Don’t be limited by what you’re good at
My colleague Rupert wrote last week about challenging constructs.
I’ve been working recently with some companies that are by any reckoning very successful. They’re highly profitable, well led and well managed. They’ve developed strong business ‘formulas’ in their different markets and are disciplined in sticking to what they know works. They have stripped costs out, made their supply chains highly efficient, and honed a way of growing their existing businesses. In short they’re doing all the right things and delivering the results.
So what’s the problem?
It’s this. The very discipline of their approach is an inhibition to thinking more broadly about their future. Their senior people have got to where they are because of their personal discipline and drive, and have executed well (sometimes brilliantly) against the formula. But where is the creative spark? Business plans are highly technically competent, but they add up to making a few percentage points growth in market share. Not the stuff of the Collins and Porras ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’. Their formulas and discipline will enable them to keep up their results for the next few years. But what after that? These companies are in markets which are highly dynamic and competitive.
So what’s the answer? Certainly not to throw away their formulas and discipline. But they need to import a ‘gadfly’ to their thinking, to build in some creative challenge to their top teams, or to hire a new leaders who can think beyond existing formulas. They need to think and believe they can do the impossible. In Warren Bennis’ phrase they need ‘to dream with their feet on the ground’. Jung saw dreams as a way to break us out of the limitations of the conscious ‘stories we tell ourselves’ – or constructs.
Perhaps more prosaically it’s about not just looking down and in (e.g. at the numbers) but also looking up and out (e.g. at the possibilities). Their leaders need not just to be highly competent ‘technically’ at leading to the known; they need also to be able to lead ‘adaptively’ to the unknown.