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May 20, 2021

Full Spectrum Leadership for a VUCA world with Dr. Bob Johansen | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

Full Spectrum Leadership for a VUCA world with Dr. Bob Johansen | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader
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In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli talks with Bob Johansen, renowned futurist and author of the book Full Spectrum Thinking. Bob Johansen talks about future back thinking, the importance of seeking clarity while avoiding certainty and how leaders can thrive in a VUCA World. 


Some highlights:

● Bob Johansen on what led him to become a futurist

● Categorical thinking versus full spectrum thinking

● Bob Johansen on how to develop foresight and insight for greater clarity

● Finding a sense of purpose with greater clarity in a VUCA 

● How to use clarity filters in leadership


Also mentioned in this episode:

Alan G Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble

Peter Drucker, author of various top-selling business and leadership books

Dan Buettner, author of the book, The Blue Zones

Jane McGonigal, game designer at the Institute for the Future

Stan McChrystal, author of the book A Team of Teams

Thomas Malone, author of the book Superminds


Connect with Bob Johansen:

Bob Johansen on LinkedIn

Full Spectrum Thinking Book by Bob Johansen

Institute for the Future


Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:



More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 




Mahan Tavakoli: 

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming Bob Johansen. He's a distinguished fellow with the Institute for the future in Silicon Valley. For more than 30 years, Bob has helped organizations around the world prepare for and shape the future. He's worked with corporations, nonprofits, universities, and the army war college.

We spend most of our time in this conversation talking about his most recent book, Full Spectrum Thinking. 

Love hearing from you, mahan@mahantavakoli.com. There's a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com. You can leave voice messages for me there. Don't forget to follow and or subscribe to the podcast depending on your platform of choice.

And finally, those of you that enjoy it on Apple, go ahead, leave a rating and review when you get a chance.

 Now, here is my conversation with Bob Johansen.


Mahan Tavakoli: 

Bob Johansen. Welcome to Partnering Leadership podcast. I can't tell you what an honor it is for me to have you as a guest.

Bob Johansen: 

Thank you. Great to be here.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Now I have read the trilogy of your books. Leaders make the future, focused on leadership skills,The New Leadership Literacies, focused on practice and Full Spectrum Thinking focused on mindset, which is where we're going to spend most of our time talking about today.

Now I'm just curious, Bob, how did your upbringing influenced the kind of leader and person you became?

Bob Johansen: 

You know, it's complicated, but the short version of it is I grew up in a small rural town in Illinois where basketball was the biggest thing. So my first experience in leadership was being a basketball player and I became an all-state player and we went to the state tournament and I got a scholarship to go to Illinois.

So that was my whole identity as an undergraduate. But I top out, you know, I went as far as I could. I was a really good high school player, a marginal player in the big 10. And there was no way I was going to become a pro. So that forced me to rethink, and to me, I think that's an important part of leadership is to, early in your life, to try a lot of different things and to top out with some of them, cause we can't succeed in everything.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And I think you, at some point had a chance to interact with Drucker on this issue too.

Bob Johansen: 

I did. Yeah. And I actually opened the new book with that. I got to meet him a few times, but the last time he was 94 years old and I got to visit him with AG Lafley, who was the CEO of Procter and Gamble at the time. And AG set up this meeting to talk about human resources in the future. And Peter Drucker was just an amazing iconic guy and he had six different careers before he was 65. Six different careers. He actually started as a journalist and I think he still has more articles in the Harvard business reviews than any other human. So he had all these different careers, but what he said to us, which I just still remember was the first half of your life, do many different things and work with many different kinds of people, because you don't know who you are, but the second half of your life, only work with those you love to work with and only work on the things you're passionate about. And this was so optimistic Mahan, because he was 94 years old. So, you know, basically halfway point is 50 years old. So if you're less than 50 ,you're in the first half of your life by Drucker's scale.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And I think maybe that optimism, Bob is part of what helped him live as long as he did. One of the things you mentioned is that this generation has a lot of great potential ahead of them if they maintain optimism.

