Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Innovating in the midst of chaos and disruption

 There's a great poem by Kipling that I'm sure is now out of favor, but it has a central message that we all need to hear. The poem is "If" - and if you are interested in reading the poem you can find the link here.  Go ahead and read it now.  After the Biden inaugural, poetry is on the upswing in popularity and Kipling is a good poet.  Plus, the poem has a message that we need to hear now.

It's the first couple of lines that always spark my interest - "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs..."  The poem is an ode to confidence in yourself, especially in trying times.

But, as you are well aware, this is not a blog about poetry, but a blog about innovation.  And, from my perspective, it's about time to start implementing some of what Kipling is writing about in this poem.  We need more confidence, more ability to dream, and think, and meet with both triumph and disaster.  Kipling wasn't writing about new product development, business model change or innovation, but what he is writing is entirely applicable to our situation today - first quarter 2021.

Gamestop is up, and you are down

In a time when everything is experiencing change, when disorder and disruption seems constant and profound, when people are storming the Capitol after an election, and the threat of COVID hovers over all of us, hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass would seem to be the sensible solution.  Many companies are waiting, waiting for the storm to pass, for the air to clear, for the future to be more understandable or more predictable.  I think that is a fool's game.

The folks who tell us about climate change tell us that what will actually occur is less predictable weather and weather patterns.  In the same way, I think our existing and near term business climate is much less predictable, and will remain that way for some time.  There are a number of reasons for this conclusion - more than it is worth going into here, but if the fact that Gamestop is one of the most valuable and highly traded stocks doesn't say something about change and disruption in the market, then little else does.

Markets are efficient but not predestined.  Markets are made up of people, their fears, passions and emotions.  And when we connect a lot of passionate people to the means to trade stocks, and direct them, strange things can happen.  When we create information bubbles and people are fed stories that favor one viewpoint or another, with little common ground, strange things can happen.  When we live with a virus that we refuse to acknowledge and fail to defeat, strange things can happen.  Perhaps the "normality" of the 70s, 80s, and 90s was unreasonable, and our lives are subject to more change and uncertainty than we'd like to admit.

I think we are likely to see more unexpected and difficult to interpret social, demographic, environmental and technological change that will have an impact on businesses and governments, and those changes will occur more frequently.

Doing something in the midst of chaos and change

Rather than hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass, only to be surprised by a different storm or sudden change, perhaps our businesses, organizations and governments should expect more disruption and change and learn to operate within uncertainty and change.  Waiting for chaos or disruptions to end before adapting loses ground in two dimensions.  First, you don't learn during the chaos if you don't engage the chaos.  Second, the result after the chaos ends is a new market, shaped by new forces, and a new disruption will emerge to change things again.  Hunkering down means constantly falling behind and never learning or adapting.

Rather, what we need are far more dynamic, far more agile, far more forward-looking organizations that can adapt, operate and even accelerate in the chaos and disruption.  The time to build truly agile, dynamic and innovative organizations is in the teeth of change and disruption, to learn while doing, rather than waiting until the next calm between storms.

How can a company adapt to constant chaos, disruption or change

You've been warned by experts that the pace of change is accelerating.  A simple glance at technology adoption shows that we adopt new technologies and tire of them in ever shortening cycles.  We have a far more educated populace making far more demands for new products, services and experiences.  We are likely to have far more disruptions, market shifts, economic challenges than ever before.  How does a company learn, adapt and create new operating models?

There are a number of possibilities.  First, you might take time to do more scenario planning and trend spotting, to try to understand the future changes that will unfold.  Then you can learn from and put programs and systems in place before the trend emerges.

Second, you can train people to innovate in any circumstance.  History shows that many great innovations occur during a market convulsion or downturn. Typically, the winners have been those who acted during the downturn, rather than those who waited for the downturn or shift to end.  

Third, you can create far more nimble and agile organizations that can adapt to changing market conditions far more quickly.

Fourth, you must change your corporate culture to become a learning organization, one that is more aggressively embracing change, one that is capable of engaging risks and uncertainty.  Your organizational structure and culture will become either your biggest asset or your biggest barrier to survival.

Innovate Carolina Conference

At our 12th annual Innovate Carolina conference we will be talking about these issues - trying to understand how to innovate all the time, in the face of current and constant change, disruption and chaos.  Check our our conference site here and follow up if you are interested in speaking or attending.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:51 AM


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