Terminal Value

The Secrets of Leading into the Future with Luke Owings

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Janine Bacani

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We have Luke Owings with us today from abilitie.com spell different than you might think. That’s a-b-i-l-i-t-i-e.com. I had to check twice, and what we’re going to be talking about is the secrets of leading into the future.  And just to try to unpack the intrigue of our title. What we were talking about a little bit in the preshow is just how some of the different skill sets that leaders need to develop and the way that you kind of need to assemble all of those together in order to get to where in order to really have an effective organization and then drive your team forward. So, anyway, Luke, please introduce yourself, and let’s go ahead and get the conversation rolling. 

Absolutely. Thanks for having me. Doug, can you hear me okay? 

Yes. You are golden.

Awesome. So my name is Luke Owings. I’m the VP of Product and Abilitie. Like Doug said, spelled differently than you might think a-b-i-l-i-t-i-e. and so I’m the VP of product for us. And we actually run leadership programs for Fortune 100 clients, and we run it for their top executives. We take them through multi week experiences, simulations of learning skills, experiences to get together as a network and build the layer of the future for their organization. And then a lot of organizations use us to help build the culture of their executives. So put them through the ringer. You’re a Marine, Doug. So I know you know the experience of putting people through the ringer. They ask us to put them through that type of boot camp, that type of experience where they can fail and learn how to lead. And so that when they’re in the real world, they’re pushing forward.

Outstanding. Well, okay, let’s actually talk about this the fail and learn how to lead, because I think that’s a good model. Here’s the thing. I’m going to get on a little bit of a soapbox rant, but I promise I’ll get back on topic. Okay, good. So when I was going through school and going through my formative years, just like most everybody else, the thing that was drilled into me is there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, do things right. Otherwise, you’re a failure here’s. The problem is that when you get out into Mr. Real World, there’s no real formula for right way to do things. And essentially what you have to do is try a whole lot of stuff that may or may not work, get better at it, and eventually you’ll figure something out that’s not something that really gets taught very often and certainly not very well. And so I think that the idea of kind of bringing that model into leadership development, I think is really helpful because, I mean, for goodness sake, I would absolutely love it if some leaders kind of could, I guess I would say, unbrainwashed themselves about the idea of the right way and wrong way to do everything. 

Oh, man, Doug, I couldn’t agree more with you. We come from this world of experiential learning.

Experiential learning is all about real-world experience without real-world consequences.

And so for us, it becomes an opportunity not to sit and look at how beautiful an executive’s plan is in a PowerPoint, say, wow, that’s the right way to do things, way to go. You’ve really done your five courses analysis and looked at how you’re going to structure this right, but actually getting the opportunity to say, okay, you’re leading a business. And it can be very tactical that with our simulations, we put people into executive roles and have them mimic the next four years of their life and say, are you making the right investments? Did they actually work out? When they don’t, how do you know they’re not working out? And how do you improve yourself going from there? I’ve always thought it’s funny when you’re teaching people to drive a car, you’re always telling them to be worried about every little thing. But sometimes it’s helpful to hit the curve just a little bit when you’re parking, to know where your edges are, to take it out. 

Now, when you’re doing the simulation, do you throw in a random, say, like four and a half month sequence of daily arguments with their spouse? 

There’s evidence of a reality that we keep out, though. We have been throwing things like pandemics at them for many years, and so it was a little bit weird to see the last two years when a pandemic actually hit. 

Yeah, okay, again, another tangent a little bit, but I think it’s worth it. How did the way the pandemic actually unfold, like the way it actually kind of played out, how did that compare to the way that it had been simulated? 

You know, when we do things like that, we simplify and we simplify to a huge chord. Oftentimes in simplification, we think the world’s never that simple. What was truly amazing about the pandemic was just how quickly some of the things that seemed unthinkable two weeks earlier started to happen. From the very tactical of wow. On March 13, we’re in the office. On March 30, every single person is sitting at their kitchen table, and you have to build new communication structures all the way down to wow. We don’t know what revenue projections are going to be like for the next four quarters. You need to lay off 20% of your staff. How do you get the right stuff done? If you take, for example, our executive challenge simulation, which we put people through over the course of a day and a half, that type of experience comes up. And we’ve always thought the simulation was too simple for the real world. And the real world kind of hit the nail on the head of man when shit went down. March 13. March 30. The world moved a lot faster than you expected.

