Shortly after his return, he radically simpli!ed Apple’s product line, built a loyal and talented leadership team, and turned his old company into a hit-making machine as reliable as Pixar. The iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad made Jobs the world’s most admired chief executive, and Apple passed ExxonMobil to become the world’s most valuable company. His success in building an organization and a leadership team was validated as Apple’s business results continued to impress after his death in October 2011. Like many other executives, Steve Jobs seemed to have it all until he lost it—but most never get it back.
Martin Winterkorn had seemed to be on track to make Volkswagen the world’s biggest car company, and Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf was one of America’s most admired bankers. But both became so cocooned in imperfect worldviews that they misread their circumstances and couldn’t see other options. That’s what it means to be clueless. You don’t know what’s going on, but you think you do, and you don’t see better choices. So you do more of what you know, even though it’s not working. You hope in vain that steady on course will get you where you want to go.
How do leaders become clueless? That is what we explore next. Then we introduce reframing—the conceptual core of the book and our basic prescription for sizing things up. Reframing requires an ability to think about situations frommore than one angle, which lets you develop alternative diagnoses and strategies. We introduce four distinct frames—
clueless = having no knowledge , understanding or ability
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structural, human resource, political, and symbolic—each logical and powerful in capturing a detailed snapshot. Together, they help to paint a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on and what to do.
VIRTUES AND DRAWBACKS OF ORGANIZED ACTIVITY There was little need for professional managers when individuals mostly managed their own affairs, drawing goods and services from family farms and small local businesses. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution some 200 years ago, explosive technological and social changes have produced a world that is far more interconnected, frantic, and complicated. Humans struggle to avoid drowning in complexity that continually threatens to pull them in over their heads (Kegan, 1998). Forms of management and organization effective a few years ago are now obsolete. Sérieyx (1993) calls it the organizational big bang: “The information revolution, the globalization of economies, the proliferation of events that undermine all our certainties, the collapse of the grand ideologies, the arrival of the CNN society which transforms us into an immense, planetary village—all these shocks have overturned the rules of the game and suddenly turned yesterday’s organizations into antiques” (pp. 14–15).
Benner and Tushman (2015) argue that the twenty-!rst century is making managers’ challenges ever more vexing:
The paradoxical challenges facing organizations have become more numerous and strategic (Besharov & Smith, 2014; Smith & Lewis, 2011). Beyond the innovation challenges of exploration and exploitation, organizations are now challenged to be local and global (e.g., Marquis & Battilana, 2009), doing well and doing good (e.g., Battilana & Lee, 2014; Margolis & Walsh, 2003), social and commercial (e.g., Battilana & Dorado, 2010), artistic or scienti!c and pro!table (e.g., Glynn, 2000), high commitment and high performance (e.g., Beer & Eisenstadt, 2009), and pro!table and sustainable (e.g., Eccles, Ioannou, & Serafeim, 2014; Henderson, Gulati, & Tushman, 2015; Jay, 2013). These contradictions are more prevalent, persistent, and consequential. Further, these contradictions can be sustained and managed, but not resolved (Smith, 2014).
The demands on managers’ wisdom, imagination and agility have never been greater, and the impact of organizations on people’s well-being and happiness has never been more consequential. The proliferation of complex organizations has made most human activities