Post No.: 0928
The modern world of work is far less stable than it used to be – 4,000 years ago, you could easily predict what the next 100 years would be roughly like, but nowadays it’s hard to predict what the next 10 years will be like. So we need to be able to adapt, and often in real-time.
So be open-minded, stay curious, and be courageous to act and adapt based on what you discover. That may require breaking out of your comfort zones. It definitely requires a willingness to learn.
Yet sometimes even when compelled to change, we fail to. This happens in our personal lives when we understand that we must eat more healthily, yet can still fail to do so (damn cookies!) In business, some businesses adapt, but others die. Those businesses that are less likely to adapt are those that have evolved to become so highly specialised and efficient to match the challenges and situations that it finds itself in, but when the world changes, they find it hard to break out of their specialisation or niche. This happens with animal species and extinction too. The tighter the fit to the old world, the more difficult the transition to a new one. But while animals cannot just voluntarily rapidly evolve their DNA – organisations can adapt by, for instance, hiring leaders and workers with different mindsets; and individuals can adapt by, for instance, expanding their own skill sets.
Reiterate a mantra to yourself every morning that says, “Change is okay” to prepare your mind to accept change whenever it may be needed. Be truly deep-down willing to change or adapt instead of set in your ways. Explicitly identify every benefit for you for changing. Then explicitly identify and tackle one-by-one the reasons for your reluctance to change. It also helps to have something better to change to, so get creative to find ideas that thrill you for change. You’ve got to know your plan of action too – what precise foreseeable steps do you need to take to implement your change? What are you changing to? How? And what resources will you need? (It’s like it’s easy to say you want to ‘eat better’ but what exact meals will excite you? For me, this might be pumpkin.) Then start by changing your environment to make that change easier to implement (nudging).
We want to hire diverse people. Yet once they enter our organisation, we tend to socialise them to assimilate into our culture, which wipes out their fresh thinking! We should invite instead of crush their idiosyncratic curiosities and questionings of ‘how things have always been done here’.
There are no stupid questions, just stupid people(!) (Well, just stupid decisions or behaviours.) Or it’s often more important to ask the right questions than to answer them. We should welcome those who question our traditions, idols, conventional wisdoms or current ways of doing things. And we can formally carry out such exercises ourselves now and again. Conventional wisdom may have held some truth in the past but it may not anymore. Some traditions or idols may remain valid, but others may need adjustment.
Managers often want everybody to ‘get on the bus’ with an idea they’re spearheading, and if you don’t join them then ‘you’re being negative/not being a team player!’ Getting everyone to move together in one direction is absolutely a critical skill for a manager or leader – but what’s the point of everyone rowing in perfect unison towards the wrong way?!
We also often hear the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. But in business, we might be hanging onto something, like a technology, that will soon be superseded by those of our competitors.
Measuring and rewarding performance is crucial. But blindly chasing performance targets or numbers can lead to blinkered thinking too. We can be chasing things that serve our short-term interests but harm our long-term ones. Slavishly chasing performance targets can also lead to burnout, or the temptation of cheating or fraud.
Creativity or innovation helps us to adapt hence is highly prized in business, as in life. If you’re the type to regularly look for creative solutions to new and old problems, you’ll be more valuable to your employers and colleagues. Creative people create! Where others see obstacles, you see opportunities. And creating your way out of challenges is more exciting than finding ways to cut back. Well businesses need to create if they wish to sustainably grow anyway – cutting costs can temporarily boost profits and shareholder value but it doesn’t go much further than that.
And anyone can be creative. Start by being curious about everything. Ask ‘how can we do this differently?’ Maybe query ‘to what other uses can this technique/core competence/thing be put?’ Another question is ‘what can we add to make this thing more valuable?’ The other side of that is ‘can you think of something you can simplify/eliminate from your work/life to make it simpler/smoother/quicker?’ Ponder ‘what can we borrow from other people’s ideas to adapt to our needs?’ (We usually naturally look for such ideas when we do a web search on how to tackle a specific problem we have.) And ‘how can we change a pattern or rearrange a process?’
Fostering creativity in an organisation takes far more than bringing in table tennis tables, fridges full of beer, some funky furniture and hosting a few creativity seminars – it’s in the little daily habits of thinking. Actively ask yourself, periodically, these above kinds of questions. Seek feedback. Look at other people’s ideas. Take chances. Encourage others to think differently and innovate too. And always review the ideas you’ve all generated.
