Skip to content

Top Posts Of 2023

2023 December 24
by Greg Satell

My friend Stephen Shapiro does not like New Year’s Resolutions. “According to our study, only 8% of Americans say they always achieve their New Year’s resolutions,” he writes. “The way it seems to work now, setting a New Year’s Resolution is a recipe for defeat. It has come to be one of the nation’s most masochistic traditions.”

He suggests that we replace resolutions with broader themes by thinking seriously about what we want to achieve in the year ahead and what we want to focus on. What do we want to do more of and what do we want to do less of? What will make us happier and more productive? A good theme should feel empowering not guilt ridden.

I find the same can work in reverse. By reflecting on the year that has passed, certain themes arise and my ritual of going through my top posts of the year is a great way to reflect. When I look back on what I wrote and what people read, it helps reveal things about the past year that weren’t obvious in the thick of events. Take a look and see what emerges for you.

Why VUCA Is (Mostly) A Myth

Today it’s become an article of faith that everything moves faster. Business pundits tell us that we’re living in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). These are taken as basic truths that are beyond questioning or reproach. Yet are things actually moving any faster than in earlier eras? The evidence is surprisingly scarce

The truth is that we’re not really disrupting industries anymore as much as we are disrupting ourselves and fairy tales about living in a VUCA era will not change those basic facts. We need to think less about disruption and more about tackling grand challenges that will impact the world in significant ways. Innovation should serve people, not the other way around.

This was the most popular post I wrote this year and I think that may be a sign of a change in the zeitgeist. As I wrote at the beginning of the year, we need to make the shift from disruption to resilience. That shift seems to have begun and I think that’s a good thing. While change is often needed, stability has some inherent virtues as well.

Read it now


Don’t Try To Shape Opinions, Shape Networks

We tend to see change as a function of persuasion. We make our case and, if we can do it convincingly, we think we will change minds. If we follow this same logic then it would follow that large scale change is just this basic principle scaled up. If we bring the facts and broadcast them widely, we can make broad impacts.

This is sometimes referred to as the information deficit model. We believe that people don’t think and act as we think they should because they lack some information that we possess. So it stands to reason that if we simply provide them with this information, the problem will be solved. This is an incredibly naive way to think.

The truth is that the best indicator of what we think and do is what the people around us think and do. So even if we are able to come up with the perfect pitch and convince people to think differently, once they return to their normal social networks, they will most likely be convinced right back. That’s why, for large scale change, we need to focus on shaping networks rather than shaping opinions.

Read it now


Why Hierarchies Can Outperform Networks (And Vice Versa)

For more than a decade, pundits have advocated for flatter organizations. Uber-consultant Gary Hamel has preached the gospel of busting the bureaucracy while new and innovative management models such as Holacracy arose to meet the demand for a different, less hierarchical way of doing business.

Yet for all the trendy hoopla, organizations have been getting more hierarchical over time, adding levels of bureaucracy to organizations instead of decreasing them. It seems to defy logic. How is it that in our hyper-digitized, artificially intelligent age, we seem to be going backward and adding more humans to the process?

The answer seems to be that we need to. While it is true that less hierarchy promotes creativity and sharing ideas, we need hierarchies to execute complex tasks in which each person deeply understands their role. The answer isn’t less hierarchy, but to learn to manage both formal and informal structures in the organization.

Read it now


5 Simple Rules That Will Make You A Powerful Communicator

One of the most important things I’ve learned over time is how important it is to be able to communicate effectively. Learning how to deliver twice the meaning in half the space gives you a fundamental competitive advantage over those who take twice the space to deliver half the meaning.

There’s also your audience to consider. There’s nothing worse than having to decipher some cryptic message or struggle to navigate some loquacious bloviation. Communicating effectively and clearly shows respect for people’s time and focus, which helps them be more effective and productive.

Communication is a skill that I struggled with earlier in my career, but I learned to excel at it and you can as well. These are five rules that I’ve learned over the years and others have found them helpful too. Read this post and apply them. I guarantee you start seeing results almost immediately.

Read it now


Why Business Leaders Need To Learn About Social And Political Movements

Business research is typically done through case studies in which an academic or consultant goes to an organization, interviews half a dozen executives and combines those insights with other external and internal data. These can be helpful, giving an outsiders view of events that are internal to the organization.

Yet they are often flawed. Organizations are rarely willing to be candid about their failures, so we mostly hear about the successes. Researchers bring their own biases to the process and we almost never get transcripts of their interviews to examine ourselves. Usually we get sanitized versions of complex stories.

That’s why when it comes to change, researching social and political movements can be very helpful. These are usually incredibly well documented, with thousands of contemporary accounts from every imaginable perspective that we can compare and contrast, which provide us with enormous insight into how large-scale change functions.

Read it now


We Need To Think Less Like Engineers And More Like Gardeners

In the early 20th century, the world became enamored with engineering and physics. Starting around the 1880s, these fields had begun to change the basic economics of societies which, for millennia, had mostly given people little more than what they needed to survive. Lives began to improve in significant ways.

Some began to think that if we could apply that same level of rigor to social science, we could begin to make progress in those areas as well, launching what became known as the logical positivist movement. It did not go well. The world is a messy place and complex ecosystems do not abide by simple rules.

