Part 3—Bits & Atoms
In Part 1 of this 7-part series we looked at VUCA, its origins and meaning, and how it relates to Agile leadership. The speed and interdependence of events in today’s world will ultimately overwhelm the time-honored processes and culture we’ve so far built. Once comforting constants are transforming into variables that defy predictability and challenge traditional models of leadership and management.
In this part, we’ll look at the chief drivers of VUCA: the movement of bits and atoms.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that one of the primary drivers propelling us up the Toffler Curve is technology. And the technological advancement that pushed us vertical is the internet and the hyper-mix of disruption that the ubiquitous availability of this technology enables.
Anyone, anywhere, can connect and interact with anyone, anywhere—at the speed of light.
Data, in all of its states and forms can be created/shared/stolen/acted upon by anyone, anywhere, at the speed of light. This hyper-mix includes virtual equivalent of physical stuff, such as:
- Ownership of property of any kind.
- Public information, and public information that should be private.
- Private information, and private information that should be public,
- Classified information.
- Missions, visions and values.
- Goals and objectives and strategies and tactics and plans and budgets.
- Intellectual property.
- ad infinitum…
Interestingly, perhaps more potently, and certainly more dangerously, this hyper-mix includes a plethora of emotional content; such as:
- Retrospection and rationalization, and rationalization disguised as retrospection.
- Love and hate.
- Promises and lies.
- Inspiration and degradation.
- Hope and despair.
- Safety and danger, and danger disguised as safety.
- Dreams and nightmares.
- Joy and sorrow.
- Humor and cruelty, and cruelty disguised as humor.
- Pleasure and pain.
- Facts and falsehoods, and falsehoods disguised as facts.
- Information and speculation, and speculation disguised as information.
- Helpfulness and manipulation, and manipulation disguised as helpfulness,
- Lies, and lies disguised as facts.
- Beliefs, and beliefs disguised as facts.
- Clarity and confusion, and confusion disguised as clarity.
- Integrity and hypocrisy.
- Honesty and obfuscation.
- Civility and meanness.
- Charity and scams.
- Confidence and fear.
- Strengths and weaknesses.
- Opportunities and threats.
- Calls to action.
- ad infinitum…
Both a valuable library and an infinite dumpster, and always a distorted social mirror, the internet is no place for the ignorant or naïve. It is no place for those who are intellectually dependent, emotionally dependent, or spiritually dependent (which we will explore in Part 7).
Another driver propelling us vertical is global logistics systems. While the ability to move bits has become ubiquitous, we can now also move atoms anywhere in the world. We can’t yet move atoms at the speed of light, but thanks to multi-modal transportation, third party logistics providers (3PL’s), like FedEx and UPS, and private behemoths, like Amazon and Walmart, retailers and consumers can get a box full of atoms from pretty much any Point-A to any Point-B overnight, 2 or 3 nights for the really tough cases.
And let us not forget the global supply chains that manufacturers and distributors have established, allowing them to: design products in any number of places on the planet; source materials from any number of places on the planet; fabricate parts and create subassemblies in any number of places on the planet; design and create packaging in any number of places on the planet; create and package final assemblies and end items from any number of places on the planet; and distribute them to stores, dealerships, or directly to consumers, no matter where they may be on the planet.
Finally, there is the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which, in my opinion, people are too quick to dismiss or malign. As old school as it may be, for 55-cents, I can drop off a 1-ounce letter at any one of a gazillion locations throughout the country, and in a couple of days it will be delivered precisely to whichever of another gazillion unique addresses I happened to specify. And in 2019, the USPS did this with just south of 150-billion pieces. This still amazes me.
Agile Leadership & Multi-Modal Hyper-Mix
The ubiquity of the internet for moving bits, global logistics systems for moving atoms, and the multi-modal hyper-mix it all enables, conspires to create the need for Agile leadership for two reasons. First, the internet, global logistics systems, and the multi-modal hyper-mix it all enables are amoral. Second, while data can now move at the speed of light, and physical goods can move overnight, wisdom still moves at only about 1 mile-per-hour. Such a multi-dimensional world screams for Agile leadership.
Part 4: Simple vs. Complicated vs. Complex.