Andy Gove, in his landmark book Only The Paranoid Survive, stated “a strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when the fundamentals are about to change.” This is precisely my mantra in exploring what helps an organization be resilient and forward moving versus a potential dinosaur. Think Kodak, Blockbuster, and video tapes. Change was there but the willingness to pay attention was not.
Rita McGrath, Professor of Business at Columbia offers keen advice in her newest book: Seeing Around the Corners: How to Spot Inflection Points Before They Happen. Unlike some business books, McGrath distills easily accessible and actionable wisdom in every chapter.
One of my favorite pieces of advice is what I have termed the “orange batons”. If you’ve heard me speak, you know I am talking about the folks on the tarmac who hold orange batons and bring in jets for parking safely on the jetway. They are on the ground because the pilots literally can’t see the markings on the tarmac.
Rita insist (and I believe rightly so) that “it’s the people at the fringes who are most likely to see it first: the sales people; the people in customer service who know what is on people’s minds, the scientists… it’s not around a conference table or a board room.”According to McGrath, “Virtually every major inflection point she studied there was early evidence of one’s potential long before it happened.”
Sadly executives stay focused on delivering the current quarter, handling day-to-day pressures, and because of their very success, stay safely ensconced in headquarters with internal staff.
So: here is your first marching order. Get out of your normal “zone”. Seek people whom you haven’t spoken to and then listen, naively listen. I still remember walking through a steel plant in Ohio and the operator of one of the huge furnaces gestured with disdain at the executive office a few blocks away. “I’m retiring in three weeks. I know how we can make this operation better, but no one from that office (again another gesture) would ever think of coming here and asking me what I know.”
Great way to march into resiliency for 2020. I’d love to learn what you discover.