About Travelling in the Unknown in the 19th Century and Today. A Pattern for Leadership & Management
Updated: May 1
3-P Condensed Policy Paper by Peter Wollmann and Reto Püringer*
The 3-P-Model is based upon the interacting concepts of (1) Sustainable Purpose – raison d’être of an organization, bringing new orientation and certainty to the people for their joint endeavor and success, (2) Travelling Organization – the mindset of an organization in a permanent state of flux, interacting with environmental demands’ journey, with rapid adaptivity, (3) Connectivity or Connected Resources - Interconnecting all needed resources inside and outside the silos.
The current situation is strongly shaped by the global Covid-19 pandemic which has restricting impact on nearly everybody worldwide. The journey of organizations and individuals through all the unknown areas of this crisis which has to be regarded as a natural catastrophe includes strong feelings of loss of control, of impossibility of solid planning and steering, of setting valid proceedings on medium- or long-term.
The perception of a certain impuissance and lack of orientation over a longer period is quite unusual for a large number of people – as the normal paradigm is to keep things under control and to have a clear structured view of the world. This is a normal human desire even triggered by neurological reconditions which force people to create a structured comprehensive image of the world.
But what to do when moving in totally or partly unknown areas like the pandemic but also in a large transformation or in an organization in a permanent state of flux? When measurements in blurring situations seems to be no longer helpful. When there are no longer certainties and there is no idea to get certainty back?
Maybe it makes sense to go for key insides from a fundamental chapter of the second Three-Pillars Book which develops on the base of the expeditions to explore the – mostly unknown – Africa in the 19th century perfect analogies and examples for journeys into unknown and dangerous areas, very different to safe movements in the simple, certain, and easily predictable world before VUCA and before the new realities with which we are confronted today.
Explorative Travel in the 19th Century as a Pattern for Travelling Organizations
Travelling in the 19th century has only slight similarities to even very adventurous trips in our days where GPS, satellite phones, Google Earth maps, well organized emergency task forces etc. are in place – and where normally the desired destination is quite well defined. In the case of those famous expeditions in Africa, e.g., to explore and map defined parts of it or to discover the source of a river, the available maps reliably showed the right silhouette of Africa and a small strip of the interior of the country, charted in recent years with quite modern methods. The heartland was terra incognita, with only a very limited level of detail and with some few information available from Arabian traders some hundred years previously, some maps that were more based on fantasy and anecdotal reports.
Nevertheless, one should not underestimate the level of documented facts and knowledge as well as the information that was communicated orally. The disadvantage compared to today was the lack of authenticated, absolutely reliable facts and knowledge; a certain level of healthy suspicion was crucial to prevent unpleasant surprises.
These were no sufficient preconditions for safe and focused travelling in these days. This means that embarking on an expedition to find and explore the source of a river (like the Zambezi or the Nile) had significant challenges:
It was clear that the source had to be somewhere as the river existed and parts of its course, and especially its mouth, were known;
There was a rough idea where the source might be situated but the detailed geography of the area was neither known nor had been carefully explored before;
It was not improbable that the river was part of a drainage system so that there might be some tributary rivers –meaning it was not easy to decide which one was the main river and which one the tributary.
It was possible that the river courses were so non-transparent, e.g., in the context with large lakes, wetlands, subterranean streams, that exploration would be almost impossible with the tools available at the time
There was no precise measurement to ascertain the exact position on the journey – in the unknown areas
It was very probable that there would be many unknown – potentially existential - threats on the journey, starting from exotic sicknesses to hostile locals, dangerous animals, lack of supplies of food and water, toxic food and water, insurmountable geographies, getting lost etc. And it was nigh-on impossible to prepare for these threats sufficiently or even prevent them from happening as a consequence of the lack of knowledge.
Doesn’t this sound somewhat familiar for a lot of endeavours of organizations in the VUCA world? Summarizing and abstracting this, going on such a journey means for the “Travelling Organization”:
Knowing where to start from – in this case normally from a place at the coast
Knowing the destination, but only high-level (it exists) – e.g., the source of a river
Knowing a little about the overall direction for the journey, the first miles
Knowing that there will be significant threats, but not which ones or where and when
Not knowing where the destination will exactly be and how it can be reached
Not knowing how to exactly get to the destination and how long it will take
Not knowing how long the journey will take
Not knowing at all what one would meet on the journey
Not knowing whether one would be able to come back with or without success
What We Might Learn from the Africa Expeditions in 19th Century
Going on a journey with an organization in the current VUCA world with additional global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic or the Global Warming Challenge means to leave the comfort zone and cope with the threatening unknown. It is clear that people and teams starting such an journey need a very strong conviction and a yearning to follow the special purpose (to find an attractive ‘New Normal’ after the crises), an entrepreneurial, flexible, curious – open for learning every day -, resilient and focused mindset together with the belief to achieve – together with the team – even very demanding tasks, and the capability to connect in an appropriate way with the encountered preconditions during the journey.
In other words, the Travelling Organization spirit has to contain:
Accepting that there is no real preference, which means that we have to forget our well-known certainties and behavior patterns and start an exploration to unknown areas or even the unknown unknown. This also means accepting a loss of control and significant risks.
Accepting that the destination, the target situation strived for cannot be defined, not even as a rough silhouette. So, the journey will be iterative, with a lot of changes on the way
Being aware that there will be unpleasant situations in between with threats, risks, fear, negative emotions
Accepting that everybody will have to leave their comfort zone while travelling the journey
Being open to completely new experiences and focusing on learning
Being confident that the journey will lead to something of value
Trying the best to keep the team together and in good spirits
Focusing on trustful and transparent communication
Accepting in general that going courageously on a journey through unknown areas will lead to a certain degree to a loss of the usual command and control.
What a real Travelling Organization means is described above – with the Africa expedition analogy and abstracted and derived attributes. How to build up a real Travelling Organization and how to cope with the mentioned challenges is described in our article “About Travelling in the Unknown in the 19th Century and Today. A Pattern for Leadership and Management in a 3-P-Model Context” in the second Three Pillar book and further deepened in a several chapters of the both Three Pillars (s. below). A very specific third Three Pillar on a deep dive in Navigating a Travelling Organization is work in progress (expected for 2022).
* Full article:“About Travelling in the Unknown in the 19th Century and Today. A Pattern for Leadership and Management in a 3-P-Model Context” in: Wollmann, P.; Kühn, F.; Kempf, M.: Püringer, R. (Eds.): Organization and Leadership in Disruptive Times – Design and Implementation of the 3-P-Model. Cham: Springer Nature,
2021. More under: https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783030630331
The respective books are published in the series “Future of Business and Finance” of SpringerNature.
Book 2: Wollmann, P.; Kühn, F.; Kempf, M.: Püringer, R. (Eds.): Organization and Leadership in Disruptive Times – Design and Implementation of the 3-P-Model. Cham: Springer Nature, © 2021
Book 1: Wollmann, P.; Kühn, F.; Kempf, M. (Eds.): Three Pillars of Organization and Leadership in Disruptive Times – Navigating Your Company Successfully through the 21st Century Business World. Cham: Springer Nature, © 2020