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No Way Out But Forward

By Matt Burr

On the day they are ordered to war
Soldiers may sit and weep
Or lie down in quiet misery

But once plunged into battle
With no way out but forward
They will fight as bravely
As the bravest warriors of old.

- Sun Tzu

Some generations have it harder than others.

That seems to be our lot. We are leaving behind an era of relative peace and stability for one that is more dangerous, more fragile, more complex.

For organizations, the stakes are enormous. Not so long ago, consultants could chipper excitedly about learning to navigate uncertainty, like it was a game. A serious game, perhaps, but a game nonetheless.

Now it’s more purely a matter of life or death. If your organization can navigate uncertainty and thrive in chaos, you will live. If it can’t, you won’t.

Management is the key. Who manages your organization’s teams? How do they manage them? How are managers being prepared for that responsibility?

These are the questions that will determine the fate of organizations in the age of uncertainty.

There is some reason for optimism. The rising generation of managers is uniquely equipped to meet today’s organizational challenges, in large part because of the powerful digital tools (and fluency operating those tools) that they bring with them.

But management is a funny kind of skill: you mostly have to learn it by experience; it is both ancient and constantly changing; you have to study the generations that came before you, but can’t follow them exactly; everyone is a bit bad at it at first.

In an era like this, unfortunately, we don’t have time for steep learning curves. How effectively we can introduce this generation to the art of management, and how quickly we can equip them to make it their own, is one of the defining issues of our age.

To reach them, let alone teach them, we have to meet them where they live, in a language they respect and understand. That doesn’t mean entertaining them or throwing flashy toys at them or having them lectured by famous actors in 90 second soundbites.

It means creating opportunities for new managers to face hard truths together and discuss them openly. It means producing groundbreaking content that opens new horizons of thinking. It means designing learning that is relevant, precise, and interesting.

Teaching management is hard. Every manager’s context is unique. The people, the purpose, the resources, the stakes are different for every single one of us. That means management cannot be taught like coding or accounting.

But some things about management are universal. Managers who are trusted, decisive, and fair do better over the long term in every context. Socrates and Sun Tzu taught most of the key management principles 2500 years ago.

Good management education is built on those universal principles. If they are translated for today’s world, today’s decisions, and today’s decision-makers, and they are taught as open-ended tools, to be adopted and adapted for a manager’s particular context, the impact can be enormous.

That’s the kind of learning Nomadic empowers, or least what we aspire to empower. Like everyone else, we are very much still learning how to do this.

But we know what’s at stake. And we know the only way out is forward. And when you have that, extraordinary things can happen.

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