Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

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What future forces will affect a leaders ability to lead in the next year, five years, 10 years? We are in a time of disruptive leadership change. In a VUCA world - one characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity - traditional leadership skills won't be enough, noted futurist Bob Johansen argues.

Drawing on the latest ten-year forecast from the Institute for the Future -t he only futures think tank ever to outlive its forecasts - this powerful book explores the external forces that are shaking the foundations of leadership.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781531812133
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 08/23/2016
Edition description: Unabridged
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Bob Johansen has been helping organizations around the world prepare for and shape the future for more than thirty years. Currently a Distinguished Fellow with the Institute for the Future (IFTF), he was IFTF’s president from 1996 to 2004. His work has been influential to IFTF clients such as Procter & Gamble, Tesco, UPS, Disney, Hallmark, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, United Cerebral Palsy, and other leading organizations. He is the author or coauthor of seven previous books, including Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present.

Read an Excerpt

Leaders Make the Future

Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Bob Johansen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60509-002-3

Chapter One

Maker Instinct

Ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making.

EVERYONE HAS SOME MAKER INSTINCT. The challenge is to turn the natural urge to create into a leadership skill, to synchronize the maker instincts of leaders with those of others. Many people don't realize their own maker instinct and potential. It must be recognized, valued, and nurtured if it is to become a leadership skill for the future. Beyond do-it-yourself, we need to nurture do-it-ourselves leadership. The maker instinct will be amplified by connectivity.

When I go into a new company, I like to ask leaders about their hobbies. If they have complex, exotic, time-consuming hobbies, it may be that their maker instinct is not being fully expressed at work. Perhaps the organization is operating at a routine level that does not demand deep engagement and does not tap the maker instinct of its leaders.

I remember meeting one executive who rebuilt old steam engines in his spare time. Building steam engines is a great hobby, but this top executive was overdosing: he had fields packed with steam engines. As I learned more about his company and his role, I realized that the corporate culture did not tap into the maker instinct. Rather, the leaders in that company tended to do what they had to do at work, then go home to do what they wanted to do. They had created a culture of discipline focused on good management, but they were not tapping the maker instinct and channeling it into leadership.

I'm certainly not against hobbies, but I am against leadership roles that focus on bottom line results, telling people what to do, and following the rules, rather than requiring leaders to get personally involved in how things work and how they could be improved. For example, some people like to arrive, give a speech, and leave. They have no interest in the group process that was unfolding before they arrived and will continue after they depart. On the other hand, makers like to see how ideas develop and unfold—and they like to be able to influence how that happens. Leaders need to get involved in the messiness of group process to understand the context for decision making and the underlying relationships among the people working together. The speak-and-run approach may be considered leadership on the speaking circuit, but that's not group leadership. Leaders have the maker (and remaker) instinct to engage in the process, to figure out how things work and what needs to change.

The maker instinct is basic and precedes all other skills that will be needed for future leadership. The roots of the maker instinct run deep. Go to any beach in the world and you see kids digging in the sand. Why do they dig holes and build sand castles? These young makers are honing their maker instinct. My guess is that most successful leaders were very ambitious excavators when they were kids. Leaders are makers by definition. They make organizations, with more or less involvement by others.

The leaders of the future will be less controlling, since there will be fewer things they can control. They will also be more engaged with others, since connectivity will be required to make the future. Everyone is part of a network. Leaders are nodes, and the best ones are hubs that form, nurture, and grow networks that stretch far beyond the individual leader.

My dad was a maker. To relax, he would go to the basement by himself, where he always had several projects in progress. With great care, he read Popular Mechanics, a magazine that aroused the maker instinct in readers every month with inspiring projects like gliders you could pull behind a car. Dad had a Shopsmith woodworking machine—a noisy, whirring contraption that loomed near our furnace. I learned as a child that this awe-inspiring machine was dangerous and that I should stay away unless I myself learned how to become a maker. It was not easy to learn woodworking skills, and I never became nearly as good as my dad, but I still have a serving tray that I made at a Cub Scout meeting using discarded records from a local radio station and imprinting circular patterns on them with a spinning wire brush. My dad made it easy for me to satisfy my early urge to make, giving me lots of advice while he watched over me so I didn't get hurt. The Shopsmith was frighteningly mechanical, but it was also a wonder. Like the maker instinct itself, it was both attractive and imposing.

My dad was a solo maker, working alone in our basement. In the future, solo makers will still be around, but networks of makers will be much more powerful. The maker instinct is solitary, but leaders will need to connect their maker energy to others in order to fuel change. Makers have always been interested in sharing what they make with others and the new media tools will facilitate this urge.

