“We are living through the age of disruption. You can’t do big things if you’re content with doing things a little better than everyone else or a little differently than how you did them before.
In an era of hyper-competition and non-stop dislocation, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.
Today, the most successful organizations don’t just out-compete their rivals. They redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking.”
What a difference 15 years don't make, indeed. This is the write up on the ChangeThis manifesto by Bill Taylor, one of the two co-inspirators that have led radical change in my thinking with Fast Company magazine so many years ago.
To innovate means to renew (Lat.) and we do need a dose of that in business. I was reading an article the other day about robots that can locate sockets and plug themselves to recharge. Except that some were able to do it, others stumbled aimlessly or run away while they were still in need of energy.
Isn't that how it has felt in all industries, occupations, and public service arena lately? Brands have not run out of juice, it seems we have. The most dramatic label you can get in an organization that is ferociously attached to its past is "change agent."
Four principles for transformation
Taylor offers these thought starters after examining the struggles and triumphs of 25 companies. I'd like to riff off his principles a little, and hope you will do the same with me. Dialogue is a tool for thinking together. That's how we advance out mutual making sense of things.
I caught a couple of tweets recently from people who simply said they disagreed with me -- so much easier to just reject or critique a thesis than rolling up one's sleeves and joining into figuring it out together, isn't it?
It reminds me of the famous "seagull move." I digress. Here are the four principles for your consideration, with my thoughts (see the full copy in the manifesto I linked up top):
(1.) What you see shapes how you change
Indeed, putting on a pair of fresh new eyes, looking at things from a different perspective, is helpful. I do wonder why so many organizations are so afraid of enrolling someone who comes from outside their industry or function, though.
Would they not be able to question how things have been done before well? They are not vested in those ways, or in exactly the same ways. What if instead of just pushing to redefine the "thing" you are looking to innovate, you redefine your thinking and assumptions about the person who looks at it?
(2.) Where you look shapes what you see
This is again about borrowing from other industries and companies. Changing industries is the hardest thing a professional can do at any level of their career, especially in the middle years, when conventional thinking (there you go again with best practices) is to narrow your expertise, specialize.
Yet, people who make that shift successfully. Those who manage to learn a new industry -- its language and landscape -- through the lens of a previous industry, do look in very different places. I should know, I've done it with 5 industries and from client to agency role.
The best part when you do that is no assumptions about how the business should operate, and lots of questions about why it does it that way. It comes in handy when the where is the money place.
(3.) There's nothing wrong with your organization that can't be fixed with what's right with your organization
You could see history and tradition as places of resistance, and they can be that. They are also a tremendous anchor to values and purpose. There is a whole body of work on appreciative inquiry that gets into harnessing what is working, what is positive, and doing more of it.
Essentially, by linking the energy of a positive core directly to any change agenda, you can mobilize changes never thought possible through discovery, dream, and design.
Importing off-the-shelf strategies devised by outside experts consumed with what’s new misses the core of what's right. Instead, I do believe that reinforcing good habits and adopting new habits that build on those, yet still take into account the realities of the business and its ecosystem, is the way to go.
(4.) Success is not just about thinking differently from the competition
It is about caring more, and it is about carrying things forward, connecting the dots, building and renewing. There's an opportunity wide open still in so many industries right now -- caring about customers.
Where people care about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world with endless temptations to cut corners and compromise on values, that's where the energy goes. It's a very attractive proposition to do work that matters.
Leading change starts on the inside. Each of us has the opportunity to re-evaluate why we do what we do, look at things with fresh eyes, looking in different places, surfacing what is working and doing more of it, and caring more.
Perhaps a better term than leading is doing change.