To succeed and survive in the rapidly evolving digital era, organizations and their people must anticipate and plan, two leaders in their respective fields told a lunchtime audience at Communitech Tuesday.

Tom Jenkins, Chair and former CEO of OpenText, and David Fraser, a  now-retired Canadian Forces major-general, took to the stage and laid out the thrust of arguments from their forthcoming book “The Anticipant Organization: New Rules for Leading in Digital Society from the Boardroom to the Battlefield.” They were speaking at an event called Pizza with the Prez, one of an ongoing series of talks that spotlight local tech leaders.

“We talked two completely different languages, but when we actually translated, [we realized] we were actually talking about the same problem,” Fraser, who sits on the OpenText board, told the audience about his first encounters with Jenkins and their decision to collaborate on a book.


The scene Tuesday at Communitech, where Tom Jenkins and David Fraser
spoke to a lunchtime audience. (Communitech photo: Sara Jalali)

Fraser is the first Canadian general to command American troops in combat since the Second World War and, as a brigadier-general, led NATO troops in Afghanistan during Operation Medusa in 2006, the largest battle fought by Canadian troops since the Korean War.

Although working in vastly different spheres, Jenkins and Fraser came to realize they were grappling with fundamentally similar problems – leading people during a time of massive technological change.

Their thesis begins with what they call the “Anticipant Principle,” which states that “The greatest threat to any organization is an event it doesn’t see coming.”

To cope, organizations must “anticipate, prepare for and rehearse the full full range of possible nanocrisis scenarios.”

Fraser talked about the military’s failure, during the early days in Afghanistan, to anticipate how the internet had altered the battlefield, enabling adversaries to control information and perception of events. He was forced, he said, to quickly jury-rig a solution.

“I had to change my entire organization so that we could take the weight off the women and the men in the battlefield. We never saw it coming and we had to adjust on the fly.”


An audience member asks a question during Tuesday’s Pizza with the Prez event.
(Communitech photo: Sara Jalali)

It is incumbent on organizations, Jenkins said, to have a plan, and to rehearse scenarios long in advance of a crisis unfolding. The speed at which machines operate today, he said, render superfluous any attempt at a seat-of-the-pants reaction.

And, Jenkins said, part of effective advance planning includes structuring an organization with diverse people, people with multiple viewpoints and backgrounds and experiences. As machines grow more powerful, and control more of our lives, it’s more important than ever to embed their  organizations with people who have more than technical skills. Those with a high EQ, or emotional quotient, are the people who will help guide the parameters and laws that govern programming and machine use.

“It’s probably the biggest issue,” said Jenkins. “We in this room think autonomous vehicles, the Internet of Things, is a technology issue. It’s not.”

Jenkins said the book is expected to be available next spring.