Category: Blog

When The Threat Is Here, It Is Too Late To Change!

When is it too late to change

Here I shall use the spreading of deadly bacteria as a metaphor for change.

Consider a body of water that we all know well, the Mediterranean Sea. It has a volume (give or take a cupful) of 439 trillion litres.

Now imagine 1 litre of seawater with some of the deadliest bacteria known to man. This will contain around 1 trillion bacteria.

Imagine that these bacteria divide every minute so after 1 minute there are twice as many, after 2 minutes there are four times as many.

You like swimming in the ‘Med’ whilst on your summer holidays and have heard about these bacteria. How long do you think it will take before the whole body of water is filled with these deadly bacteria and we have another dead sea on our hands?

Is it weeks, months or perhaps years?

The alarming answer is a little over 68 minutes. I’m sure that we would have longer to get out and dry off before succumbing but this is alarming.

1 minute before ‘the end’ only 50% of the water is contaminated but this is still too late. 3 minutes before the end only 12.5% is contaminated but we have still left it too late. After a certain point, it is simply too late to change.

To save our beloved swimming destination we should really stop the deadly bacteria being put there in the first place or have developed some way of killing them.

My message here is all about taking action. When is it too late to change, when no amount of action will save our business? With rapid communications and lightning-fast technology, threats to our businesses are spreading ever more quickly. When we have spotted the threat and reacted it may actually be too late to change.

In the current climate, we need to be looking at what comes next. The old adage ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ does not apply, we need new products and services before our current ones become outdated.

Scientists amongst you will recognise this as a classic exponential curve. For some industries and countries, the steepness of the curve may vary but change in this day and age is much more rapid than in the industrial revolution.

Consider the current coronavirus as an interesting example. There are two aspects that we should be concerned with. The first is how contagious it is (change spreading at a local level) and how quickly it multiples and spreads on a global level. Let us apply this to the business world.

In business, changes made by our competitors will have varying effects on the marketplace and may be difficult (or easy to copy). Should we copy technology or develop our own to achieve the same ends (or perhaps add more value)?

How will change affect us and how quickly do we need to react?

Unlike my fictitious example of bacteria in the sea, we will have more than 68 minutes to react to serious business competition. But once a competitor produces something that threatens our products or services, how long have we got to live?

So what can we do? Well, the answer is to react like a chameleon does if that is the strategy that you wish to use. Change must be instant and you will need to be scanning your business environment to see as far ahead as possible.

You will not be able to use cumbersome decision-making processes and your sales, marketing, manufacturing, and distribution will need to change with very little input from senior management.

Another possible way of creating a strategy for the future is to look at the following:

  • Who are your customers?
  • What are you selling to them and why (what problem are you solving)?
  • What technology is coming over the horizon?
  • What skills do you possess as a company?
  • Who else is competing for your customers’ money?

Then consider the following just to start off with

  • How could you utilise new technology?
  • Can you make it lighter, heavier, smellier, greener …..?
  • Can you add value or combine products or services?
  • Can you use your skills to branch out into another sector?

Here are two examples.

I once met an author of children’s books who had just written a book about gardening. I introduced him to my list of things to think about and he immediately latched onto ‘add a smell’. The ‘scratch and sniff’ gardening book became a viable idea at that point.

Now consider a manufacturing company that makes a commodity such as mattresses. They have manufacturing expertise and knowledge of the human form but very little design skills. Find a designer and ‘hey presto’ you have the capability to design and manufacture higher value items such as furniture.

In the world of electronics, advances can be even more startling.

Remember, when change hits you it may already be too late to change.

Innovation + Reinvention = ReThinking

innovation, reinvention, rethinkingLet’s face it, the biggest problem that we have in the exciting world of creativeinnovationreinventiveness is the English language. Yes, I made that horrible big word up but I might as well use it because everyone else has their own definition of creativity, innovation, invention, etc.

You hire a consultant or adviser to give you some of the aforementioned and what do you get? I’m sure it is not when you thought you would get! So what is the point of this article?

Well, many think that you should be in one camp or another. Well, I believe there is a camp that we can all belong to. The idea that I believe that we can all buy into is what I call ReThinking.

The sceptical will be thinking that I am inventing another term to try and make money out of. Bear with me and I will explain.

Have you seen the innovation curve that for any technology give the number of innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%) and laggards (16%). It would seem that a very small percentage of us are actually innovators.

There is another term that has been used by others, reinvention. Here people take a look at what they are currently doing and rework or reinvent either their products or their company. Some might call this incremental innovation.

