Want A Framework to Thrive in the VUCA World?

By Benedict Paramanand

2422

Everyone was relieved that the Covid pandemic’s third wave passed without much pain and started preparing to adapt to the ‘new normal.’  But news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has come as a big jolt.  

A fourth Covid wave is being predicted and the climate crisis of severe heat and heavy rains are at our door steps. While these make it to headlines, a more powerful and sinister disruption is taking place right under our nose. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, metaverse and blockchain are sending everyone’s lives, jobs, studies and businesses into a tizzy. Where does one go for advice, for mentorship, for guidance and for a playbook, at these challenging times? 

Dr. Aravind Chinchure’s book The New Age Organization: How to Navigate Rapid Disruption & Lead in the Fourth Industrial Revolution plays all these roles pretty well. Although the title looks pretty weighty, it is surprisingly an easy read. It is power-packed with what entrepreneurs and business leaders should not do, and what they can do, to not only survive but also thrive in the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, chaotic and ambiguous) age.

The author’s hands-on experience in blue-chip organizations across continents as a scientist with four patents in his name, as a senior executive in MNCs and at Reliance, as a mentor at a renowned start-up accelerator, and lately, an academic who reimagined curriculum at a top business school, has helped him write this book as a first-person account. The book is full of anecdotes and relates to stories of leaders who have resurrected their companies from near death scenarios.  

This is a management book without the ‘management bias’. It looks at what’s working for leaders who dared to reinvent their companies and makes a case as to why they are worth emulating. It’s a rich abridged case book of multiple organizations and tells the reader why they are where they are today. Microsoft, Amazon, Reliance, Apple, Zoho, owe their success to business leaders who are at the helm today. Dr. Chinchure captures their leadership traits elegantly.

Framework for the Future

While this book is a rich repository of past and present leadership wisdom, the book’s centre-piece is about showing a strategic roadmap about what could work, and what will not, given the trends that are shaping the world today.

The emergence of defining trends like green consumerism, climate crisis, sustainability as a strategic imperative, decarbonization, and how to respond to them, is at the heart of the book. He bases his understanding on late management guru C K Prahalad, who predicted more than a decade ago that Sustainability would drive innovation in the 21st century. Re-imaging the very idea of profit is crucial for future organizations for ensuring long-term sustainability.

Dr. Chinchure predicts that future employees, unlike now or in the immediate past, “will come from diverse sectors like economics, humanities, and design because industry boundaries will surely blur and all sectors will see the effects of automation.” To him, multi-skilled employees will be the key to success of firms.

His contribution to MBA education is significant. Instead of MBA graduates lining up in front of corporations, he imagined them to be job providers instead. He introduced an MBA course on innovation and entrepreneurship at Symbiosis Institute of Management, Pune in 2014. It is said to be a big hit.

Most business or management books are a difficult read because they are prescriptive self-help books for managers/leaders and are loaded with jargon and quotes. Even the case studies in them look like force-fits. This book is a fun read, too.

To top scientist Dr. R A Mashelkar, the author’s most persuasive contribution is his emphasis on ‘systems-of-systems’ thinking for meeting rising customer expectations. This is a big leap from pure platform or systems approach to problem-solving.

One of the biggest challenges for managers and leaders is acquiring effective communication skills in an atmosphere where technology and human coexist as near equals. This will be a big business opportunity for those who can teach these skills. Leaders and managers will also need heavy doses of empathy and emotional intelligence to succeed in tomorrow’s workplace. A holistic approach to skilling that includes tech, human and innovation skills will give companies the edge.

Interestingly, the new paradigm, according to Dr. Chinchure, is that, “An automated workplace must not be envisioned as a cold, cruel place where machines have ousted us. In fact, it must be a workplace where technology augments humans, enabling the workforce to build on their existing capabilities and develop more. Future-facing organizations have already actioned programs to help human workforce enhance their ‘human’ capabilities.”

The author deftly fuses his experience as a top scientist and a senior business executive to showcase his unique understanding of the interplay of new technology and human capabilities. This blend shows up as a framework which leaders can refer to while making critical decisions. As Desh Deshpande says in his praise for the book, “I would recommend anyone who wants to lead in the 21st century to read The New Age Organization, not only to gain insights and examples, but also to pick up actionable ideas on how to do it.”

With a title like The New Age Organization I expected the book to be spattered with tech or geek language. I tried to pick a hole or two in the book, but couldn’t. This book is an essential read for anyone who aspires to thrive in these uncertain times.

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