Bob Johansen: 

Yeah. So I'm really optimistic about the kids, particularly the digital natives who are 25 or less in 2021. And what we're starting to call now at the Institute for the future, we're starting to call those kids 15 or less, the XR natives for Cross Reality or blended reality. So these are the kids that are getting homeschooled during 2020 and 2021, the kids who have the Oculus quest or the quest that are experiencing virtual and mixed reality. And sure there is still a digital divide. The rich kids have better tech than the poor kids, but even the poor kids have access to pretty good tech if you think 10 years ahead, and the kids are growing up with a sense of global connectivity created through virtual worlds, but it's still very real.

And they're growing up with concerns. They're impatient with us adults, particularly about climate change and in this country, particularly impatient about guns and you know, they're growing up very organized, very concerned, and in some cases, very angry. And they have the agency, the digital agency to make the world a better place.

So, you know, I think of these kids as change agents for a better future, if they have hope. Now, if they don't have hope, they run the risk of being depressed or even suicidal, or even candidates to join terrorist groups.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Yeah, and that hope is really important. And I know it's a key part of what you keep mentioning. Now, I'm curious, you went to divinity school. What got you to study divinity? And from there you ended up becoming a futurist.

Bob Johansen: 

Yeah, it was interesting twist. Well, it was clear at Illinois that my basketball career was over and I wanted to go to graduate school. And I was very curious about religion. I grew up a Methodist and I've always been interested in spiritual things, but you know, never really clear about what I believed or what my vision of religion was.

And I felt really curious that other people were a lot more certain about God and about religion than I was. And, you know, as a basketball player, I was recruited by campus crusade for Christ, for example. They were so interested in getting athletes involved. I had somebody who would meet me outside my door and walk me to class and try to convince me to give my life to Jesus Christ.

So it was very intense. and I was thinking, wow, what's going on there? So I got a scholarship to go to divinity school. It was a kind of look and see scholarship. The Rockefeller brothers foundations started these things. And the idea was to recruit people who had interesting backgrounds, who were not committed to the ministry to come in and study world religions and kind of see where it goes. And I went to the divinity school, Crozer Theological Seminary, the divinity school Martin Luther King went to, and I was there when Dr. King was killed. So it was a life-changing experience where I really learned to be a scholar. And one of my roles there was, I was a research assistant for a conference on religion in the future.

And I literally got to carry the bags for the world's leading futurists. And I just said, Whoa, that's what I want to do. And it was epiphany, you know, and I figured that's really what I wanted to do. And five years later I was doing it. But in between I had to get a PhD and I had to do these things and do this and that to set myself up for that. And then through a lucky turn of events, I, got to go to Silicon Valley before it was called that and go to Institute for the future just after it was formed. And now it's the longest running futurist think tank in the world.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Who would have known that these years later, you would yourself become a world-leading futurist? And part of what you mentioned, Bob, is you talk about categorical thinking versus full spectrum thinking. And the jacket cover of the book, you say the future will get even more perplexing over the next decade and we are not ready.

Bob Johansen: 

So I learned a lot of neuroscience while I wrote this book. And what the neuroscience kind of just teaches us is that our brains are natural categorizers. They always try to categorize things and our brains are trying to keep us out of trouble. So they're predicting what's next to keep us safe. And it's a good thing in many ways, but it gets us in a lot of trouble in these highly uncertain times.

And what happens is our brains want to categorize and our brains want certainty, but we can't have it. We can't have it. We can't categorize everything. We can't be certain. So we have to teach our brains new tricks. And to me, that's what futurist thinking is all about, it's teaching our brains new tricks, to teach our brains to think future back instead of present forward.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So, how do you do that? Right now, a lot of leaders that I'm interacting with Bob are frustrated with the ambiguity in everything around them and say, we can't even plan for six months from now. How do you do that?

