April 4, 2017

Business leaders encouraged to 'think differently' at 2017 Workforce Summit

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Rebecca Ryan, a futurist, economist, “brain shaker” gave the keynote address during the AWB Institute's first-ever Workforce Summit on March 22. (Photo by Brian Mittge/AWB)

On March 22, 110-plus guests received the rare opportunity to think like a futurist.

Rebecca Ryan, a futurist, economist, “brain shaker” and author of “Regeneration: A Manifesto for America’s Next Leaders,” showed attendees the positives of slowing down and planning for the future at AWB Institute’s first-ever Workforce Summit on March 22 at Motif Seattle.

Ryan kicked off the event with an energetic three-part conversation about generational differences, and the challenges and opportunities presented by today’s multi-generational workforce. She gave an interactive presentation and even answered questions from the audience she received via text message.

Part one focused on what employers can do now to embrace the change.

“We hardly think about the future,” Ryan said. “And, when we do, we think about it in three-to-five year increments. And, when we do that, we rarely talk to our colleagues about it.”

Ryan used a quote from “Competing for the Future,” by Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahald that exemplified how little executives think about the future of their businesses: “Only 2 percent of a leader’s time, on average, is focused on building an organizational view of the future.”

So, how do leaders need to change their thinking?

The first step requires differentiating the two main systems of thought, which she refers to as, “system one” thinking and “system two” thinking. “System one” thinking is a faster version of thought which, she said, leads to taking “mental shortcuts,” and “system two” thinking is a slowed-down version of thought and problem solving that takes more time and effort.

The problem executives face, Ryan said, is that they tend to use “system one” thinking when they should be putting more effort and thought into their development by using “system two” thinking. A change in this mindset will decrease planning distractions and will result in clearer business plans for the future, she said.

“If we want to be clear-eyed about the future, we cannot take mental shortcuts,” she said.

The next step is to ask, “Am I future ready?”

Naturally, “something in our neurology makes us fearful about the future,” she said. Instead of looking at your business future three to five years down the road, Ryan encourages business leaders to slow down and look at the bigger picture.

The final step is recognizing that generational change within the workforce isn’t something new; it’s something that has been experienced throughout the course of history.

“Millennials are not worse than Gen Xers and baby boomers, they are just doing things later, and a little bit different,” Ryan said.

The Workforce Summit will be an annual event with a different theme each year.

For more information on the event, contact Kelli Schueler. For more information on the AWB Institute, contact AWBI Director Amy Anderson.