BCG's Weekly Briefs

In BCG’s Weekly Brief, our most senior executives, including Global Chair Rich Lesser and CEO Christoph Schweizer, share their latest perspectives and ideas, as well as some of the firm’s most compelling thought leadership, in an email to colleagues, clients, and friends around the world. These messages cover a wide range of topics that are top of mind for business leaders today, issues that have become more layered and challenging than ever: from global trade and consumer choice to corporate purpose, climate change, and responsible AI. Here is a selection:

An Inside View from COP26—Week One

NOVEMBER 8, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

I’ve been on the ground in Glasgow for the past week at COP26, a pivotal gathering of world leaders, companies, investors, and civil society meant to get the world on a better, faster, and more inclusive pathway toward net zero. Our BCG team has been quite active, supporting the UNFCCC High-Level Climate Champions, the UK COP Presidency, and the launch of the First Movers Coalition (FMC), as well as serving as a founding partner of Breakthrough Energy Catalyst and participating in many panels and senior leader dialogues.

There’s so much to report from the first week of the conference, and I will get to that. But first, I want to share the moment that inspired me the most. Vinisha Umashankar, a 15-year-old from India and an Earthshot Prize finalist, was introduced by Prince William at the World Leaders Summit and gave a beautiful and inspiring five-minute speech. I highly recommend that you watch it, ideally with your child or a young adult, and then decide what you will do to match her passion and innovative spirit to change your organization and influence the world around you. As Vinisha so eloquently put it: “You are deciding whether my generation will get to live in a habitable world; you are deciding whether we are worth fighting for....”

Here’s my take on the week—what has given me the most hope, along with some of the most important questions and challenges.

Seven Points of Light

1. The Private Sector Steps Up. Every longtime COP attendee I have spoken to shared that they’ve never seen the private sector participate with the level of energy and commitment it has shown this year. For many, this engagement is the biggest highlight of COP26 so far.

In the runup to the conference, we saw more than 5,000 businesses sign up to join the Race to Zero campaign, a commitment to the 1.5° pathway. John Kerry and the US State Department, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, announced that 34 companies have joined the First Movers Coalition, aimed at accelerating demand for clean advanced technologies—and I expect many more firms will follow. And Breakthrough Energy Catalyst, a Bill Gates initiative now with ten founding partners, is focused on rapidly scaling these critical climate technologies. “If we’re going to scale the innovations that get us to zero,” Bill said, “we need to reduce the cost difference between things that emit and things that don’t…. The cost of the transition must be low enough that the whole world can afford it.”

2. India’s Climate Plan. India’s commitment to a 2070 net-zero GHG emission goal may be more than it appears on the surface, particularly when combined with its commitment to transition to 50% renewable power and reduce carbon intensity by 45% by 2030. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was an important force in week one on this and on other important issues in technology and a global electricity grid.

3. A Just Transition Fund for South Africa. An $8.5 billion fund has been put together by the Just Energy Transition Partnership, an initiative from the UK, the US, France, and Germany, to finance an inclusive energy transition in South Africa, supporting a plan that BCG was honored to help create. I hope this is the start of a fast-moving trend in which high-income countries step up to accelerate the decarbonization and just transition of lower- and middle-income countries.

4. A Big Financial Sector Commitment. Nearly 500 financial institutions, representing 40% of financial assets globally, have committed to a pathway using science-based targets to reach net zero by 2050 and pathway-aligned reductions by 2030—a huge step forward compared with the last COP. The commitment does not mean that the headline $130 trillion is ready for deployment now, but it does show that many banks, asset owners, and asset managers are on board for net zero and ready to take responsibility for measuring and reporting progress.

5. A Global Methane Pledge. More than 100 countries, including the US, Japan, and Canada, and the EU, have agreed to slash methane emissions—responsible for one-third of current global warming—by 30% by 2030, relative to 2020 levels. Rapidly reducing methane, with its major greenhouse gas effects, is one of the most effective short-term measures we can take.

6. Glasgow Breakthroughs Agenda. More than 40 countries, including the UK, the US, India, and China, have signed on to this critical framework aimed at developing and deploying clean technologies, initially focusing on making electric vehicles more affordable, expanding clean energy, scaling low-carbon hydrogen, and pushing steel production toward near zero by 2030. The initiative is supported by the private sector and is synergistic with key programs, such as the FMC and Breakthrough Energy Catalyst.

