What’s Important in 2021

2020 will go down in history as a lost cause. What can you do to prevent yourself and your organization from meeting the same fate in 2021?

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed our world and leaves us with a lot more questions than answers at the beginning of 2021: What will be the long-term effects of the pandemic? What exactly will it do to us? Will people stay in their home offices next year? It looks a bit like it. It is even quite possible that the only people still running around on the streets are Amazon delivery guys. The rest of us will stay at home, isolated from the real world and each other, and keep spending our days streaming, skyping, zooming, posting and liking something or other.

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For the first time in ages, we are not confronted with a concrete risk that we can get by with clear strategies. Instead, we are trapped in a phase of fundamental uncertainty. Nobody knows exactly what needs to be done next.

Over the years, I have given hundreds of speeches for enterprises. And no matter whether they were banks or pharmaceutical companies or mechanical engineers, all of them asked themselves the same questions: How can we make smart decisions in a complex world? What is really important? What is obsolete? How many questionable appointments are in my team? Am I one of them?

Note
Our columnist Vince Ebert speaks at congresses, conferences and company celebrations in German and English on the topics of success, innovation and digitization. Here you can hire Vince Ebert as a keynote speaker for your event.

In 2021 these questions are more vital than ever. By the same token, the answers are harder to find than ever before. The general situation is not predictable, but very unstable and ambiguous. A highly unsatisfying scenario for leaders, considering their job description is to maneuver and organize complex systems. But then research shows us:

The more complex a system the more likely it is exposed to hazards and accidents.

Vince Ebert

A good friend of mine works in the risk-management department of a big insurance company. He is a total control freak, at work and in his private life: firewalls, antivirus programs, security alarm systems, insurances… you name it. When he came back from a business trip one day his apartment and his bank accounts had been raided. By his own wife.

So, what is it that we can do? How can we stay capable of action in times of complete uncertainty? First of all, I think it is absolutely essential for us to accept the fact that we have lost control over the world. The virus has taken over and there is nothing we can do about it.

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My Motto for 2021 Is “Improvisation Beats Perfection!”

Meticulous planning and perfect prep-work are great tools for handling specific problems that come with a wrong or a right solution. But that is exactly NOT what we are dealing with at the moment. What is right today can be crucially wrong tomorrow. The smart thing to do right now is to improvise and try out new things instead of trying to develop the perfect plan.

The methods of the natural sciences are a good example of what I mean: Science is so successful because imperfect theories are developed which then get examined, corrected, perfected or, if need be, dismissed. This way innumerous innovations have come to light that nobody was looking for in the first place: Porcelain was discovered because alchemists were trying to fabricate gold. Scotch tape was originally planned as band aid. And Viagra began its career as a heart medication that male trial participants kept on taking, long after the testing phase was over. The scientific proof of resurrection.

Ever since I was a small child, I have enjoyed a playful trial period. When I was six, I used a magnifying glass to apply a gleaming hot sunbeam to the back of my father’s head. A whole team of medical experts tried for weeks to find out what the hell that little black dot was.

Vince Ebert

2021 should be the year of improvisation. We have to re-learn how to try out things and deal with imperfections in a constructive way, how to fail gracefully. Because, more often than not, great failures lead to great insights.

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I learned this the hard way during my nine-month stay in New York City in 2020. I was performing at the local stand-up comedy clubs, basically a suicide mission: A German comedian who had studied physics, telling jokes about Georg Ohm, the founder of the German resistance. What could possibly go wrong? It was not my language, not my country and I had no clue of what awaited me on stage. I was left with only one option: to take a leap into the unknown and dive right into (probably very) cold water and improvise. That’s just what I did.

One time, I asked a couple in the first row, “How long have you two been together?” When the guy answered, “Dude, she is my sister!” I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying, so I asked back, “How cool! And do you have kids?” It was by far the biggest laugh I got that night.

For next year I wish all of us more courage when it comes to experimenting and improvising, no matter whether you are an employer or an employee. Take a risk every once in a while and give spontaneity a chance. Do something crazy every now and then! It doesn’t have to be anything big. Invite a Bernie Sanders fan to a tea party. Have a coffee-to-go while sitting down. Sleep with your own wife. Pee in a public pool. And if you are really daring, do it from the diving platform.

If we never do anything stupid or unconventional, we won’t accomplish anything fabulous either.

Vince Ebert

So here is to 2021: Let’s all have a Happy Brave New Year!


For further reading on the topic, Vince recommends the following from our knowledge library:

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Photo: Frank Eidel


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