Bob Johansen: 

Yeah, it's such a good question. And I'm often asked it in Silicon Valley. You know,  where people say, how can you look 10 years ahead? I can't even look one or two. Well, the reason is because it's easier. It's actually easier to look 10 years ahead, and this is counterintuitive, but it's true. 

So one example coming out of Silicon Valley, if you look 10 years ahead, it's obvious we're going to have sensors everywhere. They're going to be very cheap. Many of them are going to be connected and some of them are going to be in our bodies. So I work mostly with senior executive groups nowadays, and usually half of the people have Fitbit or Apple watch or some kind of body sensor on, 10 years from now, those kinds of senior leadership groups will all have body sensors if we want them.

And half of the folks will have embedded body sensors. And that's just obvious 10 years ahead. So if you work backwards and say, well, what does that mean? Well, it means that Microsoft and Apple and Google and the other tech companies are going to have more data about your body than your doctor does.

It's hard to do a scenario where the doctor knows more than the tech companies, 10 years out. So if you start out there and work back, you get a very different view and it's true. We have to spend  our lives in the present, you know, making money and paying the bills and raising the kids and stuff like that. I'm completely into that. Yes, you have to do that. But if you can add to that, a future back view, that's where you get your clarity in the future. 

The future will reward clarity, but  it will punish certainty. And that's what our brains wanted is that certainty. But we got to teach our brains new tricks. We got to develop our clarity and that's what foresight does, futurist thinking does. Develop our clarity, but moderate our certainty because there's very little we can be certain about these days, but we have to be clear.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

In order to achieve that clarity, you talk about the fact that action without foresight and insight will be dumb and dangerous. So how do you develop that foresight and insight process that you talk about?

Bob Johansen: 

I see it as an ongoing cycle from foresight to insight to action. And you teach yourself the discipline of foresight, insight, action. And as William Gibson said so eloquently, the future's already here. It's just unevenly distributed. So you tune yourself to catching signals, to looking at those weak signals on the outside.

And we actually have a platform at Institute for the future that tracks those platforms globally. And there's ways of doing that now very, very systematically. So if you can develop that discipline of foresight insight action, you'll never be able to predict the future, but you will get clarity about the future. And essentially what you need is to be very clear where you're going and very flexible how you get there. And you need that at a personal level. That's what we call purpose or what we call meaning. That's what religions do basically is. 

My favorite definition of religion is meaning making. And we do know from the latest literature, that purpose driven people live up to seven years longer, they're happier and they’re healthier. Purpose-driven organizations are higher performing.

So why not do it? I mean, if you can add purpose, if you can add meaning, if you can add clarity, that gives you a kind of balance and centering and focus in this highly uncertain world. Because the uncertain world is going to get much worse as we go forward. It's not going to calm down and go back to the way it was.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That is so important for leaders and organizations to understand about that purpose drive. And I highlighted underlined and every time I hear you say it, I think these are the most brilliant words. We need to be very clear where we are going and very flexible on how to get there. 

Bob Johansen:Yes. And that's the way to say it. It's clarity of direction because even in a highly uncertain world, you can be clear about direction. And here's where I have to take a step back. Another big turning point in my life was the experiences I've had with the army war college. And I'm not a military guy by background, but I just happened to be there the week before 9 11.

And it ended up changing my life. So since then I've brought executive groups to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and now I teach the new  three-star generals on their first week in Washington. And the big lesson I take away from that experience is they understand what they call the VUCA world much better than we do in business.