7. Innovation Where We Need It Most. Some of the most energizing conversations I had last week were private discussions about the advanced technologies that are achieving or will soon achieve major technical milestones, including digital and AI optimization of a renewable grid infrastructure, nuclear technologies, and direct air capture. They’re unlikely to change the trajectory much this decade but could have a huge impact in the 2030s and 2040s. Innovations that deliver lower-cost solutions remain our biggest upside to meet the 2050 goals, as we have already seen in solar, wind, and batteries.

Five Big Uncertainties

While there’s encouraging news across many fronts, five uncertainties loom particularly large for me:

1. Protecting Nature. It was encouraging to see the reforestation pledge, with more than 100 world leaders signing on to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. But the challenges involved in turning these commitments into tangible results remain large. It will take just as much effort in planning, resourcing, executing, and measuring our efforts to protect and restore nature as it will to transform industry.

2. A Price on Carbon. Getting a price on carbon has been the single biggest ask from CEOs in so many conversations between business leaders and public officials. This topic is of central importance in the US right now and may still stand a chance to be included in the Build Back Better legislation. The voice of business must stay loud on this topic around the world.

3. From Commitment to Action. Many of the commitments this past week from the public and private sectors were encouraging, but the proof is in the pudding (appropriate for a UK COP). Progress will hinge both on policies and on operational elements, such as reducing the permitting delays for upgrading the grid that occur in so many countries and communities. Another major factor will be the role that multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank and IMF, will play in de-risking investments to unlock the private sector’s large financial commitments. Finally, both private and public actors will need to translate their commitments into credible plans with tangible nearer-term targets and transparent reporting if they are to (re-) earn the trust of society.

4. Support for Developing Countries to Adapt. This remains a central part of the global climate journey, and the commitments to date are still not where they need to be. Will high-income countries step up to this need and responsibility to help the parts of the world that did not create this climate crisis but will feel the most impact and are least equipped to deal with its potentially catastrophic effects?

5. COP26 Week Two. Where will we be at the end of this week? The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change established an indispensable process of climate negotiations, but negotiators have a challenging week ahead. Will they agree on rules for carbon trading and find ways to accelerate the process by which countries raise ambitions?

My Favorite CEO Quote. At the FMC launch, Anna Borg, CEO of Swedish power company Vattenfall, put into clear focus how high the stakes are for business leaders everywhere: “This is about competitiveness and building the business models of tomorrow. The largest risk is to not transform. The customer demand will change so much faster than industrial processes. To be early will be challenging, but to be late will be devastating.

I found myself more optimistic at the end of week one than I expected to be, given the skeptical buildup. But there’s still so much work to do in week two and far, far beyond.

Until next week, when I'll send a full wrap up of the event.

What Makes Work Productive?

OCTOBER 11, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

Of the many colleagues who have shaped my thinking over the years, Yves Morieux—with his unique insights about “smart simplicity” and the connection between context and behavior—has been one of the most influential.

In addition to his two TED talks, which together have garnered more than 6 million views, his writing has consistently shaken up established thinking about keeping employees engaged and running organizations more effectively. I think you’ll find his latest article, The Social Economics of Work and Productivity, particularly interesting at a time when there’s so much talk about how to design the future of work. It’s cowritten by BCG’s Diana Dosik, whose TED talk about organizational behavior and the employee journey is another must-watch video.

When COVID-19 lockdowns forced so many of us to work from home, the challenges, of course, were enormous—especially among the most vulnerable members of society. But as employees and their managers scrambled to figure out how to use technological tools in order to keep businesses up and running, “relational productivity”—the term Yves has coined to refer to the economic benefits of human connectedness—surged.

How could a lack of contact lead to greater connectedness and higher productivity?

The forced period of working from home removed the “container” we were used to: the shared workspace, the meetings with the highest-ranking member of the team at the head of the table, the potentially misleading notion that leaders are in touch with their teams because they are all physically together. Without the container, we were left with the authentic content of our connections—or lack thereof. A discovery by subtraction.

Yves and Diana liken this to replacing traffic lights with a roundabout. While the clarity of red, yellow, and green might seem like the safer option, drivers at roundabouts are forced to slow down and make decisions based on active observations. They tend to be more mindful—and, research shows, proceed more safely—than the passive driver responding to a signal.

