When in the dark, close your eyes!
If you know me or happen to read my blog (hi mom, on both counts), then you know that I am often inspired by stories that would appear completely unrelated to what we do in our Business and IT worlds.
Enter the olm, pictured here courtesy of Dusan Jelic, a biologist and EDGE Fellow who was gracious to grant me permission to use his picture and who might be courageous enough to read my blog.
In case you didn’t know, the olm was once believed to be the offspring of dragons. How the mighty have fallen! From dragon offspring to my blog post. But maybe this is the first step in the resurgence of the olm.
When in the dark, close your eyes….and have an eye CLOSING experience!!!
I was watching an episode of NatGeo Wild. The episode was titled, “Alpine Underworld” and it featured the olm, a creature who long ago stopped using its eyes because it lived in complete darkness. It dawned on me that as Business and IT leaders, we often resist what the olm has so readily accepted: when faced with new conditions (the dark), we sometimes hold on to tools not suited for those new conditions (our eyes). When in the dark, some of us continue to blink in a desperate attempt to not only use the tools that have always worked for us but, more importantly, to use the tools we have always trusted!
As business leaders, executives, managers and entrepreneurs, we must face new challenges with both the arsenal of knowledge that we have developed over our many years of experience and with the willingness to abandon some or all of that knowledge when the evidence is overwhelmingly against its effectiveness. The challenge is that it’s very difficult to let go and incredibly difficult to accept that it’s necessary to do so. The new reality is very possibly the realization of a corporate vision, the manifestation of an entrepreneurial dream. And the leadership team responsible for the success achieved that success because it was adept at using the very tools that are being called into question by the new reality. It is easy to see why it would be difficult to let go of everything that made that new reality possible and to accept that a new set of tools may be required.
Two quick case studies.
Company A was filled with wonderfully bright and dedicated people. Are successful companies ever filled with anything else? Company A was in business for a long time. It was comfortable and profitable. Somewhere along the way they decided to change the game a little and, as a result, they grew virtually overnight. Sales increased and all other aspects of the business had to keep pace. They were in a new reality and struggled to adjust. When I first met them, I was on an assignment completely unrelated to their growth. I was there to help with one of the symptoms of that growth not the cause. As it turns out, they were using their “eyes.” They were “lights out” in terms of growth and insisted on using the operating systems, processes and practices, that worked when they were far smaller and far less complicated. They relied on a long-known cliché often referred to as the SEVEN most expensive words in business: we’ve always done it this way. They failed to hire the right people and create the right roles for them. They insisted on holding on to the processes and procedures that had been instrumental in their growth but that were glaringly failing in the new world. In other words, they were holding on to the tools that helped them get to where they were and understandably hesitant to accept that an entirely new set of tools was necessary.
Company B had a similar trajectory. However, Company B had not been in business as long as Company A. It had not stabilized. Company B was still in its growth phase. The primary difference between Company A and Company B was the phase of the business life cycle Company B was in during its period of accelerated growth. Company A had, by all accounts, stabilized and become an established entity. Its decision was expansionary and the risks inherent in executing that decision were significant and not properly minimized. Company B, on the other hand, had gone from its startup phase into its growth phase. It had not become established and had not yet fully developed the “we’ve always done it that way” mind set. It was too busy to do so. Company B understood what the olm spent millions of years figuring out. It understood and acknowledged that it had entered a new period in its growth (the dark) and that the tools that it had used to that point (eyes) might not be able to get it through the next phase of its lifecycle. My discussion with the CEO of Company B was far different. He got it. He had a deep appreciation for what built the company and recognized the changes that were necessary to sustain it. He understood what they had and what they needed; it was about setting the proper vision, putting the right people in the right seats and deploying a new strategic operating system (SOS); it was about aligning the organization with the new reality. In other words, it was about “closing their eyes” and using their other senses to ensure their continued success. Like deploying their trusted tools to trigger their growth, it was now time to take a second leap of faith and deploy an entirely different set of tools to sustain that growth. They created a few critical positions, altered processes, created new control mechanisms and either promoted from within or hired from outside. It was an “eye closing” experience!!!
I’m positive that as leaders we have all experienced this very natural part of a growing organization. Next time you find yourself in a new reality (the dark) PLEASE make sure that you didn’t overlook a light switch somewhere – cure problems, treat symptoms!
Assuming that you didn’t find a light switch, have an eye closing experience: close your eyes, take a deep breath and say “olm.”
If that doesn’t help, call us; we carry flashlights!