It Has Never Been More Important To Act First And Analyze Later

If the past 18 months or so have taught us anything it is that uncertainty is not necessarily as bad as it is painted. Sure, the pandemic has laid waste to certain sectors — notably hospitality and travel — but it has also created plenty of opportunities for upstarts, while fleet-footed incumbents have found that new ways of working, far from being a necessary evil, have made them much more profitable. The truth is that not all businesses in badly-affected industries have failed. Nor have all those in areas that might have been expected to do well prospered. 

The reason, suggests a new book, is that some leaders are more inclined to seize the moment and make the most of a developing trend or a change in consumer behavior. But, for all the talk of business executives being risk-takers, it appears that many are actually somewhat risk-averse, tending to wait and see and to carry out more research and analysis before stepping into action — often after rivals have already made significant progress.

According to Geoff Tuff and Steven Goldbach, this might seem a sensible approach when the landscape is changing fast, but it is in fact the worst thing to do. By “waiting and watching and collecting data, we are constantly wasting our time — using up the one of the only currencies we know of that simply cannot be replaced,” they write in their new book Provoke: How Leaders Shape The Future By Overcoming Fatal Human Flaws

Tuff and Goldbach, consultants with Deloitte, argue that established decision-making models designed to help organisations move quickly — even those associated with such exemplars of boldness as Michael Bloomberg and Mark Zuckerberg — are flawed because of a reliance on gathering information. Instead, using “provoke” in the sense of “provocateur”, they advocate just getting on and doing something. Although, of course, they do not mean just anything. Rather they have five general models of what they call “provoke with purpose.” 

  1. Envision. This is the foundational provocation that allows leaders to see the future or futures that may emerge over time.
  2. Position. Putting the organization in a place where it can take advantage of these merging changes.
  3. Drive. Creating an impact that is advantageous to the organization.
  4. Adapt. Shifting the business model to best fit inevitable outcomes and moving as quickly as possible to create advantage.
  5. Activate. Triggering a network or knock-on effect that stands the highest chance of leading to an organization’s desired outcome.


Written and published as the world grapples with the twin threats of the pandemic and climate change — itself a sign of how drastically things have changed since the days of long drawn-out publication schedules — the book uses the race to develop vaccines against the virus and the drive for decarbonization as examples of how society’s views and governmental action can completely change the playing field. And Tuff and Goldbach press home their case for action by suggesting that leaders look for the new options and opportunities that will be created rather than getting “hung up” on factors that would previously have been felt to be outside their control.

This emphasis on positivity is also brought to mind by Rule Of The Robots, the latest book from the futurist Martin Ford, who won the Financial Times/McKinsey Book of the Year award in 2015 with Rise of the Robots. Some might find the sub-title, “How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Everything” rather chilling. But the truth is, as Ford points out, the technology is already on the march. Machine learning has helped fight the pandemic and is assisting with all sorts of medical diagnoses. But it also has its dark side, strengthening authoritarian regimes’ ability to control their citizens and enabling the rapid spread of false news. It is also going to continue to have a dramatic effect on employment, wiping out many jobs that — while routine and rather dull — were often the stepping stones to more interesting roles in such sectors as the law and financial services. 

Ensuring that AI is more a force for good than for bad is likely to be one of the fundamental challenges of the coming years. And, to adopt the thinking of Tuff and Goldbach, leaders of all sorts are going to have to rise to it. In his conclusion, Ford suggests that “the future we build may ultimately fall somewhere on a spectrum bounded by two fictional extremes.” At one end — the most optimistic — is the television show Star Trek, which suggests “a post-scarcity world” in which advanced technology has created material abundance, eliminated poverty, addressed environmental concerns and cured most disease. At the other is a more dystopian world closer to The Matrix. Ford writes: “My fear is not that artificial intelligence will somehow enslave us, but rather that the real world might become so unequal, and so lacking in opportunity for most typical people to advance their prospects, that a large fraction of the population will choose to escape into alternative realities.” As he continues, this situation — and there are signs in the amount of time many young men are spending playing video games that it is not so far off — poses all sorts of problems for society, ranging from how individuals can support themselves to the role of education. As a result, leaders will need to “craft explicit policies designed to shift our trajectory” away from The Matrix and towards Star Trek.

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