My mom had the maker instinct as well. She loved to sew and then to knit. She made clothes for my sister and me, though I didn't appreciate them until I got older. At our church, my mom and grandmother would go to sewing circles where people would talk as they sewed or knitted. Late in her life, my grandmother became part of the Leisure League at church, a group that made clothing for people in developing countries. She loved the making, but the fact that others valued her products and found them useful gave them meaning. That work became a big part of my grandmother's identity. Everyone has a maker instinct, but it can play out in many different ways with different people. The maker instinct is both male and female and is found across cultures as well.

MAKE: Magazine is a modern reinvention of Popular Mechanics and the other maker magazines of that era. Its founder, Dale Dougherty, is well aware of the historical roots of his magazine and what he refers to as the "maker mindset." In honor of those roots, MAKE is exactly the same size in its paper version as Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and the other do-it-yourself magazines that were popular thirty years ago. Makers tend to respect their roots, and many makers have deep roots.

Maker instinct is a kind of DNA imprint that we all carry in our own ways. MAKE: Magazine and the Maker Faire are profound signals that indicate a very important direction for the future. The maker instinct is a drive away from the ordinary—including ordinary leadership.

Maker Instinct Defined

The maker instinct is an inner drive to build and grow things. Leaders with maker instinct have a constant desire to improve the organizations around them. Both managers and leaders ask how things work, but leaders have an urge to make them work better.

For example, when I was a Little League Baseball manager for my son's team, my maker instinct urged me to juggle the lineup to try out different batting orders for maximum effect. When I was president of Institute for the Future, I was fascinated by how organizational changes might better achieve our mission. The popular Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams is a romantic fantasy around a maker theme: "If you build it, they will come." He made a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield and a miracle happened. True, the Costner character was a bit idealistic and even unrealistic, but he also had an overwhelming maker urge that just had to be expressed. He was right to follow that urge.

Makers like to be hands-on and see things from the inside. The MAKE: Magazine motto is "if you can't open it, you don't own it." Open means transparent and accessible, but it also means able to be altered, customized, or personalized. Think about how that maxim has major implications for today's manufacturers, many of whom do not want you to open their products and will void your warranty if you do. Of course, the specifics of how consumers are allowed to "open" a product are critical. The Toyota Scion, for example, is designed to be customized, but that doesn't mean that everything about the Scion is open. Manufacturers must decide what they can "open," while still owning what they can own that gives them advantage. This is not an either/or choice. The clear direction of change, however, is toward being more open and more willing to let consumers engage with and modify the products they buy.

Leaders will grow, re-grow, and reimagine their own organizations again and again. The maker instinct fuels that growth. Leaders will make the future in the context of the external future forces of the next decade.

Maker Instinct Meets the Future

In the future, personal empowerment will mean that customization and personalization will be desired and often demanded. Even global products will need to feel local, or at least not feel foreign. Grassroots economic systems like eBay will make bottom-up financial transactions possible. Smart networking will create results that will not be predicted but will be profound.


At the 2008 Maker Faire, IFTF gave visitors inexpensive video recorders and asked them to go out and gather stories from the makers. They brought back accounts of the maker instinct at work. For example, a twenty-foot-high electric giraffe named Russell created quite a stir rolling around the fair. Russell cost its maker $20,000 plus lots of time to build it. Colorful cupcakes, each one accommodating a single rider, rolled around the grounds in wandering paths. The two liquid sculptors dropped Mentos candies into Diet Coke bottles to create patterns of spray.

Computer giant and master maker Steve Wozniak spoke at the second Maker Faire and commented that the spirit of Maker Faire reminded him of the early days of the personal computer. Many of today's makers are out to create new products or services, but others are just out to have a good time. Makers are coming together in new ways that are likely to have profound impacts on the future.

Maker communities, as showcased at the Maker Faire, are often diasporas linked by strong shared values and sometimes a common place where its members feel at home. Many of these communities are bound together by ideals about how their work should be practiced, or where their craft was born. Maker diasporas believe in what they are making and how it is made. They often want to spread their word and share their truth. The annual Maker Faire is a vibrant gathering of makers shouting out to a wide array of other makers and celebrants of all ages. Although showing off is part of it, far more is going on.

There is often a strong bond among makers that stretches back in time and forward. Leaders share stories that keep maker traditions alive and draw in new members. Makers have the skills to make the world a better place, but they often don't know it. They just build what gives them pleasure, but leaders will know how to tap that maker energy as a force for change.

