Tag Archives: Bob Johansen

We Need More Good Stories, with Fewer Simple Chronicles

You might not realize it, but you are a creature of an imaginative realm called Neverland.  Neverland is your home, and before you die, you will spend decades there. 
Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal:  How Stories Make Us Human

If you say, “The queen died, and the king died,” that is a chronicle.
If you say, “The queen died, and the king died, from grief,” that is a story.  (Joe Lambert and Nina Mullen, drawing from E. M. Forster).
Bob Johansen:  Get There Early:  Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present


I heard Krys Boyd on KERA interview Jonathan Gottschall about his book, The Storytelling Animal.  (Krys is a great interviewer).  And I remembered the brief description of the difference between a chronicle and a story from Get There Early.

We care about stories.  We learn from stories.  We place ourselves within stories, because we all know that every story, is, in some way, our own story.  Last night I watched House.  Wilson has cancer.  A very close friend of my wife has cancer.  The fictional story is her story – our story.  You know…

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.  
(John Donne, For Whom the Bell Tolls)

In the interview, Gottschall observed that stories always include two elements:  some form of dilemma, and some form of resolution.  It is the old “problem-solution” formula for persuasion.  And when a story is told well, it always makes us stop and ask:  “What is my dilemma?  Can I find a way out; a solution; a resolution that works for me, and hopefully for others?”

I read a lot of nonfiction books — but, sadly, too little fiction.  Gottschall observed in the interview that people who expose themselves to more fiction have an easier time interacting with others.  They are more socially connected; better connected.  And, thankfully, he reminded us that stories preceded printed books, so maybe I get almost enough fiction from my favorite television shows.  I guarantee that, in House alone, there is enough dilemma and conflict to last a while.

In my own reading, I have come to realize that the best nonfiction writers are, in fact, superior story tellers.  I think this explains the popularity of Malcolm Gladwell, and why I have so warmed to The Power of Habit and Imagine just recently.  They are both written by superior story tellers  (Charles Duhigg and Jonah Lehrer).  Books that are principle-rich and story-poor just aren’t quite as engaging or gripping.  Or insightful.

And I think it is why I remember some books I read years ago more than others.  David Halberstam is always at the top of my list, because he was such a wonderful story teller.

In the realm of organizational culture, story plays a major role.  To build corporate culture, to build corporate strength, to build a true community, tell the stories of your organization.  Yes, tell the good stories, the stories of success — but tell especially the “struggle” stories.  “This is what we faced.  This is how we overcame it.”  A well-told struggle story can help a current struggle seem not quite so overwhelming.

We love a good story.  And, it turns out, we need a steady dose of good stories.


Good stories move us. They touch us, they teach us, and they cause us to remember.  They enable the listener to put the behavior in a real context and understand what has to be done in that context to live up to expectations. 
…storytelling is the ultimate leadership tool.   (Elizabeth Weil).
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner:  Encouraging the Heart — A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others

“You Don’t Need to Embrace Change” – Some Advice You Won’t be Reading These Days

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

Bob Dylan: The Times, They are a Changin’


The jury is in.  There is true consensus.  The times, they are a changin’…  and because they are, everyone in business; everyone with a career; everyone! has to change a little (or a lot) to keep up.

Business books, plural, all seem to find a way to say this.

In Get There Early:  Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present Using Foresight to Provoke Strategy and Innovation by Bob Johansen (Institute for the Future), we are reminded that we live in a VUCA world:
the VUCA world of (VUCA originated at the U. S. Army War College – the graduate school for Generals-to-be):  Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; Ambiguity.

In As the Future Catches You:  (How Genomics and Other Forces are Changing Your Life, Work, Health, and Wealth), Juan Enriquez:
If it seems like your world has been topsy-turvy over the past few years…  Consider what’s coming.  Your genetic code will be imprinted on an ID card…  For better and worse.  Medicines will be tailored to your genes and will help prevent specific diseases for which you may be at risk…  It all starts because we are mixing apples, oranges, and floppy disks.
Many are unprepared for…  the violence and suddenness with which…   new technologies change…  Lives…  Companies…  Countries…  Because they do not understand what these technologies can do.

