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Spotting 50 Stars In Seriously Long-term Innovation

Submitted by: John Elkington

Posted: Oct 18, 2011 – 05:34 PM EST

Series: The Future Quotient

Tags: future quotient, fq, sustainability, leadership, csr, innovation, future generations


By John Elkington[1]

Future Quotient 3 (third in a 3-part series)

“We are on a journey,” CEOs like to say as they sign up to the sustainability agenda. What they often mean is the outlines of the enterprise are vague, the destination unclear, the captain and crew distracted, and the sailing date still to be agreed. But the business leaders who feature among our 50 high Future Quotient Stars mean something very different where they use the phrase.

Because the second article in this series appeared just before we launched the report, we couldn’t include the URL for those wanting to test their own Future Quotient. Now, before we do anything else, to take the test, click here. You will get instant feedback on where you fit in—and we will report back on the overall results as the responses build.

So, based on our findings to date, what are the characteristics we need to adopt to ensure new, stretched, future-friendly forms of leadership? We asked 500 expert respondents what qualities enable thinking and acting on stretched time-scales. When we crunched the numbers, strong patterns began to emerge – and, ultimately, seven key themes surfaced. Our respondents suggested that high-FQ leaders know how to navigate what we call the 7Cs. So, among other things, they:

  1. Demonstrate a strong CHANGE orientation
  2. Leaders need a capacity both to scan 360-degree horizons and focus down like a laser on critically important priorities. They understand the risk posed by the ‘Chasm’ described in our report. They are driven to change the current order. If they are CEOs, they see beyond the bottom line. If politicians, they operate beyond normal electoral cycles. But the critical point is they take their investors, customers, employees or voters along with them – to the point where they ask for more change, not less.

    Keywords: Values, Empathy, Passion, Purpose.

    An example from our FQ50: the X Prize Foundation, whose motto is ‘Making the Impossible Possible,’ with its extraordinary stretch targets for its competitions.

  3. Remain intensely CURIOUS
  4. In times of change, successful – and useful – C-suite members are likely to have a voracious appetite for new ideas, for new conversations and for different ways of doing old things—or new things to be done.

    Keywords: Openness, Playful, Understanding.

    Janine Benyus, who champions biomimicry, is one leading example of a high-FQ individual spotlighted in the FQ50.

  5. Experiment with new ways to be COLLABORATIVE
  6. Bestsellers tell us success comes from being connected, being collaborative, tapping into society’s “cognitive surplus”—or willingness to contribute to open source methods for developing solutions. Successful leaders are as good on internal collaboration as they are on external forms—and at linking the two.

    Keywords: Connected, Generous, Networked.

    One of the most remarkable examples we identified here is Ushadidi, which uses open-source software to collect and visualize data, empowering East Africans as citizens.

  7. Inspire others to be COURAGEOUS
  8. System change demands immense courage, sustained over long timescales. High-FQ leaders have courage and stamina, plus an ability to adapt when necessary. They also motivate others to follow their lead.

    Keywords: Focused, Patient, Risk-tolerant.

    Here one of our key entries was one I championed, James Lovelock, for his tenacious, brave, decades-long work on the Gaia Theory.

  9. Play into CREATIVE destruction and renewal
  10. Low-FQ leaders are the victims of the processes of creative destruction mapped out by economists like Joseph Schumpeter. Their high-FQ competitors, by contrast, understand the macro-economic trends, the lessons of history and the drivers in the sustainability agenda that will reshape global markets.

    Keywords: Ideas, Optimism.

    One of the 50 Stars here is Jeremy Grantham, an investor who co-founded Boston-based asset management firm GMO. His views on the long-term aspects of our economies and natural resources are must-reads.

  11. Are comfortable with CROSS-GENERATIONAL timeframes
  12. Generational agendas come in many forms. They differ for product designers and for animal breeders, for family businesses and pension funds. There are natural selection processes in most long-sighted sectors that ensure a better alignment of the business with the interests of stakeholders, and lessons can be learned and transferred to other sectors.

    Keywords: Having children, Legacy, Long-termist.

    Here a favourite is DSM, which through DSM NEXT is providing its Gen Y employees with a platform to pool and act on their ideas linking innovation and sustainability.

  13. Work to co-evolve the CULTURAL context
  14. Changing mindsets is tough, but changing behaviors is almost impossible at times unless you also change cultures. That is what a growing number of pioneers are attempting. Done well, this takes us several steps towards paradigm change.

    Keywords: Analytical, Systemic Thinking, Vision.

    Here it was hard not to fall for The Elders, launched by Nelson Mandela and championed by Richard Branson. A prototype of intergenerational working, it convenes senior political leaders to support peace initiatives.

Clearly, the best leadership decisions play across many – or all – of these dimensions. To take just one striking recent example, recall the decision of 200 Japanese pensioners to volunteer to begin the cleanup at the Fukushima power station[2]. Made up of retired professionals, the ‘Skilled Veterans Corps’ clearly think long term, arguing they should be facing the radioactive risks, not younger people, because they would be more likely to die of natural causes before the cancer risks told. Such forms of collaboration and cross-generational sensitivity are deeply cultural, which is why the cultural dimensions of change are critically important.

As you view the 50 Stars (Pages 28-31, here), think of them as the sort of pattern you might see when you shake a kaleidoscope of brilliant crystals. It would be fascinating to see what would happen if we shook the kaleidoscope in different parts of the world—or with different age groups.

We, too, are on a journey. We plan to further develop the Future Quotient platform, hopefully in partnership with a growing range of other organizations, including CSRwire. And, in the spirit of Alan Kay’s dictum, that “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” we aim to help evolve new constellations of high-FQ talent and resources. All suggestions very welcome.

About John Elkington

John Elkington is Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Volans (http://www.volans.com) and Co-Founder and Non-Executive Director at SustainAbility (http://www.sustainability.com).

His latest book is The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier (Earthscan/Taylor & Francis) to be published April 2012.

He blogs at http://www.johnelkington.com and http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/sustainability-with-john-elkington and tweets at @volansjohn.

[1] The author thanks his co-authors on the report, Charmian Love of Volans and Alastair Morton of JWT. He also thanks four partner organizations: Atkins, The Dow Chemical Company, MindTime Technologies and The Shell Foundation.

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13598607

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