Keeping a Dynamic Perspective

Roald Amundsen and his team viewing their flag planted at the South Pole in 1911

I recently read an article by Professor Morten T. Hansen (a pedagoge from that rival school up north!) published in the Harvard Business Review about the rivalry of the polar explorers Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott.  The former Norwegian explorer became the first person to conquer the South Pole.  The latter arrived at the South Pole only to see his rival’s flag and to die eleven miles from a supply depot on his return journey.

The article provides a number of interesting explanations for Amundsen’s triumph and Scott’s contrasting failure as they relate to business.  However, Professor Hansen’s most poignant gem seems to be added as barely as side note in his conclusion:

Like the best business leaders we studied, Amundsen “zoomed out” (what’s the new situation?), then “zoomed in” (redirect to the South). When a big change or opportunity came along, they took a step back, assessed the new situation, asked whether it called for a change, and if it did, then made the change and zoomed in to execute brilliantly.

In 1980, IBM managers visited a company called Digital Research to use its CP/M operating system for the new personal computer. But that meeting didn’t go well, and the IBMers turned to Microsoft in frustration, but Microsoft was not in that business. In that moment, Bill Gates zoomed out, recognized the opportunity, then zoomed in to deliver an operating system — which became Windows. Great leaders zoom out, then zoom in to confront disruption and change.

Amundsen conquered the South Pole and lived. Scott lost the race and died. Are you — and the leaders around you — an Amundsen or a Scott?

The best leaders, he says zoom out to see the big picture and then zoom in to execute upon it. The example he provides about Microsoft is especially illustrative.

In Silicon Valley, I meet a lot of people who wow me by drawing the most insightful observations from current events and society.  I meet others that can lock down in a little room and code something that might take me years in a matter of minutes. But it is the people who can do both or build teams that can do both who are the ones I see in the tech news.

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Thanks to Kyle Wong for the article.

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