ReThinking incorporates both Innovation and Reinvention. This seems sensible to me as all of the skills and behaviours that need to be used are common. What is very different is the degree to which they are used and possibly the radical nature of the purpose to which they are put.

What is important here is the type of thinking that is used. If an external event occurs (say a stock market crash or a supplier shortage of bananas) how do we react appropriately? To fully understand, think of the Chameleon. It detects its surroundings and then blends in with the environment. It reacts appropriately.

What the Chameleon does not do is cycle through all of the psychedelic colour combinations it can until it settles upon the right one!

But your business is not a Chameleon, right? But it can be! First of all, you need to think of your business as being organic and not having a hard and fast structure. Whether you go to town on this is up to you, just don’t put up barriers where there do not need to be any.

Although employees might work in a particular department, such as production or finance they can all contribute to change processes that must exist.

A small but powerful example of this are the lorry drivers that transport goods around the country. They don’t just drive lorries though, do they? A driver often waits outside a factory or depot. They are sources of intelligence (or if you are mischievous, sources of misinformation!). How full are the lorries, where do they come from, which haulage companies are being used?

Knowledge can be acquired from the environment by anyone and ideas can be generated by anyone. The next question is how do you gather them, how do you evaluate and then act on them? This is the essence of ReThinking, constantly thinking about what you do and whether you need to tweak things or react in a more drastic fashion.

As the recent outbreak of coronavirus has shown us, waiting until and infection is on our doorstep is far too late to take action in many cases. For businesses, it might just be a case of reacting to a future that is not here yet!

Be More Effective By Thinking Like A Film Director

be more effective, be like a film director Have you ever sat down at a computer screen or maybe a piece of A4 paper with a determination that you will ‘get that report written’ come what may. Days or perhaps weeks later you are still in exactly the same position. You need to be more effective, but how?

Why is that, especially when you know everything there is to know on the subject, you have your conclusions all ready and your boss has made their impatience obvious. You still can’t do it though, can you?

I have been the victim of this in the past and have observed this in those around me more recently. So what can be done about it?

Some readers will swear blind that a change of scenery will help and that the answer will come to them. At the risk of being controversial, I suggest that the change of scenery itself will not do the trick.

But in the process of changing the scene or moving around, something else is likely to change, your focus.

First of all, let us rewind a bit and take a look at the generic creative problem-solving process. In order for things to work efficiently, we need a series of divergent and convergent phases. First, work out what the problem might be (produce a range of causes) then work out what the cause actually is.

Similarly, we do the same with the solution to the problem.

So how do we relate this to our report writing scenario? Well, let’s go straight to the point where we are stuck. You have the facts, the conclusions, in fact, you have everything apart from a structure.

You also have a piece of paper or a laptop screen which is a bit like a small window. You are struggling to see something larger but through a small letterbox.

To help make things easier you can do any or all of the following:

  • Use a larger piece of paper (try flipchart)
  • Swap to your desktop PC with a 19inch monitor
  • Gather your thoughts in a non-linear fashion i.e. a mindmap

All of these will allow you to see the bigger picture. You are really just tricking your brain but widening the scope will make things easier. It will help you to be more effective.

When you have got your thoughts in order then you can bash out your document.

Those in Marketing might use storyboards (still linear but the steps can be modified or re-sequenced easily). Video and TV directors may very well do the same thing (ever wondered how a film director can shoot scenes out of sequence and still create a great film).

In a nutshell, widen your scope, get all the bits in focus then create your masterpiece.

Think like a film director!

Is It Time To Get Out Of Your Current Business?

is it time to get out of your current business

We know that a number of businesses will not make it but a number will be asking themselves the following questions:

What’s next?

What’s the cure?

What can we do to stay to keep our heads above water?

For many, the initial knee-jerk reaction is not actually a reaction at all. The temptation is to hold on to the past as much as possible and pray that the storm blows over.

Are you or fellow board members saying any of the following?

“We just need to wait for the market to recover, and then it is business as usual!”

“The trouble is a blip, let’s just wait and see.”

“It is too risky to act on incomplete information. Let’s allow things develop — we can always take action later.”

This desire to hold on to the past, to endure whatever the harsh environment has to offer, is well known to social scientists.

Summarising a 2010 study, Social Psychologist Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote:

“People who saw a painting described as having been painted in 1905 found it far more pleasing to look at than people who saw the same painting described as created in 2005.

Students preferred the course requirement described as the status quo over a new version (regardless of whether the new version meant more or less coursework).

People who were told that acupuncture had been in existence for 2,000 years expressed more favorable attitudes toward it than those who were told it existed for 250 years.

