Patrick speaks and consults to organisations globally, helping them implement the light and fast philosophy and methodology into their organisations. He’s an accomplished mountaineer, having climbed multiple 8000m peaks unguided, including Mount Everest. Patrick recently released The Light and Fast Organisation: A New Way of Dealing with Uncertainty, published by Wiley.
The root of the problem
Hierarchical and fit for a linear world, many organisations have been robust and resilient to change. Leader-centric and reliant on top-down strategy, control and decision-making, the traditional organisational structure was very effective during times of gradual and predictable change. These attributes enabled the most successful organisations to rapidly expand, dominate and control their markets, often via excusive ownership of assets and infrastructure. In short, might was right.
However, now the traditional organisational structure delivers diminishing returns in this new world of uncertainty, complexity and unpredictability. Top-down strategy and decision-making takes too long and heavy for the organisation in this rapidly changing environment. Ownership of the latest infrastructure can fast become an outdated burden rather than a commercial advantage.
Linear thinking and strategy creates an organisational emphasis on clarity, measurement and accountability as key metrics and drivers of performance. While this worked in the old world, in today’s new world of ever-increasing business complexity, these metrics only serve to encourage and compound business failure.
The default response to problems associated with increased uncertainty and complexity is to focus even further on clarity, measurement, and accountability, and to build further, and more complicated, structures, systems and processes. In other words, we do more of what has worked before, and when that doesn’t work, we do even more of the same thing.
Light and Fast
The solution to this problem of increased uncertainty and complexity is to reconfigure our traditional linear approach to how we operate our businesses: it’s called light and fast.
Light and fast is a term from the world of mountaineering, and it means to climb with the absolute bare essentials, enabling climbers to move quickly. It’s about reliance on yourself and your climbing partner, rather than on equipment and fixed infrastructure.
Unlike most traditional businesses, light and fast organisations are not reliant on infrastructure ownership as a means to dominate their market. Light and fast organisations lease rather than own (e.g. cloud-based solutions), and are not reliant on linear strategy, central leadership and hierarchy; rather they operate in an autonomous and networked structure, with decentralised leadership.
With a decentralised network of teams operating with varying degrees of autonomy, the bottlenecking associated with most top-down decision-making resulting from centralised leadership is removed. Response times – a key metric for measuring agility – are massively reduced.
We must all learn to get comfortable with uncertainty, and to embrace the doubt and paradox that accompany it. Embracing uncertainty, expecting the unexpected, and giving up always being in control is the light and fast way – and it’s the answer to this new world order.