As the pandemic took away our traffic lights overnight, we learned that intentional connectedness matters more than physical proximity and leads to greater productivity. We also learned the importance of three “relational complementarities” underlying relational productivity: vertical (manager to employee), horizontal (employee to employee), and radial (employee to organization). When strong, and enhanced by digital technologies, these complementarities can combine to improve leadership, cooperation, and engagement throughout the organization.

The point isn’t that moving everyone to fully remote work is the answer—for sure not. Instead, Yves and Diana suggest that we should be very careful not to ignore the lessons we have learned from this period. We have to invest in the relational dimensions of work, finding ways to design tasks—whatever “container” they’re taking place in (remote, in office, or hybrid)—so that they are engaging for everyone involved.

Please see below for more on this and related topics.

Transforming for the Future—Sustainability and AI

OCTOBER 5, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

I’m so pleased to be stepping in for Rich to share this Weekly Brief, a few days after becoming CEO of BCG.

One of the privileges of starting my new role is the chance I have to speak with dozens of CEOs around the world. Right now, I’m writing after an invigorating set of discussions in Singapore. What’s striking so far is that the two topics that are top of mind for me—stepping up efforts in climate and sustainability and embedding AI—are also among the top priorities for the CEOs I’ve met. These are two of the primary challenges that organizations face today, and they also present the greatest opportunities for differentiation and the ability to make a difference in the world.

Climate and Sustainability
Rich wrote to you a couple weeks ago about some of BCG’s own net-zero goals and how we’ve been able to increase our ambitions and move up our timelines over the past year. Beyond our internal goals, we’re currently working with hundreds of clients around the world and across all industries on their net-zero and ESG agendas—helping many of them embark on sustainability transformations, make progress on the path to net zero, and seek to find a place of lasting competitive advantage.

I know that many CEOs also want to be involved in broader climate and sustainability efforts, which requires a step change in how we all think about collective action—pooling resources, knowledge, and capabilities to tackle climate change together. I’m particularly excited about one of the ways in which BCG has taken on that task, by becoming one of seven anchor partners of the Breakthrough Energy Catalyst program, part of Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy entity devoted to fighting climate change.

This partnership—which also includes American Airlines, ArcelorMittal, Bank of America, the BlackRock Foundation, General Motors, and Microsoft—will mobilize billions of dollars of private and public capital to fund projects across four technologies critical for decarbonization: green hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuel, long-duration energy storage, and direct air capture.

Artificial Intelligence
Embedding artificial intelligence is another daunting task that offers incredible opportunities for organizations, and it comes up in nearly every conversation I have with CEOs. AI can help turn traditional companies into “bionic” leaders, which combine technology with the adaptability and unique experience of humans.

I fundamentally believe AI can radically change how people work, shifting their tasks from transactional to creative and making work more meaningful and productive. Our recent research underscores this. The morale of employees at companies where AI has been deployed is materially higher than in organizations where it has not—more on this in an upcoming BCG publication. But getting AI right is a big job, encompassing a rethinking of end-to-end processes, decision making, operating models, and entire value chains.

The intersection of AI and sustainability promises to be powerful in the decades to come. AI will prove to be a game changer in measuring and tracking emissions, selecting and implementing the best decarbonization solutions, and, as a result, mitigating the effects of climate change overall.

We’re at a moment of tremendous change and possibility, with so many opportunities available to create value for all. In this context, I’m particularly excited to take on the CEO role to serve the BCG community of clients, alumni, and staff. To read more about these topics please see below. I look forward to connecting with you again soon.

To read more about these topics please see below. I look forward to connecting with you again soon.

Christoph Schweizer
Chief Executive Officer

Sustainable Resource Scarcity Can Shape Competitive Advantage

JULY 12, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

Did you know:

  • The current supply of raw materials for batteries is less than one-third of what will be required to meet demand in 2030?
  • Many consumer packaged goods companies have set ambitious recycled-plastics packaging goals, but about 45% of the demand will be unmet by 2025?
  • Only 21% of cotton worldwide was grown sustainably in 2018, while the vast majority of major fashion brands have committed to using 100% sustainable cotton by the end of 2025?
  • The supply of carbon credits that many organizations rely on to offset greenhouse gas emissions will fall short by 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2030?

