Reboot business as usual

I think it is time we considered taking radical steps.

The problem, you see, is that even though everyone says innovation is important, that it’ll be the driver of all future competitive advantage, and those organisations that fail to innovate will die, no one really believes it. Or at least, they don’t believe it in their hearts, even if they accept it with their brains.

Their hearts are wedded to business as usual, and with good reason. That’s what pays the bills. Or keeps the lights on, if you happen to be a support organsiation of some kind.

I went to visit an organization in Madrid yesterday* one of the few examples of a company I can find that’s actually had it’s corporate heart won over as well as its mind. For them, business as usual is innovation. Everything they do is directed towards it. Everyone pulls in the same direction, even at the frontline. And they’re reaping big, big rewards, even thinking of expanding internationally.

I’m not telling you who it is, but, I will say this: incredibly, it’s a bank.

Before they had their change of heart, they were an organization in crisis and had little choice but to try something new. 

Most organisations aren’t in crisis, so there’s not much chance they’ll be forced to try doing different. Even in the banking system which was in crisis, it wasn’t a big enough crisis to cause much to change. A pity really. I say that knowing the incredible economic pain an even worse collapse would have caused. 

But we’re talking about safeguarding the future here, not protecting the past.

Anyway, as I said, I think it is time to take radical steps. We have to convince people’s hearts as well as their minds that doing everything differently is the new business as usual. Since everything else we’ve tried has failed to do that, maybe its time we engineered a crisis.

I think the step we should take is this: lets reboot business as usual. 

What I mean by that is deny business-as-usual resources, take away the crutches that make it work in its ok-is-good-enough way,  and force it into change. Deliberately goad it into finding ways to survive. Continually test it,  knowing that the price of failure is game-over.

There’s been years of this in IT organsiations, of course. The constant drive to cut costs, to do more with less. To perform or be out-sourced. The technology driven productivity gains that many organsiations have enjoyed have been a result of this drive. But do you, for one moment, imagine that left to itself and without an externally imposed drive to cut costs and do more with less, IT would have done any of this? 

No matter how well-meaning the people involved, I just can’t see it. When you are flush with resources, you sit back and enjoy using them.

On the other hand, my observation is people, when faced with a crisis, almost always find extraordinary ways to do great things. They shine in a way that few do when there’s no critical imperative driving them forward. They may not be comfortable, but they are amazing.

So I think we need to reboot business-as-usual in order to win the hearts as well as minds to the cause of innovation. Do the reboot gradually, but do it deliberately. Take away one crutch at a time until everything is on the brink of collapse.

Except I bet it won’t collapse. Something new and amazing will emerge instead. 

Such a reboot, of course, requires a leap of faith. And that requires very enlightened management, management willing to gamble because they believe rather than know. 

But as an innovator I know this: business-as-usual is the new enemy of economic growth. Not everything done the old way is bad, but when you add everything done the old way together, what you have is rotten to the core.

* For Daily Mail hacks, and any in the general public who might be incensed that I’d dare to travel internationally to visit someone for innovation work, I want you to know that I’ve taken annual leave today. And that my travel expenses are being met by the company I’m visiting. Follow #welovebaskers on Twitter.

5 Responses to“Reboot business as usual”

  1. November 18, 2010 at 10:04 am #

    Well done James – for once I'd have been happy to see your department pay for that trip. It seems to have moved your normally apologist attitude to something far more forward thinking.
    I think I know the bank in question – you've written about them before a long time ago and I admire their ethos enormously.
    Let's see how many layers that impression has permeated… is it a henna or real ink tattoo?

  2. November 18, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    Neil,
    My "apologist attitude" is a necessary caution when speaking from inside a very large, in the spotlight organisation. It is neither appropriate nor reasonable that I talk about *everything* I think or do day to day. If this makes it look as if I'm insufficiently forward thinking, then all I can say is I regret we've not have the chance to meet, nor for you to observe anything other than my public writing, so you could have the chance to see whether your assumptions are true or not.  

  3. November 18, 2010 at 4:37 pm #

    Focus on your core business: the growth of your company. Outsourcing allows entrepreneurs to focus on growth of their business. The ideal IT Consultant is responsible for assisting their clients develop greater quality products and services with the assistance of the latest technology, both software and hardware, to meet the organization’s objectives.

  4. November 18, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    ‘It should be borne in mind that there is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating changes in a state’s constitution. The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is lukewarm partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the existing laws on their side, and partly because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience.’
    Machiavelli – nearly 500 years ago
    (Good post – thanks James – and thanks again for today – CGBT2010 – some good points. I particularly liked: "Left alone, people will do incredible, amazing things")

  5. November 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    Fully aware of the constraints, James.
    But to put forward a sanitised view that doesn’t reflect your true feelings does more harm than good.
    Bit like a Chinese reformer in government saying they feel reforms are reactionary when believing the opposite.
    Anyway – I still applaud your position on this one.

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