Leadership X.0
01 March 2020

Innovation promotes both, creation and destruction. When it affects connections and interdependences among individuals, innovation revolutionizes the reference context by making it VUCA. 

“Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction”
P. Picasso

“The best way to predict your future is to create it”
P. F. Drucker

This article introduces innovation in its broadest sense and scope of application as the introduction of something new. We highlight how each innovation has a dual nature: creative and destructive. With this we mean to highlight that together with the creation of something new, each innovation prompts the destruction of something else. When introduced in a VUCA context (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), innovation also alters the interdependencies between the agents by creating some new and destroying some old interdependences. The VUCA context is therefore in relentless adjustment and this prevents us to anticipate its evolution on an objective basis. The context will therefore have to be navigated on a subjective basis, which commands a new type of thought.

What type of thinking is therefore necessary for a future-proof leadership?

A new type of thinking is needed, which is able to use create and combine resources, skills and abilities according to a model of rhizomatic thought.

For our purposes it is sufficient to adopt a simple and generic definition of innovation: by innovation we mean the introduction of something new, be it product, service, technology, behavioral habit, social interaction, notions, skills, etc..

Despite the fact for many people innovation means something positive, which in many ways is true because innovation is often associated to improvement and evolution, it is at the same time true that to each innovation corresponds very often the destruction of something else, which already exists. To this regard, in his book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Routledge, 1992, Joseph Schumpeter, Harvard professor, coined the term creative destruction.

For example, the introduction and diffusion of personal computers, printers, and word processing software, which made improving the quality of the printouts and increasing the efficiency in drafting texts possible, took place at the expense of the type writing machines industry, until then a standard tool of document drafting.

In the same way, the introduction of social platforms, now widespread on a global scale across users of all ages, economic and social conditions, has created new ways of virtual interaction that, although they have facilitated contacts and created new connections, also among people physically very distant from each other, have reduced in-person interactions and impoverished human relationships. Innovation, therefore, has a dual nature, creative and destructive, with a significant impact on the reference environment which will be altered with respect to the situation prior to innovation.

There is one aspect that, in our opinion, is particularly important to evaluate the impact of innovation in a VUCA context. This aspect is not adequately considered and deserves further study. In particular, we refer to the fact that when innovation is introduced in a VUCA environment often it changes the interdependencies between the agents of the system, namely individuals, companies and institutions.

By interdependence we mean the complex of reciprocal conditioning that agents determine or undergo within a relationship or a system of relationships. When innovation changes interdependencies, we observe an impact not only on the conditionings but also on the objectives, actions and perspectives of the agents themselves.

Therefore, agents operating in a complex system characterized by innumerable interdependencies, will inevitably be altered by the effects of innovation, to the point that system agents will not be able to anticipate the consequences. A complex system, in fact, will evolve producing continuous adjustments, some of which might have a drastic impact which agents will have to cope with.

How can agents cope with these changes when the VUCA reference environment is constantly evolving and when the outcome of this evolution is uncertain? Is it possible to anticipate the direction and the developments of an uncertain environment? Is it possible to characterize a leadership in a VUCA environment on an objective basis if the environment is constantly evolving and the direction of development is uncertain?

We believe that an effective Leadership in a VUCA environment cannot be based exclusively on an objective basis, as the environment is constantly changing; nor we do believe that it is appropriate to engage in forecasts that go beyond the very short term, because the environment is uncertain and, beyond a certain time horizon, unpredictable. Rather, the basis of a future-proof leadership must be subjective, based on agents-specific features. To face the scenarios that a VUCA environment might envisage, agents will need to innovate by adapting their resources, skills and abilities, by creating new ones according to needs, and by integrating them in order to respond effectively to the adjustments of the environment, or destroying skills and abilities that have become obsolete.

Therefore, agents react to the changes prompted by an innovation through the innovation of their skills and abilities, according to creative destruction dynamics.

Competence innovation based on agents’ own resources and skills is a subjective phenomenon, potentially very different across individuals, groups and organizations. Agents’ ability to innovate will depend on their ability to combine skills, resources and abilities in different ways, abandoning pre-established thinking patterns.

In this regard, the Rhizomatic Thinking introduced by Deleuze and Guattari in Millepiani – Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Orthotes, 2017 comes to our aid. In their work, the two philosophers make use of the rhizome metaphor, drawn from botanics, to characterize the social and thinking patterns that have emerged in the postmodern era.

The rhizome is a particular type of root that has the characteristic of extending into the ground in a horizontal direction, unlike the more usual type of root that extends into the ground in a vertical direction up to root itself in depth. The rhizome is characterized by a multiplicity of roots and connections among them.

Just like the rhizome, the rhizomatic thinking connects resources, skills or abilities with other resources, skills or abilities, by creating new generative combinations of competences, suitable to face emerging scenarios, in their dynamism.

The rhizomatic thinking may bring together phenomena and concepts that are far apart, among which however one can always find logical or causal relationships, as well as mutual interactions.

For us at Leadership X.0, the rhizomatic thinking is the fundamental innovative thinking ability which allows agents to thrive in complex and uncertain environments.

Rhizomatic thinking will allow agents to interpret the VUCA context, by attributing a sense to an otherwise chaotic sequence of events, by building a story and forming an individual narrative, which will clarify the role the agent will have in the complexity.

Do the educational paths currently offered by the school and university system favor rhizomatic thinking? What educational path would create the conditions for rhizomatic thinking?

We will provide our answers to these questions in the next articles and highlight the central role of the educational pathways and multidisciplinarity needed to individuals in order to develop, draw, and combine the skills needed to navigate any type of scenario.