Hic Sunt Dracones – Navigating the next Imperative

As a young child, I was always fascinated by maps, old and new. They seemed to spark hope, inspiration and excitement of journeys as yet to begin and at the same offer some reassure about our own place in the big wide world.

Today, with a deeper appreciation of art and history, early maps in particular, with their curious blend of beauty, half-truths, errors and legendary beasts, offer us a metaphor for today’s uncharted waters, as we take our first tentative steps out of our COVID lockdown. And none more so than the marvellous phrase “Hic Sunt Dracones”; literally Here be Dragons found on the wonderful Hunt Lenox Globe (1503-1507).

Right now, many of us are having to make decisions at unprecedented speed, and as we attempt to navigate our way through stormy post lock-down waters, our actions as business leaders may well have far-reaching implications for years to come.

With the warning bells of impending economic doom ringing loudly in our ears, is it any wonder we’re all looking for a little help to make the best decisions we can. Or in this case, to get all of our businesses working together on “what matters most, next”; the next imperative. 

A quick look in the dictionary defines an imperative as something that simply must be done, critical, a matter of life and death.

Last week one of my good friend Chris Weston and his colleagues from  IDC posted a really neat twist on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This helped a lot of us think about where CIOs and IT Leaders might need to steer their efforts as we move out of the first phase of CV-19 and set out on the uncharted waters ahead.

And winding back these past 10 weeks to early March, pretty much all of us shared the same journey into the COVID-19 world. It was clear there was pretty much one shared purpose for all of us – our imperative was to ensure the safety of our families, colleagues, customers and partners. And as such, despite the fears of the unknown and those lurking dracones we got on with it like never before. We were all in this together. People, as is so often glibly touted in business, really were the most important asset and we meant it! And IDC’s needs hierarchy demonstrates this really well with its foundation layer. It was a powerful feeling for many of us with everyone so clear about what we needed to do.

But whilst the journey into lockdown was pretty much universally shared, on the way out, our business journeys will all be very different. It is as if we are all in different boats on a shared sea, being tossed around by one helluva COVID-19 cyclone.

So, fuelled by suggestions that now is simply a time for survival, controlling costs, and hanging on in there, I found myself asking if it really was as simple as moving up the hierarchy addressing the needs one by one?

And the answer can be found by considering which business boat you’re in!

Many organisations may well be thinking they don’t have time for digital and business transformation, whereas right now it could be the only game in town! There will be organisations out there that actually need an emergency elevator straight to Transformation, as they simply haven’t got the time or resources to take this journey one step at a time.

In my experience generally, TIME and MONEY are the two things that pretty much drive the imperatives in business. And right now this means

  • how deep is the financial impact of COVID-19 on your business,


  • how long will it take your business to recover (back to something like pre-COVID levels of prosperity).

By applying these two dimensions to the “needs thinking” and looking at it through a good old 2×2 lens, technology and change leaders can quickly help our organisations think about the reality of their business situation, and signpost the next imperative; Getting people focussed as fast as possible on the right strategy for your business coming out of lockdown.

The rest of my model below is pretty easy to follow.  I’ve given a few hints and thoughts in the grid, so whichever boat you’re in right now; whether you need to reimagine your business future, replan, restructure or just keep on reassuring everyone around you, here’s hoping this little tool can help you shift the conversation and reach your safe harbour just that little bit quicker and in far better shape, and maybe help you steer clear of those dragons.


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