Shared energy is what diasporas are all about. The maker instinct will feed right into diasporic energy which will be amplified by networked media. As these new groundswells of grassroots innovation disrupt traditional patterns, however, organizations are likely to be confused about what to do. For example, both Mentos and CocaCola threatened to sue the artists whom they claimed were misusing their products by dropping Mentos into Diet Coke and creating massive displays of fizz. A short while later, both companies realized that lawsuits were unlikely to be successful and were likely to be unpopular with consumers. With some consternation but great consumer insight, both companies decided to sponsor the artists. Makers learn from those who use their products and services, and they learn even more when they encourage people to use them in ways that the manufacturer never imagined.

Solo makers like my dad in his basement are evolving into networked artisans through gatherings like the Maker Faire. Makers love to show and tell. The website Instructables.com allows makers to meet virtually and share projects. The banner on the Instructables home page even refers to itself as "The World's Largest Show and Tell." Maker messages will circulate very rapidly within and among maker diasporas. Products will be turned into stories and the stories will spread like viruses on maker blogs and every other imaginable medium.


One leadership dilemma is how to intelligently give things away without putting your own organization at a disadvantage. Remember: your competitors don't necessarily need to lose in order for you to win. Open source logic teaches that it can be good to give away ideas if there is a good chance that you will get back even better ideas in return. This logic is counterintuitive for many leaders, but those who tap into the maker instinct understand this concept much more readily than those whose maker instincts were repressed in large corporations. Makers easily access the wisdom they have learned from their hobbies to help them with the demands of their jobs.

At the 2008 Maker Faire, for example, Jimmy Smith from Team FredNet talked about the Google Lunar X Prize, which was awarded to the team that could land a rover on the surface of the moon. FredNet used only off-the-shelf products. They shared their activities with everyone, including their competitors. Thus a new zone was created within which competitors could pool their resources in order to achieve the ultra-ambitious goal of landing a rover on the moon. This logic challenges traditional assumptions about competition. You divulge information to competitors? Yes, in pursuit of the prize there is sharing, but competition continues beyond that base of information.

Corporations used to think of research and development (R&D) as something that happens inside big laboratories and gradually gets released to the people who use the products. In the future, much of the innovation will come from backyards, basements, and kitchens of those guided by their own maker instinct—in both developed and (especially) developing worlds. At the edges of traditional R&D— and even far beyond the edges—corporate-mandated methods are giving way to maker-inspired grassroots innovation. Central corporate R&D will still exist, but it will be more open and on a smaller scale. Threadless, for example, is a T-shirt maker that holds a design competition in which consumers compete and vote on the designs. Those that get the highest ratings get manufactured. The Threadless model may be extreme, but it suggests the direction of change. End consumers can be the designers—or at least the inspiration—for future products.


When I started out as a forecaster in the early 1970s, many leading-edge information technologies were developed within the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which created the ARPAnet, the precursor to the Internet. Gradually, innovations that were classified as military secrets made their way to public use. In just the thirty-five-year period of my career, this pattern has reversed. Now, the leading-edge tools are coming from consumer electronics and video gaming. Even the tools of war are coming from everyday products adapted with a mix of maker ingenuity and anger. The most sophisticated roadside bombs used in insurgent warfare, for example, come from consumer electronic and cell phone technologies—not from sophisticated big-technology innovation developed inside massive defense establishments. Insurgent makers are everywhere—on the battlefield and behind the scenes. Gradually, these innovations make their way back to the military industrial complex.

Innovation will have both positive and negative results. In a world of asymmetric warfare, innovation happens from the bottom up. Enemies (and potential collaborators) can come together any place and any time. Terrorist networks tend to be organizationally sophisticated, and they know how to make their own weapons. The maker instinct is often very strong within dangerous mobs, and it is likely to grow in the future. Access to tools has improved for the bad guys as well as for the good guys, and sometimes it will be difficult to tell which is which. Makers, alas, can be thieves or vandals, demonstrating the negative side—even as the positive energy of events like the Maker Faire continues to grow.


Excerpted from Leaders Make the Future by BOB JOHANSEN Copyright © 2009 by Bob Johansen. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Figures xi

Foreword to the Second Edition John R. Ryan xiii

Preface to the Second Edition xvii

Introduction: Listening for the Future 1

1 Maker Instinct 27

2 Clarity 42

3 Dilemma Flipping 56

4 Immersive Learning Ability 75

5 Bio-Empathy 95

6 Constructive Depolarizing 110

7 Quiet Transparency 125

8 Rapid Prototyping 139

9 Smart-Mob Organizing 153

10 Commons Creating 165

11 Future Immersion For Leadership Development 182

12 Learning The Ten Future Leadership Skills Yourself 196

Notes 217

Bibliography 225

Acknowledgments 231

Index 235

About the Author 243

About IFTF 244

About CCL 245

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