Engineers build simple systems they control. Gardeners nurture and tend to ecosystems. They don’t know exactly what the outcome of their efforts will be from the start, but they know they can pick and prune along the way. If we are going to manage complexity, We need to start thinking and acting more like gardeners and less like engineers.

Read it now


Here’s What It Takes To Change Someone’s Mind

When we want to change somebody’s mind, our first instinct is to confront their beliefs. We want to be warriors and fight for our position. Yet because people’s opinions are often a result of their experiences and social networks, countering their beliefs won’t feel to them like merely offering a different perspective, but as an attack on their identity and dignity.

That’s why a much more successful approach is to start by listening, creating a sense of safety around the conversation. That’s why we’re much better off listening and building rapport. That’s not always easy to do, because staying silent while somebody is voicing an opinion we don’t agree with can feel like a surrender.

Yet in recent years a variety of methods, such as Deep Canvassing, Street Epistemology and the Change Conversation Pyramid have emerged as effective technique rebuttal techniques. Interestingly, they don’t rely on any elaborate rhetorical flourishes, but rather listening empathetically, restating the opposing position in a way that shows we understand it and identifying common ground.

Read it now


Why Change Does NOT Have To Start At The Top

One of the most pervasive myths about change is that it has to start at the top. It clearly doesn’t. Change can come from anywhere and usually does. Even when a leader initiates a change effort, when we look closely we usually find a complex web of influence. The boss was influenced by his daughter or something someone said at a factory visit or maybe by an interaction with a customer.

What is true is that if you are going to bring about genuine change you need to influence institutions and that means you need, at some point, to involve senior leaders, but it rarely starts with them. The myth that change has to start at the top is a copout—a reason to do nothing when you can do something. Make no mistake. Change can come from anywhere.

That’s why instead of trying to go to the top, you need to go to where the energy is. Find people who are enthusiastic about change and help them be successful, so that they can be empowered to bring others in who can bring others still. That’s how true transformation happens.

Read it now


What Will Humans Do In An Artificially Intelligent World?

There are some things that a computer will never do. Machines will never strike out at a Little League game, have their hearts broken in a summer romance or see their children born. The inability to share human experiences makes it difficult, if not impossible, for computers to relate to human emotions and infer how those feelings shape preferences in a given context.

That’s why the rise of artificial intelligence is driving a shift from cognitive to social skills. The high paying jobs today have less to do with the ability to retain facts or manipulate numbers—we now use computers for those things—than it does with humans serving other humans. That requires more deep collaboration, teamwork and emotional intelligence.

To derive meaning in an artificially intelligent world we need to look to each other and how we can better understand our intentions. The future of technology is always more human.

Read it now


The 5 Elements Of The Changemaker Mindset

Most people work with a traditional managerial mindset. They build consensus, work to execute efficiently and deliver predictable outcomes for partners, customers and other stakeholders. Most of the time this is the right approach, but the problem is that eventually the environment changes and your business model is disrupted.

That’s why we need to be able to adopt a changemaker mindset. We need to not only execute, but explore to find new problems to solve, overcome resistance to change, build a culture of empowerment and, ultimately, survive victory. The truth is that change doesn’t always come from the top, it can come from anywhere—if you know the tools and how to leverage them.

Clearly, effective leaders need to be able to master both mindsets, but make no mistake, if you try to pursue change with a manager mindset you will fail. This post outlines five basic elements of the changemaker mindset that will help you along your journey.

Read it now


What Makes A Strategy “Good?”

One of the most frustrating statements I come across is that “we had a good strategy, but just couldn’t execute it.” That’s nonsense. Obviously, if you couldn’t execute, there were some important factors that you didn’t take into account. You miscalculated in some significant way. So how was that a good strategy?

This raises an important question: What makes a strategy good? The concept of strategy gets thrown around so often and so incompetently, few stop to define the term. Strategy often becomes self-referential, a consensus-driven story that no one dares to question, but everyone is duty bound to carry out, for better or worse.

One helpful concept is the German military principle of Schwerpunkt, which roughly translates to “focal point.” You need to pick the battles that will prove decisive, the ones that matter and which you can win. Or, as Richard Rumelt has put it, good strategy puts relative strength against relative weakness. Figuring that out is what makes the difference.

Read it now


Why Is There So Much Bullshit?

As much as we might hate to admit it, we all bullshit and not just once in a while either. We bullshit constantly. We do it with friends, just to pass the time and we do it professionally, not just to appear more knowledgeable than we are (although we do that too), but to engage in conversation and feel a sense of belonging.

From an evolutionary point of view, there must be a purpose to all of this. We devote an enormous amount of time and energy to bullshit and, if the anthropological evidence is to be believed, primitive societies bullshit even more. There’s no evidence that bullshit is some kind of modern invention, but rather that it is something we’re hard-wired to do.

At some point we need to accept that bullshit serves an important purpose. It is how we connect with others, build communities and engage in shared purpose. It’s an equation that, for the most part, works very well. We engage in bullshit, so that we can do things together that matter, that make a difference in our lives and in others.

Read it now


So those are my top posts for 2023. Thanks to everybody for all your support over the years. I’m taking the next few weeks off, but will be back on Sunday, January 7th with my future trend for 2024.

Have a safe and happy New Year!

– Greg


Photo by Laziii Codar


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS