My Mom used to have a proverb for every situation. One of her favorites was a quote by French novelist Gustave Flaubert: “What an elder sees sitting; the young can’t see standing”. In my teens, this was her way of telling me I can rely on her long-life experience and rest assure that things are not as dramatic as they seem.
Unfortunately, Flaubert’s wonderful quote does not apply to post-Corona times. As Black Swans in shape of pandemic outbreaks, economic crises, border closures, civil wars and trade disputes are flying toward us in full speed, even the most experienced politicians, executives and business leaders are failing to provide the world with suitable solutions.
Contrary to the common notion, this is NOT happening because we’re experiencing a first-time crisis that we know nothing about; it’s because we continue to stubbornly rely on old logic from our pre-Corona lives. Even though this logic was validated by top-notch researchers from Ivy League universities, it can no longer help us rise to the world’s new challenges. In this new, frightening, phenomenal disruption vortex where what was will no longer return to be, it’s time for new and reversed logic to present itself.
Reversed Logic by Pippi Longstocking
What does this mean? While this new management theory still does not exist, it will presumably be the exact opposite of our past experiences. This means we all need to leave our familiar shores and sail the turbulent waves to places unexplored; to separate ourselves from our past paradigms, listen openly to opinions not based on past experience, success or linear processes and accept the possibility that maybe its all the other way around.
I call this gutsy easier-said-than-done logic the Pippi Longstocking Mindset. Swedish author Astrid Lindgren probably wasn’t aware of this at the time, but her famous redhead heroine is no less than one of the world’s leading management experts, who bravely practiced reversed logic every day. “I have never tried that before, so I think I should definitely be able to do that,” Pippi would say, and then have the audacity to execute unpredictable solutions, much to the dismay of unimaginative adults. We don’t necessarily need to welcome pet horses and monkeys into our homes, but we all need some fresh Pippi logic to break through our new reality.
Pippi logic can be seen in the uprising of Shadow Management, an organizational phenomenon that emerged about five years ago. Shadow Managements are groups of talented young employees, usually at the beginning of their career paths. Chosen by the CEO, their role is to discuss and reflect on the exact same strategical issues dealt by upper management. By bringing a young, fresh and different perspective on marketing, customers, suppliers, information systems and reward baskets to the boardroom, they help management make better judgment calls and business decisions. This can be achieved when upper management willingly lets go of past conceptions and success stories, and truthfully allows the next generation of talent to get involved.
When Pippi met Gucci
A great example for this can be found in the story of Gucci’s famous turning point. In 2014, after decades with Prada in the lead, Gucci took Prada by storm and became the number one super-brand in the fashion industry. As it turns out, Gucci’s shadow management consisting of young and inexperienced millennial employees, convinced upper management to boost online shopping. This digital strategy initiative, which corporate veterans first perceived as literally blasphemous, resulted in exponential growth in sales and revenue.
What made Gucci adopt a relatively new idea with no strands of proven research and success? In a word – courage. In more words: the ability to set aside egos, titles, business experience and ranks and genuinely listen.
Another example of Pippi Logic can be found in Reversed Mentoring. In most organizations, mentoring programs pair senior and experienced managers with young talent that the organization wishes to retain. But recently some brave organizations have consciously decided to change world-orders and adopt Reversed Mentoring: a new process where new or less experienced employees assist, reflect and offer feedback to their senior executives. These organizations understand the advantage of learning from ‘newbies’, who don’t necessarily have experience or relevant academic degrees, but are highly connected to their networks and may teach us a thing or two about navigating in real life.
Be Brave, go Big
In light of this, let’s take a stroll on memory lane back to 1988, when the blockbuster film Big was released. In Big, Tom Hanks plays Josh, a 12-year-old boy magically trapped in the body of a VP Marketing executive at a large toy company. In one of the most famous scenes, Josh experiments with toys during a brainstorming session and grabs the CEO’s attention with his completely different new ideas, that are a much better fit for the children target market. Back to reality with or without Corona, the world is changing as we speak and requires similar mental breakthroughs, in forms of opposite views and actions.
In no way whatsoever does this mean we should dismiss age and experience, but rather address the new business reality with more points of view, and courageously collaborate to do things differently. When maturity, experience and insightfulness of older generations sit at the decision-making table with tech-savvy, multidimensional and fearlessness of young generations, we can all finally dare to change and literally go big.