Creating Future Leadership in 3D

Future leadership in 3D

Future leadership requires new thinking. 3D Printing sends some clear signals to leaders. What can we learn? Customisation is key. Collaboration is king (and queen). Immediacy is expected.  Ethics matters more than ever. If we are to thrive in the future, we need to take these signals into account.


3D printing is moving from transition to transformation, and as it does so it will have a profound impact on our lives, our organisations and our leadership. What sort of impact? I think there are at least three ripples that will lead to change.

1. Customisation

In education, the term personalised learning has been bandied around for some time. In this post I am using personalisation and customisation interchangeably to mean what designer and co-founder of Fabise, James McBennett, describes as “democratising the bespoke.” In other words the individual is increasingly at the centre, playing an important role in the design and roll out of their own learning.

Implication: Future leaders must take increasing account of the needs of individuals and groups within and beyond their organisations. In practice this includes:

  • differentiating the professional growth of staff by first understanding them as an individual, then tailoring professional learning accordingly. This is an ecological approach to learning, where the organisation has some expectations and the learner is supported to apply this as a ‘partner in learning’. In some organisations there is an increasing focus on a matrix of growth rather than a ‘pipeline’ or a one size fits all.
  • in schools we differentiate for the needs of young learners – the same should apply to the adult learners. Our staff have differing needs, goals and expectations.
  • in all organisations there needs to be a focus on rapid feedback loops and just-in-time learning.
  • data supports organisations to understand and meet the needs of staff, clients and the wider public.

2. Collaboration

In 3D terms there is an increasing focus on makerspaces, where people can collaborate, share facilities and equipment, and learn from each other.

Implication: Future leaders must provide greater opportunities for groups to come together to complete projects and have flexibility to move in and out of different team structures. In practice this includes:

  • encourage meetings that are fast paced and support the organisation to move forward. Why bother having a meeting just to preserve the status quo? If nothing changes you could have saved the energy.
Future leadership questions in 3D

Focus on growth questions

3. Openness

3D will bring new meaning to intellectual property. There will be a greater ability to remix, remake and copy.

Implication: Future leaders must be aware of these changes and balance protection of knowledge with an increasing expectation that people will have open access to just about everything. In practice this includes:

  • expecting that much of what you develop will ‘always be in beta’ ie it is a work in progress rather than a finished product.
  • being comfortable with staff sharing ideas, seeking guidance and co-creating using social media. This is an increasing expectation – and not just from Gen Y.
  • developing clear policies that allow both structure/safety and flexibility/openness. This and-both thinking is necessary for leaders to develop in complex times.
  • exploring ways in which your organisation can be open to feedback from staff, clients, stakeholders and the world. “The masses are massive.”

3D Printing is growing and morphing. That is exactly what future leadership must do. Alvin Toffler is credited with saying:  “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” I absolutely agree, and think we need to take an extra step – so I would say:

The illiterate of the future will those who cannot make, unmake and remake in a constant cycle of learning and acting – in ways that enhance the planet and its people. 

– Cheryl Doig

Other posts on 3D printing:

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