And what they say is the future and the present will be volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. The VUCA world. And if you expect that, if you assume that it's a starting point and then you figure out ways to practice in low-risk ways, you can be ready. You can win, you can do very well in the VUCA world, but only if you're prepared  and the way the military prepares is gaming. That's what they call war gaming. But now in the business world and in the popular culture, we have video gaming and the kids are much better at that than we are. You know, so they're going to be more prepared for this kind of world, but basically we all need to have a gamers mentality to create these low risk environments where we can experiment with different leadership styles, experiment with how to win  in an increasingly VUCA world. But the starting point is to expect VUCA and not be surprised by it. And so many leaders are just not prepared for this,  we're not trained for this. We're prepared for more kind of linear worlds and, you know, business school simulations are not VUCA. Those are these kind of you know, numbers based quarterly. You know, it's just not enough VUCA. And I've seen a lot of them. And I keep telling the game designers, add more VUCA. But we got to do that if we're going to thrive in this kind of world.

Mahan Tavakoli:And one of the interesting things, Bob is that even though I have worked a lot with the U S military, I hadn't reflected on this fact until I read your writing. That while many business leaders talk about the militaries command and control, actually the military, specifically, the special forces have evolved their thinking and the way they're adjusting to this VUCA environment, much better than many business leaders.

Bob Johansen:Yes, definitely true. They have a whole literature around clarity that they call commander's intent or mission command, which is kind of the next level up. Or my favorite term nowadays is flexive command where you continuously evaluate who's in the best position to make which decision at what time, based on your situation awareness, which they teach all the time, especially in the special forces and based on your after action reviews, which is continuously learning from the field.

So that's the mentality that you have to have in the VUCA world.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And part of what you say in that VUCA world, volatility requires vision. Uncertainty requires understanding. Complexity, clarity, and ambiguity requires agility.

Bob Johansen: 

Yeah, I kind of flipped the VUCA over  and I lived for a few years with just the negative VUCA and it's really useful. But I also just became really curious about it. Okay. But how can we flip that? How can we honor the negative, but flip it into a positive. And the most important part of that is that complexity will yield to clarity.

So I think clarity is the essence of successful leadership if you want to thrive. You have to be very clear. You can't be certain, but you can be clear. So what we should always be asking ourselves is who are the voices of clarity. 

And, you know, you're based in Washington, Mahan and I do these sessions with the new three-star generals in Washington. And what I find as I empathize with them, you know, there's only 42, three stars at a time. So it's a very elite group. They're like CEOs of big companies. And they come into Washington, they're trained in commander's intent and mission command and flexive command. They know they need clarity, but they also know the dangers of certainty because certainty is brittle and brittle breaks.

So they know this coming in. They arrive in Washington and the mood in Washington as I sense it,  and here I don't talk about politics. I'm not an expert in the present. I'm focused 10 years ahead. But I can't help but notice just as I arrive in Washington. The voices of Washington, the politicians of both parties so often there's certain, they speak with certainty, but they don't speak with clarity. You know, they are certain, but they're not clear. And that's gotta be freaky to the military guys because they know the risks of that. 

So our situation in Washington is so polarized right now. This is the idea of uncertainty yielding to understanding. You know, this is a time for listening, not for shouting at each other. And yet in Washington, you'd never know that was the case. So we have to somehow get beyond the polarities of the present and foresight, future back thinking  is a very good way to do that.

Because if you go far enough out, you find the common ground beyond the polarities. And once you find the common ground,  you can work back. But the challenge is, the VUCA world is just too much for a lot of people. So they want certainty and you know, some of the politicians they say, well, if I go on and get elected, I've gotta be certain.

And you know, maybe that's true, but it's not right.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is a lot harder to communicate clarity and not certainty.

Bob Johansen: 

It is.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

But I love the fact that until now, when I think about VUCA, there was a negative connotation in my mind, because of all this chaos, what you have done with flipping it around, you're providing what leaders can do in a VUCA environment.

Bob Johansen: 

Yes. And that's exactly what we need to do. So we need to practice in the negative VUCA, and then tell the stories of the positive VUCA coming ahead. And those are the kind of leaders who will thrive  in this future. You gotta be clear, but you can't be certain.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Now, Bob, you also mentioned needing to build organizations that shapeshift. There has been a lot of conversation around that, but many of the leaders I interact with have difficulty implementing it. What are your thoughts and experience on building shape-shifting organizations?