Yes, exactly and again, we’re going down the rabbit hole, but it’s fun, so whatever. But yeah, then the other thing would be, alright, now that you’re kind of unwinding some of that, the question is going to be, okay, how do you claw people back to the office? Because one of the things that in some of the other businesses that I’ve been working with, that we’ve seen also is there is an increasing incidence of people working multiple jobs. They’re basically like real time moonlighting where what they’ll do is they’ll be virtual on one company and then they’ll go virtual on another company. There have actually been some people where they’ll go virtual for a company. They’ll find somebody over in India or the Philippines who can do 80% of the legwork and then they’ll just basically continue repeating that pattern. So the question is going to be, okay, do you not care or do you say, all right, we want to try to start pulling some people back in the office.

It’s such a mess. I mean, what a question. Because that person who is now almost outsourcing their own job and acting as a middleman is just an immediate step to the realization that, hey, my job can be done by anyone anywhere in the world. And you should look out three to five years. Look out five to seven years. That’s going to happen. Organizations are going to get smarter and it’s already happening. I don’t know. It’s a scary prospect if you’re in the US. And you’re getting paid at a level to do anything that could be offshore. Really scary. When you look at this remote world.

I was going to say or the other thing, this is what I experienced a lot in corporate. If you’re in the US. And you’re getting paid a lot to go to meetings and not make decisions.


So for people who are uninitiated, maybe listing large companies tend to have expansive layers of middle management and very slow decision making processes. So the result ends up being that you tend to have either phone calls or meetings that can have eight to 20 people who all make earn well over six figures, sometimes multiple six figures. And it can take months to years for actual meaningful decisions to be made. 

And if you’re super curious to learn more about this, just start reading the Gilbert comics. 


It’s probably one of the best explanations of what that looks like in corporate culture.

Because, yes, I spent the first 20 years of my life in the tech industry. And so, yes, Gilbert is gospel.

Yeah without question. 

Well because let’s see. If I remember correctly, I think I was reading one of Scott Adam’s books and I think that it took him forever to get Gilbert picked up. And the only reason why it hit was because I think one of the newspaper, one of the editors who we were pitching it to actually had some sample comics that she took home and her husband worked for IBM and he started reading it and thought they were hilarious, thought they were the funniest thing you’ve ever read. 

That’s really funny. I mean, what a way the world is connected, isn’t it? Right? 

Okay, well, we’ve just steered really far. Well, not that far afield, really. Because what we’re really talking about is how the idea of holistic leadership really comes back to figuring out, okay, there’s a whole lot of stuff that can happen and basically imagining enough of it and figuring out what you would want to do for enough of those scenarios so that when something weird happens, you don’t lose your mind.

I think you’re totally right. Honestly, it’s not right. At the end of the day, we get to teach leaders. And that’s our business. We teach leaders. And in the learning world there’s often this idea that you’re going to teach a framework or you’re going to teach a skill. And that’s true at some level, right? Like if you want to learn Pivot tables, go to LinkedIn Learning or just Google it. And some people need to learn Pivot tables. But when you’re teaching leaders in a world like ours, the military term for this is Vuka. I don’t know if you hear that military term, Doug, the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world that we’re in, then what you’re really trying to do is give them an ability to lead themselves, understand what makes them special, understand what they’re bringing to the table to lead others. Like understand how to connect with people in a hybrid and virtual and in person world and all of these different places to connect to their Motivators, and then understand how to lead an organization and see the system around them and take ownership of that system. Whether it’s the processes for communication and visibility, or whether it’s the incentive structures, or whether it’s just the North Star of where we are going as an organization. Those things which used to happen very implicitly when everyone was in together in an office because there was a thousand conversations now have to be intentional. And so I think

 What we see with leaders is you got to give them practice on leading themselves, leading others, leading their organizations. And it’s not about the framework, it’s not about the answer. It’s about getting the practice and setting the tone. 

And the thing that I would think is that practice of getting everything together, I would think that as workforces start getting more distributed or as more people incorporate. One of my other guests kind of called the Hollywood model. So the idea of a Hollywood model is that when you have a studio that’s putting a film together, all the people who are involved with all the editing, all the post production, all the shots, all that stuff, they’re all outside contractors. They basically say who’s the best person at doing who’s the best person at doing sailing ship shots, they get brought in. Who’s the best person at editing low light aquatic footage, they get brought in. So basically what they do is when they’re doing a project, they go out, they bring a whole bunch of people together, essentially put a big, giant project plan together that has infinite contingencies. Because whenever you’re shooting a movie, a good friend of mine spent a good amount of time in Hollywood. I don’t know all this from first hand knowledge, but I’m essentially parroting what he’s told me and making it sound like I thought of it myself. But what will happen is because I think that it’s fascinating because what will happen is they’ll have, say, a plan for the day. They’ll have a main shot they’re going to do and then they’ll have about five or six alternates that they can alternate shots they can do if. For whatever reason. They either don’t have the lighting. If there’s a tech failure. If there’s an effects failure. Just because once you start filming a movie. In a lot of cases. The moment you start filming. Your burn rate is in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per day. And so you’re just burning money at a tremendous pace. And so every hour is just hugely precious. And so essentially, what you have to do is you need to have layers and layers and layers of contingency plans just because you can’t afford to wait for something to wait because something wasn’t ready. Incidentally, whenever you hear about these movies that have ridiculously huge costs, usually that’s what happened is that there was something that had to wait or there was something that held everything up and then you just kept burning until you could get that one last piece together. 

