We are heading towards a ‘relational economy’. But the smart leaders already know this and it is reflected in the way they think about the world and in particular, the way they lead and do business.

Alvin Toffler once said that, ‚The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn‛.
Toffler was right.
However, the attitudes and actions that need to be engaged in order to ‘learn, unlearn and relearn’ are certainly easier said (or written) than practiced. For leaders whose position, status and reputation hinges on their knowledge and experience, instinct dictates that it is easier to defend their hard-won position than to embark on journeys of new learning and discovery. For most, the security of certainty, predictability and measurability trumps the insecurity of uncertainty. Up until now, the belief that tomorrow will resemble yesterday has dominated business mindsets as evidenced in the typical structures and strategies to be found in most large corporations.
In such environments, talk of departure from the known to the unknown, from the tried and tested to the unproven, carries little appeal and does not warrant serious consideration. All the more so when bottom line success dominates current reality. ‘Why change?’ is an obvious response and who hasn’t heard the often quoted, but very Newtonian thinking adage, ‘you don’t change a winning team / formula’ or put another way, ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’. It is well documented that often today’s success becomes tomorrow’s barrier. The equation becomes one that states that the greater the current success, the greater is the resistance to change. It was Einstein who eluded to the fact that today’s thinking could not be relied on to solve tomorrow’s problems. Yet very often leadership is guilty of discouraging and ignoring ‘fringe’ thinking and those who think out-the-box. Such people are often labeled ‘disruptive’ (and they can be) and are seen as ‘difficult to manage’ (and they usually are).
The undeniable truth is that tomorrow will not resemble today.
We find ourselves in an era where change arrives without warning and is of such a nature that it can, with debilitating speed, threaten the very foundations of entire companies, even industries. In the light of this reality, the only recourse left for businesses is to become more human. Thomas Petzinger Jr, in his excellent book, The New Pioneers, states that, ‚Businesses that fail to engage the eyes, ears, minds, and emotions of every individual in the organization will find themselves overrun by obsolescence or crushed by competition‛ (p25)
Finding the motivation and courage to embark on such a journey becomes easier when there is an understanding that change is needed. Of course it also helps to know what that change is and how to go about it!
The initial clues to understanding this emerging new relational economy, and how best to take advantage of the opportunities it offers, are concealed in the imprints left by our footsteps that marked our trail from the earliest of days.
From the earliest agrarian societies through to the information age, mankind has always sought to employ ‘machines’ to undertake work on our behalf. This trend began the first time a stone was used to crush some intended meal or used to ignite a spark. It continued when we in spanned animals to pull the ploughs, hoist the water or watch the herds. By the eighteenth century scientific gains enabled us to put machinery to work in our stead. Muscle power began to take a backseat as different sources of energy where found and increasingly sophisticated mechanisms developed that could take advantage of wind, coal, steam, oil, solar and nuclear energy. In the latter part of the previous century computers were next to encroach on our work as the tasks reserved for our brains and our senses became automated. No longer reserved for the routine and mundane tasks, computers today perform surgery, fly planes, guide missiles, control traffic, monitor and regulate individuals within society and so the list could go on.
However, one thing that ‘artificial intelligence’ cannot do for us is the development and maintenance of relationships. The actual connection points, the human networks and stories which makes us human. As a result these will increasingly become the prized business currency and index of tomorrow.
There are two predominant change drivers underpinning this transition.
Firstly, there is the unprecedented ‘invasion’ into the market place of a new breed of worker.
These are individuals who do not resemble past generations. They reflect a different worldview and their behaviour is driven by unfamiliar (and for those older, confusing) values. They don’t follow the ‘old’ rules; they display different criteria for work and loyalty; they ask different questions and exhibit disconcerting independence; they don’t seem to respond to the traditional methods of motivation and rewards. We know this ‘new breed’ as ‘Generation X’ and ‘Generation Y’ (also known as the Millennial Generation). These two generations (currently between the ages of 0 � 35) have grown up in a world of increasing technological development, the realization of the global village, the development of globalization as a world system, the ever pervasive internet and ready access to information.
As a result of this new generational influx into the market place, leadership in particular and how work is managed / organized in general, needs to be radically re-thought and ultimately ‘re-practiced’. Now, as never before, leadership and business is being examined for its relational aspects.
Secondly, is the new way of seeing and understanding our universe and subsequently, the organization.
The new sciences have triggered fundamental revisions. Scientists have been discovering a world of bizarre paradox and ambiguity; a world of dynamic connectedness and relationship; a world that challenges beliefs about objective measurements; a world where the great creative force is chaos.
As a result our concept of organizations is rapidly moving away from the Newtonian mechanistic creations of the past towards new models that hold this new understanding of the universe of which we are a part. Evidence of this can be seen in the emergence of what has become known as systems thinking.
Systems thinking � seeing the ‘big picture,’ had its contemporary roots in the ecology movement of the 1960’s but it wasn’t until the 1990’s that it put its roots down in the business world as well. Whereas Newtonian thinking sought understanding by taking things apart � the process of analysis; systems thinking seeks understanding by putting things together � the process of synthesis. This holistic worldview is better understood and lived by those emerging generations already mentioned. In the same way that the possibilities (and challenges!) of technology find a more compatible home with them than they do with their older counterparts, so too this systems worldview or understanding. For Generation X and Y no ‘paradigm shift’ is necessary.
The signs are unmistakable that we are moving towards an economy in which relational assets are not merely noted in the CEO’s report, but one in which they are recognized as core to business success, and appropriately recognized and measured. It would be na�ve to belief that current ways of doing business could ‘survive’ these twin changes of the new generation and understanding of how the universe works. In the same way that Newtonian thinking left its mark on both the people and practice of business, so too will these contemporary forces laser-mark their imprint. It is the astute and wise that recognize this and begin to adapt, change and work with the new rather than strive to preserve and entrench the past.
In this age of adaptation there can be no set play, no cast-iron strategy, and no endgame. There is only what comes next and how we respond, shape it and live in it.
This could be the best news yet for leaders � or the worst news ever!

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