An organization who wants to stay relevant over time needs to be able to deal with changes and reshape itself. To do this, every organization needs one or more shapers.
A shaper is someone who comes up with unique and valuable visions and builds them out beautifully, typically over the doubts and opposition of others.
Examples of some of the greatest shapers of our times in the tech industry are Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Einstein, Freud, Darwin and Newton were gaint shapers in sciences. Christ, Muhammed and Buddha were religious shapers. Ray Dalio is a financial world shaper and Rem Koolhaas is an architectural shaper. Johan Cruijff was a shaper in football.
Shapers come in various sizes and you probably know some personally. They could be the leader of the organization you work for, a local community leader, or one of your close colleagues – they are the people who drive change and are focused on building lasting organizations.
What are the characteristics of the most successful shapers out there? They are all independent thinkers who do not let anything or anyone stand in the way of achieving their goals. They have a strong mental map of how things should be done, and a willingness to test those mental maps in the world of reality and adjust them. They are extremely resilient so they can endure the pain they experience as they struggle to achieve it. Shapers have a wider range of vision then most people, either because they have that visions themselves or they know how to combine visions and ideas from others. They can see the big picture and granular details. Creative, systematic, practical, assertive, open-minded, passionate and intolerant of people who are not excellent or who do not contribute.
Shapers often test low on “concerns for others”. However, this does not mean they do not care about people. It’s more that when they are faced with a choice between achieving their goal or pleasing (not disappointing) others, they choose to achieve their goal every time.
For shapers to be successful they need to be surrounded by other smart people who see things in different, complementary ways.
In my life I’ve had the luck to work with people who I see as shapers. I’ve seen managers becoming organizational leaders by showing empathy, empowering people and getting results, which led to a change in culture. Another guy introduced new concepts in medical care which lowered the costs of medication. To make these changes they had to do really hard work, but they did it because they cared.
I’ve also seen shapers who got stuck while trying to make change. Sometimes they did not have all of the characteristics. Other times it’s a cultural thing because they worked in a system which held them back.
This raised the question to me on how organizations work and if there are mechanisms one can use to start making change, despite The Systems’ resistance.
In my next blog post I’ll get into this when I talk about three organization structures: formal, informal and value creation.
This post is #2 in a series of 4. The first post was about recognizing patterns in organizations who deal with change. The second post is about the role and characteristics of shapers who create change. The third post is about the three structures every organization has, a good understanding of this this helps in how to create value. The fourth post is sort of a wrap up and tries to answer the question why organizations don’t adapt to a changing environment.