That’s fascinating. And that’s all the operations and execution of it. Your description of the movie in terms of the aquatic shots and all that makes me think of the old Kevin Costner waterworld movie, which is the famous flop of the it says no matter even how well you manage the movie so it still might fail. And the lesson for business is or do you even have the right North Star which your executional plan is, right? Which water world was not. 

Although I will say a slight tangent. The show at Universal Studios for Water World is amazing. I actually think it’s better than the movie because the movie was awful. But the show is really good. 

It’s so funny. And you know what one of the funny things about even media is that, like, doesn’t matter how good it is, right? What matters is how successful it ends up being and how much it catches on to the cultural zeitgeist. Right? Like, some of the biggest hits of the last 30 years have been pretty shitty movies if you ask me. There’s hidden gems all over the place that are out there. And Shawshank didn’t do too well in the 90s, didn’t win the Oscar, but it’s a classic now.

It’s like it’s one of the five best movies that was ever made. It’s kind of our generation Citizen Kane. 


That was Rosebud. Yes. You don’t pass the test of honor. 

I am officially in a file.

All right, so to the extent that there was a point to this conversation in the first place, let’s try to get back to it. So anyway, yeah, we’re talking about kind of holistic leadership and developing it. And I think that the real thesis that we’ve kind of unpacked here in a somewhat humorous manner, but still is that it’s not a linear path. It’s really about figuring at least the tenor of our conversation, which I completely agree with, is that the idea of leadership development is not do X, Y, and Z and then you’ll grow in an unbroken line. It’s basically saying, okay, here’s how you plan for and accommodate uncertainty. And then when you get to the point where you have to pivot your plan, which will be frequently, here is how you do that in a way that doesn’t completely stop your operations. 

Totally. And that preparation is about you. It’s about your system. I mean, you’re the military guy. And so we can go to the peas of proper prior planning prevents pissed for performance. And part of that proper planning is the contingency. Part of that proper prior planning is thinking about who you need to be in those scenarios as well. There’s incompetent leaders all over the place. Watch Sergeant Bilko and Boom Boom Kaboom. Right? 

I have not seen that movie for so long. 

Oh, check it out. Check it out. My team loves it. I don’t know what it says about me that my team loves it. I’m going to leave that one to the side, but tell me to watch. The important thing here, though, for leadership, like you’re saying, is that leadership into the future is a lot different than leadership in the past. The world is a crazy place. We talked about the pandemic, how fast it turned. It’s only accelerating how fast the world is turning. It’s only getting more interrelated. It’s only getting more correlated. And in doing so, having ways to build yourself as a leader, having ways to build the skills, the mindset, having ways to build the systems, having ways to be intentional about how you lead, having ways to dent the car and continue onward are so important. And that’s what we are blessed enough in abilitie. A-B-I-L-I-T-I-E because Doug told me it’s hard to spell what we do in abilitie and what we work with our clients on it. We see it as even more of a challenge than it ever was in the past as the world gets more complicated. 

All right, well, I think that we are just about time, and that is a very I’m going to follow the George Castanza rule and make sure to leave on a high note. Yeah, that’s right. 

I’m out. 

So okay, well, let everybody know exactly. Other than going to the Abilitie website, where can people go to learn more? 

Absolutely. So check us out on abilitie.com. A-b-i-l-i-t-i-e.com. You can check out all of our programs, you can check out all of our sims, some of the case studies of organizations we work with. If you’re just an individual and you’re not looking for training for your whole corporate team, check out our invitedmba so invitedmba.com. We run open enrollment. One of our missions is to make great leadership development accessible, much broader. And so we run twice annually cohorts, a twelve week part time cohorts for people who want to learn the skills, want to learn the language of an MBA once you get the connections but don’t want to pay the $200,000. So check us out at invitedMba.com and we’d love to talk to you. 

Outstanding. Well, hey Luke, I really appreciate your time today and hopefully have a wonderful rest of your day. 

Thanks, Doug. Love having you. 


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