"History is not filled with stories of cultures or companies that managed to hold the status quo. History is filled with stories about those who dominated and those that disappeared. Companies need to figure out what being adaptable means to their organizations and how they use it to dominate. Max Mckeown's newest book is the road map they need." - Tac Anderson, Vice President, Head of Digital Strategies, EMEA at Waggener Edstrom
From the Author
What if you're wrong? After all, for the foreseeable future, the future will be unforeseeable. You can be certain only that there will be uncertainty. Events will overtake your plans, while the actions of others will demand adaptation. What if your beautiful strategy is failing to cope with reality? 'We didn't adapt fast enough'
is a common enough explanation for poor performance and disastrous leadership. It's been used by leaders to explain opportunities lost through years of inflexibility and lack of imagination. "There is no alternative"
can become a popular rallying call. Leaders over-simplify by presenting only one choice as credible. As a result, clever thinking about alternatives dries up such that when unexpected change arrives the group can be left in a state of bewilderment, unsure and uncertain.
The most successful adaptors are curious. They know stability is a dangerous illusion. They reach out beyond obvious questions to non-obvious answers. They do not accept the choices they are given but actively seek better choices. They understand the value of Plan B. And Plans X, Y and Z.
Twitter was a Plan B produced by a struggling software company during an ad-hoc brainstorm in a playground near to their office. IKEAs flat pack furniture was a Plan B. Nokia's move into mobile phones was a Plan B. Nintendo's move into game consoles was a Plan B. Self-perpetuating cycles require intervention, some kind of breakthrough change of the pattern so it is allowed to gradually lose its negative impact. They need a plan B.
What happens if the assumptions in the plan are wrong? Managers are taught the value of being (or looking) organised. Leaders are taught the career value of being (or looking) in control. The danger is that following the plan too slavishly will lead you efficiently in the wrong direction. The right plan can be made wrong by events.
How do you free your radicals to challenge assumptions? Encourage your businesses misfits, mavericks, and malcontents to challenge conventional wisdom. Embrace the unacceptable wisdom of the radicals inside and outside your business. If assumptions are wrong, then the radical may be right. And since assumptions are usually wrong eventually, the radical will probably be right one day.
Evidence supports the idea that most successful entrepreneurs and leaders are fantastic at noticing opportunities. And the greatest opportunities come from reactions to unplanned events. So ask yourself: Does this problem let us start again and do it better? What can we do today that was impossible yesterday?
Blockbuster believed in Plan A and kept on renting out videos. Game believed in Plan A and kept on opening stores. The Easter Islanders believed in Plan A and kept on cutting down trees. General Motors believed in Plan A and kept on producing gas-guzzling automotive porn while Toyota worked on a fabulous Plan B. Borders believed in Plan A while Amazon were willing to be misunderstood as they worked tirelessly on a game changing Plan B.
Any fool can produce a plan. The genius is seeing how new events open up new possibilities. This kind of adaptability doesn't kick in automatically. So you need to increase recognition of the constant need to adapt, understanding of the adaptation needed and willingness to adapt as required. Understanding how to adapt is the essence of human progress. Plan B matters most.