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adage ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ does not apply, we need new products and services before our current ones become outdated.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.