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Those one step ahead of change will thrive

By Carol Butcher

Charles Darwin famously said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.” Indeed, these days, it is those organisations one step ahead of change that are most likely to thrive. Responding is no longer enough.

The tempo of change is rapid. In order to survive, organisations need to innovate relentlessly. They are tackling the shift from playing in red oceans, to playing in blue oceans and lesser known market spaces, where little or no competition exists. Think about building a new hotel chain versus the launch of Airbnb. The one is cleverly leveraging an abundance of real estate. Uber provides another, similar example, this time leveraging an abundance of drivers and cars. Without advancements in technology, neither of these would have been possible.

Yet individuals and organisations often fear the prospect of all this change. Many view rapid change and technological advancement as disruptive in a negative sense. “Because we can feel cognitively overloaded, we may see change as something that needs to be carefully controlled and managed. The challenge when you see change in this way is that you tend to button down the hatches and become defensive. However, what we need in the future are individuals who are curious, explore, test, and experiment. Individuals need to see what is out there, take what is useful and be strategic about what they need to do. This requires a shift in mindset from being defensive and viewing change as disturbing and disruptive, to seeing that with all this change comes opportunity. There are lots of new tools and technologies, and we need to get better at identifying and selecting the ones that can work for us,” Founder of 33 Emeralds and Talent Talks Technology Lead,” Gaylin Jee explains.

Unfortunately many organisations are characterised by old, hierarchical models of work, where employer engagement and output is managed: “The focus needs to shift to enable employees to discover, explore, learn and grow. Individuals will take more responsibility for their own learning, development and growth in the future. Organisations need to enable employees to find and carve their own place in the future; this is scary for some. We need to encourage and enable people to learn.”

Smaller, more agile, nimble companies, entrepreneurial individuals, and innovation hubs are trying to get under the skin of Blue Ocean Strategy kind of thinking. But what is happening in our organisations at large? “The challenge is to do more than survive, or to innovate in hubs, but to bring innovation into the mainframes of our organisations. We need to be innovating at all levels, and seeking out innovation-as-usual,” Jee informs.

We live in a fast-paced world. Game Changers anticipate change and adapt quickly to it. They can play a driving force in moving organisations from red oceans to blue. Jee says interesting research was conducted into the DNA of Game Changers in the UK in 2015: “Game Changers bring crazy ideas and an obsession to make these ideas real. We recruit them into our organisations to disrupt. But they may not come across as the model team players we seek out. People describe them as being like a dog with a bone when they have ideas they want to drive through. Game Changers see ways of doing tings that others do not, and become frustrated if they don’t have the freedom to pursue them. A focus only on recruiting Game Changers is not helpful in preparing for the future. We need to secure game changing outputs, from game-changing teams.”

The research revealed that there are five roles in total that make up a game changing team:

  • Game Changers transform our future; they bring radical ideas and the obsession to make them a reality,
  • Strategists map the future; they flesh out the business case,
  • Implementers build the future; they get things done and are good reality checkers,
  • Polishers create a future to be proud of; they drive excellence and perfection,
  • Play Makers orchestrate the future; they bring direction and focus to activity, getting the best from individuals and teams. They enable others to shine.

There is another way to work, and this will not be a ‘nice to have’ in the future. It incorporates the principle of ‘flow’. “When in ‘flow’, you are completely engrossed in what you are doing and you are challenged, but not stressed because the challenge is too much. Think about an occasion when time just passed and you lost yourself in what you were doing. Organisations need to focus on how to have people in ‘flow’, or ‘in the zone’ or at least some of their time at work. That’s when great things happen.

In the past, people often showed up at work because they had to. But imagine being at work and in flow. This state would lead to the amazing things being developed. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a new app that disrupts the transport industry, it could be small innovations, small improvements to what you are doing, or your customer experience, your payment experience. To compete in a fast-changing world we need people in flow at work. If people are in an organization to earn money and are not happy in their roles, you are not going to get the innovative ideas needed to actualize something like a Blue Ocean Strategy, or even to think it is possible in the first place.”

Purpose is also important. “Victor Frankl famously said: “A man who has a ‘why’ can bear almost any ‘how’”: “Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor, discovered that people who had a ‘why’ had a better chance of coming out of concentration camps alive.

Within an organisational context, when times get tough, people come to work and go the extra mile because of a purpose, because there is a larger reason to what they are doing. “After the global financial crisis, we saw that in some cases, employees, who had purpose, and who were engaged at work stuck by their companies in tougher times. When things started to turn for the better, their organisations were in a position to go after emerging opportunities, unlike their competitors, because they still had a resource that others no longer had,” Jee recounts.

“Simon Sinek talks about the ‘why’ too. He says people don’t buy what we do, what we offer; they buy why we do it. If you look at the Apple ecosystem, Apple does things differently. They can put almost any product into their ecosystem and we buy because we buy into that philosophy. We need to look at the ‘why’ in our workplace in a bit more depth.”

Jee has a special message for Talenttalks readers: “Think about your own personal place in the world and how you are going to carve your place into the future. We live in phenomenal times. We have more tools at our disposal than ever before. We have more access to information and more ability to influence, to stand out, to show up. MOOCs, for example, enable you to learn from the world’s leading providers. There are many tools, go out and explore. Be curious. Experiment and think about your why and craft a different future for yourself at work.”

“You can follow Gaylin on Twitter @gaylinjee”

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Carol has nineteen years’ experience as a professional writer, editor and case study writer. Her writing experience includes a stint as the resident Case Study Writer at the Wits Business School.

carol@talenttalks.net