Change your routines. Go some place new. Change your route or mode of transport to work. Challenge yourself physically. Talk to diverse people. Try a different cuisine tonight. Just sit down for lunch and watch others going about their day (doing something different to our hectic days often means simply stopping for a moment and passively observing and absorbing). Take an educational course on a subject you know little about…
Experimentation and play are how we learn, and it’s a funtastic way to learn, too! Even science is hardly always about sticking to conventional logic – it involves imagination and creativity. Thought experiments, as well as practical ones, have formed the inceptions of many key scientific theories and breakthroughs! Many of the greatest minds, like Albert Einstein, used their imaginations to come up with ideas that were at first counterintuitive and quite controversial.
Like how silence communicates something too (such as why a fellow dog in the neighbourhood suddenly hasn’t been heard barking today? :3) – take note of what’s not happening as well as what’s happening. Pay attention to the absence of evidence as well – of what’s not been presented or given to you. Be alert to what’s not in front of you. Hear what isn’t said. Consider things that others don’t consider.
It’s like the survivorship bias. For instance, a news article might focus on the story of someone who smoked all their life or only ate junk yet survived to 90, and some people watching this might start to believe that smoking or only eating rubbish will be fine for them too. But this report fails to highlight the statistic that most people who live that lifestyle don’t live that long. Or news outlets with heavy political leanings will frame stories according to how they best serve their own worldviews and agendas – thus it helps to check out various sources of news to be able to see from multiple perspectives on the same issues.
Cherry-picking statistics is common, so ask what data (or even entire reports!) your team did not share with you? When others are looking right, look left too, and vice-versa. This skill of seeking what’s missing could be considered a sixth sense of the most exemplary bosses. The qualities that are found in the finest bosses were the main subject of Post No.: 0905.
Now big data analyses are extremely useful for finding patterns and predictions that we otherwise would’ve missed. Yet it relies on historic datasets, and the future may be different. We need room for imagining the future too – for you to be the one to change the rules of the game in your industry – rather than following others in what has worked in the past. We encounter this issue whenever algorithms suggest the same kind of music, videos, news sources or romantic dates we’ve liked in the past – they merely reinforce our interests and ensure we see little of what’s different and unfamiliar. We consequently learn little that’s new. This problem also emerges when we’re trying to hire unusual or diverse candidates, which means that automated ‘résumé robots’ that scan for certain keywords and such can actually actively harm creative organisations!
Big data analyses can help you to grow your business but they may not give you the ideas to start an innovative business. The tech giants that exist today didn’t conceive their initial ideas for existence from big data analyses.
Carry out a creativity audit – get everyone in your team to sit down and recall all the new projects and initiatives you’ve all personally pursued (hopefully you’ll have all kept a sketchbook of all these ideas as you’ve each brainstormed them). Get together once or twice a year (pre-plan and let everyone know the dates) to share the 3 or 4 biggest or best ideas you’ve each originated. This exercise affirms that creativity is valued within your organisation, plus something interesting may also come out of the exercise too.
It’s not enough to have a fabulous idea or to be correct about something however. How many times have you said something to someone just to find that it fell on deaf fuzzy ears? We then blame the other party for not heeding our words.
But we should actually blame ourselves for being ineffective communicators! All that counts in the real world is getting stuff done. And it’s up to us to achieve the result we want. So tailor your messages to make them meaningful and convincing to the specific individuals you’re presently presenting to. How you communicate to an investor shouldn’t be the same as how you communicate to a fellow engineer, for instance. We all need to shore up our presentations skills, and train all members of our teams to communicate effectively. Always keep in the forefront of your mind ‘what’s in it for them?’ Why should they care and buy into what you’re proposing?
It’s pointless blaming the customer for not buying what you’re selling(!) Blame the seller, which is you. Sell what you’re selling better. This requires empathy (business requires more empathy at all levels than we may think). Being right is not enough to be listened to and followed (unfortunately). People are people (and that includes the possibility of you believing that you’re right when you might be the one who’s actually wrong!) The most brilliant technical staff can be the worst salespeople or leaders. The best sportspeople can be ineffectual team coaches in their second careers because they personally ‘don’t get why others don’t get them’.
Even if you have the authority to unilaterally decide on the path that your team takes, people generally don’t like solutions being imposed on them. Your employees still need to be motivated. Therefore you will still need to persuade them at a deeper level to believe in and give their energy and enthusiasm to realise your idea.
Woof! So to be able to adapt, we need to be open-minded, curious and courageous. We need to be creative and accept that change is okay – even normal.