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"The Enablers"

Essay Wolf Lotter, business journalist and book author

For things to change, someone needs to enable the transition for others. It’s a whole new form of development work.

Fairy tales for children start with "once upon a time" and those of adults with "once upon a time, everything was better" or "easier" or "clearer". What about nowadays? These days people’s heads are spinning from so much complexity, connectivity and all things digital. The transformation is changing every area of life. Can anybody really make sense of it all? Let’s stick to telling fairy tales.

Now fairy tales are fairy tales because they are known for warping reality. What does not fit is made to fit. People need fairy tales to deceive themselves into believing that everything in the world can go well, whether they do something for it or not. Shape? Do? Act? That’s not the stuff that fairy tales are made of. Spoil the idyll and you are in trouble.

There have always been storytellers aplenty and people to listen to them, which is also the case in a world in which affluence and growth are considered self-explanatory and not everyone questions where it comes from. Yet there is no secret formula that automatically guarantees a sound future, a better world for us and our children and grandchildren or more humane solutions than we are aware of today. Nothing changes on its own.

Affluence is always the result of activity, of the ability to decide, to act and to shape the present and the future. Affluence is not a fairy tale, affluence is not fate – it requires hard pragmatic work. That is reality.

And it is something that you ought to be aware of in Europe at least. More than 2,000 years ago, the philosopher Aristotle came up with his Vita Contemplativa concept of an observant, secluded and reflective life, in which the reality of the world is examined and attempts are made to understand it. Aristotle considered it to be the opposite of Vita Activa – an active life in which we shape and change because we are in a position to do so.

This was a contradiction for years but it can no longer remain so. If you want to shape the world and not just manage your connectivity and rapid changeability, you have to do both: think carefully, i. e. not believe in fairy tales and want to understand reality, and do, act, and decide. Do both. Shaping requires shapers.

Routine work is increasingly being carried out by robots and algorithms, which will further advance specialisation in all areas. It is about allowing talent to flourish optimally. About doing what you can best. You have to create a suitable framework with much leeway and much development potential, optimising results for everyone. For this to work in business and throughout society, you need leadership. Leadership is much more than management. It is more than the ability "to do things right" as Peter Drucker, the mastermind of our knowledge-based society, put it. It is more than merely "running the show". They are being asked to enable the future.

Enablers are the real innovators of our time. They let others go ahead, they foster talent according to strengths and pave the way for them. Their work is about helping others forward, both clients and employees, because they know that this is what advances everyone. They do their best and allow everyone else to do so. For this work, you need curiosity, optimism, courage, and a sense of reality. Enablers love to venture to gain – an experiment that plays such a major role in modern-day history when identifying a better alternative to what currently exists. For those who like a fairy tale, the word experiment leaves a stale after-taste – you quickly find yourself a guinea pig. However, that only serves to prove how important the enabler is in conveying the culture of self-confidence and independence throughout the world. Helping others to identify and seize their opportunities also gives them the self-confidence they so urgently need today. This results in people who are more entrepreneurial and self-determined with more opportunities. And fewer fairy tales.

The transformation needs realists, shapers and people who can think for themselves. They are the development workers for a better world.

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