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BOOK: This volatility expert wants to help you see around corners

Updated: May 1, 2020

How do we assess and handle potentially volatile conditions, or high uncertainty situations, in business and beyond? Rita McGrath, a Columbia Business School professor, gives insights on how to spot big changes and know how to react in her new book, Seeing Around Corners.

Where is this volatility coming from? What people used to think of as fairly safe, secure, core businesses are going through the same kinds of uncertainty that we always used to associate with innovation. In McGrath's observation, inflection points bubble along without anybody really paying much attention to them until some pivotal event occurs. Her hope is that her readers take away an appreciation for weak signals, experimentation, and being prepared for being at the edges.

What keeps big organizations from seeing around corners? Their worldviews are shaped by the assumptions of the business as it is today. When you look at the world only through that lens—something that isn’t on that radar screen, it doesn’t compute. People literally do not see it and miss things that are really big. One of the benefits of the book is it gives you some simple techniques for expanding your aperture, extending the lens that you look at the world through, so that you’re less likely to get completely blindsided by something that should actually in retrospect have mattered to you a lot.

An inflection point at a personal level is a little scary because it’s an opportunity to grow, or it’s an opportunity to stay as you are. If you take the chance, it can lead to much different, much better outcomes. Seeing an inflection point coming can give you some ideas about where you personally might want to spend your time or invest your career, or where you should not be. You don’t want to be instrumental about it. I’ve seen so many people who said, “Computer programming is the wave of the future, and I need to be a computer programmer,” then spend the next 10 years hating the fact that they decided to become a computer programmer just because they thought that was where the money was going to be.

But there’s a benefit to looking at the world and saying, “Here are places where opportunities are shifting and where we could possibly make a difference.” Read the full article on

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