Bob Johansen: 

So they're tricky, but that's what you need to create an organization that will thrive in the VUCA world. So hierarchies don't go away, but just imagine a fishnet lying on a dock and you pick up a node and a temporary hierarchy forms, and you put it down and pick up another node, a temporary hierarchy forms. That's what I mean by shape shifting. It's very similar to what Stan McChrystal, the retired four-star general to what Stan calls a team of teams. And he's got a wonderful book called that. So what you need are those structures that are very flexible, very fluid, very liquid.  It's almost like they're animated org charts.

So we still have organization charts and we still have hierarchies that come and go. And we still need clarity of direction. There is still hierarchy to some extent, but it's gotta be just so much more fluid. So  you're right, Mahan. It's more like the special forces  and less like the command and control of the big part of the army.

 The army still has a very bureaucratic, very command and control structure , but the special forces are more of the model. And then you have to scale them, but McChrystal argues that you can scale shape-shifting and he talks about it in his book and some businesses do that. 

We just did a custom forecast for W. L. Gore & Associates, the Gore-Tex people, and they are the Harvard business school case study for shape-shifting organizations. And they do that very well. Now, they're very value focused, so they're a values based, purpose based company. They have great clarity of direction. They have great flexibility about execution. And if it works within that envelope of clarity, they can be very fast and very responsive.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Yeah. So back to the point you had made earlier, Bob, that purpose and clarity are critical for the brilliant analogy you made of the fish net of different parts of the organization being able to rise up and act in a way that aligns with the overall purpose of the organization.

Bob Johansen: 

Right. And we should put a link in the chat. I'll send it to you about the latest research out of the blue zones project. And in The New Leadership Literacies book, my previous book, which focuses on practices and disciplines, one of those literacies is the ability to create and sustain positive energy.

And I talk about four different models in the book, an East coast model, a West coast model and a global model. And the global model is called blue zones where a journalist Dan Buettner was funded by national geographic to go all around the world and find the places where people live the longest and healthiest lives, but died the quickest.

And to me, that was really intriguing because, you know, isn't that what we all want. We want long happy healthy lives and then die in our sleep. But in America we tend to have unhealthy lives although there are exceptions but then very extended deaths cause we're really good at heroic rescue medicine. We're not very good at healthy living. 

So what Dan did was travel around the world, come up with these models. And the latest research out of this is that if you're a purpose driven company, the people who work in the company can live up to 14 years longer. And if you have a purpose driven perspective in your life, you can live up to seven years longer.

So if you can somehow combine that, have a sense of meaning and purpose yourself, a sense of clarity and working for a purpose driven company, you'll be happier, you'll be healthier and you'll be higher performing. So that's clarity at a very individual level, but it correlates positively with clarity at an organizational level and shape shifting organizations are the kind of structures you need to respond to the VUCA world.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I absolutely love that, Bob. As a person that actually studied undergrad human nutrition and did some master's in human nutrition.

I love Buettner's research and work. And couldn't agree with those statements more in that, that kind of thinking can be brought into running organizations effectively with that purpose, with that meaning that adds value both to the organization and to the lives of the people associated with it.

Bob Johansen: 

Definitely, definitely. And especially in these times when we're not able to be in the same physical location of an office, but there still is a corporate culture. I mean, corporate cultures exist, whether they're physical or virtual, so we need ways of caring for each other. And ways of providing psychological safety in this very dangerous, very uncertain time.

So it's  a real challenge, but I think  there's some really important clues though that come out of this, as you want to help people find their sense of purpose and find their sense of meaning wherever it is, and finding a sense of meaning with clarity, not with certainty.

