This Is the Only Way Your Company Has A Fighting Chance

A few weeks ago, I retweeted this Mark Cuban Twitter update:

I connected with what he was saying, and how important it is for us to progress past “what’s been working so far.” Too many leaders (and their manager minions) challenge new ideas, where offering up a new way is like playing whack-a-mole…where the creative thinker is the mole!

One editor at a highly prestigious publication responded to Mark, of course, with an edit: “Sometimes.”  His point, I guess, was that conventional wisdom is usually tried-and-true to the situation since it is, ahem, convention.  But his response also echoes the sentiments of leaders everywhere.  The Status Quo doesn’t have an image problem.  It believes that only rarely is “the new way” the best solution.  

These are the new battle lines: Almost Always VS Sometimes.  The Almost Always leader (a new way is Almost Always better) believes that we should constantly question how things are done and what’s worked up until now.  They are vigilant when it comes to being ahead of the curve.  They like to hire (younger) smart people, who’ve shown that they can think outside the lines when stuck pursuing a worthy goal.  The Almost Always leader creates a culture where innovation is king, and agility is a habit and not just a response to crisis. 

The Sometimes leader (a new way is Sometimes better) believes that there should be a presumption against change.  They are quick to trot out historical turkeys when faced with a challenge to convention–especially if it comes in the form of a novel idea, which requires a change in the rules.  They like to hire people with quotable resumes, a willingness to fit in and a tendency to support the system above all else.  The Sometimes leader creates a culture where process is king, and the top goal is to “not blow it” or to “let the cowboys take over.”  

Guess which company is RIM/Blackberry VS which company is Google?  Guess which company is Tesla VS which company is GM?  Guess which company is Facebook VS which company is Kodak? 

The cycle of disruption is getting tighter every year, where conventional wisdom transmutes into head-in-the-sand thinking.  What worked like a charm a few years ago, clunks along in last place today where the consumer is more mobile, agile and hostile to his grandfather’s solution.  

Even if you have an Almost Always leadership style, that doesn’t mean you are creating an anything goes culture. In the case of Google, it’s mantra was “Do Epic Shit”.  There are still many steps that a new way must take to get from the whiteboard to the field.  It has to find a tribe.  Then it needs legal or the department of comportment to sign off.  Then it usually needs money, and often, cannibalization of an existing cash calf (which used to be the cash cow).  Those “gates” often shut down new ideas even in the most innovative cultures.  

But at least, if the presumption was in favor of a new way, your leadership style just might create a climate where your talents bring their ideas to work, and fight for the company to stay relevant.  If you have a Sometimes leadership style, that’s one gate too many for almost any new idea to get through.  If your presumption is for the Status Quo, your company doesn’t have a chance … barring throwing out its leadership … to compete for the future.   

This jives with what I’ve learned from author Bill Jensen (Disrupt!): “Your company isn’t disrupted.  Your eco-system is disrupted by a more agile culture.”  And when the culture smells stale, that fish stinks from the head!