As Austin Reed and BHS become the latest British retailers to hit the buffers, the role of change is once again highlighted.
What stops organisations and people from changing? What do you need to know about the human dimension to maximise your adaptability?
Let’s just reflect on retailers that have gone down in the past 10 years – some have since been revived under new owners.
Organisations need to change
It’s frighteningly obvious that organisations need to be adept at adapting. So how can some change so masterfully and continue to renew and reinvent themselves, yet others wither and die?
Donald Sull published a great article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled ‘Why good companies go bad’.
He explained how companies become great because of the way they think about their market, how they develop a strategy, and then build processes, products and a culture to support it.
“Our thinking has significant and invisible power. The thinking is shaping, in fact creating, how we see everything”
Martin Palethorpe, The Pragma Group
But the very strategies, processes and culture that originally enabled success can creates what Sull calls ‘active inertia’.
This is when companies fail to respond to changes in the market because they rely too much on what worked in the past. I call this ‘stuck thinking’; when organisations are using old ways of thinking and unable to use their fresh thinking and intuition in the current moment.
As Einstein said, “we can’t solve problems by using the same thinking we used when we created them”.
Organisations – a collection of individuals
Organisations are simply a collection of individuals, so let’s reflect at a more micro level. How is it that as individuals we can sometimes be so innovative, so creative, so adaptable and flexible? Yet at other times, we’re resistant, stubborn, stuck in our ways, or even scared of change?
The key variable that we need to better understand is how humans actually think and use their thinking.
We have thinking in every moment, and often we don’t realise it. Our thinking has significant and invisible power. The thinking is shaping, in fact creating, how we see everything.
We create our view of the market, our competition, our people, the trends, and everything else. It’s ok to have this. It’s part of being a human.
But it’s important to not have it invisibly shape you. That’s when it becomes a blind spot and limitation.
We live in this thinking as if it’s real and true, but you’ll know of many times when your thinking has not been true, and has been distinctly unhelpful.
I often hear sentences start with:
“We can’t do that because…”
“We’re not that type of company…”
“He’s not that type of person…”
“I’m just not good at…”
“Our people won’t change…”
“The risk is too great…”
“But I don’t like to fail…”
Actually our mind is most effective, open, responsive and most adaptable when it’s not (invisibly) stuck in thinking. Underneath our thinking, we have a natural ability to be present, to listen, to tune into the moment, and then to use our inner intuition to decide what is required.
Sports psychologists call this ‘operating in the zone’. This is the natural ability that comes up with great ideas, that knows the right thing to do, and knows what and how to change.
“Muhammad Ali beat Sonny Liston to win the World Heavyweight belt. One of Ali’s greatest strengths was his ability to move and dodge in the moment”
Martin Palethorpe, The Pragma Group
You don’t need to force it, you just need to trust it more. It’s there underneath the personal thinking.
In 1971, Muhammad Ali beat Sonny Liston to win the World Heavyweight belt. One of Ali’s greatest strengths was his ability to move and dodge in the moment.
We all have that ability. You can’t do it if you’re thinking about the last round, or worrying, or justifying why you can’t do something.
You can only do it, by being in the zone. Drop the thinking and you can work out the right thing to do now. If your competition takes a hit at you, you instinctively know what to do.
- Martin Palethorpe is founder of The Pragma Group, a UK-based performance consultancy