So here's where it's very delicate because you know, businesses don't want to get involved in religion. And I've got a chapter in the new book, which is actually my favorite chapter on a broader spectrums of meaning. And I spent quite a lot of time with my theologian friends to try to come up with a distinction of clarity, certainty, and then comparing that to faith and belief.

Faith is a lot like clarity. So faith includes questions. Faith is expressed in stories. Faith is embodied and includes trust as part of the clarity story. And in fact you know, certainty is more like extreme belief. It's very rigid and it's kind of us versus them. It's insider or outsider.

That's what can be very dangerous and destructive. You don't want that in a corporate culture, but you do want people with that sense of meaning and sense of engagement. So essentially, I'm encouraging faith in these times, but I'm really cautious about belief, especially extreme belief that creates this kind of us versus them mentality.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I absolutely love the differentiation that you made within faith and belief and the importance of that faith. One of the elements that you mentioned as connecting to faith is that trust and the need for trust and connectivity.

Bob Johansen: 

Yeah. So trust is deep into everything it seems. And my colleague Jane McGonigal at the Institute is a psychology PhD who's a gamer, she's one of the world's leading game designers, but she's also very tuned to neuroscience. And one of the things she points out and I talk about this in the book is that our brains the way they process trust and mistrust, it's not at the two ends of the same continuum. It's two separate parts of the brain. 

So trust is processed by a part of the brain that's more rational and it's more linear. It's hard to develop. And kind of that's the portion that processes trust. The portion of your brain, that processes distrust or mistrust. So either intentional or unintentional. That portion of the brain is emotional. And it's influenced by emotions and kind of rumors. And it's very tuned to social media. Trust-building is not tuned to social media. 

So we find in this VUCA world, an important part of it is social media amplifies distrust and mistrust. You know, that's the whole fake news side of the world. It's hard to develop trust in social media. So that's the world we're in. And  as leaders, it makes it a lot harder because we have to figure out if we don't have trust, we don't have anything. So we need trust as the grounding. And that has to link into our clarity. But we can't have certainty. So it's a very delicate balance. And especially now that we're playing out that delicate balance through mostly virtual media, where in person has some real advantages for leaders .

And, you know, most leaders that I know at big companies are really great in person. They have great physical presence. But virtually,  they're varied in terms of their ability to communicate that presence virtually, but they have to in this kind of world.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That trust is really essential but harder, as you mentioned. Even for the best to establish and maintain virtually. Now, the other thing in a world that is full of noise rather than signal, and in order to build trust, as you mentioned that distrust is emotional while trust is rational.

You talk about concept of clarity filters. What are clarity filters? And what would be the best way to approach coming up with clarity filters that get us more signal and less noise?

Bob Johansen: 

So that's one of the big challenges now as we go forth. And we've always had clarity filters. If you go back to ancient societies, that was the role of the elder to kind of help people make sense out of the uncertainties of life. And we still have clarity filters in daily life now, it's just our clarity filters tend to be very polarized.

So, you know, people who watch CNN do not tend to watch Fox or MSNBC. Those are clarity filters, you know, where you see filters for the news. Columnists are clarity filters, where you, you know, do you read Tom Friedman? Do you read David Brooks? Those are clarity filters.

If you're thinking about the COVID crisis as everybody is right now, ask yourself, who were the voices of clarity and who are the voices of certainty? And listen for the voices of clarity, avoid the voices of certainty, because you know, this is a global pandemic of unprecedented form and it's called the novel Corona virus for a reason. It's new, it's new. And there's a lot of uncertainty around it. But you do need clarity of direction.

 So for example, when I'm trying to figure out what's going on with the COVID crisis, I track Johns Hopkins and their daily track on the COVID virus. I listened to Anthony Fauci. I listened to Bill Gates. I do not listen to politicians of either party. Because they're in the certainty game, they're not in the clarity game. So just listen for those voices of clarity. And those are what I think of as the clarity filters. Now that is beginning to be automated. And I talk in the book about some examples.

