When McKenzie published the reading lists of global CEOs, I discovered only one book appeared on multiple lists: four CEOs listed The Seventh Sense by Joshua Cooper Ramo. These guys (yes, all men) are charged with guiding their companies to success in the coming months and years, and four chose this particular book. And that made me curious.
It isn’t a hard book to read – Ramo is a good writer and a thorough researcher (13 pages of end notes for 308 pages illustrates how thorough) – but it isn’t for the casual skimmer.
Ramo intent is fairly clear: Beware of how technology is shaping the world at all levels and across all economic and social spectrum. Technology has surpassed most people’s ability to understand how it works and it will continue to further invade (and control) our lives as it further evades our ability to understand or control it. Countries, economies and cultures will rise and others will fall based on their leaders’ ability to see the ‘landscape’ and leverage that knowledge or intuition to gain power. As in all paradigm and technological shifts in history, winners will amass power and influence and the losers will lose freedom and control. Who the leaders are will not be based on current political, financial or social power; a new set of leaders will rise based on who best anticipates, engages and controls technology and information.
Ramo makes the point that we are in the age of networks and of (constant) connection. These networks are unstoppable because they are not linear but multi-directional – he uses the metaphor of a fishnet to illustrate the new paradigm. If data or incursions are stopped at one point, they redirect, go around and connect in another ‘node’.
Two concepts resonated with me:
Context is important. “What is the nature of the age?” This quote comes from Chapter 10 in which Ramo describes an interaction between US journalist Walter Cronkite and Chinese foreign minister Huang Hua. According to Ramo, Western culture tends to focus on the goal (akin to Stephen Covey’s “begin with the end in mind”); Chinese culture begins with the question “ ‘What is the nature of the age?’ ” In other words, writes Ramo: “…considering the conditions and environment around the problem….The context matters as much as the solution because, even if you think you’ve solved a specific problem, the context endures.” (Chapter 10, page 251)
Perhaps this is why so many problem solvers within companies fix one issue only to have five more raise their ugly heads. When we isolate problems to seek a workable solution, we miss the context and the context is where we live and work. We miss the context because decision makers don’t ask people closest to the work what is happening, or stop listening too soon or arrogantly believe that they have all the information needed to make the “right” decision. Understanding context demands asking questions (preferably open questions without leading) and listening to many perspectives, especially from those who are closest to the work – especially when we don’t like what we are hearing. It is a humbling process and vital to true leadership and sound decision making.
- Everything is connected. Too often business and political leaders attempt to compartmentalize issues, communities, environments, etc., in an effort to simplify, appear decisive and make progress. The problem is that we don’t live in a world that can be compartmentalized or segmented. We live in a fully connected and interrelated world. We always have. All attempts to solve a single problem without understanding relationships emanating around that problem – like a fishnet – will create waves of more and greater problems.
Humanity has survived many paradigm shifts, many brought about by our own ingenuity and all bringing both beneficial and detrimental changes. No surprise, we are in the midst of another shift and are trying to make sense of it as best we can, as demonstrated by Ramo’s book and others with similar themes. As with all the shifts in our history, we can try to ignore the shift, we can try to go back ‘to a simpler time and place,’ but we can’t and never could. Once Pandora’s box of the new paradigm opened, there is no going back. The best we can do is identify what is most important to bring with us – openness, love, compassion and connection to each other and our environment – and face the changes and challenges head on.
If you are a cursory reader or look for quick-fix ideas, this book isn’t a good choice. If you look for patterns and don’t mind futuristic warnings of potential doom of the world as we know it, The Seventh Sense is worth reading.