The innovative rebels that inevitably become part of “the machine.”
A company starts off innovative, flexible, defiant, and adaptable, and in these formative years, they predominantly solidify “who they are” and “what they’re about.” As the company becomes increasingly successful and starts to expand in size and resources, a certain degree of that flexibility that they started with goes away, too.
The reason companies struggle with societal transition is that they originally focus on creating the product or service. Once they prove themselves, they shift focus to expansion and maintaining, what they believe is, their “key to success.”
What may have started as 5, 10, or 20 employees grows into hundreds, if not thousands. In order to keep such a large organization running successfully, they must set up systems, rules and hierarchies to keep it running smoothly. The most significant aspect of this is cost. With such a large organization, absolutely every small cost matters, because it is applied across their entire infrastructure.
As they carry out these systems, it creates limitations on the ability for the company to be able to stay as adaptive and flexible as when they started out. It means that they cannot innovate as quickly, and tend to lose the creative spirit or mindset that they began with.
As this increases, less and less people in the company are actually willing to take the risk involved in innovation, since it has such a massive impact. All the brilliant ideas never see the light of day, and are smothered by rules, project groups, etc.
In the modern world, the real “key to success” is the ability to adapt — to keep a fresh flow of new ideas coming in, and to constantly prepare for the future.
This has to be built in to the culture, from day one, not after they wake up one day, suddenly realizing that they’ve lost touch. At that point, they have to go into “fix everything, change everything, and scramble to adapt” mode. This is much more costly and ineffective.
I learned this lesson back at 19, when I just started out managing for the first time at a large restaurant.
I was a phenomenal problem solver and thrived in chaotic situations. When a problem popped up, I would be the first to jump in and tackle it, and I would tear it up. It even gave me a bit of a rush being the one who “saves the day” while everyone else panicked.
Then, one day, a mentor completely flipped my perspective forever, and I’ll never forget it:
“Why are you exerting so much energy and attention into putting out fires, instead of figuring out how to prevent them from occurring in the first place?”
Yes, I could solve any problem, but I could also apply the same skill set in a different way:
- I began to pay attention to patterns in the flow of business.
- I began to pay attention to unspoken cues from the staff members.
- I began to pay attention to what these patterns would result in 10-30 minutes later.
I started to notice the inter-connected nature of the entire business:
- When a large part of the tables had that “I’m done eating” look, I could communicate to the busing staff to get ready to clean a bunch of tables in the next 5 – 10 minutes.
- I could also let the host stand know roughly how many tables were opening up soon, and make sure all of them were up there ready to go, or even grab a few waiters to help.
- I could tell the kitchen to be ready for a swarm of a new orders coming in.
- I could make sure that the waiters had the support they needed, so that no one ended up sitting there for 10 minutes without being greeted.
- and so on and so forth…
The main lesson was on shifting my focus from being ready to tackle any challenge, to actively using predictable patterns, which prevented most of the challenges from ever happening.
This same method applies, on a massive scale, to any type of business and in any industry:
Our nature is to focus on the present and immediate future. However, by incorporating a mix of the past, present, and future, it allows you to start seeing patterns. Then, you can adjust your operations and shift from being reactive to proactive.
Yes, I’m talking to you: CEOs, board of directors, VP’s, and Executives.
Using the past and trend spotting, you can not only predict the future, but enhance it.
- This only works if you actively create teams to brainstorm, and if you actually listen to their advice.
- This only works if you stop focusing so heavily on the next quarter’s earnings report, and allow yourself to see past it.
If you’re providing the best experience and the best product, the numbers will take care of themselves. Do not disregard these things entirely, but join other methods into your operations… methods that may not be as neat and clean on a piece of paper.
If you rely solely on what your company’s performance reports look like, by the time they start looking like shit, you’ll be in deeper trouble than you even realize.
It’s not only prevention and protection, but also a way to take yourselves to the next level.
- Dig deeper into these patterns.
- Go back further into the past.
- Forecast further into the predicted future.
- Brainstorm how events already occurring will naturally affect this predicted future; adjust accordingly.
- Brainstorm and imagine like crazy to imagine all the potential opportunities.
- Follow it up by brainstorming skeptical counter-arguments for each one of them.
- Continue this process back and forth, until you’ve narrowed it down to the best of the best.
- Then, create an feasible strategy to carry out this new, radical idea over time.
You Are the Champion!
When the inevitable shift in society or technology occurs, you will be the one introducing it, not the one scrambling and adjusting to its effects.
Become the bomb, not the one cleaning up the wreckage.
- Startup culture: from adhocracy to hiring a Six Sigma guy. (whiteboardmag.com)
- The Moment of Truth (backwardstimemachine.wordpress.com)
- Innovation: What is it? (chilmarkresearch.com)
- Six Ways Organizations Can Survive Until 2100 (techonomy.com)
- How to Develop a Culture of Innovation (news.terra.com)