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Aidan McCullen’s new book looks at how we can be more flexible in our outlook. And he reckons working dads have a key role to play in that
Aidan McCullen is a transformation consultant and also an adjunct professor at Trinity College, Dublin. He runs a module there called ‘Emerging Trends and Technologies’. And his latest book is Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention for Individuals, Organisations and Life.
He’s been thinking about change and the workplace and particularly the role working dads can have in embedding a more flexible approach. He explains why parents have a big part to play in shaping a better future by helping our children prepare for a more flexible world.
“Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable,” so said the 19th century writer William Pollard.
We have lost our skill of adaptability and we have become estranged from change. The relative stability of the post-war period, an anomalous period in world history, has somewhat contributed to our conditioning for stability. Our mental and operational flexibility has atrophied.
One of the core challenges for so many organisations and individuals is that we have been educated and prepared for a steady and stable environment. However, today’s business environment is far from predictable and can be characterised by the acronym VUCA.
VUCA was introduced by the US Army War College to describe a more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world resulting from the Cold War. The term has grown in popularity in recent years as we experience multiple disruptions driven by socio-economic changes, political turmoil and increasing business and individual disruption.
While change may feel like it is faster than ever before, we must remember, we are an extremely adaptive species.
At one stage in our history, we were an endangered species. According to the genetic bottleneck theory, between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago, human populations sharply decreased to 3,000–10,000 surviving individuals. One of the many theories of why we have survived is that we dispersed across the planet. Thus, if one region was wiped out by a flood or fell prey to the many dangers that surrounded us, not everyone would die.
In a similar way, we should hedge our bets with careers, gigs and even when thinking of our children’s careers. Most senior adults worked perhaps in one or two jobs over their working lives. Middle-aged adults may have worked in five. Our children may work in five industries, let alone companies across their careers. Some will work for five companies at the same time.
This is due to the collision of several trends: a rise in the gig economy, an increasing preference for job flexibility by employees and an equally rising trend in contract work by employers. Therefore, we and our children must be even more flexible and resilient than we are today.
Resilience comes from the understanding that every failure contains some success. Resilience is the ability to bounce back. And resilience is a mindset. When we are attempting something new, we may not achieve our desired outcome, but we can uncover clues on how to succeed the next time we try. With each attempt we gradually fail our way to success. This has always been a core mindset of innovation and invention. It is at the very core of learning itself. The famous inventor Thomas Edison said of his multiple attempts to succeed, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This is a mindset we must reinstall in society to thrive in a world of change.
Imagine you arrive home and your kitchen sink is overflowing. The tap is running and there is a mop leaning against the countertop. You pick up the mop and start mopping furiously, but don’t seem to be making any progress. Perhaps the better option is to turn off the tap and then start mopping?
When it comes to preparing humankind for a flexible future, we must instil a flexible mindset in our children. It is much more difficult to change mindsets later in life. The brain is more malleable when it is younger. So it makes sense to focus on turning off the tap rather than mopping the floor. We need to look at what inputs our children are exposed to: school, sports coaches, piano lessons and TV shows.
We need to look at ourselves as parents. How are we conditioning our children? Do we reward achievement and not the effort that led to that achievement? Are we curious about what our children learn at school? Are we trying to shape the future of our children rather than letting them uncover it themselves?
We have a huge role to play.