Study participants were given a piece of European chocolate. It was described to them as having first been sold in its region either 73 years ago or 3 years ago. Guess which group rated the chocolate as better-tasting…”

As far as organisational change is concerned, there are three primary emotions at play. These are cynicism, fear, and acceptance. Two of these are negative and one positive. Surveys following organisational change put the negative emotions top of the list. Positive emotions are nowhere to be seen.

So it would seem that we have an inbuilt desire for things to stick around as long as possible and avoid change because of the negative emotions that it conjures up.

We all want to last, continue and get back to  “business as usual.” We want to hold on to the world just the way it is.

This is exactly where the problem lies and why so many of our transformation efforts fail. It is the desire to stick with the status quo that kills our businesses.

Whyis this? As with life in the natural world, sustainability is not a driver for survival. But change is!

Every day, things change. We breathe in and out, becoming a different person with every molecule of oxygen that enters our bloodstream (it is said that every day you are guaranteed to inhale at least one of the molecules of air that passed through Genghis Khan’s lungs!).

The seasons and weather change, crops grow.

We survive the ups and downs of the stock exchange and commodity markets. Nothing is constant. Change is unrelenting. So if hanging on is not the best strategy for our businesses, what can we do?

The secret lies in working out what our business is exactly. You might produce cardboard boxes on a production line but is your business one of production or packaging? You need to distill the essence of your business idea (maybe focus on the packaging) and throw away everything else.

If you get this right then you can reinvent your business over and over again according to changes in markets, customer buying habits, etc. Our fictitious box making company could become experts in sustainable (or recyclable) packaging solutions for the automotive sector.

Focus on knowledge and core skills as well as what product or service you actually provide.

Instead of desperately trying to stay in your current business by all means possible, it is time for you to get out of the business and get into a new one!

How Innovative And Flexible Is Your Business?

how innovatve and flexible is your business

To be innovative we must be flexible and embrace change. Innovation is a special type of change program. It has many other attributes that make it deeply fascinating and sometimes difficult or impossible to grasp, but change is what it is.

Sometimes this change is fast and sometimes slow, but change is a competence and managing change can be learned, developed and practised.

The thing that trips us up most often is that we get no practice, we have to improvise. Most of us would not stand up at a comedy club and improvise a 10 minute set. But our bosses expect us to do this and we gladly assume the role.

Of course, we can never practice the stages of change without actually changing. But in our businesses, we crave stability. We either change once in a lifetime or we keep doing so in a way that we don’t have time to bed in the changes that have been made.

Worse still, we invent an innovation program that changes rapidly. This results in bewildered staff, unhappy sponsors and management shaking their heads at the hastily drawn up Key Performance Indicators.

Even in changing business environments businesses make the assumption that volatility will be low.

For obvious reasons, the least volatile part of a business is related to finance. For example, consider the process of budgeting. The budget is usually set once a year and tinkered with occasionally. Often budgets are reused. It might not be efficient to use zero-based budgeting (budgeting from scratch) but how often are the inputs to a budget reexamined?

But what happens when there is volatility in the marketplace? Commodity prices can rise and fall quickly. Recently we have seen fuel prices affect the costs of all goods that need to be transported. Crop failures can push up food prices and regulatory changes can force huge burdens upon us all.

What would you do regarding your finances if the cost of fuel rose by 50% due to events in the Middle East? What would you need to do and how fast could you do it? Would it spell the end anyway?

Some businesses do conduct some scenario planning or create a series of ‘What if?’ statements so that they have some idea what to do. This is a little like leaving instructions for a simple board game. What happens when the board game is different from the one mentioned in the instructions?

To be truly agile (nimble, flexible, innovative or whatever adjective you favour), a business must create a system that reacts automatically to its surroundings rather as a chameleon does in nature. You might find it useful to take a look at the following two posts No More Change Programs – Meet The Super Chameleon and Innovation Constipation – Are You Suffering?

How do we create this elusive flexible or innovative business? Well if you are starting a new business you can start as you mean to go on. Although whoever is providing startup funding might take in interest in why you are doing something that does not obviously have a ROI (Return On Investment).

If you are a larger business then they are ways of making the necessary structural and cultural changes. The businesses that have been doing this for years make it look easy. It is not! However, once you have mastered this (a bit like riding a bicycle) then things get easier.

If you want to know more or would like some case study material then please get in touch.

So your homework for today is to answer the following:

How does your company cultivate change and reinvention capacity in its people and managerial processes? What currently works? What can be improved or replaced?