It is coming to the end of 2019, another year where enterprises, start-ups, and every organisation in between have been told they will need to adapt to survive. That they find themselves in an environment evolving at a rate never before seen. If your’re the CEO of a multi billion dollar enterprise then new agile start-ups are eating into your margins. The CEO of a start-up and it’s the constant need to pivot. All of this is built on fear and anxiety, the angst of being left behind.
Christopher Grey provides us with an excellent metaphor we can use to understand this phenonmen. The treadmill. We’re already on the treadmill but we won’t get off it. Why not? Because what if we lose ground on others who stay on? We become obsessed with a herd mentality, where we find comfort in blending in. Even if we fail we were just doing what everyone else was doing, so we don’t stand out as being incompetent, but our failure is hidden in among the blurry crowd, all trying the same thing. It takes a great deal of courage and bravery to stand out from the crowd, to walk a different path from the herd, to overcome the anxiety of crafting your own ideas.
The notion of breaking from the herd is important because it is the herd that drives our love affair with change. The hype machine plays on our fears and anxieties. It shapes us into believing our competitive advantage will be eroded if we don’t spend big on the latest craze. The Internet of things, Big data, A.I, The Cloud. How many organisations have pumped time, money, and other resources into these things simply becasue they pervecieved them to be important. However, most organisations won’t need to invest in these things in order to protect their competitive advantage. Despite this, consulting firms continue to generate huge revenues from convincing us otherwise.
We probably don’t live in a time of great change, at least not when compared to the past. I’d imagine those who lived, and worked, through world wars would argue the point. Rather, we find ourselves in the most organised and structured time in documented history. All this order and logic has led to us becoming dependent on the known. But if everyone is chasing the known in order to deal with the fear of change we are overlooking a key ingredient for truly creating new competitive advantage. Being different.
In order to ensure I keep a focus on facing my own anxiety I look to the world of art. A world of apprentices and masters. One where creativity is key, and, as such, there is no where to hide from anxiety. If you stay safe in the world of art you quickly become an imitator rather than an innovator. This is what is happening in the world of business, we’ve become too reliant on the imitators at the expense of true innovators. I have been more than guilty of taking the easy option throughout my career. However, I’ve sought to identify myself as an artisan in order to break my own dependency on the change fallacy. I challenge my preconceptions each time I need to make a business decision in order to ensure what I already known doesn’t bias the information I have at hand. I am suspicious of anything that claims to be a silver bullet, something that is percieved as being essential to the future of all organisations. Most importantly, I trust the people around me who have experience in the domain the decision resides in.
There is no doubt that organisations need to evolve to stay competitive, but the notion that we are in an era of unprecedented change needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Question those who propose radical changes to your business just becasue it is working for others, and always be willing to step out of your comfort zone to do so.