So this is where AI and machine learning come in. And I'm optimistic about having better digital clarity filters, where they won't answer everything, but they'll at least help people make the decisions. And the higher ground is human choice. So you want to allow people to make choices about what they listened to, what they hear and kind of how they filter and to develop their own clarity filters.

But I am optimistic that machine learning and AI will help make that a lot better. If you look 10 years ahead and work back. But it's still come, you got to come back to that discipline of clarity versus certainty, but then you're adding digital tools. And this is one of the most optimistic things about the new book, the tools for full spectrum thinking, the tools for clarity filtering are going to get incredibly better in the next decade.

And these are things like big data analytics, big data visualization, gameful engagement, machine learning, neuroscience AI. The tools are so incredibly better than they were at the early stage of my career. You know, just experiencing that, even a medium like this, you know, I wrote a book called Groupware in 1988, I started using video conferencing in the late seventies. This is so much better. This is so dramatically better. And we don't even talk about Groupware anymore because that's what our digital media do. 10 years from now, it's going to be dramatically better than this. And these smartphones we carry around now, aren't going to look smart at all. The interfaces are going to be much more graceful. So the next decade, these tools for clarity filtering are going to get dramatically better.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And rather than a dystopian view of artificial intelligence and technology in the future, you actually have a hopeful view that artificial intelligence will help humans become better.

Bob Johansen: 

Yeah, definitely. You know, I've studied emerging technologies for my whole career and the worst name for an emerging technology I ever studied was artificial intelligence. And it's been around, that term has been it around for a long, long time. And as I look back on that literature, I wasn't around, even when it was coined. There was a debate about whether to call it artificial intelligence or augmented intelligence, and they made the wrong choice. They went with artificial intelligence and it held up the evolution of symbolic computing by at least a decade. Because it set up this kind of silly alternative of human or computer .And sure, there's going to be some examples of automation, you know, automating of humans and computers replacing humans, but that's not the big story. 

And this book, which is just out called Superminds. This is Tom Malone's book from Thomas at MIT. And what Tom says is the big story about humans and computers over the next decade is not computers replacing humans. The big story is humans and computers working together to do things that have never been done before. And that's why he calls it supermind. Now that's a cool term. That's motivational, that's inspirational, that draws us toward the future. 

And if you get your language right, it does draw you toward a better future. If you get your language wrong, you fight the future. And it just kind of deceives you .So, you know, artificial intelligence is not a term I use. I like the term augmented intelligence. I like the term superminds. And that's the potential we have over the next decade because you know, essentially 10 years from now, we're all cyborgs,  we're all augmented, we're all augmented in some way.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I love your hopeful view of it and of the future. Now you do also mention a couple of concerns that we need to address. One is the rich poor gap, one is the climate crisis and the other one is the potential for cyber terrorism.

Bob Johansen: 

Yeah. So these are big, big concerns. They're looming. And the one I want to talk about first is the rich poor gap. Because that's gotten so much worse during the COVID crisis. The COVID crisis is really really unfair. It hits poor people, much worse. It hits people of color, much worse. So it's a big challenge.

And even before the COVID crisis, it was hard to do a scenario 10 years out where the rich poor gap closed and got better. It was easy to do a scenario where the rich poor gap gets worse and widens. So I'm really concerned about this. This is a very big looming concern. Now I am optimistic that more and more companies are realizing it.

And there is a lot of hopeful things happening around systemic racism and trying to reduce systemic racism, trying to address social assets and kind of close the rich poor gap in different ways. So  I'm optimistic about certain things that are happening, but this is a very looming risk. And unfortunately it's not high on the priority list for enough people, enough governments, enough companies yet.

Now combine that with global climate disruption and, you know, people tend to think that the pandemic is separate from global climate disruption, but it's not, it's closely linked.  Bill Gates has been the best at talking about this and he's a voice of clarity and other one with regard to the pandemic and what we have to understand there is that the window is closing on global climate disruption and the next 10 years, there's a great opportunity.

