Still Water is Dead Water ...
We all fear change. Even those who embrace change do so with a kind of devil-may-care perspective that suggests they conquer natural fear rather than find themselves impervious to it. Change takes us from what is known to what it unknown. It is natural to want to resist it.
The challenge this creates is that change is a hallmark of life. In a very real sense, if we stop changing we die. In fact, the healthiest people, and the healthiest organizations actually seek out ways to change. They understand that all things are in a continuous evolutionary process and that the best way to succeed over the long haul is by not simply embracing change, but by planning for and strategically executing change as a fundamental element of the lives we lead.
So what? I think it is interesting that most businesses that fail fail because they fail to change. The marketplace moves on. Whether we like it or not, consumer preferences change. The most successful businesses anticipate change and work to stay ahead. Some stunningly successful businesses do a phenomenal job of simply following. The businesses that die are the ones that believe that just because this year was successful next year will be too. They are the businesses that think that this year’s accolades automatically translate to next year’s success. And - they are the ones who criticize the changing marketplace (usually because they understand that the change they see means they’re already behind, the world has moved on without them.)
Here’s the challenge of this post for anyone who wants to take it up... What will be different about your business next year than this year? What new product will you launch? What new market will you enter? What new technique will you try? If you listen well to your customers they will take you there. They’ll tell you what they want. Be smart about it. Putting things in a well defined, “idea” bucket and letting them succeed or fail based on customer demand is a good idea. Putting all of your eggs behind the new initiative is a bad idea.
But here’s the other idea. Change isn’t always adding something. Change is sometimes taking something away. A restaurant I know well has this challenge. They’ve been really hurt by the economy. They’re hanging in there, but barely. I talked to the owner a while ago and asked him why he continues to offer so broad a menu. I know it’s costly and there is a lot of waste. His answer was that he doesn’t want to remove things from the menu for fear that an old customer will come and want that particular dish. No business can actually do all things all the time. All businesses have to hone and focus their efforts on the things they do best that intersect best with what their customers want. Sometimes the hardest part of change then is not doing a new thing, but stopping an old thing.
I’ve been white water rafting a few times. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not a huge fan. The rivers scare me. I have tremendous respect for the power of water. When you ride the raft down the river there is a process of frenzied activity - when you’re in the rapids - followed by periods of rest. At times you “eddy out.” Purposefully pull the raft into the still shallows so the guides can survey and plan for a rapid ahead. I have to admit that in those times I wish that we could just stay in the peaceful eddy. We can’t though. If we did we would never get to where we want to go. And so, when the moment comes that we must turn the nose of the boat back into the white water I pull with all of my might. We have a plan. There will be unknowns but working together we can deal with them. When we get through we will feel the rush of satisfaction.
The same is true in business...