Businesses have often been able to develop unique advantages within environments of scarcity—when there’s a shortage of raw materials, skills, or capacity at a pinch point in a supply chain. That’s not a new concept, but applying it to climate strategy, I think, is.

In the coming years, as more companies pursue net-zero agendas, there will be a fierce struggle to obtain the resources, infrastructure, and capabilities that they need to do so. I want to point you to an excellent article that tackles this topic: The Green Economy Has a Resource-Scarcity Problem, launched a few days ago in Harvard Business Review by my BCG colleagues Dave Young, Rich Hutchinson, and Martin Reeves.

The authors prescribe specific steps that leaders should take now—to both understand where resource scarcity might exist and capitalize on the opportunities that those scarcities surface—while evolving business models for durable relevance. Here are a few that should be part of a broader portfolio of moves:

  • Securing long-term contracts with existing suppliers
  • Acquiring suppliers or developing new sources, both to satisfy future demand and potentially to supply other businesses
  • Redesigning the goods and services that rely on scarce inputs
  • Hedging new scarcity risks through venture investments in technologies and companies aiming to resolve resource bottleneck
  • Participating in coalitions to address supply constraints, including with governments and NGOs

Today, so many business leaders are forming climate strategies based on the pressure, rightly placed, by employees, stockholders, and society at large. But if they turn that concept around and put sustainability—including finding opportunities amid scarcity—at the core of their business models, they have the potential to unlock new sources of competitive advantage and, in turn, accelerate investment and differentiation in climate and beyond.

Mind the Innovation Readiness Gap

APRIL 20, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

When BCG began publishing the annual Most Innovative Companies report, back in 2005, the primary focus was on the list itself, highlighting the 50 leading large-company innovators from around the world and telling their inspiring success stories. Over time, the report has turned into an opportunity to explore the drivers of innovation outperformance, diving deep into how companies create healthy innovation systems that help them discover and develop ideas that will excite customers.

Our 2021 report, Overcoming the Innovation Readiness Gap, explains how the COVID-19 pandemic put the need for innovation excellence front and center. A crisis is always a test of an organization’s ability to adapt rapidly to change—and this past year was a crisis like no other, requiring innovation in business models, value propositions, and ways of working.

It turned out, of course, that some companies stood out and were better prepared than others.

The will to be innovative was there. In 2021, 75% of companies said innovation was among their top three executive priorities, as opposed to 65% the year before—the biggest year-over-year jump since we’ve been doing the research. But many face a readiness gap. When we asked respondents about their innovation systems and evaluated them based on BCG’s innovation-to-impact benchmarking framework, we found that just 20% are ready to translate their aspirations into results.

Companies that were committed and ready to innovate were not only able to handle the challenges brought on by the pandemic but found many ways to thrive. For example, the companies on the prepandemic 2020 list outperformed the broader global market in shareholder returns by a staggering 17 percentage points over the past year (13 points even if you exclude the largest high-flying tech firms), making it clear that well-tuned innovation systems drive resilience and adaptability.

I also found it interesting that the leadership teams of the top 50 this year were more diverse in terms of gender and cultural background than their peers. It turns out that this is not simply correlation; looking back at the rich history of the innovators from the past 15 years, we clearly see that diversity drives innovation, not so much the other way around.

For me personally, after having spent so much of my time this past year talking to other business leaders about COVID-19, it gave me particular joy to see early vaccine pioneers Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson both in the top 20 of this year’s list.* Just the other day, as part of the Consilium@BCG executive summit, I spoke with Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, who described how Pfizer’s purpose and values contributed directly to the company’s ability to be agile and innovative in such a challenging year. I feel such deep appreciation for the way these companies, and other leading health technology firms, unleashed tremendous innovation at a time when the world needed it most.

The Superpower of Humans Plus AI

APRIL 12, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

At BCG, we’ve been writing for the past couple of years about the opportunity ahead to build “bionic companies”: organizations that combine what technology does best and what people do best, for outcomes far above what either can achieve alone. Our team of data scientists at BCG GAMMA has been working at the frontier of AI, and some of their most exciting recent projects have put the theory of the bionic company into clear practice, with impressive and sometimes unexpected results.

