Are you a time traveller?


All the sci-fi fans out there will have heard of the grandfather paradox… it goes something along these lines: if James were to travel back in time and accidentally shoot his grandfather before his parents were born, then could James, in fact, exist?

It’s an unanswerable question, and it sums up how many small business owners feel today. The business owner’s paradox is that they are expected to learn from the past and emulate role models, but they are also expected to look to the future while operating successfully in the now. 

Hone your time travel superpowers – by developing your soft skills

There’s nothing soft about soft skills. These are the non–technical, non–numerate, interpersonal skills that determine your approach to life, problems and people. The top three soft skills missing in the workplace today are: problem solving, ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity, and communication skills.



Problem solving, critical thinking and innovation

Otherwise known as the ability to analyse a situation and make a judgment call to get over, under, or around business obstacles. 

My friend and I were walking in the countryside. It had recently rained, and we got to a point in the path where the puddle was wider than we could jump. 

I focused on crossing the puddle and looked for rocks to create stepping stones. My friend, however, focused on where we were heading. She realised that if we stepped off the path onto the grass, we could avoid the puddle altogether with a little detour. 

We both came up with workable solutions, but I used purely what I had learnt in the past, whereas she looked to the future. 

Hers was the simpler, quicker solution. 

Sometimes problems don’t have straightforward solutions, but by focusing on where we want to be, we are able to look beyond the obstacle. 

Innovation is only possible if we are looking ahead. It is a wonderful alchemy of past solutions with a new twist or technology.

Time traveller tactics

  • Assess the ‘as is’. What is the situation and how significant is the problem? (Critical thinking)
  • Learn from the past. When have I/others encountered a similar problem and what worked? (Problem solving)
  • Look ahead to where you want to be. How can I adapt previous lessons or develop a new solution altogether? (Innovation)


Dealing with complexity and ambiguity

Business leaders are bombarded with many variables and interdependent interests. These may be through operating in a globally connected world, highly regulated environments or fast developing events with insufficient information to make informed decisions. This complexity and ambiguity can be overwhelming, paralysing and highly stressful. 

Time traveller tactics

  • Be aware of your instinctive reactions to stress and choose to respond rather than react.
  • Give clear direction and coordinate the efforts of your team. The inverse of complexity is clarity –  where are we going and why.
  • Keep it simple. Break down projects into bite size, discreet objectives so that the uncertainty is reduced. As you achieve smaller objectives, this builds a sense of achievement and maintains momentum.
  • Let go of the ego. If outside expertise is required to lessen the complexity, then outsource or develop that expertise. Weigh up long term benefit vs short term cost–saving.
  • Develop proactivity and agility by constantly asking:
    • Why is something done?
    • What is the purpose?
    • Why is it done like this?
    • Can it be done better?
    • What could go wrong?


Communication skills

Communication goes beyond writing, talking, and listening. Great communicators recognise the emotional undercurrents.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage one's own emotions, as well as the emotions of others to communicate more effectively, manage conflict, and reduce stress. 


Time traveller tactics

  • There is no such thing as over communication. However, this doesn’t mean simply sending out repeat emails.
  • Practise self–awareness. What are you feeling, and how are your emotions affecting your team? 
  • Remember your manners. Everyone prefers to be treated politely and with respect, regardless of status.
  • Be empathetic. Seek to understand people’s behaviour, for example, anger often masks fear.
  • Think before you ink or speak! 
    Words count. How is the person likely to respond to the content and tone of your message? 
  • Adjust your communication style to your audience. Social media is a minefield and if you are not comfortable in this environment, rather hire an expert.

Business leaders need to constantly improve their skillset to straddle the past, present and future, thereby ensuring business success.

What's your take on this? Share your comments and ideas.

Author: Janet Askew


Janet Askew

Janet is a trainer, coach, speaker and writer who is passionate about promoting women in business and SMME development. In addition to her consulting work, she is a director of Essentially Natural and serves on the board of the Wot-If? Trust.



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