Managing the present and inventing the future

I recently read an interview with the new CEO of an ad agency in New York. When asked what key challenges she’s facing as a leader, here’s what she said in Adweek:

“I think anyone’s brief now is managing the present and inventing the future. That can be challenging because the present is this sort of dynamic, real-time thing that you’re trying to get your arms around. And yet, at the same time, you’ve got to have your head up and looking into the future.”

Managing the present and inventing the future. There’s something to chew on for this year!

I would submit to you that if you are a leader — in title or in influence — then you need to consider what your role is in helping your organization manage the present while inventing the future.

It’s far easier to do only one or the other. You can pour yourself into what your organization does well today and continually make that better (which you should). Or, you can pour your heart and soul into looking to what’s next on the horizon — leading your organization into the future.

But what you must do is both.

You cannot take your eye off the ball of ever-improving on what’s working today. What got you to where you are today, what author Jim Collins would call your “flywheel,” must continually be improved and optimized. In fact, in Jim Collins’ book, How the Mighty Fall, he studied organizations that were once great but fell. He found the first stage of that fall was that the organizations lost their focus on what made them great (what he calls hubris born of success). They stopped pushing on their core flywheel as an organization, and it languished.

But. And this is critical — you must also invest in inventing the future. You must prepare your organization to forge into an increasingly unknown future. Every industry faces exponential change periodically, and if you are only focusing on the present, you will miss the leap into what’s next.

We are one month into 2016, and if your experience is anything like mine, you’re already facing the day-to-day pressures of managing the present. That’s important. But please, please, please — don’t let the tyranny of the present consume the urgency of investing in the future. I am repeating this as much to myself as I am to you.