These projects don’t just involve an AI-powered tool, like retail personalization or a pricing widget, which can deliver impressive but narrow commercial results. Instead, they enable skilled operators of huge complex systems to maximize the capabilities of those systems, whether in mining, manufacturing, electricity, or airline ground operations.

These are situations in which a small number of people have to make important decisions, reacting quickly to shifting circumstances. The choices they make can substantially affect overall system performance with significant financial consequences.

I want to share with you one example, which really brings this to life. In our work with a diversified metals miner, BCG GAMMA delivered an AI suite that is now directly integrated into the company’s core asset operations, allowing it to ingest much more information than previously possible across a wide range of input and output variables. Operators can respond to the information in real time and deliver previously unattained performance levels.

The recommendations from AI are embedded in the system’s center of operations and are based on empirical modeling and rules—the operators’ actual experiences. And the operators remain in charge, choosing whether or not to accept what the AI is telling them. After working with the AI for more than a year, the operators are now also using it to test new hypotheses and expand the boundaries of the plant’s capability. At the same time, the AI learns from the operators as they put new approaches into motion—each dependent on the other to reach new levels of performance.

In this industry, finding 2% to 3% production improvement would be considered a success for projects of this nature—especially those not leveraging AI. With the AI suite now in place, the company is realizing an unprecedented 15% uplift in output, and the team is emboldened to pursue even more.

We’re seeing this kind of success across industries—instances of fully integrated AI that depend on a back-and-forth relationship with experienced operators in order to reach full potential. Instead of AI taking over jobs, it can empower even the most highly skilled people in their roles. In complex environments, unlocking the combined power of human and artificial intelligence is the key to building a truly bionic company.

Deleting the (Traditional) Meeting

MARCH 29, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

There’s a lot of talk these days about the future of work. With vaccinations offering a path to the end of this pandemic, and millions soon able to return to the office, we need to decide now how we can capitalize on, and not waste, what we’ve learned about work over the past year. One of the most important choices leaders have to make? How to conduct meetings.

Think of the pandemic as the ultimate centrifuge for meetings, which we’ve always used to try to accomplish a range of goals. COVID-19 separated the meeting into three distinct categories: 1) traditional meetings, for sharing information, discussing, and deciding; 2) workshop-type meetings for ideating, co-creating, and innovating; and 3) opportunities to connect and build personal relationships. Meeting nearly entirely online over the past year has meant a big step forward for #1, a mixed bag for #2, and a step back for #3.

Virtual meetings brought big improvements to traditional meetings. They flattened hierarchies; extended participation across levels and geographies; encouraged dialogue rather than one-way flows, with chat and polling functions; and even brought more order, as we used the hand-raising tool. Without having to manage travel schedules to get together, teams spread out around the world were faster and more agile. Coaching happened in real time to encourage colleagues to speak up, raise a tough issue, or create room for others.

Innovating when we weren’t in the same place was more complicated. The digital natives and quick learners would argue that some of the newer tools allowed for far superior online brainstorming sessions. But many of us—slower to get comfortable with these tools—found creativity was reduced and innovation somewhat inhibited. In our post-pandemic world, how we conduct these types of sessions will likely depend on the topics, as well as the locations and capabilities of attendees.

About #3, the remote world left us longing for the richer connections and deeper bonds we get by being together. But the truth is that this mostly didn’t take place in meetings anyway. It happened around the meetings: during breaks, over lunch and dinner, perhaps at a special event, or in our travels together. Returning to the traditional meeting format because we want to rebuild bonds would largely be a false narrative. What we need is to be more deliberate in setting aside time to connect around our meetings.

If this summary is roughly right, the last thing we want to do over the coming months is return to the old meeting format. It’s a choice that would pressure everyone to sit around the same table, make those who have to dial in feel marginalized and left out, reduce participation given physical room sizes, add a lot more time on airplanes, and reassert old and less agile hierarchies.

Instead, let’s at least test out new approaches. Segment our meetings and push most to virtual formats, such as Teams, WebEx, and Zoom, even when most participants are in the office. And create more room for longer breaks, lunches, and sometimes dinners to kick around ideas, socialize, and build bonds.

In the months ahead, CEOs and senior leaders will set the direction here. If we revert to old models, we can bet our people will, too. And that will make us less sustainable, less agile, and slower in dealing with many of our management responsibilities. But like you, I just can’t wait to have lunch with friends and colleagues and spend more informal time together.

