American Univesity of Beirut

Surviving the Future

​​​​​​​​The rapid evolution of COVID-19 left businesses scrambling to deflect its catastrophic damages, yet its emergence was surprisingly expected by notable figures”. Back in 2015, Bill Gates stated: “If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war — not missiles but microbes” [1]. Similarly, the following statement is derived from an article published in the Clinical Microbiology Journal in 2007: “The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb” [2]

In my previous article, I underlined that by establishing fair processes, leaders can create environments that disseminate trust, commitment, and a sense of belonging. Yet, this form of leadership is not enough to ensure the survival of organizations by itself. These exceptional times have pressed many firms to rethink their business models and to deliver their services in innovative ways. As Bob Johansen, a distinguished fellow with the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley, puts it: “Listening to the future is hard work. Leaders must learn how to listen through the noise of a VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) world”. He notes that no version of the future should be considered a given, as leaders are able to better shape it by making use of disciplined foresight.

VACINE – The vaccine against ambiguity
Though corporations are accustomed to operating in unstable and ever-changing working conditions, few businesses were prepared for the disruptive impact of COVID-19. Firms must think long-term in order to stay afloat, relevant and ahead of the competition. Johansen points out that leaders must be able to transform Volatility into Vision, Uncertainty into Understanding, Complexity into Clarity, and Ambiguity into Agility. According to Peter Hinssen, one of the most sought-after thought leaders on radical innovation and leadership, this idea must be taken further to create VACINE (Velocity, Agility, Creativity, Innovation, Networks, and Experimentation) - an appropriate play on words of the correctly-spelt VACCINE – which allows organizations to promote creativity, and to let innovation flow faster through its network of employees, partners, and customers.

Slow and steady does not win the race
Leaders must endorse agility within their organizations; namely, the capacity to respond quickly and effectively to a diverse range of unpredictable demands. It implies the power to employ novel ideas with speed, bravery, and flexibility, whether individually or as productive units. Moreover, it signifies the ability to carry out such tasks with minimal waste of time or energy. Managers may do this by fostering a culture that encourages people to question, experiment, innovate, engage in constructive dialogue, and break away from one-track thinking.

Bottlenecks to innovation
When faced with the uncertain, people in rule-based organizations tend to go through the chain of command before producing an answer. A command-and-control culture suffocates innovation, as people at the forefront need to be empowered enough to act decisively in stride. To reach this point, leaders must instill courage borne out of trust. They must provide their employees with the ability to assess, decide, and execute on the go, in order to move forward as one team. As one U.S. Army General said: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity”.

Farsightedness, not short-sightedness
In his book “The Day After Tomorrow”, Peter Hinssen explained that companies spend too much time thinking about today and tomorrow, that they fail to see what is coming the day after tomorrow. Possible unanticipated events include disruptive environments and technologies. As a result, and although they understand the fundamental challenges heading their way, organizations still fall short of sizeable responsiveness and swift decision-making. If anything, COVID-19 has exposed a greater need for agility within organizations without exception.

[1] TED Talk titled: “The next outbreak? We’re not ready” (2015) 
[2] Article in the Clinical Microbiology Journal titled: “Should we be ready for the reemergence of SARS?” (2007)​

Contact Us

For various questions, please try contacting us via social media first!
read more

Privacy Statement

We take data privacy seriously and adhere to all applicable data privacy laws and regulations.
read more

Copyright and Disclaimer

Written permission is needed to copy or disseminate all or part of the materials on the AUB website.
read more

Title IX, Non-Discrimination, and Anti-Discriminatory Harassment

AUB is committed to providing a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment to all members of its community.
read more