"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Albert Einstein
Change is often sparked by an urgent need to fix a problem. Successful companies recognize that buried in problems are opportunities to transform weakness into strength. How can we tap into this positive potential? Seek inspiration inside and outside – success and failure leave clues all around us. Collect these clues at three levels: Microscope (the organization), Binoculars (relevant adjacencies), and Telescope (inspiring analogies).
Microscope - listen to your organization
Search inside the organization for barriers and bright spots that build empathy and understanding. It is just as important to look at successes as at challenges. Chip and Dan Heath have pushed this thinking to the forefront in Made to Stick - “when you find a bright spot, your mission is to study it and clone it.” Researchers at the Center for Positive Organizations have been systematically proving the superiority of making choices based on what they call “positively deviant organizational performance” rather than conventional “problem solving”. A 2010 McKinsey study showed that organizations that focus equally on problems and strengths reported achieving far greater success in reaching their transformation targets than those that focused just on problems. Your employees, especially those on the front lines, offer a wealth of insight into what's working and what's not.
Binoculars – watch adjacencies
In 1798 a box was delivered to the British Museum from the Far East. Inside was the carcass of a strange creature: furry with a tail like a beaver, webbed feet like a seagull, and a duck bill. The museum dismissed the creature as a hoax and spent months examining the body for glue, thread or other signs it had been assembled from other animals. Eventually, they acknowledged this was a new species - the platypus. Organizations often dismiss the innovations of their competitors. Keep an eye out for the platypus of your industry - the infant innovation, the perplexing competitive move, the business trend you can't quite make sense of - yet. How are others approaching the challenge you are facing in a new and different way? And what are their results?
Telescope – learn from analogies
Many organizations do binoculars and microscopes well - they understand their competitive landscape and are tuned into the waves of innovation lapping up on their beach. Breakthrough opportunities are often identified by looking wider, to analogous fields that on the surface don't have much in common with your industry vertical. For example, what might the airline industry learn from the amusement park industry? Or what might healthcare providers learn from retailers? Why do we need to seek outside inspiration? Because the human brain faces a gravitational pull toward familiar models and paradigms. To get the best outcomes, we must battle cognitive biases such as anchoring (the idea that human judgment insufficiently adjusts from starting impressions), overconfidence (the paradox that humans express more confidence in topics they are less familiar with than topics they are more familiar with), and availability (the concept that humans give greater weight to ideas they were most recently exposed to). Telescope inspiration breaks us out of our current paradigm and helps us leap from "best in class" practices to "best in world". Telescope inspiration isn't just a luxury - as Seth Godin writes "By the time there is a case study in your specific industry, it's going to be way too late for you to catch up."
Great organizations include inspiration in their change journey. Search inside the organization for barriers and bright spots that build empathy and understanding. Look outside the organization for new ways of thinking about challenges. These insights become guiding principles for change, authentic to your organization.
Stephanie Gioia is the Director of Consulting at XPLANE.