Deleting the traditional meeting while investing to build personal bonds is a win-win, a signal from leaders that we want to capture and build on what we’ve learned over the past year. If you want to write me back, I would love to hear your views and stories about this, too.

Busting Today's Five Biggest Inflation Myths

MARCH 15, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

Like many of you, I’ve started to worry about inflation in the US recently—particularly because of the new $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and stimulus package in this country and lots of talk of inflation in the news. And when I have questions and concerns about the economy, I usually turn to Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak, BCG’s chief economist, to get his take.

Philipp’s Harvard Business Review video from a year ago, which envisioned potential economic scenarios as a result of the pandemic, was HBR’s most-viewed in 2020. He always has a clear point of view, grounded in historic reality—the “one-handed economist” that Harry Truman always wanted.* When I asked Philipp about inflation, he told me that he believes the doomsday headlines are overblown, despite the strong stimulus, higher inflation expectations, and the recent rise in rates. In an excellent new video, Philipp explains how low and stable inflation are at the heart of a healthy macroeconomic regime with high valuations—and debunks these five common myths:

  1. Inflation is already rising. Yes, but this is a mechanical effect of a weak base period, when the economy was in free fall last April and May. The one-, three-, and six-month windows of inflation since then have all included spikes that then came back down. We’ll soon hit the one-year mark since last spring’s weak base, and we expect to see the same pattern in our year-over-year inflation measure: a spike and then a leveling off.  
  2. If my input prices go up, so must consumer prices. Commodity prices have moved significantly higher, leading many CFOs to link this to consumer price inflation. But producer price inflation across the stages of the economy’s value chain show that such pressures are gradually absorbed in the margins or offset by higher productivity growth. Typically, only a small part of producer price inflation reaches price tags on supermarket shelves.  
  3. Printing money leads to higher inflation. There is a connection between money and prices, but money supply growth is a poor guide for realized inflation. The data since the 1960s doesn’t show a clear correlation—not even after 2008, when money growth accelerated and many predicted high inflation. New money doesn’t automatically translate to new spending, and new spending doesn’t mean the economy is capacity-constrained.  
  4. A strong economy delivers inflation—and then recession. In the modern era, inflation doesn’t respond readily to cyclical pressures because of disinflationary global value chains in the goods sector, disinflationary digital business models in services, and the power of a well-anchored regime. While this doesn’t guarantee long-term low inflation, it does make high inflation unlikely.  
  5. We are on the path to 1970s-style inflation. This is the most serious misreading of inflationary dynamics. An anchored inflationary regime can break, but it’s an improbable shift and would happen over time. In the 1960s, the last time a good inflation regime crumbled, we saw sustained, not one-off, fiscal stimulus and monetary errors—all when the economy was already overheated.

Stimulus and vaccines are thankfully delivering a stronger-than-expected recovery, shifting growth expectations—and therefore inflation expectations—higher. There’s little evidence that we need to worry about a regime shift in inflation anytime soon.

*Harry Truman famously said, “Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, ‘On the one hand… [and then] on the other.’”

Overthrowing Your “Inner Dictator”

FEBRUARY 8, 2021

To BCG’s network around the world,

I’m a huge fan of Adam Grant. The Wharton professor of organizational psychology wrote a book called Give and Take back in 2014 that has had a major impact on my thinking about BCG’s culture and formula for sustained success. It’s the one book I give to every managing director and partner, and I’ve recommended it to many CEOs.

The book challenges some of our most ingrained assumptions about what makes people successful in business and in life. It identifies three profiles—“givers,” “takers,” and “matchers”—noting that while givers tend to underperform on average, they also often stand out at the very top of the success ladder. These ideas get at the different ways in which we develop relationships and enable givers to thrive, how we can promote more supportive cultures and weed out takers, and, translated into a BCG context, how we can strengthen the fabric of our partnership and deliver lasting impact to our clients.

Now Adam has a new book—Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. As someone who has told each incoming class of BCG consultants for 25 years that the skill they need most is not knowing what they know but knowing what they don’t know, I’m thrilled to see Adam bring this concept to life so powerfully.

In Think Again, Adam explains that we all have an “inner dictator”—that part of ourselves that rushes to protect our beliefs and points of view. We have to work hard to keep that voice at bay, question our assumptions, and be open-minded enough to rethink what we thought we knew—and to help others do the same. Overthrowing our inner dictator will allow us to keep learning for the rest of our lives.