In The Extreme Future: The Top Ten Trends That Will Reshape the World for the Next 5, 10, and 20 Years by James Canton, CEO and Chairman, Institute for Global Futures:
Everyone needs to think differently about the future, a future that is riddled with change, challenge, and risk.  It is a new kind of future, not the steady plodding of progress from one moment to the next, punctuated by brief bursts of innovation that characterizes much of history.  Now we face a post-9/11 future.  The future of our lives, of our work, of our businesses – and most of all, the future of our world – depends on us gaining a new understanding of the dizzying changes that lie ahead.  I call this future-readiness.

And, to look at a direct “holy mackerel, what’s going to happen to my job?” concern, in Innovation Is Everybody’s Business:  How To Make Yourself Indispensable In Today’s Hypercompetitive World by Robert B. Tucker:
Simply working harder will not be enough.  Relying solely on your functional skills and expertise will not be enough.  And even accumulating more years of experience on the job will not be enough.
The underlying issue is this.  The system wants to eliminate your job.

I could go on and on. I’ve read hundreds of business books over the last 13+ years, and not once have I read a book that says this:

“You don’t need to embrace change.  Just keep doing what you’re doing, the way you are doing it now, for the next few years.  You’ll be fine.”

Not once.

And I am ready to state something close to an absolute:  if you think your job, your career, your company, your organization, will stay pretty much the same; or, if you think you can do what you need to do to be successful in your job without learning anything new, without preparing yourself for pretty unsettling change(s) – then you are living in fantasyland.

The jury is in. The times, they are a changin’.  And the more we get with that program, the better off we will be.

But, oh, we do not like change.  We do not like preparing for change.  We do not like acknowledging that change is necessary.  We do not like admitting that change is upon us.

But it is.

The times, they are a changin’…

Blockbuster, R.I.P. — Lessons for us All

You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies makin’ buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.
(Lawrence Garfield — “Larry the Liquidator” – played by Danny DeVito, in the movie, Other People’s Money)


Blockbuster: R.I.P.

news item:  Blockbuster finally files for Chapter 11

Born, 1985:  (The first Blockbuster store opened in Dallas, Texas on October 26, 1985 at the corner of Skillman and Northwest Highway. By the way, I used to rent videos at that specific store.  I had no idea that it was the first).
Died, September 23, 2010:  (though some smaller version might last a little longer).

The lessons are many.  Like:

#1  Customer loyalty is dead.  Really dead.
#2  Someone intends to go right past you  — you’d better beat them to the punch.
#3  If the product you are selling is no longer the product that works best, you have no future.
#4  If these three are true, then you will go under – it’s just a matter of when, not if.

These are the thoughts that I have as I reflect on Blockbuster going into bankruptcy.  Netflix, and redbox, and youtube, and iTunes, all simply passed them by.  And Blockbuster simply was not nimble enough, not quick enough, not able to react and change fast enough, and now they are on the verge of gone.

Lots of thoughts, from plenty of books, come to mind, like:

Verne Harnish, in Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, reminds us that all business starts with the functions of Making or Buying something.  So, if people no longer want to buy what you offer, you’ve got real trouble…

In Get There Early:  Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present (Using Foresight to Provoke Strategy and Innovation) by Bob Johansen (Institute for the Future), we learn about the VUCA world of (VUCA originated at the U. S. Army War College – the graduate school for Generals-to-be):

• Volatility
• Uncertainty
• Complexity
• Ambiguity

It’s the volatility that helped doom Blockbuster.

In The New Experts:  Win Today’s Newly Empowered Customers At Their Decisive Moments by Robert (Bob) Bloom, Bob basically wrote Blockbuster’s obituary.  Consider these quotes from his book:

Today’s buyers – empowered by the Internet, assured by the enormous choice in every segment of commerce, and capitalizing on the acute vulnerability of sellers struggling in this new selling climate – have taken control of the entire purchase progression.
Buyers no longer care who they buy from.
Today, buyers are in control.
This reversal of supremacy has placed every business around the globe in a perilous situation.
This confluence of technology and choice started customer loyalty down the slippery slope – ultimately, customer loyalty died.

It is a scary world out there.  Somebody is out to beat you in tomorrow’s market.