There's a lot of new efforts on the part of companies. I'm really optimistic about some of the companies that I'm very impressed with, that some of the companies are doing. There's a lot of positive initiatives. The governments aren't moving nearly as fast as they need to. So that's a big deal.

And finally, cyber crime and cyber terrorism, that combines with the rich poor gap in particular, because those are the people they recruit, the people without hope. And the terrorists are better at shape-shifting than we are, you know, the criminals know how to do that better and they don't have the same constraints.

So yeah, there's big looming issues. The negative VUCA world is real. It's just I feel optimistic that we have an ability to engage with those issues in a way we've never been able to engage with them before, but we have to, we have to, there's an urgency about the future.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It's important for people to give those issues a voice because I love the quote from Admiral Stockdale in Stockdale paradox. “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end, which you can never afford to lose. With the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”

So what you're doing Bob is you're mentioning the current reality that we need to face in order to have faith that we are going to prevail.

Bob Johansen: 

Yeah, very true. So it's one of the skills and leadership and leaders make the future is dilemma flipping. And the reality of the VUCA world is for most leaders for the rest of our lives, we're going to deal with problems that can't be solved. That's what I call a dilemma.

And with a dilemma, you've got to be careful not to judge too soon, which is the classic mistake of the problem solver. But you also have to be careful not to decide too late. That's the classic mistake of the academic. So you got to like that space between judging too soon and deciding too late.

You've got to like that transitionary state, like we're in right now and still be able to act, not be paralyzed or immobilized by it.

Mahan Tavakoli:Well, as I mentioned, I can speak to you for hours, Bob. However, that's why it's important for the audience to read your book. Where would you send the audience to find out more about you and your brilliant both triad books? And this was your 12th book.

Bob Johansen:It is. Yeah.  So it's in all the usual places. I recorded my own audio book this time which was great fun. And I think the audiobook medium is really interesting and as a writer it is different to write for people to listen to as compared to write for people to read. And I really enjoyed the audio book. So I hope you'll appreciate that too. You can get that through the usual audio book channels. 

The Institute for the future is an independent nonprofit in Silicon Valley, and we do foresight training kind of help people learn how to be a futurist and all that's virtual now.

And you can find all my books and all the other resources from Institute for the future on our website, which is just, we can put in the link, but it's www.iftf.org. 

Mahan Tavakoli:We will put a link to all those sites and your book in the show notes. I want to go back to the cover jacket of your book, where you say the future will get even more perplexing over the next decade and we are not ready. The dilemma is that we are restricted by rigid categorical thinking that freezes people and organizations in neatly defined boxes that often are inaccurate or obsolete.

These outdated categories lead us toward certainty, but away from clarity. And categorical thinking moves us away from understanding the bigger picture. Sticking with this old way of thinking and seeing isn't just foolish. It's dangerous which is why we as leaders need to heed your advice and seek clarity and avoid certainty.

Thank you so much for joining me on this conversation, Bob Johansen..

Bob Johansen:Thanks for all you're doing. Thank you.


Dr. Bob Johansen

Renowned futurist and author of the book Full Spectrum Thinking

Bob Johansen is a distinguished fellow with the Institute for the Future in Silicon Valley. For more than 30 years, Bob has helped organizations around the world prepare for and shape the future, including corporations such as Nestle and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as a range of major universities and nonprofits.

The author or co-author of twelve books, including the best-selling Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present, Leaders Make the Future, and The New Leadership Literacies: Thriving in a Future of Extreme Disruption and Distributed Everything. Bob’s books are used widely in corporations, universities, nonprofits, and at the Army War College.

Bob holds a B.S. from the University of Illinois, which he attended on a basketball scholarship, and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University—as well as a master’s degree that focused on world religions.