To build an organization where rethinking can happen, leaders need to foster an environment that emphasizes learning over short-term performance. The book spells out three overarching steps for creating that kind of learning culture:If there was ever a time when the past won’t predict the future, it’s now. Whether it’s battling the pandemic, taking on climate change, transforming our organizations with digital and AI, or working to heal a polarized society in which people are deeply wedded to their views, the times we’re living in call for just the kind of mental flexibility described in this book. Now, more than ever, we need to question our assumptions and think again.

Thank you once again, Adam, for expanding our horizons and sharpening our view of what matters most for leaders and for all of us seeking to contribute in this rapidly changing world.

  • Be wary of best practices, which can discourage us from looking again at what we think works. Instead, always aim for “better practices.”
  • Build an atmosphere of “psychological safety,” where employees feel comfortable raising concerns and voicing different perspectives.
  • Keep track of rethinking. Instead of just rewarding outcomes, also take note of how different options are debated throughout the process.

If there was ever a time when the past won’t predict the future, it’s now. Whether it’s battling the pandemic, taking on climate change, transforming our organizations with digital and AI, or working to heal a polarized society in which people are deeply wedded to their views, the times we’re living in call for just the kind of mental flexibility described in this book. Now, more than ever, we need to question our assumptions and think again.

Thank you once again, Adam, for expanding our horizons and sharpening our view of what matters most for leaders and for all of us seeking to contribute in this rapidly changing world.

Personal Reflections—and Introducing the New Reality Weekly Brief

MAY 20, 2020

Dear colleagues,

As we begin to break the surface on a post-COVID world, questions and uncertainties abound. In an effort to help make sense of our new reality and ensure we are proactively sharing our latest knowledge and insights, we are launching a weekly digest for our core communities, including clients, alumni, and staff. You will automatically receive these updates, and we hope that you will find these perspectives useful in the months ahead.

This email is the first in a series that will arrive in your inbox every week from me or one of my BCG colleagues. Maintaining close connections with leaders around the world feels more important to me today than ever before. Even though we are more distant from one another physically, I feel we are much more connected as we adapt to this health crisis and dramatic disruption to the global economy. I’m pleased to share some of our perspectives and insights with you, along with some personal reflections, as we work together to shape a new reality.

One of the most pressing issues is how to restart the economy safely, effectively—and without having to shut it back down again in the near future. As we move into this next phase, we’ll be counting on governments to provide clear guidelines and oversee the smart execution of prudent timelines and new processes. But progress also depends on the resilience and adaptiveness of business, something we’ve talked about at BCG for quite a while but whose importance is now front and center for all of us.

This is a fight—a fight against the virus and a fight for our future. Businesses have to prepare themselves for a battle that isn’t about a one-time change but instead consists of ongoing shifts and the ability to rapidly evolve. Over a year ago, I coauthored an article on winning the ’20s. In it, we discussed the imperative to increase the rate of learning, arguing that advances in artificial intelligence and dramatic increases in data would create a source of competitive advantage for organizations that could draw better insights, rapidly translate those insights into action, and adapt those actions in real time to continually drive greater impact.

We described this imperative as playing out over the course of this new decade, but COVID-19 has collapsed this timeline from years to months and weeks. Right now, we need to build control towers to rapidly adapt to a virus that will rear its head in unexpected places, quickly understand and react to changing customer behavior, and adjust offerings and restructure businesses to reflect new conditions around the world. We must also build new, resilient models—from supply chains to balance sheets—that reflect the greater uncertainties in the world.

I wish we could all be thinking about how to get back to normal, but we will be far from normal for many months to come and instead must look to lead in a new reality. At BCG, we’ll work through the toughest decisions with you as the post-COVID world starts to emerge. Learn more here about leading in this new reality and creating advantage through resilience as well as other priorities we think leaders should be focusing on now. I’m including more insights below—ideas that I hope you’ll find helpful as we navigate through these complex times.

And as we all know, sometimes a conversation to talk through an issue is worth more than lots of emails and written perspectives. If you want to connect, please reach out to us. My colleagues and I value your trust in us and would be delighted to engage with you on the difficult and sensitive issues you are wrestling with. We may be apart, but we are in this together.

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