I’ll end with a well-known quote from Gary Hamel (quoted by Tom Kelley in The Art of Innovation):

To those few companies sitting on the innovation fence, business writer Gary Hamel has a dire prediction:  “Out there in some garage is an entrepreneur who’s forging a bullet with your company’s name on it.  You’ve got one option now – to shoot first.  You’ve got to out-innovate the innovators.”

The Unpredictable Future – Forecasting the Unpredictable

Get There Early

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. (Abraham Lincoln, 1862 Annual Message to Congress).

I just re-watched Joel Barker’s newest version of his video, The Business of Paradigms.  (See Bob’s interview with Joel Barker from our blog here).  His example of a company that was “sent back to zero,” thus lost out in the midst of a paradigm shift, was Motorola, which switched from analog to digital a few moments too late, and Nokia took over the cell phone market.  The video is a little dated — and now Blackberry, and of course the iPhone, are creating the most buzz, though Nokia is still quite healthy.  Who will lead five years from now?  No one knows for sure.  The life span of a product’s success and dominance has never been as potentially short as it is today.

I recently presented a synopsis of the book Get There Early (Get There Early:  Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present; Using Foresight to Provoke Strategy and Innovation by Bob Johansen, Institute for the Future) to an association of Grantmakers meeting in Sante Fe.  Their world has been greatly effected by the economic downturn.  And one thing was clear – the better you can prepare for the unpredictable future right around the corner, the better you will be able to weather the storm.

Here are some key quotes from this thought-provoking book:

• In today’s marketplace, we have little buffer time between our decisions and their impacts.
• The most intense pain that leaders experience, the pain that keeps them awake at night, is caused by not being able to solve problems…  Every profession has become a dangerous profession – every leader is at risk, and the range of risk is growing.
• For corporations, get there early means finding new markets, new customers, and new products ahead of your competitors…  For non-profits, get there early means anticipating the needs of your stakeholders and sensing emerging issues before they become overwhelming or before others who don’t agree with your issues have taken a commanding position.  Get there early means seeing a possible future before others see it.  Get there early also means being able to act before others have figured out what to do.

Johansen does not claim that we can predict the future.  In fact, he argues that we cannot do so.  But he does strongly recommend forecasting the future.  Here’s another quote:

• A forecast is a plausible, internally consistent view of what might happen.  It is designed to be provocative…  We don’t use the word prediction…  A prediction is almost always wrong… A forecast doesn’t need to come true to be worthwhile.

Johansen recommends a three step approach – foresight, insight, and action.  He includes a number of examples.  Here’s one about Wikipedia:

The Story of Wikipedia’s Encyclopedia for the World

• Foresight:  Much of the world will have limited access to knowledge
• Insight:  The world needs a free, open-source encyclopedia
• Action:  Create Wikipedia

His (Jimmy Wales) ambitious goal is to include “all human knowledge.

I have read (and presented) other books that deal with possible futures coming around the next corner, especially The Extreme Future by James Canton.  He wrote:

Everyone needs to think differently about the future, a future that is riddled with change, challenge, and risk.  It is a new kind of future, not the steady plodding of progress from one moment to the next, punctuated by brief bursts of innovation that characterizes much of history.  Now we face a post-9/11 future.  The future of our lives, of our work, of our businesses – and most of all, the future of our world – depends on us gaining a new understanding of the dizzying changes that lie ahead.  I call this future-readiness.

But the warnings about the potential dangers are everywhere around us in the business book universe.  Gary Hamel in The Future of Management reminds us:

Every business is successful until it’s not.  What’s disconcerting, though, is how often top management is surprised when “not” happens.

And, of course, Nicholas Talib in The Black Swan warns us that there is always another Black Swan waiting to be revealed:

Just imagine how little your understanding of the world on the eve of the events of 1914 would have helped you guess what was to happen next.

So, back to Johansen.  His advice:  forecast!  Create future scenarios, or use some other technique to paint a picture in order to think about the future.  The more possible futures you can imagine and prepare for, the better you will be able to survive that unexpected future that will most assuredly arrive.


• You can order synopses of my presentations for The Black Swan, The Extreme Future, and The Future of Management, at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.  I hope to add the synopsis for Get There Early to the site soon.