvement every month, i.e., 9% in one year.
Data will be the greatest asset in the 4th Revolution. Those who control data
will be able to:
Hack human brains in order to manipulate people’s thinking, and
keep ahead of one’s competitors.
Create algorithms to know who we are and what we are thinking and
As future leaders you must start designing strategies on:
How to access data ethically?
How to generate personal data to know yourself better, and improve
your quality of life.
What type of data will enable you to establish a legacy, not by doing
the same thing over and over again, but by designing your
organisations to adapt to high-speed change and quick response in
VUCA situations.
Leaders need to change their traditional ways of leading, personal re-
skilling, and managing their organisations. Future leaders are designers. They
continuously re-design themselves and their organisations to survive and
succeed in in VUCA and Black Swan scenarios.
A changed outlook on leadership is vital to being, becoming and
belonging to New Age changes, goal-setting and achieving.